St. Madron, or Padern, lived in the sixth century, somewhat earlier than Augustine. A Breton by birth, he labored chiefly in Wales, established a monastery on Brito-Celtic lines in Cardiganshire, and became its bishop when a see was established in that district. He traveled far, visited Mount's Bay and established the church of Madron, still sacred to his name, while doubtless the brook and chapel hard by were associated with him from the same period. In Scawen's time folk were wont to take their hurts thither on Corpus Christi evening, drink of the water, deposit an offering, and repose upon the chapel floor till dawn. Then, drinking again, they departed whole, if faith sufficiently mighty had supported them. Norden remarks of the water that "its fame was great for the supposed vertue of healinge, which St. Maderne had thereunto infused; and maine votaries made anuale pilgrimages unto it...." In connection with the custom of immersion here indicated, we find there obtained the equally venerable practice of hanging votive rags upon the thorn bushes round about the chapel. This conceit is ancient as Japan, and one not only in usage to this day among the Shintoists of that land, but likewise common throughout Northern Asia and, nearer home, in the Orkneys, in Scotland, in Ireland. Older far than Christianity are these customs; the megalithic monuments of the pagan witness similar practices in remote corners of the earth; rag-trees, burdened with the tattered offerings of the devout, yet stud the desert of Suez, and those who seek shall surely find some holy well or grave hard at hand in every case. To mark and examine the junction of these venerable fancies with Christian superstition is no part of our present purpose, but that ideas, pagan in their birth, have lent themselves with sufficient readiness to successive creeds and been knit into the dogmas of each in turn, is certain enough. Thus, through Cornwall, the imaginings of wizard and wonder-worker in hoary time come, centuries later, to be the glory and special power of a saint. Such fantastic lore was definitely interdicted in King Edgar's reign, when "stone worshipings, divinations, well worshipings and necromances" were proclaimed things heathen, and unhallowed; but with the advent of the Saint-Bishops from Wales, from Ireland, from Brittany, primitive superstitions were patched upon the new creed, and, to suit private purposes, the old giants of the Christian faith sanctified holy well and holy stone, posing by right divine as sure dispensers of the hidden virtue in stream and granite. But the roots of these fables burrow back to paganism. Hundreds of weakly infants were passed through Men-an-tol—the stone with a hole or the "crick-stone"—in the names of saints; and hundreds had already been handed through it centuries before under like appeal to pagan deities.
Of Madron baptistery, now a picturesque ruin, it seems clear that until the Reformation regular worship and the service of baptism were therein celebrated. The place has mercifully escaped all restoration or renovation and stands at this moment open to the sky in the slow hand of Time. A brook runs babbling outside, but the holy well or colymbethra is now dry, though it might easily be filled again. This interesting portion of the chapel remains intact, and the entrance to it lies upon the level of the floor according to ancient custom, being so ordered that the adult to undergo baptism might step down into the water, and that not without dignity.
Hither came Joan. Her patchwork of faith and Nature-worship was a live thing to her now, and she found no difficulty in reconciling the sweet saint-stories heard in childhood from her dead mother's lips, with the beautiful and fair exposition of truth which "Mister Jan" found written large upon the world by Nature in spring-time.
It was half-past four o'clock when she trudged through Madron to see the gray church and the little gray houses all sleeping under the gray sky. She plodded on up the hill past the gaunt workhouse which stands at the top of it; and what had seemed soft, sweet repose among the cottage homes, felt like cold death beneath these ashy walls. To Joan, the workhouse was a word of shame unutterable. Those among whom she lived would hurl the word against enemies as a prophecy of the utmost degradation. She shivered as she passed, and was sad, knowing that a whole world of poverty, failure, sorrow, regret, was hidden away in that cold, still pile. But the hand of sleep lay softly there; only a sick soul or two stirred, the paupers were the equal of princes till a hoarse bell brought them back out of blessed unconsciousness.
Bars of light streaked the east, and Joan, only stopping at the hill crest to see dawn open silver eyes on the sea, hastened inland through silent, dewy fields. Presently a fence and wall cut civilization from the wild land of the coomb, and the girl proceeded where grass-grown cart-ruts wound among furze and heather and the silver coils of new-born bracken just beginning to peep up above the dead fern of last year. This hollow ran between undulations of fallow and meadow; no harrow clinked as yet; only the cows stood here and there above the dry patches on the dewy fields where their bodies had lain in sleep. She saw their soft eyes and smelled the savor of them. Presently the cart-ruts disappeared in fine grass all bediamonded, knobbed with heather, sprouting rusty-red, and sprinkled with tussocks of coarser grass, whereon green blades sprang up above the dead ones, where they struggled, matted and bleached and sere. Rabbits flashed here and there, the white under-side of their little scuts twinkling through the gorse; and then the birds woke up; a thrush sang low, sleepy notes from the heart of a whitethorn; yellowhammers piped their mournful calls from the furze. On Joan's left hand there now rose a clump of wind-worn beech-trees, their brown spikes breaking to green, even where dead red leaves still clung to the parent branches. Beneath them ran a hedge of earth above a deep pool or two, very clear and fringed with young rushes, upright and triumphant above the old dead ones. Everywhere Joan saw Life trampling and leaping, growing and laughing over the ruins of things that had lived and died. It saddened her a little. Did Nature forget so soon? Then she told herself that kind Nature had loved them and gloried in them too; and now she would presently bury all her dead children in beautiful graves of new green. The mosses and marsh were lovely and the clear pools full of living creatures. But these things were not saint-blessed and eternal. No spring fed these silent wells, no holy man of old had ever smiled upon them.
A stepping-stone by a wall lay before her now; this she crossed, heard the stream murmuring peace, and hastened, and presently stood beside it. Here were holy ground and water; here were peace and a place to pray in. Blue forget-me-nots looked wondering up, seeing eyes as blue as their own, and she smiled at them and drank of the ripples that ran at their roots. Gray through the growing haze of green, a ruined wall showed close to the girl. The blackthorns' blooms were faded around her, the hawthorn was not yet powdered with white. She cast one look to right and left before entering the chapel. A distant view of the moorland rose to the sky, and the ragged edge of the hills was marked by a gaunt engine-stack noting past enterprise, triumphs long gone by, ruined hopes but recently dead. Snug fox-covers of rhododendron swept up toward the head of the coomb; and below, distant half a mile or more, cottages already showed a glimmer of gold on their thatches where the increasing splendor of day brightened them, and morning mists were raising jeweled arms. Then Joan passed into the ruin through that narrow opening which marks the door of it. The granite walls now stand about the height of a man's shoulder and the chamber itself is small. Stone seats still run round two sides of it; ivy and stone-worts and grasses have picked the mortar from the walls and clothed them, even as emerald moss and gray lichens and black and gold glorify each piece of granite; a may-bush, tangled about a great shiny ivy-tod, surmounts the western walls above the dried well; furzes and heather and tall grasses soften the jagged outlines of the ruin, and above a stone altar, at the east end of it, rises another white-thorn. At this season of the year the subsequent floral glories of the little chapel were only indicated: young briers already thrust their soft points over the stone of the altar and the first leaves of foxgloves were unfolding, with dandelions and docks, biting-stone-crop and ferns, ragged-robins and wild geraniums. These infant things softened no outline yet. The flat paving of the floor, where it yet remained, was bedded in grass; a little square incision upon the stone of the altar glimmered full of water and reflected the light from fleecy clouds which now climbed into heaven, bearing sunrise fires upward over a pale blue sky.
Here, under the circumambient, sparkling clearness, coolness and silence, Joan stood with strange medley of thoughts upon her soul. The saints and the fairies mingled there with visions of Nature, always smiling, with a vague shadow of one great God above the blue, but dim and very far away; and a nearer picture which quickened her heart-beat: the picture of "Mister Jan." Here she felt herself at one with the world spread round her. The mother eyes of a blackbird, sitting upon her eggs in the ivy-tod, kept their bright gold on Joan, but showed no fear; the young rabbits frisked at hand; a mole poked his snout and little paddle-paws out of the grass; all was peace and happiness, it seemed, with the voice of good St. Madron murmuring love in his brooklet at hand.
Joan knelt down by the old altar and bowed her head there and prayed to Nature and to God. At first merely wordless prayers full of passionate entreaty rose to the Throne; then utterance came in a wild simple throng of petitions; and all her various knowledge, won from her mother and John Barren, found a place. Pan and Christ might each have heard and listened, for she called on the gods of earth and heaven from a heart that was full.
"Kind Mother o' the flowers, doan't 'e forget a poor maiden what loves 'e so dear. I be sad an' sore-hearted 'cause things is bad wi' me now Mister Jan's gone; an' I knaws as I've lied an' bin wicked 'bout Joe, but, kind Mother, I awnly done what Mister Jan, as was wise an' loved me, bid. Oh, God A'mighty, doan't 'E let en forget me, 'cause I've gived up all—all the lil I had for en, an' Nature made me as I be. Oh, kind God, make me happy an' light-hearted an' strong agin, same as the lil birds an' sich like is happy an' strong; an' forgive me for all my sins an' make me well for Mister Jan, an' clever for Mister Jan, so's I'll be a fine an' good wife to en. An' forgive me for lyin', 'cause what I done was Nature, 'cordin' to Mister Jan; an' Nature's kind to young things, 'cordin' to Mister Jan; an' I be young yet. An' make me a better lass, for I caan't abear to feel as I do; an' make me think o' the next world arter this wan. But, oh, dear God, make me well an' braave agin, for 'tis awful wisht for me wi'out Mister Jan; an' make Mister Jan strong too. I be all in a miz-maze and doan't knaw wheer to turn 'cept to Nature, dear Lard. Oh, kind God A'mighty, lemme have my angel watchin' over me close, same as what mother used to say he did allus. An' bring Mister Jan back long very quick, 'cause I'm nothin' but sadness wi'out en. An', dear St. Madern, I ax 'e to bless me same as you done when—when I was a lil baaby, 'cause I be gwaine to bathe in your brook, bein' a St. Madern cheel. Oh, dear, good God o' all things, please to help me an' look to me, 'cause I be very sad, an' I never done no harm to none, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen."
Then she said the Lord's Prayer, because her mother had taught her that no human petition was ever heard unless accompanied by it. And it seemed as though the lark, winding upward with wide spiral to his song-throne in the sky and tinkling thin music on the morning wind, was her messenger: which thought was beautiful to Joan and made her heart glad.
Never had she looked fairer. Her blue eyes were misty, but the magic of prayer, the glory of speaking straight to the Father of all, call Him what she might, had nobly fortified her sinking spirit. Peace brooded in her soul then, and faith warmed her blood. She was sure her prayer would be answered; she was certain that her health and her loved one would both come back to her. And she stood by the altar and smiled at the golden morning, herself the fairest thing the sun shone upon.
Having peeped shyly about her, Joan took off her clothes, placed them on the altar-stones, shook down her hair, and glided softly to the stream. At one point its waters caught the sunshine and babbled over white sand between many budding spikes of wild parsley and young fronds of fern. Naked and beautiful the girl stood, her bright hair glinting to her waist, all rippled with the first red gold of the morning, her body very white save where the sun and western wind had browned both arms and neck; her form innocent as yet of the mystery hid for her in Time. Joan's fair limbs spoke of blood not Cornish, of days far past when a race of giants swept up from behind the North Sea to tread a new earth and take wives of the little dark women of the land, abating the still prevalent nigrescence of the Celt with Saxon eyes and hair, adding their stature and their strength to races unborn. A sweet embodiment of all that was lovely and pure and fresh, she looked—a human incarnation of youth and springtime.
There was a pool deeper than the general shallowness of the stream which served for Joan's bath, and she entered there, where soft white sand made pleasant footing for her toes, where more forget-me-nots twinkled their turquoise about the margin, where shining gorse towered like a sentinel above.
She suffered the holy water to flow over every inch of her body, and then, rubbing her white self red and glowing with the dead brake fern of last year and squeezing the water out of her hair, Joan quickly dressed again and prepared to depart. She was about to leave a fragment torn from her skirt hanging by the chapel, but changed her mind, and getting a splinter of granite, rough-edged, she began to chip away a tress of her own bright hair, sawing it off upon the stone table as best she could. Like a fallen star it presently glimmered in the thorn bush above St. Madron's altar where she wound the little lock, presently to bring gold to the nests and joy to the heart of small feathered folk.
Joan walked home with the warm blood racing in her veins, roses on her cheeks and the glory of hope in her eyes. Already she felt her prayers were being heard; already she was thanking God for heeding her cry, and St Madron for the life-giving waters of his holy stream. Thee, where finches chattered and fluttered forward, breakfasting together in pleasant company, a shadow and a swift, strong wing flashed across Joan's sight—and a hawk struck. The little people shrieked, a few gray feathers puffed here and there, and one spark of life was blown out that other sparks might shine the brighter. For presently Joan's kind "Mother o' the flowers" watched the beaks of fledgeling hawks grow red, and the parent bird of prey's cold eyes brightened with satisfaction; as will every parent eye brighten at the spectacle of baby things eating wholesome food with hearty appetite.
The death of the small fowl clouded the pilgrim's thoughts, but only for a moment. Sentiment and emotion had passed; now she was eager with delicious physical hunger and longing for her breakfast. The girl had not felt so well or so happy for a considerable time. Half her prayer, she told herself, was answered already; and the other half, relating to "Mister Jan," would doubtless meet with similar merciful response ere many hours had flown.
So joyfully homeward out of dreamland into a world of facts Joan hastened.
A THOUSAND POUNDS
A glad heart shortens the longest road, and Joan, whose return journey from the holy well was for the most part downhill, soon found herself back again in Penzance. The fire of devotion still actuated her movements, and she walked fearlessly, doubting nothing, to the post-office. There would be a letter to-day; she knew it; she felt it in her consciousness, as a certainty. And when she asked for it and mentioned her name, she put her hand out and waited until the sleepy-eyed clerk rummaged through a little pile of letters standing together and tied with a separate string. She watched him slowly untie them and scan the addresses, grumbling as he did so. Then he came to the last of all and read out:
"'Miss Joan Tregenza, Post-Office, Penzance. To be left until called for.'"
"Mine, mine, sir! I knawed 'e'd have it! I knawed as the kind, good—"
Then she stopped and grew red, while the clerk looked at her curiously and then yawned. "What's a draggle-tailed chit like her got to do with such a thing?" he wondered, and then spoke to Joan:
"Here you are; and you must sign this paper—it's a registered letter."
Joan, her hand shaking with excitement, printed her name where he directed, thanked the man with a smile that softened him, and then hastened away.
The girl was faint with hunger and happiness before she reached home. She did not dare to open the letter just then, but took it from her pocket a dozen times before she reached Newlyn and feasted her eyes on her own name, very beautifully and legibly printed. He had written it! His precious hand had held the pen and formed each letter.
Deep, wordless thanks welled up in Joan's heart, for God was not very far away, after all. He had heard her prayer already, and answered it within an hour. No doubt it was easy for Him to grant such a little prayer. It could be nothing much to God that one small creature should enjoy such happiness; but what seemed wonderful was that He should have any time to listen at all, that He should have been able to turn from the mighty business of the great awakening world and give a thought to her.
"Sure 'twas the lil lark as the good Lard heard, an' my asking as went up-long wi' en," said Joan to herself.
She found her father at home and the family just about to take breakfast. Gray Michael had returned somewhat unexpectedly, with a fine catch, and did not intend sailing again before the evening tide. A somewhat ominous silence greeted the girl, a silence which her father was the first to break.
"Ayte your food, my lass, an' then come in the garden 'long with me," he said. "I do want a word with 'e, an' things must be said which I've put off the sayin' of tu long. So be quick's you can."
But this sauce did not spoil the girl's enjoyment of her porridge and treacle. She ate heartily, and her happy humor seemed catching, at least so far as Tom was concerned. A bright color warmed Joan's cheek; the cloud that had dimmed her eyes was there no longer; and more than once Mr. Tregenza looked at his wife inquiringly, for the tale she had been telling of Joan's recent moods and disorder was at variance with her present spirits and appetite. After breakfast she went to her room while her father waited; and then it was that Joan snatched a moment to open John Barron's letter. There would be no time to read it then, she knew: that delicious task must take many hours of loving labor; but she wanted to count the pages and see "Mister Jan's" name at the end. She knew that crosses meant kisses, too. There might be crosses somewhere. So she opened the envelope in a fever of joyous excitement, being careful, however, not to tear a letter of the superscription. And from it there came a fat, folded pile of tissue paper. Joan knew it was money, and flung it on her bed and fumbled with sinking heart for something better. But there was nothing else—only ten pieces of tissue-paper. She remembered seeing her father with similar pieces; and her mother saying there was nothing like Bank of England notes. But they had been crumpled and dirty, these were snowy white. Each had a hundred pounds marked upon it; and Joan was aware that ten times a hundred is a thousand. But a thousand pounds possessed no more real meaning for her than a million of money does for the average man. She could not estimate its significance in the least or gauge its possibilities. Only she knew that she would far rather have had a few words from "Mister Jan" than all the money in the world.
Mr. Tregenza's voice below broke in upon the girl's disappointment, and, hastily hiding the money under some linen in a little chest of drawers, where the picture of Joe's ship was also concealed, she hurried to join her father. But the empty envelope, with her name printed on it, she put into her pocket that it might be near her.
Joan did not for an instant gather what meaning lay under this great gift of money, and to her the absence of a letter was no more than a passing sorrow. She read nothing between the lines of this silence; she only saw that he had not forgotten, and only thought that he perhaps imagined such vast sums of money would give her pleasure and make the waiting easier. What were banknotes to Joan? What was life to her away from him? She sighed, and fell back upon the thought of his wisdom and knowledge. He must be in the right to delay, because he was always in the right. A letter would presently come to explain why he had sent the money and to treat of his return. The girl felt that she had much to thank God for, after all. He had sent her the letter; He had answered her prayer in His own way. It ill became her, she thought, to question more deeply. She must wait and be patient, however hard the waiting.
So thinking, she joined her father. Tom was away up the village, Mrs. Tregenza found plenty to occupy her mind and body indoors; Joan and Mr. Tregenza had the garden to themselves. He was silent until they reached the wicket, then, going through it, he led the way slowly up a hill which wound above the neighboring stone quarry; and as he walked he addressed Joan. She, weary enough already, prayed that her parent intended going no further than the summit of the hill; but when he spoke she forgot physical fatigue, for his manner was short and stern.
"Theer's things bein' hid 'twixt you an' me, darter, an' 'tis time you spoke up. Every parent's got some responsibility in the matter of his cheel's sawl, an', if theer's aught to knaw, 'tis I must hear it. 'The faither waketh for the darter when no man knaweth,' sez the Preacher, an' he never wrote nothin' truer. I've waked for you, Joan. 'Keep a sure watch over a shameless darter,' sez the Preacher agin; but God forbid you'm that. Awnly you'm allus wool-gatherin', an' roamin', an' wastin' time. An' time wance squandered do never come agin. I hear tell this has been gwaine forrard since Joe went to sea. What's the matter with 'e? Say it out plain an' straight an' now this minute."
Joan had particularly prayed by the Madron altar that the Everlasting would keep her from lying. She remembered the fact as her father put his question; and she also recollected that John Barron had told her to say nothing about their union until he returned to her. So she lied again, and that the more readily because Gray Michael's manner of asking his question put a reasonable answer into her head.
"I s'pose as it might be I'm wisht 'cause o' Joe Noy, faither."
"Then look 'e to it an' let it cease. Joe's in the hand o' the Lard same as we be. He's got to work out his salvation in fear an' tremblin' same as us. Some do the Lard's work ashore, some afloat, some—sich as me—do it by land an' sea both. You doan't work Joe no good trapsing 'bout inland, here, theer, an' everywheers; an' you do yourself harm, 'cause it makes 'e oneasy an' restless. Mendin' holes an' washin' clothes an' prayin' to the Lard to 'a' mercy on your sinful sawl's what you got to do. Also learnin' to cook 'gainst the time you'm a wife an' the mother o' childern, if God so wills. But this ban't no right way o' life for any wan, gentle or simple, so mend it. A gad-about, lazy female's hell-meat in any station. Theer's enough of 'em as 'tis, wi'in the edge o' Carnwall tu. What was you doin' this marnin'? Mother sez 'er heard you stirrin' 'fore the birds."
"I went out a long walk to think, faither."
"What 'e want to think 'bout? Your plaace is to du, not to think. God'll think for 'e if 'e ax; an' the sooner you mind that an' call 'pon the A'mighty the better; 'cause the Devil's ready an' willin' to think for 'e tu. Read the Book more an' look about 'e less. Man's eyes, an' likewise maid's, is best 'pon the ground most time. Theer's no evil writ theer. The brain of man an' woman imagineth ill nearly allus, for why? 'Cause they looks about an' sees it. Evil comes in through the eyes of 'em; evil's pasted large 'pon every dead wall in Newlyn. Read the Book—'tis all summed up in that. You've gotten a power o' your mother in 'e yet. Not but you've bin a good darter thus far, save for back-slidin' in the past; but I saved your sawl then, thanks be to the voice o' God in me, an' I saved your mother's sawl, though theer was tidy wraslin' for her; an' I'll save yourn yet if you'll do your paart."
Here Gray Michael paused and turned homeward, while Joan congratulated herself upon the fact that a conversation which promised to be difficult had ended so speedily and without misfortune. Then her father asked her another question.
"An' what's this I hear tell 'bout you bein' poorly? You do look so well as ever I knawed 'e, but mother sez you'm that cranky with vittles as you never was afore, an' wrong inside likewise."
"Ban't nothin', faither. 'Tis awver an' done. I ate tu much or some sich thing an' I be bonny well agin now."
"Doan't be thinkin' then. 'Tis all brain-sickness, I'll lay. I doan't want no doctor's traade in my 'ouse if us can keep it outside. The Lard's my doctor. Keep your sawl clean, an' the Lard'll watch your body. 'E's said as much. 'E knaws we'm poor trashy worms an' even a breath o' foul air'll take our lives onless 'E be by to filter it. Faith's the awnly medicine worth usin'."
Joan remembered her morning bath and felt comforted by this last reflection. Had she not already found the magic result? For a moment she thought of telling her father what she had done, but she changed her mind. Such faith as that would have brought nothing but wrath upon her.
While Mr. Tregenza improved the hour and uttered various precepts for his daughter's help and guidance, Thomasin was occupied at home with grave thoughts respecting Joan. She more than suspected the truth from signs of indisposition full of meaning to a mother; but while duly mentioning the girl's illness, Mrs. Tregenza did not dare to breathe the color of her own explanation. She prayed to God in all honesty to prove her wrong, but her lynx eyes waited to read the truth she feared. If things were really so with Joan, then they could not be hid from her eyes much longer; and in the event of her suspicions proving correct, Mrs. Tregenza told herself, as a right Luke Gospeler, she must proclaim her horrid discovery and let the perdition of her husband's daughter be generally made manifest. She knew so many were called, so few chosen. No girl had ever been more surely called than Joan: her father's trumpet tongue had thundered the ways of righteousness into her ears from her birth; but, after all, it began to look as though she was not chosen. The circumstance, of course, if proved, would rob her of every Luke Gospeler's regard. No weak pandering with sentiment and sin was permitted in that fold. And Mrs. Tregenza had little pity herself for unfortunate or mistaken women. Let a girl lose her character and Thomasin usually refused to hear any plea of mercy from any source. Only once did she find extenuating circumstances: in a case where a ruined farmer's daughter brought an action for breach of promise and won it, with heavy damages. But money acted in a peculiar way with this woman. It put her conscience and her judgment out of focus, softened the outlines of events, furnished excuses for unusual practices, gilded with a bright lining even the blackest cloud of wrongdoing. Where Mrs. Tregenza could see money she could see light. Money made her charitable, broad-minded, even tolerant. She knew she loved it, and was careful to keep the fact out of Gray Michael's sight as far as possible. She held the purse, and he felt that it was in good hands, but cautioned her from time to time against the awful danger of letting a lust for this world's wealth come between the soul and God.
And now a course long indicated in Thomasin's mind was being by her pursued. Having convinced herself that under the present circumstances any step to found or dispel her fears concerning Joan would be just and proper, she took the exceptional one of searching the girl's little room while her stepdaughter was out with Michael. Even as Mr. Tregenza turned to go homeward again, his wife stood in the midst of Joan's small sanctuary, and cast keen, inquiring eyes about her. She rarely visited the apartment, and had not been in it for six months. Now she came to set doubt at rest if possible, or confirm it. Her own secret opinion was that Joan had come to serious trouble with her superiors. In that case letters, presents or tokens had probably passed into her hands; and, if such existed, in this room they would be.
"God send as I'm makin' a mistake an' shaan't find nothin' 'tall," said Mrs. Tregenza to herself. And then she began her scrutiny.
CHAPTER FIVE THE TRUTH
Thomasin saw that all things about Joan's room were neat, spotless, and in order. For one brief moment a sense of disquiet at the action before her touched the woman's heart and head; but duty alike to her husband and her stepdaughter demanded the search in her opinion. Should there be nothing to find, so much the better; if, on the other hand, matters affecting Joan's temporal and eternal welfare were here hidden, then they could not be uncovered too quickly. She looked first through the girl's little wooden trunk, the key of which was in the lock, but nothing save a childish treasure or two rewarded Mrs. Tregenza here. In a broken desk, which had belonged to her mother, Joan kept a few Christmas cards, and two silhouettes: one of Uncle Thomas, of Drift, one of Mary Chirgwin. Here were also some cooking recipes copied in her mother's writing, an agate marble which Joan had found on Penzance beach, lavender tied up in a bag, and an odd toy that softened Thomasin's heart not a little as she picked it up and looked at it. The thing brought back to her memory a time four years earlier. It was a small, grotesque figure on wires, built up of chestnuts and acorns with a hazel-nut for its head and black pins stuck in for the eyes. She remembered Tom making it and giving it to Joan on her birthday. Then the memory of Joan's love for Tom from the time he was born came like a glow of sunshine into the mother's heart, and for a moment she was minded to relinquish her unpleasant task upon the spot; but she changed her intention again and proceeded. The box held little else save a parcel of old clothes tied up with rosemary in brown paper. These the woman surveyed curiously, and knew, without being told, that they had belonged to Joan's mother. For some reason the spectacle killed sentiment and changed her mood. She shut down the box, and then, going to the chest of drawers, pulled out each compartment in turn. Nothing but Joan's apparel and her few brooches and trinkets appeared here. The history of each and all was familiar to Mrs. Tregenza. But on reaching the bottom drawer of the chest, she found it locked and the key absent. To continue her search, however, was not difficult. Nothing separated the drawers, and by removing that above the last, the contents of the lowest lay at her mercy, It was full of linen for the most part, but hidden at the bottom, Thomasin made a discovery, and found certain matters which at once spoke of tremendous mystery, and, to her mind, indicated the nature of it. First she came upon the little picture of Joe's ship in its rough gilded frame. This might be an innocent gift from some of the young men who had asked in the past to be allowed to paint Joan and received a curt negative from Gray Michael. But the other discovery meant more. Pushing her hand about the drawer she found a pile of paper, felt the crackle of it, and pulled it eagerly to the light. Then, and before she learned the grandeur of the sum, she was seized with a sudden palpitation and sat down on Joan's bed. Her mouth grew full as a hungry man's before a feast, her lips were wet, her hand shook as she opened and spread the notes. Then she counted them and sat gasping like a landed fish. Thomasin had never seen so much money before in her life. A thousand pounds! Unlike Joan, to whom the sum conveyed no significance, Mrs. Tregenza could estimate it. Her mind reached that far, and the bank-notes, for her, lay just within the estimation of avarice. Every snowy fragment meant a hundred pounds—a hundred sovereigns—two hundred ten-shilling pieces. The first shock overpast, and long before she grew sufficiently calm to associate the treasure with its possessor, Mrs. Tregenza began spending in her mind's eye. The points in house and garden, outhouse and sty, whereon money might be advantageously expended, rose up one after the other. Then she put aside eight hundred and fifty out of the grand total and pictured herself taking it to the bank. She thought of a nest-egg that would "goody" against the time Tom should grow into a man; she saw herself among the neighbors, pointed at, whispered of as a woman with hundreds and hundreds of pounds put by; she saw the rows of men sitting basking about in Newlyn, as their custom is when off the sea; and she heard them drop words of admiration at the sight of her. Presently, however, this gilded vision vanished, and she began to connect the money with Joan. She solved the mystery then with a brutal directness which hit the mark in one direction; as to the source of the money, but went wide of it in some measure upon the subject of the girl. Thomasin held briefly that her stepdaughter had fallen, and now, knowing her condition, had informed some man of it, with the result that from him came this unutterable gift. That the money made an enormous difference to Mrs. Tregenza's mental attitude must be confessed. She found herself fashioning absolute excuses for Joan. Girls so often came to ill through no fault of their own. The man must at least have been a gentleman to pay for his pleasure in four figures. Four figures! Here she stopped thinking in order to picture the vision of a unit followed by three ciphers. Then she marveled as to what manner of man he was who could send a girl like Joan a thousand pounds. She never heard of such a price for the value received. Her respect for Joan began to increase when she realized that the money was hers. Probably there was even more where that came from. "Anyway," she reflected, "it ban't no use cryin' ower spilt milk. What's done's done. An' a thousand pounds'll go long ways to softenin' the road. She might travel up-long to Truro to my cousin an' bide quiet theer till arter, an' no harm done, poor lass. When all's said, us knaws the Lard Hissel weer mighty easy wi' the like o' she, an' worser wenches tu. But Michael—God A'mighty knaws he won't be easy. She'm a damned wummon, I s'pose, but she's got to live through 'er life here—damned or saved; an' she's got a thousand pound to do't with. A terrible braave dollop o' money, sure 'nough. To think 'ow 'ard a man's got to work 'fore he earns five of 'em!" But her imagination centered upon Gray Michael now, and she almost forgot the banknotes for a moment. She thought of his agony and trembled for the result. He might strike Joan down and kill her. The man's anger against evil-doers was always a terrific thing; and he had no idea of the value of money. She hazarded guesses at the course he would pursue, and each idea was blacker than the last. Then Thomasin fell to wondering what Michael would be likely to do with the money. She sighed at this thought, and then she grew pale at the imaginary spectacle of her husband tearing the devil-sent notes to pieces and scattering them over the cliff to the sea. This horrible possibility stung her to another train of ideas. Might it be within her power to win Joan's secret, share it, and keep it from the father? Her pluck, however, gave way when she looked a little deeper into the future. She would have done most things in her power for a thousand pounds, but she would not have dared any treachery to Michael. The woman put the notes together and stroked them and listened to the rustle of them and rubbed her hard cheek with them. Then, looking from the little window of Joan's garret, she saw the girl herself approaching with Mr. Tregenza. They were nearly home again, so Thomasin returned the money and the picture to their places in the chest of drawers, smoothed the bed, where she had been sitting for half an hour, and went downstairs still undetermined as to a course of action.
Before dinner was eaten, however, she had decided that her husband must know the truth. Even her desire toward the money cooled before the prospect of treachery to him. Fear had something to do with this decision, but the woman's own principles were strong. It is unlikely that in any case they would have broken down. She sent Joan on an errand to the village after the meal was ended; and upon her departure addressed her husband hurriedly.
"You said I was 'mazed to dinner, an' so I was. I've gotten bad news for 'e, Michael, touchin' Joan."
"No more o' that, mother," he answered, "I've talked wi' she an' said a word in season. She'm well in body an' be gwaine to turn a new leaf, so theer's an end o' the matter."
"'Tedn' so," she declared, "I've bin in the gal's room an' I've found—but you bide here an' I'll bring 'em to 'e. Hold yourself back, Michael, for us caan't say nothin' sure till us knaws the truth from Joan."
"She've tawld me the truth out a walkin' an' I've shawed her the narrer path. What should you find?"
"Money—no lil come-by-chance neither; more money than ever you or me seed in our born days afore or shall agin."
"You'm dreamin', wummon!" he said.
"God knaws I wishes it weer so," she answered, and went once more to Joan's room.
Gray Michael was walking up and down the kitchen when she returned, and Thomasin said nothing, but put money and picture upon the table. Her husband fought with himself a moment, as it appeared, then seemed to pray a while, standing still with his hand pressed over his eyes, and finally sat himself down beside the things which Thomasin had brought.
"I'd no choice but to tell 'e," she said.
Gray Michael's eyes were on the picture and utter astonishment appeared in them.
"Why! 'tis Joe Noy's ship. Us seed her off the islands, outward bound! He might 'a' gived it her hisself surely?"
"But t'other thing; the money. Count them notes. Noy never gived Joan them."
He spread the parcel, counted the money, and sat back thunderstruck.
"God in heaven! A thousan' pound, an' notes as never went through no dirty hands neither! What do it mean?"
"How should I tell what it means? I found the whole fortune hid beneath her smickets. Lard knaws how she comed by it. What have the likes o' she to give for money?"
"What do 'e mean by that?" he blazed out, rising to his feet and clinching his fists.
"Ax your darter. Do 'e think I'd dare to say a word onless I was sartain sure? You'd smash me, your own wife, if I weer wrong, like enough. I ban't wrong. Joan's wi' cheel or I never was. Maybe that thraws light on the money, maybe it doan't. I did pray as it might 'a' comed out to be her man at sea. But you'll find it weern't. God help 'e, Michael, my heart do bleed for 'e. Can 'e find it in 'e to be merciful same as the Lard in like case, or—?"
He raised his hand to stop her. He was sitting back in his chair with a face that had grown gray even to the skin, with eyes that looked out at nothing. There was a moment's silence save for the tall clock in the corner; then Tregenza brushed beads of water off his forehead and dried his hand on his trousers. He raised his eyes to the roof and gripped his hands together on his chest and slowly spoke a text which his wife had heard upon his lips before, but only at times of deep concern or emotion.
"'The Lard is king, be the people never so impatient; He sitteth between the cherubims, be the airth never so unquiet.'"
Few saw any particular meaning in this quotation applied in moments of stress, as Michael usually employed it; but to the man it was a supreme utterance, the last word to be spoken in the face of all the evil and wickedness of the world. Come what might, God still reigned in heaven.
He spoke aloud thus far, and afterward, by the movement of his beard and lip, Thomasin could see he was still talking or praying.
"Let the Lard lead 'e, husband, in this hard pass," she said. "'Vengeance is Mine,' the Book sez."
He turned his eyes upon her. His brows were dragged down upon them; he had brushed his gray hair like bristles upright on his head; across the mighty wall of his forehead jagged cross-lines were stamped, like the broken strata over a cliff-face.
"Ay, you say it. Vengeance be God's awn, an' mercy be God's awn. 'Tedn' for no man to meddle wi' them. Us caan't be aught but just. She'll have justice from me—no more'n that. 'Tis all wan now. Wanton or no wanton, she've flummoxed me this day. The giglot lied an' said the thing that was not. She'm not o' the Kingdom—the fust Tregenza as ever lied—the fust."
"God send it edn' as bad as it do look, master. 'Er caracter belike ban't gone. S'pose as she'm married?"
"Hould your clack, wummon. I be thinkin'."
He was thinking, indeed. In the face of this discovery, the ghost of an idea, which had haunted Gray Michael's mind more than once during the upbringing of Joan, returned a greater and more pronounced shadow than ever before. The conviction carried truth stamped upon it from the standpoint of his present horrid knowledge. To an outsider his thought had appeared absolutely devilish, to the man himself it was as a buoy thrown to one drowning. The belief flooded his mind, swept him away, convinced him. Its nature presently appeared as he answered Thomasin. She was still thinking of the thousand pounds.
"Theer's no word in the Book agin mercy, Michael. Joan's your awn darter—froward or not froward."
"You'm wrong theer," he said. He was now cool and quiet. "I did think so wance; I did tell her so when us walked not two hour agone. Now I sees differ'nt. She'm none o' mine. She'm no Tregenza. Be Nature, as made us God-fearin' to a man, to a wummon, to a cheel, gwaine to lie after generations 'pon generations? Look back at them as bred me, an' them as bred them—back, an' back, an' back. All Tregenzas was o' the Lard's harvest; an' should I, as feared God more'n any o' 'em, an' fought for the Lard of Hosts 'fore I was higher'n this table—should I—Michael Tregenza, breed a damned sawl? The thot's comed black an' terrible 'pon my mind 'fore to-day; an' I've put en away from me, judgin' 'twas the devil. Now I knaw 'twas God spoke; now I knaw that her's none o' my gettin'. 'Who honoreth his faither shall 'a' joy o' his awn childern.' Shall I, as weer a pattern son, be cussed wi' a strumpet for a darter?"
"You'm speakin' a hard thing o' dead bones, then. The Chirgwins is upland folks o' long standin', knawn so far as the Land's End, an' up Drift an' down Lizard likewise."
"She've lied to me," was his answer; "she've lied oftentimes; she'm false to whatever I did teach her; she've sawld herself—she've—no more on it—no more on it but awnly this: I call 'pon God A'mighty to bear witness she'm no Tregenza—never—never."
"'Tweer her mother in the gal; but doan't 'e say more 'bout that, Michael. Poor dear sawl, she'm dead an' gone, an' she loved 'e wi' all her 'eart, as I, what knawed her, can testify to."
"No more o' that," he said, "the gal's comin'. Thank God she ban't no cheel o' mine—thank God, as 'ave tawld me 'tedn' so. He whispered it, an' I put it away an' away. Now I knaws. You bide here, Thomasin Tregenza, and I'll speak what's fittin'."
Thus in one moment this hideous conviction was stamped upon the man's soul for life. He judged the dead mother by the daughter and visited the child's sin upon the parent's memory. Any conclusion more monstrous, more directly opposed to every natural instinct, can hardly be conceived, but the man had been strangling natural instincts for fifty years. Only pride of family remained. There were but few Tregenzas left and soon there would be none unless Tom carried on the name. Michael was the quintessence of the Tregenza spirit, the fruit of generations, the high-water mark. He stood on that giddy pinnacle which has religious mania for its precipice. To damn a dead woman was easier than to accept a wanton daughter. Better an unfaithful wife than that any soul born of Tregenza blood should be lost. So he washed his hands of both, thanking God, who had launched the truth into his mind at last; and then he rose to his feet as Joan entered the room.
She stood for a moment in the doorway with her blue eyes fixed in amazement upon the kitchen table. Then she grew very red to the roots of her hair and came forward. There was almost a joy in her mind that the long story of falsehood must end at last. She did not fear her father now and looked up into his face quite calmly as she approached the table.
"These be mine," she said. "Was it you, faither, as took 'em from wheer they was?"
"'Twas me, Joan," answered Mrs. Tregenza; "an' I judge the Lard led me."
The girl stood erect and scornful.
"I'm glad you found them; now I can tell the truth."
"Truth!" thundered Michael. "Truth—what do you knaw 'bout Truth, darter o' Baal? Your life's a lie, your tongue's rotten in your mouth wi' lyin'. Never look in no honest faace agin!"
"You'd do best to bide still while I tell 'e what this here means," said Joan quietly. The man's anger alarmed her no more than the squeak of a caged rat. "I ban't no darter o' Baal, an' the money's come by honest. I've lied afore, but never shall again. An' I've let Joe go 'is ways thinkin' I loved en, which I doan't. I be tokened to a furriner from London, an' he's took me for his awn, an' he be gwaine to come down-long mighty soon an' take me away. But I couldn't tell 'e nothin' of that 'cause he bid me keep my mouth shut. So theer."
"'Took 'e for 'is awn'! Wheer is he, then? Why be you here?"
"He'm comin', I tell 'e. He'm a true man, an' he shawed me what 'tis to love."
"Bought you, you damned harlot!"
She knew the word was vile, but a shred of John Barron's philosophy supported her.
"My awnly sin is I've lied to you, faither; an' you've no right to call me evil names."
"Never call me faither no more, lewd slut! I be no faither o' thine, nor never was. God A'mighty! a Tregenza a wanton! I'd rather cut my hand off than b'lieve it so. It's this—this—blood-money—the price o' a damned sawl! No more lyin'. I knaw—I knaw—an' the picksher—the ship of a true man. It did ought to break your heart to see it, if you had wan. A devil-spawned painting feller, in coorse. An' his black heart happy an' content 'cause he've sent this filth. You stare, wi' your mother's eyes—you stare, an' stare. Hell's yawning for 'e, wretched wummon, an' for him as brot 'e to it!"
"He doan't believe in hell, no more doan't I," said Joan calmly; "an' it ban't a faither's plaace to damn's awn flaish an' blood no way."
"Never name me thy faither no more! I ban't your faither, I tell 'e, an' I do never mean to see thy faace agin. Go wheer you'm minded; but get 'e gone from here. Tramp the broad road with the crowd—the narrer path's closed agin 'e. And this—this—let it burn same as him what sent it will."
He picked up the note nearest to him, crumpled it into a ball and flung it upon the fire.
"Michael, Michael!" cried his wife, rushing forward, "for God's love, what be doin' of? The money ban't damned; the money's honest!"
But Joan did more than speak. As the gift flamed quickly up, then sunk to gray ash, a tempest of passion carried her out of herself. She trembled in her limbs, grew deadly pale, and flew at her father like a tigress. No evil word had ever crossed her lips till then, though they had echoed in her ears often enough. But now they jumped to her tongue, and she cursed Gray Michael and tore the rest of the money out of his hand so quickly that his intention of burning it was frustrated.
"It's mine, it's mine, blast you!" she screamed like a fury, "what right have you to steal it? It's mine—gived me by wan whose shoe you ban't worthy to latch! He's shawed me what you be, an' the likes o' you, wi' your hell-fire an' prayin' an' sour looks. I ban't afeared 'o you no more—none o' you. I be sick o' the smeech o' your God. 'Er's a poor thing alongside o' mine an' Mister Jan's. I'll gaw, I'll gaw so far away as ever I can; an' I'll never call 'e my faither agin, s'elp me God!"
Mrs. Tregenza had thanked Providence under her breath when Joan rescued the notes, but now, almost for the first time, she realized that her own interest in this pile of money was as nothing. Every penny belonged to her stepdaughter, and her stepdaughter evidently meant to keep it. This discovery hit her hard, and now the bitterness came forth in a flood of words that tumbled each over the other and stung like hornets as they settled.
Gray Michael's broadside had roared harmlessly over Joan's erect head; Thomasin's small shot did not miss the mark. She was furious; her husband stood dumb; her virago tongue hissed the truth; and Joan, listening, knew that it was the truth.
No matter what the elder woman said. She missed no vile word of them all. She called Joan every name that chills the ear of the fallen; and she explained the meaning of her expressions; she bid the girl take herself and the love-child within her from out the sight of honest folks; she told her the man had turned his back forever, that only the ashy road of the ruined remained for her to tread. And that was how the great news that Nature had looked upon her for a mother came to Joan Tregenza. Here was the riddle of the mysterious voice unraveled; here was the secret of her physical sorrows made clear. She looked wildly from one to the other—from the man to the woman; then she tottered a step away, clutching her money and her little picture to her breast; and then she rolled over, a huddled, senseless heap, upon the floor.
When Joan recovered consciousness she found her head and neck wet where her stepmother had flung cold water over her. Thomasin was at that moment burning a feather under her nose, but she stopped and withdrew it as the girl's eyes opened.
"Theer, now you'll be well by night. He've gone aboard. Best to change your gownd, for 'tis wetted. Then I'll tell 'e what 'er said. Can 'e get upstairs?"
Joan rose slowly and went with swimming brain to her room. She still held her picture and her money. She took off her wet clothes, then sat down upon her bed to think; and as her mind grew clear, there crept through the gloomy shadows of the past tragedy a joy. It lightened her heart a moment, then vanished again, like the moon blotted suddenly from the sky by a rack of storm-cloud. Joan was full of the stupendous news. The shock of hearing her most unsuspected condition had indeed stricken her insensible, but it was the surprise of it more than the dismay. Now she viewed the circumstance with uncertainty, not knowing the attitude "Mister Jan" would adopt toward it. She argued with herself long hours, and peace brooded over her at the end; for, as his cherished utterances passed in review before her memory, the sense and sum of them seemed to promise well. He would be very glad to share in the little life that was upon the way to earth. He always spoke kindly of children; he had called them the flower-buds in Nature's lap. Yes, he must be glad; and Nature would smile too. Nature knew what it was to be a mother, Joan told herself. She was in Nature's hand henceforth. But her blue eyes grew cold when she thought of the morning. So much for St. Madron and his holy water; so much for the good angels who her dead parent had told her were forever stretching loving, invisible hands to guard and shield. "Mister Jan's be the awnly God," she thought, "an' He'm tu far aways to mind the likes o' we; so us must trust to the gert Mother o' the flowers." She accepted the position with an open heart, then turned her thoughts to her loved one. Having now firmly convinced herself that her condition would bring him gratification and draw them still nearer each to the other, Joan yearned unutterably for his presence. She puzzled her brains to know how she might communicate with him, how hasten his return. She remembered that he had once told her his surname, but she could not recollect it now. He had always been "Mister Jan" to her.
She went down to her supper in the course of the evening, and the great matter in her mind was for a while put aside before a present necessity. Action, she found, would be immediately required of her. Her father, before going from the kitchen after she had fainted, directed Thomasin to bid her never see his face again. She must depart, according to his direction, on the following day; for the thatched cottage upon the cliff could be her home no more.
"Theer weern't no time for talkin'; but I lay 'er'll sing differ'nt when next ashore. You bide quiet here till 'er's home agin. 'Tain't nachur to bid's awn flaish an' blood go its ways like that. An', 'pears to me, as 'tedn' the law neither. But you bide till he'm back. I be sorry as I spawk so sharp, but you was that bowldacious that my dander brawk loose. Aw Jimmery! to think as you dedn' knaw you was cheeldin'!"
"'Twas hearin' so suddint like as made me come over fainty."
"Ate hearty then. An' mind henceforrard you'm feedin' an' drinkin' for two. Best get to bed so soon's you can. Us'll talk 'bout this coil in the marnin'."
"Us'll talk now. I be off by light. I 'edn' gwaine to stop no more. Faither sez I ban't no cheel o' his an' he doan't want to see my faace agen. Then he shaan't. I'll gaw to them as won't be 'shamed o' me: my mother's people."
"Doan't 'e be in no tearin' hurry, Joan," said Mrs. Tregenza, thinking of the money. "Let him, the chap, knaw fust what's come along o' his carneying, an' maybe he'll marry 'e, as you sez, right away. Bide wi' me till you tells en. Let en do what's right an' seemly. That's the shortest road."
"Iss fay; he'm a true man. But I ban't gwaine to wait for en in this 'ouse. To-morrow I'll send my box up Drift by the fust omblibus as belongs to Staaft, an' walk myself, an' tell Uncle Thomas all's there is to tell. He've got a heart in his breast, an' I'll bide 'long wi' him till Mister Jan do come back."
"Wheer's he to now?"
"To Lunnon. He've gone to make his house vitty for me."
"Well, best to get Uncle Chirgwin to write to en, onless you'd like me to do it for 'e."
"No. He'll do what's right—a proper, braave man."
"An 'mazin' rich seemin'ly. For the Lard's love, if you'm gwaine up Drift, take care o' all that blessed money. Doan't say no word 'bout it till you'm in the farm, for theer's them—the tinners out o' work an' sich—as 'ud knock 'e on the head for half of it. To think as Michael burned a hunderd pound! Just a flicker o' purpley fire an' a hunderd pound gone! 'Tis 'nough to make a body rave."
The girl flushed, and something of her father's stern look seemed reflected in her face.
"He stawl my money. No, I judge his word be truth: he'm no faither o' mine if the blood in the veins do count for anything."
Joan went to bed abruptly on this remark, and lay awake thinking and wondering through a long night—thinking what she should say to Uncle Chirgwin, wondering when "Mister Jan" was coming back to her, and picturing his excitement at her intelligence. In the morning she packed her box, ate her breakfast, and then went into the village to find somebody who would carry her scanty luggage as far as Penzance. From there, an omnibus ran through Drift, past Mr. Chirgwin's farmhouse door. Joan herself designed to walk, the distance by road from Newlyn being but trifling. It chanced that the girl met Billy Jago, he who in early spring had cut down an elm tree while John Barron watched. Him Joan knew, for he had worked on her uncle's farm for many years. Mr. Jago, who could be relied upon to do simple offices, undertook the task readily enough and presently arrived with a wheelbarrow. He whined, as ever, about his physical sufferings, but drank a cup of tea with evident enjoyment, then fetched Joan's box from her room and set off with it to meet the public vehicle. Her goods were to be left at Drift, and Joan herself started at an early hour, wishing to be at the farm before her property. She walked in the garden for the last time, marked the magic progress of spring, then took an unemotional leave of her stepmother.
"There 'edn' no call to leave no message as I can see," said Joan, while she stood at the door. "He ban't my faither, he sez, so I'll take it for truth. But I'll ask you to kiss Tom for me. Us was allus good brother an' sister, whether or no; an' I loves en dearly."
"Iss, I knaw. He'll grizzle an' fret proper when he finds you'm gone. Good-by to 'e. May the Lard forgive 'e, an' send your man 'long smart; an' for heaven's sake doan't lose them notes."
"They be safe stawed next to my skin. Uncle Chirgwin'll look to them; an' you needn't be axin' God A'mighty to forgive me, 'cause I abbun done nothin' to want it. I be Nature's cheel now; an' I be in kindly hands. You caan't understand that, but I knaws what I knaws through bein' taught. Good-by to 'e. Maybe us'll see each other bimebye."
Joan held out her hand and Mrs. Tregenza shook it. Then she stood and watched her stepdaughter walk away into Newlyn. The day was cold and unpleasant, with high winds and driving mists. The village looked grayer than usual; the boats were nearly all away; the gulls fluttered in the harbor making their eternal music. Seaward, white horses flecked the leaden water; a steamer hooted hoarsely, looming large under the low, sullen sky, as it came between the pierheads. Presently a scat of heavy rain on a squall of wind shut out the harbor for a time. Mrs. Tregenza waited until Joan had disappeared, then went back to her kitchen, closed the door, sat in Gray Michael's great chair by the hearth, put her apron over her head and wept. But the exact reason for her tears she could not have explained, for she did not know it. Mingled emotions possessed her. Disappointment had something to do with this present grief; sorrow for Joan was also responsible for it in a measure. That the girl should have asked her to kiss Tom was good, Thomasin thought, and the reflection moved her to further tears; while that Joan was going to put her money into the keeping of a simple old fool like Uncle Chirgwin seemed a highly pathetic circumstance to Mrs. Tregenza. Indeed, the more she speculated upon it the sadder it appeared.
Meanwhile Joan, leaving Newlyn and turning inland along the little lane which has St. Peter's church and the Newlyn brook upon its right, escaped the wind and found herself walking through an emerald woodland world all wrapped in haze and rain. Past the smelting works, where purple smoke made wonderful color in rising against the young green, over the brook and under the avenue of great elms went Joan. Her heart ached this morning, and she thought of yesterday. It seemed as though a hundred years of experience had passed over her since she knelt by St. Madron's stone altar. She told herself bitterly how much wiser she was to-day, and, so thinking strange thoughts, tramped forward over Buryas Bridge, and faced the winding hill beyond. Then came doubts. Perhaps after all St. Madron had answered her prayer. Else why the underlying joy that now fringed her sorrows with happiness?
Drift is a place well named, when seen, as then, gray through sad-colored curtains of rain on the bare hilltop. But the orchard lands of the coomb below were fair, and many primroses twinkled in the soaking green of the tall hedge-banks. Joan splashed along through the mud, and presently a lump rose in her throat, born of thoughts. It had seemed nothing to leave the nest on the cliff, and she held her head high and thanked God for a great deliverance. That was less than an hour ago; yet here, on the last hill to Drift and within sight of the stone houses clustering at the summit, her head sank lower and lower, and it was not the rain which dimmed her eyes. She much doubted the value of further prayers now, yet every frantic hope and aspiration found its vent in a petition to her new God, as Joan mounted the hill. She prayed, because she could think of no other way to soothe her heart; but her mind was very weary and sad—not at the spectacle of the future, for that she knew was going to be fair enough—but at the vision of the past, at the years ended forever, at the early pages of life closed and locked, to be opened again no more. A childhood, mostly quite happy, was over; she would probably visit the house wherein she was born never again. But even in her sorrow, the girl wondered why she should be sad.
Mr. Chirgwin's farm fronted the highway, and its gray stone face was separated therefrom by a small and neat patch of garden. Below the house a gate opened into the farmyard, and Uncle Chirgwin's land chiefly sloped away into the coomb behind, though certain fields upon the opposite side of the highroad also pertained to him. The farmhouse was time-stained, and the stone had taken some wealth of color where black and golden lichens fretted it. The slates of the roof shone with wet and reflected a streak of white light that now broke the clouds near the hidden sun. The drippings from the eaves had made a neat row of little regular holes among the crocuses in the garden. Tall jonquils also bent their heads there, heavy with water, and the white violets which stood in patches upon either side of the front door had each a raindrop glimmering within its cup. A japonica splashed one gray wall with crimson blossoms and young green leaves; but, for the rest, this house-front was quite bare. Joan saw Mary Chirgwin's neat hand in the snowy short blinds which crossed the upper windows; and she knew that the geraniums behind the diamond panes of the parlor were her uncle's care. They dwelt indoors, winter and summer, and their lanky, straggling limbs shut out much light.
The visitor did not go to the front door, whither a narrow path, flanked with handsome masses of "Cornish diamonds," or quartz crystals, directly led from the wicket, but entered at a larger gate which led into the farmyard. Here cattle-byres and shippons ranged snugly on three sides of an open space, their venerable slates yellow with lichens, their thatches green with moss. In the center of the yard a great manure heap made comfortable lying for pigs and poultry; while the farmhouse stretched back upon the fourth side. Another gate opened beyond it, and led to the land upon the sloping hill and in the valley below. Joan passed a row of cream pans, shining like frosted silver in the mist, then turned from the bleak and dripping world. The kitchen door was open, and revealed a large, low chamber whose rafters were studded with orange-colored hams, whose fireplace was vast and black save for a small wood fire filling but a quarter of the hearth. Grocer's almanacs brought brave color to the walls, sharing the same with a big dresser where the china made a play of reflected light from the windows. Above the lofty mantel-piece there hung an old fowling-piece, and a row of faded Daguerreotypes, into most of which damp had eaten dull yellow patches. The mantel-shelf carried some rough stoneware ornaments, an eight-day clock, a tobacco jar, and divers small utensils of polished tin. A big table covered with American cloth filled the center of the kitchen, a low settle crossed the alcove of the window, and a leather screen, of four folds and five feet high, surrounded Uncle Chirgwin's own roomy armchair in the chimney-corner. Strips of cocoanut fiber lay upon the ground, but between them appeared the bare floor. It was paved with blue stone for the most part, though here and there a square of white broke the color; and the white patches had worn lower than the rest under many generations of hobnailed boots. A faint odor of hams was in the air, and the slight, stuffy smell of feathers.
A woman sat in the window as Joan entered. She had her back to the door, and not hearing the footfall, went on with her work, which was the plucking of a fowl. A cloth lay spread over the floor at her feet, and each moment the pile of feathers upon it increased as the plucker worked with rhythmic regularity and sang to herself the while.
Mary Chirgwin was a dark, good-looking girl, with a face in which strong character appeared too prominently shadowed to leave room for absolute beauty. But her features were regular if swarthy; her eyes were splendid, and her brow, from which black hair was smoothly and plainly parted away, rose broad and low. There was nothing to mark kinship between the cousins save that both held their heads finely and possessed something of the same distinction of carriage. Mary was eight-and-twenty, and, whatever might be thought about her face, there could be but one opinion upon her feminine splendor of figure. Her broad chest produced a strange speaking and singing voice—mellow as Joan's, but far deeper in the notes. Mary gloried in congregational melodies, and those who had not before heard her efforts at church on Sundays would often mistake her voice for a man's. She was dressed in print with a big apron overall; and her sleeves, turned up to her elbows, showed a pair of fine arms, perfect as to shape, but brown of color as the woman's face.
Joan stood motionless, then her cousin looked round suddenly and started almost out of her chair at a sight so unexpected. But she composed herself again instantly, put down the semi-naked fowl and came forward. They had not seen each other since the time when Joe Noy flung over Mary for Joan; and the latter, remembering this circumstance very well, had hoped she might escape from meeting her cousin until after some talk with Uncle Thomas. But Mary hid her emotion from Joan's sight, and they shook hands and looked into one another's faces, each noting marked changes there since the last occasion of their meeting. The elder spoke first, and went straight to the past. It was her nature to have every connection and concern of life upon a definite and clear understanding. She hated mystery, she disliked things hidden, she never allowed the relations between herself and any living being to stand otherwise than absolutely defined.
"You'm come, Joan, at last, though 'twas a soft day to choose. Listen to me, will 'e? Then us can let the past lie, same as us lets sleepin' dogs. I called 'pon God to blight your life, Joan Tregenza, when—you knaw. I thot I weer gwaine to die, an' I read the cussin' psalm [Footnote: The Cursing Psalm—Psalm CIX. If read by a wronged person before death, it was, and is sometimes yet, supposed to bring punishment upon the evil-doer.] agin you. 'Feared to me as you'd stawl the awnly thing as ever brot a bit o' brightness to my life. But that's all over. Love weern't for me; I awnly dreamed it weer. An' I larned better an' didn't die; an' prayed to God a many times to forgive that first prayer agin you. The likes o' you doan't know nort 'bout the grim side o' life or what it is to lose the glory o' lovin'. But I doan't harbor no ill agin you no more."
"You'm good to hear, Polly, an' kind words is better'n food to me now. I'll tell 'e 'bout myself bimebye. But I must speak to uncle fust. Things has happened."
"Nothin' wrong wi' your folks?"
"I ain't got no folks no more. But I'll tell 'e so soon's I've tawld Uncle Thomas."
"He'm in the croft somewheers. Better bide till dinner. Uncle'll be back by then."
"I caan't, Mary—not till I've spoke wi' en. I'll gaw long down Green Lane, then I shall meet en for sure. An' if a box o' mine comes by the omblibus, 'tis right."
"A box! Whatever is there in it, Joan?"
"All's I've gotten in the world—leastways nearly. Doan't ax me nothin' now. You'll knaw as soon as need be."
Without waiting for more words Joan departed, hastened through the gate on the inner wall of the farmyard and walked along the steep hillside by a lane which wound muddily downward to the grasslands, under high hazel hedges. The new leaves dripped showers at every gust of the wind, then a gleam of wan sunlight brightened distant vistas of the way, while Joan heard the patter of a hundred hoofs in the mud, the bleat of lambs, the deeper answer of ewes, the barking of a shepherd's dog. Soon the cavalcade came into view—a flock of sheep first, a black and white dog with a black and white pup, which was learning his business, next, and Uncle Chirgwin himself bringing up the rear. The first sunshine of the day seemed to have found him out. It shone over his round red face and twinkled in the dew on his white whiskers. He stumped along upon short, gaitered legs, but went not fast, and stayed at the steep shoulder of the hill that his lambs might have rest and time to suck.
Mary Chirgwin meantime speculated on this sudden mystery of her cousin's arrival. She spread the cloth for dinner, bid her maid lay another place for Joan and wondered much what manner of news she brought. There were changes in Joan's face since she saw it last—not changes which might have been attributed to the possession of Joe Noy, but an alteration of expression betokening thought, a look of increased age, of experiences not wholly happy in their nature.
And Joan had also marked the changes in Mary. These indications were clear enough and filled her with sorrow. A river of tears will leave its bed marked upon a woman's face; and Joan, who had never thought overmuch of her cousin's sorrows until then, began to feel her heart fill and run over with sudden sympathy. She asked herself what life would look like for her if "Mister Jan"; changed his mind now and never came back again. That was how Mary felt doubtless when Joe Noy left her. Already Joan grew zealous in thought for Mary. She would teach her something of that sweet wisdom which was to support her own burden in the future; she would tell her about Nature—the "All-Mother" as "Mister Jan" called her once. And, concerning Joe Noy—might it be within the bounds of possibility, within the power of time to bring these two together again? The thought was good to Joan, and wholly occupied her mind until the sight of Uncle Chirgwin with his sheep brought her back to the present moment and her own affairs.
When Mr. Chirgwin caught sight of Joan his astonishment knew no bounds, and his first thought was that something must certainly be amiss. He stood in the roadway, a picture of surprise, and, for a moment, forgot both his sheep and lambs.
"My stars, Joan! Be it you really? Whatever do 'e make at Drift, 'pon such a day as this? No evil news, I hope?"
"Uncle," she answered, "go slow a bit an' listen to what I've got to say. You be a kind, good sawl as judges nobody, ban't you? And you love me 'cause your sister was my mother?"
"Surely, surely, Joan; an' I love you for yourself tu—nobody better in this world."
"You wouldn' go for to send me to hell-fire, would 'e?"
"God forbid, lass! Why, whatever be talkin' 'bout?"
"Uncle Thomas, faither's not my faither no more now. He've turned me out his house an' denied me. I ban't no darter of his henceforrard; an' he'm no faither o' mine. He don't mean never to look 'pon my faace agin, nor me 'pon his. The cottage edn' no home for me no more."
"Joan, gal alive! what talk be this?"
"'Tis gospel. I'm a damned wummon, 'cordin' to my faither as was."
"God A'mighty! You—paart a Chirgwin—as comed, o' wan side, from her as loved the Lard so dear, an', 'pon t'other, from him as feared un so much. Never, Joan!"
"Uncle Thomas, I be in the fam'ly way; an' faither's damned me, an' likewise the man as loves me, an' the cheel I be gwaine to bring in the world. I've comed to hear you speak. Will you say the same? If you will, I'll pack off this instant moment."
The old man stood perfectly still and his jaw went down while he breathed heavily; a world of amazement and piteous sorrow sat upon his face; his voice shook and whistled in the sound as he answered.
"Joan! My poor Joan! My awn gal, this be black news—black news. Thank God she'm not here to knaw—your mother."
"I've done no wrong, uncle; I ban't 'shamed of it. He'm a true, good man, and he'm comin' to marry me quick."
"No, no, not him. I thot I loved en well till Mister Jan comed, an' opened my blind eyes, an' shawed me what love was. Mister Jan's a gen'leman—a furriner. He caan't live wi'out me no more; he's said as he caan't. An' I'm droopin' an' longin' for the sight o' en. An' I caan't bide in the streets, so I axes you to keep me till Mister Jan do come to fetch me. I find words hard to use to 'splain things, but his God's differ'nt to what the Luke Gosp'lers' is, an' I lay 'tis differ'nt to yourn. But his God's mine anyways, an' I'm not afeared o' what I done, nor 'shamed to look folks in the faace. That's how 'tis, Uncle Thomas. 'Tis Nature, you mind, an' I be Nature's cheel no—wi' no faither nor mother but her."
The old man was snuffling, and a tear or two rolled down his red face, gathered the damp already there and fell. He groaned to himself, then brought forth a big, red pocket-handkerchief, and wept outright, while Joan stood silently regarding him.
"I'd rather a met death than this; I'd rather a knawn you was coffined."
"Oh, if I could awnly 'splain!" she cried, frantically; "if I awnly could find his words 'pon my tongue, but I caan't. They be hid down deep in me, an' by them I lives from day to day; but how can I make others see same as I see? I awnly brings sorrer 'pon sorrer now. Theer's nothin' left but him. If you could a heard Mister Jan! You would understand, wi' your warm heart, but I caan't make 'e; I've no terrible, braave, butivul words. I'll gaw my ways then. If any sawl had tawld me as I'd ever bring tears down your faace I'd never b'lieved 'em—never; but so I have, an' that's bitterness to me."
He took her by the hand and pressed it, then put his arm round her and kissed her. His white bristles hurt, but Joan rejoiced exceedingly, and now it was her turn to shed tears.
"He'll come back—he'm a true man," she sobbed; "theer ban't the likes o' Mister Jan in Carnwall, an'—an' if you knawed en, you'd say no less. You'm the fust as have got to my heart since he went; an' he'd bless 'e if he knawed."
"Come along with me, Joan," answered Uncle Chirgwin, straightening himself and applying his big handkerchief to her face. "God send the man'll be 'longside 'e right soon, as you sez. Till he do come, you shaan't leave me no more. Drift's home for you while you'm pleased to bide theer. An' I'll see your faither presently, though I wish 'twas any other man."
"I knawed you was all us the same; I knawed you'd take me in. An' Mister Jan shall knaw. An' he'll love you for't when he do."
"Come an' see me put the ewes an' lambs in the croft; then us'll gaw to dinner, an' I'll hear you tell me all 'bout en."
He tried hard to put a hopeful face upon the position and, himself as simple as a child, presently found Joan's story not hopeless at all. He seemed indeed to catch some of her spirit as she proceeded and painted the manifold glories of "Mister Jan" in the best language at her command. To love Nature was no sin; Mr. Chirgwin himself did so; and as for the money, instead of reading the truth of it, he told himself very wisely that the giver of a sum so tremendous must at least be in earnest. The amount astounded him. Fired by Joan's words, for as he played the ready listener her eloquence increased, he fell to thinking as she thought, and even speaking hopefully. The old farmer's reflections merely echoed his own simple trust in men and had best not been uttered, for they raised Joan's spirits to a futile height. But he caught the contagion from her and spoke with sanguine words of the future, and even prayed Joan that, if wealth and a noble position awaited her, she would endeavor to brighten the lives of the poor as became a good Cornish woman. This she solemnly promised, and they built castles in the air: two children together. His sheep driven to their new pasture, Uncle Chirgwin led the way home and listened as he walked to Joan's story. She quite convinced him before he reached his kitchen door—partly because he was very well content to be convinced, partly because he could honestly imagine no man base enough to betray this particular blue-eyed child.
Mr. Chirgwin's extremely unworldly review of the position was balm to Joan. Her heart grew warm again, and the old man's philosophy brightened her face, as the sun, now making a great clearness after rain, brightened the face of the land. But the recollection of Mary Chirgwin sobered her uncle not a little. How she would take this tremendous intelligence he failed to guess remotely. Opportunity to impart it occurred sooner than he expected, for Joan's box had just arrived. During dinner the old man explained that his niece was to be a visitor at Drift for a term of uncertain duration; and after the meal, when Joan disappeared to unpack her box and make tidy a little apple-room, which was now empty and at her service, Uncle Chirgwin had speech with Mary. He braced himself to the trying task, waited until the kitchen was empty of those among his servants who ate at his table, and then replied to the question which his niece promptly put.
"What do this mean, Uncle Thomas? What's come o' Joan that she do drop in 'pon us like this here wi' never a word to say she was comin'?"
"Polly," he answered, "your cousin Joan have seen sore trouble, in a manner o' speakin', an' you'd best to knaw fust as last. Us must be large-minded 'bout a thing like this She'm tokened to a gen'leman from Lunnon."
"What! An' him—Joe Noy?"
"To he plain wi' you, Polly, she've thrawed en over. Listen 'fore you speaks. 'Twas a match o' Michael Tregenza's makin', I reckon, an', so like's not, Joe weern't any more heart-struck than Joan. I finds it hard to feel as I ought to Gray Michael, more shame to me. But Joan's failed in love wi' a gen'leman, an' he with her, an' he'm comin' any mornin' to fetch 'er—an'—an'—you must be tawld—'tis time as he did come. An' he've sent Joan a thousand pound o' paper money to shaw as 'e means the right thing."
But the woman's mind had not followed these last facts. Her face was white to the lips; her hands were shaking. She put her head down upon them as she sat by the fire, and a groan which no power could strangle broke from her deep bosom. She spoke, and regretted her words a moment later. "Oh, my God! an' he brawk off wi' me for the likes o' she!"
"Theer, theer, lass Mary, doan't 'e, doan't 'e. You've hid your tears that cunnin', but my old eyes has seen the marks this many day an' sorrered for 'e. 'Tis a hard matter viewed from the point what you looks 'pon it; but I knaws you, my awn good gal; I knaws your Saviour's done a 'mazin' deal to hold you up. An' 'twont be for long, 'cause the man'll come for her mighty soon seemin'ly. Can 'e faace it, the Lard helpin'? Poor Joan's bin kicked out the house by her faither. I do not like en—never did. What do 'e say? She doan't count it no sin, mind you, an' doan't look for no reprovin', 'cause the gen'leman have taught her terrible coorious ideas; but 'tis just this: we'm all sinners, eh, Polly? An' us caan't say 'sactly what size a sin do look to God A'mighty's eye. An' us have got the Lard's way o' handlin' sich like troubles writ out clear—eh? Eh, Polly? He dedn' preach no sermon at the time neither."
The old man prattled on, setting out the position in the most favorable light to Joan that seemed possible to him. But his listener was one no longer. She had forgotten her cousin and the present circumstances, for her thoughts were with a sailor at sea. One tremendous moment of savage joy gripped her heart, but the primitive passion perished in its birth-pang and left her cold and faint and ashamed. She wondered from what unknown, unsecured corner of her soul the vile thing came. It died on the instant, but the corpse fouled her thoughts and tainted them and made her feel faint again. The irony of chance burst like a storm on the woman, and mazes of tangled thoughts made her brain whirl in a chaos of bewilderment. She sat motionless, her face dark, and much mystery in her wonderful eyes, while Mr. Chirgwin, with shaking head and scriptural quotation and tears, babbled on, pleading for Joan with all his strength. Mary heard little of what he said. She was occupied with facts and asking herself her duty. From the storm in her mind arose a clear question at last, and she could not answer it. The point had appeared unimportant to anybody but Mary Chirgwin, but no question of conduct ever looked trivial to her. At least the doubt was definite and afforded mental occupation. She wondered now whether it was well or possible that she and Joan could live together under the same roof. Why such a problem had arisen she knew not; but it stood in the path, a fact to be dealt with. Her heart told her that Joan and her uncle alike erred in the supposition that the girl's seducer would ever return. She read the great gift of money as Thomasin had read it—rightly; and the thought of living with Joan was at first horrible to her.