"Oh, Mister Jan, you'm fond o' me!"
"Why, didn't you know it, Joan? Did it want my words to tell you so? Hadn't you guessed it?"
He rose slowly and approached his picture.
"Oh, how I wish this was a little more like my dream and like reality! I need inspiration, Joan; I have reached a point beyond which I cannot go. My colors are dead; my soul is dead. Something must happen to me or I shall never finish this."
"Ban't you so well as you was?"
"No, Joan, I'm not. A thing has come between me and my happiness, between me and my picture. I know not what to call it. Nature has sent it."
"Then 'tis right an' proper, I s'pose?"
"I suppose so, but it stops work. It makes my hand shake and my heart throb fast and my brains grow hot."
"Can't 'e take no physic for't?"
"Why, yes, but I hesitate."
He turned to her and went close to her.
"Let me look at you, Joan—close—very close—so close that I can feel your breath. It was so easy to learn the furze; it is so hard to learn you."
"Sure I've comed out butivul in the picksher."
"Not yet, not yet."
He put his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes until she grew nervous and brushed her hand across her cheek. Then, without a second's warning, he bent down and kissed her on the mouth.
"Mister Jan! How could 'e! 'Tis wrong—wrong of 'e! I'd never a thot—"
She started from him, wild, alarmed, blushing hotly; and he shook his head at her dismay and answered very calmly, very seriously:
"It was not wrong, Joan, or I should not have done it. You heard me ask to whom I should pray for inspiration, and Nature told me I must seek it from you. And I have."
"You shouldn't never a done it. I trusted 'e so!"
"But I had to do it. Nature said 'Kiss her, and you will find what you want.' Do you understand that? I have touched you and I am awake and alive again; I have touched you, Joan, and I am not hopeless and sad, but happy. Nature thought of me, Joan, when she made you and brought you into the world; and she thought of sweet Joan when she fashioned Jan. Believe it—you must believe it."
"You did ought to a arsked me."
"Listen. Nature let you live quiet in the country—for me, Joan. She let me live all lonely in the world—for you. Only for you. Can't you understand?"
"You did ought to a arsked me. Kissing be wrong 'tween us. You knaws it, Mr. Jan."
"It is right and proper and fair and beautiful," he said quietly. "My heart sang when I kissed you, Joan, and so did yours. D'you know why? Because we are two halves of a whole. Because the sunshine of your life would go out without me; because my life, which never had any sunshine in it until now, has been full of sunshine since I knew Joan."
"I dunnaw. 'Twadden a proper thing to do, seein' how I trusted 'e."
"We are children of Nature, Joan. I always do what she tells me. I can't help it. I have obeyed her all my life. She tells me to love you, Joan, and I do. I'm very sorry. I thought she had told you to love me, but I suppose I was wrong. Never mind this once. Forgive me, Joan. I'll even fight Nature rather than make you angry with me. Let me finish my picture and go away. Come. I've no business to waste your precious time, though you have been so kind and generous with it. Only I was tired and hopeless and you came like a drink of wine to me, Joan; and I drank too much, I suppose."
He picked up his brushes, spoke in a sad minor key, and seemed crushed and weary. The flash died from his face and he looked older again. Joan, the mistress of the situation, found it wholly bitter. She was bewildered, for affairs had proceeded with such rapidity. He had declared frankly that he loved her, and yet had stopped there. To her ideas it was impossible that a man should say as much as that to a woman and no more. Love invariably meant ultimate union for life, Joan thought. She could not understand any other end to it. The man talked about Nature as a little child talks of its mother. He had deemed himself entirely in the right; yet something—not Nature, she supposed—had told her that he was wrong. But who was she to judge him? Who was she to say where his conduct erred? He loved truth. It was not a lie to kiss a girl. He promised nothing. How could he promise anything or propose anything? Was she not another man's sweetheart? That doubtless had been the reason why he had said no more than that he loved her. To love her could be no sin. Nature had told him to; and God knew how she loved him now.
But she could not make it up with him. A cold curtain seemed to have fallen between them. The old reserve which had only melted after many meetings, was upon him again. He stood, as it seemed, on the former pedestal. A strange, surging sensation filled her head—a sense of helpless fighting against a flood of unhappy affairs. All the new glory of life was suddenly tarnished through her own act, and she felt that things could never be the same again.
She thought and thought. Then John Barron saw Joan's blue eyes begin to wink ominously, the corners of her bonny mouth drag down and something bright twinkle over her cheek. He took no notice, and when he looked up again, she had moved away and was sitting on the grass crying bitterly with her hands over her face. The sun was bright, a lark sang overhead; from adjacent inland fields came the jolt and clank of a plow with a man's voice calling to his horses at the turns. The artist put down his palette and walked over to Joan.
"My dear, my dear," he said, "d'you know what's making you so unhappy?"
She sobbed on and did not answer.
"I can tell you, I think. You don't quite know whether to believe me or not, Joan. That is very natural. Why should you believe me? And yet if you knew—"
She sat up, swallowed some of her tears, and smudged her face with her knuckles. He took a clean handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her. It was cool and pleasant, and she went on crying a while, but tears which were comforting and different to the first stinging drops bred from a sudden, forlorn survey of life. He talked on, and his voice soothed her. He kept his distance, and presently, as her ruffled spirit grew calmer, his remarks assumed a brighter note.
"Has my poor little Lady of the Gorse forgiven me at last? She won't punish me any more, I know, and it is a very terrible punishment to see tears in her eyes."
Then she found her tongue again and words to answer him, together with fluttering sighs that told the tears were ended.
"I dunnaw why for I cried, Mr. Jan, but I seemed 'mazed like. I'm a stupid fule of a maid, I reckon, an' I s'pose 'tis auld-fashioned notions as I've got 'bout what be right an' wrong. But, coorse, you knaws better'n what I can; an' you'd do me no hurt 'cause you loves me—you've said it; an'—an'—I love 'e tu, Mister Jan, I 'sure 'e—better'n anything in all the world."
"Why, that's good, sweet news, Joan; and Nature told me the truth after all! We're bound to love one another. She made us for that very reason!"
He knew that her mind was full of the tangles of life and that she wanted him to solve some of the riddles just then uppermost in her own existence. He felt that Joe was in her thoughts, and he easily divined her unuttered question as to why Nature had sent Joe before she had sent him. But, though answers and explanations of her troubles were not likely to be difficult, he had no wish to make them or to pursue the subject just then. Indeed, he bid Joan depart an hour before she need have done so. Her face was spoiled for that sitting, and matters had progressed up to the threshold of the barrier. Before that could be broken down, she must be made to feel that she was necessary to the happiness of his life; as he already felt that she was necessary to the completion of his picture. She loved him very dearly, and he, though love was not possible to his nature, could feel the substitute. He had fairly stepped out of his impersonal shell into reality. Presently he would return to his shell again. For a moment a model had grown more to him than a picture; and he told himself that he must obey Nature in order adequately to serve Art.
He picked up the handkerchief he had lent Joan, looked at the dampness of the tear-stains, and then spread it in the sun to dry.
JOAN WALKS HOME
While John Barren determined that a space of time extending over some days should now separate him from Joan, she, for her part, had scarce left Gorse Point after the conversation just chronicled when there came a great longing in her heart to return thither. As she walked home she viewed wearily the hours which lay between her and the following morning when she might go back to him and see his face again. Time promised to drag for the next day and night. Already she framed in her mind the things her mouth should say to-morrow; and that almost before she was beyond sight of the man's easel. Her fears had vanished with her tears. The future was entirely in his hand now, for she had accepted his teaching, endeavored to look at life with his eyes, made his God her own, so far as she had wit to gather what his God was. She accepted the situation with trust, and felt responsibility shifted on to "Mister Jan's" shoulders with infinite relief. He was very wise and knew everything and loved the truth. It is desirable to harp and harp upon this ever-recurring thought: the artist's grand love for truth; because all channels of Joan's mind flowed into this lake. His sincerity begat absolute trust. And, as John Barren and his words and thoughts filled the foreground of life for her, so, correspondingly, did the affairs of her home, with all the circumstances of existence in the old environment, peak and dwindle toward shadowy insignificance. Her father lost his majestic proportions; the Luke Gospelers became mere objects for compassion; the petty, temporal interests and concerns of the passing hour appeared mere worthless affairs for the occupation and waste of time. "Mister Jan" loved her, and she loved him, and what else mattered? Past hours of unrest and wakefulness were forgotten; her tears washed the dead anxieties clean away; and the kiss which had caused them, though it scorched her lip when it fell there, was now set as a seal and a crowning glory to her life. He never kissed any other woman. That pledge of this rare man's affection had been won by the magic of love, and Joan welcomed Nature gladly and called it God with a warm heart and thankful soul; for Nature had brought about this miracle. Her former religion worked no wonders; it had only conveyed terror to her and a comprehensive knowledge of hell. "Mister Jan" smiled at hell and she could laugh at her old fears. How was it possible to hesitate between two such creeds? She did not do so, and, with final acceptation of the new, and secret rejection of the old, came a great peace to Joan's heart with the whisper of many voices telling her that she had done rightly.
So the storm gave place to periods of delicious calm and content only clouded by a longing to be back with the artist again. He loved her; the voice of his love was the song of the spring weather, and the thrush echoed it and the early flowers wrote it on the hedgerows. God was everywhere to her open eyes. Everything that was beautiful, everything that was good, seemed to have been created for her delight during that homeward walk. She was mightily lifted up. Nature seemed so strong, so kind, such a guardian angel for a maiden. And the birds sang out that "Mister Jan" was Nature's priest and could do no wrong; and that to obey Nature was the highest good.
From which reflection rose a hazy happiness—dim, beautiful and indefinable as the twinkling gold upon the sea under the throne of the sun. Joan dwelt on the memory of the day which was now over for her, and on the thought of morning hours which to-morrow would bring. But she looked no further; and backward she did not gaze at all. No thought of Joe Noy dimmed her mental delight; no shadowy cloud darkened the horizon then. All was bright, all perfect. Her mind seemed to be breaking its little case, as the butterfly bursts the chrysalis. Her life till then had been mere grub existence; now she could fly and had seen the sun drawing the scent from flowers. Great ideas filled her soul; new emotions awoke; she was like a baby trying to utter the thing he has no word for; her vocabulary broke down under the strain, and as she walked she gave thanks to Nature in a mere wordless song, like the lark, because she could not put her acknowledgment into language. But the great Mother, to whom Life is all in all, the living individual nothing, looked on at a world wakening from sleep and viewed the loves of the flowers and the loves of the birds and beasts and fishes with concern as keen as the love in the blue eyes of Joan upon her homeward way.
Busy indeed at this vernal season was the mysterious Nurse of God's little world. Her hands rested not from her labors. She worked strange wonders on the waste, by magic of a million breaking buds, by burying of the dead, by wafting of subtle pollen-life from blossom to blossom. And in cliffs above the green waters the nests of her wild-fowl were already lined with wool and feather; neither were her samphires forgotten in their dizzy habitations; and salt spray sprinkled her uncurling sea ferns in caves and crannies where they grew. She laughed at the porpoises rolling their fat sides into sunshine; she brought the sea-otter where it should find fish for its young; she led giant congers to drowned men; she patted the sleek head of the sad-eyed seal. Elsewhere she showed the father-hawk a leveret crouching in his form; she took young rabbits to the new spring grass; the fox to the fowl, the fly to the spider, the blight to the bud. Her weakly nestlings fell from tree and cliff to die, but she beheld unmoved; her weasel sucked the gray-bird's egg, yet no hand was raised against the thief, no voice comforted the screaming agony of the mother. With the van of her legions she moved, and the suffering stragglers cried in vain, for her concerns were not with them. She did no right, she worked no evil; she was not cruel, neither shall we call her kind. The servant of God was she, then as always, heedful of His utterances, obedient to His laws. Which laws, when man better divines, he shall learn thy secret too, Nurse of the world, but not sooner.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN LONELY DAYS
Having already learned from experience that hard work quickens the flight of time, Joan, returning in happy mood to her home and with no trace of the past tears upon her cheeks, surprised Mrs. Tregenza by a display of most unusual energy and activity. She helped the butcher to get the pig into a low cart built expressly for the conveyance of such unwieldy animals; she looked mournfully at her departing companion, knowing that the morrow had nothing for him but a knife, that he had eaten his last meal. And while Joan listened to the farewell grunts of the fattest pig which had ever adorned her father's sty, Mrs. Tregenza counted the money and bit a piece here and there, and wondered if she could get the next young pig from Uncle Chirgwin for even a lower figure than the last.
The day which had wrought such wonders for Joan's inner life, and brought to her eyes a sort of tears unshed till then, ended at last, and for her a sleepless night followed upon it. Not until long past one o'clock in the morning did she lose consciousness, and then the thoughts of the day broke loose again in visions, taking upon themselves fantastic shapes and moving amid dream scenery of strange splendor. Now it was her turn to conjure brain pictures out of fevered thoughts, and she woke at last with a start in the dawn, to see a faint light painting the square of her bedroom window. Looking out, she found the world dimly visible, a darker shadow through the gloom where the fishing-boats were gathering in the bay, the lighthouse lamp still shining, stars twinkling overhead, absolute silence everywhere, and a cold bite about the air. The girl went back to bed again, but slept no more and anon arose, dressed, set about morning duties, and, much to Mrs. Tregenza's astonishment, had the fire burning and breakfast ready by the time her stepmother appeared.
"Aw jimmery!" Thomasin exclaimed, as Joan came in from the outhouse to find her warming cold hands at the fire, "I couldn't b'lieve my eyes at first an' thot the piskey men had come to do us a turn spite o' what faither sez. You've turned over a leaf seemin'ly. Workin' out o' core be a new game for you."
"I couldn' sleep for thinkin' 'bout—'bout the pig an' wan thing an' 'nother."
"He's pork now, or nearly. You heard butcher promise me some nattlins, dedn' 'e? You'd best walk up to Paul bimebye an' fetch, 'em. 'Tis easier to call to mind other folk's promises than our awn. He said the same last pig-killin' an' it comed to nort."
Joan escaped soon after breakfast and set off eagerly enough. She took a basket with her and designed to call at Paul on the way home again. Moreover, she chose a longer route to Gorse Point than that through Mousehole, for her very regular habits of late had caused some comment in that village, and more than one acquaintance had asked her, half in jest, half in earnest, who it was she went to see up Mousehole hill. This had frightened Joan twice already, and to-day, for the first time, she took the longer route above Paul Church-town. It brought her over fields near the cow-byre where Barren spent much of his time and kept his picture; and when she saw her footpath must pass the door of the little house, a flutter quickened her pulses and she branched away over the field and proceeded to the cliffs through a gap in the hedge some distance from the byre.
But as Joan came out upon the sward through the furzes her heart sank in sight of loneliness. She was not early to-day, but she had come earlier than "Mister Jan." The gray figure was invisible. There were the marks on the turf where his easel and camp-stool stood; there was the spot his feet were wont to press, and her own standing-point against the glimmering gorse; but that was all. She knew of no reason for his delay. The weather was splendid, the day was warm, and he had never been so late before within her recollection. Joan, much wondering, sat down to wait with her eyes upon the sea, her ears alert for the first footstep, and her mind listening also. Time passed, and indefinite uneasiness grew into a fear; then that expanded and multiplied as her mind approached the problem of "Mister Jan's" non-appearance from a dozen different standpoints. Hope declared some private concern had kept him and he would not be long in coming; fear inquired what unforeseen incident was likely to have risen since yesterday—asked the question and answered it a dozen ways. The girl waited, walked here and there, scanned the footpath and the road, returned, sat down in patience, ate a cake she had brought, and so whiled the long minutes away. The fears grew as hour and half-hour passed—fears for him, not herself. The crowning despair did not touch her mind till later, and her first sorrow was a simple terror that harm had fallen upon the man. He had told her that he valued life but little, that at best no great length of days awaited him; and now she thought that wandering about the cliffs by night he might have met the death he did not fear. Then she remembered he was but a sick man always, with frail breathing parts; and her thoughts turned to the shed, and she pictured him lying ill there, unable to communicate with friends, perhaps waiting and praying long hours for her footfall as she had been waiting and praying for his. Upon this most plausible possibility striking Joan, her heart beat at her breast and her cheeks grew white. She rose from her seat upon the cliff, turned her face to the cow-byre and made a few quick steps in that direction. Then a vague flutter of sense, as of warning where no danger is visible, slowed her speed for a moment; but her heart was strung to action, and the strange new voice did not sound like Nature's, so she put it aside and let it drown into silence before the clamor of fear for "Mister Jan's" well-being. Indeed, that dim premonitory whisper excited a moment's anger in the girl that any distrust could shadow her love for such a one at such a time. She hated herself, held the thought a sin of her own commission, and sped onward until she stood upon the northern side of the byre in a shadow cast from it by the sun. The place was padlocked, and at that sight Joan's spirits, though they rose in one direction, yet fell in another. One fear vanished, a second loomed the larger; for the padlock, while it indicated that the artist had left his lonely habitation for the time, did not explain his absence now or dispel the possibilities of an accident or disaster. The tar-pitched double door of the shed was fast and offered no peep-hole; but Joan went round to the south side, where an aperture appeared and where a little glass window had taken the place of the wooden shutters. Sunshine lighted the shed inside; she could see every detail of the chamber, and she photographed it on her mind with a quick glance. A big easel with the life-size picture of herself upon it stood in the middle of the shed, and a smaller easel appeared hard by. The artist's palettes, brushes and colors littered a bench, and bottles and tumblers were scattered among them. Two pipes which she had seen in his mouth lay together upon a box on the floor, and beside them stood a tin of tobacco wrapped in yellow paper. A white umbrella and some sticks stood in one corner, and another she saw was filled by some railway rugs spread over dried bracken. Two coats hung on nails in the wall, and above one was suspended a Panama hat which Barren often wore when painting. Something moved suddenly, and, looking upon the stone floor, she saw a rat-trap with a live rat in it. The beast was running as far as it could this way and that, poking its nose up and trying the roof of its prison. She noticed its snout was raw from thrusting between the wire, and she wished she could get in to kill it. She did not know that it was a mother rat with young ones outside squeaking faintly in the stack of mangel-wurzels; she did not know, as it hopped round and round, that its beady eyes were glittering with a great agony, and that the Mother of all was powerless to break down a mere wire or two and save it.
Presently, worn and weary, Joan trudged home again, with no very happy mind. She found food for comfort in one reflection alone: the artist had made no special appointment for that day, and it might be that business or an engagement at Newlyn, Penzance or elsewhere was occupying his time. She felt it must be so, and tried hard to convince herself that he would surely be at the usual spot upon the morrow.
So she walked home unhappy; and time, which had dragged yesterday, to-day stood still. Before night she had lived an age; the hours of darkness were endless, but her father's return furnished excuse for another morning of early rising; and when Gray Michael and Tom had eaten, donned clean raiment and returned to the sea, Joan, having seen them to the pierhead, did not go home, but hastened straight away for Gorse Point, and arrived there earlier than ever she had done before. There was something soothing to her troubled mind in being upon the spot sacred to him. Though he was not present, she seemed closer far to him on Gorse Point than anywhere else. His foot had marked the turf there; his eye had mirrored the furzes a hundred times; she knew just where his shadow had fallen as be stood painting, and the spot upon which he was wont to sit by the cliff-edge when came the time for rest. Beside this holy place she now seated herself and waited with hope higher in the splendor of morning; for sorrows, fears and ills are always blackest when the sun has set, and every man or woman can better face trouble on opening their eyes in a sunny dawn than after midnight has struck, a sad day left them weakened, and nothing wakes in the world but Care and themselves.
The morning wore away, and the old fears returned with greater force to chill her soul. The sun was burnishing the sea, and she watched Mousehole luggers putting out and dancing away through the gold. Under the cliffs the gulls wheeled with sad cries and the long-necked cormorants hastened backward and forward, now flying fast and low over the water, now fishing here and there in couples. She saw them rear in the water as they dived, then go down head first, leaving a rippling circle which widened out and vanished long before the fishers bobbed up again twenty yards further on. Time after time she watched them, speculating vaguely after each disappearance as to how long the bird would remain out of sight. Then she turned her face to the land, weary of waiting, weary of the bright sea and sky, and the music of the gulls, and of life. She sat down again presently, and put her hand over her face and struggled with her thoughts. Manifold fears compassed her mind about, but one, not felt till then, rose now, a giant above the rest. Yesterday she had been all alarm for "Mister Jan"; to-day there came terror for herself. Something said "He has gone, he has left you." Her brain, without any warning, framed the words and spoke them to her. It was as though a stranger had brought the news, and she rose up white and stricken at this fatal explanation of the artist's continued absence. She put the thought from her as she had put another, but it returned with pertinacity, and each time larger than before, until the fear filled all her mind and made her wild and desperate, under the conviction of a sudden, awful life-quake launched against her existence to shatter all her new joy and dash the brimming cup of love from her lips.
Hours passed, and she grew somewhat faint and hollow every way—in head and heart and stomach. Her eyes ached, her brains were worn out with thinking; she felt old, and her body was heavy and energy dead. The world changed, too. The gorse looked strange as the sun went round, the lark sang no more, the wind blew coldly, and the sea's gold was darkened by a rack of flying clouds whose shadows fell purple and gray upon the waters. He had gone; he had left her; perhaps she would never see him or hear of him again. Then the place grew hateful to her and terrible as a grave. She dragged herself away, dizzy, weary, wretched; and not until half way home again did she find power to steady her mind and control thought. Then the old alarm returned—that first fear which had pictured him dead, perhaps even now rolling over and over under the precipices, or hid forever in the cranny of some dark cavern at the root of the cliffs, where high tides spouted and thundered and battered the flesh off his bones against granite. She suffered terribly in mind upon that homeward journey. Her own light and darkness mattered nothing now, and her personal and selfish fears had vanished before she reached Newlyn. She was thinking how she should raise an alarm, how she should tell his friends, who possibly imagined "Mister Jan" safe and comfortable in his cow-byre. But who were his friends and how should she approach them without such a step becoming known and getting talked about? Her misery was stamped on her face when she at last returned to the white cottage at three o'clock in the afternoon of that day, and Mrs. Tregenza saw it there.
"God save us! wheer you bin to, an' what you bin 'bout? You'm so pasty an' round-eyed as if you'd bin piskey-led somewheers. An' me worn to death wi' work. An' wheer'm the nattlins an' the basket?"
Joan had quite forgotten her commission and left the basket on Gorse Point.
"I'll gaw back bimebye," she said. "I bin walkin' 'long the cliffs in the sun an' forgot the time. Gimme somethin' t'ate, mother; I be hungry an' fainty like wi' gwaine tu far. I could hardly fetch home."
"You'm a queer twoad," said Thomasin, "an' I doan't knaw what's come over 'e of late days. 'Pears to me you'm hidin' summat; an' if I thot that, I'd mighty quick get faither to find out what 'twas, I can tell 'e."
Then she went off, and brought some cold potatoes and dripping, with bread and salt, and a cup of milk.
The lesson which he had set for Joan Tregenza's learning taught John Barron something also. Eight-and-forty hours he stayed in Newlyn, and was astounded to find during that period what grip this girl had got upon his mind, how she had dragged him out of himself. His first thought was to escape all physical excitement and emotion by abandoning his picture almost upon the moment of its completion and abandoning his model too; but various considerations cried out against such a course. To go was to escape no difficulty, but to fly from the spoils of victory. The fruit only wanted plucking, and, through pleasure, he believed that he would proceed to speedy, easy and triumphant completion of his picture. No lasting compunction colored the tenor of his thoughts. Once, indeed, upon the day when he returned to Gorse Point and saw Joan again, some shadow of regret for her swept through his brain; but that and the issue of it will be detailed in their place.
Time went heavily for him away from Joan. He roamed listlessly here and there and watched the weather-glass uneasily; for this abstention from work was a deliberate challenge to Providence to change sunshine for rain and high temperature for low. Upon the third day therefore he returned at early morning to his picture in the shed. The greater part was finished, and the masses of gorse stood out strong, solid and complete with the slender brown figure before them. The face of it was very sweet, but to Barron it seemed as the face of a ghost, with no hot blood in its veins, no live interests in its eyes.
"'Tis the countenance of a nun," he said sneeringly to himself. "No fire, no love, no story—a sweet virgin page of life, innocent of history or of interest as a new-blown lily." The problem was difficult, and he had now quite convinced himself that solution depended on one course alone. "And why not?" he asked himself. "Why, when pleasures are offered, shall I refuse them? God knows Nature is chary enough with her delights. She has sowed death in me, here in my lungs. I shall bleed away my life some day or die strangled, unless I anticipate the climax and choose another exit. Why not take what she throws to me in the meantime?"
He walked down to the Point, set up his easel and waited, feeling that Joan had certainly made two pilgrimages since his last visit and little doubting that she would come a third time. Presently indeed she did, scarcely daring to raise her eyes, but flushing with great waves of joy when she saw him, and crying "Mister Jan!" in a triumphant ripple of music from a full heart. Then the artist rose very boldly and put his arms round her and looked into her face, while she nestled close to him and shut her eyes with a sigh of sheer content and thankfulness. She had learned her lesson thoroughly enough; she felt she could not live without him now, and when he kissed her she did not start from the caress, but opened her eyes and looked into his face with great yearning love.
"Oh, thank the good God you'm comed back agin to me! To think it be awnly two lil days! An' the time have seemed a hunderd years. I thot 'e was lost or dead or killed, an' I seed 'e, when I slept, a tossin' over down in the zawns [Footnote: Zawns—Sea caves.] where the sea roars an' makes the world shake. Oh, Mister Jan, an' I woke screamin', an' mother comed up, an' I near spoke your name, but not quite."
"You need not have feared for me, Joan, though I have been very miserable too, my little sweetheart; I have indeed. I was overworked and worried and wretched, so I stopped in Newlyn, but being away from you had only taught me I cannot exist away from you. The time was long and dreary, and it would have been still worse had I known that you were unhappy."
"'Tweer wisht days for me, Mister Jan. I be such a poor lass in brains, an' I could awnly think of trouble 'cause I loved 'e so true. 'Tedn' like the same plaace when you'm away. Then I thot you'd gone right back to Lunnon, an' I judged my heart 'ud break for 'e, I did."
"Poor little blue-eyed woman! Could you really think I was such a brute?"
"'Twas awnly wan thot among many. I never thot so much afore in my life. An' I looked 'bout tu; an' I went up to the lil byre, where your things was, an' peeped in en. But I seed naught of 'e, awnly a gashly auld rat in a trap. But 'e won't gaw aways like that ag'in, will 'e?"
"No, no. It was too bad."
"Coorse I knawed that if all was well with 'e, you'd a done the right thing, but it 'peared as if the right thing couldn' be to leave me, Mister Jan—not now, now you be my world like; 'cause theer edn' nothin' or nobody else in the world but you for me. 'Tis wicked, but t'others be all faded away; an' faither's nort, an' Joe's nort, alongside o' you."
He did not answer, and began to paint. Joan's face was far short of looking its best; there were dark shadows under her eyes and less color than usual brightened her cheeks. He tried to work, but circumstances and his own feelings were alike against him. He was restless and lacked patience, nor could his eye see color aright. In half an hour he had spoiled not a little of what was already done. Then he took a palette-knife, made a clean sweep of much previous labor and began again. But the music of her happy voice was in his blood. The child had come out of the valley of sorrow and she was boisterously happy and her laughter made him wild. Mists gathered in his eyes and his breath caught now and again. Passion fairly gripped him by the throat till even the sound of his own voice was strange to him and he felt his knees shake. He put down his brushes, turned from the picture, and went to the cliff-edge, there flinging himself down upon the grass.
"I cannot paint to-day, Joan; I'm too over-joyed at getting you back to me. My hand is not steady, and my Joan of paint and canvas seems worse and feebler than ever beside your flesh and blood. You don't know—you cannot guess how I have missed you."
"Iss fay, but I can, Mister Jan, if you felt same as what I done. 'Tweer cruel, cruel. But then you've got a many things an' folks to fill up your time along with; I abbun got nothin' now but you."
"I expect Joe often thinks about you."
"I dunnaw. 'Tis awful wicked, but Joe he gone clean out my mind now. I thot I loved en, but I was a cheel then an' I didn't 'sackly knaw what love was; now I do. 'Twadden what I felt for Joe Noy 'tall; 'tis what I feels for you, Mister Jan."
"Ah, I like to hear you say that. Nature has brought you to me, Joan, my little jewel; and she has brought Jan to you. You could not understand that last time I told you; now you can and you do. We belong to each other—you and I—and to nobody else."
"I'd be well content to belong to 'e, Mister Jan. You'm my good fairy, I reckon. If I could work for 'e allus an' see 'e an' 'ear 'e every day, I shouldn' want nothin' better'n that."
Then it was that the shade of a compunction and the shadow of a regret touched John Barron; and it cooled his hot blood for a brief moment, and he swore to himself he would try to paint her again as she was. He would fight Nature for once and try if pure intellect was strong enough to get the face he wanted on to the canvas without the gratification of his flesh and blood. In which determination glimmered something almost approaching to self-sacrifice in such a man. He did not answer Joan's last remark, but rose and went to his picture, and she, thinking herself snubbed by his silence after her avowal, grew hot and uncomfortable.
"The weather is going to change, sweetheart," he said, allowing himself the luxury of affectionate words in the moment of his half-hearted struggle; "the weather-glass creeps back slowly. We must not waste time. Come, Joan; we are the children of Nature, but the slaves of Art. Let me try again."
But she, who had spoken in all innocence and with a child's love, was pained that he should have taken no note of her speech. She was almost angry that he had power to conjure such words to her lips; and yet the anger vanished from her mind quickly enough and her thoughts were all happy as she resumed her pose for him.
The past few days had vastly deepened and widened her mental horizon; and now Barron for the first time saw something of what he wanted in her eyes as she gazed away over the sea and did not look at him as usual. There, sure enough, was the soul that he knew slept somewhere, but had never seen until then. And the sight of it came as a shock and swept away his sophistries and ugly-woven ideas. Inclination had told him that Nature, through one channel only, would bring the mystery of hidden thought to Joan's blue eyes, and he had felt well satisfied to believe it was so; but now even the plea of Art could not excuse the thing which had grown within him of late, for experiences other than those he dreamed of had glorified the frank blue eyes and brought mind into them. Now it only remained for him to paint them if he could. Not wholly untroubled, but never much more beautiful than that morning, Joan gazed out upon the remote sea. Then the thoughtful mood passed, and she laughed and babbled again, and the new-born beauty departed from her eyes for a season, and the warm blood raced through her veins, and she was all happiness. Meanwhile nothing came of his painting and he was not sorry when she ended the ordeal.
"The bwoats be comin' back home along, Mister Jan. I doan't mark faither's yet, but when 'tis wance in sight he'll be to Newlyn sooner'n me. So I'd best be gwaine, though it edn' more than noon, I s'pose. An' my heart's a tidy sight lighter now than 'tweer issterday indeed."
"I'm almost afraid to let you go, Joan."
She looked at him curiously, waiting for his bidding, but he seemed moody, and said no more.
"When be you comin' next?"
"To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow, my pearl above price. It is so hard, so very hard," he answered. "Fine or wet I shall be here to-morrow, for I am not going back to Newlyn again till my work is done. Three more sittings, Joan, if you have enough patience—"
"In coorse, Mister Jan."
She did not explain to him what difficulties daily grew in the way of her coming, how rumor was alive, and how her stepmother had threatened more than once to tell Gray Michael that his wayward daughter was growing a gadabout. Joan had explained away her roaming with a variety of more or less ingenious lies, and she always found her brain startlingly fertile where the artist and his picture were concerned. She felt little doubt that three more visits to Gorse Point might be achieved—ay, and thirty more if necessary. But afterward? What would follow the painting of the picture? She asked herself the question as he kissed her, with a kiss that was almost rough, while he bid her go quickly; and the former reply to every doubt made answer. Her fears fled as usual before the invigorating spectacle of this sterling, truth-loving man. With him all the future remained and with him only. Hers was the pleasant, passive task of obedience to one utterly trusted and passionately loved. Her fate lay hidden in his heart, as the fate of the clay lies hid in the brain of the potter.
And so home she went, walking in a sunshine of her own thoughts. The clouds were gone; they massed gloomily on the horizon of the past; but looking forward, she saw no more of them. All time to come was at the disposition of the wisest man she had ever met. She did not know or guess at the battle which this same wise man had fought and lost under her eyes; she gathered nothing of the truth from his gloom, his silence, his changed voice, his sudden farewell. She did not know passion when she saw it; and the ugly visible signs thereof told no tale to her.
That night the change came and the wind veered first to the south, then to the southwest. By morning, gray clouds hid the sky and hourly grew darker and lower. As yet no rain fell, but the world had altered, and every light-value, from an artist's standpoint, was modified.
John Barren sat by his stove in the byre, made himself a cup of black coffee, and presently, wrapped in a big mackintosh, walked out to Gorse Point. His picture he left, of course, at the shed, for painting was out of the question.
Nature, who had been smiling so pleasantly in sunshine these many days, now awoke in a grim gray mood. The sea ran high, its white foam-caps and ridges fretting the rolling volume of it; the luggers fought their way out with buried noses and laboring hulls; rain still held off, but it was coming quickly, and the furze and the young grasses panted for it on Gorse Point. Below the cliffs a wild spirit inhabited the sea fowl, and they screamed and wheeled in many an aerial circle, now sliding with motionless outstretched wing upon the gathering gale, now beating back against it, now dancing in a fleet and making music far away in the foam. Upon the beach the dry sand whipped round in little whirls and eddies where wind-gusts caught it; the naked rocks poked shining weed-covered heads out of a low tide, and the wet white light of them glimmered raw through the gray tones of the atmosphere. Now and then a little cloud of dust would puff out from the cliff-face where the wind dislodged a dry particle of stone or mould; elsewhere Barren saw the sure-rooted samphire and tufts of sea-pink, innocent of flowers as yet; and sometimes little squeaking dabs of down might also be observed below where infant gulls huddled together in the ledges outside their nests and gazed upon a condition of things as yet beyond their experience.
Joan came presently to find the artist looking out at the sea.
"You ban't gwaine to paint, I s'pose, 'cause o' this ugly fashion weather?" she said.
"No, sweetheart! All the gold has gone out of the world, and there is nothing left but lead and dross. See how sharp the green is under the gray, and note the clearness of the air. Everything is keen and hard upon the eye to-day; the sky is full of rain and the sea is a wild harmony in gray and silver."
"Iss, the cleeves be callin' this marnin'. 'Tis a sort o' whisper as comes to a body's ear, an' it means that the high hills knaws the rain is nigh. An' they tell it wan to t'other, and moans it mournful over the valleys 'pon the wind. 'The storm be comin', the storm be comin',' they sez."
The south and west regions of distance blackened as they sat there on the cliff, and upon the sea separate heavy gusts of wind roughened up the hollows of the waves. Which effect seen from afar flickered weirdly like a sort of submarine lightning shivering white through dark water. Presently a cloud broke, showing a bank of paler gray behind, and misty silver arrows fell in broad bands of light upon the sea. They sped round, each upon the last, like the spokes of a gigantic wheel trundling over the world; then the clouds huddled together again and the gleam of brightness died.
"You'm wisht this marnin', Mister Jan. You abbun so much as two words for me. 'Tis 'cause you caan't paint your picksher, I reckon."
He sighed and took her hand in his.
"Don't think that, my Joan. Once I cared nothing for you, everything for my picture; now I care nothing for my picture, everything for you. And the better I love you, the worse I paint you. That's funny, isn't it?"
"Iss, 'tis coorious. But I'm sure you do draw me a mighty sight finer than I be. 'Tis wonnerful clever, an' theer edn' no call to be sad, for no man else could a done better, I lay."
He did not answer, and still held her hand. Then there came a harder breath of wind with a sob of sound in it, while already over the distant sea swept separate gray curtains of rain.
"It's coming, Joan; the storm. It's everywhere, in earth and air and water; and in my blood. I am savage to-day, Joan, savage and thirsty. What will be the end of it?"
He spoke wildly, like the weather. She did not understand, but she felt his hand clinch tightly over hers, and, looking at the white thin fingers crooked round her wrist, they brought to her mind the twisted claws of a dead sea-gull she remembered to have found upon the beach.
"What will be the end of it, Joan? Can't you answer me?"
"Doan't 'e, Mister Jan; you'm hurtin' my hand. I s'pose as a sou'westerly gale be comin'. Us knaws 'em well enough in these paarts. Faither reckoned theer was dirty weather blawin' up 'fore he sailed. He was away by daylight. The gales do bring trouble to somebody most times."
"What will be the end of us, I mean, not of the weather? The rain will come and the clouds will melt, and we know, as sure as God's in heaven, that we shall see sunshine and blue sky again. But what about our storm, Joan; the storm of love that's burst in my heart for you—what follows that?"
His question frightened her. She had asked herself the same and been well content to leave an answer to him. Here he was faced with a like problem and now invited her to solve it.
"I dunnaw. I thot such love never comed to no end, Mister Jan. I thot 'tweer good to wear; but—but how do I knaw if you doan't?"
"You trust me, Joan?"
"Why, who should I trust, if 'tweern't you? I never knawed any person else as set such store 'pon the truth. I doan't s'pose the cherrybims in heaven loves it more'n what you do."
"Here's the rain on the back of the wind," he said.
A few heavy drops fell, cold as ice upon his burning face, and Joan laughed as she held out her hand, on which a great splash as big as a shilling had spread.
"That be wan of Tregagle's tears," she said, "an' 'tis the voice of en as you can hear howlin' in the wind. He's allus a bawlin' an' squealin', poor sawl, but you can awnly hear en now an' again 'fore a storm when the gale blaws his hollerin' this way."
"Who was Tregagle?"
"He was a lawyer man wance, an' killed a many wives, an' did a many shameful deeds 'fore he went dead. Then, to Bodmin Court, theer comes a law case, an' they wanted Tregagle, an' a man said Tregagle was the awnly witness, and another said he wadden. The second man up an' swore 'If Tregagle saw it done, then I wish to God he may rise from's graave and come this minute.' Then, sure enough, the ghost of Tregagle 'peared in the court-house an' shawed the man was a liar. But they couldn' lay the ghost no more arter; an' it was a devil-ghost, which is the worstest kind; an' it stuck close to thicky lyin' man an' wouldn' leave en nohow. But at last a white witch bound the spirit an' condemned it to empty out Dosmery Pool wi' a crogan wi' a hole in it. A crogan's a limpet shell, which you mightn't knaw, Mister Jan. Tregagle, he done that party quick, an' then he was at the man again; but a passon got the bettermost of en an' tamed en wi' Scripture till Tregagle was as gentle as a cheel. Then they set en to work agin an' bid en make a truss o' sand down in Gwenvor Cove, an' carry it 'pon his shoulder up to Carn Olva. Tregagle weer a braave time doin' that, I can 'sure 'e, but theer comed a gert frost wan winter, an' he got water from the brook an' poured it 'pon the truss o' sand, so it froze hard. Then he carried it up Carn Olva; an' then, bein' a free spirit agin, he flew off quicker'n lightning to that lyin' man to tear en to pieces this time. But by good chance, when Tregagle comed to en, the man weer carryin' a lil baaby in's arms—a lil cheel as had never done a single wicked act, bein' tu young; so Tregagle couldn' do no hurt. An' they caught en again, an' passon set en 'pon another job: to make a truss o' sand in Whitsand Bay wi'out usin' any fresh water. But Tregagle caan't never do that; so he cries bitter sometimes, an' howls; an' when 'e howls you knaw the storm's a comin' to scatter the truss o' sand he's builded up."
Barron followed the legend with interest. Tregagle and his victim and the charm of the pure child that saved one from the other filled his thought and the event to which Fate was now relentlessly dragging him. He argued with himself a little; then the rain came down and the wind leaped like a lion over the edge of the land, and the man's blood boiled as he breathed ocean air.
"Us'll be wetted proper. I'll run for it, Mister Jan, an' you'd best to go up-long to your lil lew house. Wet's bad for 'e, I reckon."
"No," he said, "I can't let you go, Joan. Look over there. Another flood is going to burst, I think. Follow me quickly, quickly."
The rain came slanting over the gorse in earnest, but Joan hesitated and hung back. Louder than the wind, louder than the cry of the birds, than the howling of Tregagle, than the calling of the cleeves, spoke something. And it said "Turn, on the wing of the storm; fly before it, alone. Let this man walk in the teeth of the gale if he will; but you, Joan Tregenza, follow the wind and set your face to the east, where the sole brightness now left in the sky is shining."
Sheets of gray swept over them; the world was wet in an instant; a little mist of water splashed up two inches high off the ground; the gorse tossed and swayed its tough arms; the sea and the struggling craft upon it vanished like a dream; from the heart of the storm cried gulls, themselves invisible.
"Come, Joan, we shall be drowned."
He had wrapped her in a part of the mackintosh, and laughed as he fastened them both into it and hugged her close to himself. But she broke away, greatly fearing, yet knowing not what she feared.
"I reckon I'd best run down fast. Indeed an' I want to go."
"Go? Where? Where should you go? Come to me, Joan; you shall; you must. We two, sweetheart—we two against the rain and the wind and the world. Come! It will kill me to stand here, and you don't want that."
"Come, I say. Quicker and quicker! We two—only we two. Don't make me command you, my priceless treasure of a Joan. Come with me. You are mine now and always. Quicker and quicker, I say. God! what rain!"
Still she hesitated and he grew angry.
"This is folly, madness. Where is your trust and belief? You don't trust, nor love, nor—"
"Doan't 'e say that! Never say that! It edn' true. You'm all to me, an' you knaws it right well, an' I'll gaw to the world's end with 'e, I will—ay, an' trust 'e wi' my life!"
He moved away and she followed, hastening as he hastened. Unutterable desolation marked the spot. Life had vanished save only where sheep clustered under a bank with their tails to the weather, and long-legged lambs blinked their yellow eyes and bleated as the couple passed. Despite their haste the man and the girl were very wet before reaching the shelter of the byre. Rain-water dribbled off his cap on to his hot face and his feet were soaking. Joan was breathless with haste; her draggled skirts clung to her; and the struggle against the storm made her giddy.
So they reached the place of shelter; and the gale burst over it with a great, crowning yell of wind and hurtle of rain. Then John Barren opened the byre door and Joan Tregenza passed in before him; whereupon he followed and shut the door.
A loose slate clattered upon the roof, and from inside the byre it sounded like a hand tapping high above the artist's bed of brown fern—tapping some message which neither the man nor the girl could read—tapping, tapping, tapping tirelessly upon ears wholly deaf to it.
For a week the rain came down and it blew hard from the west. Then the weather moderated, and there were intervals of brightness and mild, damp warmth that brought a green veil trembling over the world like magic. The elms broke into a million buds, the pear trees in sunny corners put forth snowy flowers; the crimson knobs of the apple-blossom prepared to unfold. In the market gardens around and about Newlyn the plums were already setting, the wallflowers, which make a carpet of golden-brown beneath the fruit-trees in many orchards, were velvety with bloom; the raspberry canes, bent hoop-like in long rows, beautifully brightened the dark earth with young green; and verdure likewise twinkled even to the heart of the forests, to the stony nipples of the moor's vast, lonely bosom. So spring came, heralded by the thrush; borne upon the wings of the western wind. And then followed a brief change with more heavy rains and lower temperature.
The furzes on Gorse Point were a scented glory now—a nimbus of gold for the skull of the lofty cliff. Here John Barren and Joan Tregenza had met but twice since the beginning of the unsettled weather. For her this period was in a measure mysterious and strange. Centuries of experience seemed to separate her from the past, and, looking backward, infinite spaces of time already stretched between what had been and what was. Now overmuch sorrow mingled with her reflections, though a leaven of it ran through all—a sense of loss, of sacrifice, of change, which flits, like the shadow of a summer cloud, even through the soul of the most deeply loving woman who ever opened her eyes to smile upon the first day-dawn of married life. But Joan's sorrow was no greater than that, and little unquiet or uneasiness went with it. She had his promises; from him they could but be absolute; and not a hundred attested ceremonies had left her heart more at ease. In fact she believed that John Barren was presently going to marry her, and that when he vanished from Newlyn, she, as the better-loved part of himself, would vanish too. It was the old, stale falsehood which men have told a hundred thousand times; which men will go on telling and women believing, because it is the only lie which meets all requirements of the case and answers its exact purpose effectively. Age cannot wither it, for experience is no part of the armor of the deceived, and Love and Trust have never stopped to think since the world began.
As for the artist, each day now saw him slipping more deeply, more comfortably back into the convolutions of his old impersonal shell. He had been dragged out, not unwilling, by a giant passion, and he had sacrificed to it, sent it to sleep again, and so returned. He felt infinitely kind to Joan. A week after her visit to the linhay he, while sitting alone there, had turned her picture about on the easel, withdrawn its face from the wall and studied his work. And looking, with restored critical faculty and cold blood, he loved the paint for itself and deemed it very good. The storm was over, the transitory lightnings drowned lesser lights no more, and that steady beacon-flame of his life, which had been merged, not lost, in the fleeting blaze, now shone out again, steadfast and clear. Such a revulsion of feeling argued well for the completion of his picture, ill for the model of it.
They sat one day, as the weather grew more settled, beside a granite bowlder, which studded the short turf at the extremity of Gorse Point, where it jutted above the sea. Joan, with her chin upon her hands, looked out upon the water; Barron, lying on a railway-rug, leaned back and smoked his pipe and studied her face with the old, keen, passionless eagerness of their earliest meetings.
"When'll 'e tell me, Jan love? When'll 'e tell me what 'e be gwaine to do? Us be wan now—you an' me—but the lines be all the lovin'est wife can p'int to in proof she be a wife. Couldn't us be axed out in church purty soon?"
He did not make immediate answer, but only longed for his easel. There, in her face, was the wistful, far-away expression he had sighed for; a measure of thought had come to the little animal—her brains were awake and her blue eyes had never looked liked this before. Joan asked the question again, and Barren answered.
"The same matter was in my own mind, sweetheart. I am in a mighty hurry too, believe it. You are safe with your husband, Joan. You belong to me now, and you must trust the future with me. All that law demands to make us man and wife it shall have; and all religion clamors for as well, if that is a great matter to you. But not here—in this Newlyn. I think of you when I say that, Joan, for it matters nothing to me."
"Iss. I dunnaw what awful sayin's might go abroad. Things is all contrary to home as 'tis. Mother's guessed part an' she tawld faither I weer gwaine daft or else in love wi' some pusson else than Joe. An' faither was short an' sharp, an' took me out walkin', an' bid me bide at home an' give over trapsin' 'bout. An' 'e said as 'ow I was tokened to Joe Noy an' bound by God A'mighty to wait for en if 'twas a score years. But if faither had knawed I weer never for Noy, he'd a' said more'n that. I ban't 'feared o' faither now I knaws you, Jan, but I be cruel 'feared o' bein' cussed, 'cause theer's times when cusses doan't fall to the ground but sticks. 'Twouldn' be well for the likes o' you to have a ill-wished, awver-luked body for wife. An' if faither knawed 'bout you, then I lay he'd do more'n speak. So like's not he'd strike me dead for't, bein' that religious. But you must take me away, Jan, dear heart. I'm yourn now an' you must go on lovin' me allus, 'cause theer'll never be nobody else to not now. I've chose you an' gived 'e myself an' I caan't do no more."
He listened to her delicious voice, and shut out the crude words as much as might be while he marked the music. He was thinking that if Joan had possessed a reasonable measure of intellect, a foundation for an education, he would have been satisfied to keep her about him during that probably limited number of years which must span his existence. But the gulf between them was too wide; and, as for the present position, he considered that no harm had been done which time would not remedy. Joan was not sufficiently intelligent to suffer long or much. She would forget quickly. She was very young. Her sailor must return before the end of the year. Then he began to think of money, and then sneered at himself. But, after all, it was natural that he should follow step by step upon the beaten track of similar events. "Better not attempt originality," he thought, "for the thing I have done is scarce capable of original treatment. I suppose the curtain always rings down on a check—either taken or spurned."
"So you think you can give them all up for poor me, Joan? Your home, your father, brother, mother—all?"
"I've gived up a sight more'n them, Jan. I've gived 'e what's all to a maiden. But my folks weern't hard to give up. 'Tis long since they was ought to me now. I gaws an' comes from the cottage an' sez, all the time, 'this ban't home no more. Mister Jan's home be mine,' I sez to myself. An' each time as I breaks bread, an' sleeps, an' wakes, an' looks arter faither's clothes I feels 'tis wan time nigher the last. They'll look back an' think what a snake 'twas they had 'bout the house, I s'pose. Mother'll whine an' say, 'Ah! 'er was a bitter weed for sartain,' an' faither'll thunder till the crocks rattle an' bid none dare foul the air wi' my name no more. But I be wearyin' of 'e wi' my clackin', Jan, dear heart?"
"Not so, Joan—never think that. I could listen to you till Doomsday. Only we must act now and talk presently. I know you're tired of the picture, and you were cross last time we met because I could speak of it; but I must for a moment more. It cries out to be finished. A few hours' good work and all's done. The weather steadies now and the glass is rising, so our sittings may begin in a day or two. Let me make one last, grand struggle. Then, if I fail, I shall fling the picture over this cliff, and my palette and brushes after it. So we will keep our secret a little longer. Then, when the picture is made or marred, away we'll go, and by the time they miss you from your old home you will be half way to your new one."
But she did not heed the latter part of his remarks, for her thoughts were occupied with what had gone before.
"'Pears, when all's said, you'd sooner have the picksher Joan than the real wan. 'Tis all the picksher an' the picksher an' the picksher."
This was not less than the truth, but of course he blamed her for so speaking, and said her words hurt him.
"'Tis this way," she said, "I've larned so much since I knawed 'e, an' I be like as if I was woke from a sleep. Things is all differ'nt now; but 'tis awnly my gert love for 'e as makes me 'feared sometimes 'cause life's too butivul to last. An' the picksher frights me more'n fancy, 'cause, seemin'ly, theer's two Joans, an' the picksher Joan's purtier than me. 'Er's me, but better'n me. 'Er's allus bright an' bonny; 'er's never crossed an' wisht; 'er 'olds 'er tongue an' doan't talk countrified same as me. Theer'll never be no tears nor trouble in her eyes; she'll bring 'e a name, an' bide purty an'—an' I hates the picksher now, so I do."
Barron listened with considerable interest to these remarks. There was passion in Joan's voice as she concluded, and her emotion presently found relief in tears. She only uttered thoughts long in her mind, without for an instant guessing the grim truth or suspecting what his work was to the man; yet, things being as they were, she felt some real passing pain to find him devote so much thought to it. Before the storm his painting had sunk to insignificance, since then it began to grow into a great matter again; and Joan was honestly jealous of the attention the artist bestowed upon it now. If she had dared, she would have asked him to destroy it; but something told her he would refuse. No fear for the future was mingled with this emotion. Only his mighty interest in the work annoyed her. It was a natural petty jealousy; and when John Barron laughed at her and kissed her tears away, she laughed too and felt a little ashamed, though none the less glad that she had spoken.
But while he flung jests at her anger, Barron felt secretly surprised to note the strides his Awdrey's mind was making. Much worth consideration appeared in her sudden attack upon the picture. She had evidently been really reflecting, with coherence and lucidity. That astonished him. But still he answered with a laugh.
"Jealous, Joan! Jealous of yourself—of the poor painted thing which has risen from the contents of small tubes smeared over a bit of canvas! My funny little dear delight! Will you always amuse me, I wonder? I hope you will. Nobody else can. Why, the gorse there will grumble next and think I love my poor, daubed burlesque of its gold better than the thing itself. If I find pleasure in the picture, how much the more must I love the soul of it? You see, I'm ambitious. You are quite the hardest thing I ever found to paint, and so I go on trying and trying. Hard to win and hard to paint, Joan."
She stretched out her hands to him and shook her head.
"Not hard to win, Jan. Easy enough to win to you. I ne'er seed the likes o' you in my small world. Not hard to win I wasn't."
"You won't refuse me a few more sittings, then, because you have become my precious wife?"
"In coorse not. An' I'm so sorry I was cranky. I 'dedn' mean what I said ezacally."
To-day, coming fresh to his ear after a week's interval, after several days spent with cultured friends and acquaintances in Newlyn, Joan's rustic speech grated more painfully than usual. Once he had found pleasure in it; but he was not a Cornishman to love the sound of those venerable words which sprinkled Joan's utterances and which have long since vanished from all vocabularies save those of the common people; and now her language began to get upon his nerves and jar them. He was tired of it. Often, while he painted, she had prattled and he, occupied with his work, had heard nothing; but to-day he recognized the debt he owed and listened patiently for a considerable time. Her deep expectancy irritated him too. He had anticipated that, however, and was aware that her trust and confidence in him were alike profound. Perhaps a shadow of fear, distrust or uneasiness had pleased him better. He was snugly back in his tub of impersonality from which he liked to view the fools' show drift pass. His last experiment in the actively objective had ruined a girl and promised to produce a fine picture. And that was the end of it. No fellow-creature could ever share this cynic's barrel with him.
Presently Joan departed upon her long tramp home. She had gone to convey a message to one of Thomasin Tregenza's friends at Paul. And when the girl left him, with a promise to come at all costs upon the next sunny morning, Barron began to think about money again. He found that the larger the imaginary figures, the smaller shadow of discomfort clouded his thoughts. So he decided upon an act of princely generosity, as the result of which resolve peace returned and an unruffled mind. For the musty conventionality of his conclusion, it merely served as a peg upon which to hang thoughts not necessary to set down here.
Joan had only told her lover a part of what happened in her home when Thomasin broke her suspicions to Gray Michael. He had taken the matter very seriously indeed, delivered a stern homily and commanded his daughter to read the Book of Ecclesiasticus through thrice.
"'The gad-about is a vain thing and a mighty cause for stumblin'.' You mind that, an' take better care hencefarrard to set a right example to other maids an' not lead 'em wrong. Theer shan't be no froward liver under this roof, Joan Tregenza, an' you, as be my awn darter's the last I'd count to find wanderin'."
She lied as to particulars. She had no fear of her father now as a man, but hard words always hurt her, and superstition, though she was fast breaking from many forms of it under Barron's tuition, still chained her soul in some directions. Did her father know even a shadow of the truth, some dire and blasting prediction would probably result from it, and though personally he was little to her now, as a mouthpiece of supernatural powers he might bring blighting words upon her; for he walked with God. But Michael's God was Joan's no more. She had fled from that awful divinity to the more beautiful Creator of John Barron. He was kind and gentle, and she loved to hear His voice in the hum of the bees upon the gorse and see His face everywhere in the fair on-coming of spring. Nature, as she understood it now, chimed with the things her mother had taught Joan. She found room for all the old, pretty stories in this new creed. The dear saints fitted in with it, and their wonders and mysteries, and the comprehensive if vague knowledge that "God is Love." She believed she understood the truth about religion at last; and Nature smiled very sweetly at her and shared in the delight of the time. So she walked dreaming on toward the invisible door of her fool's paradise, and never guessed how near it was or what Nature would look like from the other side.
She still dwelt at the little home on the cliff, so unreal and shadowy now; she built cloud castles ablaze with happiness; she found falsehood not difficult, for her former absolute truthfulness deadened her stepmother's suspicion. Certain lies told at home enabled her to keep faith with the artist; and the weather also befriending him, three more sittings in speedy succession brought John Barron to the end of his labors. After Joan's exhibition of jealousy he was careful to say little about his work and affect no further interest in it. He let her chatter concerning the future, told her of his big house in London, and presently took care to drop hints from time to time that the habitation was by no means as yet ready to receive his bride. She always spoke on the assumption that when the picture was done he would leave for London and take her with him. She already imagined herself creeping off to join him at the station, sitting beside him in the train, and then rolling away, past Marazion, into the great unfamiliar world which lay beyond. And he knew that no such thing would happen. He intended that Joan should become a pleasant memory, with the veil of distance and time over it to beautify what was already beautiful. He wanted to remember the music of her throbbing voice, and forget the words it used to utter. The living girl's part was played and ended. Their lives had crossed at right angles and would never meet again. "Nature makes a glorious present to Art, and I am privileged to execute the deed of gift," thought Barron; "that is the position in an epigram." He felt very grateful to Joan. He knew her arm must have ached often enough, but whether her heart would presently do so he hardly felt qualified to judge. The incidents of that stormy day might have been buried in time ten years, so faint was his recollection of them now. He remembered the matter with no greater concern than the image of the shivering negresses in the blue water at Tobago.
And so the picture, called "Joe's Ship," was finished, and while it fell far short of what Barron had hoped, yet he knew his work was great and the best thing he had done. A packing case for the canvas was already ordered and he expected it upon the identical day that saw his farewell to Joan.
Bit by bit he had broken to her that it was not his intention to take her with him, but that he must go to his house alone and order things in readiness. Then he would come back and fetch her. And she had accepted the position and felt wondrous sad at the first meeting with Barren after the completion of the picture. It seemed as though a great link was broken between them, and she realized now what folly her dislike of his work had been.
"I wish I could take you right away with me, Joan, my little love; but a bachelor's house is a comfortless concern from a woman's point of view. You will hear from me in a day or two. You must call at the post-office in Penzance for letters, because I shall not send them here."
"You'll print out what you writes big, so's I doan't miss nort, won't 'e?"
"I'll make the meaning as clear as possible, Joan."
"'Tis wisht to think as theer'll be hunderds o' miles 'twixt us. I doan't know how I be gwaine to live the days out."
"Only a fortnight, remember."
"Fourteen whole days an' nights."
"Yes, indeed. It seems a terribly long time. You must comfort me, sweetheart, and tell me that they will be very quickly done with."
Joan laughed at this turning of the tables.
"I reckon a man's allus got a plenty things to make time pass for en. But 'tis different wi' a gal."
She trusted him as she trusted God to lift the sun out of the eastern sea next morning and swing it in its solemn course over heaven. And as there was no fear of danger and no shadow of distrust upon her, Joan made a braver parting than her lover expected.
"Some men are coming to see my picture presently," he said, very gently. "I expect my sweet Joan would like to be gone before they arrive."
She took the hint, braced her heart for the ordeal, and rose from where they had been sitting on Gorse Point. She looked dreamily a moment at the furzes and the place whereon she had stood so often, then turned to the man and came close and held up four little spring lilies which she had brought with her. Her voice grew unsteady, but she mastered it again and smiled at him.
"I brot these for 'e, dear Jan. Us calls 'em butter-an'-eggs, 'cause o' the colors, I s'pose. They'm awnly four lil flowers. Will 'e keep 'em? An'—an' give me summat as I can knaw's just bin in your hand, will 'e? 'Tis fulishness, dear heart, but I'm thinkin' 'twould make the days a dinky bit shorter."
He took the gift, thought a moment, and gave her a little silver ring off his finger. Then he kissed her, pressed her close to him and said "good-by," asking God to bless her, and so forth.
With but a few tears rebelling against her determination, Joan prayed good upon his head, repaid the caress, begged him for his love to come quickly back again, then tore herself away, turned and hastened off with her head held bravely up. But the green fields swam and the sea danced for her a moment later. The world was all splashed and blotched and misty. "I'll be braave like him," she thought, smothering the great sobs and rubbing her knuckles into her eyes till she hurt them. But she could not stem the sorrow in a moment, and, climbing through a gap in the hedge, she sat down, where only ewes and lambs might see, and cried bitterly a while. And so weeping, a sensation, strange, vague, tremendous, came into her being; and she knew not what it meant; but the mystery of it filled her with great awe. "'Tis God," she said to herself, "'tis God's hand upon me. He've touched me, He've sealed me to dear, dear Jan. 'Tis a feelin' to bring happiness along with it, nor sorrer." She battled with herself to read the wonder aright, and yet at the bottom of her heart was fear. Then physical sensations distracted her; she found her head was aching and her body feeling sick. Truly the girl had been through an ordeal that day, and so she explained her discomfort. "I be wivvery an' wisht along o' leavin' en," she said; "oh! kind, good God A'mighty, as hears all, send en back to me, send en back to me very soon, for I caan't live wi'out en no more."
As for the man, he sighed when Joan disappeared; and the expiration of breath was short and sharp as the sound of a key in a lock. He had in truth turned the key upon a diary to be opened no more; for the sweetness of the closed chapter was embalmed in memory, blazoned on canvas. Yet there was bitterness, too, of a sort in his sigh, and the result of this sunken twinge at his heart appeared when Brady, Tarrant and one or two other artists presently joined him. They saw their companion was perturbed, and found him plunged into a black, cynic fit more deeply than usual. He spared no subject, no individual, least of all himself.
Paul Tarrant—a Christian painter, already mentioned—was the first to find fault with Barron's picture. The rest had little but praise for it, and Brady, who grew madly enthusiastic, swore that "Joe's Ship" was the finest bit of work that ever went out of Cornwall. But Tarrant cherished a private grievance, and, as his view of art and ethics made it possible for him, from his standpoint, to criticise the picture unfavorably in some respects, he did so. It happened that he had recently finished a curious work for the Academy: a painting called "The Good Shepherd." It represented a young laboring man with a face of rare beauty but little power, plodding homeward under setting sunlight. Upon his arm he bore a lamb, and behind his head the sinking sun made a glorious nimbus. Barron had seen this work, admired some of the painting, but bluntly sneered at the false sentiment and vulgar parade of religious conviction which, as he conceived, animated the whole. And now, the other man, in whose heart those contemptuous words still rankled, found his turn had come. He had bitterly resented Barron's sarcastic reference to those holy things which guided his life; there was something of feminine nature in him too; so he did not much regret the present opportunity.
"And you, Tarrant? This gives you scant pleasure—eh?" asked Barron.
"It is very wonderful painting, but there's nothing under the paint that I can see."
"Nothing but the canvas—in so far at least as the spectator is concerned. Every work of art must have a secret history only known to its creator."
"What the divil d'you mean, Paul?" asked Brady.
"You know what I mean well enough," answered the first speaker coldly. "My views are not unfamiliar to any of you. Here is a thing without a soul—to me."
"God! you say that! You can look at those eyes and say that?"
"I admire the painting, but cui bono? Who is the better, the wiser? There is nothing under the paint."
"You are one of those who turn shadows into crosses, clouds into angels. Is it not so?" asked Barron smiling; and the other fired at this allusion to his best known picture.
"I am one of those who know that Art is the handmaid of God," he answered hotly. "I happen to believe in Jesus Christ, and I conceive that no picture is worthy to be called great or worthy of any Christian's painting unless it possess some qualities calculated to ennoble the mind of those who see. Art is the noblest labor man can employ time upon. The thing comes from God; it is a talent only to be employed in the highest sense when devoted to His glory."
"Then what of heathen art? You let your religion distort your view of Nature. You sacrifice truth to a dogma. Nature has no ethics. You profess to paint facts and paint them wrong. You are not a mystic; that we could understand and criticise accordingly. You try to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. You talk about truth and paint things not true."
"From your standpoint possibly. Yours is the truth of naturalism; mine is the truth of Faith."
"If you are going to entrench yourself behind Faith, I have done, of course. Only, don't go about saying, as you did just now, that Art is the noblest labor man can employ time upon. That's bosh, pure and simple. There are some occupations not so noble, that is all. Art is a heathen and always will be, and you missionary-men, with a paint-brush in one hand and a Bible in the other, are even worse than certain objectionable literary celebrities, whose novels reek of the 'new journalism' and the Sermon on the Mount—the ridiculous and sublime in tasteless combination. You missionaries, I say, sap the primitive strength of Art; you demoralize her. To dare to make Art pander to a passing creed is vile—worse than the spectacle of the Salvation Army trying to convert Buddhists. That I saw in India, and laughed. But we won't quarrel. You paint Faith's jewelry; I'll amuse myself with Truth's drabs and duns. The point of view is all. I depict pretty Joan Tregenza looking over the sea to catch a glimpse of her sweetheart's outward-bound ship. I paint her just as I saw her. There was no occasion to leave out or put in. I reveled in a mere brutal transcript of Nature. You would have set her down by one of the old Cornish crosses praying to Christ to guard her man. And round her you would have wrought a world of idle significance. You would have twisted dogma into the flowers and grass-blades. The fact that the girl happened to be practically brainless and a Luke Gospeler would not have weighed with you a moment."
"I'm weary of the old cant about Nature," said Tarrant. "You're a naturalist and a materialist. That ends it. There is no possibility of argument between us."
"Would the man who painted that gorse cant?" burst out Brady. "Damn it all, Tarrant, if a chap can teach us to paint, perhaps he can teach us something else as well. Look at that gorse, I tell you. That's the truth, won with many a wrestle and heartache, I'll swear. You know as well as I do what went to get that, and yet you say there's nothing behind the paint. That's cant, if you like. And as to your religious spirit, what's the good of preaching sermons in paint if the paint's false? We're on it now and I'll say what I believe, which is that your 'Good Shepherd' is all wrong, apart from any question of sentiment at all. Your own party will probably say it's blasphemous, and I say it's ridiculous. You've painted a grand sky and then ruined it with the subject. Did you ever see a man's head bang between you and a clear setting sun? Any way, that figure of yours was never painted with a sunset behind him, I'll swear."
"You can't paint truth as you find it and preach truth as you believe it on the same canvas if you belong to any creed but mine," said Barron calmly. "You build on the foundations of Art a series of temples to your religious convictions. You blaze Christianity on every canvas. I suppose that is natural in a man of your opinions, but to me it is as painful as the spectacle of advertisements of quack nostrums planted, as you shall see them, beside railway lines—here in a golden field of buttercups, there rising above young barley. Of course, I don't presume to assert that your faith is a quack nostrum; only real Art and Religion won't run in double harness for you or anybody. They did once, but the world has passed beyond that point."
"Never," answered Tarrant. "We have proof of it. Souls have been saved by pictures. That is as certain as that God made the earth and everything on it."
"There again! Every word you speak only shows how difficult it is for us to exchange ideas. Why is it so positively certain that God made the earth and everything on it? To attribute man's origin direct to God is always, in my mind, the supreme proposition of human conceit. Did it need a God to manufacture you or me or Brady? I don't think so. Consider creation. I suppose if an ant could gauge the ingenuity of a steam engine, he would attribute it without hesitation to God, but it happens that the steam engine is the work of a creature—a being standing somewhere between God and the ant, but much nearer the latter than the former. You follow me? Even Tarrant will admit, for it is an article of his creed, that there exist many beings nearer to God than man. They have wings, he would tell us, and are eternal, immortal, everlasting."
"I see," said Brady, "you're going to say next that faulty concerns like this particular world are the work of minor intelligences. What rot you can talk at times, old man!"
"Yet is it an honor to God Almighty that we attribute the contents of this poor pill of a planet to Him? I think it would be an insult if you ask me. Out of respect to the Everlasting, I would rather suppose that the earth, being by chance a concern too small for His present purposes, He tosses it, as we toss a dog a bone, to some ingenious archangel with a theory. Then you enjoy the spectacle of that seraph about as busy over this notable world as a child with a mud pie. The winged one sets to work with a will. A little pinch of life; develops under his skillful manipulation; evolution takes its remorseless course through the wastes of Time until—behold! the apotheosis of the ape at last. Picture that well-meaning but muddle-headed archangel's dismay at such a conclusion! All his theories and conceits—his splendid scheme of evolution and the rest—end in a mean but obstinate creature with conscious intelligence and an absolute contempt and disregard for Nature. This poor Frankenstein of a cherub watches the worm he has produced defy him and refuse absolutely to obey his most fundamental postulates or accept his axioms. The fittest survive no more; these gregarious, new-born things presently form themselves into a pestilential society, they breed rubbish, they—"
"By God! stop it, John," said Murdoch. "Now you're going too far. Look at Tarrant. He'd burn you over a slow fire for this if he could. Speak for yourself at any rate, not for us."
"I do," answered the other bitterly. "I speak for myself. I know what a poor, rotten cur I am physically and mentally—not worth the bread I eat to keep me alive. And shall I dare say that God made me?"
"But what's the end of this philosophy of despair, old chap?" asked Brady; "what becomes of your worst of all possible planets?"
"The end? Dust and ashes. My unfortunate workman, having blundered on for certain millions of years tinkering and patching and improving his dismal colony, will give the thing up; and God will laugh and show him the mistakes and then blot the essay out, as a master runs his pen through the errors in a pupil's exercise. The earth grows cold at last, and the herds of humanity die, and the countless ages of agony and misery are over. Yes, the poor vermin perish to the last one; then their black tomb goes whirling on until it shall be allowed to meet another like itself, when a new sun shines in heaven and space is the richer by one more star."
"May God forgive you for your profanity, John Barren," said Tarrant. "That He places in your hand such power and suffers your brain to breed the devil's dung that fills it, is to me a mystery. May you live to learn your errors and regret them."
He turned away and two men followed him. Conversation among those who remained reverted to the picture; and presently all were gone, excepting only Barren, who had to wait and see his work packed.
Remorse will take strange shapes. His bitter tirade against his environment and himself was the direct result of this man's recent experiences. He knew himself for a mean knave in his dealings with an innocent girl and the thought turned the aspect of all things into gall.
Solitude brought back a measure of peace. The picture was packed and started to Penzance railway-station, while Barron's tools also went, by pony-cart, back to his rooms in Newlyn. He was to leave upon the following morning with Murdoch and others who were taking their work to the Exhibitions.
Now he looked round the cow-byre before locking it for the last time and returning the key to Farmer Ford's boy, who waited outside to receive it. "The chapter is ended," he said to himself. "The chapter which contains the best thing that ever I did, and, I suppose, the worst, as morals have it. Yet Art happily rises above those misty abstractions which we call right and wrong. She resembles Nature herself there. Both demand their sacrifices. 'The white martyrdom of self-denial, the red martyrdom of blood—each is a thousand times recorded in the history of painting and will be a thousand times again."
THE ACT OF FAITH
So John Barren set forth, well content to believe that he would never again visit Cornwall, and Joan called at the Penzance post-office on the morning which followed his departure. Her geographical knowledge was scanty. Truro and Plymouth, in her belief, lay somewhere upon the edge of the world; and she scarcely imagined that London could be much more remote. But no letter awaited her, and life grew to be terribly empty. For a week she struggled with herself to keep from the post-office, and then, nothing doubting that her patience would now be well rewarded, Joan marched off with confidence for the treasure. But only a greater disappointment than the last resulted; and she went home very sorrowful, building up explanations of the silence, finding excuses for "Mister Jan." The prefix to his name, which had dropped during their latter intimacy, returned to her mind now the man was gone: as "Mister Jan" it was that she thought about him and prayed for him.
The days passed quickly, and when a fortnight stood between herself and the last glimpse of her lover, Joan began to grow very anxious. She wept through long nights now, and her father, finding the girl changed, guessed she had a secret and told his wife to find it out. But it was some time before Thomasin made any discovery, for Joan lied stoutly by day and prayed to God to pardon by night. She strove hard to follow the teaching of the artist, to find joy in flowers and leaves, in the spring music of birds, in the color of the sea. But now she dimly guessed that it was love of him which went so far to make all things beautiful, that it was the magic and wisdom of his words which had gilded the world with gold and thrown new light upon the old familiar objects of life. Nature's organ was dumb now that the hands which played upon it so skillfully had passed far away. But she was loyal to her teacher; she remembered many things which he had said and tried hard to feel as he felt, to put her hand in beautiful Mother Nature's and walk with her and be at peace. Mister Jan would soon return; the fortnight was already past; each day as she rose she felt he might come to claim her before the evening.
And, meanwhile, other concerns occupied her thoughts. The voice which spoke to her after she bid John Barren "good-by," had since then similarly sounded on the ear of her heart. Alike at high noon and in the silence of the night watches it addressed her; and the mystery of it, taken with her other sorrows, began to affect her physically. For the first time in her life the girl felt ill in body. Her appetite failed, dawn found her sick and weary; her glass told her of a white, unhappy face, of eyes that were lighted from within and shone with strange thoughts. She was always listening now—listening for the new voice, that she might hear the word it uttered. Her physical illness she hid with some cunning and put a bright face upon life as far as she could do so before those of her home; but the task grew daily more difficult. Then, with a period of greatly increased discomfort, Joan grew alarmed and turned to the kind God of "Mister Jan," and made great, tearful praying for a return of strength. Her petition was apparently granted, for the girl enjoyed some improvement of health and spirit. Whereupon she became fired with a notable thought, and determined to seek her patron saint where still she suspected his power held sway: at the little brook which tinkles along beside the ruins of St. Madron's chapel in a fair coomb below the Cornish moorlands. The precious water, as Joan remembered, had brought strength and health to her when a baby; and now the girl longed to try its virtues again, and a great conviction grew upon her that the ancient saint never forgot his own little ones. Opportunity presently offered, and through the first misty gray of a morning in early April, she set out upon her long tramp from Newlyn through Madron to the ruined baptistery.