He took his stand opposite Doughty. He had never wrestled with him before, but he had had much practice with boys of all builds. He eyed him closely and knew his best chance lay in trying to rush him so as to get under him and with a good inside lock of the leg trip him up. In shoulder play he would otherwise stand small chance with one so much taller. Doughty's best plan would be to stand off him, a thing not possible in North Country wrestling. In the West a special jacket of strong linen is worn for the taking of hitches, and Polkinghorne made the two boys pull out their shirts as the nearest approach to it. All was arranged to the satisfaction of the three who were acting as "sticklers," and in what seemed to Ishmael the flashing of a moment he and Doughty were crouching, cat-like, opposite each other, legs bent, arms out, hands tense. They stood so for what seemed minutes, though it was only a fraction of the time that had gone in the preparations. Ishmael felt no fear of Doughty; exhilaration was still strong enough within him to eliminate that dread, though the fear of losing that always pricks at the fighter was not quite deadened. He circled, still in that cat-like attitude, Doughty circling also, both waiting to spring. Ishmael was intensely aware of superficial physical sensations—the tense feeling in his skin, and under the soles of his feet the hardness of the ground. He spread his feet a little and moved his toes against the grass. All his muscles were on the alert, and suddenly, from acute consciousness of every fibre of his body, he passed to a splendid lightness, a complete ignoring of anything but poise and spring. In that moment, so swiftly on the edge of the first circling movement that Doughty, the slower of communication from brain to limbs, thought it the same, he had rushed for his hitch.
He got him by the sleeve, and Doughty, surprised at the quick hold, shyed away, but could not twist out of it. He grappled Ishmael more closely to try and get full shoulder-play, but the only result was that each obtained a hitch on the arm and breast of the other's shirt. The "flying mare" was now out of the question for Ishmael this round, but with a dexterous twist of his leg he got an inside lock on his opponent's, and the next moment Doughty was sprawling. He was up the second after, and, since his shoulders had not touched the ground, the fall counted for nothing, and this time he rushed in at Ishmael. He was very angry.
He stooped more, so as to keep his legs out of Ishmael's reach, and the two strained to try and over-balance each other's body, using the ordinary arm and breast hold. Ishmael, after a few moments of this immobile straining, let go Doughty's arm to seize him by the back of the collar, and Doughty, profiting in a flash by the steeper angle of inclination, caught him square under the arms and raised him bodily in the air.
Ishmael hung on grimly, making no effort to disengage himself, which would only have given Doughty the further purchase needed to throw him. Instead he began to work round in the other's arms. As soon as he had sufficient twist on his hips he entwined his feet round Doughty's knees, and with an effort that caused the blood to suffuse his face and neck—for Doughty was fighting the movement with relentless pressure—he got himself, by the hold his legs gave him, round so that his shoulders instead of his chest were against the chest of his upholder. He flung his arms backwards round Doughty's fore-arms, thus keeping himself pressed upon the other, his stomach arched outwards, his legs curled back each side round the other's knees, his arms, also backwards, pressing the other's torso in a curve that followed and supported his own with the disadvantage of having his full weight upon it.
They stayed apparently motionless, breathing heavily, save for that laboured sound seeming like wrestlers of bronze. Slowly Doughty began to feel his balance slipping from him under the full weight of Ishmael upon his chest and stomach; his spine felt as though if it curved a fraction more it would crack. He could not move his feet for the strong coil of Ishmael's legs around his, and he knew that in a moment more he must fall backwards with the weight still upon him. The only joints in which he still had play were his ankles; stiffening them he began to incline forwards. Slowly the interlocked bodies, like a swaying tower, came up and up, till the watchers caught their breath wondering what would happen to the one who was undermost in the fall if both stayed so unyielding.
But Ishmael, whose brain was working with that clarity only attained when it is responding to trained instinct, almost mechanically relaxed his grip on the other's spine when he felt the angle coming forward, then, using all his nerve, he waited—waited till the forward angle, in which he was the underneath, had become acute, till the momentum of the fall had begun. Then he relaxed his grip on one of Doughty's legs, at the same time forcing the other outwards with all the strength of his foot and leg. Doughty had to unstiffen a knee to prevent himself coming taut and prone on the ground, and a hard shove with Ishmael's elbow, thrown backwards against his shoulder, combined with the leg-play to send him spinning sideways. The momentum was too great for him to regulate the fall, and he came fairly on both shoulders, while Ishmael, who had been thrown forwards on one knee, picked himself up and stood reeling slightly but unhurt.
The sticklers ran forward to help Doughty to his feet, but he lay motionless, eyes closed. In his mind, as he lay there, worked the thought that he did not wish either to go on with the fight or to let Ishmael triumph as at an easy victory. He would frighten him, frighten them all, by making out he was very badly hurt. His spine, that would do.... Opening his eyes he murmured, "My back ... my back ..." and made as though trying to move. A terrible pang shot through his spine as he did so. His next cry was a scream of real pain and fear. The tears gathered in his eyes with his rage and terror. He cried, "You've done for me; you've broken my back! Oh, my back; curse you, my back!..."
The others were terrified. For the second time that evening Ishmael was seized by the awful feeling of irrevocableness, of an impossible thing having happened and of it being still more impossible to undo it.
It had become dark with an effect of suddenness to those who had been intent on other things than the progress of the night; and it seemed to Ishmael that the whole world was narrowed to a circle of dim moor, in the midst of it that white thing crying about its back—always its back....
Carminow, the least perturbed, insisted on raising the sufferer to his feet, and it was found, after much protest on his part, that he could walk slowly with support on either side. It only remained to get him back to the school somehow and in at the side door to his bed and the ministrations of the matron if not the doctor.
The little procession began to move off, Polkinghorne and Carminow, the two biggest, carrying Doughty on their crossed hands, and progressing with a slow sideways motion, trying not to stumble over the uneven ground. Killigrew ran on ahead to warn the matron and urge her to silence, in case the injury might turn out to be but slight after all.
A miserable loneliness fell upon Ishmael. He had won, and none of the sweets of victory were his. He lagged behind. There was a rustle at his side, and Hilaria's hands were round his arm.
"What on earth—" he began—angry, confused, aware that tears were burning in his eyes.
"Don't be cross.... I had to stay. I was up on the boulders. Oh, Ishmael, have you killed him?"
The question jangled his frightened nerves, and he answered sharply, telling her he neither knew nor cared, even while he was shaking with the fear lest what she suggested might be true. "I'll say something to those youngsters for having let you stay," he added, catching sight of Polkinghorne minor and Moss, where they hesitated in the shadows.
"As though they could have prevented me!" she said, with swift scorn. He looked at her more closely, struck by a something strange about her, and saw that her skirts no longer swelled triumphantly on either side, but fell limply, and so long that she had to hold them up when she took a step forward by his side.
"I couldn't climb on the boulders in it," she said, answering his look. "I made the boys turn their backs and I took it off."
"Well, I imagine you can't go home without it," said Ishmael wearily. He supposed he would have to see her home, for it was already past the time for the younger boys to be in. He felt he hated girls and the bother that they were.
"Cut off in, you two," he ordered; "and mind, if you blab about Hilaria having been here I'll baste you."
They promised eagerly, and Hilaria thanked him in a subdued voice. She went through the darkness to where she had left her crinoline. They found it lying, wet with dew, a prostrate system of ugly rings, held together by webbing. It looked incredibly naked, a hollow mockery of the portentous dome it had stood for in the eyes of the world.
He slung it over one shoulder without a word, inwardly resenting bitterly the touch of the ludicrous it gave to the evening's happenings, and almost silently he went with the stumbling girl towards the town, only leaving her at the corner of her lane. She thanked him with a new shyness, and taking the cumbrous emblem of her inferiority over her left arm, held out her strong hard little right hand to him.
"Don't think it horrid of me to have stayed," she pleaded. "It was that I so wanted you to win ... I was afraid ..."
"It was very—very unladylike," began Ishmael, then paused. Till that moment he and she had equally despised anything ladylike.... Now he had become a man, with a man's dislike of anything conspicuous in his womenkind. Something of the woman came to Hilaria, but whereas with him adolescence had meant the awakening of the merely male, with her it brought a first touch of the mother. She urged her own cause no more.
"Don't worry, Ishmael," she said. "Father has often told me of people hurting their backs wrestling and doing things like that, and he says it's very seldom anything. If it is they can't walk at all, and he walked quite well. Besides, I know he's pretending it's worse than it is to upset you; he's that sort...."
Ishmael felt a little pang of gratitude, he gripped her hand, muttered a "good-night," and was off through the darkness. But he did not go back to the school for an hour yet. He was in for such trouble an hour more or less after time made no difference, and he was past thinking in terms of the clock. He had grown up violently and painfully in a short space, and ordinary methods of measuring time mean very little to one who has crowded years of growth into one evening. He walked about the moor till physical exhaustion drove him in, where Old Tring, with a glance at him, gave him hot brandy and water and sent him to bed with hardly a word. Not till next day did Ishmael notice he was lame in one knee.
THE WIND UPON THE GRASS-FIELD
A week after the fight Ishmael went over the moor to the sea. Everything was very still, even his footsteps were soundless on the thick turf. It was one of those days filled with a warm mist, so fine it cannot be observed near at hand, but always seeming to encircle the walker, as though he carried some charm to make a hollow space around him where the breath of the mist may not live. Yet, out in it for long, the clothes become sodden, while every grass-blade and leaf can be seen to hold its burden of a glittering drop, though the earth itself remains dry and powdery and on the hard, pale roads the dust lies all day, as though the actual soil were not of the texture to respond to a mist so fine.
Not a breath blew the vaporous clouds in the wreaths that usually change shapes while one watches, and the long drifts in the valley at Ishmael's feet hung motionless in the air, the dark side of the opposite slope showed here and there, crossed by the pale zig-zag of the path. He went on to the cliff's edge; far below at its foot the sea, lost further out, was visible, motionless and soundless, save for the faint rustle where it impinged upon the cliff in a narrow line of white. No outward pull or inward swell of the sea's breast was visible; it was as though that fine edge of murmurous whiteness were always made of the same particles of water, hissing perpetually along the cliff's foot.
Ishmael lay down on the damp young bracken and listened to the stillness that was only pierced by the rare wail of a syren far out to sea and the steady moan of the horn from the lighthouse. He felt as dead as the world seemed, as grey, as lost to all rousing; and, ignorant of reactions, wondered why, and whether henceforth he would always be like that.
He was suffering from too much fuss. In the days which had elapsed since the wrestling bout on the moor Doughty's injury had seemed likely to prove a bad sprain, but there had been a terrible twenty-four hours when the doctor, a portentous person with more pessimism than knowledge, had wagged his head forebodingly over the moaning patient. Doughty had felt it was not in nature for anyone to be severe on a boy with an injured back, and so he babbled freely, under cover of a pretended delirium, feeling it was better to let his version get first to Old Tring. For he guessed how that personage, always one to examine the springs of action before judgment, would look at his share in the matter. Dr. Harvey had asked for a famous Plymouth surgeon to be sent for, and this afternoon he had arrived. On his verdict as to Doughty's condition depended Ishmael's own fate, and he knew it. For, whatever the provocation, the fact remained that Ishmael had injured a schoolfellow in a wrestling match admittedly serious in its intent, and the discipline of the school had to be considered, all the more rigidly that many rumours, mostly untrue, had circulated in the school. Old Tring had suspended judgment, merely sending for Boase, who had arrived one evening at St. Renny covered with smuts and giving freely his opinions about the railway, on which, for motives of Christian poverty, he had been rash enough to travel in one of the unroofed third class compartments.
And, for the first time in his knowledge, Ishmael was aware that the Parson had not quite understood. It was not that he did not understand what Ishmael felt as much as that he expected him to feel so much more than he did. Ishmael loathed a fuss. Yet the Parson had been a rock of support; Old Tring had been generosity itself; Polkinghorne and Carminow, even the little boys, had held their tongues and let him see that for their part they intended to think no more of what Doughty had said. Killigrew had treated the whole affair as something between a joke and a matter so unimportant it made really no difference to anyone. And of all the attitudes it was Killigrew's, in the revulsion from fuss, that Ishmael was beginning to adopt as his own. The only burning thing he felt about his position was anger—an anger against his father in the first place and against Archelaus, oddly enough, in the second. He knew that his eldest brother would do all in his power to make life as difficult as possible when he went back to take up the reins at Cloom. With that burning grudge went another sensation—the realisation that if all things had been otherwise, been normal, Cloom would, after all, never have been his, and he was struck by a certain unfairness that it should be his now.
But of any shame at his position he felt none, and it was this that apparently he was expected to feel by all save Killigrew. They were all so eager to make him understand that there was nothing for him to feel ashamed about, that no one thought any the less of him or wanted him to think any less of himself. Ishmael began to discover what he never, being very un-self-analytical, fully realised, that he was one of those elect souls born without that gift of the Evil One—shame. Some attain that freedom by hard striving, but some are born free, and of them was Ishmael.
Now, as he lay upon the cliff, all the embarrassment he felt was at this set of emotions that was expected to rack him and did not. He was not yet old enough to have the courage of his lack of convictions, and he feared he had failed in something a finer creature would have responded to. He rolled over on to his elbows and stared at the pale faces of a clump of wet primroses that stared back at him with an equal innocence of emotion. Beyond them the wild violets gleamed like faint blue flames, and the tightly-curled fronds of young bracken showed silvery grey amongst the litter of last year's stalks that lay in patches of a dead burnt-orange upon the grey-green turf. Ishmael spread his fingers wide and plunged them in the primroses, in the grass, in the loose soil, for the pleasure of their soft, clean textures. He rubbed his face in them like a young animal, and drew in deep breaths of the best smell in the world—the smell of damp, green growing things. He turned on to his back again. The mist had begun to waver, a breath was stirring fitfully but finely. It came cool upon him, and as it blew the world seemed very gently to come to life again. He could see what he had come to look at and overshot in the mist—the little harbour of Povah lying to his left. He rolled over and stared curiously at its stone jetties and clustered shipping. There were a couple of schooners used in the china-clay trade lying at the quayside; at anchor was a barquentine, a big bluff-bellied tramp of a creature, black with coaldust, and beyond her again what was still a rare sight in those parts—a steamer. She was a side-wheeler, with a thin raking funnel, and was square-rigged on her fore-mast, fore-and-aft on her mizzen. A little crowd stood on the end of the quay to stare at her, and it was on her that Ishmael too fixed his eyes; then he scrambled up and made his way diagonally down the cliff to the harbour.
It had occurred to him to run away to sea. He was of the land and knew nothing about ships, but he had often read of boys who ran away to sea—they shipped as cabin-boys and often were killed by the rough life or never heard of again. A sick wave of self-pity flooded Ishmael as he thought of it. He whose salvation was that he so seldom saw himself from the outside—unlike Killigrew, the feeder on emotion, now was aware of the poetic fitness of the story—the proud boy who sooner than live with dishonour had left home and friends to face the wide world and roam, a veritable Ishmael. Adventure began to call to him; the salt on his lips as he licked them seemed its very tang. He was big and strong, and had no fear of hard living; neither was he fearful physically. On one thing he was determined—not to stay to be expelled and then be taken ignominiously back to Cloom and the jeers of his family.
But deep down in him his ineradicable honesty kept nagging at him, telling that this new sea-lure was all make-believe, that not that way for him did happiness lie. Yet he kept on, always with a tingle of excitement mingling with an undercurrent of disbelief in the reality of it all, and made his way to the quayside determined to talk to the sailors and introduce the subject of a new hand.... Half an hour later he came away, after a desultory though interesting enough conversation in which his project had never got past his tongue. Through no cowardice or dread, he had simply not been able to broach it. He stared back at the ship when he paused on the crest of the hill, trying to puzzle out what was struggling for recognition in him. Dimly it began to dawn on him that there are only two ways for a man to live fully. The first is by being rooted to a spot that is everything to him, by which he makes his bread, by which and on which he lives, so that its well-being is as that of himself; and the second is by calling no place home, wandering the world over and remaining always free. The way which lies betwixt these two—that of hiring this house or that, putting belongings about it and being attached to it by purely artificial ties of expediency and rent, a house that was born of the thought of some unknown, the fabric of whose ground is nothing to him who hires it—this way, which is the way of nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand, is false and unsatisfying. It would be splendid to have two lives and give one to each of the primary ways, to live once by the soil and once by the sea; but that is a thing that can happen to no man. He may wander till he is ageing and then "settle down," but that is a different affair. Ishmael was born of the soil; Cloom, not only by inheritance, but by his peculiar training, meant his life. With a sensation of something clogging, but infinitely satisfying too, he admitted it. Cloom had been too strong for him.
It was the only time another path ever even suggested itself to him, and then the suggestion had not been sincere, merely the promptings of that literary sense which is in all imaginative youth. It prompted, too, not so worthily, in an aspect of his new knowledge that did not escape him—a certain romance about it, a feeling that it made him rather interesting, something of a figure.... He would not have been human had he quite escaped that at his age. And yet it was that feeling no one but Killigrew, who frankly mooted it, had a suspicion of as possible, so Ishmael realised with shame. Also his commonsense told him that the sordid and quite unromantic incidents were likely to pile up more thickly than any of charm or pleasure. His was an admirable position for any one who loved self-pity; he would be able to see himself as a romantic centre, to feed on misunderstanding and enjoy a self-conscious isolation.
That was the real danger, one that the Parson, who was in some matters of a beautiful simplicity, had never realised. He had only foreseen the straightforward shames and difficulties, and by these Ishmael was at an age to be untouched, while he was just ripe for the former snare.
He walked over the moor and rejoined the St. Renny track with the sense of relief that we all get when one of two ways has been definitely discarded. He had even ceased to worry over what decision Old Tring had come to, though when he made out the Parson's figure coming towards him his heart gave a leap and then beat more quickly than its wont. He hastened his steps to meet him.
Boase waved his hat in a gesture of triumph, as though to signal that all was well, and his first shouted words told Ishmael that this was not to be the end of his career at St. Renny. With the knowledge went a queer little pang of disappointment; he had so been accustoming his mind to the glamour of expulsion in circumstances such as his. The Parson, in whose philosophy it would have held nothing but disaster, was beaming with joy. He sat down on a stretch of turf and Ishmael lay beside him, waiting.
"In the first place, the injury isn't serious. Carron, the surgeon from Plymouth, says it's nothing in the world but a muscle torn away, that is painful but not dangerous. He says he does not know why the boy made such a fuss; he can see nothing to account for delirium. I could have given a guess, but refrained.... Anyway, I've been having a talk with Dr. Tring—"
Ishmael kept an ungrateful silence; it seemed to him that week had been all talks.
The Parson waited a second and then, with a tiny pang of disappointment, went on:
"It is to be all right; everything is to be as it was before. I know you feel that is impossible, but it will hurt less and less with time, believe me. Character is what counts in the long run, Ishmael. And I have seen—I can't tell you how proudly—that you have character, that it has made its mark here. That shows in the way this affair has been taken. So pull yourself together; tell yourself how little it all really matters, and you'll find it is so."
A wave of affection for his friend went over Ishmael as he listened to the words that really fitted his case so little and were so kindly spoken. He felt in a flat muddle, unaware whether he wished he did feel all he was expected to or glad he did not; but one good thing the Parson's words accomplished. They purged him of the artificial standpoint of the afternoon. It was impossible for one as naturally direct as Ishmael to be in contact with so much of singleness of purpose as the Parson's and not be ashamed of his own impulses towards theatrical vision. He turned his head away to hide his emotion, which the Parson took to spring from the news he had imparted and welcomed with relief. He took the boy's hand and pressed it, a thing rare for him, who was so sensitive of others' wishes he generally left physical expression to them in the first place.
"Shall we be getting back?" he said, after a moment.
As they were walking over the moor a gleam of sun shone out, wavered, then strengthened, and before a soft breeze the mist began to vanish, only clinging here and there in the pockets of the moor like fine white wool rubbed off the backs of phantom sheep. For a while they strode in silence; then the Parson said:
"By the way, you know old Mr. Eliot's daughter, don't you? Tring told me she went to the dancing classes."
"Yes.... Why?" Ishmael asked in sudden alarm.
If it had all come out—to have a girl mixed up in this story of his—the ignominy of it! The next moment with his relief mingled a contrition for his selfish impulse when Boase replied: "She's not well, apparently. Her father made Carron have a look at her; he's no faith in Harvey. Seems she's been doing too much for her strength—walking too far. She appears to think nothing of ten to fifteen miles."
"There's nothing wrong, really wrong, is there?"
"Oh, no, only they think change of air will be good for her and more rest. She's to go on a long visit to some relations in France. I don't know what she'll think of the change, a girl like that. She's a splendid creature."
"Have you met her?" asked Ishmael in surprise.
"Why, yes. Her father seemed to think she was a little hysterical and asked me to see if she would talk to me...."
"More talking ..." thought Ishmael.
"I don't think her at all hysterical. It seemed to me more physical. In fact, I suggested Mr. Carron. But I think there's nothing like a thorough change. Her father'll miss her, I fear, though."
Ishmael had a sly chuckle as he thought of others who would do likewise, and, catching a twinkle in the Parson's eye, it occurred to him for the first time that day that perhaps all the subtlety of the race was not confined to those of the age of himself and Killigrew. He grew a little hot; then the Parson began to speak on another theme, and he thought no more of Hilaria. He was to think of her less and less as the months during which she never came back to St. Renny went by, and he did not guess how he was to hear of her again.
"About your confirmation," the Parson was saying. "This affair will make no difference. There is no real reason why it should be put off. Dr. Tring quite agrees with me. You are in the same mind about it, eh?"
Ishmael, who was feeling more and more as though the past week had been a grisly burden that was slipping off him like a bad dream, acquiesced in a rush of eager thankfulness. The complications of life were beginning to unfold in front of him, and both by training and heredity he turned to the things that bore relation elsewhere but in this life for a solution.
"I want to be decent ..." was all he said gruffly, but with a something so youthful in manner and sentiment that Boase had a yearning over him as in the days when he had been a little boy.
"Let me say one thing to you, Ishmael. I have said it before, but when you were less able to understand. You will meet people—men—who will tell you no man can keep altogether a rigid straightness in matters that, as you know, I hold important. You will meet women who will condone this view and tell you that they do not expect it, that men are 'different,' and that they would not even have it otherwise. Do not believe them. It may be true of some men, though, if they were brought up with other ideals, it would not be true of nearly as many as it is now. But it will not, I think, be true of you, which is all you are concerned with. Your very position should make you more scrupulous than most men. You have had a shock, I know, but has it yet occurred to you to think over the effect your father's conduct has had on those other lives—your brothers' and your sister's?"
"No," confessed Ishmael.
"Try. You are not fond of Archelaus, I know, and there is no reason why you should be. But try and see his point of view. He has the attachment to Cloom that you have—not the same kind; he would never have felt it a trust or something to be made better for its own sake, but he does feel he has a right to it, and that is a hard thing to bear. Ishmael, all this misery, the reason why your brothers have not been brought up as you have, with the same advantages, which now they can never gain all their lives long, the reason why Vassie, who is clever and pretty, will have a difficulty in getting a husband worthy of her, is because your father lived according to the law of the flesh instead of the spirit. Never place any child of yours in that position."
"I never will, I promise. But, I say, you know, Da Boase"—the childhood name slipped out unawares—"I don't think I care about that sort of thing—girls and all that. Not like Killigrew."
The Parson hid a smile. "You will not ripen as early as Killigrew, in all probability," he said, "but one does not have a temper such as yours without other passions. There is another thing. Men of the world—Killigrew, when he is a little older—will tell you that it is possible and right to gratify those passions at less cost than the embroilment your father made about him. Casual intercourse where no such question arises.... Do not listen to that either. If it is possible for you to be one of those who carry an undimmed banner, do. People often talk as though purity were negative, whereas it is very actual. Keep it as a beautiful thing that once lost is gone for ever at whatever gain of experience or even understanding."
"I really don't want that sort of thing," persisted Ishmael a little outraged he should not be thought to know best.
"However that may be," said the Parson, rather sharply, "different by nature or grace, you should never let your difference make you feel superior. A person who despises or fails to sympathise with all the sorrow and the sin in the lives of others is the worst of sinners. There are even times when chastity can be very chill and bare, though purity is always lovely."
"But you were saying——" began Ishmael, then stopped. "I think I do know what you mean," he said more humbly. The Parson made no reply, but, stopping in his walk, looked over a low wall of loose granite and laid his arms along it. "Come and look here a minute," he said.
The sun had died away, but the mist had not returned, and a still greyness held the world in the low-lying part of the moor which they had reached.
Fields lay on one side and stretched in a parti-coloured patterning over the slope before them as they leant upon the wall. The breeze, too, seemed not to stir there, as though the pearly greyness that seemed to tinge the very air were a blight that lay on sound and motion as well as sight. No breath stirred strong enough to lift the petals of the gorse-blossoms by the wall, or rustle the wayside plants. The only movement came from a field of long grass on the slope—one of the pattern of fields, newly-ploughed, short-turfed, or misted with green from the three-weeks-old corn springing a few inches high, a pattern that lay like a coverlet drawn over the rounded flank of the hill. And over that one field movement was busy—the rank grass was exactly the length, density, texture, to respond to what imperceptible breath there was, and that grass only. Over and over it passed the silvery waves made by the bending of the blades, over and over, always rippling up the slope till it looked as though a film of smoke were perpetually being blown from below to vanish over the crest. Ripple after ripple, ripple after ripple, shivered up the slope and was gone—the field shuddered and breathed with it; there was something uncanny about this silent unceasing movement in the dead landscape—this visible effect of an invisible thing.
"We're most of us too full of effort," said the Parson abruptly; "we think too much of trying to be good, of whether what we are going to do is right or wrong. Whereas if we only got our minds into the right attitude the rest would follow naturally and be worth all the striving. If we could only be more flower-like—let ourselves grow and blossom. Look at that field, the only thing moving; d'you see it? Well, it's rippling like that all by itself because it's the only thing able to answer to the little breath that's abroad. If you get yourself sound and right and don't worry about yourself, then you respond to the breath of the Spirit, like that grass. For the wind bloweth where it listeth...."
He fell into a silence, and Ishmael, stirred out of the crust of depression which had held him so many days, felt all his heart and high hopes, his eagerness for life and its possibilities, stirring within him again. He drew a deep breath and stretched widely, sloughing off mental sloth in the physical act as young things can. He felt more alive because more conscious of himself and his surroundings than ever before, eager and ready to take up the remainder of his time at St. Renny. He stirred a little by the Parson's side.
Boase brought his thought to an ending with the rest of the quotation: "So is everyone that is born of the Spirit...."
A FAMILY ALBUM
Vassilissa Beggoe stooped to take a final look at herself in the small mirror, for she was so tall that, in her flowery bonnet that swooped upwards from her piled chignon, she nearly touched the sloping roof of her bedroom. She stooped and gave a glow—half smile, half a quickening of light, over her whole face—at what she saw in the cloudy glass, which could not materially dim her white and gold splendour. A slight thickness of modelling here and there, notably in the short nose and too-rounded chin, blurred the fineness of her beauty and might make for hardness later on, but now, at twenty-one, Vassie's wonderful skin and her splendid assurance were too dazzling for criticism to look at her and live. She gave a pat, more approbation than correction, to a rose on the bonnet, smoothed the lapels of her Alexandra jacket—so-called after the newly-made Princess of Wales—and pulled up her gloves under its pegtop sleeves. Then she turned with a swoop and a swish of her wide blue taffeta skirts.
"There!" she exclaimed in the studiously clear notes she had not been able to free from a slight metallic quality; "that's not so bad a sight to go and meet a little brother, I believe?"
The younger, softer, slighter bit of femininity on the bed gave a gentle little sound that meant admiration, and clasped a pair of dimpled, not very clean, little hands together.
"You're beautiful, Vassie, just beautiful. And just like a lady...."
"I am a lady," said Vassie sharply. "How am I not a lady, I should like to know? Haven't I been four years in a boarding-school, and don't I go and stay with a clergyman's family in Plymouth? A lady.... When I was at Plymouth last month for the Prince's wedding celebrations one of the officers of a battleship asked who I was!"
"I know, you've told me. Vassie—"
"Nothing. Only I sometimes wonder why you've never got wed up there to Plymouth. One of those officers, or perhaps a clergyman...?"
Vassie rather wondered herself, but all she said was: "I'm not going to give up my freedom for the first man who lifts his little finger, I can tell you. I haven't such a great opinion of the menfolk. Conceited creatures, the most of them. I mean to pick and choose. And I mean Ishmael to help me."
"Oh, Vassie, how?" came from the wide-eyed listener on the bed.
"Why, I shall make him bring his school friends down, of course. They're all gentlemen. And then I shall make them fall in love with me."
"But won't they be a lot younger than you, Vassie? You're three years older'n Ishmael."
"Some of 'em may be older than him, mayn't they? And one thing leads to another. We might both get asked to stay with their folks. Besides—I don't know that I should mind a man younger than me. I'd know more what to do with him. I've always found boys easier. Men are so funny—as if they were always keeping something to themselves. I don't like that."
She looked indeed as though she might demand and take all she could get—a girl greedy of life and the good things in it, or the things that to her seemed good. She swooped down beside the little creature on the bed and flung an arm round her. The younger girl's personality seemed to be drowned in the bright effulgence of the elder as her slight form in the swelling folds of blue taffeta skirt that overflowed her.
"What about Mr. Tonkin?" ventured Phoebe; "he'd have you fast enough. And he's almost as good as a clergyman, though of course not as good as an officer...."
"Old Tonkin, indeed!" cried Vassie indignantly. "I wouldn't touch him if he was the only man alive. Why, mother's actually jealous of the way he tries to come patting and pawing me.... She can have him—if she can get him. Horrid, pale, fat old man!" She shook the thought of him from off her, and ran on: "And when I'm a la—I mean when I'm married, I'll see what I can do for you, Phoebe. You're too soft ever to do any good for yourself. As like as not you'd take any clumsy lout that offered, simply because you wouldn't know how to say 'No.'"
Phoebe said nothing, but a bright colour ran up over her pale skin and her soft mouth set in a little obstinate line. The whole expression of her face altered when she set her lips so that they covered the two front teeth that at once made her face irregular and gave it individuality. She lost her exquisite softness and became a little stupid, for it made the lower part of her face too brief—what Vassie called "buttoned up." Phoebe was not actually pretty, but she was very alluring to men, or would be, simply because everything about her was feminine—not womanly, but feminine. Her mouse-brown hair, straight and soft and fine, refused to fall into the heavy polished curtains that were the mode, and which made of Vassie's two waves of rich brass, bright and hard-edged as metal. Phoebe's eyes were brown, not of the opaque variety, but with the actually velvet look of a bee's body. The girls at school had told her her eyes looked good to stroke. Her nose was an indeterminate snub, her chin delightfully round but retreating, falling away from a mouth like a baby's—so fine in texture, so petal soft, so utterly helpless-looking, with its glint of two small square teeth. Only when she looked obstinate and closed her mouth the charm went out of her face as though wiped off like a tangible thing. She looked almost sullen now, but Vassie, heedless of her, jumped up and, pirouetting round to show herself off once more and to give herself that feeling of mental poise for which physical well-being is needful, made for the door. A swish, a flutter, a bang, and she was gone.
Left alone, Phoebe sat a moment longer, then rolled over on the bed with a kitten-like motion and, stretching her arms above her head, lay taut for a second, then relaxed suddenly. Head tucked in the pillow, she apparently was lost in thought, for her brown eyes, slightly narrowed, stared vacantly at the frilling of the pillow-slip. Then she gave a soft little sound that had it not been so pretty would have been a giggle, wriggled round, and slipped off the bed. She ran to the mirror and began to take down her tumbled hair. As she raised her arms her round breast swelled like a bird's when it lifts its head; her bright eyes and pursed mouth, full of hairpins, were bird-like too. She was perpetually, to the seeing eye, suggesting comparison with the animal creation; she was bird-like, mouse-like, kitten-like, anything and everything that was soft and small and obviously easy to hurt and crush physically. That was her allure, her most noticeable quality—that she presented unconsciously, but unmistakably, the suggestion that it would be easy to hurt her, easy and sweet.
She made trial of her hair in the fashion the new Princess had started—drawn back a la chinoise, with a long rolled curl, known for some reason as a "repentir," brought forward to lie over one shoulder. Then she went to the washstand and took more care than usual over the cleansing of her hands. That done, she deliberated whether or not to put on her grey chip hat with the pink plume that on her arrival she had flung on the bed, where it still lay. She tried herself with it and without, then debated as to whether it looked better to give the impression of being one of the family by appearing bonnetless, or whether, on the other hand, it would not be more interesting to Ishmael if he got the impression of a visitor ... of someone who was not always about the house, who was to be seen outside. She finally decided on the latter. Then she sat down to wait, though the time was bound to be more than an hour, since Vassie and John-James had only now started in to Penzance in the smart new market-cart to meet the eagerly awaited arrival, Ishmael Ruan.
Downstairs Annie too had her deliberations, her changes of mind, her sudden impulses of affection and of resentment, as her ill-regulated brain had always had them. She had not changed much in the years that had brought them past Ishmael's eighteenth birthday. All of worn tissues and faded tints had been hers long before, and except for an increased jerkiness she seemed the same. In attire she had altered, and her black silk dress, with its scallops and trembling fringes, suited ill enough with her badly-arranged hair and work-worn hands.
She sat in the little parlour, which she had been made to take into use by Vassie, who had successfully made it hideous with antimacassars and vases of artificial flowers. As Annie sat rigidly upright upon a slippery horsehair-covered chair, her eyes wandered vaguely here and there and fell on the album in which Vassie had collected all the photographs taken of the family from time to time. Photographs printed on paper were only just beginning to supersede the older daguerreotypes, and a gleam of interest came into Annie's pale blue eyes, for the album was still a new toy to her. She remembered that Vassie had only lately finished sticking in the last photographs, and, picking it up, she began turning the pages.
There was Archelaus ... she caught her breath. Her lovely Archelaus as he had appeared before going off to that terrible Crimea, which Annie always thought was so called because it was such a wicked place. The print was not very clear, as it was only a copy made from the original daguerreotype, but what it lacked in definition Annie's memory could supply. Archelaus was standing with one elbow leaning upon a rustic pillar; he wore his uniform and looked like a king. He had splendid side-whiskers, though their yellow hue did not show in the photograph. Her beautiful Archelaus ... now toiling and moiling in those terrible deserts, those sandy places, of Australia, which was the underside of the world, where black heathen went about mother-naked. By now he had doubtless dug much gold—many, many sovereigns of it—out of the sand, and perhaps some day very soon he would walk in with his pockets full of it; and then who would cut a dash in the country-side, from Land's End up to Truro and beyond it? Her Archelaus. Even in her dreams Annie did not picture Archelaus pouring out his gold upon her or as being anything but of a splendid masculine surliness.
She turned a page and came on John-James—reluctant, bashful, glowering at the camera ... he was the most dutiful of her children, and she passed on carelessly and came to Tom. Sleek and shiny in black broadcloth, with the foxy sharpness of his features somehow suggesting the red of his colouring even in the photograph.... He was sitting in a low plush chair with Vassie standing, after the ungallant fashion of the pictures of the period, behind him, one hand on his shoulder. She looked a swelling twenty, though she had only been seventeen when it was taken. Another turn of the page and Annie saw herself—an unkind vision, at her most set, hard of hair and jaw, with deep eye-sockets. She admired it for the black gown and the lace handkerchief she was holding; but she was interested in it, too, as the true egoist always is in self-portraiture, however unflattering.
She stared at it longer than at any of the others, then, at last turning the page, came on a photograph of Ishmael, sent by him from St. Renny at the Parson's instigation. She stared at the mouth that, with its more generous curves, was yet so like her own, at the square brow that never came from her side of the family, at the narrow chin that in its delicacy seemed to her girlish. As she looked a sudden tremor ran over her. She realised she had been gazing at it as at the picture of a stranger, so altered did he look from when she had last seen him, over two years ago.... For some reason that stuck-up Parson had made every excuse for the boy to spend his holidays elsewhere for over two years. She had not seen him since before his confirmation, which she looked on vaguely as some sort of civil ceremony like a superior kind of getting apprenticed ... perhaps as being definitely apprenticed to gentility. She had had Vassie "done" at Plymouth for that reason. This strange boy, this young man, was coming to-day to her house, which was his house ... coming to upset everything. She stared again, trying to trace the features she remembered after a fashion, but which love had never imprinted on her memory with the only indelible draughtsmanship. She turned backwards swiftly till she came to the beginning of the book, where was another photograph taken from an old daguerreotype. It showed Ishmael as a baby ... his mouth rather wet-looking, helplessly open, not unlike Phoebe's now ... he seemed somehow a pathetic baby. Even Annie was struck by it.
She laid the book on her slippery lap, whence it fell unheeded to the floor, and stared in front of her.... Out of the dim past, almost as dim to her as to an animal, came a memory, the memory of a touch. The touch of a baby's hands feeling about her breast.... Not of Ishmael's in particular—how should she, whose motherhood had been so forced, so blurred a thing, keep one memory of it from another, or any that was not purely animal ...? But it was his picture she had been looking at which had brought the idea of babyhood back to her, and it was with him personally that her mind connected the swift memory that was more a renascence of an actual sensation. She closed her eyes and clutched at the breast that had fallen on flatness. Her children would all go from her except this one who was coming back.... A warmth that was half-animal, and nearly another half-sentimental, rose in her heart, but at least for the moment it was genuine. There was even some vague feeling that she would protect him if the others made it hard for him....
Wheels sounded on the cobbles of the courtyard, and the clatter of hoofs; it meant that John-James and Vassie were back, bringing her son. She got to her feet and went through the house to the yard door, already recovering a little of poise, which meant artificiality, but still with something of that real glow about her. She knew a moment of dread lest Ishmael should rebuff it. She held out her arms with an uncontrolled gesture, and heard her own voice call his name on an ugly piping note she could not have told was hers.
WHAT MEN LIVE BY
Ishmael Ruan, like the rest of his world that day, had been planning ahead in his mind. His first conceptions were blown away from him with his breath at sight of Vassie glowing on the dingy railway platform; she was far the more self-possessed of the two, which was mortifying to a young man who, all the way down in the train, had been telling himself with what tact and kindliness he was going to behave. John-James had seemed so unaltered that his grip of the hand, as casual as though Ishmael were any acquaintance just back from a day's excursion, had been a relief. Remained his mother, for Tom, contrary to what John-James and Vassie had expected, did not look in at Penzance Station to greet Ishmael on his transit, and as to the Parson, he was letting Ishmael alone to find his feet with his family, holding himself as a person to be come to if occasion or affection prompted it later.
The drive was a silent one, as even Vassie felt shy, though she hid it under an affectation of calmness. Ishmael had plenty of time to readjust himself and think of his mother, the determining factor, now Archelaus was away, in his happiness—or so he thought, ignorant in his masculinity of the force and will sheathed in Vassie's velvet sleekness. His mother ... he had no sentiment at the name; but then neither would he have had if the relation between them had been a happy one. He would then have felt love, but he would always have been of too deadly a clarity for sentiment. He was sorry for his mother with a degree of sympathy rare in one so young, for he had as little of the hardness of youth as might be, and what he had was not of judgment, but feeling. He was at the moment nothing but sorry for his mother, but though that pity would not change to condemnation it might turn to dislike. He too, as Annie was doing in the parlour as she awaited the sound of the wheels that were bearing him nearer her, tried to clutch at memories. He could find a few of fierce kindnesses, but not one of an embrace unqualified by some queer feeling other than simple love, which he had always felt in her. She did not, of course, care twopence for him, he decided. Well, he would not be a hypocrite—he would not bother or embarrass her with the expression of a tenderness neither of them felt; he would be gentle, he would kiss her if she seemed to expect it, but he would talk brightly and naturally of trivial things, he would make the occasion seem as little weighted with portent as possible. There should be nothing of the return of the master, nothing of the odious briskness of the new broom about him at his entry. Time enough after to talk over things.... He could spend the next day with John-James on the farm discussing improvements, alterations. They were very behind the times down here; he had seen farming in Somerset and Devon in his holidays that would make them open their eyes down here. That would all break it to his mother gently. She was getting old too—she must be quite fifty—and old people did not like to have reforms thrust upon them. No, there should be nothing eager, aggressive about him. He remembered stormy, excitable scenes of his childhood and resolved they should see what the self-control of a gentleman was like. Thus Ishmael, with intentions not by any means, not even most largely, selfish. Yet, of all moods, the worst to meet his mother's.
The growing interest of the drive as they neared the north-west and the familiar landmarks of his childhood came into sight, flooded with the June sunshine—the ruined mine-shafts staring up so starkly, the glory of white cattle in the golden light, the first glimpse of the pale roofs of Cloom itself, prismatic as a wood-pigeon's plumage, all these things struck at his heart with a keener shock than did anything personal, and made thought of his mother sink away from him. Behind the cluster of grey buildings he saw the parti-coloured fields stretching away—green pasture, brown arable, pale emerald of the young corn—all his. He saw in folds of the land little copses of ash whose trunks showed pale as ghost-trees; he saw, gleaming here and there through the gorse-bushes, the stream that ran along the bottom of the slope below the cart-track that led to Cloom. He saw the bleak, grey homesteads, cottages and small farms, set here and there, as he turned in his seat to look around him. And his heart leapt to the knowledge that all these things were his....
Annie's croaking cry, her thin arms, her quick straining of him, he all unprepared even for the mere physical yielding that alone saves such an embrace from awkwardness, found him lost. Annie felt it and stiffened, and the moment had gone never to come back. In after years, when Annie had magnified it to herself and him, accusing him of throwing her love back in her face when she had offered it, he was wont to reproach himself bitterly. But Annie was so volatile in emotion, except where Archelaus was concerned, that her new flow would, in all likelihood, not have held its course for more than a few weeks at the best. Ishmael knew this, but Annie, by dint of telling herself the contrary, never did. The awkwardness of the actual moment was saved by Phoebe, who had hung in the background waiting for what she thought might be the most telling moment to glide forward, but who, her natural pleasure at sight of her old playmate suddenly overbearing more studied considerations, could contain herself in silence and the shadows no longer.
"Ishmael!" she cried, running forward. "Ishmael!"
She held out her two hands and Vassie thought swiftly: "It's no good, my dear; he's for your betters—he and I ..." and with a worldliness that went far towards bearing out her claims to ladyhood she broke in with:
"You remember little Phoebe, Ishmael—from the mill...."
"Why, of course. You haven't grown much, though you've got your hair done up," said Ishmael, thankful for any diversion from Annie's reproachful arms, which had slid from his neck to hang by her side.
"I'm quite grown-up, though," said Phoebe, dimpling.
"She mean's she's too old for you to kiss, lad," said simple John-James with directness, grinning as he took the mare's bridle to lead her to the stable. Ishmael had not yet the social cleverness to kiss Phoebe at once and without embarrassment or to laugh the suggestion away, but she, who had no social sense at all and never attained any, met the moment perfectly, with a little curtsey and a sidelong look of merriment. "Ah, I remember when Ishmael refused to kiss me, and I cried myself to sleep over it," she said; "'tisn't likely I'm going to let him kiss me now."
"No—did I ...?" asked he; and Vassie gave a shrill laugh.
"To be sure he did and would again," she declared; "he's not thinking of such things. Mamma, is tea ready in the parlour?"
"I fear I forgot about it, Vassie, my dear, but Katie shall get it to wance. Come in here, Ishmael. We do sit here now; simminly we're quality, according to she."
Ishmael followed his mother into the ugly room, which offended his eyes, used as they were to the Parson's taste. An album lay on the floor, and he stooped to pick it up, but his mother, quick for all her years and rheumatism, was before him and had thrust it out of his reach.
Tea was a stiff meal; everyone was on company manners. John-James, in from stabling the mare, sat at the edge of a chair; Vassie was too genteel, Phoebe too arch, Annie grim. Ishmael's heart sank with a terrible weight upon it as he thought that these were the people with whom his lot was cast—that he must see them, talk to them, day in, day out, all the round of the seasons.... Vassie's beauty seemed dimmed to him; Phoebe became an annoyance like a musical-box that will not leave off tinkling out the same tune. He bent his head lower as he sat, aware, with a misery of shame, that tears were burning perilously near his eye-lids. Life was sordid, and his position, over which he had not been guiltless of sometimes dreaming as romantic, held nothing but mortification and hatefulness.
The meal dragged on; the daylight without grew glamorous. Conversation flickered and died, and at last Ishmael, pushing his chair back with a noise that sounded horrible to himself, announced his intention of going to the Vicarage. Annie muttered something about people who could not be content to stay at home even on their first evening....
But he was not allowed to escape alone; Phoebe discovered that it was time she was going back to the mill, and there was no evading an offer to accompany her.
Somehow, away from the others, and out in the open, Phoebe seemed to shed the commonness that had blighted her at that dreadful tea. She still coquetted, but it was with a fresh and dewy coquetry as of some innocent woodland creature that displays its charms as naturally as it breathes. Ishmael found himself pleased instead of irritated when he received her weight as he helped her over the stone steps at each stile—for the only girl he had seen much of in late years had been wont to stretch out a strong hand to guide him.
As they went over the marsh where they had so often played as children they vied with each other in pointing out memorable spots, and the gaiety of the old days mingled with the beauty of the present evening to brighten his spirits. The marsh was all pied with white—pearly white of blowing cotton-grass; thick, deader white of water-cress in full flower; faint blurred white of thousands of the heath-bedstraw's tiny blossoms. Phoebe in her white gown sprang onto swaying tussocks and picked plumes of cotton-grass to trim herself a garden hat, and Ishmael steadied her passage.
"Oh, Ishmael, I'm so glad you've come back!" she told him, lifting a glowing face, haloed by the rose-lined hat that had slipped to her shoulders and was only held in place by a pink velvet ribbon which was not softer than the throat it barred.
"It's often dull here," she ran on. "There's not many people I care about going with since I came back from boarding school, and even for those I do go with Vassie spoils it by saying I'm demeaning myself. She's such a fine lady."
"And aren't you?" asked Ishmael, laughing; "that was my first thought when I saw you, anyway."
"Was it?" She dimpled with pleasure, but added shrewdly: "I'm not one, though. I like getting away from it all and working in the dairy and looking after the tiny calves. I like that best of all, that and my baby chickens. But Vassie's only happy when she's dressed up and paying visits."
"I like your way best," he assured her, thinking what a jolly little thing she was after all. But Phoebe's mind could not keep its attention on any one theme for more than a minute, and her eyes and thoughts were wandering. Suddenly she gave a little cry.
"Oh, look at those beauties! I must have them!" And she pointed to where, on a vividly green patch of marsh, a whole grove of cotton-grass stood up in the glow of the setting sun. The golden light poured through the silky tufts, making of each a flake of fire, all raining at the same slight slope from hair-fine stems. Against the turf they looked for all the world like Chinese lanterns swung for some miniature revel of the fairies—they seemed literally to diffuse light upon the air. Ishmael stood staring, stung to excitement by that suddenly-glimpsed beauty; but Phoebe darted forward, and the next moment had withdrawn a foot whose stout country shoe and white stocking were dripping greenly.
"Here, let me!" cried Ishmael; but she waved him back.
"No, you're too heavy; you'd go through at once. Hold my hand while I lean over;" and she swung outwards from his grasp, her other hand stretching vainly.
"Best leave that lot," advised Ishmael; "there's some much easier to get at just along there."
She turned her head, body still swung forward, and followed the line of his pointing finger to where a cluster of grass as fine, but untransmuted, stood in shadow.
"Oh, but that hasn't the sun on it!" she exclaimed naively. The next moment she had seen the absurdity of her own speech, and, pivoting to the path beside him, joined in his laughter.
"Well, it seemed sense to me when I said it," she protested.
"So it would have been if you could have picked the sun too."
"But I suppose it was only the sun that made me want them at all. Aren't I a goose? Vassie would say I shall never get sense."
"I like that sort of nonsense; it's rather jolly, somehow. I say, Phoebe, I shall think of you as the girl who wanted to pick the sun. Doesn't it sound ripping?"
"Oh, my feet are so wet!" cried Phoebe. "I must hurry home. Mother will fuss so over me, you can't think."
"Shall I just get you that sunny grass before we go?"
Phoebe hesitated, and then some instinct, finer than her comprehension of it, prompted her to a refusal, and the cotton-grass was left to swing its gossamer globes of light till the sun should have dipped below the rim of the moor.
When Ishmael had delivered Phoebe up to the tender agitations of the fussy, weakly mother, and himself got away from the too-enthusiastic welcome of the father, he struck towards the cliffs and the Vicarage with a younger heart than had been his all the evening. Quite naturally life had slipped through from a film of darkness on to a brighter plane, and he greeted Boase with none of the gruffness that would have weighed on him earlier. This also had the result of breaking the reticence which would otherwise have kept him from telling anything of his real feelings. Now that his family and the life before him no longer seemed rayless, he could speak of the blight that had, for him, settled even over the future as he sat in that fearsome parlour.
Boase listened, glad that the boy seemed to be growing more articulate; it would make his help, when it was needed, easier to give. He kept Ishmael for supper, feeling that consideration for Annie was not the most important thing just then, and after it he walked with the boy as far as the stile that gave on to the cliff path. Ishmael was far from having given way to one of his old unbalanced fits of chattering, but it had been a pleasure to him to talk freely to the person with whom he was most intimate. It was long—unnaturally long for expansive youth—since he had talked so freely, for Killigrew had left St. Renny a year before him to study painting in Paris. It was the time when the great Barbizon school was in its prime, when Diaz and Rousseau and Harpignies and the rest of that goodly company were heading the return to Nature which the epoch needed, just as later it was to need, with equal sincerity, a return to the primitive in art. Killigrew was absorbed by the fervour of his new creed and wrote but rarely, and his letters were all but incomprehensible to Ishmael. Not in his moments of freest intercourse with Phoebe that evening had it been possible to exchange anything beyond the chatter and playfulness of children, but there was that in Ishmael to-night which, he being young, had to find outlet. For youth is the period of giving, as gathering age is of withholding.
Coming home after so long, coming home, moreover, with a meaning portentous beyond the ordinary attached to the act, had excited Ishmael unknown to himself. Physically he felt very tired, which he told himself was absurd, but mentally he was of a joyous alertness. Leaning upon the stile, he drew a deep breath of the salt air and raised his eyes to the night sky curving, so high was he placed, for an immense arc about his tiny form. To the north the Plough trailed its length, but south, high over the dark blot which to the keen sight of love meant Cloom, Spica, brilliant crown of Virgo, pulsed whitely, while the glittering sisterhood of Aquila and Lyra, Corona and Libra swept towards the east, ushering up the sky the slim young moon, as bright as they but more serene, like a young mother amidst a flock of heedless girls. How often had Ishmael counted these same clear callous eyes from sleeping St. Renny, but never with the answering gleam in his breast that he felt now he saw them over his own land.
"So life is going to be good, after all," remarked the Parson abruptly.
"Rather. It seems jolly good to-night, anyway. All my life I've been looking forward to this, just this, coming back here and making something of it all ... and the funny thing is now it's come I'm not disappointed."
"Why should you be?"
"I dunno. Only one expects to be when one's been expecting to be happy. That sounds Irish, but you know what I mean."
"Yes, I know, but then I'm older than you. Why should you have found that out?"
"Some things—things like that—one doesn't find out by what happens. One sort of knows them to start with. It's funny too, because what I'm so cock-a-hoop about to-night is that life's so full of things just ahead, things that are going to happen. I say, look at that moon; I sort of feel as though I could jump over her if only I tried hard enough!"
"That's what youth lives on," said Boase—"not on what happens, but on what may happen. Every morning when you wake don't you feel—'To-day It may happen,' though you haven't the vaguest idea what It may be?"
"Why, yes, I think that's true," said Ishmael slowly.
"Yes, it's true. It's what youth and hope and courage lives by."
"And old people—what do they live by?"
"Ah, that everyone has to find out for himself. It depends largely on what his middle-age has drawn on, and that's nearly always something more material than what fed his youth. There's only one thing certain—that we all have something, some secret bread of our own soul, by which we live, that nourishes and sustains us. It may be a different thing for each man alive."
"We must each work out our own damnation," said Ishmael, and then could have kicked himself for his own smartness that he heard go jarring through the night. He waited in a blush of panic for some reproof, such as "That was hardly worthy, was it?" But the Parson, ever nothing if not unexpected, did not administer it, though Ishmael could have sworn he felt his smile through the darkness.
"Damnation, salvation, it's much the same thing," said Boase, cheerfully, "though naturally youth likes to use the former word. But the great thing is never to despise the means by which another man attains it. Patience, tolerance, tolerance, patience...."
"Oh, I don't know," protested Ishmael. "I don't think much would get done in the world at that rate, would it?"
"Perhaps not. And you have so much to do in it.... When d'you start?"
"To-morrow morning with dawn, so I must be getting off. If you're awake round about then, Da Boase, think of me beginning to remake the world over at Cloom."
And Ishmael set off through the night, his feet lagging with a blissful fatigue and his mind falling on an equally blissful numbness. As he went the Parson's phrase went with him, stirring his imagination, and when he climbed into the big bed beneath the drooping Christ it worked more articulately within him. "Secret bread ..." he thought; "that's what he called it.... I wonder if Phoebe's is sun—she wanted to pick the sun. And his is religion, of course, and mine—I know what mine is. It'll always be the same. I shan't change even if I grow old."
He began to feel very drowsy and drifted into a vague wonder at the thought of growing old. "I wonder what it feels like. I suppose one takes no more interest in anything; it can't matter what one's secret bread is. But mine, of course, mine is Cloom...." And on that he fell asleep.
Youth is susceptible to that which it awakes, and Ishmael sallied out early next morning in a mood to match the month as it then shone to greet him. The sun had not long cleared the east, and the globes of dew glimmered on leaf and twig and darkened his boots as he crossed the ill-kept lawn in front of the house. He promised himself it should be rolled and mown and have flower-beds around it, and that a wind-break of firs should be planted along the low granite wall which was all that divided it from the bare moor. He went to the little gate and, leaning his back against it, looked long at the house as though for the first time. He noted the solid simple lines of its long front and the beauty of its heavy mullions and the stone corbels beneath the roof. The portico over the door had pillars of square rough-hewn granite, a whole room was built out over it, with a wide-silled window, beneath which the Ruan arms were carved on a granite shield. That door should have a drive leading up and widening before it; at present what cart-track there was went meekly along the side of the low wall into the farmyard. Those two big velvet-dark yews that stood sentinel either side of the porch would look splendid when clipped taut and square. So he planned, and then, hearing the voice of John-James calling to the cows, he remembered that the utilitarian side of the place must come first; and he went up the path, through the panelled corridor that led through the house, into the court, passed under the arch at the opposite side, and so into the farmyard. There the cows were gathering for the milking, swinging slowly into the yard while John-James held open the gate from the field. They were good cows, but Ishmael glanced at them critically. Cows were to be his chief concern, for the home farm was not large enough to yield much in the way of crops for sale—nearly all would be needed for the winter consumption of his own beasts. Most of the corn sown was the dredge-corn, a mingling of barley and oats sown together and ground together, which was used for cattle, and the roots and hay were all needed also. Even then there would have to be special foods bought, Ishmael decided, for he believed in farmyard manure, and to obtain that at its best the cattle had to be well and carefully fed. These cows he now saw were good enough of their kind, but he wished to start Guernseys or Jerseys, or more probably a cross-breed of the two, as being fitter for the bare country than pure-bred animals.
John-James tramped in behind the last cow and closed the gate. He had made no remark at sight of Ishmael, and all he now said was:
"Them are good cows. Good as any you'll get up-country I reckon."
"They look all right for their kind," admitted Ishmael.
"Finest in the place. Not like Johnny Angwin's beasts—high in the bone and low in the flesh. He'm a soft kind o' chap, sure 'nough, and sick to his heart at having to take to farming toall. He was in a book-shop to Truro, but had to come home when his brother died. T'other day he come to I and he says, 'Oh, John-James Beggoe, my dear, what shall I do? I forgot I did ought to arrange my cows all in steps, so to speak, so that they shouldn't all calve to wance, and now they'll all be a doen of it and us won't get no milk....'" John-James broke off with a chuckle, then resumed with: "Seen the calves yet?"
"No. I suppose they've been turned out?"
"Not yet. I'll wait till the middle of the month before turnen out. Eight heifers and three bulls there be."
"Well, I'll see what they look like. Morning, Katie!"
Katie Jacka, who had come out to the milking, responded eagerly to the new master and planked down stool and pails. Ishmael and John-James stood watching for a few minutes.
"That there cow is drawin' to calf, and I'm jealous of her," announced John-James lugubriously; "she'm too fat, and I fear she'll get bruised, but though I turned her into the poorest field in the place she won't go no thinner. She'm never gone dry, and they belongs to be one month dry."
"I want to start Jerseys," said Ishmael boldly; "I'm sure the better quality of the milk will more than make up for the greater cost of the stock."
"Jerseys! ... well," said John-James, startled, "that's a new idea, surely. I don't knaw where 'ee'd get a bull to serve en. Hav'ee thought on that?"
"I don't see why I shouldn't have a bull myself. I could advertise it for service all round the country, if it comes to that."
John-James muttered something to the effect that he'd enough to do as it was, but Katie, one ear pressed against a cow, one pricked for the conversation, chimed in.
"There's a Jersey bull to the geart farm to Grey Caunce, maister," she told Ishmael, "and I've heard tell there's nothen but Jerseys there, and the butter's the best in the country and fetches most to market. Many's the time I've said I could make as good if I'd only got cream hangin' in riches like them has got."
"You must come up the Fair with me next time, John-James," suggested Ishmael, "and then we'll see. Come and show me the calves now...."
The two went off to the cowsheds and for the next hour were examining livestock, from the calves down to the bees—rather a rarity in those parts and the joy of John-James, who had the bee-gift, and was never stung, being able to move a swarm in his bare hands unscathed. Afterwards they walked over part of the farmlands, and Ishmael's heart began to beat high with pride and joy. There is nothing more romantic than land—its wilfulness, its possibilities, its endless intimacies. Ishmael's land was to prove an exacting mistress, unlike the rich, sleek home counties, which only have to be stroked to smile and yield. On these granite heights the soil needed breaking every three years; if a field did very well it might be left four, but never longer. The deep ploughing of the midlands was impossible—the hard subsoil lay too close to the surface, and little wheat was sown as the shallow soil would not bear it, and what was sown never grew to be like the heavy eight-sided corn of softer counties. Yet Ishmael loved his land already and was to love it more and more, its very hardness and fighting of him helping to make its charm.
Neither his early experiences of farm life nor his opportunities of more scientific study had been wasted on Ishmael, and he looked over pasture and arable now with an eye knowing enough, if not quite as much so as he tried to make it appear to John-James. He found the land in good condition, the early-sown grain showing clear green blades and the grass rich enough, while even in the more neglected pastures towards the sea where the thistles had not been refused a foothold they had been kept cut down to prevent seeding. John-James was conscientious, though handicapped by a rigid conservatism and lack of proper help. For the emigration had been very heavy of late years from that part of the world, to the goldfields both of Australia and California. Times were bad, though not as bad as in the North, where thousands of cotton operatives were literally starving owing to the stoppage of the cotton supplies through the American Civil War. The papers were full for months, amid the greater excitement of Princess Alexandra's wedding, of paragraphs headed "The Distress in the North," that had become as much a regular feature as the weather reports or the society gossip. The consequent uneasiness made itself felt even in Cornwall, and perhaps the Anti-Slavery meetings held in Penzance were not entirely disinterested. Also Botallack mine was then in full work and swallowing young men, though for poor enough wage. One way and another, managing the farm was none too easy, and so John-James had found. He looked with as much interest as his stolid mind could compass to the return of Ishmael, with the power of the purse-strings and the expenses of his own education at an end, to work something of a miracle at Cloom. But he had not imagined the miracle to take the form of Jersey cows, and he began to wonder dolefully what newfangled notions about machinery and manure might not also be hatching in the young owner's brain. They mounted in silence the steepest slope of the rolling land and came to a stone hedge on which John-James leant, Ishmael beside him.
They stood in silence, John-James because he hardly ever spoke unless spoken to, and Ishmael because over his spirit rushed a flood of memory that for an aching moment overwhelmed him. This was the field where the Neck had been cried, when, as a little boy, he had first caught at the flying skirts of happiness, first realised the sharpness of the actual instant—and thought it surely could never, so vivid and insistent was it, cease to be.... Now, as then, his eyes sought the line of twisted hedge, and he saw it, looking so much the same, yet set with leaf and blossom so many seasons away from that August evening, even as he was himself from the child who had thought to arrest Time. Yet, realising that, he again tried to snatch at the present, though with the difference that now he told himself that anyway there was such a long, long time before him to be young in that it wouldn't ever pass....
"That's for ploughing now," announced John-James suddenly. "For the mang'ls. 'Tes as good land as any in the place, and a waste to hav'en grass, so it is. Maybe you'd like to come and have a try at it, if you'm not gwain to be above turnen your own hand to work?"
Ishmael had a moment's qualm. What ploughing he had done had been but slight, and he was not free from an uneasy impression that John-James was laying a trap for him into which he would not be sorry to see him fall. It would be no better to put it off, for he could imagine the comments that would fly, so he nodded his head.
"We'll set to work this morning on it," he agreed lightly; "I suppose you're still using wooden ploughs down here?"
"Wooden ploughs ...? And what'd 'ee have ploughs made of, I should like to knaw? Gold, like what Arch'laus has in Australy?"
"Iron. All modern ploughs are made of iron, and so are rollers."
"Iron ... iron rollers. What's wrong weth a geart granite roller, lad?"
"Well, it's very cumbersome, isn't it? It's three men's work to cart it from one place to another, for one thing. Anyway, I've brought down an iron plough and a chain-harrow...."
Over John-James's face came a gleam of interest. "A chain-harrow?" he repeated; "I've long wanted one o' they. Us allus has to take the yard-gate off its hinges and weave furze in and out of it and drag that over the ground."
"Well, now you've got a real chain-harrow and won't have to do that any more. I tell you what it is, John-James, I want you and me between us to make this the finest farm in the country; I don't want Archelaus to sneer at us when he comes home and say how much better he could have run it. Of course, I can't do it without you; but if you'll only help...."
John-James held silence for a space. Then he said:
"I've allus said as how us wanted carts, 'stead of carr'n all our furze and the butter and everything as goes in or out upon they harses and lil' dunkies. And gates ... if us could have a few more gates to the place 'stead of thrawing the hedges up and down all our days.... It'll cost money, but what you do put into the land you get out of the land. Same as weth cows."
It was a long speech for John-James, and he paused with his countenance suffused a deep purplish hue. Ishmael seized his hand and wrung it with a sudden young gust of enthusiasm that he could not control.
"You'll help. I know you will. Oh, we'll pull the old place up yet. We'll make such a thing of it...."
But John-James had withdrawn his hand limply. "Go maken it so fine it'll be a pretty place for gentry, s'pose," he said; "be shamed to see I about the place then, I reckon."
Ishmael laughed joyously at him. "Don't be an ass, John-James," he said; and it was the first time he had been able to meet any little speech of the kind without strain. John-James stood at ease, and slowly some faint trace of a change of expression appeared on his immobile features.
"I reckon thee'll do, lad," was all he said; but Ishmael felt his heart give an upleap of triumph; he knew he had made his first conquest. As he and John-James went into breakfast side by side he felt quite equal to meeting Annie unperturbed. But he was not to be called on to make trial of his stoicism, as Annie hardly spoke to him; but with a thrill of emancipation he realised that his mother's tongue no longer held terror for him—merely the annoyance of a persistent fly.
As long as he lived Ishmael never forgot the exquisite moment when he broke his first furrow on his own land. Harvest gathered is a wonder and a release from strain; sowing and tending of seed and young crops is sweet, but ploughing holds more of romance than all the rest. It is the beginning, the fresh essay with soil that has become once more savage; it is the earliest essential of man's conquest of Nature; his taming of her from a wild mistress to a fruitful wife.
The day shone with the clear pearliness of early June: high in air the big cumulus clouds rode golden-white, trailing their shadows over the dappled land beneath; the branches of hawthorn gleamed silvery amidst the pearly blossom; a wine-pale sunlight washed with iridescence sky and earth. In the great sloping field, which held six days' hard ploughing between its stone ramparts, the granite monolith stood four-square to all the winds that blew, defying ploughs and weathers. The two brown horses waited by the highest hedge, the plough, that always looks so toy-like and is so stubborn, quiescent behind them, a boy ready at their heads, switch in hand. With a freshness of emotion never quite to be recaptured, Ishmael gathered up the rope reins and took the handles of the plough in his grip. The impact of the blade against the soil when the straining horses had given the first jerk up the slope was as some keen exquisite mating of his innermost being with the substance of the earth ... a joy almost sensual, so strong was the pleasure of the actual physical contact as yielding soil and fine hard edge met—his hands sensitively aware of the texture of that meeting through the iron frame of the plough. Up and down the field, over its humped back, widening the strip of brown between him and the hedge, always with pleasure at sight of that long rich fold of earth turning over perpetually under the sideways impact of the blade, turning over till the green turf was hidden by the brown of the under soil....
The field was not an easy one for the horses by reason of its curve; the off horse, on the vore, as the part already ploughed is called, dug his great hoofs firmly in the stiff soil, but the near horse slipped perpetually on the short turf. Every now and then the plough had to be stopped while great hunks of granite were hacked out of the earth; then, with loud cries of encouragement and a cut of the whip, the horses were urged on again, the flash of their shoes gleaming rhythmically up and down, up and down, as Ishmael guided the plough behind them. His hands gripped the handles, the plough clanked, the horses struggled, and the sound of their hoofs made a dull thud-thud upon the earth; the wind blew gratefully on his moist brow and on the flanks of the animals; at every turn the shouts of his voice as he stopped the horses and reversed the clanking plough went up through the quiet world.
The gulls sat, dazzlingly white, motionless as little headstones, along the rim where green land met brown vore, then rose and shrieked and swooped as the clatter began again, dipping in the wake of the new furrow. And the sun went overhead, making sweating steeds and sweating man and bright wheels and brighter blade of the plough glisten like sculptured bronze, while all the time the green was being more and more swamped, furrow after furrow, by the encroaching brown.
That night Ishmael was sore and stiff, but happy, with a deep physical content. The next day and the next and on till the last furrow lay turned along the lower hedge he kept himself at it doggedly, in spite of aching muscles, driven by a vague feeling that this was his initiation, his test of knighthood, and that to fail at it, to leave it to other hands, would augur ill. When, on the sixth night, he washed the sweat and earth from off his healthily tired body he felt life could hold nothing sweeter than what it had yielded him in these six days. He had taken seizen of his land.
THE SHADOW AT THE WINDOW
For nearly three years that content of Ishmael's held—held till the Parson, who had worked for it, grew ill-pleased. It seemed unnatural that so young a man should never want to roam further afield than the annual cattle fair; should be sufficiently stayed with that perpetual struggle against weald and weather. It was just that tussle which, by keeping the body hard and the mind stimulated, made the content possible. Ishmael had up till now asked for nothing better, and so far, so good. But, as the Parson told himself, the time would come when he would demand more, and then, for lack of knowing other possibilities, he might slake himself with whatever was near at hand and slowly sink into the things of the soil till he was smothered with their reek. Up till now he had spiritualised the land by his wrestling with it, but now that some measure of success, enough to make the struggle less a thing that must not be relaxed for a day, had come, now was the time when the reverse process might begin unseen.
Cloom had undergone a wonderful regeneration, though at present it went only skin-deep, and if left to herself she would soon relapse into savagery. Ground that had been furze-ridden within the memory of man now yielded roots and grain, though not yet richly; the stubborn furze had been burnt and hacked and torn up, the thorns and thistles, the docks and sorrel, had been patiently attacked until they too yielded, the fine clinging roots of the innocent-looking pink-faced centaury and the more blatant charlock had been eliminated from the tenacious soil; while the pale golden cows of alien breed waxed fat and gave rich milk only a few tones paler than their own smooth flanks.
All this was in the main Ishmael's work; and his blunders had been few—he had a genius for the land. It had been hard work though it meant joy, and left not much time or ease of limb for recreation. It had been in that respect the Parson met difficulties. There was hunting in season, and Ishmael was a keen rider to hounds, in spite of his aversion to slaughter of any kind, which upon the farm was the source of not unkindly mirth amongst the men. They could not yield of their fullest respect and nothing of comprehension to a master who was never present when his own pigs were killed, beyond one occasion when he attended to assure himself that all was done in the most merciful way and had ended by being violently sick into the bowl of pig's blood. In hunting Ishmael found, like many another, that his own excitement helped him to bear with the thought of the fox's pain, though he was always glad, in guilty secret, when there was no kill. It was not this idiosyncrasy that troubled Boase; it was the social questions that hunting evoked. Boase, who also followed to hounds, felt his heart glow to see how well the boy was received; for Ishmael's surly shyness had passed into a new phase, expressed by a rather charming deference mingled with independence which appealed to the brusque, goodhearted members of the "county," who went to make up the very mixed hunt in that sparsely-peopled district.
Still, all was not well. Vassie had grown in discontent, Annie in melancholy. The girl herself might—probably would, with her beauty and adaptability—have won a place with Ishmael had it not been for the mother. Annie's touchy pride, mingled with what Vassie frankly called her "impossibleness," made the situation hopeless, for the former quality would not let her efface herself, and the latter prevented her daughter being called upon. Therefore, although Ishmael went out now and again and had struck up a fairly intimate acquaintance with one or two nice families within a radius of ten miles, yet he had no sort of home life which could satisfy him for long.
The only thing Boase saw to be thankful for was that Ishmael's thoughts had not been driven on to Phoebe, and that was probably only because it had never occurred to Ishmael as a possible contingency. He had been so healthily occupied and was so used to Phoebe. Also, Vassie, in her discontent, spent the time visiting her rather second-class friends in Plymouth as much as possible, and, even when she did not insist on sweeping Phoebe with her, intercourse with the mill stopped almost entirely. Annie never pretended to any liking for the helpless Phoebe, who could not even answer her back when she insulted her, as she frequently did all timid people. Never since that accidental touch of quaintness on the first evening had Ishmael discovered any kindred habit of mind in Phoebe, and she, in her sweetly-obtuse way, sometimes wondered that Ishmael did not want to be more with her.
It was not a common failing with the chaps around that district. Phoebe's peculiar allure of utter softness was not one that could remain unfelt even among the slow and primitive young men she met day by day, or who gazed at her dewy mouth and eyes in the church which, for the sake of the vision, they attended instead of chapel. Vassie, who was really a beauty, they only feared. At any moment, if he were not drawn outside himself and the affairs of Cloom, that sudden curious twist of vision which means glamour might occur for Ishmael as he looked at Phoebe. If there were no rich enough materials at hand to make a fuller life for the boy, then, thought the Parson, with logic, it must be brought to him. The difficulty was Ishmael himself.
He had a curious quality derived of some inherited instinct of fear—a quality that made him distrust change. It had been that which had held him back on the day at St. Renny when he had dallied with the notion of running away to sea; it had been that which had made him loth to leave school at the end in spite of his excitement over returning to a Cloom legally his; and it was that now which enabled him to be hypnotised by his own furrows drawing out in front of him. He clung to what happiness he knew in a way rare in one so young, and he was quite aware how much of it he found even in uncongenial company. What might lie beyond it he distrusted.
Not for nothing had Annie lived through the stress she had before his birth, and from her circumstances, though not her nature, he drew that queer mingling of content and dread. But from the old Squire, little as he resembled him in all else, came that impersonality in what are usually personal relationships, against which even the Parson beat in vain. Through all his passionate sinning James Ruan had held himself aloof from the sharer in his sins. What for him had been the thing by which he lived no one ever knew; his sardonic laughter barred all ingress to his mind.