Mr. Chirgwin talked and Mary reflected. Then she rose to leave the room.
"'Tis tu gert a thing for me to say—no wummon was ever plaaced like what I be now. I do mean to see passon at Sancreed, uncle. He'll knaw what's right for me. If he bids me stay, I'll stay. 'Tis the thot o' Joe Noy maddens me. My head'll burst if I think any more. I'll go to passon."
"Whether you'll stay, Polly! Why shouldn't 'e stay? Surely it do—"
"Doan't 'e talk no more 'tall, uncle. You caan't knaw what this is to me, you doan't understan' a wummon faaced wi' a coil like this here. Joe—Joe as loved 'er, I s'pose, differ'nt to what 'e did me. An' she, when his back weer turned—an'—an'—me—God help me!—as never could do less than love en through all!"
She was gone before he had time to answer, but he realized her mighty agony of mind and stood dumb and frightened before it. Then a thought came concerning Joan and he felt that, at all costs, he must speak to Mary again before she went out. Mr. Chirgwin waited quietly at the stair-foot until she came down. The turmoil was in her eyes still, but she spoke calmly and listened to him when he replied.
"Doan't 'e say nuthin' to Joan, Uncle Thomas. I be gwaine to larn my duty, as is hidden from me. An' my duty I will do."
"An' so you alias have, Polly, since you was a grawed gal; an' God knaws it. But—do'e think as you could—in a manner o' speakin'—hide names from passon? Ban't no call to tell what's fallen out to other folks. Joan—eh, Polly? Might 'e speak in a parable like—same as Scripture—wi'out namin' no names. For Joan's sake, Mary—eh?"
She was silent a full minute, then answered slowly.
"I see what you mean, uncle. I hadn' thot o' she just then. Iss fay, you'm right theer. Ban't no work o' mine to tell 'bout her."
She hesitated, and the old man spoke again.
"I s'pose that a bit o' prayer wouldn' shaw light on it—eh, Polly? Wi'out gwaine to Sancreed. The Lard knaws your fix better'n what any words 'ud put it clear to passon. An' theer's yourself tu. 'Pears to me, axin' your pardon, for you'm clever'n what I am, that 'tedn' a tale what you can put out 'fore any other body 'sactly—even a holy man like him."
She saw at once that it was not. Her custom had been to get the kind-hearted old clergyman of her parish church to soothe the doubts and perplexities which not seldom rose within her strenuous mind. And before this great, crushing problem, with the pretext of the one difficulty which had tumbled uppermost from the chaos and so been grasped as a reality, she had naturally turned to her guide and friend. But, as her uncle spoke, she saw that in truth this matter could not be laid naked before any man. Another's hidden life was involved; another's secret must come out if all was told, and Mary's sense of justice warned her that this could not be. She had taken her own mighty grief to the little parsonage at Sancreed, and a kindly counselor, who knew sorrow at first hand, helped her upon the road that henceforth looked so lonely and so long; but this present trial, though it tore the old wounds open, must be borne alone. She saw as much, and turned and went upstairs again to her chamber.
"Think of her kindly," said Uncle Chirgwin as Mary left him without more words. "She'm so young an' ignorant o' the gert world, Polly. An' if the worst falls, which God forbid, 'tis her as'll suffer most, not we."
"Us have all got to suffer an' suffer this side our graaves," she said, mounting wearily.
"So young an' purty as she be—the moral o' her mother. I doan't knaw—'tis sich a wonnerful world—but them blue eyes—them round blue eyes couldn't do a thing as was wrong afore God as wan might fancy," he said aloud, not knowing she was out of earshot. Then he heaved a sigh, returned to the kitchen, and presently departed to the fields.
WAITING FOR "MISTER JAN"
With searching of heart, Mary Chirgwin spent time during that afternoon. In one room Joan, happier than she had been for many days, set out her few possessions, boldly hung the picture of Joe Noy's ship upon the wall and gazed at it with affection, for it spoke of the painter, not the sailor, to her; while, in a chamber hard by, Mary solved the problem of the day, coming at her conclusion with great struggle of mind and clashing of arguments. She resolved at last to abide at Drift with her uncle and with Joan. The reason for those events now crowding upon her life was hidden from her; and why Providence saw fit to awaken or mightily intensify the sorrows which time was lulling to sleep, she could not divine. She accepted her position, none the less, doubted nothing but that the secret hidden in these matters would some day be explained, and, according to her custom before the approach of all mundane events and circumstances affecting herself, viewed the present trial as heaven-sent to purify and strengthen. So your religious egotists are ever wont to read into the great waves of chance, as here and there a ripple from them sets their own little vessels shaking, as here and there some splash of foam, a puff of wind, strikes the nutshell which floats their lives, a personal, deliberate intervention, an event designed by the Everlasting to test their powers, ripen their characters, equip their souls for an eternity of satisfaction.
At tea time the cousins met again, and Uncle Chirgwin, returning from his affairs, was rejoiced to learn Mary's decision. No outward sign marked her struggle. She was calm, even stately, with a natural distinction which physically appeared in her bearing and carriage. She chilled Joan a little, but not with intention. Yet Joan was bold for her love and spoke no less than the truth when she asserted that she viewed her position without shame and without remorse. She spoke of it openly, fearlessly, and kept Uncle Chirgwin on thorns between the cold silence of his elder niece and the garrulous chatter of the younger. The saint was so stern, the sinner so happy and so perfectly impressed with her own innocence, which latter fact Mary too saw clearly; and it instantly solved half the problem in her mind. Joan had obviously been sent to Drift that the truth might reach her heart. She came a heathen from the outer darkness of sin, with vain babbling on her lips and a mind empty. She called herself "Nature's child" and the theatric thunders of Luke Gospeldom had never taught her that she was God's. Here, then, was one to be brought into the fold with all possible dispatch, and Mary, who loved religious battle, braced herself to the task while silently listening to Joan, that she might the better learn what manner of spiritual attack would best meet this sorry case.
Uncle Chirgwin took charge of his niece's bank-notes, and, after some persuasion, consented to accept the weekly sum of three shillings and sixpence from Joan. He made many objections to any such arrangement, but the girl overruled them, declaring absolutely that she would not stop at Drift, even until her future husband's return, unless the payment of money was accepted from her. It bred a secret joy in Joan to feel that "Mister Jan's" wealth now enabled her to enjoy an independence which even Mary could not share. She much desired to give more money, but Uncle Chirgwin reduced the sum to three shillings and sixpence weekly and would take no more. This wealth was viewed with very considerable loathing by Mary Chirgwin, and she criticised her uncle's decision unfavorably; but he accepted the owner's view, arguing that it was only justice to all parties so to do, until facts proved whether Joan was mistaken. The notes did not cause him uneasiness—at any rate during this stage of affairs—and he took them to Penzance upon the occasion of his next visit. Mr. Chirgwin's lawyer saw to the safe bestowal of the money; and when she heard that her nine hundred pounds would produce about five-and-twenty every year and yet not decrease the while, Joan was much astonished.
Meantime John Barren neither came to fetch her, nor sent any writing to tell of the causes for his delay. The girl was fruitful of new reasons for his silence, and then grew a black fear which answered all doubts and, by its reasonableness, terrified her. Perhaps "Mister Jan" was ill—too ill even to write. He had but little strength—that she knew, and few friends—of that Joan was also aware, for he had told her so. Yet, surely, there were those, if only his servants, who might have written to bid her hasten. A line—a single word—and she would get into the train and stop in it until she saw "London" written on a board at a station. Then she would leap out and find him and get to his heart and warm it and kiss life back to his body, light to his loved gray eyes. So thinking, time dragged, and as the novelty of the new life abated, and wore thin, Joan's spirits wavered until long and longer intervals of gloomy sadness marked the duration of each day for her. But she was young, and hope yet held revels in her heart when the mood favored, when the wind was soft, the sun bright, and Mother Nature seemed close and kind, as often happened. Joan worked too, helping Mary and the maids, but after a wayward manner of her own. There was no counting upon her and she loved better to be with her uncle, abroad upon the land, or by herself, hidden in the orchard, in the fruit garden, or in the secret places of the coomb.
She had her favorite spots, for as yet that great, overwhelming regard for the old stone crosses, which came to her afterward, had not grown into a live passion. Her present pilgrimages were short, her shrines those of Nature's building. Much she loved the arm of an ancient apple-tree hid in the very heart of the orchard. A great gnarled limb bent abruptly out, grew long and low, and was propped at a distance of three yards from the parent tree. Midway between the stem and support, a crooked elbow of the bough made a pleasant seat for Joan; and here, when life at the farm looked more gray than common, she came and sometimes sat long hours. Her perch raised her above a velvet scented sea of wall-flowers which ran in regular waves beneath the apple-trees, under murmuring of many bees. The blossom above Joan's head was all a lacework of sunny rose and cream; and the sun painted glorious russet harmonies below, glinted magically in the green and white above, turned the gray lichens, which clustered on the weather side of the trunks and boughs, to silver. The glory of life here always heartened Joan. She felt the immortality of Nature, who, from naked earth and barren boughs, thus at the sun's smile splendidly awakened, and teemed and overflowed with bewildering, inexhaustible luxuriance. Nor seldom this aspect of her Mother's infinite wealth touched her blood, and a strange sensation as of very lust of life made her wild. At such times she would pick the green things and tear them and watch the colorless life ooze from their wounds; she would gather blossoms and scatter them against the wind, break buds open and pluck their hearts out, fill her mouth with sorrel and young grass-shoots, and feel the cool saps of them upon her palate. And sometimes her Mother frightened her, for the dim clouds hid beneath the horizon of maternity were moving now and their color was dark. Nature had as many moods as Joan and often looked distant and terrible. Poor little blue-eyed "sister of the sun and moon!" She likened herself so bravely to the other children of her Mother—to the stars, to the fair birch-trees, where emerald showers now twinkled down over the silver stems, to the uncurling fronds of the fern, to the little trout in the coomb-stream; and yet she was not content as they were.
"Her's good, so good, but oh! if her was a bit nigher—if I could sit in her lap an' feel her arms around me an' thread the daisies into chains like when I was a lil maid! But I be a grawed wummon now—an' yet caan't feel it so—not yet. Her'll hold my hand, maybe, an' lead me 'pon the road past pain an' sorrow. I can trust her, 'cause Mister Jan did say as Nature never lies—never."
So the child's thoughts wandered on a day when she sat upon the bough and brought a shower of pale petals down with every movement. But as yet only the shadows of shadows clouded her thoughts when she thought about herself. It was the loneliness brought real care—the loneliness and the waiting.
She spent time, too, in Uncle Chirgwin's old walled garden. This place and its products went for little in the traffic of the farm, though every year its owner was wont to count upon certain few baskets of choice fruit as an addition to his income, and every year his hopes were blighted. For the walls whereon his peaches and nectarines grew had stood through generations, their red brick work was much fretted by time, and the interstices between the bricks made snug homes for a variety of insects. Joan once listened to her uncle upon this subject, and henceforth chose to make his scanty fruit her special care.
"'Tis like this," he explained, "an' specially wi' the necter'ns. The moment they graws a shade, an' long afore they stone, them dratted lil auld sow-pigs [Footnote: Sow-pigs—Woodlice.] falls 'pon 'em cruel. Then they waits theer time till the ripenin', an', blame me, but the varmints do allus knaw just a day 'fore I does, when things be ready, an' they eats the peaches an' necter'ns by night, gouging 'em shameful, same as if you'd done it wi' your nails. 'Tis a terrible coorious wall for sow-pigs, likewise for snails; an' I be allus a gwaine to have en repaired an' pinted, but yet somehow 'tedn' done. But your sharp eyes'll be a sight o' use wi' creepin' things. 'Tis a reg'lar Noah's Ark o' a wall, to be sure; not but what I lay theer's five pound worth o' stone fruit 'pon it most years if 'twas let bide."
Joan enjoyed watching the peaches grow. First they peeped like pearls from the dried frills of their blossoms; then they expanded and cast off the encumbrance of dead petals and nestled against the red bricks that sucked up sunshine and held it for them when the sun had gone. She found the garden wall was a whole busy world, and, taught by her vanished master, she took interest in all that dwelt thereon. But the snails and woodlice she slew ruthlessly that her uncle might presently come by his five pounds' value of fruit.
Mary Chirgwin speedily discovered the task of reforming her cousin was like to be lengthy and arduous. There appeared no foundations upon which to work, and while the certainty of Barron's return still remained with Joan as a vital guide to conduct, no other gospel than that which he had taught found her a listener. She refused to go to church, to Mary's chagrin and Uncle Chirgwin's sorrow; but he explained the matter correctly and indeed found a clew to most of Joan's actions at this season. Mary saw the old man's growing love for the new arrival, and a smaller mind might have sunk to jealousy quickly enough under such circumstances, but she, deeply concerned with Joan's eternal welfare, rose above temporary details, At the same time her uncle's mild and tolerant attitude caused her pain.
"As to church-gwaine," he said, on a Sunday morning when he and his elder niece had driven off to Sancreed as usual, leaving Joan in the orchard; "she've larned to look 'pon it from a Luke Gosp'ler's pint o' view. Doan't you fret, Polly. Let her bide. 'Twill come o' itself bimebye wan o' these Sundays. Poor tiby lamb! Christ's a watchin' of her, Polly. An' if this here gen'leman, by the name o' Mister Jan, doan't come—"
"You make me daft!" she interrupted, with impatience. "D'you mean as you ever thot he would?"
"I hopes. Theer's sich a 'mazin' deal o' good in human nature. Mayhap he'm wraslin' wi' his sawl to this hour. An' the Lard do allus fight 'pon the side o' conscience. Iss fay! Some 'ow I do think as he'll come."
Mary said no more. She was quite positive that her cousin and her uncle were alike mistaken; but she saw that, until the hard truth forced itself upon Joan, the girl would go her present way. It was not that Joan lacked goodness and sweetness, but, in Mary's opinion, she took an obstinate and wrong-headed course upon the one vital subject of her own salvation. Mary fought with herself to love Joan, and the battle now was only hard when Joe Noy came within the scope of her thoughts. She banished him as much as she could, but it never grew easy, and the complex problems bred of reflections on this theme maddened her. For she had always loved him, and that affection, thrust away as deadly-sin, when he left her for another, could not be wholly strangled now.
Time hung heavily and more heavily with Joan at Drift. A fortnight passed; but the hope of the ignorant and trustful dies very hard and the faith which is bred of absolute love has a hundred lives. The girl walked into Penzance every second day, and hope blazed brightly on the road to the post-office, then sank a little deeper into the hidden places of her heart as she plodded empty-handed back to Drift.
Slowly, and so gradually that she herself knew it not, her thoughts grew something less occupied with John Barren, something more concerned about herself. For the world was full of happy mothers now. One "Brindle"—a knot-cow of repute—dropped a fine bull-calf in a croft hard by the orchard, and Joan looked into "Brindle's" solemn eyes after the event, and learned. She marveled to see the little brown calf stand on his shaking legs within an hour of his birth; then his mother licked him lovingly, while Uncle Chirgwin himself drew off her "buzzy milk." There was another mother in a disused pigsty. There Joan found a red and white tortoise-shell cat with four blind, squeaking atoms beside her, and as the cat rolled over and the atoms sucked life, Joan saw her shining eyes, afore-time so bright and hard, full of a new strange light, like the cloud that glimmers over the fires of an opal. The cat's green orbs were full of mystery: of pain past, of joy present. So again Joan learned. But a black tragedy blotted out that little happy family in the pigsty, and Death, in the shape of Amos Bartlett, Mr. Chirgwin's head man, fell upon them. Then the farmer learned that his niece could be angry. One morning Joan found the mother cat running wildly here and there, with a world of misery in its cry; while a moment afterward she came upon the kittens in a duck pond. Mr. Bartlett was present and explained.
"Them chets had to gaw, missy. 'Tis a auld word an' it ban't wise to take no count of sayings like that. 'May chets bad luck begets.' You've heard tell o' that? Never let live no kittens born in May. They theer dead chets comed May Day."
"You'm a cruel devil!" she said hotly; "how'd you like for your two lil children to be thrawed in the water, May or no May? Look at thicky cat, breakin' her heart, poor twoad!"
Mr. Bartlett was justly angry that Joan could dare to thus class his priceless red-headed twins with a litter of dead kittens, and he said more than was wise, ramming home a truth, and that coarsely.
"Theer's plenty more wheer them comed from, I lay. Nachur's so free, you see—tu free like sometimes. Ban't no dearth o' chets or childern as I've heard on. They comes unaxed, an' unwanted tu. You might a heard tell o' some sich p'raps?"
She blushed and shook with passion at this sudden new aspect of affairs. Here was a standpoint from which nobody had viewed her before. Worse—far worse than her father's rage or Uncle Chirgwin's tears was this. Amos Bartlett represented the world's attitude. The world would not be angry with her, or cry for her; it would merely laugh and pass on, like Mr. Bartlett. So Joan learned yet again; and the new knowledge cowed her for full eight-and-forty hours. But the eyes of the mothers had taught Joan something of the secret of pain, and a thread of gravity ran henceforth through all thoughts concerning the future. She much marveled that "Mister Jan" had never touched upon this leaf in the book. Beauty was what he invariably talked about, and he found beauty hidden in many a strange matter too; but not in pain. That was because he suffered himself sometimes, Joan suspected. And yet, to her, pain, though she had never felt it, seemed not wholly hideous. She surprised herself mightily by the depth of her own thoughts now. She seemed to stand upon the brink of deep matters guessing dimly at things hidden. Then her moods would break again from the clouds to brightness. Hot sunshine on her cheek always raised her young spirits, and her health, now excellent, threw joy into life despite the ever-present anxiety. Then came a meeting which roused interest and brought very genuine delight with it.
It happened upon a fine Sunday afternoon, when Joan was walking through the fields on the farm—those which extended southward—that she reached a stile where granite blocks lay lengthwise, like the rungs of a ladder, between two uprights. Here she stopped a while, and sat her down, and looked out over the promise of fine hay. The undulating green expanse was studded with the black knobs of ribwort plantain and gemmed with buttercups, which here were dotted like sparks of fire, here massed in broad bunches and splashes of color. The wind swept over the field, and its course was marked by sudden flecks and ripples of transient sheeny light, paler and brighter than the mass of the herbage. Then a figure appeared afar off, following the course of the footpath where it wound through the gold of the flowers and the silver of the bending grasses. It approached, resolved itself into a fisher-boy and presently proved to be Tom Tregenza. Joan ran forward to meet him as soon as the short figure, with its exaggerated nautical roll, became known to her. She kissed her half-brother warmly, and he hugged her and showed great delight at the meeting, for he loved Joan well.
"I've stealed away, 'cause I was just burstin' to get sight of 'e again, Joan. Faither's home an' I comed off for a walk, creepin' round here an' hopin' as we'd meet. 'Tis mighty wisht to home now you'm gone, I can tell 'e. I've got a sore head yet along o' you."
"G'wan, bwoy! Why should 'e?"
"Iss so. 'Twas like this. When us comed back from sea wan mornin' a week arter you'd gone I ups an' sez, ''Tis 'bout as lively as bad feesh ashore now Joan ban't here.' I dedn' knaw faither was in the doorway when I said it, 'cause he'd give out you was never to be named no more. But mother seed en an' sez to me, 'Shut your mouth.' An', not knawin' faither was be'ind me, I ups agin an' sez, 'Why caan't I, as be her awn brother, see Joan anyway an' hear tell what 'tis she've done? I lay as it ban't no mighty harm neither, 'cause Joan's true Tregenza!'"
"Good Lard! An' faither heard 'e?"
"Iss, an' next minute I knawed it. He blazed an' roared, an' comed over an' bummed my head 'pon the earhole—a buster as might 'a' killed some lads. My ivers! I seed stars 'nough to fill a new sky, Joan, an' I went down tail over nose. I doubt theer's nobody in Newlyn what can hit like faither. But I got up agin an' sot mighty still, an' faither sez, 'She as was here ban't no Tregenza, nor my darter, nor nothin' to none under my hellings [Footnote: Hellings—Roof.] no more—never more, mark that.' Then mother thrawed her apern over her faace an' hollered, 'cause I'd got such a welt, an' faither walked out in the garden. I was for axin' mother then, but reckoned not for fear as he might be listenin' agin. But I knawed you was up Drift, 'cause I heard mother say that much; an' now I've sot eyes on you agin; an' I knaw you'll tell me what's wrong wi' you; an' if I can do anything for 'e I will, sink or swim."
"Faither's a cruel beast, an' he'll come to a bad end, Tom, 'spite of they Gosp'lers. He'm all wrong an' doan't knaw nothin' 'tall 'bout God. I do knaw what I knaw. Theer's more o' God in that gert shine o' buttercups 'pon the grass than in all them whey-faced chapel folks put together."
"My stars, Joan!" "'Tis truth, an' you'll find 'tis some day, same as what I have."
"I doan't see how any lad be gwaine to make heaven myself," said Tom gloomily. "Us had a mining cap'n from Camborne preach this marnin', an', by Gollies! 'tweer like sittin' tu near a gert red'ot fire. Her rubbed it in, I tell 'e, same as you rubs salt into a hake. Faither said 'twas braave talk. But you, Joan, what's wrong with 'e, what have you done?"
"I ain't done no wrong, Tom, an' you can take my word for't."
"Do 'e reckon you'm damned, like what faither sez?"
"Never! I doan't care a grain o' wheat what faither sez. What I done weern't no sin, 'cause him, as be wiser an' cleverer an' better every way than any man in Carnwall, said 'tweern't; an' he knawed. I've heard wise things said, an' I've minded some an' forgot others. None can damn folks but God, when all's done, an' He's the last as would; for God do love even the creeping, gashly worms under a turned stone tu well to damn 'em. Much more humans. I be a Nature's cheel an' doan't b'lieve in no devil an' no hell-fire 'tall."
"I wish I was a Nachur's cheel then."
Joan flung down a little bouquet of starry stitchworts she had gathered upon the way and turned very earnestly to Tom.
"You be, you be a Nature's cheel. Us all be, but awnly a few knaws it."
Tom laughed at this idea mightily.
"Well, I'll slip back long, Joan; an' if I be a Nachur's cheel, I be; but I guess I'll keep it a secret. If I tawld faither as I dedn' b'lieve in no auld devil, I guess he'd hurry me into next world so's I might see for myself theer was wan."
They walked a little way together. Then Tom grew frightened and stopped his companion. "Guess you'd best to be turnin'. Folks is 'bout everywheer in the fields, bein' Sunday, an' if it got back to faither as I'd seed you, he'd make me hop."
"D'you like the sea still, Tom?"
"Doan't I just! Better'n better; an' I be grawin' smart, 'cause I heard faither tell mother so when I was in the wash'ouse an' they thot I wasn't. Faither said as I'd got a hawk's eye for moorin's or what not. An' I licked the bwoy on Pratt's bwoat a fortnight agone. A lot o' men seed me do't. I hopes I'll hit so hard as faither hisself wan day, when I'm grawed. Good-by, sister Joan. I'll see 'e agin when I can, an' bring up a feesh maybe. Doan't say nothin' 'bout me to them at the farm, else it may get back."
So Tom marched off, speculating as to what particular lie would best meet the case if cross-questioning awaited him on his return, and Joan watched the thickset little figure very lovingly until it was out of sight.
June came. The wall-flowers were long plucked or dead, the last snows of apple-blossom had vanished away, and the fruit was setting well. The woodlice were already ruining the young nectarines. "They spiles 'em in the growth an' scores 'em wi' their wicked lil teeth, then, come August an' they ripens, they'll begin again. But the peaches they won't touch now, 'cause of the fur 'pon 'em. Awnly they'll make up for't when the things is ready for eatin'." So Uncle Thomas explained the position to Joan. He, good man, had fulfilled his promise to see Michael Tregenza. It happened that a load of oar-weed was wanted on the farm, and Mr. Chirgwin, instead of sending one of the hands with horse and cart to Newlyn according to his custom when seaweed was needed, went himself. His elder niece expostulated with him and explained that such a trip would be interpreted to mean straitened circumstances on the farm; but her uncle was not proud, and when he explained that his real object was an opportunity to speak with Joan's father Mary said no more.
Screwing courage to the sticking-point, therefore, the old man went down to Newlyn on a morning when Joan was not by to question his movements. Fortune favored him. Michael had landed at daylight and was not sailing again till dusk. The fisherman listened patiently, but Mr. Chirgwin's inconsequent and sentimental conversation sounded as tinkling brass upon his ear. Both argued the question upon religious grounds, but from an entirely different standpoint. Michael was not at the trouble to talk much, for his visitor seemed scarce worthy of powder and shot. He explained that he deemed it damnation to hold unnecessary converse with sinners; that, by her act, Joan had raised eternal barriers between herself and those of her own home, and, indeed, all chosen people; that he had walked in the light from the dawn of his days until the present time, and could not imperil the souls of his wife, his son and himself by any further communion with one, in his judgment, lost beyond faintest possibility of redemption. Uncle Chirgwin listened with open mouth to these sentiments. He longed to relate how Joan had repented of her offense, how she had thrown herself upon the Lord, and found peace and forgiveness. No such thing could be recorded, however, and he felt himself at a disadvantage. He prayed for mercy on her behalf, but mercy was a luxury Gray Michael deemed beyond the reach of man. He showed absolutely no emotion upon the subject, and his chill unconcern quenched the farmer's ardor. Mr. Chirgwin mourned mightily that he held not a stronger case. Joan had tied his hands, at any rate, for the present. If she would only come round, accept the truth and abandon her present attitude—then he knew that he would fight like a giant for her, and that, with right upon his side, he would surely prevail. His last words upon the subject shadowed this conviction.
"Please God time may soften 'e, Tregenza; an', maybe, soften Joan tu. Her heart's warm yet, an' the truth will find its plaace theer in the Lard's awn time; but you—I doubt 'tedn' in you to change."
"Never, till wrong be right."
"You makes me sorry for 'e, Tregenza."
"Weep for yourself, Thomas Chirgwin. You'm that contented, an' the contented sawl be allus farthest from God if you awnly knawed it. Wheer's your fear an' tremblin' too? I've never seed 'e afeared or shaken 'fore the thrawn o' the Most High in your life. But I 'sure 'e, thee'll come to it."
"An' you say that!' You'm 'mazin' blind, Tregenza, for all you walk in the Light. The Light's dazed 'e, I'm thinkin', same as birds a breakin' theer wings 'gainst lighthouse glasses. You sez you be a worm twenty times a day, an' yet you'm proud enough for Satan hisself purty nigh. If you'm a worm, why doan't 'e act like a worm an' be humble-minded? 'Tis the lil childern gets into heaven. You'm stiff-necked, Michael Tregenza. I sez it respectful an' in sorrer; but 'tis true."
"I hope the Lard won't lay thy sin to thy charge, my poor sawl," answered the fisherman with perfect indifference. "You—you dares to speak agin me! I wish I could give 'e a hand an' drag 'e a lil higher up the ladder o' righteousness, Chirgwin; but you'm o' them as caan't dance or else won't, not if God A'mighty's Self piped to 'e. Go your ways, an' knaw you'm in the prayers of a man whose prayers be heard."
"Then pray for Joan. If you'm so cocksure you gets a hearin' 'fore us church folks, 'tis your fust duty to plead for her."
"It was," he said. "Now it is too late, I've sweated for her, an' wrastled wi' principalities an' powers for her, an' filled the night watches by sea an' shore wi' gert agonies o' prayer for her. But 'tweern't to be. Her name's writ in the big Book o' Death, not the small Book o' Life. David prayed hard till that cheel, got wrong side the blanket, died. Then he washed his face an' ate his meat. 'Twas like that wi' me. Joan's dead now. Let the dead bury theer dead."
"'Tis awful to hear 'e, Tregenza."
"The truth's a awful thing, Chirgwin, but a lie is awfuler still. 'Tis the common fate to be lost. You an' sich as you caan't grasp the truth 'bout that. Heaven's no need to be a big plaace—theer 'edn' gwaine to be no crowdin' theer. 'Tis hell as'll fill space wi' its roominess."
"I be gwaine," answered Mr. Chirgwin. "Us have talked three hour by the clock, an' us ain't gotten wan thot in common. I trusts in Christ; you trusts in yourself. Time'll shaw which was right. You damn the world; I wouldn't damn a dew-snail. [Footnote: Dew-snail—A slug.] I awnly sez again, 'May you live to see all the pints you'm wrong.' An' if you do, 'twill be a tidy big prospect."
They exchanged some further remarks in a similar strain. Then Tom informed Uncle Chirgwin that his cart with a full load of oar-weed was waiting at the door. Whereupon the old man got his hat, loaded his pipe, wished Thomasin good-by, and drove sorrowfully away. Mrs. Tregenza had secretly inquired after Joan's health and wealth. That the first was excellent, the second carefully put away in the lawyer's hands, caused her satisfaction. She told Mr. Chirgwin to make Joan write out a will.
"You never knaws," she said. "God keep the gal, but they do die now an' agin. 'Tweer better she wrote about the money 'cordin' to a lawyer's way. And, say, for the Lard's love, not to leave it to Michael. So well light a fire wi' it as that. He bawled out as the money had lit a fire a'ready, when I touched 'pon it to en—a fire as was gwaine to burn through eternity; but Michael's not like a human. His ideas 'pon affairs is all pure Bible. You an' me caan't grasp hold o' all he says. An' the money's done no wrong. So you'll drop in Joan's ear as it might be worldly-wise to save trouble by sayin' what should be done if anything ill failed 'pon her—eh?"
Uncle Chirgwin promised that he would do so, and Mrs. Tregenza felt a weight off her mind which had distressed it for some while. She was thinking of Tom, of course. She knew that Joan loved him, and though the prospect of his ever coming by a penny of the money appeared slender, yet to think that he might be in a will, named for hundreds of pounds, was a shadowy sort of joy to her.
That night Joan's uncle told the girl of his afternoon's work, and she expressed some sorrow that he should have thus exerted himself on her behalf.
"Faither's dirt beside the likes of you," she said. "'Twas wastin' good time to talk to en, an' I wouldn't go back to Newlyn, you mind, if he was to ax me 'pon his knees. I'm a poor fool of a gal, but I knaws enough to laugh at the ignorance o' faither an' that fiddle-faaced crowd to the Luke Gospel Chapel."
"Doan't 'e be bitter, Joan. Us all makes mistakes an' bad's the best o' human creatures. Your faither will chaange, sure as I'm a livin' man, some day. God ban't gwaine to let en gaw down to's graave wi' sich a 'mazin' number o' wrong opinions. Else think o' the wakin' t'other side! Iss, it caan't be. Why, as 'tis, if he went dead sudden, he'd gaw marchin' into heaven as bold as brass, an' bang up to the right hand o' the thrawne! Theer's a situation for a body! An' the awk'ardness o' havin' to step forrard an' tell en! No, no, the man'll be humbled sure 'fore his journey's end. Theer's Everlasting eyes 'pon en, think as you may."
"I never think at all about him," declared Joan, "an' I ban't gwaine to. He won't chaange, an' I never wants en to. I've got you to love me, an' to love; an' I'm—I'm waitin' for wan as be gawld to faither's dross."
She sighed as she spoke.
"Waitin' for en still?"
"Ay, for Mister Jan. It caan't be no gert length o' time now. I s'pose days go quicker up Lunnon town than wi' us."
"Joan, my dovey, 'tis idle. Even I sees it now. I did think wi' you fust as he was a true man. I caan't no more. I wish I could."
A month before Joan would have flashed into anger at such a speech as this, but now she did not answer. Young love is fertile in imagination. She had found a thousand glories in John Barren, and, when he left her, had woven a thousand explanations for his delayed return. Now invention grew dull; enthusiasm waned; her confidence was shaken, though she denied the fact even to herself as a sort of treachery. But there is no standing still in time. The remorseless fact of his non-return extended over weeks and months.
Mr. Chirgwin saw her silence, noted the little quiver of her mouth as he declared his own loss of faith, stroked the hand she thrust dumbly into his and felt her silence hurt his heart.
Presently Joan spoke.
"I've got none to b'lieve in en no more then—not wan now, not even you. Whiles you stuck up for en I felt braave 'bout his comin'; now—now Mister Jan have awnly got me to say a word for en. An' you doan't think he'm a true man no more then, uncle?"
"Lassie, I wish to God as I did. Time's time. Why ban't he here?"
"I doan't dare think this is the end. I'm feared to look forrard now. If it do wance come 'pon me as he've gone 'twill drive me mad, I knaws."
"No, never, not if you'd awnly turn your faace the right way. Theer's oceans o' comfort an' love waitin' for 'e, gal. You did belong to a hard world, as I knaws who have just comed from speech wi' your faither; but 'twas a world o' clean eatin' an' dressin' an' livin'—a God-fearin' world leadin' up'ards on a narrer, ugly road, but a safe road, I s'pose. An' you left it. You'll say I be harsh, but my heart do bleed for 'e, Joan. If you'd awnly drop this talk 'bout Nature, as none of us understands, an' turn to the livin' Christ, as all can understand. That's wheer rest lies for 'e, nowheers else. You'm like Eve in the garden. She was kindiddled an' did eat an' lost eternal life an' had to quit Eden. An' 'tis forbidden fruit as you've ate, not knawin' 'twas sich. Nature doan't label her pisins, worse luck."
"Eve? No, I ban't no Eve. She had Adam."
There was a world of sorrow in the words and the hopeless ring in them startled Uncle Chirgwin, for it denoted greater changes in the girl's mind than he thought existed. She seemed nearer to the truth. It cut his heart to see her suffering, but he thanked Heaven that the inevitable knowledge was coming, and prayed it might be the first step toward peace. He was silent with his thoughts, and Joan spoke again, repeating her last words.
"Iss, Eve had Adam to put his arm around her an' kiss her wet eyes. He were more to her than what the garden was, I'll lay, or God either. That's the bitter black God o' my faither. What for did He let the snake in the garden 'tall if He really loved them fust poor fools? Why dedn' He put they flamin' angels theer sooner. 'Twas the snake they should have watched an' kep' out."
Uncle Chirgwin looked at her with round terrified eyes. She had never echoed Barron's sentiments to such a horrified listener.
"Doan't, for pity's sake, Joan! The wickedness of it! Him as taught you to think such frightful thoughts tried to ruin your sawl so well as your body. Oh, if you'd awnly up an' say, 'That man was wrong an' I'll forget en an' turn to the Saviour.'"
"You caan't understan'. I do put ugly bits o' thot afore 'e, but if you'd heard him as opened my eyes, you'd knaw 'tedn' ugly taken altogether. I knaws so much, but caan't speak it out. Us done no sin, an' I ban't shamed to look the sun in the faace, nor you. An' he will come—he will—if theer's a kind God in heaven he'll come back to me. If 'e doan't, then I'll say that faither's God's the right wan."
"Doan't 'e put on a bold front, Joan gal. Theer's things tu deep for the likes o' us. You ban't prayin' right, I reckon. Theer's a voice hid in you. Listen to that. Nature's spawk to 'e an' now er's dumb. Listen to t'other, lassie. Nature do guide beasts an' birds an' the poor herbs o' the field; but you—you listen to t'other. You'll never be happy no more till you awns 'twas a sad mistake an' do ax in the right plaace for pardon."
"I want no pardon," she said. "I have done no wrong, I tell 'e. Wheer's justice to? 'Cause the man do bide away, I be wicked; if he comed back to-morrer an' married me—what then? I be sinless in the matter of it, an' Nature do knaw it, an' God do knaw it."
But her breast heaved and her eyes were wet with unshed tears. Uncle Chirgwin, her solitary trust and stand-by, had drifted away too. His hope was dead and she could not revive it. He had never spoken so strongly before, but now he was taking up Mary's line of action and had ranged himself against her. It almost seemed to Joan that he reflected in a meek, diluted fashion, as the moon turns the sun's golden fire to silver, something of what he must have heard that afternoon from her father. This defection acted definitely on the girl's temperament. She fought fear, hardened her heart against doubt, cast suspicion far away as treason to "Mister Jan" and gave to hope a new lease of life. She would be patient for his sake, she would trust in him still.
There was something grand in the loneliness, she told herself. He would know perhaps one day of her great patient faith and love. And the trial would make her brain and heart bigger and better fit her for the position of wife to him. The struggle was fought by her with that courage which lies beyond man's comprehension. She looked at the world with bright eyes when there was necessity for facing it; she exhausted her ingenuity in schemes for communicating with John Barron. If he only knew! She felt that even had change darkened his affection for her, yet, most surely, the thought of the baby must tempt him back again. Thus, with sustained bravery and ignorance, she left her hand in Nature's, and her faith, rising gloriously above the doubt of the time, trusted that majestic heathen goddess as a little child trusts its mother.
Fate played another prank upon her not long afterward and thrust into her hands a possible means of access to John Barron. A favorite resort of Joan's was the brook which ran down the valley beneath Drift and Sancreed. The little stream wound through a fair coomb between orchards, meadows, wastes of fern and heather. At this season of the year the valley was very lonely, and a certain spot beside the stream often tempted Joan by reason of its comfort and its peace. From here, sitting on a granite bowlder clothed in soft green mosses and having a shape into which human limbs might fit easily, the girl could see much that was fair. The meadows were all sprinkled with the silver-mauve of cuckoo-flowers—Shakespeare's "lady's smock"; the hills sloped upward under oaken saplings as yet too young for the stripping; the valley stretched winding landward beneath Sancreed. Above and far away stretched the Cornish moors dotted with man's mining enterprises, chiefly deserted. Ding-Dong raised its gaunt engine stack and, distant though it was, Joan's sharp eyes could see the rusty arm of iron stretching forth from the brickwork, motionless, not worth the removing. Close at hand, where the stream wandered babbling at her feet, the whole glory of spring shone on blossoms and grasses where the world of the stream-side sent forth a warm, living smell. The wildness of the upland moors stretched down into the valley below them. There glimmered blue-green patches of bracken, speckled with the red and white hides of calves which fed and scampered dew-lap deep; and the fern was all sheened with light where the sunshine brightened its polished leaves. The stream wound through the midst, bedecked and adorned with purple bugle flowers, bridged with dog-roses and honeysuckles, in festoons, in bunches and in sprays, crowned with scented gorse, fringed with yellow irises which splashed flaming reflections where the brook widened and slowed into shallow little backwaters. Flags and cresses framed the margins; meadowsweets made the air fragrant above, and granite bowlders fretted the waters silver, their foundations hidden in dark water-weed. Sunshine danced on every tiny cascade and threw stars and twinkling flashes of light upward from the brown pools upon the banks. Everything was upon a miniature scale, even to the trout which lived in the stream, flashed their dim shadows under its waters, leaped into the air after the flies, set little clouds of sand shimmering as they darted up and down or, when surprised, wriggled away into favorite holes and hiding places beneath the banks and trailing weeds. Ling and wortleberry too were moorland visitors in the valley, and the bog heather already budded.
Here was one of the many favorite resting-places of Joan, and hither she came on a rare morning in mid June at the wish of another person.
Uncle Chirgwin had set his niece a task, and the object of her present visit was no mere dawdling and thinking while perched upon the granite throne above the meadowsweets. This fact a basket and a three-pronged fork indicated. Her uncle deemed himself an authority on simples and possessed much information, mostly erroneous, concerning the properties of wild herbs and flowers. A decoction of hemp agrimony he at all times considered a most valuable bitter tonic; and of this plant the curious flesh-colored flowers on their long green stems grew pretty freely by the stream-side in the valley. The time of flowering was not yet come, but Joan knew the dull leaf of the herb well enough and, that found, she could easily dig up the root, wherein its virtue dwelt. But before starting on her search, the girl rested a while where the serrated foliage and creamy blossom of the meadowsweets laced and fringed the granite of her couch; and, as she sat there, her eye taking in the happy valley, her brain reading into the luxuriant life of nature, some strange new thoughts hidden until lately, she became suddenly conscious of a phenomenon beyond her power to immediately explain or understand It drove the hemp agrimony quite out of her head, and, when the mystery came to be explained, filled Joan's mind with the memory of her own sad affairs. First and repeatedly there glimmered a gossamer over the stream, falling into the water and as often rising again; then above the film of light flashed another, rising abruptly golden into the sunshine. Not for a moment or two did she discover the flashing thing was a fly-rod, but presently the man who held it appeared below her at a bend of the streamlet. He was clad much like the artists, and it made the blood flush hot to her cheek as she thought he might be one. Young men sometimes fished the brook for the fingerling trout it contained. They were small but sweet, and the catching them with a fly was difficult work in a stream so overhung with tangles of vine and brier, so densely planted in the wider reaches with water hemlock and lesser weeds. This fisherman, at any rate, found successful sport beyond his power to achieve. He flogged away, but hung his fly clear of the stream at every second cast and deceived not the smallest troutlet of them all. The young man, after the manner of those anglers classified as "chuck and chance it," worked his clumsy way toward Joan's chair on the granite bowlder. Motionless she sat, and her drab attire and faded sun-bonnet harmonized so well with the tones around it—the gray of the stones, the lights of the river, the masses of the meadowsweet—that while noting a broad and sparkling stickle winding away beneath her, the angler missed the girl herself. This stickle spread, with an oily tremor and white undercurrent full of air pearls, from a waterfall where the foot of Joan's throne fretted the stream. Below it the waters slowed and ran smoothly into dark brown shadows, being here marked by the wrinkled lines of their currents and splashed with the sky's reflected blue. An ideal spot for a trout it doubtless was, and the approaching sportsman exercised unusual care in his approach, crouching along the bank and finally creeping bent double within casting distance. Then, as he freed his fly, he saw Joan, like a queen of the pool reigning motionless and silent. She moved and no fish was likely to rise after within the visual radius of her sudden action. Thereupon the angler in the man cursed; the artist in him drew a short, sharp breath. He scrambled to his feet and looked again upon a beautiful picture. The plump, baby freshness of Joan's face had vanished indeed, and there was that in the slightly anxious expression and questioning look of her blue eyes that had told any medical man he stood before a future mother; but, in her seated position, no tangible suggestion of a hidden life was thrust upon the spectator's view. He only saw a wondrously pretty woman in a charming attitude, amid objects which enhanced her beauty by their own. She seemed a trifle pale for a cottage girl, but her mouth was scarlet and dewy as ripe wood-strawberries, her eyes were just of that color where the blue sky above was reflected and changed to a darker shade by the pools of the brook. She sat with her hands folded in her lap and looked straight at the sportsman with a frank interest which surprised him. He was a modest lad, but the sudden presentment of an object so lovely woke his pluck and he fished ostentatiously to Joan's very feet, suspecting that the absurdity of the action would not be apparent to her. She watched the morsel of feather and fur dragged across the water after the fantastic fashion of the "chuck and chancer," and he, when her eyes were on the water, kept his own fast upon her face. Both man and woman were profoundly anxious each to hear the other's voice, but neither felt brave enough to speak first. Then the artist's ingenuity found a means, and Joan presently saw his fly stick fast upon the side of the stream where she sat. The thing was caught at the seed-head of a rush within reach of Joan's hand, and while this incident appeared absolutely accidental, yet it was not so, for the artist had long been endeavoring to get fast somewhere hard by Joan. Now, finding his maneuver accomplished, he made but the feeblest efforts to loosen the fly, then raised his hat and accosted Joan.
"Might I trouble you to set my line clear? Ashamed to ask such a thing, but it would be awfully kind. Oh, thank you, thank you. Take care of your fingers! The hook is very sharp."
Joan got the fly free in a moment, and then, to Harry Murdoch's gratification, addressed him. The young fellow was Edmund Murdoch's cousin, and at present dwelt in Newlyn with the elder artist already mentioned as John Barron's friend.
"May I make so bold as to ax if you do knaw a paintin' gen'leman by name o'—o' Mister Jan? Leastways, that's wan on's names, but I never can call home the other, though he tawld me wance. He was here last early spring-time, an' painted a gert picture of me up 'pon top the hill they calls Gorse Point."
"Lucky devil," thought the artist; but though he knew something of Barron and his work and had heard that Barron painted when at Newlyn, he did not associate these facts with the girl before him.
"He'm in Lunnon, so far's I knaw," she continued.
Harry Murdoch had to look hard at Joan before answering, and he delayed a while with an expression of deep thought upon his face. At length he spoke.
"No, I cannot say that I have heard of him or the picture. But perhaps some of the men in Newlyn will know. He was lucky to get you to paint. I wish you would let me try."
She shook her head impatiently.
"No, no. He done it 'cause—'cause he just wanted a livin' thing to fill up a bit o' his canvas. 'Tweern't for shaw or for folks to see. He done it for pleasure. An' I wants to knaw wheer he lives 'cause he might think I be in Newlyn still, but I ban't. I'm livin' up Drift along wi' Mr. Chirgwin. An' I wish he could knaw it."
"He was called 'Mister John'? Well, I'll see what I can do to find out anything about him. And your name?"
"Joan Tregenza. If you'll be so good as to put a question round 'mongst the painting gen'lemen, I'd thank 'e kindly."
"Then I certainly will. And on Saturday next I'll come here again to tell you if I have heard anything. Will you come?"
"Iss fay, an' thank you, sir."
So he passed slowly forward, and she sat a full hour after he had left her building new castles on the old crumbling foundations. It was even in her mind to pray, to pray with her whole heart and soul; but chaos had settled like a storm upon her beliefs. She did not know where to pray to now; yet to-day Hope once more glimmered like a lighthouse lamp through the dreary darkness. So she turned her eyes to that radiance and waited for next Saturday to come.
Then she set about grubbing up roots of hemp agrimony where they grew. She was almost happy and whistled gently to herself as she filled her little basket.
That night Edmund Murdoch heard his cousin's story and explained that "Mister Jan" was doubtless John Barron.
"I'm owing the beggar a letter; I'll write tomorrow."
"Was it a good picture?"
"I should say that few better ever came out of Newlyn. Perhaps none so good. Is the model as pretty as ever?"
Young Harry raved of the vision that Joan had presented among the meadowsweets.
"Well, I suppose he wouldn't mind her knowing where he lives; but he's such a queer devil that I'll write and ask him first. We shall hear in a couple of days; I can tell him her address, at any rate; then he may write direct to her, if he cares to."
Four days elapsed, and then Edmund Murdoch received an answer to his letter. He had written at length upon various affairs and his friend did no less.
"No. 6 Melbury Gardens, S.W.
"June 8, 189—.
"Dear Murdoch—Your long screed gave me some pleasure and killed an hour. You relate the even course of your days since my departure from Cornwall, and I envy the good health and happy contentment of mind which your note indicates. I gained no slight benefit from my visit to the West Country, and it had doubtless carried me bravely through this summer but for an unfortunate event. A sharp cold, which settled on my chest, has laid me low for some length of time, though I am now as well again as I shall ever be. So much for facing the night air in evening dress. Nature has no patience with our idiotic conventions, and hates alike man's shirt-front and woman's bare bosom when displayed, as is our imbecile custom, at the most dangerous hours in the twenty-four. My doctors are for sending me away, and I shall probably follow their advice presently. But the end is not very far off.
"I rejoice that you have sucked in something of my spirit and are trying to get at the heart of rocks and sea before you paint them. Men waste so much time poking about in art galleries, like the blind moles they mostly are, and forget that Nature's art gallery is open every day at sunrise. Dwell much in the air, glean the secrets of dawns, listen when the white rain whispers over woodland, translate the tinkle of summer seas where they kiss your rocky shores; get behind the sunset; think not of what colors you will mix when you try to paint it, but let the pageant sink into your soul like a song. Do not drag your art everywhere. Forget it sometimes and develop your individuality. You have learned to draw tolerably; now learn to think. Believe me, the painting people do not think enough.
"Truly I am content to die in the face of the folly I read and see around me. Know you what certain obscure writers are now about in magazines? They are vindicating the cosmic forces, whitewashing Mother Nature after Huxley's Romanes lecture! He told the truth, and Nature loved him for it; but now come hysterical religious ciphers who squeak boldly forth in print that Nature is the mother of altruism, that self-sacrifice is her first law! One genius observes that 'tis their cruelty and selfishness have arrested the progress of the tiger and the ape! Poor Nature! Never a word of shotguns in all this drivel, of course. Cruelty and selfishness! Qualities purely and solely human—qualities resulting from conscious intelligence alone. You and I are selfish, not the ape; you and I are cruel, not the tiger. He at least learns Nature's lessons and obeys her dictates; we never do and never shall. A plague upon these fools with their theologic rubbish heaps. They would prostitute the very fonts of reason and make Nature's eternal circle fit the little squares of their own faiths. Man! I tell you that the root of human misery might be pulled out and destroyed to-morrow like the fang of a decayed tooth if only reason could kill these weeds of falsehood which choke civilization and strangle religion. But the world's 'doers' have all got 'faith' (or pretend to it); the world's thinkers are mere shadows moving about in the background of active affairs. They only write and talk. Action is the sole way of chaining a nation's mind.
"Your churchman is active enough, hence the spread of that poison which keeps human reason stunted, impotent, anaemic. Take Liberty—the cursed ignis fatuus our dear poets have shrieked for, our preachers have prayed for, our patriots have perished for through all time. In pursuit of this rainbow-gold more blood and brains have been wasted than would have sufficed to make a nation. And yet a breath from Reason blows the thing to tatters, as an uprising wind annihilates a fog. Freedom is an attribute of the Eternal, and creation cannot share it with him, any more than it can share his throne with him. 'The liberty of the subject'! A contradiction in terms. Banish this unutterable folly of freedom, and control the breeding of human flesh as we control the output of beef and of mutton. Then the face of the world will alter. Millions of money is annually spent in order that mindless humanity, congenital lunatics and madmen, may be fed and housed and kept alive. Their existences are to themselves less pleasurable than that of the beasts, they are a source of agony to those who have borne them; but they live to old age and devour tons of good food, while wholesome intellects starve in the gutters of every big city. Banish this cant of freedom then, I tell you. The lightning in heaven is not free; the stars are not free; Nature herself is the created slave of the Great Will—and we prattle about liberty. Let the State look to it and practice these lessons Nature has taught and still preaches patiently to deaf ears. Let it be as penal to bring life into the world without permission from authority as it is to put life out of the world. Let the begetting of paupers be a crime; let the health and happiness of the community rise higher than the satisfaction of individuals; let the self-denial practiced by the reasonable few be made a legal necessity to the unreasonable many. Let the blighted, the malformed, the brainless go back to the earth from which they came. Let the world of humanity be cleansed and sweetened and purified as Nature cleanses and sweetens and purifies her own kingdom. She removes her failures; we put ours under glass and treat them like hothouse flowers. That is called humanity; it is the mad leading the mad.... But why waste your time? Nature will have the last word; Reason must win in the end; a genius, at once thinker and doer, will come along some day and put the world right, at a happy moment when the din of theologists is out of its ears. We want a new practical religion; for Christianity, distorted and twisted through the centuries into its present outworn, effete, ignoble shape, is a mere political force or a money-making machine, according to the genius of the country which professes it. The golden key of the founder, which is lost, may be found again, but I think it never will be."
[Here the man elaborated his opinions. They were like himself: a medley—a farrago—wherein ascerbity, acuteness, and a mind naturally philosophic were stranded in the arid deserts of a pessimism bred partly from his own decaying physical circumstances and partly from recognition of his own wasted time.]
"I do not suppose that I shall paint any more. I had my Cornish picture brought from its packing-case and framed, and supported on a great easel at the foot of my bed while I was stricken down last month. Mistress Joan eyed me curiously from under her hand, and through the night-watches, while my man snored in the next chamber and I tossed with great unrest, the girl seemed to live and move and smile at me under the flicker of the night lamp. Everybody is pleased to say that 'Joe's Ship' seems good to them. I have it now in the studio, and contrasted it yesterday with my bathing negresses from Tobago. I think I like it better. It is difficult to read the soul in black faces, especially when the models are freezing to death as mine were. But there is something near to soul in this painted Joan—more I doubt than the living reality would be found to possess to-day. She was a good girl all the same, and I am gratified to hear she did not quite forget me. I have written to her at the address you mention. They pester me to send the picture somewhere, and to stop their importunities—especially the women—I have promised to let the thing go to the Institute in the autumn. I shall doubtless change my mind before the time comes.
"My life slowly but surely dwindles to that mere battle with Death which your consumptive wages at the finish. I fancy Biskra will see my bones later in the year. The R.A. took not less than six months off my waning days this spring. Thank God they hung Brady as he deserved. Twenty good works I saw—'the rest is silence.'
"Yours, while I remain,
It was true that the artist had written another letter addressed to Joan Tregenza at Drift. He had written it first—written it hurriedly, wildly, on the spur of the moment. But, after the completion of his communication to Murdoch, the mood of the man changed. He had coldly read again the former epistle, and altered his mind concerning it. Barron wanted Joan back again sometimes, if life dragged more than usual; but pens and paper generally modified his desire when he got that far toward calling her to him. Her memory tickled him pleasantly and whiled away time. He framed the various sketches he had made of her and suffered thought to occupy itself with her as with no other woman who had entered his life. But the day on which he wrote to Murdoch was a good one with him. He felt stronger and better able to suck pleasure out of living than he had for a month.
"When I whistle she will come," he thought to himself. "Perhaps there would be some pleasure in taking her to Biskra presently. I will wait, at any rate, until nearer the last scene. She would be pretty to look at when I'm dying. Yes, she shall close my eyes some day, if she likes. That's a pleasant thought—for me."
So the letter to Murdoch was sent forth, but the letter to Joan, containing some poetic thoughts on Nature, a pathetic description of Barron's enfeebled state, and an appeal to her to join him that they might part no more on this side the grave, was torn up. He laughed at the trouble he had taken to print it all, and pondered pleasantly on the picture which Murdoch had drawn of Joan ruling the kingdom of the meadowsweets, of her eager question concerning "Mister Jan."
"Strange," he reflected, "that her mediocre intelligence should have clung to a man so outwardly mean as myself. If I thought that she had remembered half I said when I was with her, or had made a single attempt to practice the gospel I preached so finely—damned if I wouldn't have her back again to-morrow and be proud of her too. But it can't be. She was such an absolute fool. No, I much fear she only desires to find out what has become of the goose who laid the big golden egg. Or if she doesn't, perhaps her God-fearing father and mother do."
Which opinion is not uninteresting, for it illustrates the usual failure of materialism to discover or gauge those mental possibilities which lie hidden within the humblest and worst equipped intelligences. John Barron was an able man in some respects, but his knowledge of Joan Tregenza had taught him nothing concerning her character and its latent powers of development.
With summer, Nature, proceeding on her busy way, approached again the annual phenomena of seed-time and harvest. To Joan, as spring had brought with it a world of mothers, so the subsequent season filled Nature with babies; and, in the light of all this newborn life, the mothers suffered a change. Now, sorrow-guided, did Joan begin to read under the face of things, "to get behind the sunset," as Barren had said in his letter to Murdoch, to realize a little of the mystery hidden in green leaves and swelling fruits and ripening grain, to observe at least the presence of mystery though she could not translate more than an occasional manifestation thereof. She found much matter for wonder and for fear. Visible Nature had grown to be a smiling curtain behind which raged eternal struggles for life. Every leaf sheltered a tragedy, every bough was a battlefield. The awful frailty of all existence began to dawn upon Joan Tregenza, and the discovery left her helpless, lonely, longing for new gods. She knew not where to turn. Any brightness from any source had been welcome then.
Disenchantment came with the second visit of the artist to the stream. There; young Murdoch had met her and told her that "Mister Jan" was going to write her a letter. Upon which she had sung glad songs in a sunlit world and amazed Mary and Uncle Chirgwin alike by the exhibition of a sudden and profound happiness. But that longed-for letter never came; weeks passed by; the truth rolled up over her life at last; and, as a world seen in a blaze of sunshine only dazzles us and conceals its facts under too much light, but reveals the same clear cut and distinct at dawn or early twilight, so now Joan's eyes, obscured no more by the blinding promise of great joy, began to see her world as it was, her future as it would be.
Strange thoughts came to her on an evening when she stood by the door of the kitchen at Drift, waiting for the cart to return from market. It was a cool, gray gloaming, wreathed in diaphanous mists born of past ram. These rendered every outline of tree and building vague and immense. Where Joan stood, the peace of the time was broken only by a gentle dripping from the leaves of a great laurel by the gate which led from the farmyard to the fields. Below it, moist ground was stamped with the trident impress of many fowls' feet; and, now and then, a feather sidled down from the heart of the evergreen, where poultry, black and white and spangled, were settling to roost. A subdued clucking and fluttering marked their hidden perches; then came showers of rain-drops from the shining leaves as a bird mounted to a higher branch; after which silence fell again.
And Joan found all hope fairly dead at last. There and then, in the misty eveningtide, the fact fell on the ear of her heart as though one had spoken it; and henceforth she dated disenchantment from that hour. The whole pageant of her romance, with the knightly figure of the painter that filled its foreground, shriveled to a scroll no bigger than a curled, dead leaf—sere, wasted, ghostly, and light enough to be washed away on a tear, borne away upon a sigh.
Then there followed for her prodigious transformations in the panorama of Nature. Seen from the standpoint of his great, overwhelming lie to her, the philosophy which this man had professed changed in its appearance, and that mightily. He had used his cleverness like a net to trap her, and now, though she could not prove his words untrue save in one particular, yet that crowning act of faithlessness much tended to vitiate all the beauties of imagination which had gone before it. They were lilies grown from a dung-heap. Looking back in the new cold sidelight, her life came out clearly with all the color gone from it and the remorseless details distinct. And in this survey Nature dwindled to a minor Deity, a goddess with moods as many and whims as wild as a woman's. She was unstable, it seemed to Joan then; the immemorial solidity and splendor of her had departed; her eyes were not fixed on Heaven any more, nor did peace any longer rest within them; they were frightened, terrified, and their wild and furtive glances followed one Shadow, reflected one Shape. It stood waiting at the end of all her avenues; It peered from the heart of her forests; it wandered on her heaths and moors; it lay under the stones in her rivers; it stalked her sea-shores, floated on her waves, rode upon her lightning, hid in her four winds; and the Shadow's name was Death. Joan stood face to face with it at last and gazed round-eyed at a revelation. She was saddened to find her own story told by Nature in many allegories, painted upon the garden, set forth in waste places, fashioned by humble weeds, reflected in the small, brief lives of unconsidered creatures. Now she imagined herself an ill-shaped apple in the orchard which the mother of all had neglected. It was crumpled up on one side, twisted out of its fair full beauty, ruined by some wicked influence—a failure. Now she was a fly caught by the gold spider who set his web shaking to deceive. Now she was a little bird singing one moment, the next crawling dazed and shaking under the paw of a cat. Why should Nature make the strong her favorites and be so cruel to the weak? That seemed an ungodly thing to Joan. She had only reached this point. She had no inkling of the great cleansing process which removes the dross, the eternal competition from which only the cleanest and sweetest and best come forth first. She saw the battle indeed, but did not understand the meaning of it any more than the rest of the world which, in the words of the weakling Barren, beneath the emblems of a false humanity, keeps its weeds under hot-house glasses and, out of mercy to futile individuals, does terribly wrong its communities. Our cleansing processes are only valuable so far as they go hand in hand with Nature, and where the folly of many fools rejects the wisdom of the wise, there Nature has her certain revenge sooner or later. The sins of the State are visited on the children of the State, and those who repeal laws which Science, walking hand in hand with Nature, has proposed, those who refuse laws which Science, Nature-taught, urges upon Power, do not indeed suffer themselves, but commit thousands of others to suffering. So their false sentiment in effect poisons the blood-springs of a nation. Religion leads to these disasters, and any religion answerable for gigantic human follies is either false or most falsely comprehended.
Her uncle still tarried, and Joan, weary of waiting, betook herself and her sorrows to the old garden, there to view a spectacle which she never tired of. She watched the evening primroses, saw their green bud-cases spring open and the soft yellow leaves tremble out like butterflies new come from the chrysalis. She loved these little lemon-colored lamps that twinkled anew at every sundown in the green twilight of the garden. She knew their eyes would watch through the night and that their reward would be death. Many shriveled fragments marked the old blossoms on the long stems, but the crowns of each still put out new buds, and every dusk saw the wakening of fresh blossoms heedless of their dead sisters below. "They was killed 'cause they looked at the sun," thought Joan. "I suppose the moon be theer mistress and they should not chaange their god. Yet it do seem hard like to be scorched to death for lookin' upward."
What she saw now typified in a dead flower was her own case under a new symbol; but the girl wasted no anger on the man who had played with her to make a holiday pleasant, on that mock sun whose light now turned to darkness. Her mind was occupied entirely with pity for herself. And that fact probably promised to be a sure first step to peace. The lonely void of her life must be filled, else Joan was like to go mad; and the filling, left to Faith, might yet be happily accomplished. For Faith, if no more than a "worm with diamond eyes" yet has eyes of diamonds, and rainbows are the arches of her shape. Faith is fair and a very heart-companion to those who know her and love her courts; and Joan, of all others, was best endowed by disposition and instinct for the possession of her. Faith had slept in the girl's heart since her mother died; but, sleeping, had grown, and now waited in all strength to be called to a great task. The void was at its deepest just now; the lowest note of Joan's soul had sounded; the facts of her ruin and desertion were fully accepted at last; and such knowledge served even to turn the growing mother in her sour for a time. Maternal instinct stood still just a little while at this point in the girl's inner life; then, when all things whirled away to chaos; on this night, when nothing remained sure for her but death; in her hour of ultimate, unutterable weakness and at the dawn of a blank despair, came one last plea from Uncle Chirgwin. Mary had given up talking, fairly wearied out and convinced that to waste more words on Joan would be a culpable disposal of time; but Mr. Chirgwin blundered doggedly on with the humility of a worm and the obstinacy of a friendly dog. He hammered at the portals of Joan's spiritual being with admirable pertinacity; and at length he had his reward. Faith in something being an absolute and vital essential to the welfare of every woman, Joan Tregenza was no exception to the rule.
It fell out on the night of her uncle's weekly visit to market, that Joan had just returned from the garden, when she heard the clatter of the spring-cart. It drew up at the kitchen door and Mary alighted with Mr. Chirgwin. The baskets that had started laden with eggs, butter and other produce came back empty save for a few brown paper parcels. Exceptional prices had ruled in the market-place that day, so Mr. Chirgwin and his niece returned home in excellent temper.
They all met at supper, together with those farm-servants who took their meals at the farmer's table. Then the laborers and the women workers withdrew; Mary sat down to a little sewing before bedtime; and Mr. Chirgwin smoked his pipe and looked at Joan. He noticed that the weather reflected much upon her moods. She was more than usually silent tonight despite the bright news from market.
Presently Mary put on the kettle and brought out a bottle of rum. Her uncle had taken his nightcap of spirit and water from her hand for nearly ten years, and the little duty of preparing it was dear to her. She also made cups of tea for Joan and herself. Mary often blamed herself for this luxury and only allowed it on the night that ended those arduous duties proper to market-day. "While thus employed, both she and Uncle Thomas tried to draw Joan out of her gloomy silence.
"Theer's to be a braave sight o' singin' down to Penzance come next week, Joan. Lunnon folks, they tell me, wi' names a foot tall stuck 'pon the hoardings. Us thot 'twould be a pleasin' kind o' junketin' to go an' listen. Not but entertainments o' singin' by night be mighty exciting to the blood. Awnly just for wance, Polly reckoned it might do us all good. An' Polly knaws what's singin' an' what edn' so well as any lass. The riders [Footnote: The riders—A circus.] be comin' likewise, though maybe that's tu wild an' savage amoosment for quiet folks."
"You an' Polly go to the singin' then. 'Tedn' for the likes o' me."
Then Joan turned to her cousin, who was pouring tea out of a little pot which held two cups and no more.
"Let me have the last nine drops, Polly; they'm good for the heartache, an' mine's more'n common sore to-night."
Mary sighed, opened her mouth to preach a sermon, but shut it without a word. She drained the teapot into Joan's cup, and then, from a bright mood for her, relapsed into cold silence. Uncle Chirgwin, however, prattled on about the concert until his elder niece finished her tea and went to bed. Then he put down his pipe, took a long pull at his drink, and began to talk hurriedly to Joan.
"I bin an' got a wonnerful fine notion this day, drivin' home-long, Joan; an' it's comed back an' back that importuneous that I lay it's truth, an' sent for me to remember. D'you knaw that since you comed to Drift us have prospered uncommon? Iss, us have. The winter dedn' give no mighty promise, nor yet the spring, till you comed. Then the Lard smiled 'pon Drift. Look at the hay what's gwaine to be cut, God willin', next week. I never seed nothin' more butivul thick underneath in all my days. A rare aftermath tu, I'll warrant. 'Tis so all round. The wheat's kernin' somethin' cruel fine—I awnly wish theer was more of it—an' the sheep an' cattle's in braave kelter likewise. Then the orchard do promise no worse. I never seed such a shaw of russets an' of quarantines 'pon they old trees afore."
"'Tis a fine, fair season."
"Why, so I say—a 'mazin' summer thus far—but what's the reason o't? That's the poser as an answer comed to in the cart a drivin' home. You'm the reason! You mind when good Saint Levan walked through the fields that the grass grawed the greener for his tread, an' many days arter, when he'd gone dead years an' years, the corn allus comed richest 'long the path what he trod. An' 'tis the same here, 'cause God's eye be on you, Joan Tregenza, an' His eye caan't be fixed 'pon no spot wi'out brightening all around. You mind me, that's solemn truth. The Lard's watchin' over you—watchin' double tides, as the sailors say—and so this bit o' airth's smilin' from the herb o' the field to the biggest tree as graws. He'm watchin' over Drift for your sake, my girl, an' the farm prospers along o' the gert goodness o' the watchin' Lard. Iss fay, He fills all things livin' with plenshousness, an' fats the root an' swells the corn 'cause He'm breathin' sweet over the land—'cause He'm wakin' an' watchin' for you, Joan."
"He'm watchin' all of us, I s'pose—just to catch the trippin' footstep, like what faither sez. He abbun no call to worry no more 'bout me, I reckon. I be Nature's cheel, I be; an' my mother's turnin' hard too—like a cat, as purrs to 'e wan moment an' sclows 'e the next. My day's done. I've chose wrong an' must abide by it. But 'tis along o' bein' sich a lil fool. Nature pushes the weak to the wall. I've seed that much 'o late days. I was born to have my heart broke, I s'pose. 'Tedn' nothin' very straange."
"I judge your angel do cry gert tears when you lets on like that, my Joan. Oh, gal, why won't 'e give ear to me, as have lived fifty an' more winters in the world than what you have? Why caan't 'e taste an' try what the Lard is? Drabbit this nonsense 'bout Nature! As if you was a fitcher, or an 'awk, or an owl! Caan't 'e see what a draggle tail, low-minded pass all this be bringin' 'e to? Yet you'm a thinkin' creature an' abbun done no worse than scores o' folks who be tanklin' 'pon harps afore the throne o' God this blessed minute. You chose wrong; you said so, an' I was glad to hear 'e, for you never 'lowed even that much till this night. What then? Everybody chooses wrong wan time or another. Some allus goes for it, like the bud-pickers to the red-currant bushes, some slips here an' theer, an' do straightway right 'emselves—right 'emselves again an' again. The best life be just a slippin' up an' rightin' over an' over, till a man dies. You've slipped young an' maybe theer's half a cent'ry o' years waitin' for 'e to get 'pon the right road; yet you sez you must abide by what you've done. Think how it stands. You've forgived him as wronged 'e, an' caan't the Lard forgive as easy as you can? He forgived you 'fore you was born. I lay the Luke Gosp'lers never told 'e that braave fact, 'cause they doan't knaw it theerselves. 'Tis like this: your man did take plain Nature for God, an' he did talk fulishness 'bout finding Him in the scent o' flowers, the hum o' bees an' sichlike. Mayhap Nature's a gude working God for a selfish man, but she edn' wan for a maid, as you knaws by now. Then your faither—his God do sit everlastingly alongside hell-mouth, an' laugh an' girn to see all the world a walkin' in, same as the beasts walked in the Ark. Theer's another picksher of a God for 'e; but mark this, gal, they be lying prophets—lying prophets both! You've tried the wan, an' found it left your heart hollow like, an' you've tried t'other an' found that left it no better filled; now try Christ, will 'e—? Just try. Doan't keep Him, as is allus busy, a waitin' your whims no more. Try Christ, Joan dearie, an' you'll feel what you've never felt yet. I knaw, as put my 'and in His when 'twas plump an' young as yourn. An' He holds it yet, now 'tis shriveled an' crooked wi' rheumatics. He holds it. Iss, He do."
The old man put out his hand to Joan as he spoke and she took it between her own and kissed it.
"You'm very good," she said, "an' you'm wise 'cause you'm auld an' have seen many years. I prayed to Saint Madern to hear me not long since, an' I bathed in his waters, an' went home happy. But awnly the birds an' the rabbits heard me. An' next day faither turned me out o' his house an' counted me numbered for hell."
"Saints be very well, but 'tedn' in 'cordance with what we'm tawld nowadays to pray to any but the Lard direct."
He pleaded long and patiently, humbly praying for the religion which had lightened his own road. The thought of his vast experience and the spectacle of his own blameless and simple life, as she reviewed it, made Joan relent at last. The great loneliness of her heart yearned for something to fill it. Man had failed her, saints had failed her; Nature had turned cold; and Uncle Chirgwin held out a great promise.
"Ban't no sort o' use, I'm thinkin'," she said at last, "but if you'm that set 'pon it I'll do your wish. I owe you that an' more'n that. Iss, I'll come along wi' you an' Mary to Sancreed church next Sunday. 'Tis lil enough to do for wan as have done so much for me."
"Thank God!" he said earnestly. "That's good news, to be sure, bless your purty eyes! An' doan't 'e go a tremblin' an' fearin', you mind, like to meetin'. 'Tedn' no ways like that. Just love o' the Lard an' moosic an' holy thots from passon, an' not more hell-fire than keeps a body healthy-minded an' awake. My ivers! I could a'most sing an' dance myself now, an' arter my day's work tu, to think as you'll sit alongside o' me in church come Sunday!"
Joan smiled at his enthusiasm on her behalf, then kissed him and went to bed; while he, mixing up his prayers, his last pipe, and his final glass of spirits according to his custom, sat the fire out while he drank deeper and prayed harder than usual in the light of his triumph.
"Polly couldn' do it, not for all her brains an' godliness," he murmured to himself, "yet 'twas given to an auld simple sawl like me! An' I have. I've led her slap-bang into the hand o' the Lard, an' the rest be His business. No man's done a better day's work inside Cornwall to-day than what I have—that's sure!"
Since her visit to the church at Newlyn, Joan had been in no place of worship save the chapel of the Luke Gospelers. What might be the nature of the service before her she did not know, nor did she care. But the girl kept her promise and drove in the market-cart to Sancreed with her uncle and cousin when Sunday came. The little church lay bowered in its grove of sycamores, and, around it, a golden-green concourse of quivering shadows cooled those who had walked or driven from Drift—an outlying portion of the parish—approached through lanes innocent of all shade. Mr. Chirgwin put up the horse and presently joined his nieces in church. Then Joan saw him under interesting and novel conditions. He wore glasses with gold rims; he covered his bald head with a little velvet cap; at the appointed time he took a wooden plate and carried it round for money. Mary found the old man's places for him and sang in a way that fairly astounded Joan. The enormous satisfaction brought to herself by these vocal efforts was apparent. Her soul appeared mightily lifted up. She amused chance visitors to the church, but the regular congregation liked to hear Mary; and Joan, seeing the comfort her cousin sucked from singing, wished she had heart to join. That, however, she wholly lacked. Moreover, the words were strange to her.
The quiet service, brightened by music, dragged its slow length murmuringly along. The sermon, delivered by a visitor, was not of a sort to hold Joan, and, indeed, could hardly be expected to attract many in such a congregation. The preacher had lately been reading old Cornish history, and, overcome by the startling fact that the far west of England—Cornwall and Devon—were Christian long before Augustine saw Kent, dwelt upon the matter after a very instructive fashion in ears unlikely to benefit from such knowledge. That the Cornu-British bishops preached Christ while yet Sussex, Wessex, Hampshire, Berks and other districts worshiped Woden, Freya, the Queen of Heaven, the Thunder God, and other deities whose altars were set up after the Conquest, did not interest Joan for one or Mr. Chirgwin for another. But the girl woke up at the mention of Irish and Welsh and Breton saints. Pleasant to hear was the utterance of names which she had loved once but of late almost forgotten. They came back now, and, the service having turned her heart to softness, she welcomed them gladly as friends returned from afar. For the rest, the Litany it was which roused Joan to deepest interest and opened her mind to new impressions. Here was a prayer, gigantic in length, universal, all-embracing, catholic beyond the compass of anything her thoughts had heretofore conceived. From the Queen upon her throne to Joan herself, from the bishops, the princes and the Lords of the Council to Uncle Chirgwin and his fruits of the earth, that astounding petition ranged with equal vigor and earnestness. Nothing was too high, nothing was too low for it; all the world was named, and the people cried for a hearing or for mercy between each supplication and each prayer. The overwhelming majesty of such praying impressed Joan much; as, indeed, it impresses all who come adult thereto and do not associate it with their childhood, with weary hours dragging interminably out, with sleepy buzz of voices, with sore knees or a breaking back, with yearnings stifled, with devices for passing time, with the longed-for sunshine stealing inch by inch eastward on the church walls.
"A power o' larnin' in a small headpiece," commented Uncle Chirgwin as he drove home with the girls sitting side by side on his left. "A braave ch'ice o' words an' a easy knowledge o' the saints as weern't picked up in a day. Tis well to hear a furriner now an' again. They do widen the grasp of a man's mind, looking 'pon things from a changed point o' view. Not as us could be 'spected to be Latiners, yet I seem 'tis very well to listen to it as chance offers. 'Tis something to knaw 'twas Latin, an' that did I, though I doubt some o' the good neighbors couldn' tell it for what 'twas, by no means."
Joan said little about the service, but she praised the Litany from her own peculiar attitude toward it.
"That be fine prayin'," she said, "with nobody forgot, an' all in black print so's wance said 'tedn' lost."
After dinner, when Mary had gone to see a friend and the farm people were dawdling abroad till evening milking-time, Joan made her uncle read the service through again. This he did comfortably between the whiffs of his pipe, and Joan answered the responses, cooing them in her sweet voice as softly as the red and blue pigeons crooned on the roof outside. Drift was asleep under a hot blaze of afternoon sunshine. Sometimes a child's keen voice in the road cut the drowsy silence and came to Joan's ears where she sat, in the best parlor with Uncle Thomas; sometimes slow wheels rumbled up the hill toward Buryan. Other sounds there were none. The old people slept within their cottages after the extra baked meats of Sunday's dinner; many of the young paired and walked where pathways ran over meadows and through yellowing wheat; while others, more gregarious and unattached, had tramped away to Penzance to join the parade by the sea and meet their friends from the shops.
Anon nailed boots stamped up the little pathway to Drift farmhouse, and Tom Tregenza appeared. To-day he entered fearlessly, for he came upon an errand from his father. He kissed Joan and shook hands with Uncle Thomas. Then he said:
"'Tis a letter as I've brought for Joan—a furriner."
The girl's heart beat hard, and the blood rushing from her cheeks left them white. But the letter only came from Joe Noy, and it is certain that Mr. Tregenza would have forwarded no other. Excitement died, and was painfully renewed, in a fresh direction, when Joan realized from whom the missive came and thought about its writer. He had long been a stranger to her mind, and now he seemed suddenly to re-enter it—like a stranger.
"I can stay for a bit of tea so long as I be back by chapel-time," explained Tom.
"An' so you shall, my son. Run 'e out o' doors an' amoose yourself where you mind to; awnly don't ope the lil linhay in the Brook Croft, 'cause auld bull's fastened up theer an' his temper's gettin' more'n more out o' hand."
So Tom departed, and Uncle Chirgwin read Joan's letter aloud to her. It came from Santa Rosalia, and contained not much news but plenty of love and some religious sentiments bred from the writer's foreign environment. Joe Noy would be back in England again before the end of the year.
Joan was reduced to tears by this communication. She refused to be comforted, and, indeed, the position was beyond Uncle Chirgwin's power to brighten. The letter had come at a bad moment, and that calm and repose which almost appeared to be softening Joan's sorrows now spread speedy wings and departed, leaving her wholly forlorn. Curtains were falling behind her, but curtains were also rising in front. She had looked forward vaguely, and now the position was suddenly defined by the arrival of Joe's letter, with all its future phases clear-cut, cold and terrible.
"My baaby's comin' just then. An' that's what'll fall 'pon his ear fust thing. Oh, if us could awnly tell en afore he comes so he might knaw 'tis all chaanged! 'Twould be easier for en, lovin' me that keen. He'd grawed to be a shadder of a man in my mind; but now I sees en real flaish'n blood; an' maybe—maybe he'll seek me out an' kill me for what's done."
"I do creem to hear 'e, gal! No, no, Joe Noy's a God fearin' sawl."
"If he'd forgive me fust, I'd so soon he killed me as not. Sam Martin killed Widow Garth's gal 'cause she were ontrue to en; an' a many said 'twas wrong to hang en to Bodmin. Death's my deserts, same as Ann Garth; an' she got it; an' I doan't care how soon I do. None wants me no more, nor what I'm breedin' neither. I'd die now, an' smilin', if 'tweern't for arterwards."
"Cuss the letter!" said Uncle Chirgwin, getting red in the face. "Cuss it, I says, for gwaine an' turnin' up just this day! A fortnight later you could 'a' looked on it wi' quiet mind an' knawed wheer to turn; to-day's it's just bin an' undone what was done. Not but what 'tis as butivul a letter as ever comed off the sea; but if theer'd awnly been time to 'stablish 'e 'fore it comed! Now you've turned your back 'pon the Household o' Faith just as arms was being stretched out that lovin'."
"Faith won't undo what I've done, nor yet make my wickedness fall lighter for Joe. Yes, 'twas wicked, wicked, wicked. I knaw it now."
Mary and Tom came in from different directions about this time. The latter had regaled himself with a peep at "auld bull," heard the terrific snorting of his nostrils and observed how he bellowed mightily at durance on such an afternoon. Tea being finished, the boy started homeward with a basket of fresh eggs and butter, a pound of cream and some early apples of a sort used for cider, but yet equal to the making of a pie.
"As for the butter, 'tis Joan's churnin'," said Mary, "but you'd best not to tell your faither that, else, so like's not, he'll pitch it into the sea. If us could send en a pound o' charity, I doubt he'd be better for't."