"Won't it keep?"
"To me it's important."
"Oh, fire away then: only help yourself to the claret first."
"A girl—Lizzie Pezzack, living over at Langona—has had a child born—"
"Stop a moment. Do I know her?—Ah, to be sure—daughter of old Pezzack, the light-keeper—a brown-coloured girl with her hair over her eyes. Well, I'm not surprised. Wants money, I suppose? Who's the father?"
"I don't know."
"Well, but—damn it all!—somebody knows." Sir Harry reached for the bottle and refilled his glass.
"The one thing I know is that Honoria—Mrs. George, I mean—has heard about it, and suspects me."
Sir Harry lifted his glass and glanced at him over the rim. "That's the devil. Does she, now?" He sipped. "She hasn't been herself for a day or two—this explains it. I thought it was change of air she wanted. She's in the deuce of a rage, you bet."
"She is," said Taffy grimly.
"There's no prude like your young married woman. But it'll blow over, my boy. My advice to you is to keep out of the way for a while."
"But—but it's a lie!" broke in the indignant Taffy. "As far as I am concerned there's not a grain of truth in it!"
"Oh—I beg your pardon, I'm sure." Here Honoria's terrier (the one which George had bought for her at Plymouth) interrupted by begging for a biscuit, and Sir Harry balanced one carefully on its nose. "On trust—good dog! What does the girl say herself?"
"I don't know. I've not seen her."
"Then, my dear fellow—it's awkward, I admit—but I'm dashed if I see what you expect me to do." The baronet pulled out a handkerchief and began flicking the crumbs off his knees.
Taffy watched him for a minute in silence. He was asking himself why he had come. Well, he had come in a hot fit of indignation, meaning to face Honoria and force her to take back the insult of her suspicion. But after all—suppose George were at the bottom of it? Clearly Sir Henry knew nothing, and in any case could not be asked to expose his own son. And Honoria? Let be that she would never believe—that he had no proof, no evidence even—this were a pretty way of beginning to discharge his debt to her! The terrier thrust a cold muzzle against his hand. The room was very still. Sir Harry poured out another glassful and held out the decanter. "Come, you must drink; I insist!"
Taffy looked up. "Thank you, I will."
He could now and with a clear conscience. In those quiet moments he had taken the great resolution. The debt should be paid back, and with interest; not at five per cent., but at a rate beyond the creditor's power of reckoning. For the interest to be guarded for her should be her continued belief in the man she loved. Yes, but if George were innocent? Why, then the sacrifice would be idle; that was all.
He swallowed the wine, and stood up.
"Must you be going? I wanted a chat with you about Oxford," grumbled Sir Harry; but noting the lad's face, how white and drawn it was, he relented, and put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't take it too seriously, my boy. It'll blow over—it'll blow over. Honoria likes you, I know. We'll see what the trollop says: and if I get a chance of putting in a good word, you may depend on me."
He walked with Taffy to the door—good, easy man—and waved a hand from the porch. On the whole, he was rather glad than not to see his young friend's back.
From his smithy window Mendarva spied Taffy coming along the road, and stepped out on the green to shake hands with him.
"Pleased to see your face, my son! You'll excuse my not asking 'ee inside; but the fact is"—he jerked his thumb towards the smithy—" we've a-got our troubles in there."
It came on our youth with something of a shock that the world had room for any trouble beside his own.
"'Tis the Dane. He went over to Truro yesterday to the wrastlin', an' got thrawed. I tell'n there's no call to be shamed. 'Twas Luke the Wendron fella did it—in the treble play—inside lock backward, and as pretty a chip as ever I see." Mendarva began to illustrate it with foot and ankle, but checked himself, and glanced nervously over his shoulder. "Isn' lookin', I hope? He's in a terrible pore about it. Won't trust hissel' to spake, and don't want to see nobody. But, as I tell'n, there's no call to be shamed; the fella took the belt in the las' round, and turned his man over like a tab. He's a proper angletwitch, that Wendron fella. Stank 'pon en both ends, and he'll rise up in the middle and look at 'ee. There was no one a patch on en but the Dane; and I'll back the Dane next time they clinch. 'Tis a nuisance, though, to have'n like this—with a big job coming on, too, over to the light-house."
Taffy looked steadily at the smith. "What's doing at the light-house?"
"Ha'n't 'ee heerd?" Mendarva began a long tale, the sum of which was that the light-house had begun of late to show signs of age, to rock at times in an ominous manner. The Trinity House surveyor had been down and reported, and Mendarva had the contract for some immediate repairs. "But 'tis patching an old kettle, my son. The foundations be clamped down to the rock, and the clamps have worked loose. The whole thing'll have to come down in the end; you mark my words."
"But, these repairs?" Taffy interrupted: "You'll be wanting hands."
"Why, o' course."
"And a foreman—a clerk of the works—"
While Mendarva was telling his tale, over a hill two miles to the westward a small donkey-cart crawled for a minute against the sky-line and disappeared beyond the ridge which hid the towans. An old man trudged at the donkey's head; and a young woman sat in the cart with a bundle in her arms.
The old man trudged along so deep in thought that when the donkey without rhyme or reason came to a halt, half-way down the hill, he too halted, and stood pulling a wisp of grey side-whiskers.
"Look here," he said. "You ent goin' to tell? That's your las' word, is it?"
The young woman looked down on the bundle and nodded her head.
"There, that'll do. If you weant, you weant; I've tek'n 'ee back, an' us must fit and make the best o't. The cheeld'll never be good for much—born lame like that. But 'twas to be, I s'pose."
Lizzie sat dumb, but hugged the bundle closer.
"'Tis like a judgment. If your mother'd been spared, 'twudn' have happened. But 'twas to be, I s'pose. The Lord's ways be past findin' out."
He woke up and struck the donkey across the rump.
"Gwan you! Gee up! What d'ee mean by stoppin' like that?"
THE SERVICE OF THE LAMP.
The Chief Engineer of the Trinity House was a man of few words. He and Taffy had spent the afternoon clambering about the rocks below the light-house, peering into its foundations. Here and there, where weed coated the rocks and made foothold slippery, he took the hand which Taffy held out. Now and then he paused for a pinch of snuff. The round of inspection finished, he took an extraordinarily long pinch.
"What's your opinion?" he asked, cocking his head on one side and examining the young man much as he had examined the light-house. "You have one, I suppose?"
"Yes, sir; but of course it doesn't count for much."
"I asked for it."
"Well, then, I think, sir, we have wasted a year's work; and if we go on tinkering we shall waste more."
"Pull it down and rebuild, you say?"
"Yes, sir; but not on the same rock."
"This rock was ill-chosen. You see, sir, just here a ridge of elvan crops up through the slate; the rock, out yonder, is good elvan, and that is why the sea has made an island of it, wearing away the softer stuff inshore. The mischief here lies in the rock, not in the light-house."
"The sea has weakened our base?"
"Partly: but the light-house has done more. In a strong gale the foundations begin to work, and in the chafing the rock gets the worst of it."
"What about concrete?"
"You might fill up the sockets with concrete; but I doubt, sir, if the case would hold for any time. The rock is a mere shell in places, especially on the north-western side."
"H'm. You were at Oxford for a time, were you not?"
"Yes, sir," Taffy answered, wondering.
"I've heard about you. Where do you live?"
Taffy pointed to the last of a line of three whitewashed cottages behind the light-house.
"No, sir; with my mother and my grandmother. She is an invalid."
"I wonder if your mother would be kind enough to offer me a cup of tea?"
In the small kitchen, on the walls of which, and even on the dresser, Taffy's books fought for room with Humility's plates and tin-ware, the Chief Engineer proved to be a most courteous old gentleman. Towards Humility he bore himself with an antique politeness which flattered her considerably. And when he praised her tea she almost forgave him for his detestable habit of snuff-taking.
He had heard something (it appeared) from the President of Taffy's college, and also from—(he named Taffy's old friend in the velvet college-cap). In later days Taffy maintained not only that every man must try to stand alone, but that he ought to try the harder because of its impossibility; for in fact it was impossible to escape from men's helpfulness. And though his work was done in lonely places where in the end fame came out to seek him, he remained the same boy who, waking in the dark, had heard the bugles speaking comfort.
As a matter of fact his college had generously offered him a chance which would have cost him nothing or next to nothing, of continuing to read for his degree. But he had chosen his line, and against Humility's entreaties he stuck to it. The Chief Engineer took a ceremonious leave. He had to drive back to his hotel, and Taffy escorted him to his carriage.
"I shall run over again to-morrow," he said at parting; "and we'll have a look at that island rock." He was driven off, secretly a little puzzled.
Well, it puzzled Taffy at times why he should be working here with Mendarva's men for twenty shillings a week (it had been eighteen, to begin with) when he might be reading for his degree and a fellowship. Yet in his heart he knew the reason. That would be building, after all, on the foundations which Honoria had laid.
Pride had helped chance to bring him here, to the very spot where Lizzie Pezzack lived. He met her daily, and several times a day. She, and his mother and grandmother, were all the women-folk in the hamlet—if three cottages deserve that name. In the first cottage Lizzie lived with her father, who was chief light-houseman, and her crippled child; two under-keepers, unmarried men, managed together in the second; and this accident allowed Taffy to rent the third from the Brethren of the Trinity House and live close to his daily work. Unless brought by business, no one visited that windy peninsula; no one passed within sight of it; no tree grew upon it or could be seen from it. At daybreak Taffy's workmen came trudging along the track where the short turf and gentians grew between the wheel-ruts; and in the evening went trudging back, the level sun flashing on their empty dinner-cans. The eight souls left behind had one common gospel— Cleanliness. Very little dust found its way thither; but the salt, spray-laden air kept them constantly polishing window-panes and brass-work. To wash, to scour, to polish, grew into the one absorbing business of life. They had no gossip; even in their own dwellings they spoke but little; their speech shrank and dwindled away in the continuous roar of the sea. But from morning to night, mechanically, they washed and scoured and polished. Paper was not whiter than the deal table and dresser which Humility scrubbed daily with soap and water, and once a week with lemon-juice as well. Never was cleaner linen to sight and smell than that which she pegged out by the furze-brake on the ridge. All the life of the small colony, though lonely, grew wholesome as it was simple of purpose in cottages thus sweetened and kept sweet by limewash and the salt wind.
And through it moved the forlorn figure of Lizzie Pezzack's child. Somehow Lizzie had taught the boy to walk, with the help of a crutch, as early as most children; but the wind made cruel sport with his first efforts in the open, knocking the crutch from under him at every third step, and laying him flat. The child had pluck, however; and when autumn came round again, could face a fairly stiff breeze.
It was about this time that word came of the Trinity Board's intention to replace the old lighthouse with one upon the outer rock. For the Chief Engineer had visited it and decided that Taffy was right. To be sure no mention was made of Taffy in his report; but the great man took the first opportunity to offer him the post of foreman of the works, so there was certainly nothing to be grumbled at. The work did not actually start until the following spring; for the rock, to receive the foundations, had to be bored some feet below high-water level, and this could only be attempted on calm days or when a southerly wind blew from the high land well over the workmen's heads, leaving the inshore water smooth. On such days Taffy, looking up from his work, would catch sight of a small figure on the cliff-top leaning aslant to the wind and watching.
For the child was adventurous and took no account of his lameness. Perhaps if he thought of it at all, having no chance to compare himself with other children, he accepted his lameness as a condition of childhood—something he would grow out of. His mother could not keep him indoors; he fidgeted continually. But he would sit or stand quiet by the hour on the cliff-top watching the men as they drilled and fixed the dynamite, and waiting for the bang of it. Best of all, however, were the days when his grandfather allowed him inside the light-house, to clamber about the staircase and ladders, to watch the oiling and trimming of the great lantern, and the ships moving slowly on the horizon. He asked a thousand questions about them.
"I think," said he one day before he was three years old, "that my father is in one of those ships."
"Bless the child!" exclaimed old Pezzack. "Who says you have a father?"
"Everybody has a father. Dicky Tregenza has one; they both work down at the rock. I asked Dicky, and he told me."
"Told 'ee what?"
"That everybody has a father. I asked him if mine was out in one of those ships, and he said very likely. I asked mother, too, but she was washing-up and wouldn't listen."
Old Pezzack regarded the child grimly. "'Twas to be, I s'pose," he muttered.
Lizzie Pezzack had never set foot inside the Raymonds' cottage. Humility, gentle soul as she was, could on some points be as unchristian as other women. As time went on it seemed that not a soul beside herself and Taffy knew of Honoria's suspicion. She even doubted, and Taffy doubted too, if Lizzie herself knew such an accusation had been made. Certainly never by word or look had Lizzie hinted at it. Yet Humility could not find it in her heart to forgive her. "She may be innocent," was the thought; "but through her came the injury to my son." Taffy by this time had no doubt at all. It was George who poisoned Honoria's ear; George's shame and Honoria's pride would explain why the whisper had never gone further; and nothing else would explain.
Did his mother guess this? He believed so at times, but they never spoke of it.
The lame child was often in the Raymonds' kitchen. Lizzie did not forbid or resent this. And he liked Humility, and would talk to her at length while he nibbled one of her dripping-cakes. "People don't tell the truth," he observed sagely on one of these occasions. (He pronounced it "troof," by the way.) "I know why we live here. It's because we're near the sea. My father's on the sea somewhere looking for us, and grandfather lights the lamp every night to tell him where we are. One night he'll see it and bring his ship in and take us all off together."
"Who told you all this?"
"Nobody. People won't tell me nothing (nofing). I has to make it out in my head."
At times, when his small limbs grew weary (though he never acknowledged this) he would stretch himself on the short turf of the headland and lie staring up at the white gulls. No one ever came near enough to surprise the look which then crept over the child's face. But Taffy, passing him at a distance, remembered another small boy, and shivered to remember and compare—
"A boy's will is the wind's will, And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."
—But how when the boy is a cripple?
One afternoon he was stooping to inspect an obstinate piece of boring when the man at his elbow said:
"Hullo! edn' that young Joey Pezzack in diffities up there? Blest if the cheeld won't break his neck wan of these days!"
Taffy caught up a coil of rope, sprang into a boat, and pushed across to land. "Don't move!" he shouted. At the foot of the cliff he picked up Joey's crutch and ran at full speed up the path worn by the workmen. This led him round to the verge ten feet above the ledge where the child clung white and silent. He looped the rope in a running noose and lowered it.
"Slip this under your arms. Can you manage, or shall I come down? I'll come if you're hurt."
"I've twisted my foot. It's all right, now you're come," said the little man bravely; and slid the rope round himself in the most business-like way.
"The grass was slipper—" he began, as soon as his feet touched firm earth: and with that he broke down and fell to sobbing in Taffy's arms.
Taffy carried him—a featherweight—to the cottage where Lizzie stood by her table washing up. She saw them at the gate and came running out.
"It's all right. He slipped—out on the cliff. Nothing more than a scratch or two, and perhaps a sprained ankle."
He watched while she set Joey in a chair and began to pull off his stockings. He had never seen the child's foot naked. She turned suddenly, caught him looking, and pulled the stocking back over the deformity.
"Have you heard?" she asked.
"She has a boy! Ah!" she laughed harshly, "I thought that would hurt you. Well, you have been a silly!"
"I don't think I understand."
"You don't think you understand!" she mimicked. "And you're not fond of her, eh? Never were fond of her, eh? You silly—to let him take her, and never tell!"
She faced him, hardening her gaze. "Yes, tell—" She nodded slowly; while Joey, unobserved by either, looked up with wide, round eyes.
"Men don't fight like that." The words were out before it struck him that one man had, almost certainly, fought like that. Her face, however, told him nothing. She could not know. "You have never told," he added.
"Because—" she began, but could not tell him the whole truth. And yet what he said was true. "Because you would not let me," she muttered.
"In the churchyard, you mean—on her wedding day?"
"But before that I never guessed."
"All the same I knew what you were. You wouldn' have let me. It came to the same thing. And if I had told—Oh, you make it hard for me!" she wailed.
He stared at her, understanding this only—that somehow he could control her will.
"I will never let you tell," he said gravely.
"I hate her!"
"You shall not tell."
"Listen"—she drew close and touched his arm. "He never cared for her; it's not his way to care. She cares for him now, I dessay—not as she might have cared for you—but she's his wife, and some women are like that. There's her pride, any way. Suppose—suppose he came back to me?"
"If I caught him—" Taffy began: but the poor child, who for two minutes had been twisting his face heroically, interrupted with a wail:
"Oh, mother! my foot—it hurts so!"
FACE TO FACE.
The first winter had interrupted all work upon the rock; but Taffy and his men had used the calm days of the following spring and summer to such purpose that before the end of July the foundations began to show above high-water neaps, and in September he was able to report that the building could be pushed forward in any ordinary weather. The workmen were carried to and from the mainland by a wire hawser and cradle, and the rising breastwork of masonry protected them from the beat of the sea. Progress was slow, for each separate stone had to be dovetailed above, below, and on all sides with the blocks adjoining it, besides being cemented; and care to be taken that no salt mingled with the fresh water, or found its way into the joints of the building. Taffy studied the barometer hour by hour, and kept a constant look-out to windward against sudden gales.
On November 16th the men had finished their dinner, and sat smoking under the lee of the wall, when Taffy, with his pocket-aneroid in his hand, gave the order to snug down and man the cradle for shore. They stared. The morning had been a halcyon one; and the northerly breeze, which had sprung up with the turn of the tide and was freshening, carried no cloud across the sky. Two vessels, abrigantine and a three-masted schooner, were merrily reaching down-channel before it, the brigantine leading; at two miles' distance they could see distinctly the white foam running from her bluff bows, and her forward deck from bulwark to bulwark as she heeled to it.
One or two grumbled. Half a day's work meant half a day's pay to them. It was all very well for the Cap'n, who drew his by the week.
"Come, look alive!" Taffy called sharply. He pinned his faith to the barometer, and as he shut it in its case he glanced at the brigantine and saw that her crew were busy with the braces, flattening the forward canvas. "See there, boys. There'll be a gale from the west'ard before night."
For a minute the brigantine seemed to have run into a calm. The schooner, half a mile behind her, came reaching along steadily.
"That there two-master's got a fool for a skipper," grumbled a voice. But almost at the moment the wind took her right aback—or would have done so had the crew not been preparing for it. Her stern swung slowly around into view, and within two minutes she was fetching away from them on the port tack, her sails hauled closer and closer as she went. Already the schooner was preparing to follow suit.
"Snug down, boys! We must be out of this in half an hour."
And sure enough, by the time Taffy gained the cliff by the old light-house, the sky had darkened, and a stiff breeze from the north-west, crossing the tide, was beginning to work up a nasty sea around the rock and lop it from time to time over the masonry and the platforms where half an hour before his men had been standing. The two vessels had disappeared in the weather; and as Taffy stared in their direction a spit of rain—the first—took him viciously in the face.
He turned his back to it and hurried homeward. As he passed the light-house door old Pezzack called out to him:
"Hi! wait a bit! Would 'ee mind seein' Joey home? I dunno what his mother sent him over here for, not I. He'll get hisself leakin'."
Joey came hobbling out, and put his right hand in Taffy's with the fist doubled.
"What's that in your hand?"
Joey looked up shyly. "You won't tell?"
"Not if it's a secret."
The child opened his palm and disclosed a bright half-crown piece.
"Where on earth did you get that?"
"The soldier gave it to me."
"The soldier? nonsense! What tale are you making up?"
"Well, he had a red coat, so he must be a soldier. He gave it to me, and told me to be a good boy and run off and play."
Taffy came to a halt. "Is he here—up at the cottages?"
"How funnily you say that! No, he's just rode away. I watched him from the light-house windows. He can't be gone far yet."
"Look here, Joey—can you run?"
"Yes, if you hold my hand; only you mustn't go too fast. Oh, you're hurting!"
Taffy took the child in his arms, and with the wind at his back went up the hill with long stride. "There he is!" cried Joey as they gained the ridge; and he pointed; and Taffy, looking along the ridge, saw a speck of scarlet moving against the lead-coloured moors—half a mile away perhaps, or a little more. He sat the child down, for the cottages were close by. "Run home, sonny. I'm going to have a look at the soldier, too."
The first bad squall broke on the headland just as Taffy started to run. It was as if a bag of water had burst right overhead, and within a quarter of a minute he was drenched to the skin. So fiercely it went howling inland along the ridge that he half expected to see the horse urged into a gallop before it. But the rider, now standing high for a moment against the sky-line, went plodding on. For a while horse and man disappeared over the rise; but Taffy guessed that on hitting the cross-path beyond it they would strike away to the left and descend toward Langona Creek; and he began to slant his course to the left in anticipation. The tide, he knew, would be running in strong; and with this wind behind it he hoped—and caught himself praying—that it would be high enough to cover the wooden foot-bridge and make the ford impassable; and if so, the horseman would be delayed and forced to head back and fetch a circuit farther up the valley.
By this time the squalls were coming fast on each other's heels, and the strength of them flung him forward at each stride. He had lost his hat, and the rain poured down his back and squished in his boots. But all he felt was the hate in his heart. It had gathered there little by little for three years and a half, pent up, fed by his silent thoughts as a reservoir by small mountain streams; and with so tranquil a surface that at times—poor youth!—he had honestly believed it reflected God's calm, had been proud of his magnanimity, and said "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us." Now as he ran he prayed to the same God to delay the traitor at the ford.
Dusk was falling when George, yet unaware of pursuit, turned down the sunken lane which ended beside the ford. And by the shore, when the small waves lapped against his mare's fore-feet, he heard Taffy's shout for the first time and turned in his saddle. Even so it was a second or two before he recognised the figure which came plunging down the low cliff on his left, avoiding a fall only by wild clutches at the swaying elder boughs.
"Hello!" he shouted cheerfully. "Looks nasty, doesn't it?"
Taffy came down the beach, near enough to see that the mare's legs were plastered with mud, and to look up into his enemy's face.
"Get down," he panted.
"Get down, I tell you. Come off your horse and put up your fists!"
"What the devil is the matter? Hello! . . . Keep off, I tell you! Are you mad?"
"Come off and fight."
"By God, I'll break your head in if you don't let go. . . . You idiot!"—as the mare plunged and tore the stirrup-leather from Taffy's grip—"She'll brain you, if you fool round her heels like that!"
"Come off, then."
"Very well." George backed a little, swung himself out of the saddle and faced him on the beach. "Now perhaps you'll explain."
"You've come from the headland?"
"From Lizzie Pezzack's."
"Well, and what then?"
"Only this, that so sure as you've a wife at home, if you come to the headland again I'll kill you; and if you're a man, you'll put up your fists now."
"Oh, that's it? May I ask what you have to do with my wife, or with Lizzie Pezzack?"
"Whose child is Lizzie's?"
"Not yours, is it?"
"You said so once; you told your wife so; liar that you were."
"Very good, my gentleman. You shall have what you want. Woa, mare!" He led her up the beach and sought for a branch to tie his reins to. The mare hung back, terrified by the swishing of the whipped boughs and the roar of the gale overhead: her hoofs, as George dragged her forward, scuffled with the loose-lying stones on the beach. After a minute he desisted and turned on Taffy again.
"Look here; before we have this out there's one thing I'd like to know. When you were at Oxford, was Honoria maintaining you there?"
"If you must know—yes."
"And when—when this happened, she stopped the supplies?"
"Well, then, I didn't know it. She never told me."
"She never told me."
"You don't say—"
"I do. I never knew it until too late."
"Well, now, I'm going to fight you. I don't swallow being called a liar. But I tell you this first, that I'm damned sorry. I never guessed that it injured your prospects."
At another time, in another mood, Taffy might have remembered that George was George, and heir to Sir Harry's nature. As it was, the apology threw oil on the flame.
"You cur! Do you think it was that? And you are Honoria's husband!" He advanced with an ugly laugh. "For the last time, put up your fists."
They had been standing within two yards of each other; and even so, shouted at the pitch of their voices to make themselves heard above the gale. As Taffy took a step forward George lifted his whip. His left hand held the bridle on which the reluctant mare was dragging, and the action was merely instinctive, to guard against sudden attack.
But as he did so his face and uplifted arm were suddenly painted clear against the darkness. The mare plunged more wildly than ever. Taffy dropped his hands and swung round. Behind him, the black contour of the hill, the whole sky welled up a pale blue light which gathered brightness while he stared. The very stones on the beach at his feet shone separate and distinct.
"What is it?" George gasped.
"A ship on the rocks! Quick, man! Will the mare reach to Innis?"
"She'll have to." George wheeled her round. She was fagged out with two long gallops after hounds that day, but for the moment sheer terror made her lively enough.
"Ride, then! Call up the coast-guard. By the flare she must be somewhere off the creek here. Ride!"
A clatter of hoofs answered him as the mare pounded up the lane.
THE WRECK OF THE "SAMARITAN."
Taffy stood for a moment listening. He judged the wreck to be somewhere on the near side of the light-house, between it and the mouth of the creek; that was, if she had already struck. If not, the gale and the set of the tide together would be sweeping her eastward, perhaps right across the mouth of the creek. And if he could discover this his course would be to run back, intercept the coast-guard, and send him around by the upper bridge.
He waited for a second signal to guide him—a flare or a rocket: but none came. The beach lay in the lew of the weather, deep in the hills' hollow and trebly land-locked by the windings of the creek, but above him the sky kept its screaming as though the bare ridges of the headland were being shelled by artillery.
He resolved to keep along the lower slopes and search his way down to the creek's mouth, when he would have sight of any signal shown along the coast for a mile or two to the east and north-east. The night was now as black as a wolf's throat, but he knew every path and fence. So he scrambled up the low cliff and began to run, following the line of stunted oaks and tamarisks which fenced it, and on the ridges—where the blown hail took him in the face—crouching and scuttling like a crab sideways, moving his legs only from the knees down.
In this way he had covered half a mile and more when his right foot plunged in a rabbit hole and he was pitched headlong into the tamarisks below. Their boughs bent under his weight, but they were tough, and he caught at them, and just saved himself from rolling over into the black water. He picked himself up and began to rub his twisted ankle. And at that instant, in a lull between two gusts, his ear caught the sound of splashing, yet a sound so unlike the lapping of the driven tide that he peered over and down between the tamarisk boughs.
"Hullo!" a voice answered. "Is that someone alive? Here, mate—for Christ's sake!"
"Hold on! Whereabouts are you?"
"Down in this here cruel water." The words ended in a shuddering cough.
"Right—hold on for a moment!" Taffy's ankle pained him, but the wrench was not serious. The cliff shelved easily. He slid down, clutching at the tamarisk boughs which whipped his face. "Where are you? I can't see."
"Here!" The voice was not a dozen yards away.
"No—I've got a water-breaker—can't hold on much longer."
"I believe you can touch bottom there."
"Hey? I can't hear."
"Try to touch bottom. It's firm sand hereabouts."
"So I can." The splashing and coughing came nearer, came close. Taffy stretched out a hand. A hand, icy-cold, fumbled and gripped it in the darkness.
"Christ! Where's a place to lie down?"
"Here, on this rock." They peered at each other, but could not see. The man's teeth chattered close to Taffy's ear.
"Warm my hands, mate—there's a good chap." He lay on the rock and panted. Taffy took his hands and began to rub them briskly.
"Where's the ship?"
"Where's the ship?" He seemed to turn over the question in his mind, and then stretched himself with a sigh. "How the hell should I know?"
"What's her name?" Taffy had to ask the question twice.
"The Samaritan, of Newport, brigantine. Coals she carried. Ha'n't you such a thing as a match? It seems funny to me, talkin' here like this, and me not knowin' you from Adam."
He panted between the words, and when he had finished lay back and panted again.
"Hurt?" asked Taffy after a while.
The man sat up and began to feel his limbs, quite as though they belonged to some other body. "No, I reckon not."
"Then we'd best be starting. The tide's rising. My house is just above here."
He led the way along the slippery foreshore until he found what he sought, a foot-track slanting up the cliff. Here he gave the sailor a hand and they mounted together. On the grass slope above they met the gale and were forced to drop on their hands and knees and crawl, Taffy leading and shouting instructions, the sailor answering each with "Ay, ay, mate!" to show that he understood.
But about half-way up these answers ceased, and Taffy, looking round and calling, found himself alone. He groped his way back for twenty yards, and found the man stretched on his face and moaning.
"I can't . . . I can't! My poor brother! I can't!"
Taffy knelt beside him on the soaking turf. "Your brother? Had you a brother on board?"
The man bowed his face again upon the turf. Taffy, upright on both knees, heard him sobbing like a child in the roaring darkness.
"Come," he coaxed, and putting out a hand, touched his wet hair. "Come." They crept forward again, but still as he followed the sailor cried for his drowned brother, up the long slope to the ridge of the headland, where, with the light-house and warm cottage windows in view, all speech and hearing were drowned by stinging hail and the blown grit of the causeway.
Humility opened the door to them.
"Taffy! Where have you been?"
"There has been a wreck."
"Yes, yes—the coast-guard is down by the light-house. The men there saw her before she struck. They kept signalling till it fell dark. They had sent off before that."
She drew back, shrinking against the dresser as the lamplight fell on the stranger. Taffy turned and stared too. The man's face was running with blood; and looking at his own hands he saw that they also were scarlet.
He helped the poor wretch to a chair.
"Bandages: can you manage?" She nodded, and stepped to a cupboard. The sailor began to wail again like an infant.
"See—above the temple here: the cut isn't serious." Taffy took down a lantern and lit it. The candle shone red through the smears his fingers left on the horn panes. "I must go and help, if you can manage."
"I can manage," she answered quietly.
He strode out, and closing the door behind him with an effort, faced the gale again. Down in the lee of the light-house the lamps of the coast-guard carriage gleamed foggily through the rain. The men were there discussing, George among them. He had just galloped up.
The Chief Officer went off to question the survivor, while the rest began their search. They searched all that night; they burned flares and shouted; their torches dotted the cliffs. After an hour the Chief Officer returned. He could make nothing of the sailor, who had fallen silly from exhaustion or the blow on his head; but he divided his men into three parties, and they began to hunt more systematically. Taffy was told off to help the westernmost gang and search the rocks below the light-house. Once or twice he and his comrades paused in their work, hearing, as they thought, a cry for help. But when they listened, it was only one of the other parties hailing.
The gale began to abate soon after midnight, and before dawn had blown itself out. Day came, filtered slowly through the wrack of it to the south-east; and soon they heard a whistle blown, and there on the cliff above them was George Vyell on horseback, in his red coat, with an arm thrown out and pointing eastward. He turned and galloped off in that direction.
They scrambled up and followed. To their astonishment, after following the cliffs for a few hundred yards, he headed inland, down and across the very slope up which Taffy had crawled with the sailor.
They lost sight of his red coat among the ridges. Two or three— Taffy amongst them—ran along the upper ground for a better view.
"Well, this beats all!" panted the foremost.
Below them George came into view again, heading now at full gallop for a group of men gathered by the shore of the creek, a good half-mile from its mouth. And beyond—midway across the sandy bed where the river wound—lay the hull of a vessel, high and dry; her deck, naked of wheelhouse and hatches, canted toward them as if to cover from the morning the long wounds ripped by her uprooted masts.
The men beside him shouted and ran on, but Taffy stood still. It was monstrous—a thing inconceivable—that the seas should have lifted a vessel of three hundred tons and carried her half a mile up that shallow creek. Yet there she lay. A horrible thought seized him. Could she have been there last night when he had drawn the sailor ashore? And had he left four or five others to drown close by, in the darkness? No, the tide at that hour had scarcely passed half-flood. He thanked God for that.
Well, there she lay, high and dry, with plenty to attend to her. It was time for him to discover the damage done to the light-house plant and machinery, perhaps to the building itself. In half an hour the workmen would be arriving.
He walked slowly back to the house, and found Humility preparing breakfast.
"Where is he?" Taffy asked, meaning the sailor. "In bed?"
"Didn't you meet him? He went out five minutes ago—I couldn't keep him—to look for his brother, he said."
Taffy drank a cupful of tea, took up a crust, and made for the door.
"Go to bed, dear," his mother pleaded. "You must be worn out."
"I must see how the works have stood it."
On the whole, they had stood it well. The gale, indeed, had torn away the wire table and cage, and thus cut off for the time all access to the outer rock; for while the sea ran at its present height the scramble out along the ridge could not be attempted even at low water. But from the cliff he could see the worst. The waves had washed over the building, tearing off the temporary covers, and churning all within. Planks, scaffolding—everything floatable-had gone, and strewed the rock with matchwood; and—a marvel to see-one of his two heaviest winches had been lifted from inside, hurled clean over the wall, and lay collapsed in the wreckage of its cast-iron frame. But, so far as he could see, the dovetailed masonry stood intact. A voice hailed him.
"What a night! What a night!"
It was old Pezzack, aloft on the gallery of the light-house in his yellow oilers, already polishing the lantern panes.
Taffy's workmen came straggling and gathered about him. They discussed the damage together but without addressing Taffy; until a little pock-marked fellow, the wag of the gang, nudged a mate slily and said aloud—
"By God, Bill, we can build a bit—you and me and the boss!"
All the men laughed; and Taffy laughed too, blushing. Yes; this had been in his mind. He had measured his work against the sea in its fury, and the sea had not beaten him.
A cry broke in upon their laughter. It came from the base of the cliff to the right: a cry so insistent that they ran toward it in a body.
Far below them, on the edge of a great boulder which rose from the broken water and seemed to overhang it, stood the rescued sailor. He was pointing.
Taffy was the first to reach him!
"It's my brother! It's my brother Sam!"
Taffy flung himself full length on the rock and peered over. A tangle of ore-weed awash rose and fell about its base; and from under this, as the frothy waves drew back, he saw a man's ankle protruding, and a foot still wearing a shoe.
"It's my brother!" wailed the sailor again. "I can swear to the shoe of en!"
One of the masons lowered himself into the pool, and thrusting an arm beneath the ore-weed, began to grope.
"He's pinned here. The rock's right on top of him."
Taffy examined the rock. It weighed fifteen tons if an ounce; but there were fresh and deep scratches upon it. He pointed these out to the men, who looked and felt them with their hands and stared at the subsiding waves, trying to bring their minds to the measure of the spent gale.
"Here, I must get out of this!" said the man in the pool, as a small wave dashed in and sent its spray over his bowed shoulders.
"You ban't going to leave en?" wailed the sailor. "You ban't going to leave my brother Sam?"
He was a small, fussy man, with red whiskers; and even his sorrow gave him little dignity. The men were tender with him.
"Nothing to be done till the tide goes back."
"But you won't leave en? Say you won't leave en! He've a wife and three children. He was a saved man, sir, a very religious man; not like me, sir. He was highly respected in the neighbourhood of St. Austell. I shouldn't wonder if the newspapers had a word about en . . ." The tears were running down his face.
"We must wait for the tide," said Taffy gently, and tried to lead him away, but he would not go. So they left him to watch and wait while they returned to their work.
Before noon they recovered and fixed the broken wire cable. The iron cradle had disappeared, but to rig up a sling and carry out an endless line was no difficult job, and when this was done Taffy crossed over to the island rock and began to inspect damages. His working gear had suffered heavily, two of his windlasses were disabled, scaffolding, platforms, hods, and loose planks had vanished; a few small tools only remained, mixed together in a mash of puddled lime. But the masonry stood unhurt, all except a few feet of the upper course on the seaward side, where the gale, giving the cement no time to set, had shaken the dove-tailed stones in their sockets—a matter easily repaired.
Shortly before three a shout recalled them to the mainland. The tide was drawing towards low water, and three of the men set to work at once to open a channel and drain off the pool about the base of the big rock. While this was doing, half a dozen splashed in with iron bars and pickaxes; the rest rigged two stout ropes with tackles, and hauled. The stone did not budge. For more than an hour they prised and levered and strained. And all the while the sailor ran to and fro, snatching up now a pick and now a crowbar, now lending a hand to haul, and again breaking off to lament aloud.
The tide turned, the winter dark came down, and at half-past four Taffy gave the word to desist. They had to hold back the sailor, or he would have jumped in and drowned beside his brother.
Taffy slept little that night, though he needed sleep. The salving of this body had become almost a personal dispute between the sea and him. The gale had shattered two of his windlasses; but two remained, and by one o'clock next day he had both slung over to the mainland and fixed beside the rock. The news spreading inland fetched two or three score onlookers before ebb of tide—miners for the most part, whose help could be counted on. The men of the coast-guard had left the wreck, to bear a hand if needed. George had come too. And happening to glance upwards while he directed his men, Taffy saw a carriage with two horses drawn up on the grassy edge of the cliff: a groom at the horses' heads and in the carriage a figure seated, silhouetted there high against the clear blue heaven. Well he recognised, even at that distance, the poise of her head, though for almost four years he had never set eyes on her,—nor had wished to.
He knew that her eyes were on him now. He felt like a general on the eve of an engagement. By the almanac the tide would not turn until 4.35. At four, perhaps, they could begin; but even at four the winter twilight would be on them, and he had taken care to provide torches and distribute them among the crowd. His own men were making the most of the daylight left, drilling holes for dear life in the upper surface of the boulder, and fixing the Lewis-wedges and rings. They looked to him for every order, and he gave it in a clear, ringing voice which he knew must carry to the cliff top. He did not look at George.
He felt sure in his own mind that the wedges and rings would hold; but to make doubly sure he gave orders to loop an extra chain under the jutting base of the boulder. The mason who fixed it, standing waist-high in water as the tide ebbed, called for a rope and hitched it round the ankle of the dead man. The dead man's brother jumped down beside him and grasped the slack of it.
At a signal from Taffy the crowd began to light their torches. He looked at his watch, at the tide, and gave the word to man the windlasses. Then with a glance towards the cliff he started the working chant—"Ayee-ho, Ayee-ho!" The two gangs—twenty men to each windlass—took it up with one voice, and to the deep intoned chant the chains tautened, shuddered for a moment, and began to lift.
Silently, irresistibly, the chain drew the rock from its bed. To Taffy it seemed an endless time, to the crowd but a few moments before the brute mass swung clear. A few thrust their torches down towards the pit where the sailor knelt. Taffy did not look, but gave the word to pass down the coffin which had been brought in readiness. A clergyman—his father's successor, but a stranger to him—climbed down after it: and he stood in the quiet crowd watching the light-house above and the lamps which the groom had lit in Honoria's carriage, and listening to the bated voices of the few at their dreadful task below.
It was five o'clock and past before the word came up to lower the tackle and draw the coffin up. The Vicar clambered out to wait it, and when it came, borrowed a lantern and headed the bearers. The crowd fell in behind.
"I am the resurrection and the life. . . ."
They began to shuffle forwards and up the difficult track; but presently came to a halt with one accord, the Vicar ceasing in the middle of a sentence.
Out of the night, over the hidden sea, came the sound of men's voices lifted, thrilling the darkness thrice: the sound of three British cheers.
Whose were the voices? They never knew. A few had noticed as twilight fell a brig in the offing, standing inshore as she tacked down channel. She, no doubt, as they worked in their circle of torchlight, had sailed in close before going about, her crews gathered forward, her master perhaps watching through his night-glass had guessed the act, saluted it, and passed on her way unknown to her own destiny.
They strained their eyes. A man beside Taffy declared he could see something—the faint glow of a binnacle lamp as she stood away. Taffy could see nothing. The voice ahead began to speak again. The Vicar, pausing now and again to make sure of his path, was reading from a page which he held close to his lantern.
"Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off.
"Thou shalt not see a fierce people, a people of a deeper speech than thou canst perceive; of a stammering tongue that thou canst not understand.
"But there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.
"For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.
"Thy tacklings are loosed; they could not well strengthen their mast, they could not spread the sail; then is the prey of a great spoil divided; the lame take the prey."
Here the Vicar turned back a page, and his voice rang higher:
"Behold a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment.
"And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.
"And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken."
Now Taffy walked behind, thinking his own thoughts; for the cheers of those invisible sailors had done more than thrill his heart. A finger, as it were, had come out of the night and touched his brain, unsealing the wells and letting in light upon things undreamt of. Through the bright confusion of this sudden vision the Vicar's sentences sounded and fell on his ears unheeded. And yet while they faded that happened which froze and bit each separate word into his memory, to lose distinctness only when death should interfere, stop the active brain, and wipe the slate.
For while the procession halted and broke up its formation for a moment on the brow of the cliff, a woman came running into the torchlight.
"Is my Joey there? Where's he to, anybody? Hev anyone seen my Joey?"
It was Lizzie Pezzack, panting and bareheaded, with a scared face.
"He's lame—you'd know en. Have 'ee got en there? He's wandered off!"
"Hush up, woman," said a bearer. "Don't keep such a pore!"
"The cheeld's right enough somewheres," said another. "'Tis a man's body we've got. Stand out of the way, for shame!"
But Lizzie, who as a rule shrank away from men and kept herself hidden, pressed nearer, turning her tragical face upon each in turn. Her eyes met George's, but she appealed to him as to the others.
"He's wandered off. Oh, say you've seen en, somebody!"
Catching sight of Taffy, she ran and gripped him by the arm.
"You'll help! It's my Joey. Help me find en!"
He turned half about, and almost before he knew what he sought his eyes met George's. George stepped quietly to his side.
"Let me get my mare," said George, and walked away toward the light-house railing where he had tethered her.
"We'll find the child. Our work's done here, Mr. Saul!" Taffy turned to the Chief Officer. "Spare us a man or two and some flares."
"I'll come myself," said the Chief Officer. "Go you back, my dear, and we'll fetch home your cheeld as right as ninepence. Hi, Rawlings, take a couple of men and scatter along the cliffs there to the right. Lame, you say? He can't have gone far."
Taffy, with the Chief Officer and a couple of volunteers, moved off to the left, and in less than a minute George caught them up, on horseback.
"I say," he asked, walking his mare close alongside of Taffy, "you don't think this serious, eh?"
"I don't know. Joey wasn't in the crowd, or I should have noticed him. He's daring beyond his strength." He pulled a whistle from his pocket, blew it twice, and listened. This had been his signal when firing a charge; he had often blown it to warn the child to creep away into shelter.
There was no answer.
"Mr. Vyell had best trot along the upper slope," the Chief Officer suggested, "while we search down by the creek."
"Wait a moment," Taffy answered. "Let's try the wreck first."
"But the tide's running. He'd never go there."
"He's a queer child. I know him better than you."
They ran downhill toward the creek, calling as they went, but getting no answer.
"But the wreck!" exclaimed the Chief Officer. "It's out of reason!"
"Hi! What was that?"
"Oh, my good Lord," groaned one of the volunteers, "it's the crake, master! It's Langona crake calling the drowned!"
"Hush, you fool! Listen—I thought as much! Light a flare. Mr. Saul—he's out there calling!"
The first match spluttered and went out. They drew close around the Chief Officer while he struck the second to keep off the wind, and in those few moments the child's wail reached them distinctly across the darkness.
The flame leaped up and shone, and they drew back a pace, shading their eyes from it and peering into the steel-blue landscape which sprang on them out of the night. They had halted a few yards only from the cliff, and the flare cast the shadow of its breast-high fence of tamarisks forward and almost half-way across the creek, and there on the sands, a little beyond the edge of this shadow, stood the child.
They could even see his white face. He stood on an island of sand around which the tide swirled in silence, cutting him off from the shore, cutting him off from the wreck behind.
He did not cry any more, but stood with his crutch planted by the edge of the widening stream, and looked toward them.
And Taffy looked at George.
"I know," said George quietly, and gathered up his reins. "Stand aside, please."
As they drew aside, not understanding, he called to his mare. One living creature, at any rate, could still trust all to George Vyell. She hurtled past them and rose at the tamarisk-hedge blindly. Followed silence—a long silence; then a thud on the beach below and a scuffle of stones; silence again, and then the cracking of twigs as Taffy plunged after, through the tamarisks, and slithered down the cliff.
The light died down as his feet touched the flat slippery stones; died down, and was renewed again and showed up horse and rider scarce twenty yards ahead, labouring forward, the mare sinking fetlock deep at every plunge.
At his fourth stride Taffy's feet, too, began to sink, but at every stride he gained something. The riding may be superb, but thirteen stone is thirteen stone. Taffy weighed less than eleven.
He caught up with George on the very edge of the water. "Make her swim it!" he panted. "Her feet mustn't touch here." George grunted. A moment later all three were in the water, the tide swirling them sideways, sweeping Taffy against the mare. His right hand touched her flank at every stroke.
The tide swept them upwards—upwards for fifteen yards at least, though the channel measured less than eight feet. The child, who had been standing opposite the point where they took the water, hobbled wildly along shore. The light on the cliff behind sank and rose again.
"The crutch," Taffy gasped. The child obeyed, laying it flat on the brink and pushing it toward them. Taffy gripped it with his left hand, and with his right found the mare's bridle. George was bending forward.
"No—not that way! You can't get back! The wreck, man!—it's firmer—"
But George reached out his hand and dragged the child towards him and on to his saddle-bow. "Mine," he said quietly, and twitched the rein. The brave mare snorted, jerked the bridle from Taffy's hand, and headed back for the shore she had left.
Rider, horse, and child seemed to fall away from him into the night. He scrambled out, and snatching the crutch ran along the brink, staring at their black shadows. By-and-by the shadows came to a standstill. He heard the mare panting, the creaking of saddle-leather came across the nine or ten feet of dark water.
"It's no go," said George's voice; then to the mare, "Sally, my dear, it's no go." A moment later he asked more sharply:
"How far can you reach?"
Taffy stepped in until the waves ran by his knees. The sand held his feet, but beyond this he could not stand against the current. He reached forward holding the crutch at arm's length.
"Can you catch hold?"
"All right." Both knew that swimming would be useless now; they were too near the upper apex of the sand-bank.
"The child first. Here, Joey, my son! reach out and catch hold for your life."
Taffy felt the child's grip on the crutch-head, and drawing it steadily toward him hauled the poor child through. The light from the cliff sank and rose behind his scared face.
"Yes." The sand was closing around Taffy's legs, but he managed to shift his footing a little.
"Quick, then; the bank's breaking up."
George was sinking, knee-deep and deeper. But his outstretched fingers managed to reach and hook themselves around the crutch-head.
"Steady, now . . . must work you loose first. Get hold of the shaft if you can: the head isn't firm. Work your legs . . . that's it."
George wrenched his left foot loose and planted it against the mare's flank. Hitherto she had trusted her master. The thrust of his heel drove home her sentence, and with scream after scream—the sand holding her past hope—she plunged and fought for her life. Still as she screamed, George, silent and panting, thrust against her, thrust savagely against the quivering body, once his pride for beauty and fleetness.
"Pull!" he gasped, freeing his other foot with a wrench which left its heavy riding-boot deep in the sucking mud; and catching a new grip on the crutch-head, flung himself forward.
Taffy felt the sudden weight and pulled—and while he pulled felt in a moment no grip, no weight at all. Between two hateful screams a face slid by him, out of reach, silent, with parted lips; and as it slipped away he fell back staggering, grasping the useless, headless crutch.
The mare went on screaming. He turned his back on her, and catching Joey by the hand dragged him away across the melting island. At the sixth step the child, hauled off his crippled foot, swung blundering across his legs. He paused, lifted him in his arms and plunged forward again.
The flares on the cliff were growing in number. They cast long shadows before him. On the far side of the island the tide flowed swift and steady—a stream about fourteen yards wide—cutting him from the farther sand-bank on which, not fifty yards above, lay the wreck. He whispered to Joey, and plunged into it straight, turning as the water swept him off his legs, and giving his back to it, his hands slipped under the child's armpits, his feet thrusting against the tide in slow, rhythmical strokes.
The child after the first gasp lay still, his head obediently thrown back on Taffy's breast. The mare had ceased to scream. The water rippled in the ears as each leg-thrust drove them little by little across the current.
If George had but listened! It was so easy, after all. The sand-bank still slid past them, but less rapidly. They were close to it now, and had only to lie still and be drifted against the leaning stanchions of the wreck. Taffy flung an arm about one and checked his way quietly, as a man brings a boat alongside a quay. He hoisted Joey first upon the stanchion, then up the tilted deck to the gap of the main hatchway. Within this, with their feet on the steps and their chests leaning on the side panel of the companion, they rested and took breath.
The child burst into tears.
Taffy dragged off his own coat and wrapped him in it. The small body crept close, sobbing, against his side.
Across, on the shore, voices were calling, blue eyes moving. A pair of yellow lights came towards these, travelling swiftly upon the hillside. Taffy guessed what they were.
The yellow lights moved more slowly. They joined the blue ones, and halted. Taffy listened. But the voices were still now; he heard nothing but the hiss of the black water, across which those two lamps sought and questioned him like eyes.
"God help her!"
He bowed his face on his arms. A little while, and the sands would be covered, the boats would put off; a little while. . . . Crouching from those eyes he prayed God to lengthen it.
She was sitting there rigid, cold as a statue, when the rescuers brought them ashore and helped them up the slope. A small crowd surrounded the carriage. In the rays of their moving lanterns her face altered nothing to all their furtive glances of sympathy opposing the same white mask. Some one said, "There's only two, then!" Another, with a nudge and a nod at the carriage, told him to hold his peace. She heard. Her lips hardened.
Lizzie Pezzack had rushed down to the shore to meet the boat. She was bringing her child along with a fond, wild babble of tender names and sobs and cries of thankfulness. In pauses, choked and overcome, she caught him to her, felt his limbs, pressed his wet face against her neck and bosom. Taffy, supported by strong arms and hurried in her wake, had a hideous sense of being paraded in her triumph. The men around him who had raised a faint cheer sank their voices as they neared the carriage; but the woman went forward, jubilant and ruthless, flaunting her joy as it were a flag blown in her eyes and blindfolding them to the grief she insulted.
It was Honoria's voice, cold, incisive, not to be disobeyed. He had prayed in vain. The procession halted; Lizzie checked her babble and stood staring, with an arm about Joey's neck.
"Let me see the child."
Lizzie stared, broke into a silly, triumphant laugh, and thrust the child forward against the carriage step. The poor waif, drenched, dazed, tottering without his crutch, caught at the plated handle for support. Honoria gazed down on him with eyes which took slow and pitiless account of the deformed little body, the shrunken, puny limbs.
"Thank you. So—this—is what my husband died for. Drive on, please."
Her eyes, as she lifted them to give the order, rested for a moment on Taffy—with how much scorn he cared not, could he have leapt and intercepted Lizzie's retort.
"And why not? A son's a son—curse you!—though he was your man!"
It seemed she did not hear; or hearing, did not understand. Her eyes hardened their fire on Taffy, and he, lapped in their scorn, thanked God she had not understood.
"Drive on, please."
The coachman lowered his whip. The horses moved forward at a slow walk; the carriage rolled silently away into the darkness. She had not understood. Taffy glanced at the faces about him.
"Ah, poor lady!" said someone. But no one had understood.
They found George's body next morning on the sands a little below the foot-bridge. He lay there in the morning sunshine as though asleep, with an arm flung above his head and on his face the easy smile for which men and women had liked him throughout his careless life.
The inquest was held next day, in the library at Carwithiel. Sir Harry insisted on being present, and sat beside the coroner. During Taffy's examination his lips were pursed up as though whistling a silent tune. Once or twice he nodded his head.
Taffy gave his evidence discreetly. The child had been lost; had been found in a perilous position. He and deceased had gone together to the rescue. On reaching the child, deceased—against advice—had attempted to return across the sands and had fallen into difficulties. In these his first thought had been for the child, whom he had passed to witness to drag out of danger. When it came to deceased's turn the crutch, on which all depended, had parted in two, and he had been swept away by the tide.
At the conclusion of the story Sir Harry took snuff and nodded twice. Taffy wondered how much he knew. The jury, under the coroner's direction, brought in a verdict of "death by misadventure," and added a word or two in praise of the dead man's gallantry. The coroner complimented Taffy warmly and promised to refer the case to the Royal Humane Society for public recognition. The jury nodded, and one or two said "Hear, hear!" Taffy hoped fervently he would do nothing of the sort.
The funeral took place on the fourth day, at nine o'clock in the morning. Such—in the day I write of—was the custom of the country. Friends who lived at a distance rose and shaved by candle-light, and daybreak found them horsed and well on their way to the house of mourning, their errand announced by the long black streamers tied about their hats. The sad business over and done with, these guests returned to the house, where until noon a mighty breakfast lasted and all were welcome. Their black habiliments and lowered voices alone marked the difference between it and a hunting-breakfast.
And indeed this morning Squire Willyams, who had taken over the hounds after Squire Moyle's death, had given secret orders to his huntsmen; and the pack was waiting at Three-barrow Turnpike, a couple of miles inland from Carwithiel. At half-past ten the mourners drained their glasses, shook the crumbs off their riding-breeches, and took leave; and after halting outside Carwithiel gates to unpin and pocket their hat-bands, headed for the meet with one accord.
A few minutes before noon Squire Willyams, seated on his grey by the edge of Three-barrow Brake, and listening to every sound within the covert, happened to glance an eye across the valley, and let out a low whistle.
"Well!" said one of a near group of horsemen catching sight of the rider pricking toward them down the farther slope, "I knew en for unbeliever; but this beats all!"
"And his awnly son not three hours under the mould! Brought up in France as a youngster he was, and this I s'pose is what comes of reading Voltaire. My lord for manners, and no more heart than a wormed nut—that's Sir Harry, and always was."
Squire Willyams slewed himself round in his saddle. He spoke quietly at fifteen yards' distance, but each word reached the group of horsemen as clear as a bell.
"Rablin," he said, "as a damned fool oblige me during the next few minutes by keeping your mouth shut."
With this he resumed his old attitude and his business of watching the covert side; removing his eyes for a moment to nod as Sir Harry rode up and passed on to join the group behind him.
He had scarcely done so when deep in the undergrowth of blackthorn a hound challenged.
"Spendigo for a fiver!—and well found, by the tune of it," cried Sir Harry. "See that patch of grey wall, Rablin—there, in a line beyond the Master's elbow? I lay you an even guinea that's where my gentleman comes over."
But honest reprobation mottled the face of Mr. Rablin, squireen; and as an honest man he spoke out. Let it go to his credit, because as a rule he was a snob and inclined to cringe.
"I did not expect"—he cleared his throat—"to see you out to-day, Sir Harry."
Sir Harry winced, and turned on them all a grey, woeful face.
"That's it," he said. "I can't bide home. I can't bide home."
Honoria bided home with her child and mourned for the dead. As a clever woman—far cleverer than her husband—she had seen his faults while he lived; yet had liked him enough to forgive without difficulty. But now these faults faded, and by degrees memory reared an altar to him as a man little short of divine. At the worst he had been amiable. A kinder husband never lived. She reproached herself bitterly with the half-heartedness of her response to his love; to his love while it dwelt beside her, unvarying in cheerful kindness. For (it was the truth, alas! and a worm that gnawed continually) passionate love she had never rendered him. She had been content; but how poor a thing was contentment! She had never divined his worth, had never given her worship. And all the while he had been a hero, and in the end had died as a hero. Ah, for one chance to redeem the wrong! for one moment to bow herself at his feet and acknowledge her blindness! Her prayer was ancient as widowhood, and Heaven, folding away the irreparable time, returned its first and last and only solace—a dream for the groping arms; waking and darkness, and an empty pillow for her tears.
From the first her child had been dear to her; dearer (so her memory accused her now) than his father; more demonstratively beloved, at any rate. But in those miserable months she grew to love him with a double strength. He bore George's name, and was (as Sir Harry proclaimed) a very miniature of George; repeated his shapeliness of limb, his firm shoulders, his long lean thighs—the thighs of a born horseman; learned to walk, and lo! within a week walked with his father's gait; had smiles for the whole of his small world, and for his mother a memory in each.
And yet—this was the strange part of it; a mystery she could not explain because she dared not even acknowledge it—though she loved him for being like his father, she regarded the likeness with a growing dread; nay, caught herself correcting him stealthily when he developed some trivial trait which she, and she alone, recognised as part of his father's legacy. It was what in the old days she would have called "contradictions," but there it was, and she could not help it; the nearer George in her memory approached to faultlessness, the more obstinately her instinct fought against her child's imitation of him; and yet, because the child was obstinately George's, she loved him with a double love.
There came a day when he told her a childish falsehood. She did not whip him, but stood him in front of her and began to reason with him and explain the wickedness of an untruth. By-and-by she broke off in the midst of a sentence, appalled by the shrillness of her own voice. From argument she had passed to furious scolding. And the little fellow quailed before her, his contrition beaten down under the storm of words that whistled about his ears without meaning, his small faculties disabled before this spectacle of wrath. Her fingers were closing and unclosing. They wanted a riding-switch; they wanted to grip this small body they had served and fondled, and to cut out— what? The lie? Honoria hated a lie. But while she paused and shook, a light flashed, and her eyes were open and saw—that it was not the lie.
She turned and ran, ran upstairs to her own room, flung herself on her knees beside the bed, dragged a locket from her bosom and fell to kissing George's portrait, passionately crying it for pardon. She was wicked, base; while he lived she had misprised him; and this was her abiding punishment, that not even repentance could purge her heart of dishonouring thoughts, that her love for him now could never be stainless though washed with daily tears. "'He that is unjust, let him be unjust still.' Must that be true, Father of all mercies? I misjudged him, and it is too late for atonement. But I repent and am afflicted. Though the dead know nothing—though it can never reach or avail him—give me back the power to be just!"
Late that afternoon Honoria passed an hour piously in turning over the dead man's wardrobe, shaking out and brushing the treasured garments and folding them, against moth and dust, in fresh tissue paper. It was a morbid task, perhaps, but it kept George's image constantly before her, and this was what her remorseful mood demanded. Her nerves were unstrung and her limbs languid after the recent tempest. By-and-by she locked the doors of the wardrobe, and passing into her own bedroom, flung herself on a couch with a bundle of papers—old bills, soiled and folded memoranda, sporting paragraphs cut from the newspapers—scraps found in his pockets months ago and religiously tied by her with a silken ribbon. They were mementoes of a sort, and George had written few letters while wooing—not half a dozen first and last.
Two or three receipted bills lay together in the middle of the packet—one a saddler's, a second a nurseryman's for pot-plants (kept for the sake of its queer spelling), a third the reckoning for an hotel luncheon. She was running over them carelessly when the date at the head of this last one caught her eye. "August 3rd "—it fixed her attention because it happened to be the day before her birthday.
August 3rd—such and such a year—the August before his death; and the hotel a well-known one in Plymouth—the hotel, in fact, at which he had usually put up. . . . Without a prompting of suspicion she turned back and ran her eye over the bill. A steak, a pint of claret, vegetables, cheese, and attendance—never was a more innocent bill.
Suddenly her attention stiffened on the date. George was in Plymouth the day before her birthday. But no; as it happened, George had been in Truro on that day. She remembered, because he had brought her a diamond pendant, having written beforehand to the Truro jeweller to get a dozen down from London to choose from. Yes, she remembered it clearly, and how he had described his day in Truro. And the next morning—her birthday morning—he had produced the pendant, wrapped in silver paper. He had thrown away the case; it was ugly, and he would get her another. . . .
But the bill? She had stayed once or twice at this hotel with George, and recognised the handwriting. The bookkeeper, in compliment perhaps to a customer of standing, had written "George Vyell, Esq." in full on the bill-head, a formality omitted as a rule in luncheon-reckonings. And if this scrap of paper told the truth— why, then George had lied!
But why? Ah, if he had done this thing nothing else mattered, neither the how nor the why! If George had lied? . . . And the pendant—had that been bought in Plymouth and not (as he had asserted) in Truro? He had thrown away the case. Jewellers print their names inside such cases. The pendant was a handsome one. Perhaps his cheque-book would tell.
She arose, stepped half-way to the door, but came back and flung herself again upon the couch. No; she could not . . . this was the second time to-day . . . she could not face the torture again.
Yet . . . if George had lied!
She sat up; sat up with both hands pressed to her ears to shut out a sudden voice clamouring through them—
"And why not? A son's a son—curse you!—though he was your man!"
Lizzie Pezzack had put Joey to bed and was smoothing his coverlet when she heard someone knocking. She passed out into the front room and opened to the visitor.
On the doorstep stood a lady in deep black—Honoria. Beyond the garden wall the lamps of her carriage blazed in the late twilight. The turf had muffled the sound of wheels, but now the jingle of shaken bits came loud through the open door.
"Ah!" said Lizzie, drawing her breath back through her teeth.
"I must speak to you, please. May I come in? I have a question . . ."
Lizzie turned her back, struck a match, and lit a candle. "What question?" she asked with her back turned, her eyes on the flame as it sank, warming the tallow, and grew bright again.
"It's . . . it's a question," Honoria began weakly; then shut the door behind her and advanced into the room. "Turn round and look at me. Ah, you hate me, I know!"
"Yes," Lizzie assented slowly, "I hate you."
"But you must answer me. You see, it isn't for me alone . . . it's not a question of our hating, in a way . . . it concerns others. . . ."
"But it's cowardly of me to put it so, because it concerns me too. You don't know—"
"Maybe I do."
"But if you did—" Honoria broke off and then plunged forward desperately. "That child of yours—his father—alone here—by ourselves. . . . Think before you refuse!"
Lizzie set down the candle and eyed her.
"And you," she answered at length, dragging out each word— "you can come here and ask me that question?"
For a moment silence fell between them, and each could hear the other's breathing. Then Honoria drew herself up and faced her honestly, casting out both hands.
"Yes; I had to."
"You! a lady!"
"Ah, but be honest with me! Lady or not, what has that to do with it? We are two women—that's where it all started, and we're kept to that."
Lizzie bent her brows. "Yes, you are right," she admitted.
"And," Honoria pursued eagerly, "if I come here to sue you for the truth—it is you who force me."
"By what you said that night, when George—when my husband—was drowned; when you cursed me. 'A son's a son,' you said, 'though he was your man.'"
"Did I say that?" Lizzie seemed to muse over the words. "You have suffered?" she asked.
"Yes, I have suffered."
"Ah, if I thought so! ... But you have not. You are a hypocrite, Mrs. Vyell; and you are trying to cheat me now. You come here not to end that suffering, but to force a word from me that'll put joy and hope into you; that you'll go home hugging to your heart. Oh, I know you!"
"You do not."
"I do; because I know myself. From a child I've been dirt to your pride, an item to your money. For years I've lived a shamed woman. But one thing I bought with it—one little thing. Think the price high for it—I dessay it is; but I bought and paid for it—and often when I turn it over in my mind I don't count the price too dear."
"I don't understand."
"You may, if you try. What I bought was the power over you, my proud lady. While I keep tight lips I have you at the end of a chain. You come here to-night to break it; one little word and you'll be free and glad. But no, and no, and no! You may guess till you're tired—you may be sure in your heart; but it's all no good without that little word you'll never get from me."
"You shall speak!"
Lizzie shrugged her shoulders and picked up the candle.
"Simme," she said, "you'd best go back to your carriage and horses. My li'l boy's in the next room, tryin' to sleep; and 'tisn' fit he heard much of this."
She passed resolutely into the bedroom, leaving her visitor to darkness. But Honoria, desperate now, pushed after her, scarcely knowing what she did or meant to do.
"You shall speak!"
The house-door opened and light footsteps came running through the outer room. It was little George, and he pulled at her skirts.
"Mummy, the horses are taking cold!"
But Honoria still advanced. "You shall speak!"
Joey, catching sight of her from the bed, screamed and hid his face. To him she was a thing of horror. From the night when, thrust beneath her eyes, he had cowered by her carriage-step, she had haunted his worst dreams. And now, black-robed and terrible of face, she had come to lay hands on him and carry him straight to hell.
"Mother! Take her away! take her away!"
His screams rang through the room. "Hush, dear!" cried Lizzie, running to him; and laid a hand on his shoulder.
But the child, far too terrified to know whose hand it was, flung himself from her with a wilder scream than any; flung himself all but free of the bed-clothes. As Lizzie caught and tried to hold him the thin night-shirt ripped in her fingers, laying bare the small back from shoulder to buttock.
They were woman to woman now; cast back into savagery and blindly groping for its primitive weapons. Honoria crossed the floor not knowing what she meant to do, or might do. Lizzie sprang to defence against she knew not what. But when her enemy advanced, towering, with a healthy boy dragging at her skirts, she did the one thing she could—turned with a swift cry back upon her own crippled child and caught at the bed-clothes to cover and hide his naked deformity.
While she crouched and shielded him, silence fell on the room. She had half expected Honoria to strike her; but no blow came, nor any sound. By-and-by she looked up. Honoria had come to a standstill, with rigid eyes. They were fastened on the bed. Then Lizzie understood.
She had covered the child's legs from sight; but not his back—nor the brown mole on it—the large brown mole, ringed like Saturn, set obliquely between the shoulder-blades.
She rose from the bed slowly. Honoria turned on little George with a gesture as if to fling off his velvet jacket. But Lizzie stamped her foot.
"No," she commanded hoarsely; "let be. Mine is a cripple."
"So it is true. . . ." Honoria desisted; but her eyes were wide and still fixed on the bed.
"Yes, it is true. You have all the luck. Mine is a cripple."
Still Honoria stared. Lizzie gulped down something in her throat; but her voice, when she found it again, was still hoarse and strained.
"And now—go! You have learnt what you came for. You have won, because you stop at nothing. But go, before I try to kill you for the joy in your heart!"
"Joy?" Honoria put out a hand toward the bed's foot, to steady herself. It was her turn to be weak.
"Yes—joy." Lizzie stepped between her and the door, pointed a finger at her, and held it pointing. "In your heart you are glad already. Wait, and in a moment I shall see it in your eyes—glad, glad! Yes, your man was worthless, and you are glad. But oh! You bitter fool!"
"Let me go, please."
"Listen a bit; no hurry now. Plenty of time to be glad 'twas only your husband, not the man of your heart. Look at me, and answer— I don't count for much now, do I? Not much to hate in me, now you know the name of my child's father, and that 'tisn' Taffy Raymond!"
"Let me go." But seeing that Lizzie would not, she stopped and kissed her boy. "Run out to the carriage, dear, and say I'll be coming in a minute or two." Little George clung to her wistfully, but her tone meant obedience. Lizzie stepped aside to let him pass out.
"Now," said Honoria, "the next room is best, I think. Lead me there, and I will listen."
"You may go if you like."
"No; I will listen. Between us two there is—there is—"
"That." Lizzie nodded towards the child huddling low in the bed.
"That, and much more. We cannot stop at the point you've reached. Besides, I have a question to ask."
Lizzie passed before her into the front room, lit two candles and drew down the blind.
"Ask it," she said.
"How did you know that I believed the other—Mr. Raymond—to be—" She came to a halt.
"What? From the beginning?"
"No; it was after a long while. And then, all of a sudden, something seemed to make me clever."
"Did you know that, believing it, I had done him a great wrong— injured his life beyond repair?"
"I knew something had happened: that he'd given up being a gentleman and taken to builder's work. I thought maybe you were at the bottom of it. Who was it told you lies about en?"
"Must I answer that?"
"No; no need. George Vyell was a nice fellow; but he was a liar. Couldn't help it, I b'lieve. But a dirty trick like that—well, well!"
Honoria stared at her, confounded. "You never loved my husband?"
And Lizzie laughed—actually laughed; she was so weary. "No more than you did, my dear. Perhaps a little less. Eh, what two fools we are here, fending off the truth! Fools from the start—and now, simme, playing foolish to the end; ay, when all's said and naked atween us. Lev' us quit talkin' of George Vyell. We knawed George Vyell, you and me too; and here we be, left to rear children by en. But the man we hated over wasn' George Vyell."
"Yet if—as you say—you loved him—the other one—why, when you saw his life ruined and guessed the lie that ruined it—when a word could have righted him—if you loved him—"
"Why didn't I speak? Ladies are most dull, somehow; or else you don't try to see. Or else—Wasn't he near me, passing my door ivery day? Oh, I'm ignorant and selfish. But hadn't I got him near? And wouldn't that word have lost him, sent him God knows where—to you perhaps? You—you'd had your chance, and squandered it like a fool. I never had no chance. I courted en, but he wouldn' look at me. He'd have come to your whistle—once. Nothing to hinder but your money. And from what I can see and guess, you piled up that money in his face like a hedge. Oh, I could pity you, now!—for now you'll never have en."
"God pity us both!" said Honoria, going; but she turned at the door. "And after our marriage you took no more thought of my—of George?" The question was an afterthought; she never thought to see it stab as it did. But Lizzie caught at the table edge, held to it swaying over a gulf of hysterics, and answered between a sob and a passing bitter laugh.
"At the last—just to try en. No harm done, as it happened. You needn' mind. He was worthless anyway."
Honoria stepped back, took her by the elbow as she swayed, and seated her in a chair; and so stood regarding her as a doctor might a patient. After a while she said—
"I think you will do me injustice, but you must believe as you like. I am not glad. I am very far from glad or happy. I doubt if I shall ever be happy again. But I do not hate you as I did."
She went out, closing the door softly.
THE SHIP OF STARS.
Taffy guessed nothing of these passions in conflict, these weak agonies. He went about his daily work, a man grown, thinking his own thoughts; and these thoughts were of many things; but they held no room for the problem which meant everything in life to Honoria and Lizzie—yes, and to Humility, though it haunted her in less disturbing shape. Humility pondered it quietly with a mind withdrawn while her hands moved before her on the lace pillow; and pondering it, she resigned the solution to time. But it filled her thoughts constantly, none the less.
One noon Taffy returned from the light-house for his dinner to find a registered postal packet lying on the table. He glanced up and met his mother's gaze; but let the thing lie while he ate his meal, and having done, picked it up and carried it away with him unopened.
On the cliff-side, in a solitary place, he broke the seal. He guessed well enough what the packet contained: the silver medal procured for him by the too officious coroner. And the coroner, finding him obstinate against a public presentation, had forwarded the medal with an effusive letter. Taffy frowned over its opening sentences, and without reading farther crumpled the paper into a tight ball. He turned to examine the medal, holding it between finger and thumb; or rather, his eyes examined it while his brain ran back along the tangled procession of hopes and blunders, wrongs and trials and lessons hardly learnt, of which this mocking piece of silver symbolised the end and the reward. In that minute he saw Honoria and George, himself and Lizzie Pezzack as figures travelling on a road that stretched back to childhood; saw behind them the anxious eyes of his parents, Sir Harry's debonair smile, the sinister face of old Squire Moyle, malevolent yet terribly afraid; saw that the moving figures could not control their steps, that the watching faces were impotent to warn; saw finally beside the road other ways branching to left and right, and down these undestined and neglected avenues the ghosts of ambitions unattempted, lives not lived, all that might have been.
Well, here was the end of it, this ironical piece of silver. . . . With sudden anger he flung it from him; sent it spinning far out over the waters. And the sea, his old sworn enemy, took the votive offering. He watched it drop—drop; saw the tiny splash as it disappeared.
And with that he shut a door and turned a key. He had other thoughts to occupy him—great thoughts. The light-house was all but built. The Chief Engineer had paid a surprise visit, praised his work, and talked about another sea light soon to be raised on the North Welsh Coast; used words that indeed hinted, not obscurely, at promotion. And Taffy's blood tingled at the prospect. But, out of working hours, his thoughts were not of light-houses. He bought maps and charts. On Sundays he took far walks along the coast, starting at daybreak, returning as a rule long after dark, mired and footsore, and at supper too weary to talk with his mother, whose eyes watched him always.
It was a still autumn evening when Honoria came riding to visit Humility; the close of a golden day. Its gold lingered yet along the west and fell on the whitewashed doorway where Humility sat with her lace-work. Behind, in the east, purple and dewy, climbed the domed shadow of the world. And over all lay that hush which the earth only knows when it rests in the few weeks after harvest. Out here, on barren cliffs above the sea, folks troubled little about harvest. But even out here they felt and knew the hush.
In sight of the whitewashed cottages Honoria slipped down from her saddle, removed Aide-de-camp's bridle, and turned him loose to browse. With the bridle on her arm she walked forward alone. She came noiselessly on the turf, and with the click of the gate her shadow fell at Humility's feet. Humility looked up and saw her standing against the sunset, in her dark habit. Even in that instant she saw also that Honoria's face, though shaded, was more beautiful than of old. "More dangerous" she told herself; and rose, knowing that the problem was to be solved at last.
"Good-evening!" she said, rising. "Oh yes—you must come inside, please; but you will have to forgive our untidiness."
Honoria followed, wondering as of old at the beautiful manners which dignified Humility's simplest words.
"I heard that you were to go."
"Yes; we have been packing for a week past. To North Wales it is— a forsaken spot, no better than this. But I suppose that's the sort of spot where light-houses are useful."
The sun slanted in upon the packed trunks and dismantled walls; but it blazed also upon brass window-catches, fender-knobs, door-handles—all polished and flashing like mirrors.
"I am come," said Honoria, "now at the last—to ask your pardon."
"At the last?" Humility seemed to muse, staring down at one of the trunks; then went on as if speaking to herself. "Yes, yes, it has been a long time."
"A long injury—a long mistake; you must believe it was an honest mistake."
"Yes," said Humility gravely. "I never doubted you had been misled. God forbid I should ask or seek to know how."
Honoria bowed her head.
"And," Humility pursued, "we had put ourselves in the wrong by accepting help. One sees now it is always best to be independent; though at the time it seemed a fine prospect for him. The worst was our not telling him. That was terribly unfair. As for the rest— well, after all, to know yourself guiltless is the great thing, is it not? What others think doesn't matter in comparison with that. And then of course he knew that I, his mother, never believed the falsehood—no, not for a moment."
"But it spoiled his life?"
Now Humility had spoken, and still stood, with her eyes resting on the trunk. Beneath its lid, she knew, and on top of Taffy's books and other treasures, lay a parcel wrapped in tissue paper—a dog collar with the inscription "Honoria from Taffy." So, by lifting the lid of her thoughts a little—a very little—more, she might have given Honoria a glimpse of something which her actual answer, truthful as it was, concealed.
"No. I wouldn't say that. If it had spoilt his life—well, you have a child of your own and can understand. As it is, it has strengthened him, I think. He will make his mark—in a different way. Just now he is only a foreman among masons; but he has a career opening. Yes, I can forgive you at last."
And, being Humility, she had spoken the truth. But being a woman, even in the act of pardon she could not forego a small thrust, and in giving must withhold something.
And Honoria, being a woman, divined that something was withheld.
"And Taffy—your son—do you think that he—?"
"He never speaks, if he thinks of it. He will be here presently. You know—do you not? they are to light the great lantern on the new lighthouse to-night for the first time. The men have moved in, and he is down with them making preparations. You have seen the notices of the Trinity Board? They have been posted for months. Taffy is as eager over it as a boy; but he promised to be back before sunset to drink tea with me in honour of the event; and afterwards I was to walk down to the cliff with him to see."
"Would you mind if I stayed?"
Humility considered before answering. "I had rather you stayed. He's like a boy over this business; but he's a man, after all."
After this they fell into quite trivial talk, while Humility prepared the tea things.
"Your mother—Mrs. Venning—how does she face the journey?"
"You must see her," said Humility, smiling, and led her into the room where the old lady reclined in bed, with a flush on each waxen cheek. She had heard their voices.
"Bless you"—she was quite cheerful—"I'm ready to go as far as they'll carry me! All I ask is that in the next place they'll give me a window where I can see the boy's lamp when he's built it."
Humility brought in the table and tea-things, and set them out by the invalid's bed. She went out into the kitchen to look to the kettle. In that pause Honoria found it difficult to meet Mrs. Venning's eyes; but the old lady was wise enough to leave grudges to others. It was enough, in the time left to her, to accept what happened and leave the responsibility to Providence.
Honoria, replying but scarcely listening to her talk, heard a footfall at the outer door—Taffy's footfall; then the click of a latch and Humility's voice saying, "There's a visitor inside; come to take tea with you."
"A visitor?" He was standing in the doorway. "You?" He blushed in his surprise.
Honoria rose. "If I may," she said, and wondered if she might hold out a hand.
But he held out his, quite frankly, and laughed. "Why, of course. They will be lighting up in half an hour. We must make haste."
Once or twice during tea he stole a glance from Honoria to his mother; and each time fondly believed that it passed undetected. His talk was all about the light-house and the preparations there, and he rattled on in the highest spirits. Two of the women knew, and the third guessed, that this chatter was with him unwonted.
At length he too seemed to be struck by this. "But what nonsense I'm talking!" he protested, breaking off midway in a sentence and blushing again. "I can't help it, though. I'm feeling just as big as the light-house to-night, with my head wound up and turning round like the lantern!"
"And your wit occulting," suggested Honoria, in her old light manner. "What is it?—three flashes to the minute?"
He laughed and hurried them from the tea-table. Mrs. Venning bade them a merry good-bye as they took leave of her.
"Come along, mother."
But Humility had changed her mind. "No," said she. "I'll wait in the doorway. I can just see the lantern from the garden gate, you know. You two can wait by the old light-house, and call to me when the time comes."
She watched them from the doorway as they took the path toward the cliff, toward the last ray of sunset fading across the dusk of the sea. The evening was warm, and she sat bareheaded with her lace-work on her knee; but presently she put it down.
"I must be taking to spectacles soon," she said to herself. "My eyes are not what they used to be."
Taffy and Honoria reached the old light-house and halted by its white-painted railing. Below them the new pillar stood up in full view, young and defiant. A full tide lapped its base, feeling this comely and untried adversary as a wrestler shakes hands before engaging. And from its base the column, after a gentle inward curve—enough to give it a look of lissomeness and elastic strength— sprang upright straight and firm to the lantern, ringed with a gallery and capped with a cupola of copper not yet greened by the weather; in outline as simple as a flower, in structure to the understanding eye almost as subtly organised, adapted and pieced into growth.
"So that is your ambition now?" said Honoria, after gazing long. She added, "I do not wonder."
"It does not stop there, I'm afraid." There was a pause, as though her words had thrown him into a brown study.
"Look!" she cried. "There is someone in the lantern—with a light in his hand. He is lighting up!"
Taffy ran back a pace or two toward the cottage and shouted, waving his hand. In a moment Humility appeared at the gate and waved in answer, while the strong light flashed seaward. They listened; but if she called, the waves at their feet drowned her voice.
They turned and gazed at the light, counting, timing the flashes; two short flashes with but five seconds between, then darkness for twenty seconds, and after it a long steady stare.
Abruptly he asked, "Would you care to cross over and see the lantern?"
"What, in the cradle?"
"I can work it easily. It's not dangerous in the least; a bit daunting, perhaps."
"But I'm not easily frightened, you know. Yes, I should like it greatly."
They descended the cliff to the cable. The iron cradle stood ready as Taffy had left it when he came ashore. She stepped in lightly, scarcely touching for a second the hand he put out to guide her.
"Better sit low," he advised; and she obeyed, disposing her skirts on the floor caked with dry mud from the workmen's boots. He followed her, and launched the cradle over the deep twilight.
A faint breeze—there had been none perceptible on the ridge—played off the face of the cliffs. The forward swing of the cradle, too, raised a slight draught of air. Honoria plucked off her hat and veil and let it fan her temples.
Half-way across, she said, "Isn't it like this—in mid-air over running water—that the witches take their oaths?"
Taffy ceased pulling on the rope. "The witches? Yes, I remember something of the sort."
"And a word spoken so is an oath and lasts for ever. Very well; answer me what I came to ask you to-night."
"What is that?" But he knew.
"That when—you know—when I tell you I was deceived . . . you will forgive." Her voice was scarcely audible.
"Ah, but freely? It is only a word I want; but it has to last me like an oath."
"I forgive you freely. It was all a mistake."
"And you have found other ambitions! And they satisfy you?"
He laughed and pulled at the rope again. "They ought to," he answered gaily, "they're big enough. Come and see."
The seaward end of the cable was attached to a doorway thirty feet above the base of the lighthouse. One of the under-keepers met them here with a lantern. He stared when he caught sight of the second figure in the cradle, but touched his cap to the mistress of Carwithiel.