Newlyn furnished but one theater of a desolation which covered wide regions. At Penzance, the Laregan River flooded all the lowlands as it swept with prodigious cataracts to the sea; mighty lakes stretched between Penzance and Gulval; the brooklets of Ponsandine and Coombe, swollen to torrents, bore crushing destruction upon the valleys through which they fell. Bleu Bridge with its ancient inscribed "long stone" was swept into the bed of the Ponsandine, and here, as in other low-lying lands, many tons of hay were torn from their foundations and set adrift. At Churchtown the rainfall precipitated off the slopes of Castle-an-dinas begot vast torrents which, upon their roaring way, tore the very heart out of steep and stony lanes, flooded farmyards, plowed up miles of hillside, leaped the wall of the cemetery below and spread twining yellow fingers among the graves.
Three hundred tons of rain fell to the acre in the immediate tract of that terrific storm, and the world of misery, loss and suffering poured forth on the humble dwellers of the land only came to be estimated in its bitter magnitude during the course of the winter which followed.
Ashore it was not immediately known whether any loss of human life had added crowning horror to the catastrophe, but evil news came quickly off the sea. Mourning fell upon Mousehole for the crews of two among its fisher fleet who were lost that night upon the way toward Plymouth waters to join the herring fishery; and Newlyn heard the wail of a robbed mother.
At Drift the farmhouse was found to hold a mystery soon after the day had broken. Joan Tregenza, whose condition rendered it impossible for her to actively assist at the struggle in the coomb, did not retire early on the previous night, as her family supposed, and Mary, entering her room at breakfast-time, found it empty. There was no sign of the girl and no indication of anything which could explain her absence.
OUT OF THE DEEP
At the dawn of the day which followed upon the great storm, while yet the sea ran high and the gale died hard, many tumbling luggers, some maimed, began to dot the wind-torn waters of Mounts Bay. The tide was out, but within the shelter of the shore which rose between Newlyn and the course of the wind, the returning boats found safety at their accustomed anchorage; and as one by one they made the little roads, as boat after boat came ashore from the fleet, tears, hysteric screams and deep-voiced thanks to the Almighty arose from the crowd of men and women massed at the extremity of Newlyn pier beneath the lighthouse. Cheers and many a shake of hand greeted every party as, weary-eyed and worn, it landed and climbed the slippery steps. From such moments even those still in the shadow of terrible fear plucked a little courage and brightened hopes. Then each of the returned fishermen, with his own clinging to him, set face homeward—a rejoicing stream of little separate processions, every one heralding a saved life. There crept thus inland wives smiling through the mist of dead tears, old mothers hobbling beside their bearded sons, young mothers pouring blessing on proud sailor boys, sweethearts, withered ancients, daughters, sons, little children. Sad beyond power of thought were the hearts of all as they had hastened to the pierhead at early morning light; now the sorrowful still remained there, but those who came away rejoiced, for none returned without their treasures.
Thomasin stood with many another care-stricken soul, but her fears grew greater as the delay increased; for the Tregenza lugger was big and fast, yet many boats of less fame had already come home. All the fishermen told the same story. Bursting out of an ominous peace the storm had fallen suddenly upon them when westward of the Scilly Islands. One or two were believed to have made neighboring ports in the isles, but the fleet was driven before the gale and had experienced those grave hazards reserved for small vessels in a heavy sea. That all had weathered the night seemed a circumstance too happy to hope for, but Newlyn hearts rose high as boat after boat came back in safety. Then a dozen men hastened to Mrs. Tregenza with the good news that her husband's vessel was in sight.
"She've lost her mizzen by the looks on it," said a fisherman, "an' that's more'n good reason for her bein' 'mong the last to make home."
But Thomasin's hysterical joy was cut short by the most unexpected appearance of Mary Chirgwin on the pier. She had visited the white cottage to find it locked up and empty; she had then joined the concourse at the pierhead, feeling certain that the Tregenza boat must still be at sea; and she now added her congratulations to the rest, then told Mrs. Tregenza her news.
"I be comed to knaw if you've heard or seen anything o' Joan. 'Tis 'mazin' straange, but her've gone, like a dream, an' us caan't find a sign of her. What wi' she an' terrible doin's 'pon the land last night, uncle's 'bout beside hisself. Us left her in the kitchen, an' when we comed back from tryin' to save the hay she was nowheer. Of coorse, us thot she'd gone to her bed. But she weern't, an' this mornin' we doan't see a atom of her, but finds a envelope empty 'pon the kitchen floor. 'Twas addressed to Joan an' comed from Lunnon."
"Aw jimmery! She've gone to en arter all, then—an' in her state."
"The floods was out, you see. Her might have marched off to Penzance to larn 'bout the manner o' gwaine to Lunnon an' bin stopped in home-comin'; or her might have slept in Penzance to catch a early train away."
"Iss, or her might a got in the water, poor lamb," said Thomasin, who never left the dark side of a position unconsidered. Mary's face showed that the same idea had struck her.
"God grant 'tedn' nothin' like that, though maybe 'twould be better than t'other. Us caan't say she've run away, but I thot I'd tell 'e how things is so's you could spread it abroad that she'm lost. Maybe us'll hear somethin' 'fore the day's much aulder. I be gwaine to Penzance now an' I'll let 'e knaw if theer's anything to tell. Good-by, an' I be right glad all's well wi' your husband, though I don't hold wi' his 'pinions."
But Mrs. Tregenza did not answer. Her eyes were fixed on the lugger which had now got to its anchorage and looked strange and unnatural shorn of its lesser mast. She saw the moorings dragged up; and a few minutes later the boat, which had rolled and tumbled at them all night, was baled. Thereupon men took their seats in her and began to row toward the harbor. It seemed that Gray Michael was steering, and his crew clearly pulled very weak and short, for their strength was spent.
Then, as they came between the arms of the harbor, as they shipped oars and glided to the steps, Tregenza's hybrid yellow dog, who accompanied the fisherman in all his goings, jumped ashore barking and galloped up the slippery steps with joy; while, at the same moment, a woman's sharp cry cut the air like a knife and two wild eyes looked down into the boat.
"Wheer'm the bwoy, Michael? Oh, my good God, wheer'm Tom?"
Everybody strained silently to hear the answer, but though the fisherman looked up, he made no reply. The boat steadied and one after another the men in her went ashore, Tregenza mounting the steps last. His wife broke the silence. Only a murmur of thankfulness had greeted the other men, for their faces showed a tragedy. They regarded their leader fearfully, and there was something more than death in their eyes.
"Wheer'm the bwoy—Tom? For the love of God, speak, caan't 'e? Why be you all dumb an' glazin' that awful!" cried the woman, knowing the truth before she heard it. Then she listened to the elder Pritchard, who whispered his wife, and so fell into a great convulsion of raving, dry-eyed sorrow.
"Oh, my bwoy! Drownded—my awn lil precious Tom! God a mercy! Dead! Then let me die tu!"
She gave vent to extravagant and savage grief after the manner of her kind. She would have torn her hair and thrown herself off the quay but for kindly hands which restrained.
"God rot you, an' blast you, an' burn you up!" she screamed, shaking her fists at the sea. "I knawed this would be the end. I dreamed it 'fore 'e was born. Doan't 'e hold me back, you poor fools. Let me gaw an' bury myself in the same graave along wi' en. My Tom, my Tom! I awnly had but wan—awnly wan, an' now—"
She wailed and wrung her hands, while rough voices filled her ears with such comfort as words could bring to her.
"Rest easy, bide at peace, dear sawl." "'Tis the Lard's doin', mother; an' the lil bwoy's better off now." "Take it calm, my poor good creature." "Try an' bring tears to your eyes, theer's a dear wummon."
Tears finally came to her relief, and she wept and moaned while friends supported her, looking with wonder upon Michael, her husband. He stood aloof with the men about him. But never a word he spoke to his wife or any other. His eyes dilated and had lost their steady forward glance, though a mad misery lighted them with flashes that came and went; his face was a very burrow of time, seared and trenched with pits and wrinkles. His hat was gone, his hair blew wild, the strong set of his mouth had vanished; his head, usually held so high, hung forward on a shrunken neck.
The brothers Pritchard told their story as a party conducted Thomasin back to her home. For the moment Gray Michael stood irresolute and alone, save for his dog, which ran round him.
"Us was tackin' when it fust began to blaw, an' all bustlin' 'bout in the dark, when the mainsail went lerrickin' 'cross an' knocked the poor dam bwoy owerboard into as ugly a rage o' water as ever I seed. Tom had his sea-boots on, an' every sawl 'pon the bwoat knawed 'twas all up as soon as we lost en. We shawed a light an' tumbled 'bout for quarter o' an hour wi' the weather gettin' wicked. Then comed a scat as mighty near thrawed us 'pon our beam-ends, an' took the mizzen 'long wi' it. 'Tis terrible bad luck, sure 'nough, for never a tidier bwoy went feeshin'; but theer's worse to tell 'e. Look at that gert, good man, Tregenza. Oh, my God, my blood do creem when I think on't!"
The man stopped and his brother took up the story.
"'Twas arterwards, when us had weathered the worst an' was tryin' to fetch home, Michael failed forward on's faace arter the bwoy was drownded; an' us had to do all for the bwoat wi'out en. But he comed to bimebye an' didn't take on much, awnly kept so dumb as a adder. Not a word did er say till marnin' light; then a 'orrible thing fell 'pon en. You knaw that yaller dog as sails wi' us most times? He turned 'pon en sudden an' sez: 'Praise God, praise the Lard o' Hosts, my sons, here's Tom, here's my lad as us thot weer drownded!' Then he kissed that beast, an' it licked his faace, an' he cried—that iron sawl cried like a wummon! Then he thundered out as the crew was to give God the praise, an' said the man as weern't on's knees in a twinklin' should be thrawed out the bwoat to Jonah's whale. God's truth! I never seed nothin' so awful as skipper's eyes 'pon airth! Then er calmed down, an' the back of en grawed humpetty an' his head failed a bit forrard an' he sat strokin' of the dog. Arter that, when us seed Newlyn, it 'peared to bring en to his senses a bit, an' he knawed Tom was drownded. He rambled in his speech a while; then went mute again, wi' a new look in his eyes as though he'd grawed so auld as history in a single night. Theer he do stand bedoled wi' all manner o' airthly sufferin', poor creature. Him wi' all his righteousness behind en tu! But the thinkin' paarts of en be drownded wheer his bwoy was, an' I lay theer ban't no druggister, nor doctor neither, as'll bring 'em back to en."
"Look at that now!" exclaimed another man. "See who's a talkin' to Tregenza! If that ban't terrible coorious! 'Tis Billy Jago, the softy!"
Billy was indeed addressing Gray Michael and getting an answer to his remarks. The laborer's brains might be addled, but they still contained sane patches. He had heard of the fisherman's loss and now touched his hat and expressed regret.
"Ay, the young be snatched, same as a build-in' craw will pick sprigs o' green wood for her nest an' leave the dead twig to rot. Here I be, rotten an' coffin-ripe any time this two year, yet I'm passed awver for that braave young youth. An' how is it wi' you, Mr. Tregenza? I s'pose the Lard do look to His awn in such a pass?"
Gray Michael regarded the speaker a moment and then made answer.
"I be that sleepy, my son, an' hungry wi' it. Iss fay, I could eat a bloody raw dog-fish an' think it no sin. See to this, but doan't say nothin' 'bout it. The bwoat went down wi' all hands, but us flinged a bottle to Bucca for en to wash ashore wi' the news. But it never comed, for why? 'Cause that damnation devil bringed the bottle 'gainst granite rocks, an' the message was washed away for mermaids to read an' laugh at; an' the grass-green splinters o' glass as held the last cry o' drownin' men—why, lil childern plays wi' 'em now 'pon the sand. 'Sing to the Lard, ye that gaw down to the sea.' An' I'll sing—trust me for that, but I must eat fust. I speaks to you, Billy, 'cause you be wan o' God's chosen fools."
He stopped abruptly, pressed his hand over his forehead, said something about breaking the news to his wife, and then walked slowly down the quay. The manner of his locomotion had wholly changed, and he moved like one whose life was a failure.
Meantime Jago, full of the great discovery, hastened to the Pritchards and other men who were now following Gray Michael at a distance. Them be told that the fisherman had taken leave of his senses, that he had actually called Billy himself one of God's chosen fools.
Several more boats had come in, and as it was certainly known that some had taken refuge at Scilly, those vitally interested in the few remaining vessels withdrew from the quay comforting each other and putting a hopeful face on the position. Gray Michael followed his wife home. As yet she had not learned of his state; but, although his conduct on returning was somewhat singular, no word which fell now from him spoke clearly of a disordered mind. He clamored first for food, and, while he ate, gave a clear if callous account of his son's death and the lugger's danger. Having eaten, he went to his bedroom, dragged off his boots, flung himself down and was soon sleeping heavily; while Thomasin, marveling at his stolidity and resenting it not a little, gave way to utter grief. During an interval between storms of tears the woman put on a black gown, then went to her work. The day had now advanced. On seeing her again downstairs, two or three friends, including the Pritchards, entered the house and asked anxiously after Michael, without, however, stating the nature of their fears. She answered querulously that the man was asleep and showed no more sorrow than a brute beast. She was very red-eyed and bedraggled. Every utterance was an excuse for a fresh outburst of weeping, her breast heaved, her hands moved spasmodically, her nerves were at extreme tension and she could not stay long in one place. Seeing that she was nearly lightheaded with much grief, and hoping that her husband's disorder would vanish after his slumber was ended, her friends forbore to hint at what had happened to him. They comforted her to the best of their power; then, knowing that long hours of bitter sorrow must surely pass over the mother's head before such grief could grow less, departed one by one, leaving her at last alone. She moved restlessly about from room to room, carrying in one hand a photograph of Tom, in the other a handkerchief. Now and then she sat down, looked at the picture and wept anew. She tried to eat some supper presently but could not. It is seldom a sudden loss strikes home so speedily as had her tribulation sunk into Thomasin Tregenza's soul. She drank some brandy and water which a friend had poured out for her and left standing on the mantel—shelf. Then she went up to bed—a stricken ruin of the woman who had risen from it in the morning. Her husband still slept, and Thomasin, her grief being of a nature which required spectators for its fullest and most soothing expression, felt irritated alike with him and with those friends who had all departed, and, from the best motives, left her thus. She flung herself into bed and anger obscured her misery—anger with her husband. His heavy breathing worked her to a frenzy at last, and she sat up, took him by the shoulder and tried to shake him.
"Wake up, for God's sake, an' speak to me, caan't 'e? You eat an' drink an' sleep like a gert hog—you new—come from your awnly son's drownin'! Oh, Christ, caan't 'e think o' me, as have lived a hunderd cruel years since you went to sleep? Ain't you got a word for me? An' you, as had your sawl centered 'pon en—how comes it you can—"
She stopped abruptly, for he lay motionless and made no sort of response to her shrill complaining. She had yet to learn the cause; she had yet to know that Michael had drifted beyond the reach of all further mental suffering whatsoever. No religious anxieties, no mundane trials, none of the million lesser carking troubles that fret the sane brain and stamp care on the face of conscious intelligence would plague him more. Henceforth he was dead to the changes and chances of human life.
At midnight there came the awful waking. Thomasin slept at last and slumbered dream-tossed in a shadow-world of fantastic troubles. Then a sound roused her—the sound of a voice speaking loudly, breaking off to laugh, and speaking again. The voice she knew, but the laugh she had never heard. She started up and listened. It was her husband who had wakened her.
"How do it go then? Lard! my memory be like a fishin' net, as holds the gert things an' lets the little 'uns creep through. 'Twas a braave song as faither singed, though maybe for God fearers it ban't a likely song."
Then the bed trembled and the man reared up violently and roared out an order in such words as he had never used till then.
"Port! Port your God-damned helm if you don't want 'em to sink us."
Thomasin, of whose presence her husband appeared unconscious, crept trembling from the bed. Then his voice changed and he whispered:
"Port, my son, 'cause of that 'pon the waters. Caan't 'e see—they bubbles a glimmerin' on the foam? That's the last life of my lil Tom; an' the foam-wreath's put theer by God's awn right hand. He'm saved, if 'twasn't that down at the bottom o' the sea a man be twenty fathom nearer hell than them as lies in graaves ashore. But let en wait for the last trump as'll rip the deep oceans. An' the feesh—damn 'em—if I thot they'd nose Tom, by God I'd catch every feesh as ever swum. But shall feesh be 'lowed to eat what's had a everlasting sawl in it? God forbid. He'm theer, I doubt, wi' seaweed round en an' sea-maids a cryin' awver his lil white faace an' keepin' the crabs away. Hell take crabs—they'd a ate Christ 'isself if so be He'd falled in the water. Pearls—pearls—pearls is on Tom, an' the sea creatures gives what they can, 'cause they knaw as he'd a grawed to be a man an' theer master. God bless 'em, they gives the best they can, 'cause they knawed how us loved en. 'The awnly son o' his mother.' Well, well, sleep's better'n medicine; but no sleepin' this weather if us wants to make home again. Steady! 'Tis freshenin' fast!"
He was busy about some matter and she heard him breathing in the darkness and stirring himself. Thomasin, her heart near standing still before this awful discovery, hesitated between stopping and flying from the room before he should discover her. But she felt no fear of the man himself, and bracing her nerves, struck a light. It showed Gray Michael sitting up and evidently under the impression he was at sea. He grasped the bed-head as a tiller and peered anxiously ahead.
"Theer's light shawin' forrard!" he cried. Then he laughed, and Thomasin saw his face was but the caricature of what it had been, with all the iron lines blotted out and a strange, feeble expression about eyes and mouth. He nodded his head, looked up at the ceiling from time to time, and presently began to sing.
It was the old rhyme he had been trying to recollect, and it now came, tossed uppermost in the mind-quake which had shattered his intellect, buried matters of moment, and flung to the surface long hidden events and words of his youth.
"'Bucca's a churnin' the waves of the sea, Bucca's a darkenin' the sky wi' his frown, His voice is the roll o' the thunder. The lightnin' do shaw us the land on our lee, An' do point to the plaace wheer our bodies shall drown When the bwoat gaws down from under.'
"Ha, ha, ha, missis! So you'm aboard, eh? Well, 'tis a funny picksher you makes, an' if tweern't murder an' hell-fire to do it, blamed if I wouldn't thraw 'e out the ship. 'Thou mad'st him lower than the angels,' but not much lower, I'm thinkin'. 'Tis all play an' no work wi' them. They ought to take a back seat 'fore the likes o' us. They abbun no devil at theer tails all times.
"'But I'll tame the wild devil afore very long. If I caan't wi' my feests, I will wi' my tongue!'"
Thomasin Tregenza scuffled into her clothes while he babbled, and now, bidding him sleep in a shaking voice, putting out the candle and taking the matches with her, she fled into the night to rouse her neighbors and summon a doctor. She forgot all her other troubles before this overwhelming tragedy. And the man driveled on in the dark, concerning himself for the most part with those interests which had occupied his life when he was a boy.
THE DESTINATION OF JOAN
Mary Chirgwin did not return to Newlyn after making inquiries at Penzance. There indeed she learned one fact which might prove important, but the possibilities to be read from it were various. Joan had been at the Penzance railway station, and chance made Mary question the identical porter who had studied the timetable for her cousin.
"She was anxious 'bout the Lunnon trains an' tawld me she was travelin' up to town to-morrow," explained the man. "I weer 'pon the lookout this marnin', but she dedn' come again."
"What time did you see her last night?"
"'Bout nine or earlier. I mind the time 'cause the storm burst not so very long arter, an' I wondered if the gal had got to her home."
"No, she didn't. Might she have gone by any other train?"
"She might, but I'm everywheers, an' 'tedn' likely as I shouldn't have seed her."
This much Mary heard, and then went home. Her news made Mr. Chirgwin very anxious, for supposing that Joan had returned from Penzance on the previous evening, or attempted to do so, it was probable that she had been in the lowest part of the valley, at or near Buryas Bridge, about the time of the flood. The waters still ran high, but Uncle Thomas sent out search parties through the afternoon of that day, and himself plodded not a few miles in the lower part of the coomb.
Meantime the truth must be stated. On the night of the storm Joan had gone to Penzance, ascertained the first train which she could catch next day, and then returned as quickly as she could toward Drift. But at Buryas Bridge she remembered that her uncle was in the coomb with the farm hands, and might be there all night. It was necessary that he should know her intentions and direct her in several particulars. A farm vehicle must also be ordered, for Joan would have to leave the farm at a very early hour. Strung to a tension of nerves above all power of fatigue, in a whirl of excitement and wholly heedless of the mysterious nocturnal conditions around her, Joan determined to seek Uncle Thomas directly, and with that intention, instead of climbing the hill to Drift and so placing herself in a position of safety, passed the smithy and cots which lie by Buryas Bridge and prepared to ascend the coomb in this fashion and so reach her friends the quicker. She knew her road blindfold, but was quite ignorant of the altered character of the stream. Joan had not, however, traveled above a quarter of a mile through the orchard lands when she began to realize the difficulties. Once well out of the orchards, she believed that the meadows would offer an easier path, and thus, buried in her own thoughts, proceeded with many stumblings and splashings over the wet grasses and earth, under a darkness that made progress very slow despite her familiarity with the way.
Then it was that, deep hidden in the night and all alone, where the stream ran into a pool above big bowlders which banked it—at the spot, indeed, where she had reigned over the milky meadowsweets seated on a granite throne—the vibrating thread of Joan Tregenza's little life was sharply severed and she died with none to see or hear, in that tumult of rising waters which splashed and gurgled and rose on the skirts of the coming storm. A pathway ran here at the edge of the river, and the girl stepped upon it to find the swollen current suddenly up to her knees. Bewildered she turned, slipped, turned again, and then, under the impression that she faced toward the meadow-bank, put up her hands to grapple safety, set her foot forward and, in a moment, was drowning. Distant not half a mile, laboring like giants to save a thing far less precious than this life, toiled Uncle Thomas and his men. Had silence prevailed among them the single cry which echoed up the valley might well have reached their ears; but all were laboring amain, and Joan was at that moment the last thought in the minds of any among them.
So she died; for the gathering waters soon beat out her life and silenced her feeble struggle to save it. A short agony ended the nine months of experience through which Joan's life has been followed; her fires were quenched, and that most roughly; her fears, hopes, sorrows, joys were all swept away; and Nature stood defeated by herself, to see a young life strangled on the threshold of motherhood, and an infant being drowned so near to birth that its small heart had already begun to beat.
Two men, tramping through the desolation of the ruined valley at Uncle Chirgwin's command, discovered Joan's body. The elder was Amos Bartlett, and he fell back a step at the spectacle with a sorrowful oath on his lip; the younger searcher turned white and showed fear. The dead girl lay on her back, so left by the water. Her dress had been caught between two great bowlders near the pool of her drowning and the flood had thus caused her no injury.
"God's goodness! how comed she here!" cried out Bartlett. "Oh, but this'll be black news—black news; an' her brother drowned at sea likewise! Theer's a hidden meanin' in it, I lay, if us awnly knawed." The lad who accompanied Bartlett was shaking, and did not dare to look at the still figure which lay so stiff and straight at their feet. Amos therefore bid him use his legs, hasten to the farm, break the news, and dispatch a couple of men to the coomb.
"I can pull up a hurdle an' wattle it with withys meantime," he said; "for 'tis allus well to have work for the hand in such a pass as this. Ban't no good for me to sit an' look at her, poor fond wummon."
He busied himself with the hurdle accordingly, and when two of the hands presently came down from Drift they found their burden ready for them.
The old, silent man called Gaffer Polglaze found sufficient excitement in the tragedy to loosen a tongue which seldom wagged. He spat on his hands and rubbed them together before seizing his end of the hurdle. Then he spoke:
"My stars! to see maaster when he heard! He rolled all about as if he was drunk. An' yet 'tis the bestest thing as could fall 'pon the gal. 'Er was lookin' for the cheel in a month or so, they do say. Poor sawl—so cold as a quilkin [Footnote: Quilkin—A frog.] now, and the unborn baaby tu." Then Mr. Bartlett answered:
"The unhappy creature was fine an' emperent to me 'bout a matter o' drownin' chets in the spring. Yet here she'm drowned herself sure 'nough. Well, well, God's will be done."
"'Tis coorious, to be sure, how bazzomy [Footnote: Bazzomy—Blue or livid.] a corpse do get 'bout the faace arter a water death," said the first speaker, regarding the dead with frank interest.
"Her eyes do make me wimbly-wambly in the stomach," declared the second laborer; "when you've done talkin', Gaffer Polglaze, us'll go up-long, an' the sooner the better."
"Butivul eyes, tu, they was—wance. Sky-color an' no less. What I'm wonderin' is as to however she comed here 'tall."
"Piskey-led, I'll warrant 'e," said the ancient.
"Nay, man-led, which is worse. You mind that printed envelope us found in the kitchen. 'Twas some dark doin' of that anointed vellun as brot her in trouble. Ay, an' if I could do en a graave hurt I would, Methodist or no Methodist."
"He'm away," answered Bartlett. "'Tedn' no call for you nor yet me to meddle wi' the devil's awn business. The man'll roast for't when his time do come. You'd best to take your coats off an' cover this poor clay, lest the wummen should catch a sight an' go soundin'."
They did as he bid them, and Mr. Bartlett laid his own coat upon the body likewise. Then slowly up the hill they passed, and rested now and again above the steep places.
"A wisht home-comin' as ever a body heard tell on," commented Gaffer Polglaze; "an' yet the Lard's good pleasure's allus right if you lives long enough to look back an' see how things was from His bird's-eye view of 'em. A tidy skuat [Footnote: Windfall, legacy.] o' money tu they tells me. Who Be gwaine to come by that?"
"Her give it under hand an' seal to her brother."
"Theer's another 'mazin' thing for 'e! Him drownded in salt an' her in fraish! We lives in coorious times to be sure, an' theer's more in such happenings than meets the eye."
"Bear yourself more sorrow-stricken, Gaffer. Us be in sight of the house."
Mary Chirgwin met the mournful train, directed them to bring the body of Joan into the parlor where a place was prepared for it, and then turned to Bartlett. She was trembling and very pale for one of her complexion, but the woman's self-command had not left her.
"The auld man's like wan daft," she said hurriedly. "He must be doin', so he rushed away to Newlyn to tell 'em theer. He ban't himself 'tall. You'd best to go arter en now this minute. An' theer's things to be done in Penzance—the doctor an' the crowner an'—an' the coffin-maker. Do what you can to take trouble off the auld man."
"Get me my coat an' I'll go straight 'way. 'Tis thrawed awver the poor faace of her."
Two minutes later Mr. Bartlett followed his master, but Uncle Chirgwin had taken a considerable start of him. The old man was terribly shocked to hear the news, for he had clung to a theory that Joan was long since in London. Dread and fear came over him. The thought of facing this particular corpse was more than he could contemplate with self-control. A great nervous terror mingled with his grief. He wished to avoid the return from the valley, and the first excuse for so doing which came to his mind he hurriedly acted upon. He declared it essential that the Tregenzas should be told instantly, and hastened away before Mary could argue with him. Only that morning they had heard of Gray Michael's condition, but Uncle Chirgwin forgot it when the blasting news of his niece's death fell upon him. He hurried snuffling and weeping along as fast as his legs would bear him, and not until he stood at their cottage door did he recollect the calamities which had overtaken the fisherman and those of his household.
Uncle Chirgwin began to speak hastily the moment Mrs. Tregenza opened the door. He choked and gurgled over his news.
"She'm dead—Joan. They've found her in the brook as the waters went down. Drownded theer—the awnly sunshine as ever smiled at Drift. Oh, my good God!—'tis a miz-maze to drive us all out of our senses. An' you, mother —my dear, dear sawl, my heart bleeds for 'e."
"I caan't cry for her—my tears be dried at the roots o' my eyes. I be down-danted to the edge o' my awn graave. If my man wasn't gone daft hisself, I reckon I should a gone. Come in—come in. Joan an' Tom dead in a night, an' the faither of 'em worse than dead. I shall knaw it is so bimebye. 'Tis awnly vain words yet. Iss, you'd best to see en now you'm here. He may knaw 'e or he may not. He sits craakin' beside the fire, full o' wild, mad, awful words. Doctor sez theer ban't no bettering of it. But he may live years an' years, though 'tedn' likely. Tell en as Joan's dead. Theer edn' no call to be afeared. He's grawed quite calm—a poor droolin' gaby."
Uncle Chirgwin approached Gray Michael and the fisherman held out his hand and smiled.
"'Tis farmer Chirgwin, to be sure. An' how is it with 'e, uncle?"
"Bad, bad, Tregenza. Your lil darter, your Joan, be dead—drownded in the flood, poor sweet lamb."
"You'm wrong, my son. Joan's bin dead these years 'pon years. She was damned afore 'er mother conceived her. Hell-meat in the womb. But the 'Lard is King,' you mind. Joan—iss fay, her mother was a Hittite—a lioness o' the Hittites, an' the mother's sins be visited 'pon the childern, 'cordin' to the dark ways o' the livin' God."
"Doan't 'e say it, Michael! She died lovin' Christ. Be sure o' that."
The other laughed loudly, and burst into mindless profanity and obscenity. So the purest liver and most cleanly thinker has often cursed and uttered horrible imprecations and profanations under the knife, being chloroformed and unconscious the while. Uncle Chirgwin gazed and listened open mouthed. This spectacle of a shattered intellect came upon him as an absolutely new manifestation. Any novel experience is rare when a man has passed the age of seventy, and the farmer was profoundly agitated. Then a solemn fit fell upon Gray Michael, and as his visitor rose to depart he quoted from words long familiar to the speaker—weird utterances, and doubly weird from a madman's mouth in Uncle Chirgwin's opinion. Out of the wreck and ruin of quite youthful memories, Michael's maimed mind had now passed to these later, strenuous days of his early religious existence, when he fought for his soul, and lived with the Bible in his hand.
"Hark to me, will 'e? Hark to the word o' God echoed by His worm. 'He that heareth let en hear, an' he that forbeareth let en forbear, for they are a rebellious house.' An' what shall us do then? Theer was a man as builded a heydge around a guckoo, thinkin', poor fool, to catch the bird; but her flew off. That edn' the Lard's way. 'Make a chain, for the land is full o' bloody crimes an' the city is full o' violence!' 'An' all that handle the oar, the mariners, an' all the pilots o' the sea, shall come down from theer ships,' an' me amongst the rest. That's why I be here now, wi' bitterness o' heart an' bitter wailin' for my dead bwoy. 'As for theer rings, they was (were) so high that they was (were) dreadful; an' theer rings were full of eyes round about.' Huntin' damned sawls, my son—a braave sight for godly folks. That's why the rings of 'em be so full of eyes! They need be. An' theer wings whistle like a hawk arter a pigeon. 'Because o' the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it.'"
He relapsed into absolute silence and sat with his eyes on the fire. Sometimes he shook, sometimes he nodded his head; now he frowned, then grinned vacuously at the current of his thoughts.
Mr. Chirgwin took his leave of Thomasin, prayed that she might be supported in her tribulation, and so departing met Amos Bartlett who was standing outside the cottage awaiting him. The man gave a forcible and blunt description of his morning's work which brought many tears to Uncle Chirgwin's eyes; then, together, they walked to Penzance, there to chronicle the sudden death of Joan Tregenza and arrange for those necessary formalities which must precede her burial.
The spectacle of Tregenza's insanity, which to an educated observer had perhaps presented features of some scientific interest and appeared grotesque rather than tremendous, fell upon the ignorant soul of Uncle Chirgwin in a manner far different. The mystery of madness, the sublimity and horror of it, rise only to tragic heights in the untutored minds of such beholders as the farmer, for no mere scientific manifestation of mental disease is presented to their intelligence. Instead they stand face to face with the infinitely more terrific apparition of God speaking direct through the mouth of one among His chosen insane. In their estimation a madman's utterance is pregnant, oracular, a subject worthy of most grave consideration and appraisement. And after Gray Michael's mental downfall many humble folks, incited by the remarkable religious fame of his past life, begged permission to approach within sound of his voice at those moments when the desire for utterance was upon him. This, indeed, came to be a privilege not a little sought after.
Mary Chirgwin would allow none but herself to perform the last offices of kindness for her cousin. In poor Joan's pocket she found a wet, crumpled mass of paper which might have been dried and read without difficulty, but Mary lacked curiosity to approach the matter. She debated with herself as to how her duty stood in connection with the communication from John Barron, then took it in her hand, not without a sensation of much loathing, and burned it to ashes. The act produced considerable and unforeseen consequences. Her own mundane happiness was wholly dependent on the burning of the letter, and a man's life likewise hung upon the incident; but these results of her conduct were only brought to the woman's understanding in the light of subsequent events. Then, and with just if superficial cause, she directly read God's hand in the circumstance. Another discovery saddened Mary far more than that of the letter, which had caused her little surprise. Around Joan's white body was a strange amulet—the glen-ader. She had sewed it upon flannel, then fastened the ends about herself, and so worn the snake skin at all seasons since the finding of it. The fact was nothing, the condition of mind which it indicated brought great grief to the discoverer. She judged that Joan was little better than heathen after all; she greatly feared that the girl had perished but half-believing. Any soul which could thus cherish the slough of a serpent must most surely have been wandering afar out of the road of faith. The all-embracing credulity of Joan was, in fact, a phenomenon beyond Mary's power to estimate or translate; and her present discovery, therefore, caused her both pain and consternation. But as she had burned the letter, so she likewise destroyed all evidence of her cousin's superstitious weakness; and of neither one nor the other did she speak when the farmer returned to his home.
He was sadly crushed and broken; and the spectacle of his loved one, lying silent and peaceful, brought with it deep grief for him. Not until he had seen her and held her dead hand did he begin slowly to realize the truth.
"Her mother do lie at Paul 'cordin' to the wish o' Michael, but I seem as Joan had best be laid 'long wi' the Chirgwins at Sancreed. If you'll awnly give your mind to the matter an' settle it, I'll go this evenin' to wan plaace or t'other an' see the diggers," said Mary.
"Sancreed for sartain. Her'll be nearer to us, an' us can see wheer she be restin' 'pon Sundays. Sancreed's best an' fittest, for she was Chirgwin all. They be comin' to sit 'pon her tomorrow marnin'. Please God He'll hold me up agin it, but I feels as if I'd welcome death to be 'long-side my lil Joan again."
He wept an old man's scanty tears, and Mary comforted him, while she smothered her own real sorrows entirely before his. She spoke coldly and practically; she fetched him a stiff dose of spirits and a mutton-chop freshly cooked. These things she made him drink and eat, and she spoke to the old man while he did so, larding the discussion of necessary details with expressions of hope for the dead.
"Be strong, an' faace it, uncle. God knaws best. I lay the poor lovey was took from gert evil to come. You knaw so well as me. You can guess wheer her'd be now if livin'. She'm in a better home than that. I s'pose the bury-in' might be two days off, or three. I'll step awver to Sancreed bimebye, an' if the undertaker come, Mrs. Bartlett can be with him when he do his work."
"Iss, an' I've said as 'tis to be oak—braave, bold, seasoned oak, an' polished, wi' silvered handles to it. Her should lie in gawld, my awn Joan, if I could bring it about."
"Ellum be more—" began Mary, then held her tongue upon that detail and approached another.
"Shall us ask Mrs. Tregenza? Sorrer be gripping her heart just now, but a buryin's a soothin' circumstance to such as she. An' she could carry her son in the mind. Poor young Tom won't get no good words said above his dust; us can awnly think 'em for him."
"She might like to come if her could get some o' the neighbors to bide along wi' Michael. He'm daft for all time, but 'tis said as he'll be childlike wi' it, thank God. I let en knaw 'bout the lass an' he rolled his head an' dropped his jaw, like to a feesh, an' said as 'tweern't no news to en. Which maybe it weern't, for the Lard's got His awn way wi' the idiot. The sayin's of en! Like as not Thomasin'll be here if 'tis awnly to get the rids of Michael for a while."
The coroner's inquest found that Joan Tregenza had come by her death from drowning upon the night of the flood; the tragedy filled an obscure paragraph or two in local journals; Joan's funeral was fixed for two days later, and Mrs. Tregenza decided that she would attend it.
At a spot where fell the shadow of the church when the sun sank far westerly on summer days, they dug the grave in Sancreed churchyard. Round about it on slate slabs and upright stones appeared the names of Chirgwins not a few. Her maternal grandparents lay there, her uncle, Mary's father, and many others. Some of the graves dated back for a hundred and more years.
On the morning of the funeral, Uncle Thomas himself tied scraps of crape around the stems of his tall geraniums, according to an ancient custom; and Mrs. Tregenza arrived at Drift in good time to join the few who mourned. Six men bore Joan's oaken coffin to Sancreed, while there walked behind her, Uncle Chirgwin, Mary and Thomasin, Mr. Bartlett, his wife, Gaffer Polglaze, and two farm maidens. A few of the Drift folk and half a dozen young children came in the wake of the procession proper; and that was all. The mourners and their dead proceeded along the high lanes to Sancreed, and conversation was general. Uncle Chirgwin tugged at his black gloves and snuffled, then snuffled and tugged again; Mary walked on one side of him; and Mrs. Tregenza, in new and heavy black bought for another, found the opportunity convenient for the display of varied grief, as she marched along on the farmer's right hand. Her condition indeed became hysterical, and Mary only soothed her with difficulty. So the party crawled within sound of the minute bell and presently reached the church. The undertaker buzzed here and there issuing directions, an old clergyman met the dead at the lych-gate and walked before her up the aisle; while those who had a right to attend the service, clustered in the pews to right and left of the trestles. Upon them lay Joan. The words of the service sounded with mournful reverberations through the chill echoes of an unwarmed and almost empty church; and then the little sister, sleeping peacefully enough after her one short year of storm, was carried to the last abode of silence. Then followed an old man's voice, sounding strangely thin in the open air, the straining of cords, the sweating and hard breathing and shuffling of men, the grating of oak on a grave-bottom, the updrawing of the ropes that had lowered the coffin. Genuine grief accompanied the obsequies of Joan Tregenza, and her uncle's sorrow touched even men to visible grief and sympathy; but there was no heart to break for the heart which had itself come so near to breaking, there was no mighty wellspring of love to be choked with tears for one who had herself loved so much. A feeling, hidden in some minds, expressed by others, latent in all, pervaded that throng; and there was not one among those present, save Thomas Chirgwin, but felt that Providence, harsh till now, had dealt kindly by Joan in dealing death to her.
Upon the flowerless, shiny coffin-lid a staring plate of white metal gleamed up at the world above like an eye and met the gaze of the mourners, as each in turn, with Mrs. Tregenza first, peered down into Joan's grave before departing. After which all went away; the children were shut out of the churchyard; the old clergyman disappeared to the vestry; a young florid man, with pale hair, tightened his leather belt, turned up his sleeves, watched a grand pair of biceps roll up as he crooked his elbows, then, taking a spade, set to work upon the wet mound he had dug from the earth the day before to clear those few square feet of space below. As he worked, he whistled, for his occupation held no more significance to him than an alternative employment: the breaking of stones by the highway side. He could see the black heads of the mourners bobbing away upon the road to Drift, and stopped to watch them for a moment. But soon he returned to his labor; the earth rose foot by foot, and the strong young man stamped it down. Then it bulged and overflowed the full hole; whereupon he patted and hammered it into the customary mound and slapped upon it sundry pieces of sodden turf with gaping gashes between their edges. The surplus soil he removed in a wheelbarrow, the boards he also took away, then raked over the earth-smeared, bruised grass about the grave and so made an end of his work.
"Blamed if I ever filled wan quicker'n that," he thought, with some satisfaction; "I reckoned the rain must fall afore I'd done, but it do hold off yet seemin'ly."
The man departed, gray twilight fell, and out from the gathering darkness, like a wound on the hand of Time, that new-made grave and its fringe of muddy grass stood forth, crude of color, raw, unsightly in the deepening monochrome of the gloaming.
At Drift the important meal which follows a funeral was enjoyed with sober satisfaction by about fifteen persons. Cold fowls and a round of cold beef formed the main features of the repast; Mary poured out tea for the women at her end of the table, while the men drank two or three bottles of grocer's sherry among them. The undertaker and his assistants followed when the funeral assembly dispersed. Mrs. Tregenza was about to depart in the fly specially ordered to take her home when a lawyer, who was of the company, begged she would stay a little longer.
"I learn that you are the deceased's stepmother, madam, and as you stand related to the parties both now unhappily swept away by Providence—I mean Thomas Tregenza and Joan—it is sufficiently clear that you inherit directly the bequest left by the poor girl to her brother. I framed her little will myself; failing her own child, her property went to Thomas Tregenza, his heirs and assigns—those were the words. The paper is here; the sum mentioned lies at interest of three per cent. Let me know when convenient what you would wish to be done."
So the pile of money, at a cost terrible enough, had reached Mrs. Tregenza after all. She had been drinking brown sherry as well as tea, and was in a condition of renewed tears approaching to maudlin, when the announcement reached her. It steadied the woman. Then the thought that this wealth would have been her son's made her weep again, until the fact that it was now her own became grasped in her mind. There is a sort of people who find money a reasonably good support in all human misfortune, and if Mrs. Tregenza did not entirely belong to that callous company, yet it is certain that this sudden afflux of gold was more likely to assuage her grief than most things. She presently retired, all tears and care; but at intervals, when sorrow rested to regain its strength, the lawyer's information recurred and the distractions of mind caused by the contemplation of a future brightened by this wealth soothed Thomasin's nerves to an extent beyond the power of religion or any other force which could possibly have been brought to bear upon them. She felt that her own position must henceforth be exalted in Newlyn, for the effects of the combination of catastrophes led to that end. Her husband was the sole care she had left, and physicians foretold no great length of days for him. The lugger would be put up to auction, with the drift nets and all pertaining thereto. The cottage was already Tregenza property. Thomasin therefore looked through the overwhelming misery of the time, counted her moneys and felt comforted without knowing it. As for her insane husband, his very sufferings magnified him into a man of importance, and she enjoyed the reflected glory of being his keeper. People came from remote villages to listen to him, and it was held a privilege among the humbler sort to view the ruin of Michael Tregenza and hark to the chaotic ravings of a mind overthrown.
THE HOME-COMING OF JOE
A fortnight and four days after the funeral of Joan Tregenza there blew a southwest wind over Newlyn, from out a gray sky, dotted with watery blots of darker gray. No added light marked the western horizon at sunset, but the short, dull day simply fell headlong into night; and with darkness came the rain.
About five o'clock in the afternoon, when the flicker and shine of many lamps in little shop windows brightened the tortuous streets, a man clad in tarpaulins, and carrying a big canvas bag on his back, passed rapidly through the village. He had come that day from London upon the paying off of his vessel; and while he left his two chests at the railway station, he made shift to bring his sea-bag along himself; and that because he was bound for the white cottage on the cliff, and the bag held many precious foreign concerns for Joan Tregenza. It had been impossible to communicate with the sailor; and he did not write from London to tell any of his return, that their pleasure and surprise on his appearance might be the more complete. Now a greater shock than that in his power to give waited the man himself. The sailor's parents lived at Mousehole, but Michael's cottage lay upon the way, and there he first designed to appear.
Joe Noy was a very big man, loosely but strongly set together, a Celt to the backbone, hard, narrow of mind, but possessing rare determination. His tanned, clean-shaven face was broader at the jaw than the eyes, and a lowering heaviness of aspect, almost ape-like, resulted when his features remained in repose. The effect, however, vanished when he spoke or listened to the speech of another. That such a man had proved fickle in love was a thing difficult to credit to the mind familiar with his character. Solid, sober, simple, fearing God and lacking humor, the jilting of a woman was an offense of all others least likely to have been associated with him. Yet circumstances and some unsuspected secrets of disposition had brought about that event; and now, as he hastened along, the vision of the dark woman he once loved at Drift did not for an instant cross his thoughts, for they were full of the fair girl he meant to marry at Newlyn. To her, at least, he had kept faithful enough; she had been the guiding-star of his life for hard upon a year of absence; not one morning, not one night, in fair weather or foul, had he omitted to pray God's blessing upon her. A fatalism, which his Luke Gospel tenets did not modify, was strong in the sailor. He had seen death often enough in his business; and his instincts told him, apart from all religious teaching, that those who died ripe for salvation were but few. Every man appeared to be an instrument in God's hand, and human free-will represented a condition quite beyond the scope of his intelligence to estimate or even conceive. Had any justified in so doing asked of him his reasons for desertion of Mary Chirgwin, Noy would have explained that when inviting her to be his wife he took a wrong step in darkness; that light had since suddenly shone upon him, as upon Saul, and that Mary, choosing rather to remain outside the sure fold of Luke Gospeldom, by so doing made it impossible for him to love her longer. He would have added that the match was doubtless foredoomed according to the arrangements of the Almighty.
Now Joe came back to his own; and his heart beat faster by several pulses, and his steps quickened and lengthened, as, through darkness and rain, he sighted the lamp-lighted cottage window of the Tregenzas. Thereupon he stopped a moment, brought his bag to the ground, mopped his forehead, then, raising the latch, strode straight into the kitchen without a knock of warning. For a moment he imagined the room, lighted only by a dull glow of firelight, to be empty; but then, amid familiar objects, he noted one not familiar—a tall and roomy armchair. This stood beside the fireplace, and in it sat Gray Michael.
"Why, so 'tis! Mr. Tregenza sure 'nough!" the traveler exclaimed, setting down his bag and coming forward with hand outstretched. "Here I be at last arter nine months o' salt water! An' Newlyn do smell pleasant in my nose as I come back to it, I tell 'e!"
The other did not take Joe's hand; he looked up vaguely, with an open mouth and no recognition in his expression; but Noy as yet failed to note how insanity had robbed the great face of its power, had stamped out the strength of it, had left it a mindless vague of limp features.
"Who be you then?" asked Mr. Tregenza.
"Why, blamed if you abbun forgot me! I be Joe—Joe Noy comed back-along at last. My ivers! You, as doan't forget nothin', to forget me! Yet, maybe, 'tis the low light of the fire as hides me from 'e."
"You'm a mariner, I reckon?"
"I reckon so, if ever theer was wan. An' I'll be the richer by a mate's ticket 'fore the year's dead. But never mind me. How be you all—all well? I thot I'd pop in an' surprise 'e."
"Cruel fashion weather for pilchur fishin' us have had—cruel fashion weather. I knawed 'tweer comin', same as Noah knawed 'fore the flood, 'cause the Lard tawld me. 'Forty years long was I grieved wi' this generation.' But man tries the patience o' God these days. We'm like the Ruan Vean men: 'doan't knaw an' won't larn.'"
"Iss fay, mister, true 'nough; but tell me 'bout 'e all an'—an' my Joan. She've been the cherub aloft for me ever since I strained my eyes glazin' for the last peep o' Carnwall when us sailed. How be my lil Joan?"
The other started, sat up in his chair and gripped the left arm of it, while his right hand extended before him and he jolted it curiously with all the fingers pointing down.
"Joan—Joan? In hell—ragin', roastin' hell—screechin', I lay, like a cat in a bonfire. 'Tis lies they'll tell 'e 'bout her. She weern't drownded—never. The devil set sail 'pon auld Chirgwin's hayrick, so they sez, an' her sailed 'long wi' en. But 'theer rings, they was so high that they was dreadful, an' theer rings weer full o' eyes round about.' She'm damned, my son—called, not chosen. 'The crop o' the bunch' they called her—the crop o' the devil's bunch she was—no cheel o' my gettin'. Her'll burn for a million years or better—all along o' free-traadin'. Free-traadin'! curse 'em—why doan't they call it smugglin' an' have done?"
Joe Noy had fallen back. He forgot to breathe, then Nature performed the necessary act, and in a moment of the madman's silence his listener sucked a long loud breath.
"Oh, my gracious Powers, what's fallen 'pon en?" he groaned aloud.
"God's strong, but the devil's stronger, you mind. Us must pray to the pit now. 'Our devil which art in hell'—Ha! ha! ha! He hears fast enough, an' pokes up the black horns of en at the first smell o' prayer. Not but what my Tom's aloft, in the main-top o' paradise. I seed en pass 'pon a black wave wi' a gray foamin' crest. An' the white sawl o' my bwoy went mountin' and mountin' in shape o' a seabird. Men dies hard in salt water, you mind. It plays wi' 'em like a cat wi' a mouse. But 'tis all wan: 'The Lard is King an' sitteth 'tween the cherubims,' though the airth's twitchin', same as a crab bein' boiled alive, all the time."
Noy looked round him wildly and was about to leave the cottage. Then it struck him that the man's wife and daughter could not be far off. What blasting catastrophe had robbed him of his mind the sailor knew not; but once assured of the fact that Michael Tregenza was hopelessly insane, Noy lent no credit to any of his utterances, and of course failed to dimly guess at those facts upon which his ravings were based. Indeed he heard little after the first rambling outburst, for his own thoughts were busy with the problems of Tregenza's fate.
"Sit down, mariner. I shan't sail till marnin' an' you'm welcome. Theer be thots in me so deep as Levant mine, but I doan't speak 'em for anybody's hearin'. Joan weern't none o' mine, an' I knawed it, thanks be to God, 'fore ever she played loose. What do 'e think o' a thousand pound for a sawl? Cheap as dirt—eh? 'Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud that our prayer should not pass through.' Not as prayers can save what's lost for all eternity 'fore 'tis born into time. He ruined her; he left her wi' cheel; but ban't likely the unborn clay counts. God Hisself edn' gwaine to damn a thing as never drawed breath. Who'd a thot the like o' her had got a whore's forehead? An' tokened at that—tokened to a sailor-man by name o' Noy. Let'n come home, let'n come home an' call the devil as did it to his account. Let the Lard see to't so that man edn' 'lowed to flourish no more. I be tu auld an' broken for any sich task. 'For the hurt o' the darter o' my people I am hurt.'"
He spoke no more upon that head, though Noy, now awake to fear and horridly conscious that he stood in the shadow of some tremendous ill, reaching far beyond the madman, asked him frantically what he meant. But Michael's mind had wandered off the subject again.
"I seed en cast forth a net, same as us does for macker'l, but 'twas sawls, not feesh, they dragged in the bwoat; but braave an' few of 'em. The devil's nets was the full wans, 'cause—"
At this moment Thomasin came in, saw a man by Mr. Tregenza, but did not realize who had returned until she struck a light. Then, approaching, she gasped her surprise and stood for a moment dumb, looking from her husband to the sailor, from the sailor back to her husband. The horror on Noy's face frightened her; indeed he was now strung to a pitch of frantic excitement. He saw that the woman was altogether clad in black, that her garments were new, that even her bonnet had a black flower in it; and, despite his concern, he observed an appearance of prosperity about her, though her face belied it, for Mrs. Tregenza was very thin, and far grayer and older too than when he saw her last. He took the hand she stretched shaking toward him; then a question burst from his lips.
"For God's sake speak an' tell me the worst on it. What terrible evil be here? He'm—he'm daft seemin'ly; he's spawk the awfulest mad words as ever comed from lips. An' Joan—doan't 'e say it—doan't 'e say 'tis true she'm dead—not my lil treasure gone dead; an' me, ever since I went, countin' the days an' hours 'gainst when I should come back?"
"Ay, my poor lad, 'tis true—all true. An' worse behind, Joe. Hip an' thigh us be smitten—all gone from us; my awnly wan drownded—my awn bwoy; an' Michael's brain brawk down along o' it. An' the bwoat an' nets be all sold; though, thanks to God, they fetched good money. An' poor Joan tu—'pon the same night as my Tom—drownded—in the gert land-flood up-long."
Gray Michael had been nodding his head and smiling as each item of the mournful category was named. At Thomasin's last words he interrupted angrily, and something of the old, deep tones of his voice echoed again.
"'Tis a lie! Dedn' I tell 'e, wummon, 'tweern't so? The devil took her—body an' bones an' unborn baaby. They say she was found by the meadowsweets; an' I say 'tis false. You may groan an' you may weep blood, but you caan't chaange the things that have happened in time past—no; nor more can God A'mighty."
His wife looked to see how Joe viewed this statement. A great local superstition was growing up round Gray Michael, and his wild utterances (sometimes profanely fearful beyond the possibility of setting down) were listened to greedily as inspirations and oracles. Mrs. Tregenza herself became presently imbued with something of this morbid and ignorant opinion. Her deep wounds time promised to heal at the first intention, and the significance now attributed to her insane husband grew to be a source of real satisfaction to her. She dispensed the honor of interviews with Michael as one distributes great gifts.
The force of circumstances and the futility of fighting against fate impressed Thomasin mightily now, as Noy's wild eyes asked the question his lips could not force themselves to frame. She sighed and bent her head and turned her eyes away from him, then spoke hurriedly:
"I doan't knaw how to tell 'e, an' us reckoned theer weern't no call to, an' us weern't gwaine to tell; but these things be in the Lard's hand an' theer edn' no hidin' what He means to let out. A sorry, cruel home-comin' for 'e, Joe. Poor lass, her's done wi' all her troubles now, an' the unborn cheel tu. 'Tis very hard to stand up 'gainst, but the longest life's awnly short, an' us ban't called 'pon to live it more'n wance, thank God."
Here she gave way to tears, and dried the same on a white pocket-handkerchief with a black border.
"'Tis all so true as gospel," declared Gray Michael, rolling his head round on his neck and laughing. "An' my auld wummon's fine an' braave, edn' her? That's cause I cleared a thousan' pound in wan trip. Christ was aboard, an' He bid me shoot the nets by munelight off the islands. He do look arter His awn somethin' butivul, as I tawld En. An' now I be a feesher o' men, which is better, an' high 'mong the salt o' the airth, bein' called to walk along wi' James an' John an' the rest."
"He sits theer chitterin', ding dong, ding dong, all the wisht day. Tom's death drove en cracked, but 'e ban't no trouble, 'cept at feedin' times. Besides, I keeps a paid servant girl now," said Mrs. Tregenza.
Joe Noy had heard neither the man nor the woman. From the moment that he knew the truth concerning Joan his own thoughts barred his ears to all utterances.
"Who weer it? Tell me the name. I want no more'n that," he said.
"'Tis Anne Bundle's darter," answered Mrs. Tregenza, her mind on her maid.
"The man!" thundered Noy, "the man who brot the thing about—the man what ruined—O God o' Hosts, be on my side now! Who weer 'e? Give me the name of en. That's all as I wants."
"Us doan't knaw. You see, Joan was away up Drift wi' the Chirgwins, an' theer she was took when they found her arter the drownin'. She never knawed the true name of en herself, poor dear. But 'twas a paintin' man—a artist. It comed out arter as he'd made a picksher of her, an' promised to marry her, an' stawl all she'd got to give 'pon the strength of the lie. Then theer was a letter—"
"From the man?"
Mrs. Tregenza grew frightened at the thought of mentioning the money, and now adroitly changed the first letter from Barron, which was in her mind when she spoke, to the second, which Joan had received from him on the night of her death.
"Iss, from him; an' Mary Chirgwin found it 'pon the dead frame o' the poor gal, but 'twas partly pulp, along o' the water; an' Mary burned it wi'out readin' a word—so she said, at least, though that's difficult to credit, human nature bein' as 'tis."
"Then my work's the harder; but I'll find en, s'elp me God, even if us be grawed gray afore we meet."
"Think twice, Joe; you caan't bring back your lass, nor wash her sins white. 'Tis tu late."
"No, not that, but I can—I'm in God's hand for this. Us be tools, an' He uses all for His awn ends. I sees whereto I was born now, an' the future be writ clear afore my eyes. Thicky madman theer said the word; an' I lay the Lard put it in en for my better light. Er said 'Let'n come home an' call the devil as did it to account.' He was thinkin' o' me when he said it, though he dedn' knaw me."
"Iss fay, 'tis generally allowed he be the lips o' God A'mighty now. But you, Joe—doan't 'e waste life an' hard-won money huntin' down a damned man. Leave en to his deserts."
"'Tis I that be his deserts, wummon—'tis I, in the hand o' the God o' Vengeance. That's my duty now standin' stark ahead o' me. The Lard's pleased to pay all my prayers an' good livin' like this here. His will be done, an' so it shall to the dregs of it; an' if I be for the pit arter all, theer's wan livin' as gaws along wi' me."
"That's worse than a fool's thot. Bide till you'm grawed cool anyways. 'Tis very hard this fallin' 'pon a virtuous member like what you be; but 'tedn' a straange tale 'tall. The man was like other men, I doubt; the maid was like other maids. You thot differ'nt. You was wrong; an' you'll be wrong again to break your heart now. Let en go—'tis best."
"Let en go! Blast en—I'll let heaven go fust! Us'll see what a wronged sawl's patience can do now. Us'll see what the end of the road'll shaw! O God o' the Righteous, fester this here man's bones in his body, an' eat his life out of en wi' fiery worms! Tear his heartstrings, God o' Hosts, rob en of all he loves, stamp his foul mind wi' memories till he shrieks for death an' judgment; punish his seed forever; turn his prayers into swearin'; torture en, rot en sawl an' body till you brings me to en. Shaw no mercy, God o' Heaven, but pile agony 'pon agony mountains high for en; an' let mine be the hand to send his cussed sawl to hell, for Christ's sake, Amen!"
"Oh, my Guy Faux! theer's cussin'! An' yet 'tedn' gwaine to do a happard [Footnote: Happard—Halfpennyworth.] o' good; an' you wouldn' be no happier for knawin' sich a prayer was granted," said Thomasin; but Gray Michael applauded the outburst, and his words ended that strange spectacle of two men, for the time both mad.
"Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Braave prayin'! Braave savor for the Lard's nose—sweeter than the blood o' beasts. You'm a shinin' light, cap'n—a trumpet in the battle, like the sound o' the sea-wind when it begins to sting afore heavy weather, an' the waters roll to the top o' the bulwarks an' awver. 'The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan'—sea-horses us calls 'em nowadays. Mount an' ride, mount an' ride! 'Cursed be the man that trusteth in man,' saith the Lard; but the beasts be truer, thanks to the wickedness o' God, who's spared 'em the curse o' brain paarts, but stricken man wi' a mighty intelligence. 'Twas a fine an' cruel act, for the more mind the more misery. 'Twas a damned act sure 'nough! Doan't 'e let on 'bout it, mate, but theer'll be clever surprises at Judgment, an' the fust to be damned'll be the God o' the Hebrews Hisself for givin' o' brains to weak heads. Then the thrawn o' heaven'll stand empty—empty—the plaace 'tween the cherubims empty; an' they'll call 'pon me to fill it so like's not. Tarraway, I shall be named, same as the devil in the droll—a purty word enough tu."
He broke into laughter, and Joe Noy, saying a few hasty words to Thomasin, departed.
A NIGHT VISIT
He who less than an hour before had hastened hot-footed through the Newlyn streets, whose habitual stern expression had softened before the well-known sights and smells of the gray village, whose earnest soul was full of happiness under the rain of the night, now turned back upon his way and skulked through the darkness with a murderer's heart in him. The clear spectacle of his revenge blinded lesser presentations and even distracted his sorrow. There was no space now vacant in Noy's brain to hold the full extent of his loss; and the fabric of happiness which for weary months on various seas he had been building up in imagination, and which a madman's word had now sent spinning to chaos, yet remained curiously with him, as an impression stamped by steadfast gazing remains upon the eye. It recurred as of old: a joy; and not till the former emotion of happiness had again and again reappeared to be blunted, as a dream, at waking, by the new knowledge, did truth sink into this man's mind and become part of memory. Now he was dazed, as one who has run hard and well to a goal, and who, reaching it, finds his prize stolen. Under these circumstances, Joe Noy's natural fatalism—an instinct beyond the power of any religion to destroy—appeared instant and strong. Chance had now fed these characteristics, and they grew gigantic in an hour. But the religious habit made him turn to his Maker in this pass, and the merely primitive passions, which were now breaking loose within him, he regarded as the direct voices of God. They proclaimed that solitary duty the world still held for him; they marked out his road to the lurid end of it.
Thus Noy's own furious lust for revenge was easily and naturally elevated into a mandate from the Highest—into a message echoed and reiterated upon his ear by the multitudinous voices of that wild night. The rain whispered it on the roof-trees, the wind and sea thundered it; out of elemental chaos the awful command came, as from primal lips which had spoken since creation to find at last the ultimate destination of their message within a human ear. To Noy, his purpose, not yet an hour old, seemed ancient as eternity, a fixed and deliberate impression which had been stamped upon his mind at a period far earlier than his life in time. For one end had he been created; that by some sudden short cut he should hurry to its close a vile life, fill up God's bitter curse upon this man, destroy the destroyer, and speed a black soul into the torment awaiting it.
Irresolute and deep in thought as to his future actions, Joe Noy walked unconsciously forward. He felt unequal to returning to his home in Mousehole after what he had learned at Newlyn; and he wandered back, therefore, toward Penzance. A glare of gas lamps splashed the wet surface of the parade with fire; while below him, against the sea wall, a high tide spouted and roared. Now and again, after a heavy muffled thud of sea against stone, columns of glimmering, gray foam shot upward, like gigantic ghosts out of the water. For a moment they towered in the air, then, wind-driven, swept hissing across the black and shining surfaces of the deserted parade.
Noy stood here a moment, and the cold wind cooled him, and the riot and agony of the sea boiling against the granite face of the breakwater chimed with the riot and agony of his mind, whose hopes were now rent in tatters, riven, splintered and disannulled by chance. He turned a moment where the Newlyn harbor light flashed across the darkness to him. From his standpoint he knew that a line drawn through that light must fall upon the cottage of the Tregenzas beyond it on the shore, and, fixing his eyes where the building lay hidden, he stretched out his hand and spoke aloud.
"May God strike me blind and daft if ever I looks 'pon yon light an' yonder cot again till the man be dead."
Then he turned, and was about to seek the station, with a vague purpose to go straight to London at the earliest opportunity, when a wiser thought arrested this determination. He must learn all that it was possible to learn concerning the last days of Joan. Mrs. Tregenza had explained her stepdaughter's life at Drift. To Drift, therefore, the sailor determined to go; and the stress upon his mind was such that even the prospect of conversation with Mary Chirgwin—a thing he had certainly shrunk from under other circumstances—caused him no uneasiness.
Over the last road that Joan had ever walked, and under similar conditions of night and storm, he tramped up to Drift, entered through the side gate, and surprised Mr. Chirgwin and his niece at their supper. As before with the Tregenzas, so now again in company of Uncle Thomas and Mary, Joe Noy formed the third in a trio of curious significance. Though aware that the sailor was due from his voyage, this sudden apparition of him at such a time startled his former friends not a little. Mary indeed was unnerved in a manner foreign to her nature, and the candle-lighted kitchen whirled in her eyes as she felt her hand in his. Save for an ejaculation from the old man, which conveyed nothing beyond his astonishment, Noy was the first to speak; and his earliest words relieved the minds of his listeners in one great particular; he already knew the worst that had happened.
"I be come from Newlyn, from the Tregenzas. Thomasin have tawld me of all that's falled out; but I couldn't bide in my awful trouble wi'out comin' up-long. I reckon you'll let the past be forgot now. I'm punished ugly enough. You seed her last, dead an' alive; you heard the last words ever she spoke to any of her awn folks. That drawed me. If I must ax pardon for comin', then I will."
"Nay, nay, my poor sawl; sit you down an' eat, Joe, an' take they wet boots off a while. Our hearts have bled for 'e this many days, Joe Noy, an' never more'n now."
"I thank you, uncle; an' you, Mary Chirgwin—will 'e say as much? 'Tis you I wants to speak with, 'cause you—you seed Joan arter 'twas awver."
"I wish you well, Joe Noy, an' if I ever done differ'nt 'tis past an' forgot. What I can tell 'e 'bout our poor lass, as lived the end of her days along wi' me an' uncle, you've a right to knaw."
"An' God bless 'e for sayin' so. I comed rough an' ready, an' thrust in 'pon you; but this news be but two hour auld in my heart, you see, an' 'tedn' easy for such as me to make choice o' words at a time like this."
"Eat, my son, an' doan't 'e fancy theer's any here but them as be friends. Polly an' me seed more o' Joan through her last days than any; an' I do say as she was a lamb o' God's foldin', beyond all manner o' doubt; an' Polly, as feared it mightn't 'sactly be so, be of my 'pinion now. Them as suffered for the sins o' other folk, like what she done, has theer hell-fire 'pon this side o' the graave, not t'other."
"I lay that's a true sayin'," declared Noy shortly. "I won't keep 'e ower-long from your beds," he added. "If you got a drink o' spirits I'll thank you for it; then I'll put a question or two to she—to Mary Chirgwin, if she'll allow; an' then I'll get going."
The woman was self-possessed again now, although Joe's voice and well-remembered gestures moved her powerfully and made it difficult to keep her voice within absolute control.
"All you can ax that I knaw, I'll tell 'e, though Joan shut her thots purty close most times. Us awnly got side views of her mind, and them not often."
"The man," he said. "Tell me all—every-thin' you can call home—all what her said of him."
"Fust she thot a 'mazin' deal 'bout en," explained the farmer; "then time made her mind get stale of en, an' she begin to see us was right. He sent money—a thousand pound, an' I—poor fool—thot Joan weern't mistook at fust. But 'twas awnly conscience money; an' now Thomasin's the better for't by will."
But this sensational statement was not appreciated, Joe's mind being elsewhere.
"You never heard the name of en?"
"Awnly the christening name, as was 'Jan.' You may have heard tell she got a letter the night she passed. Us found the coverin' under the table next day, an' Mary comed across the letter itself in her pocket at the last."
"'Tis that I be comed for. If you could tell so much as a word or two out of it, Mary? They said you burned it an' the crowner was mighty angry, but I thot as p'raps you'd looked at it all the same, awnly weern't pleased to say so."
"No," she answered. "Tis true I found a letter, an' I might a read some of it if I would, but I judged better not. 'Tweern't fair to her like."
"Was theer anything else as shawed anything 'bout en?"
"No—awnly a picksher of a ship he painted for her. I burned that tu; an' I'd a burned his money if I could. He painted her—I knaw that much. She tawld us wan night—a gert picksher near as large as life. He took it to Lunnon—for a shaw, I s'pose."
"I'd think of en no more if I was you, Joe," said Uncle Chirgwin. "Leave the likes of en to the God of en. Brace yourself agin this sore onset an' pray to Heaven to forgive all sinners."
Noy looked at the old man and his great jaw seemed to spread laterally with his thought.
"God have gived the man to me! that's why I be here: to knaw all any can teach me. I've got to be the undoin' o' that devil—the undoin' an' death of en. I'll be upsides wi' the man if it takes me fifty year to do it. Awnly 'more haste, more let.' I shall go slow an' sure. That's why I comed here fust thing."
Mr. Chirgwin looked extremely alarmed, and Mary spoke.
"This be wild, wicked talkin', Joe Noy, an' no mort o' sorrer as ever was can excuse sich words as them. 'Tedn' no task o' yourn to take the Lard's work out His hand that way. He'll pay the evil-doer his just dues wi'out no help from you."
"I've got a voice in my ear, Mary—a voice louder'n any human voice; an' it bids me be doin' as the instrument of God A'mighty's just rage. If you can help me, then I bid you do it, if not, let me be away. Did you read any o' that theer letter—so much as a word, or did 'e larn wheer 'twas writ from?"
"If I knawed, I shouldn't tell 'e, not now. I'd sooner cut my tongue out than aid 'e 'pon the road you'm set. An' you a righteous thinkin' man wance!"
He looked at her and there was that in his face which showed a mind busy with time past. His voice had changed and his eyes softened.
"I be punished for much, Mary Chirgwin. I be punished wi' loss an' wi' sich work put on me as may lead to a terrible ugly plaace at the end. But theer 'tis. Like the chisel in the hand o' the carpenter, so I be a sharp tool in the Lard's grip."
"Never! You be a poor, dazed worm in the grip o' your awn evil thots! You'm foxing [Footnote: Foxing—Deceiving.] yourself, Joe; you'm listenin' to the devil an' tellin' yourself 'tis God—knawin' 'tedn' so all the while. Theer's no religion as would put you in the right wi' sich notions as them. Listen to your awn small guidin' voice, Joe Noy; listen to me, or to Luke Gosp'lers or any sober-thinkin', God-fearin' sawl. All the world would tell 'e you was wrong—all the wisdom o' the airth be agin you, let alone heaven."
"If 'twas any smaller thing I'd listen to 'e, Mary, for I knaw you to be a wise, strong wummon; but theer ban't no mistakin' the message I got down-long when they told me what's fallen 'pon Joan Tregenza. No fay; my way be clear afore me; an' the angel o' God will lead my footsteps nearer an' nearer till I faace the man. Windin' ways or short 'tis all wan in the end, 'tis all set down in the Book o' the Lard."
"How can the likes o' you dare to up an' say what be in the Book o' the Lard, Joe?" asked Uncle Chirgwin, roused to words by the other's sentiments. "You've got a gashly, bloody-minded fit on you along of all your troubles. But doan't 'e let it fasten into your heart. Pray to God to wipe away these here awful opinions. Else they'll be the ruin of 'e, body an' sawl. If Luke Gosp'ling brot 'e to this pass in time o' darkness an' tribulation, 'tis a cruel pity you didn't bide a church member."
"I wish I thot you was in the right, uncle," said the sailor calmly, "but I knaws you ban't. All the hidden powers of the airth an' the sea edn' gwaine to keep me from that man. Now I'll leave 'e; an' I'm sorry, Mary Chirgwin, as you caan't find it in your heart to help me, but so the Lard wills it. I won't ax 'e to shake my hand, for theer'll be blood on it sooner or later—the damnedest blood as ever a angry God called 'pon wan o' His creatures to spill out."
"Joe, Joe, stay an' listen to me! For the sake of the past, listen!"
But Noy rose as Mary cried these words, and before she had finished speaking he was gone.
THE SEEKING OF THE MAN
Thus the sailor, Noy, wholly imbued with one idea, absolutely convinced that to this end it had pleased Providence to give him life, went forth into the world that he might seek and slay the seducer of Joan. After leaving Drift he returned to Penzance, lay there that night, and upon the following morning began a methodical visitation of the Newlyn studios. Five he called at and to five artists he stated something of his case in general terms; but none of those who heard him were familiar with any of the facts, and none could offer him either information or assistance. Edmund Murdoch was not in Newlyn, Brady had gone to Brittany; but at the seventh studio which he visited, Joe Noy substantiated some of his facts. Paul Tarrant chanced to be at home and at work when he called; and the artist would have told Joe everything which he wished to learn, but that Noy was cautious and reserved, not guessing that he stood before one who knew his enemy and entertained no admiration for him.
"Axing pardon for taking up any of your time, sir," he began, "but theer'm a matter concerning a party in your business as painted a maiden here, by name o' Joan Tregenza. She weern't nobody—awnly a fisherman's darter, but the picksher was said to be done in these paarts, an' I thot, maybe, you'd knaw who drawed it."
Tarrant had not heard of Joan's death, and, indeed, possessed no information concerning her, save that Barron had prevailed upon the girl to sit for a portrait. The question, therefore, struck him as curious; and one which he put in return, merely to satisfy his own curiosity, impressed Joe in a similar way. His suspicious nature took fright and Tarrant's dark, bright eyes seemed to read his secret and search his soul.
"Yes, a portrait of Joan Tregenza was painted here last spring, but not by a Newlyn man. How does that interest you?"
"Awnly sideways. 'Tedn' nothin' to me. I knaws the parties an' wanted to see the picksher if theer weern't no objection."
"That's impossible, I fear, unless you go to London. I cannot help you further than to say the artist lives there and his picture is being exhibited at an art gallery. Somebody told me that much; but which it is I don't know."
This was enough for Noy. Ignorant of the metropolis or the vague import of the words "a picture gallery," he deemed these directions amply sufficient, and, being anxious to escape further questioning, now thanked Tarrant and speedily departed. Not until half way back again to Penzance did he realize how slight was the nature of this information and how ill-calculated to bring him to his object; the man he wanted lived in London and had a painting of Joan Tregenza in a picture gallery there.
Yet upon these directions Joe Noy resolved to begin his search, and as the train anon bore him away to the field of the great quest he weighed the chances and considered a course of action. Allowing the ample margin of ten picture galleries to London, and assuming that the portrait of Joan once found would be easily recognized by him, the sailor considered that a fortnight of work should bring him face to face with the picture. That done, he imagined that it would not be difficult to learn the name and address of the painter. He had indeed asked Tarrant this question pointblank, but the artist's accidental curiosity and Joe's own caution combined to prevent any extension of the interview, or a repetition of the question. A word had at least placed him in possession of John Barron's name, but Chance prevented it from being spoken, as Chance had burned Barron's letter and prevented his name appearing at the inquest. Now Noy viewed the task before him with equanimity. The end was already assured, for, in his own opinion, he walked God-guided; but the means lay with him, and he felt that it was his duty to spare no pains or labors and not to hesitate from the terrible action marked for him when he should reach the end of his journey. Mary's last words came to his ear like a whisper which mingled with the jolt and rattle of the railway train; but they held no power to upset his purpose or force to modify his rooted determination. Her image occupied his thoughts, however, for a lengthy period. Then, with some effort, he banished it and entered upon a calculation of ways and means, estimating the capabilities of his money.
Entering the great hive to accomplish that assassination as he supposed both planned and predestined for him before God made the sun, Noy set about his business in a deliberate and careful manner. He hired a bedroom in a mean street near Paddington, and, on the day after his arrival in London, purchased a large map and index of the city which gave ample particulars of public buildings and mentioned the names and positions of the great permanent homes of art. By the help of newspaper advertisements he also ascertained where to find some of the numerous private dealers' galleries and likewise learned what public annual exhibitions chanced to be at that time open. Whereupon, though the circumstance failed to quicken his pulse, he discovered that the extent of his labors would prove far greater than he at first imagined. He made careful lists of the places where pictures were to be seen, and the number quickly ran up to fifty, sixty, seventy exhibitions. That he would be able to visit all these Joe knew was impossible, but the fact caused him no disquiet. The picture he sought and the name of the man who painted it must be presented to him in due season. For him it only remained to toil systematically at the search and allow no clew to escape him. As for the issue, it was with the Lord.
London swept and surged about Joe Noy unheeded. He cared for nothing but canvases and the places where they might be seen. Day by day he worked and went early to rest, weary and worn by occupation of a nature so foreign to his experience. Nightly his last act was to delete one or sometimes two of the exhibitions figured upon his lists. Thus a week passed by and he had visited ten galleries and seen upward of five thousand pictures. Not one painting or drawing of them all was missed or hurried over; he compared each with its number in the catalogue, then studied it carefully to see if any hint or suggestion of Joan appeared in it. Her Christian name often met his scrutiny in titles, and those works thus designated he regarded with greater attention than any others; but the week passed fruitlessly, and Joe, making a calculation at the termination of it, discovered that, at his present rate of progression, it would be possible to inspect no more than half of the galleries set down before his funds were exhausted. The knowledge quickened his ingenuity and he discovered a means by which future labors might be vastly modified and much time saved. He already knew that the man responsible for Joan's destruction was called John; his mind now quickened with the recollection of this important fact, and henceforth he did a thing which any man less unintelligent had done from the first: he scanned his catalogues without troubling about the pictures, and only concerned himself with those canvases whose painters had "John" for their Christian names. He thanked God on his knees that the idea should have entered his mind, for his labors were thereby enormously lightened. Notwithstanding, through ignorance of his subject, Joe wasted a great deal of time and money. Thus he visited the National Gallery, the Old Masters at the Academy and various dealers' exhibitions where collections of the pictures of foreign men were at that season being displayed.
The brown sailor created some interest viewed in an environment so peculiar. His picturesque face might well have graced a frame and looked down upon the artistic throngs who swept among the pictures, but the living man, full of almost tragic interest in what he saw, laboring along catalogue in hand, dead to everything but the art around him, seemed wholly out of place. He looked what he was: the detached thread of some story from which the spectator only saw this chapter broken away and standing without its context. Nine persons out of ten dismissed him with a smile; but occasionally a thoughtful mind would view the man and occupy itself with the problem of his affairs. Such built up imaginary histories of him and his actions, which only resembled each other in the quality of remoteness from truth.
Once it happened that at a small gallery, off Bond Street, the sudden sight of precious things brought new emotions to Joe Noy—sentiments and sensations of a sort more human and more natural than those under which he was at present pursuing his purpose. Before this spectacle, suddenly presented in the quietness and loneliness of the little exhibition, that stern spirit of revenge which had actuated him since the knowledge of his loss, and which, gripping his mind like a frost from the outset, had congested the gentler emotions of sorrow for poor Joan and for himself—before this display of a familiar scene, hallowed beyond all others in memory, the man's relentless mood rose off his mind for a brief moment like a cloud, and he stood, with aching heartstrings, gazing at a great canvas. Sweet to him it was as the unexpected face of one dearly loved to the wanderer; and startling in a measure also, for, remembering his oath, to see Newlyn no more until his enemy was dead, it seemed as though the vow was broken by some miracle and that from the heart of the roaring city he had magically plunged through space to the threshold of the home of Joan.
Before him loomed a picture like a window opening upon Newlyn. The village lay there in all the flame and glory of sunset lights. The gray and black roofs clustered up the great dark hill and the gloaming fell out of a primrose sky over sea and land. The waters twinkled full of light to the very foreground of the canvas, and between the piers of the harbor a fisher-boy was sculling his boat. Between the masts of stone-schooners at the quay, Joe saw the white cottage of the Tregenzas, and there his survey stopped, for at this spectacle thought broke loose. No man ever paid a nobler tribute to a good picture. Very long he gazed motionless, then, with a great sigh, moved slowly forward, his eyes still turning back.