The day and the experience which it brought him marked a considerable flux of new impressions in Joe's mind—impressions which, without softening the rugged aspect of his determination, yet added other lines of reflection. Sorrow for what was lost fastened upon him, and an indignation burned his soul that such things could be in a world designed and ordered by the Almighty. Revenge, however, grew no less desirable in the light of sorrow. He looked to it more and more eagerly as the only food which could lead to peace of mind. His road probably embraced the circumstances of an ignominious death; but none the less peace would follow—a peace beyond the power of future life on earth to supply. Thus, at least, did his project then present itself to him. Thought of the meeting with his enemy grew to be a luxury which he feasted upon in the night watches after fruitless days and the investigation of endless miles of pictures. Then he would lie awake and imagine the inevitable climax. He saw himself standing before the man who had ruined two lives; he felt his hand close over a knife or a pistol, and wondered which it should be; he heard his own voice, slow and steady, pronounce sentence of death, and he saw terror light that other man's face as the blood fled from it. He rehearsed the words he should utter at that great juncture and speculated as to what manner of answer would come; then the last scene of all represented his enemy stretched dead at his feet and himself with his hands linked in iron. There yet remained the end of the tragedy for him—a spectacle horrible enough in the eyes of those still left to love him, but for himself empty of terror, innocent of power to alarm. Clean-living men would pity him, religious men would see in him an instrument used by God to strike at a sinner. His death would probably bring some wanderers to the fold; it must of a surety be long remembered as the greatest sermon lived and preached by a Luke Gospeler. Lulled by the humming woof and warp of such reflections, his mind nightly passed into the unconsciousness of sleep; and quickened by subsequent visions, the brain enacted these imaginings with an added gloom and that tremendous appearance of reality proper to the domain of dreams.
Thus the days sped and grew shorter as December waned. Then, at the end of the second week of his work, Noy chanced to read that an Exhibition at the Institute of Painters in Oils was about to close; and not yet having visited that collection he set out on the morning of the following day to do so.
According to his custom, Noy worked through the exhibition catalogue for each room before entering it. The hour was an early one, and but few persons had as yet penetrated to the central part of the gallery. For these, however, an experience of a singular character was now in store. Wandering hither and thither in groups and talking in subdued voices after the manner of persons in such a place, all were suddenly conscious of a loud inarticulate cry. The sudden volume of sound denoted mixed emotions, but amazement and grief were throned upon it, and the exclamation came from a man standing now stiff and spellbound before "Joe's Ship," the famous masterpiece of John Barron. The beholders viewed an amazed figure which seemed petrified even to an expression on his face. There are countenances which display the ordinary emotions of humanity in a fashion unusual and peculiar to themselves. Thus, while the customary and conventional signs of sorrow are a down-drawing slant to the corners of mouth and eye, yet it sometimes happens that the lines more usually associated with gratification are donned in grief. Of this freakish character was the face of Joe Noy. His muscles seemed to follow the bones underneath them; and now beholding him, the surprised spectators saw a man of gigantic proportions gigantically moved. Yet, while sorrow was discernible in his voice, the corners of his mouth were dragged up till his lips resembled a half-moon on its back, and the lids and corners of his eyes were full of laughter wrinkles, while the eyes themselves were starting and agonized. The man's catalogue had fallen to the ground; his hands were clinched; now, as others watched him, he came step by step nearer to the picture.
To estimate the force of the thing upon Noy's hungry heart, to present the chaos of emotions which now gripped him at the goal of his pilgrimage, is impossible. Here, restored to him by art, was his dead sweetheart, the sum and total of all the beauty he had worshiped and which for nearly a year of absence had been his guiding star. He knew that she was in her grave, yet she stood before him sweet and fresh, with the moisture of life in her eyes and on her lips. He recognized everything, to the windy spot where the gorse flourished on the crown of the cliff. The clean sky told him from whence the wind blew; the gray gull above was flying with it upon slanting wings. And Joan stood below in a blaze of sunshine and yellow blossom. A reflection from the corner of her sunbonnet brightened her face, though it was shaded from direct sunlight by her hand; her blue eyes mirrored the sea and the sky; and they met Joe's, like a question. She was looking away to the edge of the world; and he knew from the name of the picture, which he had read before he saw it, the object regarded. He glared on, and his breath came quicker. The brown petticoat with the black patch was familiar to him; but he had never seen the gleam of her white neck below the collar where it was hidden from the sun. In the picture an unfastened button showed this. The rest he knew: her hair, turning at the flapping edge of the sunbonnet; her slight figure, round waist, and the shoes, whose strings he had been privileged to tie more than once. Then he remembered her last promise: to see his ship go down Channel from their old meeting-place upon Gorse Point; and the memory, thus revived by the actual spectacle of Joan Tregenza looking her last at his vanishing vessel, brought the wild cry to Noy's lip with the wringing of his heart. He was absolutely dead to his environment, and his long days of silence suddenly ended in a futile outpouring of words addressed to any who might care to listen. Passion surged to the top of his mind—rage for his loss, indignation that the unutterably fair thing before them had been blotted out of the world while he was far away, without power to protect her. For a few moments only was the man beyond his own self-control, but in that brief time he spoke; and his listeners enjoyed a sensation of a nature outside their widest experiences.
"Oh, Christ Jesus! 'tis Joan—my awn lil Joan, as I left her, as I seed her alive!"
He had reached the rail separating the pictures from the public. Here he stood and spoke again, now conscious that there were people round about him.
"She'm dead—dead an' buried—my Joan—killed by the devil as drawed her theer in that picksher. As large as life; an' yet she'm under ground wi' a brawken heart. An' me, new-comed off the sea, hears of it fust thing."
"It's 'Joe's Ship' he means," whispered somebody, and Noy heard him.
"Iss fay, so 'tis, an' I be Joe—I talkin' to 'e; an' she'm shadin' her eyes theer to see my vessel a-sailin' away to furrin paarts! 'Tis a story that's true, an' the God-blasted limb what drawed this knawed I was gone to the ends o' the airth outward bound."
A man from the turnstile came up here and inquired what was the matter. His voice and tone of authority brought the sailor back to the position he occupied; he restrained himself, therefore, and spoke no more. Already Noy feared that his passion might have raised suspicions, and now, turning and picking up his catalogue, he made hasty departure before those present had opportunity to take much further notice of him. The man hurried off into the rattle of the busy thoroughfare, and in a moment he and his sorrows and his deadly purpose had vanished away.
Meantime the curator of the gallery, a man of intelligence, improved the moment and addressed some apposite reflections to those spectators who still clustered around John Barron's picture.
"It isn't often we get such a sight as that. Many people have wondered why this great work was called as it is. The man who has gone explains it, and you have had a glimpse of the picture's history—the inner history of it. The painting has made a great sensation ever since it was first exhibited, but never such a sensation as it made to-day."
"The beggar looked as though he meant mischief," said somebody.
"He knows the model is dead apparently, but there's another mystery there too, for Mr. Barron himself isn't aware of the fact. He was here only the day before yesterday—a little pale shadow of a man, like a ghost in a fur coat. He came to see his picture and stopped ten minutes. Two gentlemen were with him, and I heard him say, in answer to one of them as he left the gallery, that he had quite recently endeavored to learn some particulars of Joan Tregenza, his model, but had failed to do so as yet."
THE FINDING OF THE MAN
The gratification of his desire and the fulfillment of his revenge, though steadfastly foreseen by Joe Noy from the moment when first he set foot in London and began his search, now for a moment overwhelmed him at the prospect of their extreme propinquity. Had anything been needed to strengthen his determination on the threshold of a meeting with Joan's destroyer, it was the startling vision of Joan herself from which he had just departed. No event had brought the magnitude of his loss more cruelly to the core of his heart than the sudden splendid representation of what he had left behind him in her innocence and beauty; and, for the same reason, nothing could have more thoroughly fortified his mind to the deed now lying in his immediate future.
Noy's first act was to turn again to the gallery with a purpose to inquire where John Barron might be found; but he recollected that many picture catalogues contained the private addresses of the exhibitors, and accordingly consulted the list he had brought with him. There he found the name and also the house in which the owner of it dwelt—
JOHN BARRON, No. 6 Melbury Gardens, S. W.
Only hours now separated him from his goal, and it seemed strange to Noy that he should have thus come in sight of it so suddenly. But his wits cooled and with steady system he followed the path long marked out. He stood and looked in at a gunsmith's window for ten minutes, then moved forward to another. At the shop-fronts of cutlers he also dawdled, but finally returned to the first establishment which had attracted him, entered, and, for the sum of two pounds, purchased a small, five-chambered revolver with a box of cartridges. He then went back to his lodging, and set to work to find the position of Melbury Gardens upon his map. This done the man marked his road to that region, outlining with a red chalk pencil the streets through which he would have to walk before reaching it. Throughout the afternoon he continued his preparations, acting very methodically, and setting his house in order with the deliberation of one who knows that he is going to die, but not immediately. Sometimes he rested from the labor of letter-writing to think and rehearse again the scene which was to close that day. A thousand times he had already done so; a thousand times the imaginary interview had been the last thought in his waking brain; but now the approach of reality swept away those unreal dialogues, dramatic entrances, exits and events of the great scene as he had pictured it. The present moment found Noy's brain blank as to everything but the issue; and he surprised himself by discovering that his mind now continually recurred to those events which would follow the climax, while yet the death of John Barron was unaccomplished. His active thoughts, under conditions of such excitation as the day had brought upon the top of his discovery, traveled with astounding speed, and it was not John Barron's end but his own which filled the imagination of the sailor as he wrote. The shadow of the gallows was on the paper, though the event which was to bring this consummation still lay some hours deep in unrecorded time. But, for Noy, John Barron was as good as dead, and himself as good as under sentence of death.
Grown quite calm, fixed in mind, and immovable as the black sea cliffs of his mother-land, he wrote steadily on until thought sped whirling forward to a new aspect of his future: the last. He saw himself in eternity, tossed to everlasting flames by his Maker, as a man tosses an empty match-box, after it has done its work, into the fire. He put down his pen and pictured it. The terrific force of that conviction cannot fairly be set before the intelligence of average cultured people, because, whatever they profess to believe in their hearts, the truth is that, even with forty-nine Christians out of fifty, hell appears a mere vague conceit meaning nothing. They affirm that they believe in eternal torment; they confess all humanity is ripe for it; but their pulses are unquickened by the assertion or admission; they do not believe in it. Nor can educated man so believe, for that way madness lies, and he who dwells long and closely upon this unutterable dogma, anon himself feels the first flickering of the undying flame. It scorches, not his body, but his brain, and a lunatic asylum presently shuts him from a sane world unless medical aid quickly brings healthy relief.
But with primitive opinions, narrow beliefs and narrow intelligences, hell can be a live conceit enough. Among Luke Gospelers and kindred sects there shall be found such genuine fear and such trembling as the church called orthodox never knows; and to Noy the tremendous spectacle of his everlasting punishment now made itself actively felt. A life beyond death—a life to be spent in one of two places and to endure eternally was to Joe as certain as the knowledge that he lived; and that his destination must be determined by the work yet lying between him and death appeared equally sure. Further, that work must be performed. There was no loophole of escape from it, and had there been such he would have blocked it against himself resolutely. Moreover, as the will and desire to do the deed was an action as definite in the eye of Heaven as the accomplishment of the deed itself, he reckoned himself already damned. He had long since counted the whole cost, and now it only seemed more vast and awful than upon past surveys by reason of its nearer approach. Now he speculated curiously upon the meetings which must follow upon the world's dissolution; and wondered if those who kill do ever meet and hold converse in hell-fire with their victims. Then again he fell to writing, and presently completed letters to his father, his mother, to Mrs. Tregenza and to Mary Chirgwin. These he left in his apartment, and presently going out into the air, walked, with no particular aim, until darkness fell. Hunger now prompted him, and he ate a big meal at a restaurant and drank with his food a pint of ale. Physically fortified, he returned to his lodging, left upon the table in his solitary room the sum he would that night owe for the hire of the chamber, and, then, taking his letters, went out to return no more. A few clothes, a brush and comb and a small wooden trunk was all he left behind him. Joe Noy purchased four stamps for his letters and posted them. They were written as though the murder of John Barron had been already accomplished, and he thus completed and dispatched them before the event, because he imagined that, afterward, the power of communicating with his parents or friends would be denied him. That they might be spared the horror of learning the news through a public source he wrote it thus, and knew, as he did so, that to two of his correspondents the intelligence would come without the full force of a novelty. Thomasin Tregenza and Mary Chirgwin alike were familiar with his intention at the time of his departure, and to them he therefore wrote but briefly; his parents, on the other hand, for all Joe knew to the contrary, might still be ignorant of the fact that he had come off his cruise. His letters to them were accordingly of great length; and he set forth therein with the nervous lucidity of a meager vocabulary the nature of his wrongs and the action which he had taken under Heaven's guidance to revenge them. He stated plainly in all four of his missives to Newlyn, Drift and Mousehole that the artist, John Barron, was shot dead by his hand and that he himself intended suffering the consequent punishment as became a brave man and the weapon of the Lord. These notes then he posted, and so went upon his way that he might fulfill to the letter his written words.
Following the roads he had studied upon his map and committed to memory, Noy soon reached Melbury Gardens and presently stood opposite No, 6 and scanned it. The hour was then ten o'clock and lights were in some of the windows, but not many. Looking over the area railings, the sailor saw four servants—two men and two women—eating their supper. He noted, as a singular circumstance, that there were wineglasses upon the kitchen table and that they held red liquor and white.
Noy's design was simple enough. He meant to stand face to face with John Barron, to explain the nature of the events which had occurred, to tell him, what it was possible he might not know: that Joan was dead; and then to inform him that his own days were numbered. Upon these words Joe designed to shoot the other down like a dog, and to make absolutely certain of his death by firing the entire contents of the revolver. He expected that a private interview would be vouchsafed to him if he desired it; and his intention, after his victim should fall, was to blow the man's brains out at close quarters before even those nearest at hand could prevent it. At half-past ten Noy felt that his weapon was in the left breast pocket of his coat ready for the drawing; then ascended the steps which rose to the front door of John Barron's dwelling and rang the bell.
The man-servant whom he had seen through the area railings in the kitchen came to the door, and, much to Noy's astonishment, accosted him before he had time to say that he wished to see the master of the house.
"You've come at last, then," said the man.
Joe regarded him with surprise, then spoke.
"I want to see Mr. John Barron, please."
The other laughed, as if this was an admirable jest.
"I suppose you do, though that's a queer way to put it. You talk as though you had come to smoke a cigar along with him."
In growing amazement and suspicion, Noy listened to this most curious statement. Fears suddenly awoke that, by some mysterious circumstance, Barron had learned of his contemplated action and was prepared for it. He stopped, therefore, looked about him sharply to avoid any sudden surprise, and put a question to the footman.
"You spoke as though I was wanted," he said. "What do you mean by that?"
"Blessed if you're not a rum 'un!" answered the man. "Of course you was wanted, else you wouldn't be here, would you? You're not a party as calls promiscuous, I should hope. Else it would be rather trying to delicate nerves. You're the gentleman as everybody requires some time, though nobody ever sends for himself."
Failing to gather the other's meaning, Noy only realized that John Barron expected some visitor and felt, therefore, the more determined to hasten his own actions. He saw the footman was endeavoring to be jocose, and therefore humored him, pretending at the same time to be the individual who was expected.
"You're a funny fellow and must often make your master laugh, I should reckon, Iss, I be the chap what you thought I was. An' I should like to see him—the guv'nor—at once if he'll see me."
The footman chuckled again.
"He'll see you all right. He's been wantin' of you all day, and he'd have been that dreadful disapp'inted if you 'adn't come. Always awful particular about his clothes, you know, so mind you're jolly careful about the measuring 'cause this overcoat will have to last him a long time."
Taking his cue from these words Noy, still ignorant of the truth, made answer: "Iss, I'll measure en all right. Wheer is he to?"
"In the studio—there you are, right ahead. Knock at that baize door and then walk straight in, 'cause he'll very likely be too much occupied to answer you. He's quite alone—leastways I believe so. I'll come back in quarter'n hour; and mind you don't talk no secrets or tell him how I laughed at him behind his back, else he'd give me the sack for certain."
The man withdrew, sniggering at his own humor, and Noy, quite unable to see rhyme or reason in his remarks, stood with an expression of bewilderment upon his broad face and watched the servant disappear. Then his countenance changed, and he approached a door covered with red baize at which the passage terminated. He knocked, waited, and knocked again, straining his ear to hear the voice he had labored so long to silence. Then he put his revolver into the side pocket of his coat, and, afterward, following the footman's directions, pushed open the swing door, which yielded to his hand. A curtain hung inside it, and, pulling this aside, he entered a spacious apartment with a glass roof. But scanty light illuminated the studio from one oil lamp which hung by a chain from a bracket in the wall, and the rays of which were much dimmed by a red glass shade. Some easels, mostly empty, stood about the sides of the great chamber; here and there on the white walls were sketches in charcoal and daubs of paint. A German stove appeared in the middle of the room, but it was not burning; skins of beasts scattered the floor; upon one wall hung the "Negresses Bathing at Tobago." For the rest the room appeared empty. Then, growing accustomed to the dim red light, Noy made a closer examination until he caught sight of an object which made him catch his breath violently and hurry forward. Under the lofty open windows which rose on the northern side of the studio, remote from all other objects, was a couch, and upon it lay a small, straight figure shrouded in white sheets save for its face.
John Barron had been dead twenty-four hours, and he had hastened his own end, by a space of time impossible to determine, through leaving his sick-room two days previously, that he might visit the picture gallery wherein hung "Joe's Ship." It was a step taken in absolute defiance of his medical men. The day of that excursion had chanced to be a very cold one, and during the night which followed it John Barron broke a blood vessel and precipitated his death. Now, in the hands of hirelings, without a friend to put one flower on his breast or close his dim eyes, the man lay waiting for an undertaker; and while Joe Noy glared at him, unconsciously gripping the weapon he had brought, it seemed as though the dead smiled under the red flicker of the lamp—as though he smiled and prepared to come back into life to answer this supreme accuser.
As by an educated mind Joe Noy's estimate and assurance of the eternal tortures of hell cannot be adequately grasped in its full force, so now it is hard to set forth with a power sufficiently luminous and terrific the effect of this discovery upon him. He, the weapon of the Almighty, found his work finished and the fruits of his labors snatched from his hand. His enemy had escaped, and the fact that he was dead only made the case harder. Had Barron hastened from him and avoided his revolver, he could have suffered it, knowing that the end lay in the future at the determination of God; but now the end appeared before him accomplished; and it had been attained without his assistance. His labor was lost and his longed-for, prayed-for achievement rendered impossible. He stood and scanned the small, marble-white face, then drew a box of matches from his pocket, lighted one and looked closer. Worn by disease to mere skin and skull, there was nothing left to suggest the dead man's wasted powers; and generation of their own destroyers was the only task now left for his brains. The end of Noy's match fell red-hot on John Barron's face. Then he turned as footsteps sounded; the curtains were moved aside and the footman reappeared, followed by another person.
"Why, you wasn't the undertaker after all!" he explained. "Did you think the man was alive? Good Lord! But you've found him anyway."
"Iss, I thot he was alive. I wanted to see en livin' an' leave en—" he stopped. Common sense for once had a word with him and convinced him of the folly of saying anything now concerning his frustrated projects.
"He died night 'fore last—consumption—and he's left money enough to build a brace of ironclads, they say, and never no will, and not a soul on God's earth is there with any legal claim upon him. To tell the truth, we none of us never liked him."
"If you'll shaw me the way out into the street, I'll thank 'e," said Noy. The undertaker was already busy making measurements. Then, a minute later, Joe found himself standing under the sky again; and the darkness was full of laughter and of voices, of gibing, jeering noises in unseen throats, of rapid utterances on invisible tongues. The supernatural things screamed into his ears that he was damned for a wish and for an intention; then they shrieked and yelled their derision, and he understood well enough, for the point of view was not a new one. Given the accomplishment of his desire, he was prepared to suffer eternally; now eternal suffering must follow on a wish barren of fruit, and hell for him would be hell indeed, with no accomplished revenge in memory to lessen the torment. When the voices at length died and a clock struck one, Noy came to himself, and realized that, in so far as the present affected him, Fate had brought him back to life and liberty by a short cut. Then, seeing his position, he asked himself whether life was long enough to make atonement and even allow of ultimate escape after death. But the fierce disappointment which beat upon his soul like a recurring wave, as thought drifted back and back, told him that he had fairly won hell-fire and must abide by it.
So thinking, he returned to his lodging, entered unobserved and prowled the small chamber till dawn. By morning light all his life appeared transfigured and a ghastly anti-climax faced the man. Presently he remembered the letters he had posted overnight, and the recollection of them brought with it sudden resolves and a course of action.
Half an hour later he had reached Paddington Station, and was soon on his way back to Cornwall.
STARLIGHT AND FROST
Born of the sunshine, on a morning in late December, gray ephemerae danced and dipped and fashioned vanishing patterns against the green of the great laurel at the corner of Drift farmyard. The mildness of the day had wakened them into brief life, but even as they twinkled their wings of gauze death was abroad. A sky of unusual clearness crowned the Cornish moorland, and Uncle Chirgwin, standing at his kitchen door, already foretold frost, though the morning was still young.
"The air's like milk just now, sure 'nough, an' 'twill bide so till noon; then, when the sun begins to slope, the cold will graw an' graw to frost. An' no harm done, thank God."
He spoke to his niece, who was in the room behind him; and as he did so a circumstance of very unusual nature happened. Two persons reached the front door of the farm simultaneously, and a maid, answering the double knock, returned a moment later with two communications, both for Mary Chirgwin.
"Postman, he brot this here, miss, an' a bwoy from Mouzle brot t'other."
The first letter came from London, the second, directed in a similar hand, reached Mary from the adjacent fishing hamlet. She knew the big writing well enough, but showed no emotion before the maid. In fact her self command was remarkable, for she put both letters into her pocket and made some show of continuing her labors for another five minutes before departing to her room that she might read the news from Joe Noy.
He, it may be said, had reached Penzance by the same train which conveyed his various missives, all posted too late for the mail upon the previous night. Thus he reached the white cottage on the cliff in time to see Mrs. Tregenza and bid her destroy unread the letter she would presently receive; and, on returning to his parents, himself took from the letter-carrier his own communications to them and burned both immediately. He had also dispatched a boy to Drift that Mary might be warned as to the letter she would receive by the morning post, but the lad, though ample time was given him to reach Drift before the postman, loitered by the way. Thus the letters had arrived simultaneously, and it was quite an open question which the receiver of them would open first.
Chance decided: Mary's hand, thrust haphazard into her pocket, came forth with Hoy's epistle recently dispatched from Mousehole; and that she read, the accident saving her at least some moments of bitter suffering.
"Dear Mary," wrote Noy, "you will get this by hand afore the coming in of the penny post. When that comes in, there will be another letter for you from me, sent off from London. It is all wrong, so burn it, and don't you read it on no account. Burn it to ashes, for theer's a many reasons why you should. I be coming up-long to see you arter dinner, and if you can walk out in the air with me for a bit I'll thank you so to do. Your friend, J. Noy. Burn the letter to dust 'fore anything else. Don't let it bide a minute and doan't tell none you had it."
Curiosity was no part of Mary Chirgwin's nature. Now she merely thanked Heaven which had led to the right letter and so enabled her unconsciously to obey Joe's urgent command. Then she returned to the kitchen, placed his earlier communication in the heart of the fire and watched while it blackened, curled, blazed, and finally shuddered down into a red-hot ash. She determined to see him and walk with him, as he asked, if he returned with clean hands. While the letter which she had read neither proved nor disproved such a supposition, the woman yet felt a secret and sure conviction in her heart that Noy was coming back innocent at least of any desperate action. That he was in Cornwall again and a free man appeared to her proof sufficient that he had not committed violence.
Mary allowed her anxiety to interfere with no duty. By three o'clock she was ready to set out, and, looking from her bedroom window as she tied on her hat, she saw Joe Noy approaching up the hill. A minute later she was at the door, and stood there waiting with her eyes upon him as he came up the path. Then she looked down, and to the man it seemed as though she was gazing at his right hand which held a stick.
"'Tis as it was, Mary Chirgwin—my hands be white," he said. "You needn't fear, though I promised if you ever seed 'em agin as they'd be red. 'Tedn' so. I was robbed of my hope, Mary. The Lard took Joan fust; then he took my revenge from me. His will be done. The man died four-an'-twenty hours 'fore I found en—just four-an'-twenty lil hours—that was all."
"Thank the Almighty God for it, Joe, as I shall till the day of my death. Never was no prayer answered so surely as mine for you."
"Why, maybe I'll graw to thank God tu when 'tis farther to look back 'pon. I caan't feel 'tis so yet. I caan't feel as he'm truly dead. An' yet 'twas no lie, for I seed en, an' stood 'longside of en."
"God's Hand be everywheer in it. Think if I'd read poor Joan's letter an' tawld 'e wheer the man's plaace of livin' was!"
"Iss, then I'd have slain en. 'Tis such lil things do mark out our paths. A gert pichsher o' Joan he drawed—all done out so large as life; an' I found it, an' it 'peared as if the dead was riz up again an' staring at me. If 'tis all the saame to you, Mary, us'll go an' look 'pon her graave now, for I abbun seen it yet."
They walked in silence for some hundred yards along the lanes to Sancreed. Then Noy spoke again.
"How be uncle?"
"Betwix' an' between. The trouble an' loss o' Joan aged en cruel, an' the floods has brot things to a close pass. 'Twas the harder for en 'cause all looked so more'n common healthy an' promisin' right up to the rain. But he's got the faith as moves mountains; he do knaw that sorrer ban't sent for nort."
"An' you? I wonder I'm bowldacious 'nough to look 'e in the faace, but sorrer's not forgot me neither."
"'Tis a thing what awver-passes none. I've forgived 'e, Joe Noy, many a long month past, an' I've prayed to God to lead 'e through this strait, an' He have."
"'Tis main hard to knaw what road's the right wan, Mary."
"Iss fay, an' it is; an' harder yet to follow 'pon it when found."
"I judged as God was leadin' me against this here evil-doer to destroy en."
"'Twas the devil misleadin' 'e an' takin' 'e along on his awn dance, till God saw, an' sent death."
"Thanks to your prayin', I'll lay."
"Thanks to the mightiness of His mercy, Joe. 'Twas the God us worships, you mind, not Him of the Luke Gosp'lers nor any other 'tall. Theer's awnly wan real, livin' God; an' you left Him for a sham."
"An' I'm punished for't. Wheer should I turn now? I've thrawed awver your manner o' worship an' I'm sick o' the Gosp'lers, for 'twas theer God as led me to this an' brot all my trouble 'pon me. He caan't be no God worth namin', else how should He a treated that poor limb, Michael Tregenza, same as He has. That man had sweated for his God day an' night for fifty years. An' see his reward."
"Come back, come back to the auld road again, Joe, an' leave the ways o' God to God. The butivul, braave thing 'bout our road be that wance lost 'tedn' allus lost. You may get night-foundered by the way, yet wi' the comin' o' light, theer's allus a chance to make up lost ground agin an' keep gwaine on."
"A body must b'lieve in somethin', else he'm a rudderless vessel seemin'ly, but wi' sich a flood of 'pinions 'bout the airth, how's wan sailorman to knaw what be safe anchorage and what ban't?"
Mary argued with him in strenuous fashion and increased her vehemence as he showed signs of yielding. She knew well enough that religion was as necessary to him in some shape as to herself.
Already a pageant of winter sunset began to unfold fantastic sheaves of splendor, and over the horizon line of the western moors the air was wondrously clear. It faded to intense white light where the uplands cut it, while, above, the background of the sky was a pure beryl gradually burning aloft into orange. Here waves of fire beat over golden shores and red clouds extended as an army in regular column upon column. At the zenith, billows of scarlet leaped in feathery foam against a purple continent and the flaming tide extended from reef to reef among a thousand aerial bays and estuaries of alternating gloom and glow until shrouded and dimmed in an orange tawny haze of infinite distance. In the immediate foreground of this majestic display, like a handful of rose-leaves fallen out of heaven, small clouds floated directly downward, withering to blackness as they neared the earth and lost the dying fires. Beneath the splendor of the sky the land likewise flamed, the winding roadways glimmered, and many pools and ditches reflected back the circumambient glory of the air.
In a few more minutes, Mary and Joe reached Sancreed churchyard and soon stood beside the grave of Joan Tregenza.
"The grass won't close proper till the spring come," said Mary; "then the turf will grow an' make it vitty; an' uncle's gwaine to set up a good slate stone wi' the name an' date an' some verses. I planted them primroses 'long the top myself. If wan abbun gone an' blossomed tu!"
She stooped to pick a primrose and an opening bud; but Joe stopped her.
"Doan't 'e pluck 'em. Never take no flowers off of a graave. They'm all the dead have got."
"But they'll die, Joe. Theer's frost bitin' in the air already. They'll be withered come marnin'."
"No matter for that," he said; "let 'em bide wheer they be."
The man was silent a while as he looked at the mound. Then he spoke again.
"Tell me about her. Talk 'bout her doin's an' sayin's. Did she forgive that man afore she died or dedn' she?"
"Iss, I reckon so."
Mary mentioned those things best calculated in her opinion to lighten the other's sorrow. He nodded from time to time as she spoke, and walked up and down with his hands behind, him. When she stopped, he asked her to tell him further facts. Then the light waned under the sycamore trees and only a red fire still touched their topmost boughs.
"We'll go now," Noy said. "An' she died believin' just the same as what you do—eh, Mary?"
"Uncle's sure of it—positive sartain 'twas so."
"I pray that he was right. Iss fay, I've grawed to b'lieve truly our Joan was saved, spite of all. I never 'sactly understood her thots, nor she mine; but she'm in heaven now I do think."
"If bitterness an' sorrer counts she should be. An' you may take it from me she is. An' I'll come back, tu, if I may hope for awnly the lowest plaace. I'll come back an' walk along to church wance agin wi' you, wance 'fore I goes back to sea. Will 'e let me do that, Mary Chirgwin?"
"I thank God to hear you say so. You'm welcome to come along wi' me next Sunday if you mind to."
"An' now us'll go up the Carn an' look out 'pon the land and see the sun sink."
They left the churchyard together, climbed the neighboring eminence and stood silently at the top, their faces to the West.
A great pervasive calm and stillness in the air heralded frost. The sky had grown strangely clear, and only the rack and ruin of the recent imposing display now huddled into the arms of night on the eastern horizon. The sun, quickly dropping, loomed mighty and fiery red. Presently it touched the horizon, and its progress, unappreciated in the sky, became accentuated by the rim of the world. A semi-circle of fire, a narrowing segment, a splash, throbbing like a flame—then it had vanished, and light waned until there trembled out the radiance of a brief after-glow. Already the voices of the frost began to break the earth's silence. In the darkness of woods it was busy casing the damp mosses in ice, binding the dripping outlets of hidden water, whispering with infinitely delicate sound as it flung forth its needles, the mother of ice, and suffered them to spread like tiny sudden fingers on the face of freezing water. From the horizon the brightness of the zodiacal light streamed mysteriously upward into the depth of heaven, dimming the stars. But the brightness of them grew in splendor and brilliancy as increasing cold gripped the world; and while the stealthy feet of the frost raced and tinkled like a fairy tune, the starlight flashed upon its magic silver, powdered its fabrics with light and pointed its crystal triumphs with fire. Thus starlight and frost fell upon the forest and the Cornish moor, beneath the long avenues of silence, and over all the unutterable blackness of granite and dead heather. The earth slept and dreamed dreams, as the chain of the cold tightened; all the earth dreamed fair dreams, in night and nakedness; dreams such as forest trees and lone elms, meadows and hills, moors and valleys, great heaths and the waste, secret habitations of Nature, one and all do dream: of the passing of another winter and the on-coming of another spring.