The fisherman reflected. Vallack's proposition did not strike him as particularly grotesque. He felt it was a natural question, and he only regretted that it had been put, because, though he had driven more than one young man to righteousness along the path of terror, in this present case the truth came too late save to add another horror to death. He believed in all sincerity that as surely as the young man before him presently died, so surely would he be damned, but he saw no particular object in stating the fact. Such intelligence might tell upon Vallack's physical condition—a thing of all others to be avoided, for Gray Michael held that the sufferer's only chance of a happy eternity was increased and lengthened opportunity in time.
"It ed'n for me to sit in the Judgment Seat, Albert. 'Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lard.' You must allus hold in mind that theer's mighty few saved alive, best o' times. Many be called, but few chosen. Men go down to the graave every second o' the day an' night, but if you could see the sawls a streamin' away, thicker'n a cloud of starlings, you'd find a mass, black as a storm, went down long, an' awnly just a summer cloud like o' the blessed riz up. Hell's bigger'n Heaven; an' er's need to be, for Heaven's like to be a lonely plaace, when all's said. I won't speak no more 'bout that subjec'. 'Tis good fashion weather for 'e just now, an us'll hope as you ban't gwaine to die for many a day."
"Say it out, mister, say it out. I knaws what you means. You reckons if I gaws I'm lost."
"My poor sawl, justice is justice; an' the Lard's all for justice an' no less. Theer's no favorin' wi' Him, Albert."
"But mightn't He favor the whole bilin' of us—good'n bad—cause He made us?"
"Surely not. Wheer's the justice o' that? If He done that, how'd the godly get their fair dues—eh? Be the righteous man to share God's Heaven wi' publicans an' sinners? That ed'n justice anyhow. Don't fret, lad; tears won't mend bad years. Bide quiet an' listen to me whiles I pray for 'e."
The man in the bed had grown very white, his eyes burned wildly out of a shrunken face, and he gripped the sheets and shivered in pure physical terror.
"I caan't die, I caan't die, not yet," he groaned, "pray to the Lard to keep me from dyin' yet a while, mister. Arsk en to give me just a lil time, 'cause I'm that sorry for my scarlet sins."
Thereupon Michael knelt, clasped his hands so close that the bent finger-joints grew white, raised his massive head upward and prayed with his eyes closed. The intercession for life ended, he rose up, shook Vallack by the hand, and so departed.
"Allus, when you've got the chance, bear the balm o' Gilead to a sinner's couch," he said to his daughter as they walked home. "'Tis the duty of man an' maid to spread the truth an' bring peace to the troubled, an' strength to the weak-hearted, an' rise up them that fall."
A week later Mr. Tregenza heard how Albert Vallack had burst a blood-vessel and died, fighting horribly with awful invisible terrors.
"Another sawl gone down into the Pit," he said. "I reckon fewer an' fewer be chosen every year as the world do grow older an' riper for the last fires."
Joan found her sketch waiting for her the next day when she reached Gorse Point about eleven o'clock; and she also discovered John Barron with a large canvas before him. He had constructed his picture and already made many drawings for it. Now he knew exactly what he wanted, and he designed to paint Joan standing looking out at a distant sea which would be far behind the spectator of the picture. When she arrived, on a fine morning and mild, Barron rose from his camp-stool, lifted up a little canvas which stood framed at his side and presented it to her. The sketch in oils of the "Anna" was cleverer than Joan could possibly know, but she took no small delight in it and in the setting of rough deal brightly gilded.
"Sure 'tis truly good of 'e, sir!"
"You are more than welcome. Only let me say one word, Joan. Keep your picture hidden away until Joe comes back from sea and marries you. From what you tell me, your father might not like you to have this trifle, and I should be very sorry to annoy him."
"I waddun' gwaine to show en," she confessed. "I shall store the picksher away as you sez."
"You are wise. Now look here, doesn't this promise to be a big affair? The gorse will be nearly as large as life, and I've been wondering ever so long what I shall put in the middle; and whatever do you think I've thought of?"
"I dunnaw. That white pony us saw, p'raps?"
"No; something much prettier. How would it do, d'you think, if you stood here in front of the gorse, just to fill up the middle piece of the picture?"
"Oh, no, no! My faither—"
"You misunderstand, Joan. I don't want a picture of you, you know; I'm going to paint the gorse. But if you just stood here, you'd make a sort of contrast with your brown frock. Not a portrait at all, only just a figure to help the color. Besides, you mustn't think I'm an artist, I shouldn't go selling the picture or hanging it up for everybody to stare at it. I'm certain your father wouldn't mind, and I'll tell him all about it afterward, if you like."
She hesitated and reflected with trouble in her eyes, while Barron quietly took the picture he had brought her and wrapped it up in a piece of paper. His object was to remind her without appearing to do so of her obligation to him, and Joan was clever enough to take the hint, though not clever enough to see that it was an intentional one.
"Would it be a long job, sir?" she asked at length.
"Yes, it would; because I'm a slow painter and rather stupid. But I should think it very, very kind of you. I'm not strong, you know, and I daresay this is the last picture I shall ever paint."
"You ed'n strong, sir?"
"Not at all."
She was silent, and a great sympathy rose in her girl's heart, for frail health always made her sad.
"You don't judge 'tis wrong then for a maiden to be painted in a picksher?"
"Certainly not, Joan. I should never suggest such a thing to you if I thought it was in the least wrong. I know it isn't wrong."
"I seed you issterday," she said, changing the subject suddenly, "but you dedn see me, did 'e?"
"Yes, I did, and your father. He is a grand-looking man. By the way, Joan, I think I never told you my name. I'm called John; that's short and simple, isn't it?"
"Mister Jan," she said.
"No, not 'mister'—just 'Jan,'" he answered, adopting her pronunciation. "I don't call you 'Miss' Joan."
She looked at once uncomfortable and pleased.
"We must be friends," the man continued calmly, "now you have promised to let me put you here among the gorse bushes."
"Sure, I dunnaw 'bout the picksher, Mister Jan."
"Well, you would be doing me a great service. I want to paint you very much and I think you will be kind."
He looked into her eyes with a steady, inquiring glance, and Joan experienced a new emotion. Joe had never looked like that; nor yet her father. She felt a will stronger than her own was busy with her inclinations. Volition remained free, and yet she doubted whether under any circumstances could she refuse his petition. As it happened, however, she already liked the man. He was so respectful and polite. Moreover, she felt sad to hear that he suffered in health. He would not ask her to do wrong and she felt certain that she might trust him. A trembling wish and a longing to comply with his request already mastered her mind.
"You'm sure—gospel truth—theer ed'n no harm in it?"
In five minutes he had posed her as he wished and was drawing, while every word he spoke put Joan more at her ease. The spice of adventure and secrecy fired her and she felt the spirit of romance in her blood, though she knew no name for it. Here was a secret delight knocking at the gray threshold of every-day life—an adventure which might last for many days.
Barron, to touch the woman in her if he could, harped upon her gown and the color of it, on her shoes and sun-bonnet—on everything but herself. Presently he reaped his reward.
"Ban't you gwaine to paint my faace as well, Mister Jan."
"Yes, if I can. But your eyes are blue, and blue eyes are hard to paint well. Yours are so very blue, Joan. Didn't Joe ever tell you that?"
"No—that's all fulishness."
"Nothing that's true is foolish. Now I'm going to make some little sketches of you, so as to get each fold and shadow in your dress right."
Barron drew rapidly, and Joan—ever ready to talk to a willing listener when her confidence was won—prattled on, turning the conversation as usual to the matters she loved. Upon her favorite subjects she dared not open her mouth at home, and even her lover refused to listen to the legends of the land, but they were part of the girl's life notwithstanding, drawn into her blood from her mother, a thousand times more real and precious than even the promised heaven of Luke Gospeldom, not to be wholly smothered at any time. Occasionally, indeed, uneasy fears that discussion of such concerns was absolutely sinful kept her dumb for a week, then the religious wave swept on, and Cornish folk-lore, with its splendor and romance, again filled her heart and bubbled from her lips. Her little stories pleased Barron mightily. Excitement heightened Joan's beauty. Her absolute innocence at the age of seventeen struck him as remarkable. It seemed curious that a child born in a cottage, where realities and facts are apt to roughly front boy and girl alike, should know so little. She was a beautiful, primitive creature, with strange store of fairy fable in her mind; a treasury which brought color and joy into life. So she prattled, and the man painted.
Pure artistic interest filled Barron's brain at this season; not a shadow of passion made his pencil shaky or his eye dim; he began to learn the girl with as little emotion as he had learned the gorse. He asked her to unfasten the top button of her dress that he might see the lines of her plump throat, and she complied without hesitation or ceasing from her chatter. He noted where the tan on her neck faded to white under her dress, and occupied himself with all the artistic problems she unconsciously spread before him; while she merely talked, garnered in his questions and comments on all she said, and found delight in the apparent interest and entertainment her conversation afforded him.
"I seed a maggotty-pie [Footnote: Maggotty-pie—Magpie.] comin' along this marnin'," she said. "Wan's bad an' a sign o' sorrer; but if you spits twice over your left shoulder it doan't matter so much. But I be better off than many maidens, 'cause I be saint-protected like."
"That's interesting, Joan."
"Faither'd be mad if I let on 'bout it to him, so I doesn't. He doan't b'lieve much in dead saints, though Carnwall's full of 'em. Have 'e heard tell 'bout Saint Madern?"
"Ah, the saint of the well?"
"Iss, an' the brook as runs by the Madern chapel."
"I sketched the little ruin of the baptistery some time ago."
"'Twas tho't a deal of wance, an' the holy water theer was reckoned better for childern than any doctor's traade as ever was. My mother weer a Madern cheel; an' 'er ordained I should be as well, an' when faither was to sea, as fell out just 'pon the right day, mother took me up theer. That was my awn mother as is dead. More folks b'lieved in the spring then than what do now, 'cause that was sebenteen year agone. An' from bein' a puny cheel I grawed a bonny wan arter dipping. But some liked the crick-stone better for lil baabies than even the Madern brook."
"Men-an-tol that stone is called?"
"So 'tis, awnly us knaws it as the crick-stone. Theer's a big hole in en, an' if a cheel was passed through nine times runnin', gwaine 'gainst the way of the sun every time, it made en as strong as a lion. An' 'tis good for grawn people tu, awnly folks is afeared to try now 'cause t'others laugh at en. But I reckon the Madern brook's holy water still. An' theer's wonnerful things said 'bout the crick-stones an' long stones tu. A many of 'em stands round 'bout these paarts."
"D'you know Men Scryfa—the stone with the writing on it? That's a famous long stone, up beyond Lanyon Farmhouse."
"I've seed en, 'pon the heath. 'Tis butivul an' solemn an' still, all aloan out theer in a croft to itself. I trapsed up-long wan day an' got beside of en an' ate a pasty wi' Joe. But Joe chid me, an' said 'tweer a heathenish thing sticked theer by the Phoenicians, as comed for tin in Solomon's times."
"Don't you believe that, Joan. Men Scryfa marks the memory of a good Briton—one who knew King Arthur, very likely. I love the old stones too. You are right to love them. They are landmarks in time, books from which we may read something of a far, fascinating past."
"Iss, but I ded'n tell 'e all 'bout the Madern waters. The best day for 'em be the fust Sunday in May; an' come that, the mothers did use to gaw up to the chapel—dozens of 'em—wi' poor lil baabies. They dipped 'em naked in the brook, an' 'twas just a miracle for rashes and braggety legs and sich like. An', arterward, the mothers made offerin's to the saint. 'Twas awnly the thot like, but folks reckoned the saint 'ud take the will for the act, 'cause poor people couldn' give a saint nothin' worth namin'."
Barren had heard of the votive offerings left by the faithful in past days at St. Madron's shrine, but felt somewhat surprised to find the practice dated back to a time so recent as Joan's infancy. He let her talk on, for the subject was evidently dear to the girl.
"And what did the mothers give the saint?"
"Why, rags mostly. Just a rag tored off a petticoat, or some sich thing. They hanged 'em up around about on the thorn bushes to shaw as they'd a done more for the good saint if they'd had the power. An' theer's another marvelous thing as washin' in thicky waters done: it kep' the fairies off—the bad fairies, I mean. 'Cause theer'm gude an' bad piskeys, same as gude an' bad men folks."
"You believe in fairies, Joan?"
She looked at him shyly, but he had apparently asked for information and was not in the least amused.
"I dunnaw. P'raps. Iss, I do, then! Many wiser'n me do b'lieve in 'em. You arsk the tinners—them as works deep. They knaws; they've 'eard the knackers an' gathorns many a time, an' some's seen 'em. But the mine fairies be mostly wicked lil humpetty-backed twoads as'll do harm if they can; an' the buccas is onkind to fishermen most times; an' 'tis said they used to bide in the shape of a cat by day. But theer be land fairies as is mighty good-hearted if a body behaves seemly."
"I believe in the fairies too," said Barren gravely, "but I've never seen one."
"Do 'e now, Mister Jan! Then I'm sure theer is sich things. I ne'er seed wan neither; but I'd love to. Some maids has vanished away an' dwelt 'mong 'em for many days an' then comed home. Theer's Robin o' the Carn as had a maiden to work for en. You may have heard the tale?"
"'Tis a fine tale; an' the gal had a braave time 'mongst the lil people till she disobeyed 'em an' found herself back 'mongst men folk agin. But in coorse some of them—the piskeys, I mean—works for men folk themselves. My gran'mother Chirgwin, when she was very auld, seed 'em a threshin' corn in a barn up Drift. They was tiny fellers wi' beards an' red faaces, an' they handled the flails cruel clever. Then, arter a bit, they done the threshin' an' was kickin' the short straw out the grain, which riz a gert dust; an' the piskeys all beginned sneezin'. An' my gran'mother, as was peepin' through the door unbeknown to 'em, forgot you must never speak to a piskey, an' sez, 'God bless 'e, hi men!' 'cause that's what us allus sez if a body sneezes. Then they all took fright an' vanished away in the twinkle of a eye. Which must be true, 'cause my awn gran'mother tawld it. But they ded'n leave the farm, though nobody seed 'em again, for arter that 'tis said as the cows gived a wonnerful shower o' milk, better'n ever was knawn before. An' I 'sure 'e I'd dearly like to be maiden to good piskeys if they'd let me work for 'em."
"Ah, I'm certain you would suit them well, Joan; and they would be lucky to get you, I think; but I hope they won't go and carry you off until I've done with you, at any rate."
She laughed, and he bid her put down her hand from her eyes and rest. He had brought some oranges for her, but judged the friendship had gone far enough, and first decided not to produce them. Half an hour later, however, when the sitting was ended, he changed his mind.
"Can you come to-morrow, Joan? I am entirely in your hands, remember, and must consider your convenience always. In fact, I am your servant and shall wait your pleasure at all times."
Joan felt proud and rather important.
"I'll come at 'leben o'clock to-morrow, but I doubt I caan't be here next day, Mister Jan."
"Thank you very much. To-morrow at eleven will do splendidly. By the way, I have an orange here—two, in fact. I thought we might be thirsty. Will you take one to eat going home?"
He held out the fruit and she took it.
"My! What a butivul orange!"
"Good-by until to-morrow, Joan; and thank you for your great kindness to a very friendless man. You'll never be sorry for it, I'm sure."
He bowed gravely and took off his cap, then turned to his easel; and she blushed with a lively pleasure. She had seen gentlemen take off their hats to ladies, but no man had ever paid her that respect until then, and it seemed good to her. She marched off with her picture and her orange, but did not eat the fruit until out of sight of Gorse Point.
The man painting there already began to fill a space in Joan's thoughts. He knew so much and yet was glad to learn from her. He never laughed or talked lightly. He put her in mind of her father for that reason, but then his heart was soft, and he loved Nature and beautiful things, and believed in fairies and spoke no ill of anybody. Joan speculated as to how these meetings could be kept a secret and came to the conclusion it would not be difficult to hide them. Then, reaching home, she hid her picture behind the pig-sty until opportunity offered for taking it indoors to her own bedroom unobserved.
As for John Barren, he felt kindly enough toward his model. He could hold himself with an iron hand when he pleased, and proposed that the growing friendship should ripen into a fine work of art and no more. But what might go to the making of the picture could not be foretold. He would certainly allow nothing to check inspiration or stand between him and the very best he had power to achieve. No sacrifice could be too great for Art, and Barron, who was now awake and alive for an achievement, would, according to his rule, count nothing hard, nothing impossible that might add a grain of value to the work. His own skill and Joan's beauty were brought in contact and he meant to do everything a man might do to make the result immortal. But the human instruments necessary to such work counted for nothing, and their personal prosperity and welfare would weigh no more with him than the future of the brushes which he might use, after he had done with them.
Joan's first announcement upon the following morning was a regret that the sitting must be short.
"We'm mighty busy, come wan thing an' another," she said. "Mother's gwaine to Penzance wi' my brother to buy his seafarin' kit; and Uncle Chirgwin, as keeps a farm up Drift, be comin' to dinner, which he ain't done this long time; an' faither may by chance be home tu, so like as not, for the first bwoats be tackin' back from the islands a'ready."
"You shall stop just as short a time as you choose, Joan. It was very good of you to come at all under these circumstances," declared the artist.
"Us be fine an' busy when uncle comes down-long, an' partickler this time, 'cause theer've bin a differ'nce of 'pinion 'bout—'bout a matter betwixt him and faither, but now he's wrote through the post to say as he'm comin', so 'tis all right, I s'pose, an' us'll have to give en a good dinner anyways."
"Of course you must," admitted Barren, working steadily the while.
"He'm a dear sawl, an' I likes en better'n anybody in the world, I think, 'cept faither. But he's easier to please than faither, an' so humble as a beggar-man. An' I wants to make some cakes for en against tea-time, 'cause when he comes, he bides till candle-lighting or later."
Presently the artist bid her rest for a short while, and her thoughts reverted to him and the picture.
"I hope as you'm feelin' strong an' no worser, Mister Jan," she said timidly.
He was puzzled for a moment, then recollected that he had mentioned his health to her.
"Thank you very much for asking, Joan. It was good and thoughtful. I am no worse—rather better if anything, now I come to think about it. Your Cornish air is kind to me, and when the sun shines I am happy."
"How be the picksher farin'?"
"I get on well, I think."
"'Tis cruel clever of 'e, Mister Jan. An' you'll paint me wi' the fuzz all around?"
"That is what I hope to do; a harmony in brown and gold."
"You'll get my likeness tu, I s'pose, same as the photograph man done it last winter to Penzance? Me an' Joe was took side by side, an' folks reckoned 'twas the moral of us, specially when the gen'leman painted Joe's hair black an' mine yeller for another shillin' cost."
"It must have been very excellent."
"Iss, 'twas for sartain."
"What did Mr. Tregenza say of it?"
"Well, faither, he'm contrary to sich things, as I tawld 'e, Mister Jan. Faither said Joe'd better by a deal keep his money in his purse; but he let me have the picksher, an' 'tis nailed up in a lil frame, what Joe made, at home in the parlor."
She stopped a moment and sighed, then spoke again.
"Faither's a wonnerful God-fearin' man, sure 'nough."
"Is he a God-loving man too, Joan?"
"I dunnaw. That ed'n 'sackly the same, I s'pose?"
"As different as fear and love. I'm not an atom frightened of God myself—no more than I am of you."
"Lard! Mister Jan."
"Why should I be? You are not frightened of the air you breathe—yet that is part of God; you are not frightened of the gold gorse or the blue sky—yet they are part of God too. God made you—you are part of God—a deliberate manifestation of Him. What's the use of being frightened? You and I can only know God by the shapes He takes—by the bluebells and the ferns and the larks in the sky, and the rabbits and wild things."
His effort to inspire the girl with Nature-worship, though crudely cast in a fashion most likely to attract her, yet failed just then, and failed ludicrously. Her mind comprehended barely enough to accept his idea in a sense suggested by her acquaintance with fable, and when he instanced a rabbit as an earthly manifestation of the Everlasting, she felt she could cap the example from her own store of knowledge.
"I reckon I sees what you'm meanin', Mister Jan. Theer's things us calls witch-hares in these paarts up-long. The higher-quarter people have seed 'em 'fore now; nothin' but siller bullets will kill 'em. They goes loppettin' about down lawnly lanes on moonlight nights, an' they draws folks arter 'em. But if you could kill wan of 'em 'tis said as they'd turn into witches theer an' then. So you means that God A'-mighty' takes shaapes sometimes same as they witches do, doan't 'e?"
"Not quite that, Joan. What I want you to know is that the great Being you call God is nearer to you here, on Gorse Point, than in the Luke Gospelers' meeting-house, and He takes greater delight in a bird's song than in all your father's prayers and sermons put together. That is because the great Being taught the bird to sing Himself, but He never taught your father to pray."
"I dunnaw 'sackly what you means, Mister Jan, but I judges you ban't so religious like as what faither is."
"Religion came from God to man, Joan, because man wanted it and couldn't get on comfortably without it; but theology—if you know what that means—man invented for himself. Religion is the light; theology is the candlestick. Never quarrel with any man's candlestick as long as you can see his light burning bravely. Mr. Tregenza thinks all men are mistaken but the Luke Gospelers—so you told me. But if that is the case, what becomes of all your good Cornish saints? They were not Luke Gospelers—at least I don't think they were."
Joan frowned over this tremendous problem, then dismissed it for the pleasanter and simpler theme John Barron's last remark suggested.
"Them saints was righteous men anyhow, an' they worked miracles tu, so it ban't no gude sayin' they wasn't godly in their ways, the whole boilin' of 'em. Theer's St. Piran, St. Michael, St. Austell, St. Blazey, St. Buryan, St. Ives, St. Sennen, St. Levan, an' a many more, I could call home if I was to think. Did 'e ever hear tell 'bout St. Neot, Mister Jan?"
"'No, Joan; I'm afraid I don't know much about him."
"Not 'bout they feesh?"
"Tell me, while you rest a minute or two."
"'Tis a holy story, an' true as any Bible tale, I should guess. St. Neot had a well, an' wan day he seed three feesh a swimmin' in it an' he was 'mazed to knaw how they comed theer. So a angel flew down an' tawld en that they was put theer for his eatin', but he must never draw out more'n wan at a time. Then he'd all us find three when he comed again. An' so he did; but wance he failed sick an' his servant had to look arter his vittles meantime. He was a man by the name of Barius, an' he judged as maybe a change of eatin' might do the saint good. So he goes an' takes two o' them feesh 'stead o' wan as the angel said. An' he b'iled wan feesh, an' fried t'other, an' took 'em to St. Neot; an' when he seed what his man been 'bout, he was flustered, I tell 'e. Then the saint up and done a marvelous straange thing, for he flinged them feesh back in the well, just as they was, and began praayin' to the Lard to forgive his man. An' the feesh comed alive ag'in and swimmed around, though Barius had cleaned 'em, I s'pose, an' took the guts out of 'em an' everything. Then the chap just catched wan feesh proper, an' St. Neot ate en, an' grawed well by sundown. So he was a saint anyways."
"You can't have a miracle without a saint, of course, Joan?"
"Or else the Lard. But I'll hold in mind what you sez 'bout Him bein' hid in flowers an' birds an' sich like, 'cause that's a butivul thing to knaw."
"And in the stars and the sun and the moon, Joan; and in the winds and clouds. See how I've got on to-day. I don't think I ever did so much work in an hour before."
She looked and blushed to note her brown frock and shoes.
"You've done a deal more to them fuzzes than what you have to me, seemin'ly," she said.
"That's because the gorse is always here and you are not. I work at the gorse morning after morning, when the sun is up, until my fingers ache. You'll see great changes in the picture of yourself soon though."
But she was not satisfied, of course misunderstanding the unfinished work.
"You mustn't say anything yet, you know, Joan," added the artist, seeing her pouting lips.
"But—but you've drawed me as flat as a cheeld, an' I be round as a wummon, ban't I?" she said, holding out her hands that he might see her slight figure. Her blue eyes were clouded, for she deemed that he had put an insult upon her budding womanhood. Barren showed no sign of his enjoyment, but explained as clearly as possible that she was looking at a thing wholly unfinished, indeed scarce begun.
"You might as well grumble with me for not painting your fingers or your face, Joan. I told you I was a slow artist; only be patient; I'm going to do all fitting honor to every scrap of you, if only you will let me."
"Warmer words had come to his lips, but he did not suffer them to pass. Then the girl's beautiful face broke into a smile again.
"I be nigher eighteen than sebenteen, you knaw, Mister Jan. But, coorse, I hadn't no bizness to talk like that to 'e, 'cause what do I knaw 'bout sich things?"
"You shan't see the picture again till it is finished, Joan. It was my fault for showing it to you like that, and you had every right to protest. Now you must go, for it's long past twelve o'clock."
"I'm afeared I caan't come to-morrer."
"As you please. I shall be here every day, ready and only too glad to see you."
"An'—an' you ban't cross wi' me for speakin' so rude, Mister Jan?"
"Cross, Joan? No, I'm never cross with anybody but myself. I couldn't be cross with my kind little friend if I tried to be."
He shook hands; it was the first occasion that he had done so, and she blushed. His hand was cold and thin, and she heard one of the bones in it give a little crack as he held her palm within his own for the briefest space of time. Then, as usual, the moment after he had said "good-by," he appeared to become absolutely unconscious of her presence, and returned to his picture.
Joan's mind dwelt much upon the artist after she had departed, and every train of reflection came back to the last words Barron spoke that morning. He had called her his kind little friend. It was very wonderful, Joan thought, and a statement not to be explained at all. Her stepmother's voice cut these pleasant memories sharply, and she returned home to find that Uncle Chirgwin had already arrived—a fact his old gray horse, tethered in the orchard, and his two-wheeled market cart, drawn up in the side-lane, testified to before Mrs. Tregenza announced it.
"Out again, of coorse, just because you knawed I was to be drove off my blessed legs to-day. I'll tell your faither of 'e, so I will. Gals like you did ought to be chained 'longside theer work till 'tis done."
Uncle Chirgwin sat by the fireside with a placid if bored expression on his round face. His hands were folded on his stomach; his short legs were stuck out before him; his head was quite bald, his color high, his gray eyes weak, though they had some laughter hidden in them. His double chin was shaved, but a very white bristle of stubbly whisker surrounded it and ascended to where all that remained of his hair stuck, like two patches of cotton wool, above his ears. The old man wore a suit of gray tweed and blinked benignly through a pair of spectacles. He had already heard enough of Mrs. Tregenza's troubles to last some time, and turned with pleasure to Joan as she entered. So hearty indeed was the greeting and a kiss which accompanied it that his niece felt the displeasure which her uncle had recorded by post upon the occasion of her engagement to Mary Chirgwin's former sweetheart existed no more.
"My ivers! a braave, bowerly maid you'm grawin', sure 'nough! Joan'll be a wummon 'fore us can look round, mother."
"Iss—an' a fine an' lazy wummon tu. I wish you could make her work like what Mary does up Drift."
"Well, I dunnaw. You see there's all sorts of girls, same as plants an' 'osses an' cetera. Some's for work, some's for shaw. You 'specks a flower to be purty, but you doan't blame a 'tater plant 'cause 'e ed'n particular butivul. Same wi' 'osses, an' wi' gals. Joan's like that chinee plate 'pon the bracket, wi' the pickshers o' Saltash Burdge 'pon en, an' gold writin' under; an' Mary's like that pie-dish, what you put in the ubben a while back. Wan's for shaw, t'other's for use—eh?"
"Gwan! you'm jokin', Uncle Thomas!" said Joan.
"An' a poor joke tu, so 'tis. You'd turn any gal's 'ead wi' your stuff, Chirgwin. Wheer's the gude of a fuzz-pole o' yeller hair an' a pair o' blue eyes stuck 'pon top of a idle, good-for-nothin' body? Maidens caan't live by looks in these paarts, an' they'll find theerselves in trouble mighty quick if they tries to."
Uncle Chirgwin instantly admitted that Mrs. Tregenza had the better of the argument. He was a simple man with a soft heart and no brains worth naming. Most people laughed at him and loved him. As sure as he went to Penzance on market-day, he was cordially greeted and made much of, and robbed. People suspected that his shrewd, black-eyed niece stood between him and absolute misfortune. She never let him go to market without her if she could help it; for, on those infrequent occasions when he jogged to town with his gray horse and cart alone, he always went with a great trust of the world in his heart and endeavored to conduct the sale of farm produce in the spirit of Christianity, which was magnificent but not business. Mr. Chirgwin's simple theories had kept him a poor man; yet the discovery, often repeated, that his knowledge of human nature was bad, never imbittered him, and he mildly persisted in his pernicious system of trusting everybody until he found he could not; unlike his neighbors who trusted nobody until they found that they could. The farmer had blazed with indignation when Joe Noy flung over Mary Chirgwin because she would not become a Luke Gospeler. But the matter was now blown over, for the jilted girl, though the secret bitterness of her sorrow still bred much gall in her bosom, never paraded it or showed a shadow of it in her dark face. Uncle Thomas greatly admired Mary and even feared her; but he loved Joan, for she was like her dead mother outwardly and like himself in character: a right Chirgwin, loving sunshine and happiness, herself sunshiny and happy.
"'Pears I've comed the wrong day, Joan," he said presently, when Mrs. Tregenza's back was turned, "but now I be here, you must do with me as you can."
"Mother's gwaine to town wi' Tom bimebye; then me an' you'll have a talk, uncle, wi'out nothin' to let us. You'm lookin' braave, me auld dear."
He liked a compliment, and anticipated pleasure from a quiet afternoon with his niece. She bustled about, as usual, to make up for lost time; and presently, when the cloth was laid, walked to the cottage door to see if her father's lugger was at its moorings or in sight. Meantime Mrs. Tregenza, having brought forth dinner from the oven, called at the back door to her son in a voice harsh and shrill beyond customary measure, as became her exceptional tribulations.
"Come in, will 'e, an' ait your food, bwoy. Theer ed'n no call to kick out they boots agin' the pig's 'ouse because I be gwaine to buy new wans for 'e presently."
Fired by a word which she had heard from John Barron, that flowers became the house as well as the garden, Joan plucked an early sprig of pink ribe and the first buds of wall-flower before returning to the kitchen. These she put in a jug of water and planted boldly upon the dinner-table as Mrs. Tregenza brought out a pie.
"Butivul, sure 'nough," said Mr. Chirgwin, drawing in his chair. His eye was on the pie-dish, but Joan thought he referred to her bouquet.
"Lard! what'll 'e do next? Take they things off the table to wance, Joan."
"But Uncle Thomas sez they'm butivul," she pleaded.
"They be pleasant," admitted Mr. Chirgwin, "but bloody-warriors [Footnote: Bloody-warrior—Wall-flower.] be out o' plaace 'pon the dinner-table. I was 'ludin' to this here. You do brown a 'tater to rights, mother."
Mrs. Tregenza's shepherd's pies had a reputation, and anybody eating of one without favorable comment was judged to have made a hole in his manners. Now she helped the steaming delicacy and sighed as she sat down before her own ample share.
"Lard knaws how I done it to-day. 'Tis just a enstance how some things comes nachrul to some people. You wants a light hand wi' herbs an' to knaw your ubben. Get the brandy, Joan. Uncle allus likes the edge off drinkin' water."
The Tregenzas were teetotalers, but a bottle of brandy for medicinal purposes occupied the corner of a certain cupboard.
"You puts it right, mother. 'Tis just the sharpness I takes off. I can't drink no beer nowadays, though fond o' it, 'cause 'tis belly-vengeance stuff arter you gets past a certain time o' life. But I'd as soon have tea."
"That's bad to drink 'long wi' vlaish," said Mrs. Tregenza. "Tea turns mayte leather-hard an' plagues the stomach cruel, as I knaws to my cost."
They ate in silence a while, then, having expressed and twice repeated a wish that Mary could be taught to make shepherd's pies after the rare fashion of his hostess, Mr. Chirgwin turned to Tom.
"So you'm off for a sailor bwoy, my lad?"
"Iss, uncle, an' mother gwaine to spend fi' puns o' money on my kit."
"By Golles! be she now? I lay you'll be smart an' vitty!"
"That he will!" said Joan, but Mrs. Tregenza shook her head.
"I did sadly want en to be a landsman an' 'prenticed to some good body in bizness. It's runnin' 'gainst dreams as I had 'fore the bwoy was born, an' the voice I heard speakin' by night arter I were churched by the Luke Gosp'lers. But you knaw Michael. What's dreams to him, nor yet voices?"
"The worst paart 'bout 'em, if I may say it, is that they'm so uncommon well acquainted like wi' theer awn virtues. I mean the Gosp'lers an' all chapel-members likewise. It blunts my pleasure in a good man to find he knaws how good he is. Same as wan doan't like to see a purty gal tossin' her head tu high."
"You caan't say no sich thing o' Michael, I'm sure," remonstrated Mrs. Tregenza instantly; "he'm that modest wi' his righteousness as can be. I've knawn en say open in prayer, 'fore the whole chapel, as he's no better'n a crawlin' worm. An' if he's a worm, what's common folks like you an' me? Awnly Michael doan't seem to take 'count in voices an' dreams, but I knaws they'm sent a purpose an' not for nort."
Mr. Chirgwin admitted his own ridiculous religious insignificance as contrasted with Gray Michael. Indeed the comparison, so little in his favor, amused him extremely. He sipped his brandy and water and enjoyed a treacle-pudding which followed the pie. Then, when Joan was clearing up and Mrs. Tregenza had departed to prepare for her visit to Penzance, Uncle Thomas began to puff out his cheeks, and blow, and frown, and look uneasily to the right and left—actions invariably performed when he contemplated certain monetary achievements of which he was only too fond. The sight of Mary's eyes upon him had often killed such indiscretions in the bud, but she was not present just then, so, with further furtive glances, he brought out his purse, opened it, and found a half-sovereign which reposed alone in the splendor of a separate compartment. Uncle Chirgwin then beckoned to Tom, who had gone into the garden till his mother should be ready to start.
"Good speed to 'e, bwoy," he said, "an' may the Lard watch over 'e by land an' sea. Take you this lil piece o' money to buy what you've a mind to; an' knaw you've got a auld man's blessin' 'long wi' it."
"Mother," said Tom, a minute later, "uncle have gived me a bit o' gawld!"
She took the coin from him and her eyes rested on it lovingly while the outlines of her face grew softer and she moistened her lips.
"First gawld's ever I had," commented Tom.
"You'm 'mazin' generous wi' your moneys, uncle, an' I thank 'e hearty for the bwoy. Mighty good of 'e—so much money to wance," said Thomasin, showing more gratification than she knew.
"I wants en to be thrifty," answered the old man, very wisely. "You knaws how hard it is to teach young people the worth o' money."
"Ay, an' some auld wans! Blest if I doan't think you'd give your head away if 'e could. But I'll take this here half-suvrin' for Tom. 'Tis a nest-egg as he shall add to as he may."
Tom did not foresee this arrangement, and had something to say as he tramped off with his mother to town; but though he could do more with her and get more out of her than anybody else in the world, money was a subject concerning which Mrs. Tregenza always had her way. She understood it and loved it and allowed no interference from anybody, Michael alone excepted. But he cared not much for money and was well content to let his wife hold the purse; yet when he did occasionally demand an account, it was always forthcoming to the uttermost farthing, and he fully believed what other people told him that Thomasin could make a sixpenny-piece go further than any other woman in Newlyn.
Mother and son presently departed; while Mr. Chirgwin took off his coat, lighted his pipe, and walked with Joan round about the orchard. He foretold great things for the plums, now in full flower; he poked the pigs with his stick and spoke encouragingly of their future also. Then he discussed Joan's prospects and gladdened her heart by telling her the past must be let alone and need never be reverted to again.
"Mary's gettin' over it tu," he said, "least-ways I think she is. Her knaws wheer to look for comfort, bless her. Us must all keep friendly for life's not long enough to do 'nough good in, I allus says, let alone the doin' o' bad."
Then he discussed Joe Noy, and Joan was startled to find, when she came to think seriously upon the subject, that though but a week and three days had passed since she bid her lover "good-by," yet the picture of him in her mind already grew a trifle dim, and the prospect of his absence for a year held not the least sorrow in it for her.
Presently, after looking to his horse, Uncle Thomas hinted at forty winks, if the same would be quite convenient, and Joan, settling him with some approach to comfort upon n little horsehair sofa in the parlor, turned her attention to the making of saffron cakes for tea.
THE MAKING OF PROGRESS
John Barron held strong theories about the importance of the mental condition when work was in hand. Once fairly engaged upon a picture, he painted very fast, labored without cessation, and separated himself as far as might be from every outside influence. No new interests were suffered to intrude upon his mind; no distractions of any sort, intellectual or otherwise, were permitted to occupy even those leisure intervals which of necessity lay between the periods of his work. On the present occasion he merely fed and slept and dwelt solitary, shunning society of every sort and spending as little time in Newlyn as possible. Fortunately for his achievement the weather continued wonderfully fine and each successive day brought like conditions of sunshine and color, light and air. This circumstance enabled him to proceed rapidly, and another fact also contributed to progress; the temperature kept high and the cow-byre, wherein Barren stored his implements and growing picture, proved so well-built and so snug withal that on more than one occasion he spent the entire night there. Sweet brown bracken filled a manger, and of this he pulled down sufficient quantities to make, with railway rugs, an ample bed. The outdoor life appeared to suit his health well; some color had come to his pale cheeks; he felt considerably stronger in body and mentally invigorated by the strain of work now upon him.
But though he turned his back on his fellow-men they sought him out, and rumors at length grew to a certainty that Barron was busy painting somewhere on the cliffs beyond Mousehole. Everybody supposed he had abandoned his ambition to get a portrait of Joan Tregenza; but one man was in his confidence: Edmund Murdoch. The young artist had been useful to Barron. On many occasions he tramped out from Newlyn with additions to the scanty larder kept at the cow-byre. He would bring hard-boiled eggs, sandwiches, bottles of soda-water and whisky; and once he arrived at six o'clock in the morning with a pony cart in which was a little oil stove. Barron had confided in Murdoch, but begged he would let it be known that he courted no society for the present. As the work grew he spent more and more time upon it. He explained to his friend quite seriously that he was painting the gorse, but that Joan Tregenza had consented to fill a part of the picture—a statement which amused the younger artist not a little.
"But the gorse is extraordinary, I'll admit. You must have worked without ceasing. She will be exquisite. Where shall you get the blue for her eyes?"
"Out of the sky and the sea."
"Does the girl inspire you herself, John? I swear something has. This is going to be great."
"It's going to be true, that's all. No, Joan is a dear child, but her body's no more than a perfect casket to a commonplace little soul. She talks a great deal and I like nothing better than to listen; for although what she says is naught, yet her manner of saying it does not lack charm. Her voice is wonderfully sweet—it comes from her throat like a wood-pigeon's, and education has not ruined her diction."
"She's as shy as any wood-pigeon, too—we all know that; and you've done a clever thing to tame her."
"God forbid that I should tame her. We met and grew friendly as wild things both. She is a child of Nature, her mind is as pure as the sea. Moreover, Joan walks saint-guided. Folklore and local twaddle does not appeal overmuch to me, as you know, yet the stories drop prettily from her lips and I find pleasure in listening."
"By Jove! I never heard you so enthusiastic, so positive, so personally alive and awake and interested. Don't fall in love with the girl before you know it."
To this warning Barron made a curious reply.
"Everything depends on my picture. You know my rule of life; to sacrifice all things to mood. I shall do so here. The best I can do must be done whatever the cost."
A shadow almost sinister lay behind the utterance, yet young Murdoch could not fathom it. Barren spoke in his usual slow, unaffected tones, and painted all the time; for the conversation took place on Gorse Point.
"Not sure if I quite understand you, old man," said Murdoch.
"It doesn't matter in the least if you don't, my dear fellow."
His words were hardly civil, but the tone in which Barren spoke robbed the utterance of any offense.
"All you need do," he continued, "is to keep silent in the interests of art and of Joan. I don't want her precious visits to me to get back to her father's ears or they will cease, and I don't wish to do her a bad turn in her home, for I owe her a great debt of gratitude. If men ask what I'm doing, lie to them and beg them not to disturb me, for the sake of Art. What a glint the east wind gives to color! Yet this is hardly to be called an east wind, so soft and balmy does it keep."
"Well, you seem to be the better for your work, at any rate. You're getting absolutely fat. If Newlyn brings you health as well as fame, I hope you'll retract some of the many hard things you have said about it."
"It has brought me an interest, and for that at any rate I am grateful. Good-by. I shall probably come down to-night, despite the fact that you have replenished my stores so handsomely."
Murdoch started homeward and met Joan Tregenza upon the way. She had given Barron one further sitting after Uncle Chirgwin's call at Newlyn, but since the last occasion, and for a period of two days, chance prevented the girl from paying him another visit. Now she arrived, however, as early as half-past ten, and Murdoch, while he passed her on the hill from Mousehole, envied his friend the morning's work before him.
Joan was very hot and very apologetic upon her arrival.
"I began to fear you had forgotten me," the artist said, but she was loud in protestations to the contrary.
"No, no, Mister Jan. I've fretted 'bout not comin' up like anything; ay, an' I've cried of a night 'cause I thot you'd be reckoning I waddun comin' no more. But 'tweern't my doin' no ways."
"You hadn't forgotten me?"
"Indeed an' I hadn't. An' I'd be sorrerful if I thot you thot so."
She walked to the old position before the gorse and fell naturally into it, speaking the while.
"Tis this way: mother's been bad wi' faace ache arter my brother Tom went to sea wi' faither. An' mother grizzled an' worrited herself reg'lar ill an' stopped in bed two days an' kep on whinin' 'bout what I was to do if she died; cause she s'posed she was gwained to. But so soon as Tom comed off his first trip, mother cheered wonnerful, an' riz up to see to en, an' hear tell 'bout how he fared on the water."
"Your head a wee bit higher, Joan. Well, I'm thankful to see you again. I was getting very, very lonely, I promise you. And the more I thought about the picture the more unhappy I became. There's such a lot to do and only such a clumsy hand to do it. The better I know you, Joan, the harder become the problems you set me. How am I going to get your soul looking out of your eyes, d'you think? How am I to make those who may see my picture some day—years after you and I are both dead and gone, Joan—fall in love with you?"
"La! I dunnaw, Mister Jan."
"Nor do I. How shall I make the picture so true that generations unborn will delight in the portrait and deem it great and fine?"
"And yet you deserve it, Joan, for I don't think God ever made anything prettier."
She blushed and looked softly at him, but took no alarm; for though such a compliment had never before been paid her, yet, as Barron spoke the words, slowly, critically, without enthusiasm or any expression of pleasure on his face, they had little power to alarm. He merely stated what he seemed to regard as a fact. There was almost a suggestion of irritation in his utterance, as though his model's rare beauty only increased his own artistic difficulties; and, perhaps fearing from her smile that she found undue pleasure in his statement, he added to it:
"I don't say that to natter you, Joan. I hate compliments and never pay them. I told you, remember, that your wrists were a thought too big."
"You needn't be sayin' it over an' over, Mister Jan," she answered, her smile changing to a pout.
"But you wouldn't like me any more if I stopped telling you the truth. We have agreed to love what is true and to worship Mother Nature because she always speaks the truth."
The girl made no answer, and he went on working for a few moments, then spoke again.
"I'm selfish, Joan, and think more of my picture than I do of my little model. Put down your arm and take a good rest. I tried holding my hand over my eyes yesterday to see how long I could do so without wearying myself. I found that three minutes was quite enough, but I have often kept you posed for five."
"It hurted my arm 'tween the shoulder an' elbow a lil bit at first, but I've grawed used to it now."
"How ever shall I repay you, kind Joan, for all your trouble and your long walks and pretty stories?"
"I doan't need no pay. If 'twas a matter o' payin', 'twould be a wrong thing to do, I reckon. Theer's auld Bascombe up Paul—him wi' curls o' long hair an' gawld rings in's ears. Gents pays en to take his likeness; an' theer's gals make money so, more'n wan; but faither says 'tis a heathenish way of livin' an' not honest. An'—an' I'd never let nobody paint me else but you, Mister Jan, 'cause you'm different."
"Well, you make me a proud man, Joan. I'm afraid I must be a poor substitute for Joe."
He noticed she had never mentioned her sweetheart since their early interviews, and wanted to ascertain of what nature was Joan's affection for the sailor. He did not yet dream how faint a thing poor Joe had shrunk to be in Joan's mind, or how the present episode in her life was dwarfing and dominating all others, present and past.
Nor did the girl's answer to his remark enlighten him.
"In coorse you an' Joe's differ'nt as can be. You knaws everything seemin'ly an' be a gen'le-man; Joe's only a seafarin' man, an' 'e doan't knaw much 'cept what he's larned from faither. But Joe used to say a sight more'n what you do, for all that."
"I like to hear you talk, Joan; perhaps Joe liked to hear himself talk. Most men do. But, you see, the things you have told me are pleasant to me and they were not to Joe, because he didn't believe in them. Don't look at me, Joan; look right away to the edge of the sea."
"You'm surprised like as I talks to ye, Mister Jan. Doan't ladies talk so free as what I do?"
"Other women talk, but they are very seldom in earnest like you are, Joan. They don't believe half they say, they pretend and make believe; they've got to do so, poor things, because the world they live in is all built up on ancient foundations of great festering lies. The lies are carefully coated over and disinfected as much as possible and quite hidden out of sight, but everybody knows they are there—everybody knows the quaking foundations they tread upon. Civilization means universal civility, I suppose, Joan; and to be civil to everybody argues a great power of telling lies. People call it tact. But I don't like polite society myself, because my nose is sensitive and I smell the stinking basis through all the pretty paint. You and I, Joan, belong to Nature. She is not always civil, but you can trust her; she is seldom polite, but she never says what is not true."
"You talk as though 'e ded'n much like ladies an' gen'lemen, same as you be."
"I don't, and I'm not what you understand by 'a gentleman,' Joan. Gentlemen and ladies let me go among them and mix with them, because I happen to have a great deal of money—thousands and thousands of pounds. That opens the door to their drawing-rooms, if I wanted to open it, but I don't. I've seen them and gone about among them, and I'm sick of them. If a man wishes to know what polite society is let him go into it as a very wealthy bachelor. I'm not 'a gentleman,' you know, Joan, fortunately."
"Surely, Mister Jan!"
"No more than you're a lady. But I can try to be gentle and manly, which is better. You and I come from the same class, Joan; from the people. The only difference is that my father happened to make a huge fortune in London. Guess what he sold?"
"Fish—just plaice and flounders and herrings and so forth. He sold them by tens of thousands. Your father sells them too. But what d'you think was the difference? Why, your father is an honest man; mine wasn't. The fishermen sold their fish, after they had had the trouble and danger of catching them, to my father; and then my father sold them again to the public; and the fishermen got too little and the public paid too much, and so—I'm a very rich man to-day—the son of a thief."
"Nobody ever called him a thief but me. He was a great star in this same polite society I speak of. He fed hundreds of fat people on the money that ought to have gone into the fishermen's pockets; and he died after eating too much salmon and cucumber at his own table. Poetic justice, you know. There are stained glass windows up to his memory in two churches and tons of good white marble were wasted when they made his grave. But he was a thief, just as surely as your father is an honest man; so you have the advantage of me, Joan. I really doubt if I'm respectable enough for you to know and trust."
"I'd trust 'e with anything, Mister Jan, 'cause you'm plain-spoken an' true."
"Don't be too sure—the son of a thief may have wrong ideas and lax principles. Many things not to be bought can easily be stolen."
Again he struck a sinister note, but this time on an ear wholly unable to appreciate or suspect it. Joan was occupied with Barron's startling scraps of biography, and, as usual, when he began talking in a way she could not understand, turned to her own thoughts. This sudden alteration of his position she took literally. It struck her in a happy light.
"If you'm not a gen'leman then you wouldn' look down 'pon me, would 'e?"
"God forbid! I look up to you, Joan."
She was silent, trying to master this remarkable assertion. The artist stood no longer upon that lofty pedestal where she had placed him; but the change of attitude seemed to bring him a little closer, and Joan forgot the fall in contemplating the nearer approach.
"That's why I asked you not to call me 'Mister Jan,"' Barron added after a pause. "We are, you see, only different because I'm a man and you're a woman. Money merely makes a difference to outside things, like houses and clothes. But you've got possessions which no money can bring to me: a happy home and a lover coming back to you from the sea. Think what it must be to have nobody in the world to care whether you live or die. Why, I haven't a relation near enough to be even interested in all my money—there's loneliness for you!"
Joan felt full of a great pity, but could not tell how to express it. Even her dull brains were not slow enough to credit his frank assertion that he and she were equals; but she accepted the statement in some degree, and now, with her mind wandering in his lonely existence, wondered if she might presume to express sympathy for him and proclaim herself his friend. She hesitated, for such friendship as hers, though it came hot from her little heart, seemed a ludicrous thing to offer this man. Every day of intercourse with him filled her more with wonder and with admiration; every day he occupied a wider place in her thoughts; and at that moment his utterances and his declaration of a want in life made him more human than ever to her, more easily to be comprehended, more within the reach of her understanding. And that was not a circumstance calculated to lessen her regard for him by any means. Until that day he had appeared a being far apart, whose interests and main threads of life belonged to another sphere; now he had deliberately come into her world and declared it his own.
The silence became painful to Joan, but she could not pluck up courage enough to tell the artist that she at least was a friend. Finally she spoke, feeling that he waited for her to do so, and her words led to the point, for she found, in his answer to them, that he took her goodwill for granted.
"Ain't you got no uncles nor nothin' o' that even, Mister Jan?"
He laughed and shook his head.
"Not one, Joan—not anybody in all the world to think twice about me but you."
Her heart beat hard and her breath quickened, but she did not speak. Then Barron, putting down his brushes and beginning to load a pipe, that his next remark might not seem too serious, proceeded:
"I call you 'friend,' Joan, because I know you are one. And I want you to think of me sometimes when I am gone, will you?"
He went on filling his pipe, and then, looking suddenly into her eyes, saw there a light that was strange—a light that he would have given his soul to put into paint—a light that Joe's name never had kindled and never could. Joan wiped her hand across her mouth uneasily; then she twisted her hands behind her back, like a schoolgirl standing in class, and made answer with her eyes on the ground.
"Iss, I will, then, Mister Jan; an' maybe I couldn't help it if I would."
He lighted his pipe carefully before answering.
"Then I shall be happy, Joan."
But while she grew rose-red at the boldness of her sudden announcement, he took care neither to look at her nor to let her know that he had realized the earnestness with which she spoke. And when, ten minutes later, she had departed, he mused speculatively on the course of their conversation, asking himself what whim had led him to pretend to so much human feeling and to lament his loneliness. This condition of his life he loved above all others. No man, woman or child had the right to interfere with his selfish, impersonal existence, and he gloried in the fact. But to the scraps of his life's history, which he had spread before Joan in their absolute truth, he had added this fiction of friendless loneliness, and it had worked a wonder. He saw that he was growing to be much to her, and the problem lying in his path rose again, as it had for a moment when Murdoch warned him in jest against falling in love with Joan Tregenza. Dim suspicions crossed his mind with greater frequency, and being now a mere remorseless savage, hunting to its completion a fine picture, he made no effort to shut their shadows from his calculation. Everything which bore even indirectly upon his work received its share of attention; to mood must all sacrifices be made; and now a new mood began to dawn in him. He knew it, he accepted it. He had not sought it, but the thing was there, and Nature had sent it to him. To shun it and fly from it meant a lie to his art; to open his arms to it promised the destruction of a human unit. Barron was not the man to hesitate between two such courses. If any action could heighten his inspiration, add a glimmer of glory to his picture, or get a shadow more soul into the painted blue eyes of the subject, he held such action justified. For the present his mind was chaos on the subject, and he left the future to work itself out as chance might determine.
His painting was all he concerned himself with, and should Nature ultimately indicate that greater perfection might be achieved through worship and even sacrifice at her shrine, neither worship nor sacrifice would be withheld.
CHAPTER NINE A WEDDING
Joan Tregenza went home in a dream that day. She did not know where to begin thinking. "Mister Jan" had told her so many astounding things; and her own heart, too, had made bold utterances—concerning matters which she had crushed out of sight with some shame and many secret blushes until now. But, seen in the light of John Barron's revelations, this emotion which she had thrust so resolutely to the back of her mind could remain there no more. It arose strong, rampant and ridiculous; only from her point of view no humor distinguished it. This man, then, was like herself, made of the same flesh and blood, sprung from the people. That fact, though possessing absolutely no significance whatever in reality, struck Joan with great force. Her highly primitive instincts stretched a wide gulf between the thing called "gentleman" and other men; which was the result of training from parents of the old-fashioned sort, whose world lay outside and behind the modern spirit; who had reached the highest development of their intelligence and formed their opinions before the passing of the Education Act. Gray Michael naturally held the great ones of the earth as objects of pity from an eternal standpoint, but birth weighed with him, and, in temporal concerns, he treated his superiors with all respect and civility when rare chance brought him into contact with them. He viewed uneasily the last outcome of progress and the vastly increased facilities for instruction of the juvenile population. The age was sufficiently godless, in his judgment; and he had found that a Board School education was the first nail in the coffin of every young man's faith.
Joan, therefore, allowing nothing for the value of riches, of education, of intellect, was content to accept Barron's own cynical statement in a spirit widely different from the speaker's. He had sneered at himself, just as he had sneered at his own dead father. But Joan missed all the bitterness of his speech. To her he was simply a wondrously honest man who loved truth for itself, who could never utter anything not true, who held it no offense to speak truth even of the dead. Gentle or simple, he seemed infinitely superior to all men whom she had met with. And yet this beautiful nature walked through the world quite alone. He had asked her to remember him when he was gone; he had said that she was his friend. And he cared little for women—there was perhaps no other woman in the world he had called a friend. Then the girl's heart fluttered at the presumption of her silly, soaring thoughts, and she glanced nervously to the right and to the left of the lonely road, as though fearful that some hidden eavesdropper might peep into her open mind. The magic spell was upon her. This little, pale, clever man, so quiet, so strange, so unlike anything else within her seventeen years of experience, had wrought Nature's vital miracle, and Joan, who, until then, believed herself in love with her sailor sweetheart, now stood aghast before the truth, stood bewildered between the tame and bloodless fantasy of her affection for Joe Noy and this wild, live reality. She looked far back into a past already dim and remembered that she had told Joe many times how she loved him with all her heart. But the words were spoken before she knew that she possessed a heart at all. Yet Joe then formed no inconsiderable figure in life. She had looked forward to marriage with him as a comfortable and sufficient background for present existence; she had viewed Joe as a handsome, solid figure—a man well thought of, one who would give her a home with bigger rooms and better furniture in it than most fishermen's daughters might reasonably hope for. But this new blinding light was more than the memory of Joe could face uninjured. He shriveled and shrank in it. Like St. Michael's Mount, seen afar, through curtains of rain, Joe had once bulked large, towering, even grand, but under noonday sun the great mass dwindles as a whole though every detail becomes more apparent; and so with poor Joe Noy. Removed to a distance of a thousand miles though he was, Joan had never known him better, never realized the height, breadth, depth of him so acutely as now she did. The former ignorance in such a case had been bliss indeed, for whereunto her present acquired wisdom might point even she dared not consider. Any other girl must have remained sufficiently alive to the enormous disparity every way between herself and the artist; and Joan grasped the difference, but from the wrong point of view. The man's delicacy of discernment, his wisdom, his love of the things which she loved, his fine feeling, his humility—all combined in Joan's judgment to place him far above herself, though she had not words to name the qualities; but whereas another lowly woman, reaching this point, must, if she possessed any mother-wit or knowledge of the world, have awakened to the danger and grown guarded, Joan, claiming little wit to speak of, and being an empty vessel so far as knowledge of the world was concerned, saw no danger and allowed her thoughts to run away with her in a wholly insane direction. This she did for two reasons: because she felt absolutely safe, and because she suspected that Nature, who was "Mister Jan's" God, had now come to be her God also. The man was very wise, and he hated everything which lacked truth: therefore he would always do what was right, and he would not be less true to her than he was to the world. Truth was his guiding star, and he had always found Nature true. Therefore, why should not Joan find it true? Nature was talking to her now and teaching her rapidly. She must be content to wait and learn. The two men, Noy and Barren, fairly represented the opposite views of life each entertained, and Joan felt the new music wake a thousand sleeping echoes in her heart while the old grew more harsh and unlovely as she considered it. Joe had so many opinions and so little information; "Mister Jan" knew everything and asserted nothing save what Nature had taught him. Joe was so self-righteous and overbearing, so like her father, so convinced that Luke Gospeldom was the only gate to glory; "Mister Jan" had said there was more of the Everlasting God in a bluebell than in the whole of the Old Testament; he had declared that the smell of the gorse and the sunshine on the deep sea were better things than the incense and banners at St. Peter's; he had asserted that the purring of kittens was sweeter to the Father of all than the thunder of a mighty organ played in the noblest cathedral ever made with hands. All these foolish and inconsequent comparisons, uttered thoughtlessly by Barron's lips while his mind was on his picture, seemed very fine to Joan; and the finer because she did not understand them. Again, Joe rarely listened to her; this man always did, and he liked to hear her talk: he had declared as much.
Her brains almost hurt Joan on her way back to the white cottage that morning. They seemed so loaded; they lifted her up high above the working-day world and made her feel many years older. Such reflections and ideas came to grown women doubtless, she thought. A great unrest arose from the shadows of these varied speculations—a great unrest and disquiet—a feeling of coming change, like the note in the air when the swallows meet together in autumn, like the whisper of the leaves on the high tops of the forest before rain. Her heart was very full. She walked more slowly as the thoughts weighed heavier; she went back to her home round-eyed and solemn, wondering at many things, at the extension of the horizon of life, at the mental picture of Joe standing clearly out of the mists, viewed from a woman's standpoint.
That day much serving awaited her; but, at every turn and pause in the small affairs of her duty, Joan's mind swooped back like a hawk to the easel on Gorse Point; and when it did, her cheeks flushed and she turned to bend over sink or pig's trough to hide the new fire that burned in her heart and lighted her eyes.
Mrs. Tregenza, who had suffered from neuralgia and profound depression of spirit upon Tom's departure to the sea, but who comforted herself even in her darkest hour by reflection that no lugger boy ever joined the fishing fleet with such an equipment of new clothes as her son, was somewhat better and more cheerful now that the lad had made his first trip and survived it. Moreover, Tom would be home again that night in all probability, and, since Michael was last ashore, the butcher from Paul had called and offered three shillings and sixpence more for the next pig to be killed than ever a Tregenza pig had fetched until that day. Life therefore held some prosperity in it, even for Thomasin.
After their dinner both women, the elder with a shawl muffled about her face, went down the road to Newlyn to see a sight. They stopped at George Trevennick's little house. It had a garden in front of it with a short flagstaff erected thereon, and all looked neat, trim and ship-shape as became the home of a retired Royal Navy man. A wedding was afoot, and Mr. Trevennick, who never lost an opportunity to display his rare store of bunting, had plentifully shaken out bright reds and yellows, blues and greens. The little flags fluttered in four streamers from the head of the flagstaff, and their colors looked harsh and crude until associated with the human interests they marked.
Already many children gazed with awe from the road, while a favored few, including the Tregenzas, stood in Mr. Trevennick's garden, which was raised above the causeway. Great good-humor prevailed, together with some questionable jesting, and Joan heard the merriment with a sense of discomfort. They would talk like this when Joe came back to marry her; but the great day of a maid's life had lost its greatness for her now. The rough, good-natured fun grated on her nerves as it had never grated before; because, though she only guessed at the sly jokes of her elders, something told her that "Mister Jan" would have found no pleasure in such merriment. Mrs. Tregenza talked, Mr. Trevennick smoked, and Sally Trevennick, the old sailor's daughter, entertained the party and had a word for all. She was not young, and not well-favored, and unduly plump, but a sweet-hearted woman nevertheless, with a great love for the little children. This indeed presently appeared, for while the party waited there happened a tragedy in the street which brought extreme sorrow to a pair of very small people. They had a big crabshell full of dirt off the road which they drew after them by a string, and in which they took no small pride and pleasure; but a young sailor, coming hastily round a corner, trampled upon the shell, smashed it, and passed laughing on. The infants, overwhelmed by this sudden disaster to their most cherished earthly possession, crushed to the earth by this blotting out of the sunshine of the day, lifted up their voices and wept before the shattered ruins. One, the biggest, dropped the useless string and put his face against the wall, that his extreme grief might be hidden; but the smaller hesitated not to make his sorrows widely known. He bawled, then took a deep breath and bawled again. As the full extent of his loss was borne in upon him, he absolutely danced with access of frenzied grief; and everybody laughed but fat Sally Trevennick. Her black eyes grew clouded, and she went down into the road to bring comfort to the sufferers.
"Never mind, then; never mind, you bwoys; us'll get 'e another braave shell, so us will. Theer, theer, give over an' come 'long wi' me an' see the flags. Theer's many bigger auld crabshells wheer that comed from, I lay. Your faither'll get 'e another."
She took a hand of each babe and brought them into the garden, from which they could look down upon their fellows. Such exaltation naturally soothed their sufferings, and amid many gasps and gurgles they found a return to peace in the close contemplation of Mr. Trevennick's flagstaff and the discussion of a big saffron pasty.
Presently the bridegroom and his young brother passed on the way to church. Both looked the reverse of happy; both wore their Sunday broadcloth, and both swung along as fast as their legs would carry them. They were red hot and going five miles an hour; but, though Mousehole men, everybody in Newlyn knew them, and they were forced to run the gauntlet of much chaff.
"Time was when they did use to thrash a new-married couple to bed," said Mr. Trevennick. "'Twas an amoosin' carcumstance an' I've 'elped at many, but them good auld doin's is dyin' out fast."
Mrs. Tregenza was discussing the bridegroom's family.
"He be a poor Billy-be-damned sort o' feller, I've allus heard, an' awnly a common tinner, though his faither were a grass cap'n at Levant Mine."
"But he's a steady chap," said Sally; "an' them in his awn station sez he's reg'lar at church-goin' an' well thot 'pon by everybody. 'Tedn' all young pairs as parson'll ax out, I can tell 'e. He wants to knaw a bit 'fore 'e'll marry bwoys an' gals; but theer weren't no trouble 'bout Mark Taskes."
"Sure I'm glad to hear it, Sally, 'cause if he caan't do everything, everything won't be done. They Penns be a pauper lot—him a fish-jouster as ain't so much as his awn donkey an' cart, an' lame tu. Not that 'twas his awn fault, I s'pose, but they do say a lame chap's never caught in a good trick notwithstandin'."
"Here comes the weddeners!" said Joan, "but 'tedn' a very braave shaw," she added. "They'm all a-foot, I do b'lieve."
"Aw, my dear sawl! look at that now!" cried Mrs. Tregenza. "Walkin', ackshally walkin'. Well—well!"
The little bride advanced between her father and mother, while relations and friends marched two and two behind. A vision it was of age and youth, of bright spring flowers, of spotless cotton and black broadcloth. A matron or two marched in flaming colors; a few fishermen wore their blue jerseys under their reefer jackets; the smaller children were led by hand; and the whole party numbered twelve all told. Mr. Penn looked up at the flags as he limped along, and a great delight broke out upon his face; the bride's mother beamed with satisfaction at a compliment not by any means expected, for the Penns were a humble folk; and the bride blushed and stole a nervous peep at the display. Mr. Penn touched his hat to the party in the garden, and Mr. Trevennick, feeling the eye of the multitude upon him, loudly wished the wedding party well as it passed by.
"Good speed to 'e an' to the maid, Bill Penn. May she live 'appy an' be a credit to all parties consarned."
"Thank 'e, thank 'e, kindly, Mr. Trevennick. An' us takes it mighty favorable to see your butivul flags a hangin' out—mighty favorable, I 'sure 'e."
So the party tramped on and ugly Sally looked after them with dim eyes; but Mrs. Tregenza's thin voice dried them.
"A bad come-along o't for a gal to walk 'pon sich a day. They did ought to a got her a lift to her weddin', come what might."
"Maybe 'tis all wan to them poor dears. A coach an' four 'orses wouldn' make that cheel no better pleased. God bless her, did 'e look 'ow she flickered up when she seed faither's flags a flyin'?"
"Theer's a right way an' a wrong o' doin' weddin's, Sarah, an' 'tedn' a question whether a gal's better pleased or no. It's all wan to a dead corpse whether 'tis took to the yard in a black hearse wi' plumes, same as what us shall be, or whether 'tis borne 'pon wan o' them four 'anded stretchers used for carryin' fishin' nets, same as poor Albert Vallack was a while back—but wan way's proper an' t'other 'edn'."
"They'm savin' the money for the feed. Theer's gwaine to be a deal o' clome liftin' at Perm's cottage bimebye," said another of the party.
"No honeymoon neither, so I hear tell," added Mrs. Tregenza.
"But Taskes have bought flam-new furniture for his parlor, they sez," declared the former speaker.
"Of coorse. Still no honeymoon 'tall! Who ever heard tell of sich a thing nowadays? I wonder they ban't 'shamed."
"Less shame, Mrs. Tregenza, than trapsing off to Truro or somewheers an' wastin' their time an' spendin' money they'll be wanting back agin 'fore Christmas," retorted Sally, with some warmth.
But Mrs. Tregenza only shook her head and sighed.
"You speaks as a onmarried wummon, Sarah; but if you comed to be a bride you'd sing dif-fer'nt. No honeymoon's wrong, an' your faither'll tell the same."
Mr. Trevennick admitted that no honeymoon was bad. He went further and declared the omission of such an institution to be unprincipled. He even said that had he known of this serious defect in the ceremonies he should certainly have abstained from lending the brightness of his bunting to them. Then he went to eye the flags from different points of view, while Sally, in a minority of one, turned to Joan.
"And what do you say?" she asked. "You'm 'mazin' quiet an' tongue-tied for you. I s'pose you'm thinkin' of the time when Joe Noy comes home. I lay you'll have a honeymoon anyways."
"Iss, that you may depend 'pon," said Mrs. Tregenza.
And Joan, who had in truth been thinking of her sweetheart's return, grew red, whereat they all laughed. But she felt secretly superior to every one of them, for the shrinking process began to extend beyond Joe now. A fortnight before, she had been much gratified by allusions to the future and felt herself an important individual enough. Then, she must have shared her stepmother's pity at the poverty of the pageant which had just passed by. But now the world had changed. Matrimony with Joe Noy was not a subject which brought present delight to her, but the little bride who had just gone to her wedding filled Joan's thoughts. What was in that girl's heart, she greatly wondered. Did Milly Penn feel for long-legged Mark Taskes what Joan felt for "Mister Jan"? Was it possible that any other woman had ever experienced similar mysterious splendors of mind? She could not tell, but it seemed unlikely to her; it appeared improbable that an ordinary man had power to inspire another heart with such golden magic as glorified her own.
Presently she departed with her stepmother, whereupon Sally Trevennick relieved her pent-up feelings.
"Thank the Lard that chitter-faaced wummon edn' gwaine to the weddin' any ways! Us knaws she's a dear good sawl 'nough; but what wi' her sour voice, an' her sour way o' talkin', an' her sour 'pinions, she'm enough to set a rat-trap's teeth on edge."
That evening Thomasin had another spasm of face-ache and went to bed soon after drinking tea. Michael was due at home about ten o'clock or earlier, and Joan—having set out supper, made all ready, and ascertained that her stepmother had gone to sleep—walked out to the pierhead, there to wait for Mr. Tregenza and Tom. Under moonlight, the returning luggers crept homeward, like inky silhouettes on a background of dull silver. Every moment added to the forest of masts anchored at the moorings outside the harbor; every minute another rowing-boat shot between the granite piers, slid silently into the darkness under shore, leaving moonlit rings widening out behind at each dip of the oars. Joan sat down under the lighthouse and waited in the stillness for her father's boat. Yellow flashes, like fireflies, twinkled along through Newlyn, and above them the moon brought out square patches of silver-bright roof seen through a blue night. Now and then a bell rang in the harbor, and lights leaped here and there, mingling red snakes and streamers of fire with the white moonbeams where they lay on still water. Then Joan knew the fish were being sold by auction, and she grew anxious for her father's return, fearing prices might have fallen before he arrived. Great periods of silence lay between the ringings of the bell, and at such times only faint laughter floated out from shore, or blocks chipped and rattled as a sail came down or a concertina squeaked fitfully where it was played on a Norwegian iceboat at the harbor quay. The tide ran high, and Joan watched the lights reflected in the harbor and wondered why the gold of them contrasted so ill with the silver from the moon.
Presently two men came along to the pierhead. They smoked, looked at the sea, and did not notice her where she sat in shadow. One, the larger, wore knickerbockers, talked loudly, and looked a giant in the vague light; the other was muffled up in a big ulster, and Joan would not have recognized Barron had he not spoken. But he answered his friend, and then the girl's heart leaped to hear that quiet, unimpassioned voice. He spoke of matters which she did not understand, of pictures and light and all manner of puzzles set by Nature for the solution of art; but though for the most part his remarks conveyed no meaning to her, yet he closed a sentence with words that made her happy, and warmed her heart and left a precious memory behind them.
"Moonlight is a problem only less difficult than sunshine," he said to his friend. "Where are you going to get that?" and he pointed to the sea.
"It's been jolly well done all the same."
"Never. It is not to be done. You can suggest by a trick, but God defend us from tricks and sleight-of-hand in connection with the solemn business of painting pictures. Let us be true or nothing."
They walked away together, and Joan pondered over the last words. Truth seemed an eternal, abiding passion with John Barron, and the contemplation of this idea gave her considerable pleasure. She did not know that a man may be at once true to his art and a liar to his fellows.
Presently her father returned with Tom, and the three walked home together. Gray Michael appeared quietly satisfied that his son was shaping well and showing courage and nerve. But he silenced the lad quickly enough when Tom began to talk with some gasconade concerning greet deeds done westward of the Scilly Islands.
"'Let another man praise thee an' not thine awn mouth,' my bwoy," said Mr. Tregenza. "It ban't the wave as makes most splash what gaws highest up the beach, mind. You get Joan to teach 'e how to peel 'taties, 'cause 'tis a job you made a tidy bawk of, not to mention no other. Keep your weather-eye liftin' an' your tongue still. Then you'll do. An' mind—the bwoat's clean as a smelt by five o'clock to-morrow marnin', an' no later."
Tom, dashed by these base details, answered seaman fashion:
"Ay, ay, faither."
Then they all tramped home, and the boy enjoyed the glories of a late supper, though he was half asleep before he had finished it.
By half-past five o'clock, Mr. Tregenza's black lugger was off again in a gray dawn all tangled with gold on the eastern horizon.
His mother had given Tom an early breakfast at half-past four, and the youngster, agape and dim-eyed at first, speedily brightened up, for he had a willing listener, in the candle-light and poured a tale of moving incidents into Thomasin's proud but uneasy mind.
"Them Pritchards sez as they'll make a busker [Footnote: Busker—A rare good fisherman.] of me, 'cause it blawed a bit issterday marnin', but 'twas all wan to me; an' you abbun no call to fret yourself, nohow, mother, 'cause faither's 'lowed to be the best sailor in the fleet an' theer ban't a better foul-weather boat sails from Newlyn than ourn."
He chattered on, larding his discourse with new words picked up aboard, and presently rolled off to get things shipshape just as his father came down to breakfast.
When the men had gone, little remained to be done that day, and, by half-past seven, about which hour Mrs. Tregenza went into the village that she might whine with a widow who had two boys in the fleet, Joan found herself free until the afternoon. She determined therefore to reach Gorse Point before the artist should arrive there, and set off accordingly.
Early though she was, she had but a short time to wait, for Barron appeared with his big canvas by nine o'clock. She thought he showed more pleasure than usual at the sight of her. Certainly he shook hands and congratulated her upon such early hours.
"This is an unexpected pleasure, Joan. You must have been up betimes indeed."
"Iss fay, us took breakfus' by five, an' faither sailed 'fore half-past. 'Tis busy times for fishin' folk when the mackerl begins shoalin'."
"I'm glad I came back to my den in the fields yonder and didn't stop in Newlyn last night. You must see my little cow-byre some day or other, Joan. I've made it wonderfully snug. Farmer Ford is good enough to let me take possession of it for the present; and I've got food and drink stowed away, and a beautiful bed of sweet, withered bracken. I sleep well there, and the dawn comes in and wakens me."
"You ban't feared o' piskeys nor nothin' in a lawnsome plaace like thicky byre?"
"No, no—the rats are rather intrusive, though."
"But they'm piskeys or spriggans so like's not! You see, the lil people takes all manner o' shaapes, Mister Jan; an' they chaanges 'em tu, but every time they chaanges they've got to alter into somethin' smaller than what they was before. An' so, in coorse of time, they do say they comes down into muryans an' such like insects."
"Piskeys or no piskeys, I've caught several in a trap and killed them."
"They'm gashly things, rats, an' I shouldn't think as no good piskeys would turn into varmints like them."
"More should I. But something better than rats came to see me last night, Joan. Guess who it was."
"Why, you came!"
"Me, Mister Jan! You must a bin dreamin'!"
"Yes, of course I was; but such a lovely dream, Joan! You see, men who paint pictures and love what is beautiful and dream about beautiful things and beautiful people see all sorts of visions sometimes. I have pictures in my head a thousand times more splendid than any I shall ever put upon canvas, because mere paint-brushes cannot do much, even when they are in the cleverest hands; but a man's brain is not bound down by material, mechanical matters. My brain made a picture of you last night—a picture that came and looked at me on my fern bed—a picture so real, so alive that I could see it move and hear it laugh. You think that wonderful. It isn't really, because my brain has done nothing but think of you now for nearly six weeks. My eye studies you and stamps you upon my brain; then, when night comes, and no man works, and the world is dark and silent, my brain sets off on its own account and raises up a magic vision just to show me what you really are—how different to this poor daub here."
"Lard, Mister Jan! I never heard tell of sich a coorious thing as that."
"And the pretty dream-Joan can talk almost as well as you can! Why, last night, while I was half awake and half asleep, she put her hand upon my shoulder and said kind things, but I dared not move or kiss her hand at first for fear she would vanish if I did."
"That is a funny story, sure 'nough," she said. "I 'specs 'twas awnly another fairy body, arter all."
"No, it wasn't. She had your voice and your spirit in her; and that picture which my brain painted for me was so much better than the thing my hand has painted that, in the morning, I was almost tempted to destroy this altogether. But I didn't."
"An' what did this here misty sort o' maid say to 'e?"
"Strange things, strange things. Things I would give a great deal to hear you say. It seemed that you had come, Joan, it seemed that you had purposely come from your little cottage on the cliff through the darkness before dawn. Why? To share my loneliness, to brighten my poor shadowy life. Dreams are funny things, are they not? What d'you think you said?"
"Sure I dunnaw."
"Why, you said that you were not going to leave me any more; that you believed in me and that you had come to me because it was bad for a man to live all alone in the world. You said that you felt alone too—without me. And it made me feel happy to hear you say that, though I knew, all the time, that it was not the real beautiful Joan who spoke to me."
Thereupon the girl asked a question which seemed to argue some sharpening of intelligence within her.
"An' when I spoke that, what did you say, Mister Jan?"
"I didn't say anything at all. I just took that sweet Joan-of-dreams into my arms and kissed her."
He was looking listlessly out over the sea as he spoke, and Joan felt thankful his eyes were turned away from her, for this wonderful dream incident made her grow hot all over. He seemed to divine by her silence that his answer to her question had not added to her happiness.
"I shouldn't have told you that, Joan, only you asked me. You see, in dreams, we are real in some senses, though unreal in others. In dreams the savage part of us comes to the top and Nature can whisper to us. She chooses night to do so and often speaks to men in visions, because by day the voice of the world is in their ears and they have no attention for any other. It was strange, too, that I should fancy such a thing—should imagine I was kissing you—because I never kissed a woman in my life."
But from her point of view this falsehood was not so alluring as he meant to make it sound.
"'Twould be wrong to kiss any maiden, I reckon, onless you was tokened to her or she were your awn sister."
"But, as we look at life, we're all brothers and sisters, Joan—with Nature for our mother. We agreed about that long ago."
He turned to his easel, and she went and stood where her feet had already made a brown mark on the grass.
"I seen you last night, but you dedn' see me," she said, changing the conversation with abruptness.
"Yes, I did," he answered, "sitting under the shadow of the lighthouse, waiting for Mr. Tregenza, I expect."
"An' you never took no note o' me!"
He flung down his brushes, turned away from the picture before he had touched it, and went and lay near the edge of the cliff.
"Come here, Joan, and I will tell you why I didn't notice you, though I longed to do so. Come and sit down by me and I'll explain why I seemed so rude."
She came slowly and sat down some distance from him, putting her elbows on her knees and looking away to sea.
"'Tweern't kind," she said, "but when you'm with other folks, I s'pose you'm ashamed o' me 'spite what you tawld me 'bout yourself."
"You mustn't say that, Joan, or you'll make me unhappy. Ashamed of you! Is it likely I'm ashamed of the only friend I've got in the world? No, I'm frightened of losing you; I'm selfish; I couldn't make you known to any other man because I should be afraid you'd like him better than me, and then I should have no friend at all. So I wouldn't speak and reveal my treasure to anybody else. I'm very fond of my friend, and very proud of her, and as greedy as a miser over his gold."
Joan took a long breath before this tremendous assertion. He had told her in so many words that he was fond of her; and he had mentioned it most casually as a point long since decided. Here was the question which she had asked herself so often answered once for all. Her heart leaped at tidings of great joy, and as she looked up into his face the man saw infinite wonder and delight in her own. Mind was adding beauty to flesh, and he, fast losing the artist's instinct before another, thought she had never looked so lovely as then.