"Faither's a holy man, whatever else he be," said Tom stoutly. "He doan't want for no good qualities like, 'cause what he doan't knaw 'bout God edn' worth knawin'."
Mary laughed. It was a feat she seldom performed, and the sound of her amusement lacked joy.
"Well, us won't argue 'bout en. You'm right to say that. Be the basket too heavy for 'e?"
"No! not likely. Have 'e ever seed my forearm, Polly?"
"Never. I will another time. Best be gwaine, else you'll be late for chapel."
So Tom marched off, and Mary, returning to the house, heard of Joan's letter.
The old gusts of misery, sorrow, indignation, rose in her heart again then, but faintly, like the dying flutter of winds that have blown themselves out. She tried to find a way of bringing comfort to her cousin, but failed. Joan had retired and refused consolation.
The glory of splendid summer hours passed away; the long twilight sank to darkness; the opal lights in the west at last died under the silver of the moon. And then, like a child weary with crying, Joan slept, while Mary, creeping a third time to see and speak with her, departed silently. But she did not sleep; and her wakefulness was fortunate, for long after eleven o'clock came a noisy summons at the outer door. Looking from her room which faced the front of the house, the woman saw Tom with his full basket standing clearly defined below. The world of the weald and woods shimmered silvery in dew and moonlight. Infinite silence reigned. Then the boy's small, indignant voice broke it.
"You'll have to let me in, I reckon. Blamed if I doan't think you was right 'bout faither arter all."
The reason for Tom's return may be briefly told. He had taken his basket home and got it safely under cover to his mother. Then, after chapel, Gray Michael went into the village, and Thomasin had an opportunity to ask some of those questions she was burning to put.
"An' how be Joan?" she began.
"Wisht an' drawed thin 'bout the faace seemin'ly. An' Joe's letter just made her cry fit to bust her eyes, 'stead o' cheerin' of her like."
"Poor lass. I dedn' expect nothin' differ'nt. I've most a mind to go up Drift an' see her—for a reason I've thot upon. Did Joan say anythin' 'bout a last will an' testament to 'e?"
"No, nothin' 'bout anything worth namin'. But Polly had a deal to say. Her wished her could send faither a pound o' charity 'stead o' butter."
At that moment Mr. Tregenza returned to supper, and soon afterward his son went to bed. The lad had not been asleep half an hour before Gray Michael came across the basket from Drift. Two minutes later Tom heard the thunder of his father's voice.
"Tom! you come down here an' be sharp about it!"
The boy tumbled out of bed instantly, and went down to the kitchen in his nightshirt and trousers. Michael Tregenza was standing by the table. Upon it appeared the basket from Drift, stored with cream, butter, eggs and apples. Thomasin sat in the low chair by the fire with her apron over her face, and that was always a bad sign, as Tom knew.
"What day be this, bwoy?" began Michael.
"The Lard's, faither."
"Ay: the Lard's awn day, though you've forgot it seemin'ly."
"No I abbun, faither."
"Doan't 'e answer me 'cept I tells you to. Where did these things come from?"
"Drift, faither. Uncle Chirgwin bid me bring 'em with his respects."
"Did you tell en 'twas breakin' the commandments?"
"Why didn't 'e? You knawed it yourself."
"Iss, faither; but uncle's a ancient man, an' I guessed he knawed so well as me, an' I reckoned 'twould be sauce for such as me to say anything to a auld, gray body like him."
"Sinners is all colors an' ages. Another time doan't you do what's wrong, whether 'tis auld or young as tempts 'e to't. You'm a Luke Gosp'ler, an' it edn' being a shinin' light 'tall to go wrong just because wan as did ought to knaw wiser an' doan't, tells 'e to. Now you can lace on your boots, as soon as you'm minded to, an' traapse up Drift with that theer basket an' all in it. 'Twon't harm godless folks to wake 'em an' faace 'em with their wrongdoing. An' I lay you'll remember another time."
Tom, knowing that words would be utterly wasted, went back to his attic, dressed, and started. He had the satisfaction of eating apples in the moonlight and of posing as a bitterly wronged boy at Drift when Mary came down, lighted a candle, and let him into the house.
Uncle Chirgwin also appeared, and said some hard things in a sleepy voice, while Tom drank cider and ate a big slice of bread and bacon.
"A terrible Old Testament man, your faither, sure 'nough," said Uncle Chirgwin. "Be you gwaine to stop the night 'long o' us or no?"
"Not me! I got to be in the bwoat 'fore half-past five to-morrer marnin'."
"This marnin' 'tis," said Mary, "or will be in a few minutes. An' you can tell your faither what I said 'bout charity, if you like. I sez it again, an' it won't hurt en to knaw."
"But it might hurt me to tell. The less said soonest mended wi' faither."
Tom departed, the lighter for his basket. He flung a stone at a hare, listened to the jarring of a night-hawk, and finally returned home about one o'clock. Both his parents were awaiting him, and the boy saw that his mother had been enduring some trouble on his behalf.
"Mind, my son, hencefarrard that the Sabbath is the Lard thy God's. You may have done others a good turn besides yourself this night."
"What did they say, Tom?" asked his mother.
"They wasn't best pleased. They said a hard sayin' I'd better not to say agin," answered the boy, heavy with sleep.
"Let it be. Us doan't want to hear it. Get you to bed. An', mind, the bwoat at the steps by half-past five to-morrer."
"Ay, ay, faither."
Then Tom vanished, his parents went to their rest, and the cottage on the cliff slept within the music of the sea, its thatch all silver-bright under a summer moon.
A BARGAIN FOR MRS. TREGENZA
To the superficial eye dead hopes leave ugly traces; viewed more inquiringly the cryptic significance of them appears; and that is often beautiful. Joan's soul looked out of her blue eyes now. Seen thoughtfully her beauty was refined and exalted to an exquisite perfection; but the unintelligent observer had simply pronounced her pale and thin. The event which first promised to destroy the new-spun gossamers of a religious faith and break them even on the day of their creation, in reality acted otherwise. For Joan, Joe's letter was like a window opening upon a hopeless dawn; and her helplessness before this spectacle of the future threw the girl upon religion—not as a sure rock in the storm of her life, but as a straw to the hand of the drowning. The world had nothing else left in it for her. She, to whom sunshine and happiness were the breath of life, she who had envied butterflies their joyous being, now stood before a future all uphill and gray, lonely and loveless. As yet but the dawn of affection for the unborn child lightened her mind. Thought upon that subject went hand in hand with fear of pain. And now, in her dark hours, Joan happily did not turn to feed upon her own heart, but fled from it. For distraction she read the four Gospels feverishly day by day, and she prayed long to the Lord of them by night.
Mary helped her in an earnest, cheerless fashion, and before her cousin's solicitude, Joan's eyes opened to another thought: the old friendship between Mary and Joe Noy. It had wakened once, on her first arrival at Drift, then slept again till now. She was troubled to see the other woman's indifference, and she formed plans to bring these two together again. The act of getting away from herself and thinking for others brought some comfort to her heart and seemed to rise indirectly out of her reading.
The Christianity of Drift was old-fashioned, and reflected the Founder. No distractions rose between Joan and the story. She took it at first hand, escaping thus from those petty follies and fooleries which blight and fog the real issues today. She sucked her new faith pure. A noble rule of conduct lay before her; she dimly discerned something of its force; and unselfishness appeared in her, proving that she had read aright. As for the dogma, she opened her arms to that very readily because it was beautiful and promised so much. Faith's votaries never turn critical eyes upon the foundations of her gorgeous fabric; their sight is fixed aloft on the rainbow towers and pinnacles, upon the golden fanes. And yet this man-born structure of theology, with aisles and pillars fretting and crumbling under the hand of reason, needs such eternal propping, restoring and repairing, that priestly tinkers, masons, hod-carriers are solely occupied with it. They grapple and fight for the poor shadows of dogma by which they live, and, so engaged, the spirit and substance of religion is by them altogether lost. None of the Christian churches will ever be overcrowded with men who possess brain-power worthy the name. Mediocrity and ignorance may starve, but talent and any new nostrum to strangle reason and keep the rot from the fabric will always open their coffers.
Joan truly found the dogma more grateful and comforting than anything else within her experience, and the apparition of a flesh and blood God, who had saved her with His own life's blood before she was born, appeared too beautiful and sufficing to be less than true. Her eyes, shut so long, seemed opening at last. With errors that really signify nothing, she drew to herself great truths that matter much and are vital to all elevated conduct. She thought of other people and looked at them as one wakened from sleep. And, similarly, she looked at Nature. Even her vanished lover had not taught her all. There were truths below the formulae of his worship; there were secrets deeper than his intellectual plummet had ever sounded. Without understanding it, Joan yet knew that a change had come to pass in material things. Sunshine on the deep sea hid more matters for wonder than John Barron had taught or known. Once only as yet had she caught a glimpse of Nature's beating heart; and that was upon the occasion of her visit to St. Madron's chapel. She was lifted up then for a magic hour; but the lurid end of that day looked clearer afterward than ever the dewy dawn of it. Nature had smiled mutely and dumbly at her sufferings for long months since then. But now added knowledge certainly grew, and from a matrix mightier than the love of Nature or of man, was Joan's new life born. It embraced a new sight, new senses, ambitions, fears and hopes.
Joan went to church at every opportunity. Faith seemed so easy, and soon so necessary. Secret prayer became a real thing to be approached with joy. To own to sins was as satisfactory as casting down a heavy burden at a journey's end; to confess them to God was to know that they were forgiven. There were not many clouds in her religious sky. As Mary's religion was bounded by her own capabilities and set forth against a background of gloom, which never absolutely vanished save in moments of rare exaltation, so Joan's newfound faith took upon itself an aspect of sunshine. Her clouds were made beautiful by the new light; they did not darken it. Mary's gray Cornish mind kept sentiment out of sight. She lived with clear eyes always focusing reality as it appeared to her. Heaven was indeed a pleasanter eternal fact than hell; yet the place of torment existed on Bible authority; and it was idle to suppose it existed for nothing. Grasping eternity as a truth, she occupied herself in strenuous preparation; which preparation took the form of good works and personal self-denial. Joan belonged to an order of emotional creatures widely different. She loved the beautiful for its own sake, kept her face to the sun when it shone, shivered and shut up like a scarlet pimpernel if bad weather was abroad. And now a chastened sunshine, daily growing stronger, shot through the present clouds, painted beauty on their fringes, and lighted the darkness of their recesses so that even the secrets of suffering were fitfully revealed. Joan grasped at new thoughts, the outcome of her new road.
Nature presently seemed of a nobler face, and certain immemorial achievements of man also flashed out in the side-light of the new convictions; as objects, themselves inconsiderable, will suddenly develop unsuspected splendors from change of standpoint in the beholder. The magic of that Christianity, which Joan now received directly from her Bible, wrought and embroidered a new significance into many things. And it worked upon none as upon the old crosses, some perfect still, some ruined as to arm or shaft, some quite worn out and gnawed by time from their original semblance. These dotted her native land. Them she had always loved, but now they appeared marvelously transfigured, and the soul hid in their granite beamed through it. Supposing the true menhirs to be but ruined crosses also, Joan shed on them no scantier affection than upon the less venerable Brito-Celtic records of Christianity. Bid so to do, and prompted also by her inclination, the girl was wont to take walks of some length for her health's sake; and these had an object now. As her dead mother's legends came back to her memory and knit Nature to her new Saviour, so the weather-beaten stones brought Him likewise nearer, marked the goal of precious daily pilgrimages, and filled a sad young life with friends.
Returning from a visit to Tremathick cross, where it stands upon a little mound on the St. Just road, Joan heard a thin and well-known voice before she saw the speaker. It was Mrs. Tregenza, who had walked over to drink tea and satisfy herself on sundry points respecting her stepdaughter.
"Oh, my Guy Faux, Polly!" she said upon arriving, "I'm in a reg'lar take to be here, though I knaws Michael's t'other side the islands an' won't fetch home 'fore marnin'. I've comed 'cause I couldn't keep from it no more. How's her doin', poor tibby lamb, wi' all them piles o' money tu. Not that money did ought to make a differ'nce, but it do, an' that's the truth, an' it edn' no good makin' as though it doan't. What a world, to be sure! An' that letter from Noy? I knaw you was fond of en likewise in your time. The sadness of it! Just think o' that mariner comin' home 'pon top o' this mishap."
Mary winced and answered coldly that the world was full of mishaps and of sadness.
"The man must face sorrer same as what us all have got to, Mrs. Tregenza. Some gets more, some gets less, as the sparks fly up'ard. Joe Noy's got religion tu."
Mary spoke the last words with some bitterness, which she noted too late and set against herself for a sin.
"Oh, my dear sawl," said Mrs. Tregenza, looking round nervously, as though she feared the shadow of her husband might be listening. "Luke Gosp'ling's a mighty uncomfortable business, though I lay Tregenza'd most kill me if he heard the word. 'Tedn' stomachable to all, an' I doubts whether 'twill be a chain strong enough to hold Joe Noy, when he comes back to find this coil. 'Tis a kicklish business an' I wish 'twas awver. Joe's a fiery feller when he reckons he's wronged; an' there ban't no balm to this hurt in Gosp'ling, take it as you will. I tell you, in your ear awnly, that Luke Gosp'lers graw ferocious like along o' the wickedness o' the airth. Take Michael, as walks wi' the Lard, same as Moses done; an' the more he do, the ferociouser he do get. Religion! He stinks o' religion worse than ever Newlyn stinks o' feesh; he goes in fear o' God to his marrow; an' yet 'tis uncomfortable, now an' then, to live wi' such a righteous member. Theer's a sourness along of it. Luke Gosp'ling doan't soften the heart of en."
"It should," said Mary.
"An's so it should, but he says the world's no plaace for softness. He'm a terror to the evildoer; an' he'm a terror to the righteous-doer; an' to hisself no less, I reckon; an' to God A'mighty tu, so like's not. The friends of en be as feared of en as his foes be. An' that's awful wisht, 'cause he goes an' comes purty nigh alone. The Gosp'lers be like fry flyin' this way an' that 'fore a school o' mackerl when Michael's among 'em. Even minister, he do shrivel a inch or two 'longside o' Michael. I've seen en wras'lin' wi' the Word same as Jacob wras'led wi' the angel. An' yet, why? Theer's a man chosen for glory this five-an'-forty years, an' he knaws it so well as I do, or any wan."
"He knaws nothin' o' the sort. The best abbun no right to say it," declared Mary.
Then Mrs. Tregenza fired up, for she resented any criticism on this subject other than her own.
"An' why not, Polly Chirgwin? Who's a right to doubt it? Not you, I reckon, Ban't your plaace to judge a man as walks wi' God, like Moses done. If Michael edn' saved, then theer's no sawl saved 'pon land or sea. You talk—a young maiden! His sawl was bleedin' an' his hands raw a batterin' the gate o' heaven 'fore you was born, Polly—ay, an' he'd got the bettermost o' the devil wance for all 'fore you was conceived in the womb; you mind that."
"Us caan't get the bettermost o' the devil wance for all," said Mary, changing the issue, "no—not no more'n us can wash our skin clean wance for all. But you an' me thinks differ'nt an' allus shall, Mrs. Tregenza."
"Iss, though I s'pose 'tis the same devil as takes backslidin' church or chapel folks. Let that bide now. Wheer's Joan to? I've got to thank 'e kindly for lookin' arter Tom t'other Sunday night. Tis things like that makes religion uncomfortable. But you gived the bwoy some tidy belly-timber in the small hours o' day, an' he comed home dog-tired, but none the worse. An' thank 'e for they apples an' cream an' eggs, which I'm sorry they had sich poor speed. A butivul basket as hurt me to the heart to paart with. But I wasn't asked. No offense, I hope, 'bout it? Maybe uncle forgot 'twas the Lard's day?"
"He'm the last ever to do that."
Joan entered at this point in the conversation and betrayed some slight emotion as her stepmother kissed her. It was nearly five months since they had met, and Mary now departed, leaving them to discuss Joan's physical condition.
"I be doin' clever," said Joan, "never felt righter in body."
Mrs. Tregenza poured forth good advice, and after a lengthy conversation came to a secret ambition and broached it with caution.
"I called to mind some baaby's things—shoes, clouts, frocks an' sich-like as I've got snug in lavender to home. They was all flam-new for Tom, an' I judged I'd have further use for 'em, but never did. Theer they be, even to a furry-cloth, as none doan't ever use nowadays, though my mother did, and thot well on't. So I did tu. 'Tis just a bit o' crimson red tailor's cloth to cover the soft plaace 'pon a lil baaby's head 'fore the bones of en graw together. An' I reckon 'tis better to have it then not. I seem you'd do wise to take the whole kit; an' you'm that well-to-do that 'twouldn' be worth thinkin' 'bout. 'Twould be cheaper'n a shop; an' theer's everything a royal duke's cheel could want; an' a butivul robe wi' lacework cut 'pon it, an' lil bits o' ribbon to tie in the armholes Sundays. They'm vitty clothes."
Joan's eyes softened to a misty dreaminess before this aspect of the time to come. She had thought so little about the baby and all matters pertaining thereto, that every day now brought with it mental novelty and a fresh view of that experience stored for her in the future.
"Iss, I do mind they things when Tom was in 'em. What be the value in money?"
Mrs. Tregenza answered shyly and almost respectfully.
"Well, 'tis so difficult to say, not bein' a reg'lar seller o' things. They cost wi'out the robe, as was a gift from Mrs. Blight, more'n five pound."
"Take ten pound, then. I'll tell uncle."
Thomasin's red tongue-tip crept along her lips and her bright eyes blinked, but conscience was too strong.
"No, no—a sight too much—too much by half. I'll let 'e have the lot for a fi'-pun' note. An' I'd like it to be a new wan, if 'tis the same to you."
Joan agreed to this, and ten minutes afterward Uncle Chirgwin was opening his cash-box and handing Thomasin the snowy, crackling fragment she desired.
"'Tis the fust bit o' money ever I kept unbeknawnst to Michael," she said, "an', 'pon me life, Chirgwin, I be a'most 'feared on't."
"You'll soon get awver that," declared Uncle Thomas. "I'll send the trap home with 'e, an' you can look out the frippery; an' you might send a nice split bake back-along with it, if you've got the likes of sich a thing gwaine beggin' to be ate."
Presently Mrs. Tregenza drove away and Joan went to her room to think. Magic effects had risen from the spectacle of the well-remembered face, from the sound of the sharp, high voice. A new sensation grew out of them for Joan. Home rose like a vision, with the sighing of the sea, the crying of the gulls, the musical rattle of blocks in the bay, the clink, clink of picks in the quarry, the occasional thunder of a blast. Many odors were with her: the smell of tar and twine and stores, the scent of drying fish. She saw the low cliffs all gemmed at this season with moon-flowers—the great white convolvulus which twinkled there. A red and purple fuchsia in the garden, had blossomed also. She could see the bees climbing into its drooping bells. She remembered their music, as it murmured drowsily from dead and gone summers, and sounded sweeter than the song of the bees at Drift. She heard the tinkle of a stream outside the cottage, where it ran under the hedge through a shute and emptied itself into a great half-barrel; and then, turning her thoughts to the house, her own attic, with the view of St. Michael's Mount and the bay, rose in thought, with every detail distinct, even to the glass scent-bottle on the mantel-piece, and the colored print of John Wesley being rescued in his childhood from a burning house. These and kindred memories made a live picture to Joan's eyes. For the first time since she had left her home the girl found in her heart a desire to return to it. She awoke next morning with the old recollections increased and multiplied; and the sensation bred from continued contemplation was the sensation of a loss.
OF THE CROSSES
The significance of the ancient crosses in Joan Tregenza's latest phase of mental growth becomes much finer after learning somewhat more concerning them than she could ever know. The ephemeral life of one unhappy woman viewed from these granite records of Brito-Celtic pagan and Christian faith, examined in its relation to these hoary splinters of stone, grows an object of some pathetic interest. Such memorials of the past as are here indicated, vary mightily in age. The Christian monuments are not older than the fifth century, but many have been proved palimpsests and rise on pagan foundations dating from a time far more ancient than their own. The relics are divided into two classes by antiquarians: Pillar Stones and Sculptured Crosses. The former occur throughout the Celtic divisions of Great Britain, and are sometimes marked with the Chi Rho monogram, or early rude cross form. In most cases these earlier erections indicated a grave, while the sculptured crosses either denoted boundaries of sanctuary, or were raised promiscuously where men and women passed or congregated, their object being to encourage devotion and lead human thoughts heavenward. The designs on these monuments are usually a bad imitation of Irish key patterns and spirals; but many, in addition, show crucifixes in their midst, with pre-Norman figures depicting the Christ in a loose tunic or shirt, his head erect and his body alive, after the Byzantine fashion. The mediaeval mode of carving a corpse on the cross is of much later date and may not be observed before the twelfth century.
More than three hundred of these sculptured crosses have been discovered within the confines of Cornwall. In churchyards and churchyard walls they stand; they have even been discovered wrought into the fabric of the churches themselves; the brown moor likewise knows them, for they stud its wildernesses and rise at the crossways of many lonely roads; while elsewhere, villages hold them in their hearts, and the emblem rises daily before the sight of generation upon generation. In hedges they are also to be seen, and in fields; many have been rescued from base uses; and all have stood through the centuries as the sign and testimony of primitive Cornish faith, even as St. Piran's white cross on a black ground, the first banner of Cornwall, bore aloft the same symbol in days when the present emblem, with its fifteen bezants and its motto, "One and All," was not dimly dreamed of.
These ancient crosses now rose like gray sentinels on the gray life of Joan Tregenza. At Drift she was happily placed among them, and many, not necessary to separately name, lay within the limit of her daily wanderings, and her superstitious nature, working with the new-born faith, wove precious mystery into them. Much she loved the more remote and lonely stones, for beside them, hidden from the world's eye, she could pray. Those others about which circled human lives attracted her less frequently. To her the crosses were sentient creatures above the fret of Time, eternally watching human affairs. The dawn of art as shown in early religious sculpture generally amuses an ignorant mind, but, to Joan, the little shirted figures of her new Saviour, which opened blind eyes on the stones she loved, were matter for sorrow rather than amusement. They did by no means repel her, despite the superficial hideousness of them; indeed, with a sort of intuition, Joan told herself that human hands had fashioned them somewhere in the dawn of the world when yet her Lord's blood was newly shed, at a time before men had learned skill to make beautiful things.
Once, beside the foot of the cross which stood in Sancreed [Footnote: This fine sculptured cross has since these events been placed within the said churchyard, at the desire of Mr. A. G. Langdon, the greatest living authority on the subject of Cornish remains.] churchyard wall, between two tree-trunks under a dome of leaves, the girl found growing a spotted persicaria, and the force of the discovery at such a spot was great to her. Familiar with the legend of the purple mark on every leaf of the plant, nothing doubting that it had aforetime grown at the foot of the true cross and there been splashed with the blood of her Master, Joan accepted the old story that henceforth the weed was granted this proud livery and badge of blood. And now, finding it here, the fable revived with added truth and conviction, the legend of the persicaria was as true to her as that other of the Lord's resurrection from death. Thus her views of Nature suffered some approach to debasement in a new direction, but this degradation, so to call it, brought mighty comfort to her soul, daily rounded the ragged edges of life, woke merciful trust and belief in a promised life of bliss beyond the grave, and embroidered thereupon a patchwork, not unbeautiful, built of fairy folk-lore, saintly legend and venerable myth. Her credulous nature accepted right and left; anything that harbored a promise or was lovely or wonderful in itself found acceptance; and Joan read into the very pulses of the summer world the truth as she now understood it. Cornwall suddenly became a new Holy Land to the girl. Here the circumstances of life chimed with those recorded in the New Testament, and it was an easy mental achievement to transplant her Saviour from a historical environment into her own. She pictured Him as walking amid Uncle Chirgwin's ripening corn; she saw Him place His hands on the heads of the little children at cottage doors; she imagined Him standing upon one of the stranded luggers in Newlyn harbor with the gulls floating round His head and the fishermen listening to his utterance.
The growing mother instincts in Joan also developed about this season. They leaped from comparative quiescence into activity; they may indeed be recorded as having arisen within her after a manner not less sudden than had the new faith itself, which was exhibited to you as blossoming with an abruptness almost violent, because it thus occurred. Now most channels of thought led Joan to her unborn infant, and there came at length an occasion upon which she prayed for the first time that her child might be justified in its existence.
The petition was raised where, in the past, she had uttered one widely different: at the altar-stone in the ruined baptistery of Saint Madron. Thither on a day in early August, Joan traveled by short cuts over fields which brought the chapel within reach of Drift. The scene had changed from that of her former visit, and summer was keeping the promises of spring. Yellow stars of biting stone-crop covered the walls of the ruin; the fruit of the blackthorn was growing purple, of the hawthorn, red; the lesser dodder crept, like pink lacework, over furze and heather; bright-eyed euphrasy and sweet wild thyme were murmured over by many bees; at the altar's foot grew brake fern and towering foxgloves; while upon the sacred stone itself brambles laid their fruit, a few ripe blackberries shining from clusters of red and green. Seeding grasses and docks likewise nourished within the little chapel, and ragged robins and dandelions brought the best beauty they had. Among which matters, hid in loneliness, to the sound of that hymn of life which rises in a whisper from all earth at summer noon, Joan prayed for her baby that it might not be born in vain.
Among the varied ambitions now manifested by Joan was one already hinted at—one which increased to the displacement of smaller interests: she much desired to see again her home, if but for the space of an hour. The days and weeks of an unusually smiling summer brought autumn, and with it the cutting of golden grain; but the bustle and custom of harvest failed to draw Joan among her kind. Human life faded somewhat, even to the verge of unreality with her. Silence fell upon her, and a gravity of demeanor which was new to the beholders. Uncle Chirgwin and Mary were alike puzzled at this sign, and, misunderstanding the nature of the change, feared that the girl's spiritual development must be meeting unseen opposition. Whims and moods were proper to her condition, so the farmer maintained; but the fancy of eternally sequestering herself, the conceit of regarding as friends those ancient stones of the moor and crossroads, was beyond his power to appreciate. To Mary such conduct presented even greater elements of mystery. Yet the fact faced them, and the crosses came in time to be one of the few subjects which Joan cared to talk upon. Even then it was to her uncle alone she opened her heart concerning them: Mary never unlocked the inner nature of her cousin.
"I got names o' my awn for each of 'em," Joan confessed, "an' I seem they do knaw my comin' an' my secrets an' my troubles. They teach me the force o' keepin' my mouth shut; an' much mixin' wi' other folks arter the silence o' the stones 'mazes me—men an' wummen do chatter so."
"An' so did you, lassie, an' weern't none the worse. Us doan't hear your purty voice enough now."
"'Tis better thinkin' than talkin', Uncle Thomas. I abbun nort to talk 'bout, you see, but a power o' things to think of. The auld stones speaks to me solemn, though they can't talk. They'm wise, voiceless things an' brings God closer. An' me, an' all the world o' grass an' flowers, an' the lil chirruping griggans [Footnote: Grasshoppers.] do seem so young beside 'em; but they'm big an' kind. They warm my heart somethin' braave; an' they let the gray mosses cling to 'em an' the dinky blue butterflies open an' shut their wings 'pon 'em, an' the bramble climb around theer arms. They've tawld me a many good things; an' fust as I must be humbler in my bearin'. Wance I said I'd forgive faither, an' I thot 'twas a fair thing to say; now I awnly wants en to forgive me an' let me come to my time wi' no man's anger hot agin me. If I could win just a peep o' home. I may never see it no more arter, 'cause things might fall out bad wi' me."
"'Tis nachrul as you harp on it; an', blame me, if I sees why you shouldn' go down-long. Us might ride in the cart an' no harm done."
"Ay, do 'e come, theer's a dear sawl. Just to look upon the plaace—"
"As for that, if us goes, us must see the matter through an' give your faither the chance to do what's right by 'e."
"He'll not change; but still I'd have en hear me tell I'm in sorrer for the ill I brot 'pon his name."
"Ay, facks! 'Tis a wise word an' a right. Us'll go this very arternoon. You get a odd pound or so o' scald cream, an' I'll see to a basket o' fruit wi' some o' they scoured necterns, as ban't no good for sellin', but eats so well as t'others. Iss, we'll go so soon as dinner be swallowed. Wishes doan't run in a body's head for nothin'."
Uncle Chirgwin's old market-cart, with the gray horse and the squeaking wheel, rattled off to Newlyn some two hours later, and the ordeal, longed for at a distance, towered tremendous and less beautiful at nearer approach. When they started, Joan had hoped that her father might be at home; as they neared Newlyn she felt a growing relief in the reflection that his presence ashore was exceedingly improbable. Her anxieties were forgotten for a few moments at sight of the well-known outlines of the hills above the village. Now arrish-mows—little thatched stacks some eight feet high—glimmered in the pale gilded stubbles of the fields; the orchards gleamed with promise; the foliage of the elms was at its darkest before the golden dawn of autumn. Well-remembered sights rose on Joan's misty eyes with the music proper to them; then came the smell of the sea and the jolting of the cart, going slowly over rough stones. Narrow, steep streets and sharp corners had to be traversed not only with caution but at a speed which easily placed Joan within the focus of many glances. Troubles and humiliation of a sort wholly unexpected burst suddenly upon her, bringing the girl's mind rudely back from dreams born of the familiar scene. Newlyn women bobbed about their cottage doors with hum and stir, and every gossip's mouth was full of news at this entry. Doors and windows filled with curious heads and bright eyes; there was some laughter in the air; fishermen got up with sidelong looks from the old masts or low walls whereon, during hours of leisure, they sat in rows and smoked. Joan, all aflame, prayed Uncle Chirgwin to hasten, which he did to the best of his power; but their progress was of necessity slow, and local curiosity enjoyed full scope and play. Tears came to the girl's eyes long before the village was traversed; then, through a mist of them, she saw a hand stretched to meet her own and heard a voice which rang kindly on her ears. It was Sally Trevennick, who faced the spiteful laughter without flinching and said a few loud, friendly words, though indeed her well-meant support brought scant comfort with it for the victim.
"Lard sakes! Joan, doan't 'e take on so at them buzzin' fools! 'Tedn' the trouble, 'tis the money make 'em clatter! Bah! Wheer's the wan of them black-browed gals as 'alf the money wouldn' buy? You keep a bold faace, an' doan't let 'em see as their sniggerin's aught more to 'e than dog-barking."
"Us'll be theer in a minute," added Mr. Chirgwin, "an' I'll drive back agin by Mouzle; then you'll 'scape they she-cats. I never thot as you'd a got to stand that dressin' down in a plaace what's knawed you an' yours these many years."
Joan asked Sally Trevennick whether she could say if Gray Michael was on the water, and she felt very genuine thankfulness on learning that Sally believed so. Two minutes later the spring-cart reached level ground above the sea, then, whipping up his horse, Uncle Chirgwin increased the pace, and very quickly Joan found herself at the door of home.
Thomasin was within, and, hearing the sound of wheels cease before the cottage, came forth to learn who had arrived. Her surprise was only equaled by her alarm at sight of Joan and Mr. Chirgwin. So frightened indeed did she appear that both the newcomers supposed Mr. Tregenza must be within. Such, however, was not the case, and Joan's stepmother explained the nature of her fears.
"He'm to sea, but the whole world do knaw you be come, I'll lay; an' he'll knaw tu. Sure's death some long-tongued female will babble it to en 'fore he's off the quay. Then what?"
"'Tedn' your fault anyways," declared Uncle Thomas. "Joan's wisht an' sad to see home agin, as was right an' proper; an' in her present way she've got to be humored. So I've brot her, an' what blame comes o't my shoulders is more'n broad enough to carry. I wish, for my paart, as Michael was home, so's I might faace en when Joan says what her've comed to say. I be gwaine to Penzance now, 'pon a matter o' business, an' I'll come back here in an hour or so an' drink a dish o' tea along with you 'fore we staarts."
He drove away immediately, and for a while Joan was left with Mrs. Tregenza. The latter's curiosity presently soothed her fears, and almost the first thing she began to talk about was that "will and testament" which she had long since urged upon her stepdaughter. But the girl, moving about in the well-known orchard, had no attention for anything but the sights, sounds and scents around her. Silently and not unhappily she basked in old sensations renewed; and they filled her heart. Meanwhile Thomasin kept up a buzz of conversation concerning Joan's money and Joan's future.
"Touchin' that bit o' writin'! Do 'e see to it, soas; 'tis awnly wisdom. Theer's allus a fear wi' the fust, specially in the case o' a pin-tail built lass like you be. An' if you was took, which God forbid, theer'd be that mort o' money to come to Michael, him bein' your faither—that is, s'pose the cheel was took tu, which God forbid likewise. An' he'd burn it—every note—I mean Michael. Now if you was to name Tom—just in case o' accidents—? He'm of your awn blood by's faither."
"But my baaby must be fust."
"In coorse er must. 'Tis lawful an' right. Love childern do come as sweet an' innercent on to the airth as them born o' wedlock—purty sawls. 'Tis the fashion to apprentice 'em to theer faithers mostly, an' they be a sort o' poor cousins o' the rightful fam'ly; but your lil wan—well—theer edn' gwaine to be any 'poor cousin' talk 'bout en—if en do live. But I was talkin' o' the will."
"I've writ it out all fair in ink 'cordin' as Uncle Chirgwin advised," said Joan. "Fust comes my cheel, then Tom. Uncle sez theer ban't no call to name others. I wanted hisself to take a half on it, but he said theer weren't no need an' he wouldn't nohow."
"Quite right," declared Thomasin. "Iss fay! He be a plain dealer an' a good righteous man."
Joan's thoughts meanwhile were mainly concerned with her surroundings, and when she had walked thrice about the garden, visited the pigs, peeped into the tool-house to smell the paint and twine, noted the ripening plums and a promising little crop of beets coming on in the field beyond, she went indoors. There a pair of Michael's tall sea-boots stood in the chimney corner, with a small pair of Tom's beside them; the old, well-remembered crockery shone from the dresser; geraniums and begonias filled the window; on a basket at the right of the fireside stood a small blue plate with gold lettering upon it and a picture of Saltash Bridge in the middle. The legend ran—A present for a good girl. It was a gift from her father to Joan, on her tenth birthday. She picked it up, polished it, and asked for a piece of paper to wrap it in, designing to carry the trifle away with her.
Every old nook and corner had been visited by the time that Uncle Chirgwin returned. Then all sat down to eat and drink, and the taste of the tea went still further to quicken Joan's memory.
Mrs. Tregenza gave them such information as suggested itself to her during the progress of the meal. She was chiefly concerned about her son.
"Cruel 'ard worked he be, sure 'nough," she murmured. "'Tis contrary to reason a boy can graw when he's made to sweat same as Tom be. An' short for his age as 'tis. But butivul broad, an' 'mazin' strong, an' a fine sight to see en ate his food. Then the Gosp'lers—well, they'm cold friends to the young. A bwoy like him caan't feel religion in his blood same as grawed folks."
"Small blame to en," said Joan promptly. "Let en go to church an' hear proper holy ministers in black an' white gownds, an' proper words set down in print, same as what I do now."
"I'd as soon not have my flaish creep down the spine 'pon Sundays as not," confessed Thomasin, "but Michael's Michael, an' so all's said."
Uncle Chirgwin went to smoke a pipe and water his horse at this juncture; but he returned within less than ten minutes.
"It's blowin'," he said, "an' the fust skew o' gray rain's breakin' over the sea. I knawed 'twas comin' by my corns. The bwoats is sailin' back tu—a frothin' in proper ower the lumpy water."
"Then you'd best be movin'," said Mrs. Tregenza. "I judged bad-fashioned weather was comin' tu when I touched the string o' seaweed as hangs by the winder. 'Tis clammy to the hand. God save us!" she continued, turning from the door, "theer's ourn at the moorin's! They've been driv' back 'fore us counted 'pon seein' 'em by the promise of storm. Get you gone, for the love o' the Lard; an' go Mouzle way, else you'll run on top o' Michael for sure."
"Ban't no odds if us do. Joan had a mind to see en," answered the farmer; but Joan spoke for herself. She explained that she now wished to depart without seeing her father if possible.
It was, however, too late to escape the meeting. Even as the twain bade Mrs. Tregenza a hasty farewell, heavy feet sounded on the cobbles at the cottage door and a moment later Tregenza entered. His oilskins were wet and shiny; half a dozen herrings, threaded through the gills on a string, hung from his right hand.
"THE LORD IS KING"
Michael Tregenza instantly observed Joan where she sat by the window, and, seeing her, stood still. The fish fell from his hand and dropped slithering in a heap on the stone floor. There was a silence so great that all could hear a patter of drops from the fisherman's oilskins as the water rolled to the ground. At the same moment gusts of rising wind shook the casement and bleared the glass in it with rain. Joan, as she rose and stood near Mr. Chirgwin, heard her heart thump and felt the blood leap. Then she nerved herself, came a little forward, and spoke before her father had time to do so. He had now turned his gaze from her and was looking at the farmer.
"Faither," she said very gently, "faither dearie, forgive me. I begs it so hard; 'tis the thing I wants most. I feared to see 'e, but you was sent off the waters that I might. I comed in tremblin' an' sorrer to see wheer I've lived most all my short days. I'm that differ'nt now to what I was. Uncle Thomas'll tell 'e. I know I'm a sinful, wicked wummon, an' I'm heart-broke day an' night for the shame I've brot 'pon my folks. I'll trouble 'e no more if 'e will awnly say the word. Please, please, faither, forgive."
She stood without moving, as did he. Uncle Chirgwin watched silently. Mrs. Tregenza made some stir at the fire to conceal her anxiety. No relenting glimmer softened either the steel of Gray Michael's eyes or one line in his great face. The furrows knotted between his eyebrows and at the corners of his eyes. His sou'wester still covered his head. At his mouth was a down-drawing, as of disgust before some offensive sight or smell, and the hand which had held the fish was clinched. He swallowed and found speech hard. Then Joan spoke again.
"Uncle's forgived me, an' Mary, an' Tom, an' mother here. Caan't 'e, caan't 'e, faither? My road's that hard."
Then he answered, his words bursting out of his lips sharply, painfully at first, rolling as usual in his mighty chest voice afterward. The man twisted Scripture to his narrow purposes according to Luke Gospel usage.
"'Forgive'? Who can forgive but the Lard, an' what is man that he should forgive them as the A'mighty's damned? 'Tis the sinners' bleat an' whine for forgiveness what's crackin' the ear o' God whensoever 'tis bent 'pon airth. Ain't your religion taught you that—you, Thomas Chirgwin? If not, 'tis a brawken reed, man. Get you gone, you fagot, you an' this here white-haired sawl, as is foolin' you an' holdin' converse wi' the outcast o' heaven. I ban't no faither o' yourn, thank God, as shawed me I weern't—never, never. Gaw! Gaw both of 'e. My God! the sight of 'e do sicken me as I stand in the same air. You—an auld man—touchin' her an' her devil-sent, filthy moneys. 'Twas a evil day, Thomas Chirgwin, when I fust seed them o' your blood—an ill hour, an' you drives it red-hot into my brain with your actions. Bad, bad you be—bad as that lyin', false, lost sinner theer—a-draggin' out your cant o' forgiveness an' foolin' a damned sawl wi' falsehoods. You knaws wheer she'm gwaine; an' your squeakin', time-servin' passon knaws; an' you both tells her differ'nt!"
"Out on 'e, you stone-hearted wretch o' a man!" began Uncle Chirgwin in a small voice, shaking with anger; but the fisherman had not said his last word, and roared the other down. Gray Michael's self-control was less than usual; his face had grown very red and surcharged veins showed black on the unwrinkled sides of his forehead.
"No more, not a word. Get you gone an' never agin set foot 'pon this here draxel. [Footnote: Draxel—Threshold.] Never—never none o' Chirgwin breed. Gaw! or auld as you be, I'll force 'e! God's on the side o' right!"
Hereupon Joan, not judging correctly of the black storm signs on her father's face or the force of the voice, now grating into a shriek as passion tumbled to flood, prayed yet again for that pardon which her parent was powerless to grant. The boon denied grew precious in her eyes. She wept and importuned, falling on her knees to him.
"God can do it, God can do it, faither. Please—please, for the sake o' the God as leads you, forgive. Oh, God in heaven, make en forgive me—'tis all I wants."
But a religious delirium gripped Tregenza and poisoned the blood in him. His breast rose, his fists clinched, his mouth was dragged sidewise and his underlip shook. A damned soul, looking up with wild eyes into his, was all he saw—the very off scouring and filth of human nature—hell tinder, to touch which in kindness was to risk his own salvation.
"Gaw, gaw! Else the Lard'll make me His weapon. He's whisperin'—He's whisperin'!"
There was something horribly akin to genuine madness in the frenzy of this utterance. Mrs. Tregenza screamed; Joan struggled to her feet in some terror and her head swam. She turned to get her hat from the dresser-ledge, and, as she did so, the little blue plate, tied up in paper beside it, fell and broke, like the last link of a snapping chain. Gray Michael was making a snorting in his nostrils and his head seemed to grow lower on his shoulders. Then Mr. Chirgwin found his opportunity and spoke.
"I've heard you, an' it ban't human nachur to knuckle down dumb, so I be gwaine to speak, an' you can mind or not as you please."
He flung his old hat upon the ground and walked without fear close beside the fisherman who towered above him.
"God be with 'e, I sez, for you need En fine an' bad for sartain—worse'n that poor 'mazed lamb shakin' theer. You talk o' the ways o' God to men an' knaw no more 'bout 'em than the feesh what you draw from the sea! You'm choustin' yourself cruel wi' your self-righteousness—take it from me. You'm saved, be you? You be gwaine to heaven, are 'e? Who tawld 'e so, Michael Tregenza? Did God A'mighty send a flyin' angel to tell 'e a purpose? Look in your heart, man, an' see how much o' Christ be in it. Christ, I tell 'e, Christ—Christ—Jesus Christ. It's Him as'll smuggle us all into heaven, not your psalm-smitin', knock-me-down, ten-commandment, cussin' God. I'm grawin' very auld an' I knaw what I knaw. Your God's a devil, fisherman—a graspin', cruel devil; an' them the devil saves is damned. 'Tis Christ as you've turned your stiff back 'pon—Christ as'll let this poor lass into heaven afore ever you gets theer! You ban't in sight o' the gates o' pearl, not you, for all your cold prayers. You'm young in well-doin'; an' 'tis a 'ard road you'll fetch home by, I'll swear; an' 'tis more'n granite the Lard'll use to make your heart bleed. He'll break you, Tregenza—you, so bold, as looks dry-eyed 'pon the sun an' reckons your throne'll wan day be as bright. He'll break you, an' bring you to your knees, an' that 'fore your gray hairs be turned, as mine, to white. Oh, Christ Jesus, look you at this blind sawl an' give en somethin' better to lay hold 'pon than his poor bally-muck o' religion what's nort but a gert livin' lie!"
Thomas Chirgwin seemed mightily transfigured as he spoke. The words came without an effort, but he uttered them with pauses and in a loud voice not lacking solemnity. His head shook, yet he stood firm and motionless upon his feet; and he made his points with a gesture, often repeated, of his open right hand.
As for Tregenza, the man listened through all, though he heard but little. His head was full of blood; there was a weight on his tongue striking it silent and forcing his mouth open at the same moment. The world looked red as he saw it; his limbs were not bearing him stiffly. Thomasin had her eye upon him, for she was quite prepared to throw over her previous statements and support her husband against an attack so astounding and unexpected. And the more so that he had not himself hurled an immediate and crushing answer.
Meantime the old farmer's sudden fires died within him; he shrank to his true self, and the voice in which he now spoke seemed that of another man.
"Give heed to what I've said to 'e, Michael, an' be humble afore the Lard same as your darter be. Go in fear, as you be forever biddin' all flaish to go. Never say no sawl's lost while you give all power to the Maker o' sawls. Go in fear, I sez, else theer'll come a whirlwind o' God-sent sorrer to strike wheer your heart's desire be rooted. 'Tis allus so—allus—"
Tom entered upon these words, and Uncle Chirgwin's eyes dropping upon him as he spoke, his utterance sounded like a prophecy. So the boy's mother read it, and with a half sob, half shriek, she turned in all the frenzy of sudden maternal wrath. Her sharp tongue dropped mere vituperation, but did so with boundless vigor, and the woman's torrent of unbridled curses and threats swept that scene of storm to its close. Joan went first from the door, while Mr. Chirgwin, picking up his hat and buttoning his coat, retreated after her before the volume of Thomasin's virago attack. Tom stood open-mouthed and silent, dumfounded at the tremendous spectacle of his mother's rage and his father's stricken silence. Then, as Mrs. Tregenza slammed the door and wept, her husband sunk slowly down with something strangely like terror in his eyes. The man in truth had just passed through a physical crisis of alarming nature. He sat in his easy-chair now, removed his hat, and wiped the perspiration from his forehead with hands that shook. It was not what he had heard or beheld that woke alarm in a spirit which had never known it till then, but what he had felt: a horror which crowded down upon every sense, gripped his volition with unseen hands, blinded him, stopped his ears, held his limbs, stirred his brains into a whirling waste. He knew now that in his moment of passion he had stood upon the very brink of some terrific, shattering evil, possibly of death itself. Body or brain or both had passed through a great, unknown danger; and now, dazed and for the time much aged, he looked about him with slow eyes—mastered the situation, and realized the incident was ended.
"The Lard—'the Lard is King,'" he said, and stopped a moment. Then he slowly rose to his feet and with the old voice, though it shook and slurred somewhat upon his tongue, spoke that text which served him in all occasions of unusual stress and significance.
"'The Lard is King, be the people never so impatient; He sitteth between the cherubims, be the airth never so unquiet'!"
Then he sat again and long remained motionless with his face buried in his hands.
Meantime the old horse dragged Uncle Chirgwin and his niece away along the level road to Mousehole. Joan was wrapped in a tarpaulin and they proceeded silently a while under cold rains, which swept up from a leaden south over the sea. The wind blew strong, tore green leaves from the hedges, and chimed with the thoughts of the man and his niece.
"How did you come to speak so big an' braave, Uncle Thomas? I couldn' say no more to en, for the lights rose up in my throat an' choked me; but you swelled out somethin' grand to see, an' spawk as no man ever yet spawk to faither afore."
"'Twas put in me to say; I doan't knaw how ever I done it, but my tongue weern't my awn for the time. Pull that thing tighter about 'e. This rain would go through a barn door."
At the steep hill rising from Mousehole to Paul, Uncle Chirgwin got out and walked, while the horse, with his shoulders to the collar, plodded forward. Then, down the road came the laboring man, Billy Jago, mentioned aforetime as one who had worked for Mr. Chirgwin in the past. He touched his hat to his old master and greeted him with respect and regard. For a moment the farmer also stopped. No false sentiment tied Billy's tongue and he spoke of matters personal to those before him, having first mournfully described his own state of health.
"But theer, us gaws down to the tomb to make way for the new born. I do say, an' swear tu, that the butivulest things in all wild nachur be a ship in full sail an' a wummon in the fam'ly way. Ban't nothin' to beat 'em. An' I'll say it here, 'pon this spot, though the rain's bitin' into my bones like teeth. So long to 'e, maaster, an' good cheeldin' to 'e, miss!"
The man rolled with loutish gait down the hill; the darkness gathered; the wind whistled through high hedges on the left; farmer Chirgwin made sounds of encouragement to his horse, which moved onward; and Joan thought with curious interest of those things that Billy Jago had said.
"'Tis straange us met that poor, croony antic at sich a moment," mused Uncle Thomas; "the words of en jag sore 'pon a body's mind, comin' arter what's in our thots like."
"Maybe 'tis paart o' the queerness o' things as us should fall 'pon en now," answered Joan.
Then, through a stormy gloaming, they returned in sadness to the high lands of Drift.
"A new broom sweeps clean, but 'tis the auld wan as is good for corners," said Uncle Chirgwin, when with his nieces he sat beside the kitchen fire that night and discussed the events of the day.
"By which I means," he added, "that these new-fangled ways of approaching the A'mighty may go to branch and trunk an' make a clean sweep o' evil, but they leaves the root o' pride stickin' in a man's sawl. 'Tis the auld broom as Christ brought in the world as routs into the dark corners like nothin' else."
"I be glad you spawk to en," said Mary. "Seed sawed do bring forth fruit in a 'mazin'' way."
"I reckoned he'd a smote me, but he dedn'. He just turned rosy red an' stood glazin' at me as if I was a ghost."
"I never see en look like that afore," declared Joan; "he 'peared to be afeared. But the door's shut 'gainst me now. I caan't do no more'n I have done. He'll never forgive."
"As to that, Joan, I won't say. You bide quiet till the seed sprouts. I lay now as you'll hear tell about your faither an' maybe get a message from en 'fore the year's a month older."
With which hopeful prediction Uncle Chirgwin ended the discussion.
That night the circular storm, which had died away at dark, turned upon itself and the wind moaned at window latches and down chimneys, prophesying autumn. Dawn broke on a drenched, gray world, but the storm had clean passed, and at noon the gray brightened to silver and burned to gold when the sun came out. The wind wore to the west, and on to northwest; the weather settled down and days of a rare late summer pursued their even way.
A fortnight passed, and the farmer's belief that Gray Michael would communicate with his daughter began to waver.
"Pharaoh's a soft-'earted twoad to this wan," he declared gloomily. "It do beat me to picksher sich a man. I've piped to en hot an' strong, as Joan knaws, but he ban't gwaine to dance 'tall seemin'ly. Poor sawl! When the hand o' the Lard do fall, God send 'twon't crush en all in all. 'Saved'—him—dear, dear!"
"The likes of Tregenza be saved 'pon St. Tibbs Eve, [Footnote: St. Tibbs Eve—Equivalent to the "Greek Calends."] I reckon, an' no sooner," answered Mary scornfully. Then she modified her fiery statement according to her custom, for the woman's zeal always had first call upon her tongue, and her judgment usually took off the edge of every harsh statement immediately upon its utterance.
"Leastways 'tis hard to see how sich bowldashious standin' up in the eye o' God should prosper. But us can be saved even from our awnselves, I s'pose. So Tregenza have got his chance along o' the best."
Joan never resented the outspoken criticisms on her parent. She listened, but rarely joined the discussion. The whole matter speedily sank to a position of insignificance. Her own mind was clear, and the deadlock only cut off one more outer interest and reduced Life's existing influences to a smaller field. She drew more and more into herself, slipped more and more from out the routine life of Drift. She became self-centered, and when her body was not absent, as happened upon most fine days, her mind abstracted itself to extreme limits. She grew shy of fellow-creatures, found no day happy of which a part had not been spent beside a cross, showed a gradual indifference to the services of the church which not long since had attracted her so strongly and braced the foundations of her soul. There came at last a black Sunday when Joan refused to accompany Mary and the farmer to morning worship at Sancreed. She made no excuse, but designed a pilgrimage of more than usual length, and, having driven as far as the church with her uncle and cousin, left them there and walked on her way. Even the fascinations of a harvest festival failed to charm her; and the spectacle of fat roots, mighty marrows, yellow corn and red apples on the window-ledges, of grapes and tomatoes, flowers and loaves upon the altar, pulpit and font, did not appeal overmuch to Joana—a fact perhaps surprising.
With a plump pasty of meat and flour in her pocket and one of Uncle Chirgwin's walking-sticks to help her footsteps, Joan went on her way, passed the Wesleyan Chapel of Sancreed, and then maintained a reasonably direct line to her destination by short cuts and field paths. She intended to visit Men Scryfa, that famous "long stone" which stands away in a moor croft beyond Lanyon. She knew that it was no right cross, but she remembered it well, having visited the monument frequently in the past. It was holy with infinite age, and the writing upon it fascinated her as a mystery fascinates most of us.
The words, "Rialobrani Cunovali Fili," which probably mark the fact that Rialobran, son of Cunoval, some Brito-Celtic chieftain of eld, lies buried not far distant, meant nothing to Joan, but the old gray-headed stone, perhaps the loneliest in all Cornwall, was pleasant to her thoughts, and she trudged forward gladly with her eyes open for all the beauties of a smiling world.
Summer clouds, sunny-hearted and towering against the blue, dropped immense shadows on the glimmering gold of much stubble and on the wastes of the moor rising above them. In the cornfields, visible now that the crops were cut and gathered into mows, stood little gray-green islands—a mark distinctive of Cornish husbandry. Here grew cow-cabbages in rank luxuriance, on mounds of manure which would be presently scattered over the exhausted land. The little oases in the deserts of the fields were too familiar to arrest Joan's eye. She merely glanced at the garnered wheat and thought what a brief time the arrish geese, stuffing themselves in the stubble, had yet to live. A solemn, splendid peace held the country-side, and hardly a soul was abroad where the road led upward to wild moor and waste. Sometimes a group of calves crowding under the shady side of hedges regarded Joan with youthful interest; sometimes, in a distant coomb-bottom, where blackberries grew, little sunbonnets bobbed above the fern and a child's shrill voice came clear to her upon the wind. But the loneliness grew, and, anon, turning from her way a while, the traveler sat on the gray crown of Trengwainton Carn to rest and look at the wide world.
From the little tor, over undulations of broad light and blue shadow, Joan could see afar to Buryan's lofty tower, to Paul above the sea, to Sancreed's sycamores and to Drift beyond them. Wild sweeps of fell and field faded on the sight to those dim and remote hues of distance only visible upon days of exceeding aerial brilliancy. Immediately beneath the eminence subtended ragged expanses of rainbow-colored heath and fern and furze spotted with small fir trees which showed blue against the tones of the moor. The heather's pink clearly contrasted with the paler shades of the ling, and an additional silvery twinkle of light inhabited the latter plant, its cause last year's dead white branches and twigs still scattered through the living foliage and flower. Out of a myriad bells that wild world spoke, and the murmur of the heath came as the murmur of a wise voice to the ear on which it fell. There was a soul in the day; it lived, and Joan looked into the eyes of a glorious, conscious entity, herself a little part of the space-filling whole.
Presently, refreshed by brief rest, the pilgrim journeyed on over a road which climbs the moor above deep fox-covers of rhododendron, already mentioned as visible from Madron chapel. The way dipped presently, crossed a rivulet and mounted again past the famous cromlech of Lanyon. But Joan passed the quoit unheeding, and kept upon flint roads through Lanyon farm, where its irregular buildings stretch across the hill-crest. She saw the stacks roped strangely in nets with heavy stones to secure them against winter gales; she observed the various familiar objects of Drift repeated on a greater scale; then, going down hill yet again, Joan struck up the course of another stream and passed steadily over broad, granite-dotted tangles of whin, heather and rank grasses to her destination. Here the heath was blasted and scarred with summer fires. Great patches of the waste had been eaten naked by past flames, and Men-an-tol—the "crick-stone"—past which she progressed, stood with its lesser granite pillars in a dark bed of scorched earth and blackened furze-stems stripped bare by the fire. She stood in a wide, desolate cup of the Cornish moor. To the south Ding-Dong Mine reared its shattered chimney-stack, toward the northwest Carn Galvas—that rock-piled fastness of dead giants—reared a gray head against the blue. A curlew piped; a lizard rustled into a tussock of grass where pink bog-heather and seeding cotton grasses splashed the sodden ground; a dragon-fly from the marsh stayed a moment upon Men-an-tol, and the jewel of his eyes was a little world holding all the colors of the larger.
Joan, keeping her way to where Carn Galvas rose over the next ridge, walked another few hundred yards, crossed a disused road, climbed a stony bank, and then stood in the little croft sacred to Men Scryfa. At the center, above a land almost barren save for stunted heath and wind-beaten fern it rose—a tall stone of rough and irregular shape. The bare black earth, in which shone quartz crystals, stretched at hand in squares. From these raw spaces, peat had been cut, to be subsequently burned for manure; and it stood hard by stacked in a row of beat-burrows or little piles of overlapping pieces, the cut side out. Near the famous old stone itself, surmounting a barrow-like tumulus, grew stunted bracken; and here Joan presently sat down full of happiness in that her pilgrimage had been achieved. The granite pillar of Men Scryfa was crested with that fine yellow-gray lichen which finds life on exposed stones; upon the windward side clung a few atoms of golden growth; and its rude carved inscription straggled down the northern face. The monument rose sheer above black corpses of crooked furze, for fire had swept this region also, adding not a little to the prevailing sobriety of it, and only the elemental splendor of weather and the canopy of blue and gold beneath which spread this desolation rendered it less than mournful. Even under these circumstances imagination, as though rebelling against the conditions of sunshine and summer then maintaining, leaped to picture Men Scryfa under the black screaming of winter storm or rising darkly upon deep snows; casting a transitory shadow over a waste ghastly blue under flashes of lightning, or throbbing to its deep roots when thunder roared over the moor and the levin brand hissed unseen into quag and fen.
The double crown of Carn Galvas fronted Joan as she presently sat with her back resting against the stone; and a medley of the old thoughts rose not unwelcome in her mind. Giant mythology seemed a true thing in sight of these vast regular piles of granite; and the thought of the kind simple monsters who had raised that earn led to musings on the "little people." Her mind brooded over the fairies and their strange ways with young human mothers. She remembered the stories of changelings, and vowed to herself that her own babe should never be out of sight. These reflections found no adverse criticism in faith. The Bible was full of giants; and if no fairies were mentioned therein, she had read nothing aimed against them. Presently she prayed for the coming child. Her soul went with the words; and they were addressed with vagueness as became her vague thoughts, half to Men Scryfa, half to God, all in the name of Christ.
Going home again, after noon, Joan found a glen-ader, [Footnote: Glen-ader—The cast skin of an adder. Once accounted a powerful amulet, and still sometimes secretly preserved by the ignorant, as sailors treasure a caul.] which circumstance is here mentioned to illustrate the conflicting nature of those many forces still active in her mind. That they should have coexisted and not destroyed each other is the point of most peculiarity. But it seemed for a moment as though the girl had intellectually passed at least that form of superstition embraced by coveted possession of a glen-ader; for, upon finding the thing lying extended like a snake's ghost, she hesitated before picking it up. The old tradition, however, sucked in from a credulous parent with much similar folly at a time when the mind accepts impressions most readily, was too strong for Joan. Qualms she had, and some whisper at the bottom of her mind was heard with a clearness sufficient to make her uncomfortable, but reason held a feeble citadel at best in Joan's mind. The whisper died, memory spoke of the notable value which wise men through long past years had placed upon this charm, and in the face of the future it seemed wicked to reject a thing of such proven efficacy. So she picked up the adder's slough, designing to sew it upon a piece of flannel and henceforth wear it against her skin until her baby should be born. But she determined to tell neither Mary nor her uncle, though she did not stop to ask why secrecy thus commended itself to her.
That evening Mary came primed from church-going with grave admonition, Mr. Chirgwin was tearful, and hinted at his own sorrow arising from Joan's backsliding, but Mary did not mince language and spoke what she thought.
"You'm wrong, an' you knaw you'm wrong," she said. "The crosses be very well, an' coorious, butivul things to see 'pon the land tu, but they'm poor food to a body's sawl. They caan't shaw wheer you'm out; they caan't lead 'e right."
"Iss they can, then, an' they do," declared Joan. "The more I bide along wi' 'em the better I feel an' the nearer to God A'mighty, so theer! They'm allus the same, an' they puts thots in my head that's good to think; an' I must go my ways, Polly, same as you go yours."
When night came Joan slept within the mystic circumference of the glen-ader; and that she derived a growing measure of mental satisfaction from its embrace is unquestionable.
"COME TO ME!"
A space of time six weeks in duration may be hastily dismissed as producing no alteration in Joan's method of thought and life. It swept her swiftly through shortening days and the last of the summer weather to the climax of her fortunes. As the season waned she kept nearer home, going not much further than Tremathick Cross on the St. Just road or to that relic already mentioned as lying outside Sancreed churchyard. These, in time, she associated as much with her child as with herself. The baby had now taken its natural place in her mind, and she prayed every day that it might presently forgive her for bringing it into the world at all. Misty-eyed, not unhappy, with her beauty still a startling fact, Joan mused away long hours at the feet of her granite friends through the waning splendors of many an autumn noon. Then, within the brief space of two weeks, a period of weather almost unexampled in the memory of the oldest agriculturists drew to its close.
That mighty rains must surely come all knew, but none foretold their tremendous volume or foresaw the havoc, ruin and destruction to follow upon their outpouring. Meantime, with late September, the leaves began to hustle early to earth under great winds. Rain fell at times, but not heavily at first, and a thirsty world drank open-mouthed through deep sun-cracks in field and moor and dried-up marsh. But bedraggled autumn's robes were soon washed colorless; the heath turned pallid before it faded to sere brown; rotten banks of decaying leaves rose high under the hedges. There was no dry, crisp whirl of gold on the wind, but a sodden condition gradually overspread the land. The earth grew drunken with the later rains and could hold no more. October saw the last of the purple and crimson, the tawny browns and royal yellows. Only beeches, their wet leaves by many shades a darker auburn than is customary, still retained lower foliage. The trees put on their winter shapes unduly early. The world was dark and sweated fungus. Uncouth children of the earth, whose hour is that which sees the leaf fall, sprang into short-lived being. Black goblins and gray, white goblins and brown, spread weird life abroad. With fleshy gills, squat and lean, fat and thin, bursting through the grass in companies and circles, lurking livid, gigantic and alone on the trunks of forest trees, gemming the rotten bough with crimson, twinkling like topaz on the crooked stems of the furze, battening upon death, rising into transitory vigor from the rack and rot of a festering earth, they flourished. Heavy mists now stretched their draperies over the high lands; and exhalations from the corpse of the summer hung bluish under the rain in the valleys. One night a full moon shone clearly, and through the ambient light ominous sheets and splashes of silver glimmered in the low fields. Here they had slowly and silently spread into existence, their birth hidden under the mists, their significance marked by none but anxious farmers. All men hoped that the full moon would bring cessation of this rainfall; but another gray dawn faced them on the morrow and a thousand busy rills murmured and babbled down the lanes round Drift. Here and there unsuspected springs burst their hidden chambers and swept by steep courses over the green grass to join these main waters which now raced through the valley. The light of day was heavy and pressed upon the sight. It acted like a telescope in the intervals of no rain and brought distant objects into strange distinctness. The weather was much too warm even for "Western Cornwall. A few leaves still hung on the crown of the apple trees, and such scanty peach and nectarine foliage as yet remained was green. The red currants flaunted a gold leaf or two and the remaining leaves of the black currant were purple after his fashion. Joan marveled to see sundry of her favorites thrusting forth tokens of spring almost before autumn was ended. Lilac buds swelled to bursting; a peony pushed many pink points upward through the brown ruins of the past; bulbs were growing rapidly; Nature had forgotten winter for once, thought Joan. Thus the sodden, sunless, steaming days followed each on the last until farming folk began to grow grave before a steady increase of water on the land. Much hay stood in danger and some ricks had been already ruined. Many theories were rife, Uncle Chirgwin's being, upon the whole, the most fatuous.
"Tis a thunder-planet," he told his nieces, "an' till us get a rousin' storm o' crooked forks an' heavy thunder this rain'll go on fallin'. But not so much as a flap o' the collybran [Footnote: Collybran—Sheet lightning.] do us get for all the heat o' the air. I should knaw, if any, for I be out turnin' night into day an' markin' the water in the valley every evenin' long after dark now. I'm fearin' graave for the big stack; an' theer's three paarts o' last year's hay beside, an' two tidy lil mows of the aftermath. So sure's the waters do rise another foot and a half, 'tis 'good-by' to the whole boilin'. Not but 'twill be a miracle for the stream to get much higher. The moor's burstin' wi' rain, but the coffins [Footnote: Coffins—Ancient mining excavations.] do hold it up, I s'pose, an' keep it aloft. A penn'orth o' frost now would save a pound of produce from wan end o' Carnwall to t'other."
Joan spent many long days in the house at this time and practiced an unskillful needle, while her thoughts wandered far and near through the sullen weather to this old cross and that. Then came a night of rainless darkness through which past augmentations of water still thundered. Nature rested for some hours before her final, shattering deluge, but the brief peace was more tremendous than rain or wind, for a mighty foreboding permeated it, and all men felt the end was not yet, though none could say why they feared the silence more than storm.
It happened upon this black night that Joan was alone in the kitchen. Supper had been but a scrambling meal and her uncle with Amos Bartlett and all the men on the farm were now somewhere in the valley under the darkness fighting for the hay with rising water. Where Mary was just then, Joan did not know. Her thoughts were occupied with her own affairs, and in the oppressive silence she sat watching some little moving threadlike concerns which hung in a row through a crack below the mantelpiece above the open fire. They were the tails of mice which often here congregated nigh the warmth and sat in a row, themselves invisible. The tails moved, and Joan noted some shorter tails beside long ones, telling of infant vermin at their mothers' sides. In the silence she could hear the squeaking of them, and now and then she talked to them very softly.
"Thank God, you lil mice, as you abbun got no brains in your heads an' no call to look far in the future. I lay you'm happier than us, wi' nort to fear 'bout 'cept crumbs an' a lew snug spot to live in."
Thus she stumbled on the lowest note of pessimism: that conscious intelligence is a supreme mistake. But the significance of her idea she knew not.
Then Joan rose up, shivered with a sudden sense of chill, stamped her feet, and caused the row of tails below the mantel to vanish.
"Goose-flaish down the spine do mean as theer's feet walkin' 'pon my graave, I s'pose," she thought, as a heavy knock at the front door interrupted her reflections. Hastening to open it, Joan found the postman—a rare visitor at Drift. He handed her a letter and prepared to depart immediately.
"I'm grievous afeared o' Buryas Bridge tonight," he said; "when I comed over, two hour back, the water was above the arches, an', so like's not, I won't get 'cross 'tall if it's riz higher. An' somethin' cruel's comin', I'll lay my life, 'fore marnin'. This pitch-black silence be worse than the noise o' the rain."
He vanished down the hill, and, returning to the kitchen, Joan lighted a candle and examined the letter. A fit of trembling shook the girl to the hidden seat of her soul as she did so, for her own name greeted her, in neat printed letters akin to those on the superscription of another letter she had received in the past. From John Barron it was that this communication came, and the reception of it begot a wild chaos of mind which now carried Joan headlong backward. Images swept through her brain with the bewildering rapidity and brilliance of lightning flashes; she was whirled and tossed on a flood of thoughts; a single sad-eyed figure retained permanency and rose clear and separated itself from the phantasmagorial procession of personages and events wending through her mind, dissolving each into the other, stretching the circumstances of eight short months into an eternity, crowding the solemn aisles of time past with shadows of those emotions which had reigned over the dead spring time of the year and were themselves long dead. Thus she stood for a space of vast apparent duration, but in reality most brief. That trifling standpoint in time needed for a dream or for the brain-picture of his past which dominates the mind of the drowning was all that had sped with Joan. Then, shaking herself clear of thought, she found her candle, which burned dim when first lighted, was only now melting the wax and rising to its full flame. A mist of damp had long hung on the inner walls of the kitchen at Drift, begotten not of faulty building but by the peculiar condition of the atmosphere; and as the candle flickered up in a chamber dark save for its light and the subdued glow of a low fire, Joan noticed how the gathering moisture on the walls had coalesced, run into drops and fallen, streaking the misty gray with bright bars and networks, silvery' as the slime of snails.
With shaking hand, she set the candle upon a table, dropped into a chair beside it and opened her letter. For a moment the page with its large printed characters danced before her eyes, then they steadied and she was able to read. Like a message from one long dead came the words; and in truth, though the writer lived, he wrote upon the threshold of the grave. John Barren had put into force his project, which was, as may be remembered, to write to Joan when the end of his journey came in sight. The words were carefully chosen, for he remembered her sympathy with suffering and her extensive ignorance. He wrote in simple language, therefore, and dwelt on his own helpless condition, exaggerating it to some extent.
"No. 6 Melbury Gardens, London.
"My own dear love—What can I say to make you know what has kept me away from you? There is but one word and that is my poor sick and suffering body. I wrote to you and tore up what I wrote, for I loved you too much to ask you to come and share my sad life. It was very, very awful to be away and know you were waiting and waiting for Jan; yet I could not come, because Mother Nature was so hard. Then I went far away and hoped you had forgotten me. Doctors made me go to a place over the sea where tall palm trees grew up out of a dry yellow desert; but my poor lungs were too sick to get well again and I came home to die. Yes, sweetheart, you will forgive me for all when you know poor lonely Jan will soon be gone. He cannot live much longer, and he is so weak now that he has no more power to fight against the love of Joan.
"For your own good, dear one, I made myself keep away and hid myself from you. Now the little life left to me cries out by night and by day for you. Joan, my own true love, I cannot die until I have seen you again. Come to me, Joan, love, if you do not hate me. Come to me; come; and close my eyes and let poor Jan have the one face that he loves quite near him at the end. Even your picture has gone, for they came when I was away and took it and put it in a place with many others for people to see. And all men and women say it is the best picture. I shall be dead before they send it back to me. So now I have nothing but the thoughts of my Joan. Oh, come to me, my love, if you can. It will not be for long, and when Jan lies under the ground all that he has is yours. I have fought so hard to keep from you and from praying you to come to me, but I can fight no more. My home is named at the top of this letter. You have but to enter the train for London and stop in it until it gets to the end of its journey. My servant shall wait each day for your coming. I can write no more, I can only pray to the God we both love to bring you to me. And if you come or do not I shall have the same great true love for you. I will die alone rather than trouble you to come if you have forgotten me and not forgiven me for keeping silence. God bless you, my only love. JAN."
This feeble stuff rang like a clarion on the ear of the reader, for he who had written it knew how best to strike, how best to appeal with overwhelming force to Joan Tregenza. Her mind plunged straight into the struggle and the billows of the storm, sweeping aside lesser obstructions, were soon beating against the new-built ramparts of faith. The rush of thought which had coursed through her brains before reading the letter now made the task of deciding upon it easier. Indeed it can hardly be said that any real doubt from first to last assailed Joan's decision. Faith did not crumble, but, at a second glance, appeared to her wholly compatible with obedience to this demand. There was an electric force in every word of the letter. It proved Mister Jan's wondrous nobility of character, his unselfishness, his love. He had suffered, too, had longed eternally for her, had denied himself out of consideration for her future happiness, had struggled with his love, and only broken down and given way to it in the shadow of death. Grief shook Joan upon this thought, but joy was uppermost. The long months of weary suffering faded from her recollection as nocturnal mists vanish at the touch of the sun's first fire. She had no power to analyze the position or reflect upon the various courses of action the man might have taken to spare her so much agony. She accepted his bald utterance word for word, as he knew she would. Every inclination and desire swept her toward him now. His cry of suffering, his love, his loneliness, her duty, as it stood blazoned upon her mind ten minutes after reading his letter; the child to be born within two months—all these considerations united to establish Joan's mind at this juncture. "Come to me!" Those were the words echoing within her heart, and her soul cried upon Christ to shorten time that she might reach him the sooner. Before the world was next awake, she would be upon her way; before another night fell, Mister Jan's arms would be round her. The long, dreary nightmare had ended for her at last. Then came tears of bitter remorse, for she saw how his love had never left her, how he had been true as steel, while she, misled by appearances, had lost faith and lapsed into forgetfulness. A wild, unreasoning yearning superior to time and space and the service of railways got hold upon her. "Come to me," "Come to me," sounded in Joan's ears in the live voice she had loved and lost and found again. An hour's delay, a minute's, a moment's seemed a crime. Yet delay there must be, but the tension and terrific excitement of her whole being at this period demanded some immediate outlet in action. She wanted to talk to Uncle Chirgwin, and she desired instant information upon the subject of her journey. First she thought of seeking the farmer in the valley; then it struck her, the hour being not later than eight o'clock, that by going into Penzance she might learn at what time the morning train departed to London.
Out of doors it was inky black, very silent, very oppressive. Joan called Mary twice before departing, but received no answer. Indeed the house was empty, though she did not know it. Finally, thrusting the letter into her bosom, taking her hat and cloak from a nail in the kitchen and putting on a pair of walking shoes, the girl went abroad. Her present medley of thoughts begot a state of exceeding nervous excitation. For the letter touched the two poles of extreme happiness and utmost possible sorrow. "Mister Jan" was calling her to him indeed, but only calling her that she might see him die. Careless of her steps, soothed unconsciously by rapid motion, she walked from the farm, her mind full of joy and grief; and the night, silent no longer for her, was full of a voice crying "Come to me, Joan, love, come!"
In the coomb beneath Drift, flashing as though red-hot from a theater of Cimmerian blackness, certain figures, flame-lighted, flickered hurriedly this way and that about a dark and monstrous pile which rose in their midst. From the adjacent hill, superstitious watchers might have supposed that they beheld some demoniac throng newly burst oat of the bowels of earth and to be presently re-engulfed; but seen nearer, the toiling creatures, fighting with all their hearts and souls to save a haystack from flood, had merely excited human interest and commiseration. Farmer Chirgwin and his men were girt as to the legs in old-fashioned hay-bands; some held torches while others toiled with ropes to anchor the giant rick against the gathering waters. There was no immediate fear, for the pile still stood a clear foot above the stream on a gentle undulation distant nearly two yards from the present boundary of the swollen river. But, on the landward side, another danger threatened, because in that quarter the meadow sank in a slight hollow which had now changed to a lake fed by a brisk rivulet from the main river. The great rick thus stood almost insulated, and much further uprising of the flood would place it in a position not to be approached by man without danger. Above the stack, distant about five-and-twenty yards, stood a couple of stout pollarded willows, and by these Uncle Chirgwin had decided to moor his hay, trusting that they might hold the great mass of it secure even though the threatened flood swept away its foundations. Nine figures worked amain, and to them approached a tenth, appearing from the darkness, skirting the lake and splashing through the streamlet which fed it. Mary Chirgwin it was who now arrived—a grotesque figure with her gown and petticoats fastened high and wearing on her legs a pair of her uncle's leather gaiters. Mary had been up to the farm for more rope, but the clothesline was all that she could find, and this she now returned with. Already three ropes had been passed round the rick and made fast to the willows, but none among them was of great stoutness, nor had they been tied at an elevation best calculated to resist a possible strain. Amos Bartlett took the line from Mary and set to work with many assistants; while the farmer himself, waving a torch and stumping hither and thither, now directed Bartlett, now encouraged two men who worked with all their might at the cutting of a trench from the lake in order that this dangerous body of water might be drained back to the main stream. The flame-light danced in many a flash and splash over the smooth surface of the face of the inland pond. Indeed it reflected like a glass at present, for no wind fretted it, neither did a drop of rain fall. Intense, watchful silence held that hour. The squash of men's feet in the mud, the soft swirl of the water, the cry of voices alone disturbed the night.
"God be praised! I do think 'tis 'bating," cried the farmer presently. He ran every few minutes to the water and examined a stake hammered into it a foot from the edge. It seemed, as far as might be judged by such fitful light and rough measurement, that the river had sunk an inch or two, but it was running in undulations, and what its muddy mass had lost in volume was gained in speed. The water chattered and hissed; and Amos Bartlett, who next made a survey, declared that the flood had by no means waned, but rather risen. Then, the last ropes being disposed to the best advantage, all joined the laborers who were digging. Twenty minutes later, however, and before the trench was more than three parts finished, there came a tremendous change. Turning hastily to the river, Bartlett uttered a shout of alarm and called for light. He had approached the telltale stake, and suddenly, before he reached it, found his feet in the water. The river was rising with fierce rapidity at last, and five minutes later began to lick at the edge of the hay-rick, and churn along with a strange hidden force and devil in it. The pace increased with the volume, and told of some prodigious outburst on the moor. The uncanny silence of the swelling water as it slipped downward was a curious feature of it in this phase. Chirgwin and his men huddled together at the side of the rick; then Bartlett held up his hand and spoke.
"Hark 'e all! 'Tis comin' now, by God!"
They kept silence and listened with straining ears and frightened eyes, fire-rimmed by the flickering torchlight. A sound came from afar—a sound not unmelodious but singular beyond power of language to express—a whisper of sinister significance to him who knew its meaning, of sheer mystery to all others. A murmur filled the air, a murmur of undefined noises still far distant. They might have been human, they might have arisen from the flight and terror of beasts, from the movement of vast bodies, from the reverberations of remote music; Earth or Heaven might have bred them, or the upper chambers of the air midway between. They spoke of terrific energies, of outpourings of force, of elemental chaos come again, of a crown of unimagined horror set upon the night.
All listened fearfully while the solemn cadences crept on their ears, fascinated them like a siren song, wakened wild dread of tribulations and terrors unknown till now. It was indeed a sound but seldom heard and wholly unfamiliar to those beside the stack save one.
"'Tis the callin' o' the cleeves," said Uncle Chirgwin.
"Nay, man, 'tis a live, ragin' storm comed off the sea an' tearin' ower the airth like a legion out o' hell! 'Tis the floodgates o' God opened you'm hearin'! Ay, an' the four winds at each other's throats, an' a outburst o' all the springs 'pon the hills! 'Tis death and ruin for the whole country-side as be yelling up-long now. An' 'tis comin' faster'n thot."
As Bartlett spoke, the voice of the tempest grew rapidly nearer, all mystery faded out of it and its murmuring changed to a hoarse rattle. Thunder growled a bass to the shriek of coming winds and a flash of distant lightning bridged the head of the coomb with a crooked snake of fire.
"Us'd best to get 'pon high land out o' this," shouted Bartlett. "All as men can do us have done. The hay's in the hand o' Providence, but I wouldn't be perched on top o' that stack not for diamonds all the same."
A cry cut him short. Mary had turned and found the way to higher ground already cut off. The lake was rising under their eyes, and that in spite of the fact that the waters had already reached the trench cut for them, and now tumbled in a torrent back to the parent stream. Escape in this direction was clearly impossible. It only remained to wade through the head of the lake, and that without a moment's delay. Mary herself, holding a torch, went first through water above her knees and the men hastily followed, Uncle Chirgwin coming last and being nearly carried off his short legs as he turned to view the rick. Once through the water, all were in safety, for the meadow sloped steeply upward. An increasing play of lightning made the torches useless, and they were dropped, while the party pressed close beneath an overhanging hedge which ran along the upper boundary of the meadow. From this vantage-ground they beheld a spectacle unexampled in the memory of any among them.
Screaming like some incarnate and mad manifestation of all the elements massed in one, the hurricane launched itself upon that valley. As a wall the wind heralded the water, while forked lightnings, flaming above both, tore the black darkness into jagged rags and lighted a chaos of yellow foaming torrent which battled with livid front straight down the heart of the coomb. The swollen river was lost in the torrent of it; and the hiss of the rain was drowned by its sound.
So Nature's full, hollowed hand ran over lightning-lighted to the organ music of the thunder; but for these horror-stricken watchers the majestic phenomena sweeping before them held no splendor and prompted no admiration. They only saw ruin tearing at the roots of the land; they only imagined drowned beasts floating before them belly upward, scattered hay hurried to the sea, wasted crops, a million tons of precious soil torn off the fields, orchards desolated, bridges and roads destroyed. For them misery stared out of the lightning and starvation rode upon the flood. The roar of water answering the thunder above it was to their ears Earth groaning against the rod, and right well they knew that the pale torrent was drowning those summer labors which represented money and food for the on-coming of the long winter months. They stared, silent and dumb, under the ram; they knew that the kernel of near a year's toil was riding away upon the livid torrent; that the higher meadows, held absolutely safe, were half under water now; that the flood tumbling under the blue fire most surely held sheep and cattle in its depths; that tons of upland hay swam upon it; that, like enough, dead men also turned and twisted there in a last mad journey to the sea.
A passing belief that their labors might save the stack sprung up in the breast of one alone. Uncle Chirgwin trusted Providence and his hempen ropes and clothesline; but it was a childish hope, and, gazing open-mouthed upon that swelling, hurtling cataract of roaring water, none shared it. An almost continuous mist of livid light crossed and recrossed, festooned and cut by its own crinkled sources, revealed the progress of the flood, and, heedless of themselves, Uncle Chirgwin and his men watched the fate of the stack, now rising very pale of hue above the water, seen through shining curtains of rain. First the torrent tumbled and rose about it, and then a sudden tremor and turning of the mass told that the rick floated. As it twisted the weak ropes, receiving the strain in turn, snapped one after another; then the great stack moved solemnly forward, stuck fast, moved again, lost its center of gravity and foundered like a ship. Under the lightning they saw it heave upward upon one side, plunge forward against the torrent which had swept its base from beneath it, and vanish. The farmer heaved a bitter groan.
"Dear God, that sich things can be in a Christian land," he cried. "All gone, this year, an' last, an' the aftermath; an' Lard He knaws what be doin' in the valley bottom. I wish the light may strike me dead wheer I stand, for I be a blot afore Him, else I'd never be made to suffer like this here. Awnly if any man among 'e will up an' tell me what I've done I'll thank en."
"'Tis the land as have sinned, not you," said Mary. "This reaches more'n us o' Drift. Come your ways an' get out o' these clothes, else you'll catch your death. Come to the house, all of 'e," she cried to the rest. "Theer ban't no more for us to do till marnin' light."
"If ever it do come," groaned the man Bartlett. "So like's not the end o' the world be here; an' I'd be fust to hollo it, awnly theer's more water than fire here when all's said, an' the airth's to be burned, not drowned."
"Let a come when a will now," gasped an aged man as the drenched party moved slowly away upward to the farm; "our ears be tuned to the trump o' God, for nort—no, not the screech o' horns blawed by all the angels in heaven—could sound awfuler than the tantarra o' this gert tempest. I, Gaffer Polglaze, be the auldest piece up Drift, but I never heard tell o' no sich noise, let alone havin' my awn ears flattened wi' it."
They climbed the steep lane to the farm, and the wind began to drown the more distant roar of the water. Rain fell more heavily than before, and the full heart of the storm crashed and flamed over their heads as Drift was reached.
Dawn trembled out upon a tremendous chapter of disasters, still fresh in the memory of many who witnessed it. A gray, sullen morning, with sky-glimpses of blue, hastily shown and greedily hidden, broke over Western Cornwall and uncovered the handiwork of a flood more savage in its fury and far-reaching in its effects than man's memory could parallel—a flood which already shrunk fast backward from its own havoc. To describe a single one of those valleys through which small rivers usually ran to the sea is to describe them all. Thus the torrent which raved down the coomb beneath Drift, and carried Uncle Chirgwin's massive hayrick with it like a child's toy-boat, had also uprooted acres of gooseberry bushes and raspberry canes, torn apple trees from the ground, laid waste extensive tracts of ripe produce and carried ripening roots by thousands into the sea. Beneath the orchards, as the flood subsided, there appeared great tracts of nakedness where banks of stone had been torn out of the land and scattered upon it; dead beasts stuck jammed in the low forks of trees; swine, sheep and calves appeared, cast up in fantastic places, strangled by the water; sandy wastes, stripped of every living leaf and blade, ran like banks where no banks formerly existed, and here and there from their midst stuck out naked boughs of upturned trees, fragments of man's contrivances, or the legs of dead beasts. Looking up the coomb, desolation was writ large and the utmost margins of the flood clearly recorded on branch and bough, where rubbish which had floated to the fringe of the flood was caught and hung aloft. Below, as the waters gained volume and force, Buryas Bridge, an ancient structure of three arches beneath which the trout-stream peacefully babbled under ordinary conditions, was swept headlong away and the houses hard by flooded; while the greatest desolation had fallen on those orchards lying lowest in the valley. Indeed the nearer the flood approached Newlyn the more tremendous had been the ravage wrought by it. The orchards of Talcarne valley were ruined as though artillery had swept them, and of the lesser crops scarce any at all remained. Then, bursting down Street-an-nowan, as that lane is called, the waters running high where their courses narrowed, swamped sundry cottages and leaped like a wolf on the low-lying portion of Newlyn. Here it burst through the alleys and narrow passages, drowned the basements of many tenements, isolated cottages, stores and granaries, threatened nearly a hundred lives startled from sleep by its sudden assault. Then, under the raging weather and in that babel of angry waters, brave deeds were done by the fisher folk, who chanced to be ashore. Grave personal risks were hazarded by many a man in that turbid flood, and not a few women and children were rescued with utmost danger to their saviors' lives. Yet the petty rivalry of split and riven creeds actuated not a few even at that time of peril, and while life was allowed sacred and no man turned a deaf ear to the cry of woman or child, with property the case was altered and sects lifted not a finger each to help the other in the saving of furniture and effects.