Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Children of the Mist
Author: Phillpotts, Eden, 1862-1960
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Children of the Mist" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



CHILDREN OF THE MIST

BY

EDEN PHILLPOTTS

Author of "Down Dartmoor Way," "Some Everyday Folks," "My Laughing
Philosopher," "Lying Prophets," etc.

1898



    BOOK I--THE BOY'S ROMANCE

       I  THE PIXIES' PARLOUR
      II  A CLEAR UNDERSTANDING
     III  EXIT WILL
      IV  BY THE RIVER
       V  THE INCIDENT OF MR. JOEL FORD
      VI  AN UNHAPPY POET
     VII  LIBATION TO POMONA
    VIII  A BROTHERS' QUARREL
      IX  OUTSIDE EXETER GAOL
       X  THE BRINGING OF THE NEWS
      XI  LOVE AND GREY GRANITE
     XII  A STORY-BOOK
    XIII  THE MILLER'S OFFER
     XIV  LOGIC

    BOOK II--THE ENTERPRISE

       I  SPRINGTIME
      II  NEWTAKE FARM
     III  OVER A RIDING-WHIP
      IV  DEFEATED HOPES
       V  THE ZEAL OF SAM BONUS
      VI  A SWARM OF BEES
     VII  AN OFFER OF MARRIAGE
    VIII  MR. BLEE FORGETS HIMSELF
      IX  A DIFFERENCE WITH THE DUCHY
       X  CONNECTING LINKS
      XI  TOGETHER
     XII  THROUGH ONE GREAT DAY
    XIII  THE WILL
     XIV  A HUNDRED POUNDS
      XV  "THE ANGEL OF THE DARKER DRINK"
     XVI  BEFORE THE DAWN
    XVII  MISSING

    BOOK III--HIS GRANITE CROSS

       I  BABY
      II  THE KNIGHT OF FORLORN HOPES
     III  CONCERNING THE GATE-POST
      IV  MARTIN'S RAID
       V  WINTER
      VI  THE CROSS UPREARED
     VII  GREY TWILIGHT

    BOOK IV--HIS SECRET

        I    A WANDERER RETURNS
       II    HOPE RENEWED
      III    ANSWERED
       IV    THE END OF THE FIGHT
        V    TWO MIGHTY SURPRISES
       VI    THE SECRET OUT
      VII    SMALL TIMOTHY
     VIII    FLIGHT
       IX    UNDER COSDON BEACON
        X    BAD NEWS FOR BLANCHARD
       XI    PHOEBE TAKES THOUGHT
      XII    NEW YEAR'S EVE AND NEW YEAR'S DAY
     XIII    MR. LYDDON'S TACTICS
      XIV    ACTION
       XV    A BATTLE
      XVI    A PAIR OF HANDCUFFS
     XVII    SUSPENSE
    XVIII    THE NIGHT OF JUBILEE



CHILDREN OF THE MIST


BOOK I

THE BOY'S ROMANCE


CHAPTER I

THE PIXIES' PARLOUR


Phoebe Lyddon frowned, and, as an instant protest, twin dimples peeped
into life at the left corner of her bonny mouth. In regarding that
attractive ripple the down-drawn eyebrows were forgotten until they rose
again into their natural arches. A sweet, childish contour of face
chimed with her expression; her full lips were bright as the bunch of
ripe wood-strawberries at the breast of her cotton gown; her eyes as
grey as Dartmoor mists; while, for the rest, a little round chin, a
small, straight nose, and a high forehead, which Phoebe mourned and kept
carefully concealed under masses of curly brown hair, were the sole
features to be specially noted about her. She was a trifle below the
standard of height proper to a girl of nineteen, but all compact, of
soft, rounded lines, plump, fresh of colour, healthy, happy, sweet as a
ripe apple.

From a position upon swelling hillsides above the valley of a river, she
scanned the scene beneath, made small her eyes to focus the distance,
and so pursued a survey of meadow and woodland, yet without seeing what
she sought. Beneath and beyond, separated from her standpoint by
grasslands and a hedge of hazel, tangled thickets of blackthorn, of
bracken, and of briar sank to the valley bottom. Therein wound tinkling
Teign through the gorges of Fingle to the sea; and above it, where the
land climbed upward on the other side, spread the Park of Whiddou, with
expanses of sweet, stone-scattered herbage, with tracts of deep fern,
coverts of oak, and occasional habitations for the deer.

This spectacle, through a grey veil of fine rain, Phoebe noted at
mid-afternoon of a day in early August; and, as she watched, there
widened a rift under the sun's hidden throne, and a mighty, fan-shaped
pencil of brightness straggled downwards, proceeded in solemn sweep
across the valley, and lighted the depths of the gorge beyond with a
radiance of misty silver. The music of jackdaws welcomed this first
indication of improved weather; then Phoebe's sharp eyes beheld a
phenomenon afar off through the momentary cessation of the rain. Three
parts of a mile away, on a distant hillside, like the successive
discharges of a dozen fowling-pieces, little blotches of smoke or mist
suddenly appeared. Rapidly they followed each other, and sometimes the
puffs of vapour were exploded together, sometimes separately. For a
moment the girl felt puzzled; then she comprehended and laughed.

"'Tis the silly auld sheep!" she said to herself. "They 'm shakin 'theer
fleeces 'cause they knaw the rain's over-past. Bellwether did begin, I
warrant, then all the rest done the same."

Each remote member of the flock thus freed its coat from the accumulated
moisture of a long rainfall; then the huddled heap, in which they had
combined to withstand the weather and show tail to the western storm,
began to scatter. With coughs and sneezes the beasts wandered forward
again, and pursued their business of grazing.

Steadily the promises of the sky multiplied and Phoebe's impatience
increased. Her position did not, however, depend for comfort upon the
return of sunshine, for she stood out of the weather, where sundry giant
rocks to the number of five arose in a fantastic pile. Nature's primal
architects were responsible for the Pixies' Parlour, and upon the awful
morning of Dartmoor's creation these enormous masses had first been
hurled to their present position--outposts of the eternal granite,
though themselves widely removed from the central waste of the Moor.
This particular and gigantic monument of the past stands with its feet
in land long cultivated. Plough and harrow yearly skirt the Pixies'
Parlour; it rises to-day above yellow corn, to-morrow amid ripening
roots; it crowns the succeeding generations of man's industry, and
watches a ceaseless cycle of human toil. The rocks of which it is
composed form a sort of rude chamber, sacred to fairy folk since a time
before the memory of the living; briars and ivy-tods conceal a part of
the fabric; a blackthorn, brushed at this season with purple fruit,
rises above it; one shadowed ledge reveals the nightly roosting place of
hawk or raven; and marks of steel on the stone show clearly where some
great or small fragment of granite has been blasted from the parent pile
for the need of man. Multi-coloured, massive, and picturesque, the
Parlour, upon Phoebe Lyddon's visit to it, stood forth against the red
bosom of naked land; for a fierce summer had early ripened the vanished
harvest, and now its place was already ploughed again, while ashes of
dead fire scattered upon the earth showed where weed and waste had been
consumed after ingathering of the grain.

Patches of August blue now lightened the aerial grey; then sunshine set
a million gems twinkling on the great bejewelled bosom of the valley.
Under this magic heat an almost instantaneous shadowy ghost of fresh
vapour rose upon the riparian meadows, and out of it, swinging along
with the energy of youth and high spirits, came a lad. Phoebe smiled and
twinkled a white handkerchief to him, and he waved his hat and bettered
his pace for answer.

Soon Will Blanchard reached his sweetheart, and showed himself a brown,
straight youngster, with curly hair, pugnacious nose, good shoulders,
and a figure so well put together that his height was not apparent until
he stood alongside another man. Will's eyes were grey as Phoebe's, but
of a different expression; soft and unsettled, cloudy as the recent
weather, full of the alternate mist and flash of a precious stone, one
moment all a-dreaming, the next aglow. His natural look was at first
sight a little stern until a man came to know it, then this impression
waned and left a critic puzzled. The square cut of his face and abrupt
angle of his jaw did not indeed belie Will Blanchard, but the man's
smile magically dissipated this austerity of aspect, and no sudden
sunshine ever brightened a dark day quicker than pleasure made bright
his features. It was a sulky, sleepy, sweet, changeable face--very
fascinating in the eyes of women. His musical laugh once fluttered
sundry young bosoms, brightened many pretty eyes and cheeks, but Will's
heart was Phoebe Lyddon's now--had been for six full months--and albeit
a mere country boy in knowledge of the world, younger far than his
one-and-twenty years of life, and wholly unskilled in those arts whose
practice enables men to dwell together with friendship and harmony, yet
Will Blanchard was quite old enough and wise enough and rich enough to
wed, and make a husband of more than common quality at that--in his own
opinion.

Fortified by this conviction, and determined to wait no longer, he now
came to see Phoebe. Within the sheltering arms of the Pixies' Parlour he
kissed her, pressed her against his wet velveteen jacket, then sat down
under the rocks beside her.

"You 'm comed wi' the sun, dear Will."

"Ay--the weather breaks. I hope theer'll be a drop more water down the
river bimebye. You got my letter all right?"

"Ess fay, else I shouldn't be here. And this tremendous matter in
hand?"

"I thought you'd guess what 't was. I be weary o' waitin' for 'e. An' as
I comed of age last month, I'm a man in law so well as larnin', and I'm
gwaine to speak to Miller Lyddon this very night."

Phoebe looked blank. There was a moment's silence while Will picked and
ate the wood-strawberries in his sweetheart's dress.

"Caan't 'e think o' nothin' wiser than to see faither?" she said at
last.

"Theer ban't nothin' wiser. He knaws we 'm tokened, and it's no manner
o' use him gwaine on pretendin' to himself 't isn't so. You 'm
wife-old, and you've made choice o' me; and I'm a ripe man, as have
thought a lot in my time, and be earnin' gude money and all. Besides, 't
is a dead-sure fact I'll have auld Morgan's place as head waterkeeper,
an' the cottage along with it, in fair time."

"Ban't for me to lift up no hindrances, but you knaw faither."

"Ess, I do--for a very stiff-necked man."

"Maybe 't is so; but a gude faither to me."

"An' a gude friend to me, for that matter. He aint got nothing 'gainst
me, anyway--no more 's any man living."

"Awnly the youth and fieriness of 'e."

"Me fiery! I lay you wouldn't find a cooler chap in Chagford."

"You 'm a dinky bit comical-tempered now and again, dear heart."

He flushed, and the corners of his jaw thickened.

"If a man was to say that, I'd knock his words down his throat."

"I knaw you would, my awn Will; an' that's bein' comical-tempered,
ban't it?"

"Then perhaps I'd best not to see your faither arter all, if you 'm that
way o' thinkin'," he answered shortly.

Then Phoebe purred to him and rubbed her cheek against his chin, whereon
the glint vanished from his eyes, and they were soft again.

"Mother's the awnly livin' sawl what understands me," he said slowly.

"And I--I too, Will!" cried Phoebe. "Ess fay. I'll call you a holy angel
if you please, an' God knaws theer 's not an angel in heaven I'd have
stead of 'e."

"I ban't no angel," said Will gravely, "and never set up for no such
thing; but I've thought a lot 'bout the world in general, and I'm purty
wise for a home-stayin' chap, come to think on it; and it's borne in
'pon me of late days that the married state 's a gude wan, and the
sooner the better."

"But a leap in the dark even for the wisest, Will?"

"So's every other step us takes for that matter. Look at them
grasshoppers. Off they goes to glory and doan't knaw no more 'n the dead
wheer they'll fetch up. I've seed 'em by the river jump slap in the
water, almost on to a trout's back. So us hops along and caan't say
what's comin' next. We 'm built to see just beyond our awn nose-ends and
no further. That's philosophy."

"Ban't comfortin' if 't is," said Phoebe.

"Whether or no, I'll see your faither 'fore night and have a plain
answer. I'm a straight, square man, so's the miller."

"You'll speed poorly, I'm fearin', but 't is a honest thing; and I'll
tell faither you 'm all the world to me. He doan't seem to knaw what it
is for a gal to be nineteen year old somehow."

Solemnly Will rose, almost overweighted with the consciousness of what
lay before him.

"We'll go home-along now. Doan't 'e tell him I'm coming. I'll take him
unbeknawnst. And you keep out the way till I be gone again."

"Does your mother knaw, Will?"

"Ess, she an' Chris both knaw I be gwaine to have it out this night.
Mother sez I be right, but that Miller will send me packing wi' a flea
in my ear; Chris sez I be wrong to ax yet awhile."

"You can see why that is; 'she 's got to wait herself," said Phoebe,
rather spitefully.

"Waitin' 's well enough when it caan't be helped. But in my case, as a
man of assured work and position in the plaace, I doan't hold it needful
no more."

Together the young couple marched down over the meadows, gained the side
of the river, and followed its windings to the west. Through a dip in
the woods presently peeped the ancient stannary town of Chagford, from
the summit of its own little eminence on the eastern confines of
Dartmoor. Both Will and Phoebe dwelt within the parish, but some
distance from the place itself. She lived at Monks Barton, a farm and
mill beside the stream; he shared an adjacent cottage with his mother
and sister. Only a bend of the river separated the dwellings of the
lovers--where Rushford Bridge spanned the Teign and beech and fir rose
above it.

In a great glory of clearness after rain, boy and girl moved along
together under the trees. The fisherman's path which they followed wound
where wet granite shone and ivy glimmered beneath the forest; and the
leaves still dripped briskly, making a patter of sound through the
underwood, and marking a thousand circles and splashes in the smooth
water beneath the banks of the stream. Against a purple-grey background
of past rain the green of high summer shone bright and fresh, and each
moss-clad rock and fern-fringed branch of the forest oaks sent forth its
own incense of slender steam where the sunlight sparkled and sucked up
the moisture. Scarce half a mile from Phoebe's home a shining yellow
twig bent and flashed against the green, and a broad back appeared
through a screen of alder by the water's edge.

"'T is a rod," said Will. "Bide a moment, and I'll take the number of
his ticket. He 'm the first fisherman I've seen to-day."

As under-keeper or water-bailiff to the Fishing Association, young
Blanchard's work consisted in endless perambulation of the river's bank,
in sharp outlook for poacher and trespasser, and in the survey of
fishermen's bridges, and other contrivances for anglers that occurred
along the winding course of the waters. His also was the duty of noting
the license numbers, and of surprising those immoral anglers who sought
to kill fish illegally on distant reaches of the river. His keen eyes,
great activity, and approved pluck well fitted Will for such duties. He
often walked twenty miles a day, and fishermen said that he knew every
big trout in the Teign from Fingle Bridge to the dark pools and rippling
steps under Sittaford Tor, near the river's twin birthplaces. He also
knew where the great peel rested, on their annual migration from sea to
moor; where the kingfisher's nest of fish-bones lay hidden; where the
otter had her home beneath the bank, and its inland vent-hole behind a
silver birch.

Will bid the angler "good afternoon," and made a few general remarks on
sport and the present unfavourable condition of the water, shrunk to
mere ribbons of silver by a long summer drought. The fisherman was a
stranger to Will--a handsome, stalwart man, with a heavy amber
moustache, hard blue eyes, and a skin tanned red by hotter suns than
English Augusts know. His disposition, also, as it seemed, reflected
years of a tropic or subtropic existence, for this trivial meeting and
momentary intrusion upon his solitude resulted in an explosion as sudden
as unreasonable and unexpected.

"Keep back, can't you?" he exclaimed, while the young keeper approached
his side; "who 's going to catch fish with your lanky shadow across the
water?"

Will was up in arms instantly.

"Do 'e think I doan't knaw my business? Theer 's my shadder 'pon the
bank a mile behind you; an' I didn't ope my mouth till you'd fished the
stickle to the bottom and missed two rises."

This criticism angered the elder man, and he freed his tailfly fiercely
from the rush-head that held it.

"Mind your own affairs and get out of my sight, whoever you are. This
river's not what it used to be by a good deal. Over-fished and poached,
and not looked after, I'll swear."

Thus, in ignorance, the sportsman uttered words of all most like to set
Will Blanchard's temper loose--a task sufficiently easy at the best of
times.

"What the hell d' you knaw 'bout the river?" he flamed out. "And as to
'my affairs,' 't is my affairs, an' I be water-bailiff, an' I'll thank
you for the number of your ticket--so now then!"

"What's become of Morgan?" asked the other.

"He 'm fust, I be second; and 't is my job to take the license numbers."

"Pity you're such an uncivil young cub, then."

"Gimme your ticket directly minute!"

"I'm not going to."

The keeper looked wicked enough by this time, but he made a great effort
to hold himself in.

"Why for not?"

"Because I didn't take one."

"That ban't gwaine to do for me."

"Ban't it? Then you'll have to go without any reason. Now run away and
don't bleat so loud."

"Look here," retorted Will, going straight up to the fisherman, and
taking his measure with a flashing eye, "You gimme your ticket number or
your name an' address, else I'll make 'e."

They counted nearly the same inches, but the angler was the elder, and a
man of more powerful build and massive frame than his younger opponent.
His blue eyes and full, broad face spoke a pugnacity not less pronounced
than the keeper's own finer features indicated; and thus these two,
destined for long years to bulk largely each upon the life of the other,
stood eye to eye for the first time. Will's temper was nearly gone, and
now another sneer set it loose with sudden and startling result.

"Make me, my young moorcock? Two more words and I'll throw you across
the river!"

The two words were not forthcoming, but Will dropped his stick and shot
forward straight and strong as an angry dog. He closed before the
stranger could dispose of his rod, gripped him with a strong wrestling
hold, and cross-buttocked him heavily in the twinkling of an eye. The
big man happily fell without hurt upon soft sand at the river's brink;
but the indignity of this defeat roused his temper effectually. He
grinned nevertheless as he rose again, shook the sand off his face, and
licked his hands.

"Good Devon, sure enough, my son; now I'll teach _you_ something you
never heard tell of, and break your damned fool's neck for you into the
bargain!"

But Phoebe, who had wandered slowly on, returned quickly at the sound of
the scuffle and high words. Now she fluttered between the combatants and
rendered any further encounter for the time impossible. They could not
close again with the girl between them, and the stranger, his anger
holding its breath, glanced at her with sudden interest, stayed his
angry growl, suffered rage to wane out of his eyes and frank admiration
to appear in them.

"Doan't be fighting!" cried Phoebe. "Whatever's the mischief, Will? Do
bate your speed of hand! You've thrawed the gentleman down, seemin'ly."

"Wheer 's his ticket to then?"

"Why, it isn't Miller Lyddon's young maid, surely!" burst out the
fisherman; "not Phoebe grown to woman!"

A Devon accent marked the speech, suddenly dragged from him by surprise.

"Ess, I be Phoebe Lyddon; but don't 'e fall 'pon each other again, for
the Lard's sake," she said.

"The boy 's as tetchy in temper as a broody hen. I was only joking all
the time, and see how he made me pay for my joke. But to think I should
remember you! Grown from bud to pretty blossom, by God! And I danced you
on my knee last time I saw you!"

"Then you 'm wan of they two Grimbal brothers as was to be home again in
Chagford to-day!" exclaimed Will.

"That's so; Martin and I landed at Plymouth yesterday. We got to
Chagford early this morning."

Will laughed.

"I never!" he said. "Why, you be lodging with my awn mother at the
cottage above Rushford Bridge! You was expected this marnin', but I
couldn't wait for 'e. You 'm Jan Grimbal--eh?"

"Right! And you're a nice host, to be sure!"

"'T is solemn truth, you 'm biding under our roof, the 'Three Crowns'
bein' full just now. And I'm sorry I thrawed 'e; but you was that
glumpy, and of course I didn't know 'e from Adam. I'm Will Blanchard."

"Never mind, Will, we'll try again some day. I could wrestle a bit once,
and learned a new trick or two from a Yankee in Africa."

"You've come back 'mazin' rich they say, Jan Grimbal?"

"So, so. Not millionaires, but all right--both of us, though I'm the
snug man of the two. We got to Africa at the right moment, before 1867,
you know, the year that O'Reilly saw a nigger-child playing with the
first Kimberley diamond ever found. Up we went, the pair of us. Things
have hummed since then, and claims and half-claims and quarter-claims
are coming to be worth a Jew's eye. We're all right, anyway, and I've
got a stake out there yet."

"You 'm well pleased to come back to dear li'l Chagford after so many
years of foreign paarts, I should think, Mr. Grimbal?" said Phoebe.

"Ay, that I am. There's no place like Devon, in all the earth, and no
spot like Chagford in Devon. I'm too hard grit to wink an eyelid at
sight of the old scenes again myself; but Martin, when he caught first
sight of great rolling Cosdon crowning the land--why, his eyes were
wetted, if you'll believe it."

"And you comed right off to fish the river fust thing," said Will
admiringly.

"Ay, couldn't help it. When I heard the water calling, it was more than
my power to keep away. But you're cruel short of rain, seemingly, and
of course the season 's nearly over."

"I'll shaw you dark hovers, wheer braave feesh be lying yet," promised
Will; and the angler thanked him, foretelling a great friendship. Yet
his eyes rarely roamed from Phoebe, and anon, as all three proceeded,
John Grimbal stopped at the gate of Monks Barton and held the girl in
conversation awhile. But first he despatched Will homewards with a
message for his mother. "Let Mrs. Blanchard know we'll feed at seven
o'clock off the best that she can get," he said; "and tell her not to
bother about the liquor. I'll see to that myself."



CHAPTER II

A CLEAR UNDERSTANDING


Monks Barton, or Barton Monachorum, as the farm was called in a Tudor
perambulation of Chagford, owed its name to traditions that holy men
aforetime dwelt there, performed saintly deeds, and blessed a spring in
the adjacent woods, whose waters from that date ever proved a magical
medicament for "striking" of sore eyes. That the lands of the valley had
once been in monastic possession was, however, probable enough; and some
portions of the old farm did in truth rise upon the ruins of a still
more ancient habitation long vanished. Monks Barton stood, a picturesque
agglomeration of buildings, beside the river. The mill-wheel, fed by a
stream taken from the Teign some distance up the valley and here
returned again to the parent water, thundered on its solemn round in an
eternal twinkling twilight of dripping ferns and green mosses; while
hard by the dwelling-house stood and offered small diamond panes and one
dormer-window to the south. Upon its whitewashed face three fruit-trees
grew--a black plum, a cherry, a winter pear; and before the farmhouse
stretched a yard sloping to the river ford, where a line of massive
stepping-stones for foot-passengers crossed the water. On either side of
this space, walled up from the edge of the stream, little gardens of
raspberry and gooseberry bushes spread; and here, too, appeared a few
apple-trees, a bed of herbs, a patch of onions, purple cabbages, and a
giant hollyhock with sulphur-coloured blossoms that thrust his proud
head upwards, a gentleman at large, and the practical countrymen of the
kitchen-garden. The mill and outbuildings, the homestead and wood-stacks
embraced a whole gamut of fine colour, ranging from the tawny and
crimson of fretted brick and tile to varied greys of drying timber; from
the cushions and pillows of moss and embroidery of houseleeks and
valerian, that had flourished for fifty years on a ruined shippen, to
the silver gleam of old thatches and the shining gold of new. Nor was
the white face of the dwelling-house amiss. Only one cold, crude eye
stared out from this time-tinctured scene; only one raw pentroof of
corrugated iron blotted it, made poets sigh, artists swear, and Miller
Lyddon contemplate more of the same upon his land.

A clucking and grunting concourse of fowls and pigs shared the farmyard;
blue pigeons claimed the roof; and now, in the westering light, with
slow foot, sweet breath, and swelling udder, many kine, red as the ripe
horse-chestnut, followed each other across the ford, assembled
themselves together and lowed musically to the milkers. Phoebe Lyddon
and John Grimbal still stood at the farm-gate, and they watched, as a
boy and an aged man came forward with buckets and stools. Then, to the
muffled thud of the water-wheel and the drone and murmur of the river,
was added a purr of milk, foaming into tin pails, and sharp, thin
monitions from the ancient, as he called the cows by their names and bid
them be still.

In John Grimbal, newly come from South Africa, this scene awakened a
lively satisfaction and delight. It told him that he was home again; and
so did the girl, though it seemed absurd to think that Phoebe had ever
sat upon his knee and heard his big stories, when as yet he himself was
a boy and the world still spread before him unconquered. He mused at the
change and looked forward to bringing himself and his success in life
before those who had known him in the past. He very well remembered who
had encouraged his ambitions and spoken words of kindness and of hope;
who also had sneered, criticised his designs unfavourably, and thrown
cold water upon his projects. John Grimbal meant to make certain souls
smart as he had smarted; but he feared his brother a little in this
connection, and suspected that Martin would not assert himself among the
friends of his youth, would not assume a position his riches warranted,
would be content with too humble a manner of life.

As a matter of fact, the ambition of neither extended much beyond a life
of peace among the scenes of his childhood; but while the younger
traveller returned with unuttered thanksgivings in his heart that he was
privileged again to see the land he loved and henceforth dwell amid its
cherished scenes, the greater energy and wider ambition of his brother
planned a position of some prominence if not power. John was above all
else a sportsman, and his programme embraced land, a stout new
dwelling-house, preserves of game in a small way, some fishing, and the
formation of a new rifle-corps at Chagford. This last enterprise he
intended to be the serious business of life; but his mind was open to
any new, agreeable impressions and, indeed, it received them at every
turn. Phoebe Lyddon awoke a very vital train of thoughts, and when he
left her, promising to come with his brother on the following day to see
the miller, John Grimbal's impressionable heart was stamped with her
pretty image, his ear still held the melody of her voice.

He crossed the stepping-stones, sat down upon the bank to change his
flies, and looked at the home of Phoebe without sentiment, yet not
without pleasure. It lay all cuddled on the bosom of a green hill; to
the west stretched meadows and orchard along the winding valley of the
river; to the east extended more grass-land that emerged into ferny
coombs and glades and river dells, all alive with the light of wild
flowers and the music of birds, with the play of dusky sunshine in the
still water, and of shadows on the shore.

A little procession of white ducks sailed slowly up the river, and each
as it passed twisted its head to peer up at the spectator. Presently the
drake who led them touched bottom, and his red-gold webs appeared. Then
he paddled ashore, lifted up his voice, waggled his tail, and with a
crescendo of quacking conducted his harem into the farmyard. One lone
Muscovy duck, perchance emulating the holy men of old in their
self-communion, or else constrained by circumstance to a solitary life,
appeared apart on a little island under the alders. A stranger in a
strange land, he sat with bent head and red-rimmed, philosophic eyes,
regarding his own breast while sunset lights fired the metallic lustre
of his motley. Quite close to him a dead branch thrust upwards from the
water, and the river swirled in oily play of wrinkles and dimples beyond
it. Here, with some approach to his old skill, the angler presently cast
a small brown moth. It fell lightly and neatly, cocked for a second,
then turned helplessly over, wrecked in the sudden eddy as a natural
insect had been. A fearless rise followed, and in less than half a
minute a small trout was in the angler's net. John Grimbal landed this
little fish carefully and regarded it with huge satisfaction before
returning it to the river. Then, having accomplished the task set by
sudden desire,--to catch a Teign trout again, feel it, smell it, see
the ebony and crimson, the silver belly warming to gold on its sides and
darkening to brown and olive above,--having by this act renewed
sensations that had slept for fifteen years, he put up his rod and
returned to his temporary quarters at the dwelling of Mrs. Blanchard.

His brother was waiting in the little garden to welcome him. Martin
walked up and down, smelled the flowers, and gazed with sober delight
upon the surrounding scene. Already sunset fires had waned; but the high
top of the fir that crowned Rushford Bridge still glowed with a great
light on its red bark; an uprising Whiddon, where it lay afar off under
the crown of Cranbrook, likewise shone out above the shadowed valley.

Martin Grimbal approached his brother and laid his hand upon the
fisherman's arm. He stood the smaller in stature, though of strong
build. His clean-shaved face had burned much darker than John's; he was
indeed coffee-brown and might have been mistaken for an Indian but for
his eyes of ordinary slate-grey. Without any pretension to good looks,
Martin Grimbal displayed what was better--an expression of such frank
benignity and goodness that his kind trusted him and relied upon him by
intuition. Honest and true to the verge of quixotism was this man in all
dealings with his fellows, yet he proved a faulty student of character.
First he was in a measure blinded by his own amiable qualities to acute
knowledge of human nature; secondly, he was drawn away from humanity
rather than not, for no cynic reason, but by the character of his
personal predilections and pursuits.

"I've seen father's grave, John," were his first words to his brother.
"It's beside the mother's, but that old stone he put up to her must be
moved and--"

"All right, all right, old chap. Stones are in your line, not mine.
Where's dinner? I want bread, not a stone, eh?"

Martin did not laugh, but shrugged his shoulders in good-tempered
fashion. His face had a measure of distinction his brother's lacked, and
indeed, while wanting John's tremendous physical energy and robust
determination, he possessed a finer intellect and instinct less animal.
Even abroad, during their earlier enterprises, Martin had first provided
brains sufficient for himself and John; but an accident of fortune
suddenly favoured the elder; and while John took full care that Martin
should benefit with himself, he was pleased henceforth to read into his
superior luck a revelation of superior intelligence, and from that
moment followed his own inclinations and judgment. He liked Martin no
less, but never turned to him for counsel again after his own accidental
good fortune; and henceforward assumed an elder brother's manner and a
show of superior wisdom. In matters of the world and in knowledge of
such human character as shall be found to congregate in civilisation's
van, or where precious metals and precious stones have been discovered
to abound, John Grimbal was undoubtedly the shrewder, more experienced
man; and Martin felt very well content that his elder brother should
take the lead. Since the advent of their prosperity a lively gratitude
had animated his mind. The twain shared nothing save bonds of blood,
love of their native land, and parity of ambition, first manifested in
early desires to become independent. Together they had gone abroad,
together they returned; and now each according to his genius designed to
seek happiness where he expected to find it. John still held interests
in South Africa, but Martin, content with less fortune, and mighty
anxious to be free of all further business, realised his wealth and now
knew the limits of his income.

The brothers supped in good spirits and Will Blanchard's sister waited
upon them. Chris was her "brother in petticoats," people said, and
indeed she resembled him greatly in face and disposition. But her eyes
were brown, like her dead father's, and a gypsy splendour of black hair
crowned her head. She was a year younger than Will, wholly wrapped up in
him and one other.

A familiarity, shy on Martin's side and patronising in John, obtained
between the brothers and their pretty attendant, for she knew all about
them and the very cottage in which their parents had dwelt and died. The
girl came and went, answered John Grimbal's jests readily, and
ministered to them as one not inferior to those she served. The elder
man's blue eyes were full of earthy admiration. He picked his teeth
between the courses and admired aloud, while Chris was from the room.

"'Tis wonderful how pretty all the women look, coming back to them after
ten years of nigger girls. Roses and cream isn't in it with their skins,
though this one's dark as a clear night--Spanish fashion."

"Miss Blanchard seems very beautiful to me certainly," admitted Martin.

"I've seen only two maids--since setting foot in Chagford," continued
his brother, "and it would puzzle the devil to say which was best to
look at."

"Your heart will soon be lost, I'll wager--to a Chagford girl, I hope. I
know you talked about flying high, but you might be happier to take a
mate from--well, you understand."

"It's all very well to build theories on board ship about bettering
myself socially and all that, but it's rot; I'll be knocked over by one
of the country witches, I know I shall,--I feel it. I love the sound of
the Devon on their lips, and the clear eyes of them, and the bright
skin. 'Tis all I can do to keep from hugging the women, and that's a
fact. But you, you cold-blooded beggar, your heart's still for the grey
granite and the old ghostly stones, and creepy, lonely places on the
Moor! We're that different, you and me."

Martin nodded thoughtfully, and, the meal being now ended, both men
strolled out of doors, then wandered down to smoke a pipe on Rushford
Bridge and listen to the nightly murmur of the river. Darkness moved on
the face of land and water; twilight had sucked all the colour away from
the valley; and through the deepening monochrome of the murk there
passed white mists with shadowy hands, and peeped blind pale eyes along
the winding water, where its surface reflected the faded west. Nocturnal
magic conjured the least meadow into an unmeasured sea of vapour; awoke
naiads in the waters and dryads in the woods; transformed the solemn
organ music of great beetles into songs of a roaming spirit; set unseen
shapes stirring in the starlight; whispered of invisible, enchanted
things, happy and unhappy, behind the silence.

A man moved from the bridge as the brothers reached it. Then Will
Blanchard, knocking out his pipe and taking a big inspiration, set his
face steadily toward Monks Barton and that vital interview with Miller
Lyddon now standing in the pathway of his life.

He rapped at the farm door and a step came slowly down the stone-paved
passage. Then Billy Blee, the miller's right-hand man, opened to him.
Bent he was from the small of the back, with a highly coloured, much
wrinkled visage, and ginger hair, bleached by time to a paler shade. His
poll was bald and shining, and thick yellow whiskers met beneath a
clean-shorn chin. Billy's shaggy eyebrows, little bright eyes, and long
upper lip, taken with the tawny fringe under his chops, gave him the
look of an ancient and gigantic lion-monkey; and indeed there was not
lacking in him an ape-like twist, as shall appear.

"Hullo! boy Blanchard! An' what might you want?" he asked.

"To see Miller."

"Come in then; we'm all alone in kitchen, him and me, awver our grog and
game. What's the matter now?"

"A private word for Miller's ear," said Will cautiously.

"Come you in then. Us'll do what we may for 'e. Auld heads be the best
stepping-stones young folks can have, understood right; awnly the likes
of you mostly chooses to splash through life on your awn damn silly
roads."

Mr. Blee, whose friendship and familiarity with his master was of the
closest, led on, and Will soon stood before Mr. Lyddon.

The man who owned Monks Barton, and who there prosperously combined the
callings of farmer and miller, had long enjoyed the esteem of the
neighbourhood in which he dwelt, as had his ancestors before him,
through many generations. He had won reputation for a sort of silent
wisdom. He never advised any man ill, never hesitated to do a kindly
action, and himself contrived to prosper year in, year out, no matter
what period of depression might be passing over Chagford. Vincent Lyddon
was a widower of sixty-five--a grey, thin, tall man, slow of speech and
sleepy of eye. A weak mouth, and a high, round forehead, far smoother
than his age had promised, were distinguishing physical features of him.
His wife had been dead eighteen years, and of his two children one only
survived. The elder, a boy toddling in early childhood at the water's
edge, was unmissed until too late, and found drowned next day after a
terrible night of agony for both parents. Indeed, Mrs. Lyddon never
recovered from the shock, and Phoebe was but a year old when her mother
died. Further, it need only be mentioned that the miller had heard of
Will's courting more than once, but absolutely refused to allow the
matter serious consideration. The romance was no more than philandering
of children in his eyes.

"Will--eh? Well, my son, and how can I serve you?" asked the master of
Monks Barton, kindly enough. He recrossed his legs, settled in his
leather chair, and continued the smoking of a long clay pipe.

"Just this, Mr. Lyddon," began Will abruptly. "You calls me your 'son'
as a manner o' speech, but I wants to be no less in fact."

"You ban't here on that fool's errand, bwoy, surely? I thought I'd made
my mind clear enough to Phoebe six months ago."

"Look you here now. I be earnin' eighteen shillings a week an' a bit
awver; an' I be sure of Morgan's berth as head-keeper presently; an' I'm
a man as thinks."

"That's brave talk, but what have 'e saved, lad?" inquired Mr. Blee.

The lover looked round at him sharply.

"I thought you was out the room," he said. "I be come to talk to Miller,
not you."

"Nay, nay, Billy can stay and see I'm not tu hard 'pon 'e," declared Mr.
Lyddon. "He axed a proper question. What's put by to goody in the
savings' bank, Will?"

"Well--five pounds; and 't will be rose to ten by Christmas, I assure
'e."

"Fi' puns! an' how far 's that gwaine?"

"So far as us can make it, in coourse."

"Doan't you see, sonny, this ban't a fair bargain? I'm not a hard man--"

"By gor! not hard enough by a powerful deal," said Billy.

"Not hard on youth; but this match, so to call it, looks like mere
moonshine. Theer 's nought _to_ it I can see--both childer, and neither
with as much sense as might sink a floatin' straw."

"We love each other wi' all our hearts and have done more 'n half a
year. Ban't that nothing?"

"I married when I was forty-two," remarked the miller, reflectively,
looking down at his fox-head slippers, the work of Phoebe's fingers.

"An' a purty marryin' time tu!" declared Mr. Blee. "Look at me," he
continued, "parlous near seventy, and a bacherlor-man yet."

"Not but Widow Comstock will have 'e if you ax her a bit oftener. Us all
knows that," said the young lover, with great stratagem.

Billy chuckled, and rubbed his wrinkles.

"Time enough, time enough," he answered, "but you--scarce out o'
clouts--why, 't is playin' at a holy thing, that's what 't is--same as
Miss Phoebe, when she was a li'l wee cheel, played at bein' parson in
her night-gownd, and got welted for it, tu, by her gude faither."

"We 'm both in earnest anyway--me and Phoebe."

"So am I," replied the miller, sitting up and putting down his pipe; "so
am I in earnest, and wan word 's gude as a hunderd in a pass like this.
You must hear the truth, an' that never broke no bones. You 'm no more
fitted to have a wife than that tobacco-jar--a hot-headed, wild-fire of
a bwoy--"

"A right Jack-o'-Lantern, as everybody knaws," suggested Mr. Blee.

"Ess fay, 'tis truth. Shifting and oncertain as the marsh gallopers on
the moor bogs of a summer night. Awnly a youth's faults, you mind; but
still faults. No, no, my lad, you've got to fight your life's battle and
win it, 'fore you'm a mate for any gal; an' you've got to begin by
fightin' yourself, an' breaking an' taming yourself, an' getting
yourself well in hand. That's a matter of more than months for the best
of us."

"And then?" said Will, "after 'tis done? though I'm not allowin' I'm
anything but a ripe man as I stand here afore you now."

"Then I'd say, 'I'm glad to see you grawed into a credit to us all, Will
Blanchard, and worth your place in the order o' things; but you doan't
marry Phoebe Lyddon--never, never, never, not while I'm above ground.'"

His slow eyes looked calmly and kindly at Will, and he smiled into the
hot, young, furious face.

"That's your last word then?"

"It is, my lad."

"And you won't give a reason?"

"The reason is, 'what's bred in the bone comes out in the flesh.' I
knawed your faither. You'm as volatile as him wi'out his better paarts."

"Leave him wheer he lies--underground. If he'd lived 'stead of bein' cut
off from life, you'd 'a' bin proud to knaw him."

"A gypsy-man and no better, Will," said Mr. Blee. "Not but what he made
a gude end, I allow."

"Then I'll be up and away. I've spoke 'e fair, Miller--fair an'
straight--an' so you to me. You won't allow this match. Then we'll wed
wi'out your blessin', an' sorry I shall be."

"If that's your tune, my young rascal, I'll speak again! Phoebe's under
age, remember that, and so sure as you dare take her a yard from her awn
door you'll suffer for it. 'Tis a clink job, you mind--a prison
business; and what's more, you 'm pleased to speak so plain that I will
tu, and tell 'e this. If you dare to lift up your eyes to my child
again, or stop her in the way, or have speech with her, I'll set
p'liceman 'pon 'e! For a year and more she 'm not her awn mistress; and,
at the end of that time, if she doan't get better sense than to tinker
arter a harum-scarum young jackanapes like you, she ban't a true Lyddon.
Now be off with 'e an' doan't dare to look same way Phoebe 's walkin',
no more, else theer'll be trouble for 'e."

"Wonnerful language, an' in a nutshell," commented Billy, as, blowing
rather hard, the miller made an end of his warning.

"Us'll leave it theer, then, Mr. Lyddon; and you'll live to be sorry
ever you said them words to me. Ess fay, you'll live to sing different;
for when two 's set 'pon a matter o' marryin', ban't fathers nor
mothers, nor yet angels, be gwaine to part 'em. Phoebe an' me will be
man an' wife some day, sure 's the sun 's brighter 'n the mune. So now
you knaw. Gude night to 'e."

He took up his hat and departed; Billy held up his hands in mute
amazement; but the miller showed no emotion and relighted his pipe.

"The rising generation do take my breath away twenty times a day," said
Mr. Blee. "To think o' that bwoy, in li'l frocks awnly yesterday,
standin' theer frontin' two aged men wi' such bouldacious language!"

"What would you do, Billy, if the gal was yourn?"

"Same as you, to a hair. Bid her drop the chap for gude 'n all. But
theer 's devil's pepper in that Blanchard. He ain't done with yet."

"Well, well, he won't shorten my sleep, I promise you. Near two years is
a long time to the young. Lord knaws wheer a light thing like him will
be blawed to, come two years. Time 's on my side for certain. And Phoebe
's like to change also."

"Why, a woman's mind 's no more 'n a feather in a gale of wind at her
time o' life; though to tell her so 's the sure way to make her
steadfast."

A moment later Phoebe herself entered. She had heard Will depart and
now, in a fever of impatience, crept with bright, questioning eyes to
her father's chair. Whereupon Mr. Blee withdrew in a violent hurry. No
one audibly desired him to do so, but a side-look from the girl was
enough.



CHAPTER III

EXIT WILL


Phoebe's conversation with her father occupied a space of time extending
over just two minutes. He met her eager eyes with a smile, patted her
head, pinched her ear, and by his manner awakened a delicious flutter of
hope in the girl before he spoke. When, therefore, Phoebe learned that
Will was sent about his business for ever, and must henceforth be wholly
dismissed from her mind, the shock and disappointment of such
intelligence came as a cruel blow. She stood silent and thunderstruck
before Miller Lyddon, a world of reproaches in her frightened eyes; then
mutely the corners of her little mouth sank as she turned away and
departed with her first great sorrow.

Phoebe's earliest frantic thought had been to fly to Will, but she knew
such a thing was impossible. There would surely be a letter from him on
the following morning hidden within their secret pillar-box between two
bricks of the mill wall. For that she must wait, and even in her misery
she was glad that with Will, not herself, lay decision as to future
action. She had expected some delay; she had believed that her father
would impose stern restrictions of time and make a variety of conditions
with her sweetheart; she had even hoped that Miller Lyddon might command
lengthened patience for the sake of her headstrong, erratic Will's
temper and character; but that he was to be banished in this crushing
and summary fashion overwhelmed Phoebe, and that utterly. Her nature,
however, was not one nourished from any very deep wells of character.
She belonged to a class who suffer bitterly enough under sorrow, but the
storm of it while tearing like a tropical tornado over heart and soul,
leaves no traces that lapse of time cannot wholly and speedily
obliterate. On them it may be said that fortune's sharpest strokes
inflict no lasting scars; their dispositions are happily powerless to
harbour the sustained agony that burrows and gnaws, poisons man's
estimate of all human affairs, wrecks the stores of his experience, and
stamps the cicatrix of a live, burning grief on brow and brain for ever.
They find their own misery sufficiently exalted; but their temperament
is unable to sustain a lifelong tribulation or elevate sorrow into
tragedy. And their state is the more blessed. So Phoebe watered her
couch with tears, prayed to God to hear her solemn promises of eternal
fidelity, then slept and passed into a brief dreamland beyond sorrow's
reach.

Meantime young Blanchard took his stormy heart into a night of stars.
The moon had risen; the sky was clear; the silvery silence remained
unbroken save for the sound of the river, where it flowed under the
shadows of great trees and beneath aerial bridges and banners of the
meadow mists. Will strode through this scene, past his mother's cottage,
and up a hill behind it, into the village. His mind presented in turn a
dozen courses of action, and each was built upon the abiding foundation
of Phoebe's sure faithfulness. That she would cling to him for ever the
young man knew right well; no thought of a rival, therefore, entered
into his calculations. The sole problem was how quickest to make Mr.
Lyddon change his mind; how best to order his future that the miller
should regard him as a responsible person, and one of weight in affairs.
Not that Will held himself a slight man by any means; but he felt that
he must straightway assert his individuality and convince the world in
general and Miller Lyddon in particular of faulty judgment. He was very
angry still as he retraced the recent conversation. Then, among those
various fancies and projects in his mind, the wildest and most foolish
stood out before him as both expedient and to be desired. His purpose in
Chagford was to get advice from another man; but before he reached the
village his own mind was established.

Slated and thatched roofs glimmered under moonlight, and already the
hamlet slept. A few cats crept like shadows through the deserted
streets, from darkness into light, from light back to darkness; and one
cottage window, before which Will Blanchard stood, still showed a candle
behind a white blind. Most quaint and ancient was this habitation--of
picturesque build, with tiny granite porch, small entrance, and
venerable thatches that hung low above the upper windows. A few tall
balsams quite served to fill the garden; indeed so small was it that
from the roadway young Blanchard, by bending over the wooden fence,
could easily reach the cottage window. This he did, tapped lightly, and
then waited for the door to be opened.

A man presently appeared and showed some surprise at the sight of his
late visitor.

"Let me in, Clem," said Will. "I knawed you'd be up, sitting readin'
and dreamin'. 'T is no dreamin' time for me though, by God! I be corned
straight from seeing Miller 'bout Phoebe."

"Then I can very well guess what was last in your ears."

Clement Hicks spoke in an educated voice. He was smaller than Will but
evidently older. Somewhat narrow of build and thin, he looked delicate,
though in reality wiry and sound. He was dark of complexion, wore his
hair long for a cottager, and kept both moustache and beard, though the
latter was very scant and showed the outline of his small chin through
it. A forehead remarkably lofty but not broad, mounted almost
perpendicularly above the man's eyes; and these were large and dark and
full of fire, though marred by a discontented expression. His mouth was
full-lipped, his other features huddled rather meanly together under the
high brow: but his face, while admittedly plain even to ugliness, was
not commonplace; for its eyes were remarkable, and the cast of thought
ennobled it as a whole.

Will entered the cottage kitchen and began instantly to unfold his
experiences.

"You knaw me--a man with a level head, as leaps after looking, not
afore. I put nothing but plain reason to him and he flouted me like you
might a cheel. An' I be gwaine to make him eat his words--such hard
words as they was tu! Think of it! Me an' Phoebe never to meet no more!
The folly of sayin' such a thing! Wouldn't 'e reckon that grey hairs
knawed better than to fancy words can keep lovers apart?"

"Grey hairs cover old brains; and old brains forget what it feels like
to have a body full o' young blood. The best memory can't keep the
feeling of youth fresh in a man."

"Well, I ban't the hot-headed twoad Miller Lyddon thinks, or pretends he
thinks, anyway. I'll shaw un! I can wait, an' Phoebe can wait, an' now
she'll have to. I'm gwaine away."

"Going away. Why?"

"To shaw what 's in me. I ban't sorry for this for some things. Now no
man shall say that I'm a home-stayin' gaby, tramping up an' down Teign
Vale for a living. I'll step out into the wide world, same as them
Grimbals done. They 'm back again made of money, the pair of 'em."

"It took them fifteen years and more, and they were marvellously lucky."

"What then? I'm as like to fare well as they. I've worked out a
far-reaching plan, but the first step I've thought on 's terrible
coorious, an' I reckon nobody but you'd see how it led to better things.
But you 'm book-larned and wise in your way, though I wish your wisdom
had done more for yourself than it has. Anyway, you 'm tokened to Chris
and will be one of the family some day perhaps when Mother Coomstock
dies, so I'll leave my secret with you. But not a soul else--not mother
even. So you must swear you'll never tell to man or woman or cheel what
I've done and wheer I be gone."

"I'll swear if you like."

"By the livin' God."

"By any God you believe is alive."

"Say it, then."

"By the living God, I, Clement Hicks, bee-master of Chagford, Devon,
swear to keep the secret of my friend and neighbour, William Blanchard,
whatever it is."

"And may He tear the life out of you if you so much as think to tell."

Hicks laughed and shook his hair from his forehead.

"You're suspicious of the best friend you've got in the world."

"Not a spark. But I want you to see what an awful solemn thing I reckon
it."

"Then may God rot me, and plague me, and let me roast in hell-fire with
the rogues for ever and a day, if I so much as whisper your news to man
or mouse! There, will that do?"

"No call to drag in hell fire, 'cause I knaw you doan't set no count on
it. More doan't I. Hell's cold ashes now if all what you ve said is
true. But you've sworn all right and now I'll tell 'e."

He bent forward and whispered in the other's ear, whereon Hicks started
in evident amazement and showed himself much concerned.

"Good Heavens! Man alive, are you mad?"

"You doan't 'zactly look on ahead enough, Clem," said Will loftily.
"Ban't the thing itself's gwaine to make a fortune, but what comes of
it. 'Tis a tidy stepping-stone lead-in' to gert matters very often, as
your books tell, I dare say."

"It can't lead to anything whatever in your case but wasted years."

"I'm best judge of that. I've planned the road, and if I ban't home
again inside ten year as good a man as Grimbal or any other I'll say I
was wrong."

"You're a bigger fool than even I thought, Blanchard."

Will's eye flashed.

"You 'm a tidy judge of a fule, I grant," he said angrily, "or should
be. But you 'm awnly wan more against me. You'll see you 'm wrong like
the rest. Anyway, you've got to mind what you've sweared. An' when
mother an' Chris ax 'e wheer I be, I'll thank you to say I'm out in the
world doin' braave, an' no more."

"As you like. It 's idle, I know, trying to make you change your mind."

A thin voice from an upper chamber of the cottage here interrupted their
colloquy, and the mother of the bee-keeper reminded him that he was due
early on the following day at Okehampton with honey, and that he ought
long since to be asleep.

"If that's Will Blanchard," she concluded, "tell un to be off home to
bed. What 's the wisdom o' turning night hours into day like this here?"

"All right, mother," shouted Will. "Gude-night to 'e. I be off this
moment."

Then bidding his friend farewell, he departed.

"Doan't think twice o' what I said a minute since. I was hot 'cause you
couldn't see no wisdom in my plan. But that's the way of folks. They
belittle a chap's best thoughts and acts till the time comes for luck to
turn an' bring the fruit; then them as scoffed be the first to turn
round smilin' an' handshaking and sayin', 'What did us say? Didn't us
tell 'e so from the very beginning?'"

Away went the youthful water-keeper, inspired with the prospect of his
contemplated flight. He strode home at a rapid pace, to find all lights
out and the household in bed. Then he drank half a pint of cider, ate
some bread and cheese, and set about a letter to Phoebe.

A little desk on a side-table, the common property of himself, his
mother, and sister, was soon opened, and materials found. Then, in his
own uncial characters, that always tended hopefully upward, and thus
left a triangle of untouched paper at the bottom of every sheet, Will
wrote a letter of two folios, or eight complete pages. In this he
repeated the points of his conversation with Phoebe's father, told her
to be patient, and announced that, satisfied of her unfailing love and
steadfastness through all, he was about to pass into the wider world,
and carve his way to prosperity and fortune. He hid particulars from
her, but mentioned that Clement Hicks would forward any communications.
Finally he bid her keep a stout heart and live contented in the
certainty of ultimate happiness. He also advised Phoebe to forgive her
father. "I have already done it, honor bright," he wrote; "'t is a wise
man's part to bear no malice, especially against an old grey body whose
judgment 'pears to be gone bad for some reason." He also assured Phoebe
that he was hers until death should separate them; in a postscript he
desired her to break his departure softly to his mother if opportunity
to do so occurred; and, finally, he was not ashamed to fill the empty
triangles on each page with kisses, represented by triangles closely
packed. Bearing this important communication, Will walked out again into
the night, and soon his letter awaited Phoebe in the usual receptacle.
He felt therein himself, half suspecting a note might await him, but
there was nothing. He hesitated for a moment, then climbed the gate into
Monks Barton farmyard, went softly and stood in the dark shadow of the
mill-house. The moon shone full upon the face of the dwelling, and its
three fruit-trees looked as though painted in profound black against the
pale whitewash; while Phoebe's dormer-window framed the splendour of the
reflected sky, and shone very brightly. The blind was down, and the
maiden behind it had been asleep an hour or two; but Will pictured her
as sobbing her heart out still. Perhaps he would never see her again.
The path he had chosen to follow might take him over seas and through
vast perils; indeed, it must do so if the success he desired was to be
won. He felt something almost like a catch in his throat as he turned
away and crossed the sleeping river. He glanced down through dreaming
glades and saw one motionless silver spot on the dark waters beneath the
alders. Sentiment was at its flood just then, and he spoke a few words
under his breath. "'Tis thicky auld Muscovy duck, roostin' on his li'l
island; poor lone devil wi' never a mate to fight for nor friend to swim
along with. Worse case than mine, come to think on it!" Then an emotion,
rare enough with him, vanished, and he sniffed the night air and felt
his heart beat high at thoughts of what lay ahead.

Will returned home, made fast the outer door, took off his boots, and
went softly up a creaking stair. Loud and steady music came from the
room where John Grimbal lay, and Blanchard smiled when he heard it.
"'Tis the snore of a happy man with money in his purse," he thought.
Then he stood by his mother's door, which she always kept ajar at night,
and peeped in upon her. Damaris Blanchard slumbered with one arm on the
coverlet, the other behind her head. She was a handsome woman still, and
looked younger than her eight-and-forty years in the soft ambient light.
"Muneshine do make dear mother so purty as a queen," said Will to
himself. And he would never wish her "good-by," perhaps never see her
again. He hastened with light, impulsive step into the room, thinking
just to kiss the hand on the bed, but his mother stirred instantly and
cried, "Who's theer?" with sleepy voice. Then she sat up and listened--a
fair, grey-eyed woman in an old-fashioned night-cap. Her son had
vanished before her eyes were opened, and now she turned and yawned and
slept again.

Will entered his own chamber near at hand, doffed for ever the velveteen
uniform of water-keeper, and brought from a drawer an old suit of
corduroy. Next he counted his slight store of money, set his 'alarum'
for four o'clock, and, fifteen minutes later, was in bed and asleep, the
time then being a little after midnight.



CHAPTER IV

BY THE RIVER


Clement Hicks paid an early visit to Will's home upon the following
morning. He had already set out to Okehampton with ten pounds of honey
in the comb, and at Mrs. Blanchard's cottage he stopped the little
public vehicle which ran on market-days to the distant town. That the
son of the house was up and away at dawn told his family nothing, for
his movements were at all times erratic, and part of his duty consisted
in appearing on the river at uncertain times and in unexpected
localities. Clement Hicks often called for a moment upon his way to
market, and Chris, who now greeted her lover, felt puzzled at the
unusual gravity of his face. She turned pale when she heard his
tremendous news; but the mother was of more Spartan temperament and
received intelligence of Will's achievement without changing colour or
ceasing from her occupation.

Between Damaris Blanchard and her boy had always existed a perfect
harmony of understanding, rare even in their beautiful relationship. The
thoughts of son and mother chimed; not seldom they anticipated each
other's words. The woman saw much of her dead husband reflected in Will
and felt a moral conviction that through the storms of youth, high
temper, and inexperience, he would surely pass to good things, by reason
of the strenuous honesty and singleness of purpose that actuated him;
he, on his side, admired the great calmness and self-possession of his
mother. She was so steadfast, so strong, and wiser than any woman he had
ever seen. With a fierce, volcanic affection Will Blanchard loved her.
She and Phoebe alike shared his whole heart.

"It is a manly way of life he has chosen, and that is all I may say. He
is ambitious and strong, and I should be the last to think he has not
done well to go into the world for a while," said Clement.

"When is he coming back again?" asked Chris.

"He spoke of ten years or so."

"Then 'twill be more or less," declared Mrs. Blanchard, calmly. "Maybe a
month, maybe five years, or fifteen, not ten, if he said ten. He'll shaw
the gude gold he's made of, whether or no. I'm happy in this and not
surprised. 'Twas very like to come arter last night, if things went
crooked."

"'Tis much as faither might have done," said Chris.

"'Tis much what he did do. Thank you for calling, Clem Hicks. Now best
be away, else they'll drive off to Okehampton without 'e."

Clement departed, Chris wept as the full extent of her loss was
impressed upon her, and Mrs. Blanchard went up to her son's room. There
she discovered the velveteen suit with a card upon them: "Hand over to
Mr. Morgan, Head Water-keeper, Sandypark." She looked through his
things, and found that he had taken nothing but his money, one suit of
working clothes, and a red tie--her present to him on his birthday
during the previous month. All his other possessions remained in their
usual places. With none to see, the woman's eye moistened; then she sat
down on Will's bed and her heart grew weak for one brief moment as she
pictured him fighting the battle. It hurt her a little that he had told
Clement Hicks his intention and hid it from his mother. Yet as a son, at
least, he had never failed. However, all affairs of life were a matter
of waiting, more or less, she told herself; and patience was easier to
Damaris Blanchard than to most people. Under her highest uneasiness,
maternal pride throbbed at thought of the manly independence indicated
by her son's action. She returned to the duties of the day, but found
herself restless, while continually admonishing Chris not to be so. Her
thoughts drifted to Monks Barton and Will's meeting with his
sweetheart's father. Presently, when her daughter went up to the
village, Mrs. Blanchard put off her apron, donned the cotton sunbonnet
that she always wore from choice, and walked over to see Mr. Lyddon.
They were old friends, and presently Damaris listened sedately to the
miller without taking offence at his directness of speech. He told the
story of his decision and Will's final reply, while she nodded and even
smiled once or twice in the course of the narrative.

"You was both right, I reckon," she said placidly, looking into Mr.
Lyddon's face. "You was wise to mistrust, not knawin' what's at the root
of him; and he, being as he is, was in the right to tell 'e the race
goes to the young. Wheer two hearts is bent on joining, 'tis join they
will--if both keeps of a mind long enough."

"That's it, Damaris Blanchard; who's gwaine to b'lieve that a bwoy an'
gal, like Will an' Phoebe, do knaw theer minds? Mark me, they'll both
chaange sweethearts a score of times yet 'fore they come to mate."

"Caan't speak for your darter, Lyddon; but I knaw my son. A masterful
bwoy, like his faither before him, wild sometimes an' wayward tu, but
not with women-folk. His faither loved in wan plaace awnly. He'll be
true to your cheel whatever betides, or I'm a fule."

"What's the use of that if he ban't true to himself? No, no, I caan't
see a happy ending to the tale however you look at it. Wish I could. I
fear't was a ugly star twinkled awver his birthplace, ma'am."

"'Twas all the stars of heaven, Miller," said the mother, frankly, "for
he was born in my husband's caravan in the auld days. We was camped up
on the Moor, drawn into one of them roundy-poundies o' grey granite
stones set up by Phoenicians at the beginning of the world. Ess fay, a
braave shiny night, wi' the li'l windows thrawed open to give me air.
An' 'pon Will's come-of-age birthday, last month, if us didn't all drive
up theer an' light a fire an' drink a dish of tea in the identical spot!
'Tis out Newtake' way."

"Like a story-book."

"'Twas Clem Hicks, his thought, being a fanciful man. But I'll bid you
gude-marnin' now. Awnly mind this, as between friends and without a
spark of malice: Will Blanchard means to marry your maid, sure as you'm
born, if awnly she keeps strong for him. It rests with her, Miller, not
you."

"Much what your son said in sharper words. Well, you'm out o' reckoning
for once, wise though you be most times; for if a maiden's happiness
doan't rest with her faither, blamed if I see wheer it should. And to
think such a man as me doan't knaw wiser 'n two childern who caan't
number forty year between 'em is flat fulishness, surely?"

"I knaw Will," said Mrs. Blanchard, slowly and emphatically; "I knaw un
to the core, and that's to say more than you or anybody else can. A
mother may read her son like print, but no faither can see to the bottom
of a wife-old daughter--not if he was Solomon's self. So us'll wait an'
watch wi'out being worse friends."

She went home again the happier for her conversation; but any thought
that Mr. Lyddon might have been disposed to devote to her prophecy was
for the time banished by the advent of John Grimbal and his brother.

Like boys home from school, they dwelt in the present delight of their
return, and postponed the varied duties awaiting them, to revel again in
the old sights, sounds, and scents. To-day they were about an angling
excursion, and the fishers' road to Fingle lying through Monks Barton,
both brothers stopped a while and waited upon their old friend of the
mill, according to John's promise of the previous afternoon. Martin
carried the creel and the ample luncheon it contained; John smoked a
strong cigar and was only encumbered with his light fly-rod; the younger
designed to accompany his brother through Fingle Valley; then leave him
there, about his sport, and proceed alone to various places of natural
and antiquarian interest. But John meant fishing and nothing else. To
him great woods were no more than cover for fur and feathers; rivers and
streams meant a vehicle for the display of a fly to trout, and only
attracted him or the reverse, according to the fish they harboured. When
the moorland waters spouted and churned, cherry red from their springs
in the peat, he deemed them a noble spectacle; when, as at present,
Teign herself had shrunk to a mere silver thread, and the fingerling
trout splashed and wriggled half out of water in the shallows, he freely
criticised its scanty volume and meagre depths.

Miller Lyddon welcomed the men very heartily. He had been amongst those
who dismissed them with hope to their battle against the world, and now
he reminded them of his sanguine predictions. Will Blanchard's
disappearance amused John Grimbal and he laughed when Billy Blee
appeared red-hot with the news. Mr. Lyddon made no secret of his
personal opinion of Blanchard, and all debated the probable design of
the wanderer.

"Maybe he's 'listed," said John, "an' a good thing too if he has. It
makes a man of a young fellow. I'm for conscription myself--always have
been."

"I be minded to think he've joined the riders," declared Billy. "Theer
comed a circus here last month, with braave doin's in the way of
horsemanship and Merry Andrews, and such like devilries. Us all goes to
see it from miles round every year; an' Will was theer. Circus folk do
see the world in a way denied to most, and theer manner of life takes
'em even as far as Russia and the Indies I've heard."

"Then there's the gypsy blood in him--" declared Mr. Lyddon, "that might
send him roaming oversea, if nothing else did."

"Or my great doings are like to have fired him," said John. "How's
Phoebe?" he continued, dismissing Will. "I saw her yesterday--a bowerly
maiden she's grown--a prize for a better man that this wild youngster,
now bolted God knaws where."

"So I think," agreed the miller, "an' I hope she'll soon forget the
searching grey eyes of un and his high-handed way o' speech. Gals like
such things. Dear, dear! though he made me so darned angry last night, I
could have laughed in his faace more 'n wance."

"Missy's under the weather this marnin'," declared Billy. "Who tawld her
I ban't able to say, but she knawed he'd gone just arter feedin' the
fowls, and she went down valley alone, so slow, wi' her purty head that
bent it looked as if her sunbonnet might be hiding an auld gran'mother's
poll."

"She'll come round," said Martin; "she's only a young girl yet."

"And there 's fish as good in the sea as ever came out, and better,"
declared his brother. "She must wait for a man who is a man,--somebody
of good sense and good standing, with property to his name."

Miller Lyddon noted with surprise and satisfaction John Grimbal's warmth
of manner upon this question; he observed also the stout, hearty body of
him, and the handsome face that crowned it. Then the brothers proceeded
down-stream, and the master of Monks Barton looked after them and caught
himself hoping that they might meet Phoebe.

At a point where the river runs between a giant shoulder of heather-clad
hill on one side and the ragged expanses of Whiddon Park upon the other,
John clambered down to the streamside and began to fish, while Martin
dawdled at hand and watched the sport. A pearly clearness, caught from
the clouds, characterised earth as well as air, and proved that every
world-picture depends for atmosphere and colour upon the sky-picture
extended above it. Again there was movement and some music, for the
magic of the wind in a landscape's nearer planes is responsible for
both. The wooded valley lay under a grey and breezy forenoon; swaying
alders marked each intermittent gust with a silver ripple of upturned
foliage, and still reaches of the river similarly answered the wind with
hurrying flickers and furrows of dimpled light. Through its transparent
flood, where the waters ran in shadow and escaped reflections, the river
revealed a bed of ruddy brown and rich amber. This harmonious colouring
proceeded from the pebbly bottom, where a medley of warm agate tones
spread and shimmered, like some far-reaching mosaic beneath the crystal.
Above Teign's shrunken current extended oak and ash, while her banks
bore splendid concourse of the wild water-loving dwellers in that happy
valley. Meadowsweet nodded creamy crests; hemlock and fool's parsley and
seeding willow-herb crowded together beneath far-scattered filigree of
honeysuckles and brambles with berries, some ripe, some red; while the
scarlet corals of briar and white bryony gemmed every riotous trailing
thicket, dene, and dingle along the river's brink; and in the grassy
spaces between rose little chrysoprase steeples of wood sage all set in
shining fern. Upon the boulders in midstream subaqueous mosses, now
revealed and starved by the drought, died hard, and the seeds of
grasses, figworts, and persicarias thrust up flower and foliage,
flourishing in unwonted spots from which the next freshet would rudely
tear them. Insect life did not abundantly manifest itself, for the day
was sunless; but now and again, with crisp rattle of his gauze wings, a
dragon-fly flashed along the river. Through these scenes the Teign
rolled drowsily and with feeble pulses. Upon one bank rose the confines
of Whiddon; on the other, abrupt and interspersed with gulleys of
shattered shale, ascended huge slopes whereon a whole summer of sunshine
had scorched the heather to dry death. But fading purple still gleamed
here and there in points and splashes, and the lesser furze, mingling
therewith, scattered gold upon the tremendous acclivities even to the
crown of fir-trees that towered remote and very blue upon the uplifted
sky-line. Swallows, with white breasts flashing, circled over the river,
and while their elevation above the water appeared at times tremendous,
the abrupt steepness of the gorge was such that the birds almost brushed
the hillside with their wings. A sledge, laden with the timber of barked
sapling oaks, creaked and jingled over the rough road beside the stream;
a man called to his horses and a dog barked beside him; then they
disappeared and the spacious scene was again empty, save for its
manifold wild life and music.

John Grimbal fished, failed, and cursed the poor water and the lush
wealth of the riverside that caught his fly at every critical moment. A
few small trout he captured and returned; then, flinging down rod and
net, he called to his brother for the luncheon-basket. Together they sat
in the fern beside the river and ate heartily of the fare that Mrs.
Blanchard had provided; then, as John was about to light a pipe, his
brother, with a smile, produced a little wicker globe and handed it to
him. This unexpected sight awoke sudden and keen appetite on the elder's
face. He smacked his lips, swore a hearty oath of rejoicing, and held
out an eager hand for the thing.

"My God! to think I'll suck the smoke of that again,--the best baccy in
the wide world!"

The little receptacle contained a rough sort of sun-dried Kaffir
tobacco, such as John and Martin had both smoked for the past fifteen
years.

"I thought it would be a treat. I brought home a few pounds," said the
younger, smiling again at his brother's hungry delight. John cut into
the case, loaded his pipe, and lighted it with a contented sign. Then he
handed the rest back to its owner.

"No, no," said Martin. "I'll just have one fill, that's all. I brought
this for you. 'T will atone for the poor sport. The creel I shall leave
with you now, for I'm away to Fingle Bridge and Prestonbury. We'll meet
at nightfall."

Thereupon he set off down the valley, his mind full of early British
encampments, while John sat and smoked and pondered upon his future. He
built no castles in the air, but a solid country house of red brick,
destined to stand in its own grounds near Chagford, and to have a snug
game-cover or two about it, with a few good acres of arable land
bordering on forest. Roots meant cover for partridges in John Grimbal's
mind; beech and oak in autumn represented desirable food for pheasants;
and corn, once garnered and out of the way, left stubble for all manner
of game.

Meantime, whilst he reviewed his future with his eyes on a blue cloud of
tobacco smoke, Martin passed Phoebe Lyddon farther down the valley. Him
she recognised as a stranger; but he, with his eyes engaged in no more
than unconscious guarding of his footsteps, his mind buried in the
fascinating problems of early British castramentation, did not look at
her or mark a sorrowful young face still stained with tears.

Into the gorge Phoebe had wandered after reading her sweetheart's
letter. There, to the secret ear of the great Mother, instinct had drawn
her and her grief; and now the earliest shock was over; a dull, numb
pain of mind followed the first sorrow; unwonted exercise had made her
weary; and physical hunger, not to be stayed by mental suffering, forced
her to turn homewards. Red-eyed and unhappy she passed beside the river,
a very picture of a woful lover.

The sound of Phoebe's steps fell on John Grimbal's ear as he lay upon
his back with crossed knees and his hands behind his head. He partly
rose therefore, thrust his face above the fern, saw the wayfarer, and
then sprang to his feet. The cause of her tearful expression and
listless demeanour was known to him, but he ignored them and greeted her
cheerily.

"Can't catch anything big enough to keep, and sha'n't until the rain
comes," he said; "so I'll walk along with you, if you're going home."

He offered his hand; then, after Phoebe had shaken it, moved beside her
and put up his rod as he went.

"Saw your father this morning, and mighty glad I was to find him so
blooming. To my eye he looks younger than my memory picture of him. But
that's because I've grown from boy to man, as you have from child to
woman."

"So I have, and 't is a pity my faither doan't knaw it," answered
Phoebe, smarting under her wrongs, and willing to chronicle them in a
friendly ear. "If I ban't full woman, who is? Yet I'm treated like a
baaby, as if I'd got no 'pinions an' feelings, and wasn't--wasn't auld
enough to knaw what love meant."

Grimbal's eyes glowed at the picture of the girl's indignation, and he
longed to put his arms round her and comfort her.

"You must be wise and dutiful, Phoebe," he said. "Will Blauchard's a
plucky fellow to go off and face the world. And perhaps he'll be one of
the lucky ones, like I was."

"He will be, for certain, and so you'd say if you knawed him same as I
do. But the cruel waitin'--years and years and years--'t is enough to
break a body's heart."

Her voice fluttered like bells in a wild wind; she trembled on the brink
of tears; and he saw by little convulsive movements and the lump in her
round throat that she could not yet regard her lot with patience. She
brought out her pocket-handkerchief again, and the man noticed it was
all wet and rolled into a ball.

"Life's a blank thing at lovers' parting," he said; "but time rubs the
rough edges off matters that fret our minds the worst. Days and nights,
and plenty of 'em, are the best cure for all ills."

"An' the best cure for life tu! The awnly cure. Think of years an' years
without him. Yesterday us met up in Pixies' Parlour yonder, an' I was
peart an' proud as need be; to-day he's gone, and I feel auld and wisht
and all full of weary wonder how I'm gwaine to fare and if I'llever see
him again. 'T is cruel--bitter cruel for me."

That she could thus pity herself so soon argued a mind incapable of
harbouring great sorrow for many years; and the man at her side, without
appreciating this fact, yet, by a sort of intuition, suspected that
Phoebe's grief, perhaps even her steadfastness of purpose, would suffer
diminution before very great lapse of time. Without knowing why, he
hoped it might be so. Her voice fell melodiously upon an ear long tuned
to the whine of native women. It came from the lungs, was full and
sweet, with a shy suddenness about it, like the cooing of wood doves.
She half slipped at a stile, and he put out his hand and touched her
waist and felt his heart throb. But Phoebe's eyes rarely met her new
friend's. The girl looked with troubled brows ahead into the future,
while she walked beside him; and he, upon her left hand, saw only the
soft cheek, the pouting lips, and the dimples that came and went.
Sometimes she looked up, however, and Grimbal noted how the flutter of
past tears shook her round young breast, marked the spring of her step,
the freedom of her gait, and the trim turn of her feet and ankles. After
the flat-footed Kaffir girls, Phoebe's instep had a right noble arch in
his estimation.

"To think that I, as never wronged faither in thought or deed, should be
treated so hard! I've been all the world to him since mother died, for
he's said as much to many; yet he's risen up an' done this, contrary to
justice and right and Scripture, tu."

"You must be patient, Phoebe, and respect his age, and let the matter
rest till the time grows ripe. I can't advise you better than that."

"'Patient!' My life's empty, I tell 'e--empty, hollow, tasteless wi'out
my Will."

"Well, well, we'll see. I'm going to build a big red-brick house
presently, and buy land, and make a bit of a stir in my small way.
You've a pretty fancy in such things, I'll bet a dollar. You shall give
me a helping hand--eh? You must tell me best way of setting up house.
And you might help me as to furniture and suchlike if you had time for
it. Will you, for an old friend?"

Phoebe was slightly interested. She promised to do anything in her power
that might cause Mr. Grimbal satisfaction; and he, very wisely, assured
her that there was no salve for sorrow like unselfish labours on behalf
of other people. He left her at the farm-gate, and tramped back to the
Blanchard cottage with his mind busy enough. Presently he changed his
clothes, and set a diamond in his necktie. Then he strolled away into
the village, to see the well-remembered names above the little shop
windows; to note curiously how Chagford market-place had shrunk and the
houses dwindled since last he saw them; to call with hearty voice and
rough greeting at this habitation and that; to introduce himself again
among men and women who had known him of yore, and who, for the most
part, quite failed to recognise in their bluff and burly visitor the lad
who set forth from his father's cottage by the church so many years
before.



CHAPTER V

THE INCIDENT OF MR. JOEL FORD


Of Blanchard family history a little more must be said. Timothy
Blanchard, the husband of Damaris and father of Will and Chris, was in
truth of the nomads, though not a right gypsy. As a lad, and at a time
when the Romany folk enjoyed somewhat more importance and prosperity
than of late years, he joined them, and by sheer force of character and
mother wit succeeded in rising to power amongst the wanderers. The
community with which he was connected for the most part confined its
peregrinations to the West; and time saw Timothy Blanchard achieve
success in his native country, acquire two caravans, develop trade on a
regular "circuit," and steadily save money in a small way; while his
camp of some five-and-twenty souls--men, women, and numerous
children--shared in their leader's prosperity. These earlier stages of
the man's career embraced some strange circumstances, chief amongst them
being his marriage. Damaris Ford was the daughter of a Moor farmer. Her
girlhood had been spent in the dreary little homestead of "Newtake,"
above Chagford, within the fringe of the great primeval wastes; and
here, on his repeated journeys across the Moor, Tim Blanchard came to
know her and love her well.

Farmer Ford swore round oaths, and sent Blanchard and his caravans
packing when the man approached him for his daughter's hand; but the
girl herself was already won, and week after her lover's repulse Damaris
vanished. She journeyed with her future husband to Exeter, wedded him,
and became mistress of his house on wheels; then, for the space of four
years, she lived the gypsy life, brought a son and daughter into the
world, and tried without avail to obtain her father's forgiveness. That,
however, she never had, though her mother communicated with her in fear
and trembling; and when, by strange chance, on Will's advent, Damaris
Blanchard was brought to bed near her old home, and became a mother in
one of the venerable hut circles which plentifully scatter that lonely
region, Mrs. Ford, apprised of the fact in secret, actually stole to her
daughter's side by night and wept over her grandchild. Now the farmer
and his wife were dead; Newtake at present stood without a tenant; and
Mrs. Blanchard possessed no near relations save her children and one
elder brother, Joel, to whom had passed their parent's small savings.

Timothy Blanchard continued a wandering existence for the space of five
years after his marriage; then he sold his caravans, settled in
Chagford, bought the cottage by the river, rented some market-garden
land, and pursued his busy and industrious way. Thus he prospered
through ten more years, saving money, developing a variety of schemes,
letting out on hire a steam thresher, and in various other ways adding
to his store. The man was on the high road to genuine prosperity when
death overtook him and put a period to his ambitions. He was snatched
from mundane affairs leaving numerous schemes half developed and most of
his money embarked in various enterprises. Unhappily Will was too young
to continue his father's work, and though Mrs. Blanchard's brother, Joel
Ford, administered the little estate to the best of his power, much had
to be sacrificed. In the sequel Damaris found herself with a cottage, a
garden, and an annual income of about fifty pounds a year. Her son was
then twelve years of age, her daughter eighteen months younger. So she
lived quietly and not without happiness, after the first sorrow of her
husband's loss was in a measure softened by time.

Of Mr. Joel Ford it now becomes necessary to speak. Combining the duties
of attorney, house-agent, registrar of deaths, births, and marriages,
and receiver of taxes and debts, the man lived a dingy life at Newton
Abbot. Acid, cynical, and bald he was, very dry of mind and body, and
but ten years older than Mrs. Blanchard, though he looked nearer seventy
than sixty. To the Newton mind Mr. Ford was associated only with Quarter
Day--that black, recurrent cloud on the horizon of every poor man's
life. He dwelt with an elderly housekeeper--a widow of genial
disposition; and indeed the attorney himself was not lacking in some
urbanity of character, though few guessed it, for he kept all that was
best in himself hidden under an unlovely crust. His better instincts
took the shape of family affection. Damaris Blanchard and he were the
last branches of one of the innumerable families of Ford to be found in
Devon, and he had no small regard for his only living sister. His annual
holiday from business--a period of a fortnight, sometimes extended to
three weeks if the weather was more than commonly fair--he spent
habitually at Chagford; and Will on these occasions devoted his leisure
to his uncle, drove him on the Moor, and made him welcome. Will, indeed,
was a favourite with Mr. Ford, and the lad's high spirits, real
ignorance of the world, and eternal grave assumption of wisdom even
tickled the man of business into a sort of dry cricket laughter upon
occasions. When, therefore, a fortnight after young Blanchard's
mysterious disappearance, Joel Ford arrived at his sister's cottage for
the annual visit, he was as much concerned as his nature had power to
make him at the news.

For three weeks he stayed, missing the company of his nephew not a
little; and his residence in Chagford had needed no special comment save
for an important incident resulting therefrom.

Phoebe Lyddon it was who in all innocence and ignorance set rolling a
pebble that finally fell in thundering avalanches; and her chance word
was uttered at her father's table on an occasion when John and Martin
Grimbal were supping at Monks Barton.

The returned natives, and more especially the elder, had been much at
the mill since their reappearance. John, indeed, upon one pretext or
another, scarcely spent a day without calling. His rough kindness
appealed to Phoebe, who at first suspected no danger from it, while Mr.
Lyddon encouraged the man and made him and his brother welcome at all
times.

John Grimbal, upon the morning that preceded the present supper party,
had at last found a property to his taste. It might, indeed, have been
designed for him. Near Whiddon it lay, in the valley of the Moreton
Road, and consisted of a farm and the ruin of a Tudor mansion. The
latter had been tenanted until the dawn of this century, but was since
then fallen into decay. The farm lands stretched beneath the crown of
Cranbrook, hard by the historic "Bloody Meadow," a spot assigned to that
skirmish between Royalist and Parliamentary forces during 1642 which
cost brilliant young Sidney Godolphin his life. Here, or near at hand,
the young man probably fell, with a musket-bullet in his leg, and
subsequently expired at Chagford[1] leaving the "misfortune of his death
upon a place which could never otherwise have had a mention to the
world," according to caustic Chancellor Clarendon.

[1] _At Chagford._ The place of the poet's passing is believed
to have been an ancient dwelling-house adjacent to St. Michael's Church.
At that date it was a private residence of the Whiddon family; but
during later times it became known as the "Black Swan Inn," or tavern (a
black swan being the crest of Sir John Whiddon, Judge of Queen's Bench
in the first Mary's reign); while to-day this restored Mansion appears
as the hostelry of the "Three Crowns."


Upon the aforesaid ruins, fashioned after the form of a great E, out of
compliment to the sovereign who occupied the throne at the period of the
decayed fabric's erection, John Grimbal proposed to build his habitation
of red brick and tile. The pertaining farm already had a tenant, and
represented four hundred acres of arable land, with possibilities of
development; snug woods wound along the boundaries of the estate and
mingled their branches with others not more stately though sprung from
the nobler domain of Whiddon; and Chagford was distant but a mile, or
five minutes' ride.

Tongues wagged that evening concerning the Red House, as the ruin was
called, and a question arose as to whom John Grimbal must apply for
information respecting the property.

"I noted on the board two names--one in London, one handy at Newton
Abbot--a Mr. Joel Ford, of Wolborough Street."

Phoebe blushed where she sat and very nearly said, "My Will's uncle!"
but thought better of it and kept silent. Meanwhile her father answered.

"Ford's an attorney, Mrs. Blanchard's brother, a maker of agreements
between man and man, and a dusty, dry sort of chip, from all I've heard
tell. His father and mine were friends forty years and more agone. Old
Ford had Newtake Farm on the Moor, and wore his fingers to the bone that
his son might have good schooling and a learned profession."

"He's in Chagford this very minute," said Phoebe.

Then Mr. Blee spoke. On the occasion of any entertainment at Monks
Barton he waited at table instead of eating with the family as usual.
Now he addressed the company from his station behind Mr. Lyddon's chair.

"Joel Ford's biding with his sister. A wonderful deep man, to my certain
knowledge, an' wears a merchant-like coat an' shiny hat working days an'
Sabbaths alike. A snug man, I'll wager, if 't is awnly by the token of
broadcloth on week-days."

"He looks for all the world like a yellow, shrivelled parchment himself.
Regular gimlet eyes, too, and a very fitch for sharpness, though younger
than his appearance might make you fancy," said the miller.

"Then I'll pay him a visit and see how things stand," declared John.
"Not that I'd employ any but my own London lawyer, of course," he added,
"but this old chap can give me the information I require; no doubt."

"Ess fay! an' draw you a dockyment in all the cautiousness of the law's
language," promised Billy Blee. "'T is a fact makes me mazed every time
I think of it," he continued, "that mere fleeting ink on the skin tored
off a calf can be so set out to last to the trump of doom. Theer be
parchments that laugh at the Queen's awn Privy Council and make the
Court of Parliament look a mere fule afore 'em. But it doan't do to be
'feared o' far-reachin' oaths when you 'm signing such a matter, for 't
is in the essence of 'em that the parties should swear deep."

"I'll mind what you say, Billy," promised Grimbal; "I'll pump old Ford
as dry as I can, then be off to London and get such a good, binding deed
of purchase as you suggest."

And it was this determination that presently led to a violent breach
between the young man and his elder.

John waited upon Mr. Ford, at Mrs. Blanchard's cottage, where he had
first lodged with his brother on their return from abroad, and found the
lawyer exceedingly pleasant when he learned the object of Grimbal's
visit. Together they drove over to the Red House, and its intending
tenant soon heard all there was to tell respecting price and the
provisions under which the estate was to be disposed of. For this
information he expressed proper gratitude, but gave no hint of his
future actions.

Mr. Ford heard nothing more for a fortnight. Then he ascertained that
John Grimbal was in the metropolis, that the sale of the Red House and
its lands had been conducted by the London agent, and that no penny of
the handsome commission involved would accrue to him. This position of
affairs greatly (and to some extent reasonably) angered the local man,
and he did not forgive what he considered a very flagrant slight.
Extreme acerbity was bred in him, and his mind, vindictive by nature,
cherished from that hour a hearty detestation of John Grimbal. The old
man, his annual holiday ruined by the circumstance, went home to Newton,
vowing vague vengeance and little dreaming how soon opportunity would
offer to deal his enemy a return blow; while the purchaser of the Red
House laughed at Ford's angry letters, told him to his face that he was
a greedy old rascal, and went on his way well pleased with himself and
fully occupied with his affairs.

Necessary preliminaries were hastened; an architect visited the
crumbling fabric of the old Red House and set about his plans. Soon,
upon the ancient foundations, a new dwelling began to rise. The ancient
name was retained at Martin's entreaty and the surrounding property
developed. A stir and hum crept through the domain. Here was planting of
young birch and larch; here clearing of land; here mounds of manure
steamed on neglected fallows. John Grimbal took up temporary quarters in
the home farm that he might be upon the spot at all hours; and what with
these great personal interests, good news of his property in Africa, and
the growing distraction of one soft-voiced, grey-eyed girl, the man
found his life a full and splendid thing.

That he should admit Phoebe into his thoughts and ambitions was not
unreasonable for two reasons: he knew himself to be heartily in love
with her by this time, and he had heard from her father a definite
statement upon the subject of Will Blanchard. Indeed, the miller, from
motives of worldly wisdom, took an opportunity to let John Grimbal know
the situation.

"No shadow of any engagement at all," he said. "I made it plain as a
pikestaff to them both. It mustn't be thought I countenanced their
crack-brained troth-plighting. 'T was by reason of my final 'Nay' that
Will went off. He 's gone out of her life, and she 'm free as the air. I
tell you this because you may have heard different, and you mix with the
countryside and can contradict any man who gives out otherwise. And,
mind you, I say it from no ill-will to the bwoy, but out of justice to
my cheel."

Thus, to gain private ends, Mr. Lyddon spoke, and his information
greatly heartened the listener. John had more than once sounded Phoebe
on the subject of Will during the past few months, and was bound to
confess that any chance he might possess appeared small; but he was
deeply in love and a man accustomed to have his own way. Increasing
portions of his time and thought were devoted to this ambition, and when
Phoebe's father spoke as recorded, Grimbal jumped at the announcement
and pushed for his own hand.

"If a man that was a man, with a bit of land and a bit of stuff behind
him, came along and asked to court her, 't would be different, I
suppose?" he inquired.

"I'd wish just such a man might come, for her sake."

"Supposing I asked if I might try to win Phoebe?"

"I'd desire your gude speed, my son. Nothing could please, me better."

"Then I've got you on my side?"

"You really mean it? Well, well! Gert news to be sure, an' I be pleased
as Punch to hear 'e. But take my word, for I'm richer than you by many
years in knawledge of the world, though I haven't seen so much of it.
Go slow. Wait a while till that brown bwoy graws a bit dim in Phoebe's
eyes. Your life 's afore you, and the gal 's scarce marriageable, to my
thinking. Build your house and bide your time."

"So be it; and if I don't win her presently, I sha'n't deserve to."

"Ess, but taake time, lad. She 'm a dutiful, gude maiden, and I'd be
sore to think my awn words won't carry their weight when the right
moment comes for speaking 'em. Blanchard's business pulled down the
corners of her purty mouth a bit; but young hearts caan't keep mournful
for ever."

Billy Blee then took his turn on the argument. Thus far he had listened,
and now, according to his custom, argued on the popular side and bent
his sail to the prevalent wind of opinion.

"You say right, Miller. 'T is out of nature that a maid should fret her
innards to fiddlestrings 'bout a green bwoy when theer's ripe men
waitin' for her."

"Never heard better sense," declared John Grimbal, in high good-humour;
and from the red-letter hour of that conversation he let his love grow
into a giant. A man of old-fashioned convictions, he honestly believed
the parent wise who exercised all possible control over a child; and in
this case personal interest prompted him the more strongly to that
opinion. Common sense the world over was on his side, and no man with
the facts before him had been likely to criticise Miller Lyddon on the
course of action he thought proper to pursue for his daughter's ultimate
happiness. That he reckoned without his host naturally escaped the
father's thought at this juncture. Will Blanchard had dwindled in his
mind to the mere memory of a headstrong youngster, now far removed from
the scene of his stupidity and without further power to trouble. That he
could advise John to wait a while until Will's shadow grew less in
Phoebe's thought, argued kindness and delicacy of mind in Mr. Lyddon.
Will he only saw and gauged as the rest of the world. He did not fathom
all of him, as Mrs. Blanchard had said; while concerning Phoebe's inner
heart and the possibilities of her character, at a pinch, he could speak
with still less certainty. She was a virgin page, unturned, unscanned.
No man knew her strength or weakness; she did not know it herself.

Time progressed; the leaf fell and the long drought was followed by a
mild autumn of heavy rains. John Grimbal's days were spent between the
Red House and Monks Barton. His rod was put up; but he had already made
friends and now shot many partridges. He spent long evenings in the
society of Phoebe and her father at the farm; and the miller not seldom
contrived to be called away on these occasions. Billy proved ever ready
to assist, and thus the two old men did the best in their power to aid
Grimbal's suit. In the great, comfortable kitchen, generally at some
distance from each other, Phoebe and the squire of the new Red House
would sit. She, now suspecting, was shy and uneasy; he, his wits
quickened by love, displayed a tact and deftness of words not to have
been anticipated from him. At first Phoebe took fire when Grimbal
criticised Will in anything but a spirit of utmost friendliness; but it
was vital to his own hopes that he should cloud the picture painted on
her heart if he could; so, by degrees and with all the cleverness at his
command, he dropped gall into poor Phoebe's cup in minute doses. He
mourned the extreme improbability of Blanchard's success, grounding his
doubt on Will's uneven character; he pictured Blanchard's fight with the
world and showed how probable it was that he would make it a losing
battle by his own peculiarities of temper. He declared the remoteness of
happiness for Miss Lyddon in that direction to be extreme; he deplored
the unstable nature of a young man's affection all the world over; and
he made solid capital out of the fact that not once since his departure
had her lover communicated with Phoebe. She argued against this that her
father had forbidden it; but Mr. Grimbal overrode the objection, and
asked what man in love would allow himself to be bound by such a
command. As a matter of fact, Will had sent two messages at different
times to his sweetheart. These came through Clement Hicks, and only
conveyed the intelligence that the wanderer was well.

So Phoebe suffered persistent courting and her soft mould of mind sank a
little under the storm. Now, weary and weak, she hesitated; now a wave
of strength fortified her spirit. That John Grimbal should be dogged and
importunate she took as mere masculine characteristics, and the fact did
not anger her against him; but what roused her secret indignation almost
as often as they met was his half-hidden air of sanguine confidence. He
was humble in a way, always the patient lover, but in his manner she
detected an indefinable, irritating self-confidence--the demeanour of
one who already knows himself a conqueror before the battle is fought.

Thus the position gradually developed. As yet her father had not spoken
to Phoebe or pretended to any knowledge of what was doing; but there
came a night, at the end of November, when John Grimbal, the miller, and
Billy sat and smoked at Monks Barton after Phoebe's departure to bed.
Mr. Blee, very well knowing what matter moved the minds of his
companions, spoke first.

"Missy have put on a temperate way of late days it do seem. I most begin
to think that cat-a-mountain of a bwoy 's less in her thoughts than he
was. She 'm larnin' wisdom, as well she may wi' sich a faither."

"I doan't knaw what to think," answered Mr. Lyddon, somewhat gloomily.
"I ban't so much in her confidence as of auld days. Damaris Blanchard's
right, like enough. A maid 's tu deep even for the faither that got her,
most times. A sweet, dear gal as ever was, for all that. How fares it,
John? She never names 'e to me, though I do to her."

"I'm biding my time, neighbour. I reckon 't will be right one day. It
only makes me feel a bit mean now and again to have to say hard things
about young Blanchard. Still, while she 's wrapped up there, I may
whistle for her."

"You 'm in the right," declared Billy. "'T is an auld sayin' that all
manner of dealings be fair in love, an' true no doubt, though I'm a
bachelor myself an' no prophet in such matters."

"All's fair for certain," admitted John, as though he had not before
considered the position from this standpoint.

"Ay, an' a darter's welfare lies in her faither's hand. Thank God, I'm
not a parent to my knowledge; but 'tis a difficult calling in life, an'
a young maiden gal, purty as a picksher, be a heavy load to a honest
mind."

"So I find it," said the miller.

"You've forbid Will--lock, stock, and barrel--therefore, of coourse,
she 's no right to think more of him, to begin with," continued the old
man. It was a new idea.

"Come to think of it, she hasn't--eh?" asked John.

"No, that's true enough," admitted Mr. Lyddon.

"I speak, though of low position, but well thought of an' at Miller's
right hand, so to say," continued Mr. Blee; "so theer 't is: Missy's in
a dangerous pass. Eve's flesh be Eve's flesh, whether hid under flannel
or silk, or shawed mother-naked to the sun after the manner of furrin
cannibals. A gal 's a gal; an' if I was faither of such as your darter,
I'd count it my solemn duty to see her out of the dangers of life an'
tidily mated to a gude man. I'd say to myself, 'Her'll graw to bless me
for what I've done, come a few years.'"

So Billy Blee, according to his golden rule, advised men upon the road
they already desired to follow, and thus increased his reputation for
sound sense and far-reaching wisdom.

"It's true, every word he says," declared John Grimbal.

"I believe it," answered the miller; "though God forbid any word or act
of mine should bring wan tear to Phoebe's cheek. Yet, somehow, I doan't
knaw but you 'm right."

"I am, believe me. It's the truth. You want Phoebe's real happiness
considered, and that now depends on--well, I'll say it out--on me. We
have reached the point now when you must speak, as you promised to
speak, and throw the weight of your influence on my side. Then, after
you've had your say, I'll have mine and put the great question."

Mr. Lyddon nodded his head and relapsed into taciturnity.



CHAPTER VI

AN UNHAPPY POET


That a man of many nerves, uncertain in temper and with no physical or
temporal qualifications, should have won for himself the handsomest girl
in Chagford caused the unreflective to marvel whenever they considered
the point. But a better knowledge of Chris Blauchard had served in some
measure to explain the wonder. Of all women, she was the least likely to
do the thing predicted by experience. She had tremendous force of
character for one scarce twenty years of age; indeed, she lived a
superlative life, and the man, woman, child, or dog that came within
radius of her existence presently formed a definite part of it, and was
loved or detested according to circumstances. Neutrality she could not
understand. If her interests were wide, her prejudices were strong. A
certain unconscious high-handedness of manner made the circle of her
friends small, but those who did love her were enthusiastic. Upon the
whole, the number of those who liked her increased with years, and
avowed enemies had no very definite reasons for aversion. Of her
physical perfections none pretended two opinions; but the boys had
always gone rather in fear of Chris, and the few men who had courted her
during the past few years were all considerably her seniors. No real
romance entered into this young woman's practical and bustling life
until the advent of Clement Hicks, though she herself was the flame of
hearts not a few before his coming.

Neurotic, sensual, as was Chris herself in a healthy fashion, a man of
varying moods, and perhaps the richer for faint glimmerings of the real
fire, Hicks yet found himself no better than an aimless, helpless child
before the demands of reality. Since boyhood he had lived out of touch
with his environment. As bee-keeper and sign-writer he made a naked
living for himself and his mother, and achieved success sufficient to
keep a cottage roof over their heads, but that was all. Books were his
only friends; the old stones of the Moor, the lonely wastes, the
plaintive music of a solitary bird were the companions of his happiest
days. He had wit enough to torture half his waking hours with
self-analysis, and to grit his teeth at his own impotence. But there was
no strength, no virile grip to take his fate in his own hands and mould
it like a man. He only mourned his disadvantages, and sometimes blamed
destiny, sometimes a congenital infirmity of purpose, for the dreary
course of his life. Nature alone could charm his sullen moods, and that
not always. Now and again she spread over the face of his existence a
transitory contentment and a larger hope; but the first contact with
facts swept it away again. His higher aspirations were neither deep nor
enduring, and yet the man's love of nature was lofty and just, and
represented all the religion he had. No moral principles guided him,
conscience never pricked. Nevertheless, thus far he had been a clean
liver and an honest man. Vice, because it affronted his sense of the
beautiful and usually led towards death, did not attract him. He lived
too deep in the lap of Nature to be deceived by the pseudo-realism then
making its appearance in literature, and he laughed without mirth at
these pictures from city-bred pens at that time paraded as the whole
truth of the countryman's life. The later school was not then above the
horizon; the brief and filthy spectacle of those who dragged their
necrosis, marasmus, and gangrene of body and mind across the stage of
art and literature, and shrieked Decay, had not as yet appeared to make
men sicken; the plague-spot, now near healed, had scarce showed the
faintest angry symptom of coming ill. Hicks might under no circumstances
have been drawn in that direction, for his morbidity was of a different
description. Art to this man appeared only in what was wholesome; it
even embraced a guide to conduct, for it led him directly to Nature, and
Nature emphatically taught him the value of obedience, the punishment of
weakness, the reward for excess and every form of self-indulgence. But a
softness in him shrank from these aspects of the Mother. He tried vainly
and feebly to dig some rule of life from her smiles alone, to read a
sermon into her happy hours of high summer sunshine. Beauty was his
dream; he possessed natural taste, and had cultivated the same without
judgment. His intricate disposition and extreme sensitiveness frightened
him away from much effort at self-expression; yet not a few trifling
scraps and shreds of lyric poetry had fallen from his pen in high
moments. These, when the mood changed, he read again, and found dead,
and usually destroyed. He was more easily discouraged than a child who
sets out to tell its parent a story, and is all silence and shamefaced
blushes at the first whisper of laughter or semblance of a smile. The
works of poets dazed him, disheartened him, and secret ambitions toward
performance grew dimmer with every book he laid his hands on. Ambition
to create began to die; the dream scenery of his ill-controlled mental
life more and more seldom took shape of words on paper; and there came a
time when thought grew wholly wordless for him; a mere personal
pleasure, selfish, useless, unsubstantial as the glimmer of mirage over
desert sands.

Into this futile life came Chris, like a breath of sweet air from off
the deep sea. She lifted him clean out of his subjective existence,
awoke a healthy, natural love, built on the ordinary emotions of
humanity, galvanised self-respect and ambition into some activity, and
presently inspired a pluck strong enough to propose marriage. That was
two years ago; and the girl still loved this weakly soul with all her
heart, found his language unlike that of any other man she had seen or
heard, and even took some slight softening edge of culture into herself
from him. Her common sense was absolutely powerless to probe even the
crust of Clement's nature; but she was satisfied that his poetry must be
a thing as marketable as that in printed books. Indeed, in an elated
moment he had assured her that it was so. During the earlier stages of
their attachment, she pestered him to write and sell his verses and make
money, that their happiness might be hastened; while he, on the first
budding of his love, and with the splendid assurance of its return, had
promised all manner of things, and indeed undertaken to make poems that
should be sent by post to the far-away place where they printed unknown
poets, and paid them. Chris believed in Clement as a matter of course.
His honey must at least be worth more to the world than that of his
bees. Over her future husband she began at once to exercise the control
of mistress and mother; and she loved him more dearly after they had
been engaged a year than at the beginning of the contract. By that time
she knew his disposition, and instead of displaying frantic impatience
at it, as might have been predicted, her tolerance was extreme. She bore
with Clem because she loved him with the full love proper to such a
nature as her own; and, though she presently found herself powerless to
modify his character in any practical degree, his gloomy and uneven mind
never lessened the sturdy optimism of Chris herself, or her sure
confidence that the future would unite them. Through her protracted
engagement Mrs. Blanchard's daughter maintained a lively and sanguine
cheerfulness. But seldom was it that she lost patience with the dreamer.
Then her rare, indignant outbursts of commonplace and common sense, like
a thunderstorm, sweetened the stagnant air of Clement's thoughts and
awoke new, wholesome currents in his mind.

As a rule, on the occasion of their frequent country walks, Clem and
Chris found personal problems and private interests sufficient for all
conversation, but it happened that upon a Sunday in mid-December, as
they passed through the valley of the Teign, where the two main streams
of that river mingle at the foothills of the Moor, the subject of Will
and Phoebe for a time at least filled their thoughts. The hour was clear
and bright, yet somewhat cheerless. The sun had already set, from the
standpoint of all life in the valley, and darkness, hastening out of the
east, merged the traceries of a million naked boughs into a thickening
network of misty grey. The river beneath these woods churned in winter
flood, while clear against its raving one robin sang little tinkling
litanies from the branch of an alder.

Chris stood upon Lee Bridge at the waters' meeting and threw scraps of
wood into the river; Clem sat upon the parapet, smoked his pipe, and
noted with a lingering delight the play of his sweetheart's lips as her
fingers strained to snap a tough twig. Then the girl spoke, continuing a
conversation already entered upon.

"Phoebe Lyddon's that weak in will. How far's such as her gwaine in life
without some person else to lean upon?"

"If the ivy cannot find a tree it creeps along the ground, Chrissy."

"Ess, it do; or else falls headlong awver the first bank it comes to.
Phoebe's so helpless a maiden as ever made a picksher. I mind her at
school in the days when we was childer together. Purty as them china
figures you might buy off Cheap Jack, an' just so tender. She'd come up
to dinky gals no bigger 'n herself an' pull out her li'l handkercher an'
ax 'em to be so kind as to blaw her nose for her! Now Will's gone, Lard
knaws wheer she'll drift to."

"To John Grimbal. Any man could see that. Her father's set on it."

"Why don't Will write to her and keep her heart up and give her a little
news? 'Twould be meat an' drink to her. Doan't matter 'bout mother an'
me. We'll take your word for it that Will wants to keep his ways secret.
But a sweetheart--'tis so differ'nt. I wouldn't stand it!"

"I know right well you wouldn't. Will has his own way. We won't
criticise him. But there's a masterful man in the running--a prosperous,
loud-voiced, bull-necked bully of a man, and one not accustomed to take
'no' for his answer. I'm afraid of John Grimbal in this matter. I've
gone so far as to warn Will, but he writes back that he knows Phoebe."

"Jan Grimbal's a very differ'nt fashion of man to his brother; that I
saw in a moment when they bided with us for a week, till the 'Three
Crowns' could take 'em in. I hate Jan--hate him cruel; but I like
Martin. He puts me in mind o' you, Clem, wi' his nice way of speech and
tender quickness for women. But it's Phoebe we'm speaking of. I think
you should write stern to Will an' frighten him. It ban't fair fightin',
that poor, dear Phoebe 'gainst the will o' two strong men."

"Well, she's had paltry food for a lover since he went away. He's got
certain ideas, and she'll hear direct when--but there, I must shut my
mouth, for I swore by fantastic oaths to say nothing."

"He ought to write, whether or no. You tell Will that Jan Grimbal be
about building a braave plaace up under Whiddon, and is looking for a
wife at Monks Barton morning, noon, an' evening. That's like to waken
him. An' tell him the miller's on t'other side, and clacking Jan Grimbal
into Phoebe's ear steadier than the noise of his awn water-wheel."

"And she will grow weak, mark me. She sees that red-brick place rising
out of the bare boughs, higher and higher, and knows that from floor to
attics all may be hers if she likes to say the word. She hears great
talk of drawing-rooms, and pictures, and pianos, and greenhouses full of
rare flowers, and all the rest--why, just think of it!"

"Ban't many gals as could stand 'gainst a piano, I daresay."

"I only know one--mine."

Chris looked at him curiously.

"You 'm right. An' that, for some queer reason, puts me in mind of the
other wan, Martin Grimbal. He was very pleasant to me."

"He's too late, thank God!"

"Ess, fay! An' if he'd comed afore 'e, Clem, he'd been tu early. Theer's
awnly wan man in the gert world for me."

"My gypsy!"

"But I didn't mean that. He wouldn't look at me, not even if I was a
free woman. 'T was of you I thought when I talked to Mr. Grimbal. He'm
well-to-do, and be seekin' a house in the higher quarter under
Middledown. You an' him have the same fancy for the auld stones. So you
might grow into friends--eh, Clem? Couldn't it so fall out? He might
serve to help--eh? You 'm two-and-thirty year auld next February, an' it
do look as though they silly bees ban't gwaine to put money enough in
the bank to spell a weddin' for us this thirty year to come. Theer's
awnly your aunt, Widow Coomstock, as you can look to for a penny, and
that tu doubtful to count on."

"Don't name her, Chris. Good Lord! poor drunken old thing, with that
crowd of hungry relations waiting like vultures round a dying camel!
Never think of her. Money she has, but I sha'n't see the colour of it,
and I don't want to."

"Well, let that bide. Martin Grimbal's the man in my thought."

"What can I do there?"

"Doan't knaw, 'zactly; but things might fall out if he got to like you,
being a bookish sort of man. Anyway, he's very willing to be friends,
for that he told me. Doan't bear yourself like Lucifer afore him; but
take the first chance to let him knaw your fortune's in need of
mendin'."

"You say that! D' you think self-respect is dead in me?" he asked, half
angry.

There was no visible life about them, so she put her arms round him.

"I ax for love of 'e, dearie, an' for want of 'e. Do 'e think waitin' 's
sweeter for me than for you?"

Then he calmed down again, sighed, returned the caress, touched her, and
stroked her breast and shoulder with sudden earthly light in his great
eyes.

"It 's hard to wait."

"That's why I say doan't lose chances that may mean a weddin' for us,
Clem. Theer 's so much hid in 'e, if awnly the way to bring it out could
be found."

"A mine that won't pay working," he said bitterly, the passion fading
out of eyes and voice. "I know there 's something hidden; I feel there
's a twist of brain that ought to rise above keeping bees and take me
higher than honey-combs. Yet look at hard truth. The clods round me get
enough by their sweat to keep wives and feed children. I'm only a
penniless, backboneless, hand-to-mouth wretch, living on the work of
laborious insects."

"If it ban't your awn fault, then whose be it, Clem?"

"The fault of Chance--to pack my build of brains into the skull of a
pauper. This poor, unfinished abortion of a head-piece of mine only
dreams dreams that it cannot even set on paper for others to see."

"You've given up trying whether it can or not, seemin'ly. I never hear
tell of no verses now."

"What 's the good? But only last night, so it happens, I had a sort of a
wild feeling to get something out of myself, and I scribbled for hours
and hours and found a little morsel of a rhyme."

"Will 'e read it to me?"

He showed reluctance, but presently dragged a scrap of paper out of his,
pocket. Not a small source of trouble was his sweetheart's criticism of
his verses.

"It was the common sight of a pair of lovers walking tongue-tied, you
know. I call it 'A Devon Courting.'"

He read the trifle slowly, with that grand, rolling sea-beat of an
accent that Elizabeth once loved to hear on the lips of Raleigh and
Drake.

  "Birds gived awver singin',
   Flittermice was wingin',
   Mists lay on the meadows--
     A purty sight to see.
   Down-long in the dimpsy, the dimpsy, the dimpsy,
     Down-long in the dimpsy
   Theer went a maid wi' me.

  "Five gude mile o' walkin',
   Not wan word o' talkin',
   Then I axed a question
     And put the same to she.
   Up-long in the owl-light, the owl-light, the owl-light,
     Up-long in the owl-light,
   Theer corned my maid wi' me.

"But I wonder you write the common words, Clem--you who be so much tu
clever to use 'em."

"The words are well enough. They were not common once."

"Well, you knaw best. Could 'e sell such a li'l auld funny thing as that
for money?"

He shook his head.

"No; it was only the toil of making it seemed good. It is worthless."

"An' to think how long it took 'e! If you'd awnly put the time into
big-fashioned verses full of the high words you've got. But you knaw
best. Did 'e hear anything of them rhymes 'bout the auld days you sent
to Lunnon?"

"They sent them back again. I told you 't was wasting three stamps. It
's not for me, I know it. The world is full of dumb singers. Maybe I
haven't got even a pinch of the fire that _must_ break through and show
its flame, no matter what mountains the earth tumbles on it. God knows I
burn hot enough sometimes with great thoughts and wild longings for love
and for sweeter life and for you; but my fires--whether they are
soul-fires or body-fires--only burn my heart out."

She sighed and squeezed his hand, understanding little enough of what he
said.

"We must be patient. 'T is a solid thing, patience. I'm puttin' by
pence; but it 's so plaguy little a gal can earn, best o' times and with
the best will."

"If I could only write the things I think! But they vanish before pen
and paper and the need of words, as the mists of the night vanish before
the hard, searching sun. I am ignorant of how to use words; and those in
the world who might help me will never know of me. As for those around
about, they reckon me three parts fool, with just a little gift of
re-writing names over their dirty shop-fronts."

"Yet it 's money. What did 'e get for that butivul fox wi' the goose in
his mouth you painted 'pon Mr. Lamacraft's sign to Sticklepath?"

"Ten shillings."

"That's solid money."

"It isn't now. I bought a book with it--a book of lies."

Chris was going to speak, but changed her mind and sighed instead.

"Well, as our affairs be speeding so poorly, we'd best to do some gude
deed an' look after this other coil. You must let Will knaw what 's
doin' by letter this very night. 'T is awnly fair, you being set in
trust for him."

"Strange, these Grimbal brothers," mused Clement, as the lovers
proceeded in the direction of Chagford. "They come home with everything
on God's earth that men might desire to win happiness, and, by the look
of it, each marks his home-coming by falling in love with one he can't
have."

"Shaws the fairness of things, Clem; how the poor may chance to have
what the rich caan't buy; so all look to stand equal."

"Fairness, you call it? The damned, cynical irony of this whole
passion-driven puppet-show--that's what it shows! The man who is loved
cannot marry the woman he loves lest they both starve; the man who can
give a woman half the world is loathed for his pains. Not that he 's to
be pitied like the pauper, for if you can't buy love you can buy women,
and the wise ones know how to manufacture a very lasting substitute for
the real thing."

"You talk that black and bitter as though you was deep-read in all the
wickedness of the world," said Chris; "yet I knaw no man can say sweeter
things than you sometimes."

"Talk! It 's all talk with me--all snarling and railing and whining at
hard facts, like a viper wasting its venom on steel. I'm sick of
myself--weary of the old, stale round of my thoughts. Where can I wash
and be clean? Chrissy, for God's sake, tell me."

"Put your hope in the Spring," she said, "an' be busy for Will."


In reality, with the approach of Christmas, affairs between Phoebe and
the elder Grimbal had reached a point far in advance of that which
Clement and Chris were concerned with. For more than three months, and
under a steadily increasing weight of opposition, Miller Lyddon's
daughter fought without shadow of yielding. Then came a time when the
calm but determined iteration of her father's desires and the
sledge-hammer love-making of John Grimbal began to leave an impression.
Even then her love for Will was bright and strong, but her sense of
helplessness fretted her nerves and temper, and her sweetheart's laconic
messages, through the medium of another man, were sorry comfort in this
hour of tribulation. With some reason she felt slighted. Neither
considering Will's peculiarities, nor suspecting that his silence was
only, the result of a whim or project, she began to resent it. Then John
Grimbal caught her in a dangerous mood. Once she wavered, and he had the
wisdom to leave her at the moment of victory. But on the next occasion
of their meeting, he took good care to keep the advantage he had gained.
Conscious of his own honest and generous intentions, Grimbal went on his
way. The subtler manifestations of Phoebe's real attitude towards him
escaped his observation; her reluctance he set down as resulting from
the dying shadow of affection for Will Blanchard. That she would be very
happy and proud and prosperous in the position of his wife, the lover
was absolutely assured. He pursued her with the greater determination,
in that he believed he was saving her from herself. What were some few
months of vague uncertainty and girlish tears compared with a lifetime
of prosperity and solid happiness? John Grimbal made Phoebe handsome
presents of pretty and costly things after the first great victory. He
pushed his advantage with tremendous vigour. His great face seemed
reflected in Phoebe's eyes when she slept as when she woke; his voice
was never out of her ears. Weary, hopeless, worn out, she prayed
sometimes for strength of purpose. But it was a trait denied to her
character and not to be bestowed at a breath. Her stability of defence,
even as it stood, was remarkable and beyond expectation. Then the sure
climax rolled in upon poor Phoebe. Twice she sought Clement Hicks with
purpose to send an urgent message; on each occasion accident prevented a
meeting; her father was always smiling and droning his desires into her
ear; John Grimbal haunted her. His good-nature and kindness were hard to
bear; his patience made her frantic. So the investment drew to its
conclusion and the barriers crumbled, for the forces besieged were too
weak and worn to restore them; while a last circumstance brought victory
to the stronger and proclaimed the final overthrow.

This culmination resulted from a visit to the spiritual head of Phoebe's
dwelling-place. The Rev. James Shorto-Champernowne, Vicar of Chagford,
made an appointment to discuss the position with Mr. Lyddon and his
daughter. A sportsman of the old type, and a cleric of rare reputation
for good sense and fairness to high and low, was Mr. Shorto-Champernowne,
but it happened that his more tender emotions had been buried with a
young wife these forty years, and children he had none. Nevertheless,
taking the standpoint of parental discipline, he held Phoebe's alleged
engagement a vain thing, not to be considered seriously. Moreover, he
knew of Will's lapses in the past; and that was fatal.

"My child, have little doubt that both religion and duty point in one
direction and with no faltering hands," he said, in his stately way.
"Communicate with the young man, inform him that conversation with
myself has taken place; then he can hardly maintain an attitude of
doubt, either to the exalted convictions that have led to your decision,
or to the propriety of it. And, further, do not omit an opportunity of
well-doing, but conclude your letter with a word of counsel. Pray him to
seek a Guide to his future life, the only Guide able to lead him aright.
I mean his Mother Church. No man who turns his back upon her can be
either virtuous or happy. I mourned his defection from our choir some
years ago. You see I forget nobody. My eyes are everywhere, as they
ought to be. Would that he could be whipped back to the House of
God--with scorpions, if necessary! There is a cowardice, a lack of
sportsmanlike feeling, if I may so express it, in these fallings away
from the Church of our fathers. It denotes a failing of intellect amid
the centres of human activity. There is a blight of unbelief abroad--a
nebulous, pestilential rationalism. Acquaint him with these facts; they
may serve to re-establish one whose temperament must be regarded as
abnormal in the light of his great eccentricity of action. Now farewell,
and God be with you."

The rotund, grey-whiskered clergyman waved his hand; Miller Lyddon and
his daughter left the vicarage; while both heard, as it seemed, his
studied phrases and sonorous voice rolling after them all the way home.
But poor Phoebe felt that the main issues as to conscience were now only
too clear; her last anchor was wrenched from its hold, and that night,
through a mist of unhappy tears, she succumbed, promised to marry John
Grimbal and be queen of the red castle now rising under Cranbrook's
distant heights.

That we have dealt too scantily with her tragic experiences may be
suspected; but the sequel will serve to show how these circumstances
demand no greater elaboration than has been accorded to them.



CHAPTER VII

LIBATION TO POMONA


A WINTER moon threw black shadows from stock and stone, tree and cot in
the valley of the Teign. Heavy snow had fallen, and moor-men, coming
down from the highlands, declared it to lie three feet deep in the
drifts. Now fine, sharp weather had succeeded the storm, and hard frost
held both hill and vale.

On Old Christmas Eve a party numbering some five-and-twenty persons
assembled in the farmyard of Monks Barton, and Billy Blee, as master of
the pending ceremonies, made them welcome. Some among them were aged,
others youthful; indeed the company consisted mostly of old men and
boys, a circumstance very easily understood when the nature of their
enterprise is considered. The ancients were about to celebrate a
venerable rite and sacrifice to a superstition, active in their boyhood,
moribund at the date with which we are concerned, and to-day probably
dead altogether. The sweet poet[2] of Dean Prior mentions this quaint,
old-time custom of "christening" or "wassailing" the fruit-trees among
Christmas-Eve ceremonies; and doubtless when he dwelt in Devon the use
was gloriously maintained; but an adult generation in the years of this
narrative had certainly refused it much support. It was left to their
grandfathers and their sons; and thus senility and youth preponderated
in the present company. For the boys, this midnight fun with lantern and
fowling-piece was good Christmas sport, and they came readily enough; to
the old men their ceremonial possessed solid value, and from the musty
storehouse of his memory every venerable soul amongst them could cite
instances of the sovereign virtue hid in such a procedure.


[2] _The sweet poet._

  "Wassaile the trees, that they may beare
   You many a Plum, and many a Peare;
   For more or lesse fruites they will bring,
   As you doe give them Wassailing."

   _Hesperides._


"A brave rally o' neighbours, sure 'nough," cried Mr. Blee as he
appeared amongst them. "Be Gaffer Lezzard come?"

"Here, Billy."

"Hast thy fire-arm, Lezzard?"

"Ess, 't is here. My gran'son's carrying of it; but I holds the
powder-flask an' caps, so no ruin be threatened to none."

Mr. Lezzard wore a black smock-frock, across the breast of which
extended delicate and skilful needlework. His head was hidden under an
old chimney-pot hat with a pea-cock's feather in it, and, against the
cold, he had tied a tremendous woollen muffler round his neck and about
his ears. The ends of it hung down over his coat, and the general effect
of smock, comforter, gaitered shanks, boots tied up in straw, long nose,
and shining spectacles, was that of some huge and ungainly bird, hopped
from out a fairy-tale or a nightmare.

"Be Maister Chappie here likewise?" inquired Billy.

"I'm waitin'; an' I've got a fowling-piece, tu."

"That's gude then. I be gwaine to carry the auld blunderbuss what's been
in Miller Lyddon's family since the years of his ancestors, and belonged
to a coach-guard in the King's days. 'T is well suited to
apple-christenin'. The cider's here, in three o' the biggest earth
pitchers us'a' got, an' the lads is ready to bring it along. The Maister
Grimbals, as will be related to the family presently, be comin' to see
the custom, an' Miller wants every man to step back-along arterwards an'
have a drop o' the best, 'cordin' to his usual gracious gudeness. Now,
Lezzard, me an' you'll lead the way."

Mr. Blee then shouldered his ancient weapon, the other veteran marched
beside him, and the rest of the company followed in the direction of
Chagford Bridge. They proceeded across the fields; and along the
procession bobbed a lantern or two, while a few boys carried flaring
torches. The light from these killed the moonbeams within a narrow
radius, shot black tongues of smoke into the clear air, and set the
meadows glimmering redly where contending radiance of moon and fire
powdered the virgin snow with diamond and ruby. Snake-like the party
wound along beside the river. Dogs barked; voices rang clear on the
crystal night; now and again, with laughter and shout, the lads raced
hither and thither from their stolid elders, and here and there jackets
carried the mark of a snowball. Behind the procession a trampled grey
line stretched out under the moonlight. Then all passed like some dim,
magic pageant of a dream; the distant dark blot of naked woodlands
swallowed them up, and the voices grew faint and ceased. Only the
endless song of the river sounded, with a new note struck into it by the
world of snow.

For a few moments the valley was left empty, so empty that a fox, who
had been prowling unsuccessfully about Monks Barton since dusk, took the
opportunity to leave his hiding-place above the ducks' pool, cross the
meadows, and get him home to his earth two miles distant. He slunk with
pattering foot across the snow, marking his way by little regular
paw-pits and one straight line where his brush roughened the surface.
Steam puffed in jets from his muzzle, and his empty belly made him angry
with the world. At the edge of the woods he lifted his head, and the
moonlight touched his green eyes. Then he recorded a protest against
Providence in one eerie bark, and so vanished, before the weird sound
had died.

Phoebe Lyddon and her lover, having given the others some vantage of
ground, followed them to their destination--Mr. Lyddon's famous orchard
in Teign valley. The girl's dreary task of late had been to tell herself
that she would surely love John Grimbal presently--love him as such a
good man deserved to be loved. Only under the silence and in the
loneliness of long nights, only in the small hours of day, when sleep
would not come and pulses were weak, did Phoebe confess that contact
with him hurt her, that his kisses made her giddy to sickness, that all
his gifts put together were less to her than one treasure she was too
weak to destroy--the last letter Will had written. Once or twice, not to
her future husband, but to the miller, Phoebe had ventured faintly to
question still the promise of this great step; but Mr. Lyddon quickly
overruled all doubts, and assisted John Grimbal in his efforts to hasten
the ceremony. Upon this day, Old Christmas Eve, the wedding-day lay not
a month distant and, afterwards the husband designed to take his wife
abroad for a trip to South Africa. Thus he would combine business and
pleasure, and return in the spring to witness the completion of his
house. Chagford highly approved the match, congratulated Phoebe on her
fortune, and felt secretly gratified that a personage grown so important
as John Grimbal should have chosen his life's partner from among the
maidens of his native village.

Now the pair walked over the snow; and silent and stealthy as the
vanished fox, a grey figure followed after them. Dim as some moon-spirit
against the brightness, this shape stole forward under the rough hedge
that formed a bank and threw a shadow between meadow and stream. In
repose the grey man, for a man it was, looked far less substantial than
the stationary outlines of fences and trees; and when he moved it had
needed a keen eye to see him at all. He mingled with the moonlight and
snow, and became a part of a strange inversion of ordinary conditions;
for in this white, hushed world the shadows alone seemed solid and
material in their black nakedness, in their keen sharpness of line and
limit, while things concrete and ponderable shone out a silvery medley
of snow-capped, misty traceries, vague of outline, uncertain of shape,
magically changed as to their relations by the unfamiliar carpet now
spread between them.

The grey figure kept Phoebe in sight, but followed a path of his own
choosing. When she entered the woods he drew a little nearer, and thus
followed, passing from shadow to shadow, scarce fifty yards behind.

Meanwhile the main procession approached the scene of its labours.
Martin Grimbal, attracted by the prospect of reading this page from an
old Devonian superstition, was of the company. He walked with Billy Blee
and Gaffer Lezzard; and these high priests, well pleased at their
junior's attitude towards the ceremony, opened their hearts to him upon
it.

"'T is an ancient rite, auld as cider--maybe auld as Scripture, to, for
anything I've heard to the contrary," said Mr. Lezzard.

"Ay, so 't is," declared Billy Blee, "an' a custom to little observed
nowadays. But us might have better blooth in springtime an' braaver
apples come autumn if the trees was christened more regular. You doan't
see no gert stock of sizable apples best o' years now--li'l scrubbly
auld things most times."

"An' the cider from 'em--poor roapy muck, awnly fit to make 'e thirst
for better drink," criticised Gaffer Lezzard.

"'Tis this way: theer's gert virtue in cider put to apple-tree roots on
this particular night, accordin' to the planets and such hidden things.
Why so, I can't tell 'e, any more 'n anybody could tell 'e why the moon
sails higher up the sky in winter than her do in summer; but so 't is.
An' facts be facts. Why, theer's the auld 'Sam's Crab' tree in this very
orchard we'm walkin' to. I knawed that tree three year ago to give a
hogshead an' a half as near as damn it. That wan tree, mind, with no
more than a few baskets of 'Redstreaks' added."

"An' a shy bearer most times, tu," added Mr. Lezzard.

"Just so; then come next year, by some mischance, me being indoors, if
they didn't forget to christen un! An', burnish it all! theer wasn't
fruit enough on the tree to fill your pockets!"

"Whether 't is the firing into the branches, or the cider to the roots
does gude, be a matter of doubt," continued Mr. Lezzard; but the other
authority would not admit this.

"They 'm like the halves of a flail, depend on it: wan no use wi'out
t'other. Then theer's the singing of the auld song: who's gwaine to say
that's the least part of it?"

"'T is the three pious acts thrawn together in wan gude deed," summed up
Mr. Lezzard; "an' if they'd awnly let apples get ripe 'fore they break
'em, an' go back to the straw for straining, 'stead of these tom-fule,
new-fangled hair-cloths, us might get tidy cider still."

By this time the gate of the orchard was reached; Gaffer Lezzard, Billy,
and the other patriarch, Mr. Chapple,--a very fat old man,--loaded their
weapons, and the perspiring cider-carriers set down their loads.

"Now, you bwoys, give awver runnin' 'bout like rabbits," cried out Mr.
Chapple. "You 'm here to sing while us pours cider an' shoots in the
trees; an' not a drop you'll have if you doan't give tongue proper, so I
tell 'e."

At this rebuke the boys assembled, and there followed a hasty gabbling,
to freshen the words in young and uncertain memories. Then a small
vessel was dipped under floating toast, that covered the cider in the
great pitchers, and the ceremony of christening the orchard began. Only
the largest and most famous apple-bearers were thus saluted, for neither
cider nor gunpowder sufficient to honour more than a fraction of the
whole multitude existed in all Chagford. The orchard, viewed from the
east, stretched in long lines, like the legions of some arboreal army;
the moon set sparks and streaks of light on every snowy fork and bough;
and at the northwestern foot of each tree a network of spidery
shadow-patterns, sharp and black, extended upon the snow.

Mr. Blee himself made the first libation, led the first chorus, and
fired the first shot. Steaming cider poured from his mug, vanished,
sucked in at the tree-foot, and left a black patch upon the snow at the
hole of the trunk; then he stuck a fragment of sodden toast on a twig;
after which the christening song rang out upon the night--ragged at
first, but settling into resolute swing and improved time as its music
proceeded. The lusty treble of the youngsters soon drowned the notes of
their grandfathers; for the boys took their measure at a pace beyond the
power of Gaffer Lezzard and his generation, and sang with heart and
voice to keep themselves warm. The song has variants, but this was their
version--

  "Here 's to thee, auld apple-tree,
   Be sure you bud, be sure you blaw,
   And bring forth apples good enough--
   Hats full, caps full, three-bushel bags full,
          Pockets full and all--
   Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
              Hats full, caps full, three-bushel bags full,
                  Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!"

Then Billy fired his blunderbuss, and a flame leapt from its bell mouth
into the branches of the apple-tree, while surrounding high lands echoed
its report with a reverberating bellow that rose and fell, and was flung
from hill to hill, until it gradually faded upon the ear. The boys
cheered again, everybody drank a drop of the cider, and from under a
cloud of blue smoke, that hung flat as a pancake above them in the still
air, all moved onward. Presently the party separated into three groups,
each having a gunner to lead it, half a dozen boys to sing, and a
dwindling jar of cider for the purposes of the ceremony. The divided
choirs clashed their music, heard from a distance; the guns fired at
intervals, each sending forth its own particular detonation and winning
back a distinctive echo; then the companies separated widely and
decreased to mere twinkling, torchlit points in the distance.
Accumulated smoke from the scattered discharges hung in a sluggish haze
between earth and moon, and a sharp smell of burnt powder tainted the
sweetness of the frosty night.

Upon this scene arrived John Grirnbal and his sweetheart. They stood for
a while at the open orchard gate, gazed at the remote illumination, and
heard the distant song. Then they returned to discussion of their own
affairs; while at hand, unseen, the grey watcher moved impatiently and
anxiously. The thing he desired did not come about, and he blew on his
cold hands and swore under his breath. Only an orchard hedge now
separated them, and he might have listened to Phoebe's soft speech had
he crept ten yards nearer, while John Grimbal's voice he could not help
hearing from time to time. The big man was just asking a question not
easy to answer, when an unexpected interruption saved Phoebe from the
difficulty of any reply.

"Sometimes I half reckon a memory of that blessed boy still makes you
glum, my dear. Is it so? Haven't you forgot him yet?"

As he spoke an explosion, differing much in sound from those which
continued to startle the night, rang suddenly out of the distance. It
arose from a spot on the confines of the orchard, and was sharp in
tone--sharp almost as the human cries which followed it. Then the
distant lights hastened towards the theatre of the catastrophe. "What
has happened?" cried Phoebe, thankful enough to snatch conversation away
from herself and her affairs.

"Easy to guess. That broken report means a burst gun. One of those old
fools has got excited, put too much powder into his blunderbuss and
blown his head off, likely as not. No loss either!"

"Please, please go and see! Oh, if 'tis Billy Blee come to grief,
faither will be lost. Do 'e run, Mr. Grimbal--Jan, I mean. If any grave
matter's failed out, send them bwoys off red-hot for doctor."

"Stop here, then. If any ugly thing has happened, there need be no
occasion for you to see it."

He departed hastily to where a distant galaxy of fiery eyes twinkled and
tangled and moved this way and that, like the dying sparks on a piece of
burnt paper.

Then the patient grey shadow, rewarded by chance at last, found his
opportunity, slipped into the hedge just above Grimbal's sweetheart, and
spoke to her.

"Phoebe, Phoebe Lyddon!"

The voice, dropping out of empty air as it seemed, made Phoebe jump, and
almost fall; but there was an arm gripped round her, and a pair of hot
lips on hers before she had time to open her mouth or cry a word.

"Will!"

"Ess, so I be, alive an' kicking. No time for anything but business now.
I've followed 'e for this chance. Awnly heard four day ago 'bout the fix
you'd been drove to. An' Clem's made it clear 't was all my damn silly
silence to blame. I had a gert thought in me and wasn't gwaine to write
till--but that's awver an' done, an' a purty kettle of feesh, tu. We
must faace this coil first."

"Thank God, you can forgive me. I'd never have had courage to ax 'e."

"You was drove into it. I knaw there's awnly wan man in the world for
'e. Ban't nothin' to forgive. I never ought to have left 'e--a
far-seein' man, same as me. Blast him! I'd like to tear thicky damned
fur off you, for I lay it comed from him."

"They were killing me, Will; and never a word from you."

"I knaw, I knaw. What's wan girl against a parish full, an' a blustering
chap made o' diamonds?"

"The things doan't warm me; they make me shiver. But now--you can
forgive me--that's all I care for. What shall I do? How can I escape it?
Oh, Will, say I can!"

"In coourse you can. Awnly wan way, though; an' that's why I'm here. Us
must be married right on end. Then he's got no more power over 'e than a
drowned worm, nor Miller, nor any."

"To think you can forgive me enough to marry me after all my wickedness!
I never dreamed theer was such a big heart in the world as yourn."

"Why, we promised, didn't us? We'm built for each other. I knawed I'd
only got to come. An' I have, at cost, tu, I promise 'e. Now we'll be
upsides wi' this tramp from furrin paarts, if awnly you do ezacally what
I be gwaine to tell you. I'd meant to write it, but I can speak it
better as the chance has come."

Phoebe's heart glowed at this tremendous change in the position. She
forgot everything before sight and sound of Will. The nature of her
promises weakened to gossamer. Her first love was the only love for her,
and his voice fortified her spirit and braced her nerves. A chance for
happiness yet remained and she, who had endured enough, was strong in
determination to win it yet at any cost if a woman could.

"If you awnly knawed the half I've suffered before they forced me, you'd
forgive," she said. His frank pardon she could hardly realise. It seemed
altogether beyond the desert of her weakness.

"Let that bide. It's the future now. Clem's told me everything. Awnly
you and him an' Chris knaw I'm here. Chris will serve 'e. Us must play a
hidden game, an' fight this Grimbal chap as he fought me--behind back.
Listen; to-day fortnight you an' me 'm gwaine to be married afore the
registrar to Newton Abbot. He 'm my awn Uncle Ford, as luck has it, an'
quite o' my way o' thinkin' when I told him how 't was, an' that Jan
Grimbal was gwaine to marry you against your will. He advised me, and
I'm biding in Newton for next two weeks, so as the thing comes out right
by law. But you've got to keep it still as death."

"If I could awnly fly this instant moment with 'e!"

"You caan't. 'T would spoil all. You must stop home, an' hear your banns
put up with Grimbal, an' all the rest of it. Wish I could! Meat an'
drink 't would be, by God! But he'll get his pay all right. An' afore
the day comes, you nip off to Newton, an' I'll meet 'e, an' us'll be
married in a wink, an' you'll be back home again to Monks Barton 'fore
you knaw it."

"Is that the awnly way? Oh, Will, how terrible!"

"God knaws I've done worse 'n that. But no man's gwaine to steal the
maid of my choosin' from me while I've got brains and body to prevent
it."

"Let me look at you, lovey--just the same, just the same! 'Tis glorious
to hear your voice again. But this thin coat, so butivul in shaape, tu!
You 'm a gentleman by the look of it; but 't is summer wear, not
winter."

"Ess, 'tis cold enough; an' I've got to get back to Newton to-night. An'
never breathe that man's name no more. I'll shaw 'e wat 's a man an'
what ban't. Steal my true love, would 'e?--God forgive un, I
shaan't--not till we 'm man an' wife, anyway. Then I might. Give 'e up!
Be I a chap as chaanges? Never--never yet."

Phoebe wept at these words and pressed Will to her heart.

"'Tis strength, an' fire, an' racing blood in me to hear 'e, dear,
braave heart. I was that weak without 'e. Now the world 's a new plaace,
an' I doan't doubt fust thought was right, for all they said. I'll meet
'e as you bid me, an' nothin' shall ever keep me from 'e now--nothing!"

"'T is well said, Phoebe; an' doan't let that anointed scamp kiss 'e
more 'n he must. Be braave an' cunnin', an' keep Miller from smelling a
rat. I'd like to smash that man myself now wheer he stands,--Grimbal I
mean,--but us must be wise for the present. Wipe your shiny eyes an'
keep a happy faace to 'em, an' never let wan of the lot dream what's hid
in 'e. Cock your li'l nose high, an' be peart an' gay. An' let un buy
you what he will,--'t is no odds; we can send his rubbish back again
arter, when he knaws you'm another man's wife. Gude-bye, Phoebe dearie;
I've done what 'peared to me a gert deed for love of 'e; but the sight
of 'e brings it down into no mighty matter."

"You've saved my life, Will--saved all my days; an' while I've got a
heart beating 't will be yourn, an' I'll work for 'e, an' slave for 'e,
an' think for 'e, an' love 'e so long as I live--an' pray for 'e, tu,
Will, my awn!"

He parted from her as she spoke, and she, by an inspiration, hurried
towards the approaching crowd that the trampled marks of the snow where
she had been standing might not be noted under the gleam of torches and
lanterns.

John Grimbal's prophecy was happily not fulfilled in its gloomy
completeness: nobody had blown his head off; but Billy Blee's
prodigality of ammunition proved at last too much for the blunderbuss of
the bygone coach-guard, and in its sudden annihilation a fragment had
cut the gunner across the face, and a second inflicted a pretty deep
flesh-wound on his arm. Neither injury was very serious, and the general
escape, as John Grimbal pointed out, might be considered marvellous, for
not a soul save Billy himself had been so much as scratched.

With Martin Grimbal on one side and Mr. Chapple upon the other, the
wounded veteran walked slowly and solemnly along. The dramatic moments
of the hour were dear to him, and while tolerably confident at the
bottom of his mind that no vital hurt had been done, he openly declared
himself stricken to death, and revelled in a display of Christian
fortitude and resignation that deceived everybody but John Grimbal.
Billy gasped and gurgled, bid them see to the bandages, and reviewed his
past life with ingenuous satisfaction.

"Ah, sawls all! dead as a hammer in an hour. 'T is awver. I feel the
life swelling out of me."

"Don't say that, Billy," cried Martin, in real concern. "The blood's
stopped flowing entirely now."

"For why? Theer's no more to come. My heart be pumping wind, lifeless
wind; my lung-play's gone, tu, an' my sight's come awver that coorious.
Be Gaffer Lezzard nigh?"

"Here, alongside 'e, Bill."

"Gimme your hand then, an' let auld scores be wiped off in this
shattering calamity. Us have differed wheer us could these twoscore
years; but theer mustn't be no more ill-will wi' me tremblin' on the lip
o' the graave."

"None at all; if 't wasn't for Widow Coomstock," said Gaffer Lezzard.
"You 'm tu pushing theer, an' I say it even now, for truth's truth,
though it be the last thing a man's ear holds."

"Break it to her gentle," said Billy, ignoring the other's criticism;
"she'm on in years, and have cast a kindly eye awver me since the early
sixties. My propositions never was more than agreeable conversation to
her, but it might have come. Tell her theer's a world beyond marriage
customs, an' us'll meet theer."

Old Lezzard showed a good deal of anger at this speech, but being in a
minority fell back and held his peace.

"Would 'e like to see passon, dear sawl?" asked Mr. Chapple, who walked
on Billy's left with his gun reversed, as though at a funeral.

"Me an' him be out, along o' rheumatics keeping me from the House of God
this month," said the sufferer, "but at a solemn death-bed hour like
this here, I'd soon see un as not. Ban't no gert odds, for I forgive all
mankind, and doan't feel no more malice than a bird in a tree."

"You're a silly old ass," burst out Grimbal roughly. "There's nothing
worth naming the matter with you, and you know it better than we do. The
Devil looks after his own, seemingly. Any other man would have been
killed ten times over."

Billy whined and even wept at this harsh reproof. "Ban't a very fair way
to speak to an auld gunpowder-blawn piece, like what I be now," he said;
"gormed if 't is."

"Very onhandsome of 'e, Mr. Grimbal," declared the stout Chappie; "an'
you so young an' in the prime of life, tu!"

Here Phoebe met them, and Mr. Blee, observing the signs of tears upon
her face, supposed that anxiety for him had wet her cheeks, and
comforted his master's child.

"Doan't 'e give way, missy. 'T is all wan, an' I ban't 'feared of the
tomb, as I've tawld 'em. Us must rot, every bone of us, in our season,
an' 't is awnly the thought of it, not the fear of it, turns the
stomach. But what's a wamblyness of the innards, so long as a body's
sawl be ripe for God?"

"A walkin' sermon!" said Mr. Chappie.

Doctor Parsons was waiting for Billy at Monks Barton, and if John
Grimbal had been brusque, the practitioner proved scarcely less so. He
pronounced Mr. Blee but little hurt, bandaged his arm, plastered his
head, and assured him that a pipe and a glass of spirits was all he
needed to fortify his sinking spirit. The party ate and drank, raised a
cheer for Miller Lyddon and then went homewards. Only Mr. Chappie and
Gaffer Lezzard entered the house and had a wineglass or two of some
special sloe gin. Mr. Lezzard thawed and grew amiable over this
beverage, and Mr. Chappie repeated Billy's lofty sentiments at the
approach of death for the benefit of Miller Lyddon.

"'T is awnly my fearless disposition," declared the wounded man with
great humility; "no partic'lar credit to me. I doan't care wan iotum for
the thought of churchyard mould--not wan iotum. I knaw the value of gude
rich soil tu well; an' a man as grudges the rames[3] of hisself to the
airth that's kept un threescore years an' ten's a carmudgeonly cuss,
surely."


[3] _Rames_ = skeleton; remains.


"An' so say I; theer's true wisdom in it," declared Mr. Chapple, while
the miller nodded.

"Theer be," concluded Gaffer Lezzard. "I allus sez, in my clenching way,
that I doan't care a farden damn what happens to my bones, if my
everlasting future be well thought on by passon. So long as I catch the
eye of un an' see um beam 'pon me to church now an' again, I'm content
with things as they are."

"As a saved sawl you 'm in so braave a way as the best; but, to say it
without rudeness, as food for the land a man of your build be nought,
Gaffer," argued Mr. Chapple, who viewed the veteran's withered anatomy
from his own happy vantage ground of fifteen stone.

But Gaffer Lezzard would by no means allow this.

"Ban't quantity awnly tells, my son. 'T is the aluminium in a man's
bones that fats land--roots or grass or corn. Anybody of larnin', 'll
tell 'e that. Strip the belly off 'e, an', bone for bone, a lean man
like me shaws as fair as you. No offence offered or taken, but a gross
habit's mere clay and does more harm than gude underground."

Mr. Chapple in his turn resented this contemptuous dismissal of tissue
as matter of no agricultural significance. The old men went wrangling
home; Miller Lyddon and Billy retired to their beds; the moon departed
behind the distant moors; and all the darkened valley slept in snow and
starlight.



CHAPTER VIII

A BROTHERS' QUARREL


Though Phoebe was surprised at Will Blanchard's mild attitude toward her
weakness, she had been less so with more knowledge. Chris Blanchard and
her lover were in some degree responsible for Will's lenity, and
Clement's politic letter to the wanderer, when Phoebe's engagement was
announced, had been framed in words best calculated to shield the
Miller's sore-driven daughter. Hicks had thrown the blame on John
Grimbal, on Mr. Lyddon, on everybody but Phoebe herself. Foremost indeed
he had censured Will, and pointed out that his own sustained silence,
however high-minded the reason of it, was a main factor in his
sweetheart's sufferings and ultimate submission.

In answer to this communication Blanchard magically reappeared,
announced his determination to marry Phoebe by subterfuge, and, the deed
accomplished, take his punishment, whatever it might be, with light
heart. Given time to achieve a legal marriage, and Phoebe would at least
be safe from the clutches of millionaires in general.

Much had already been done by Will before he crept after the
apple-christeners and accomplished his meeting with Phoebe. A week was
passed since Clement wrote the final crushing news, and during that
interval Will had been stopping with his uncle, Joel Ford, at Newton
Abbot. Fate, hard till now, played him passing fair at last. The old
Superintendent Registrar still had a soft corner in his heart for Will,
and when he learnt the boy's trouble, though of cynic mind in all
matters pertaining to matrimony, he chose to play the virtuous and
enraged philosopher, much to his nephew's joy. Mr. Ford promised Will he
should most certainly have the law's aid to checkmate his dishonourable
adversary; he took a most serious view of the case and declared that all
thinking men must sympathise with young Blanchard under such
circumstances. But in private the old gentleman rubbed his hands, for
here was the very opportunity he desired as much as a man well
might--the chance to strike at one who had shamefully wronged him. His
only trouble was how best to let John Grimbal know whom he had to thank
for this tremendous reverse; for that deed he held necessary to complete
his revenge.

As to where Will had come from, or whither he was returning, after his
marriage Joel Ford cared not. The youngster once wedded would be
satisfied; and his uncle would be satisfied too. The procedure of
marriage by license requires that one of the parties shall have resided
within the Superintendent's district for a space of fifteen days
preceding the giving of notice; then application in prescribed form is
made to the Registrar; and his certificate and license are usually
received one clear day later. Thus a resident in a district can be
married at any time within eight-and-forty hours of his decision. Will
Blanchard had to stop with his uncle nine or ten days more to complete
the necessary fortnight, and as John Grimbal's marriage morning was as
yet above three weeks distant, Phoebe's fate in no way depended upon
him.

Mr. Ford explained the position to Will, and the lover accepted it
cheerfully.

"As to the marriage, that'll be hard and fast as a bench of bishops can
make it; but wedding a woman under age, against the wish of her legal
guardian, is an offence against the law. Nobody can undo the deed
itself, but Miller Lyddon will have something to say afterwards. And
there's that blustering blackguard, John Grimbal, to reckon with.
Unscrupulous scoundrel! Just the sort to be lawless and vindictive if
what you tell me concerning him is true."

"And so he be; let un! Who cares a brass button for him? 'T is awnly
Miller I thinks of. What's worst he can do?"

"Send you to prison, Will."

"For how long?"

"That I can't tell you exactly. Not for marrying his daughter of course,
but for abduction--that's what he'll bring against you."

"An' so he shall, uncle, an' I'll save him all the trouble I can. That's
no gert hardship--weeks, or months even. I'll go like a lark, knawin'
Phoebe's safe."

So the matter stood and the days passed. Will's personal affairs, and
the secret of the position from which he had come was known only to
Clement Hicks. The lover talked of returning again thither after his
marriage, but he remained vague on that point, and, indeed, modified his
plans after the above recorded conversation with his uncle. Twice he
wrote to Phoebe in the period of waiting, and the letter had been
forwarded on both occasions through Clement. Two others knew what was
afoot, and during that time of trial Phoebe found Chris her salvation.
The stronger girl supported her sinking spirit and fortified her
courage. Chris mightily enjoyed the whole romance, and among those
circumstances that combined to make John Grimbal uneasy during the days
of waiting was her constant presence at Monks Barton. There she came as
Phoebe's friend, and the clear, bright eyes she often turned on him made
him angry, he knew not why. As for Mrs. Blanchard, she had secretly
learnt more than anybody suspected, for while Will first determined to
tell her nothing until afterwards, a second thought rebuked him for
hiding such a tremendous circumstance from his mother, and he wrote to
her at full length from Newton, saying nothing indeed of the past but
setting out the future in detail. Upon the subject Mrs. Blanchard kept
her own counsel.

Preparations for Phoebe's wedding moved apace, and she lived in a dim,
heart-breaking dream. John Grimbal, despite her entreaties, continued to
spend money upon her; yet each new gift brought nothing but tears. Grown
desperate in his determination to win a little affection and regard
before marriage, and bitterly conscious that he could command neither,
the man plied her with what money would buy, and busied himself to bring
her happiness in spite of herself. Troubled he was, nevertheless, and
constantly sought the miller that he might listen to comforting
assurances that he need be under no concern.

"'T is natural in wan who's gwaine to say gude-bye to maidenhood so
soon," declared Mr. Lyddon. "I've thought 'bout her tears a deal. God
knaws they hurt me more 'n they do her, or you either; but such sad
whims and cloudy hours is proper to the time. Love for me's got a share
in her sorrow, tu. 'T will all be well enough when she turns her back on
the church-door an' hears the weddin'-bells a-clashing for her future
joy. Doan't you come nigh her much during the next few weeks."

"Two," corrected Mr. Grimbal, moodily.

"Eh! Awnly two! Well, 't is gert darkness for me, I promise you--gert
darkness comin' for Monks Barton wi'out the butivul sound an' sight of
her no more. But bide away, theer's a gude man; bide away these coming
few days. Her last maiden hours mustn't be all tears. But my gifts do
awnly make her cry, tu, if that's consolation to 'e. It's the
tenderness of her li'l heart as brims awver at kindness."

In reality, Phoebe's misery was of a complexion wholly different. The
necessity for living thus had not appeared so tremendous until she found
herself launched into this sea of terrible deception. In operation such
sustained falsity came like to drive her mad. She could not count the
lies each day brought forth; she was frightened to pray for forgiveness,
knowing every morning must see a renewal of the tragedy. Hell seemed
yawning for her, and the possibility of any ultimate happiness, reached
over this awful road of mendacity and deceit, was more than her
imagination could picture. With loss of self-respect, self-control
likewise threatened to depart. She became physically weak, mentally
hysterical. The strain told terribly on her nature; and Chris mourned to
note a darkness like storm-cloud under her grey eyes, and unwonted
pallor upon her cheek. Dr. Parsons saw Phoebe at this juncture,
prescribed soothing draughts, and ordered rest and repose; but to Chris
the invalid clung, and Mr. Lyddon was not a little puzzled that the
sister of Phoebe's bygone sweetheart should now possess such power to
ease her mind and soothe her troubled nerves.

John Grimbal obeyed the injunction laid upon him and absented himself
from Monks Barton. All was prepared for the ceremony. He had left his
Red House farm and taken rooms for the present at "The Three Crowns."
Hither came his brother to see him four nights before the weddingday.
Martin had promised to be best man, yet a shadow lay between the
brothers, and John, his mind unnaturally jealous and suspicious from the
nature of affairs with Phoebe, sulked of late in a conviction that
Martin had watched his great step with unfraternal indifference and
denied him the enthusiasm and congratulation proper to such an event.

The younger man found his brother scanning a new black broadcloth coat
when he entered. He praised it promptly, whereupon John flung it from
him and showed no more interest in the garment. Martin, not to be
offended, lighted his pipe, took an armchair beside the fire, and asked
for some whiskey. This mollified the other a little; he produced
spirits, loaded his own pipe, and asked the object of the visit.

"A not over-pleasant business, John," returned his brother, frankly;
"but 'Least said, soonest mended.' Only remember this, nothing must ever
lessen our common regard. What I am going to say is inspired by my--"

"Yes, yes--cut that. Spit it out and have done with it. I know there's
been trouble in you for days. You can't hide your thoughts. You've been
grim as a death's-head for a month--ever since I was engaged, come to
think of it. Now open your jaws and have done."

John's aggressive and hectoring manner spoke volubly of his own lack of
ease. Martin nerved himself to begin, holding it his duty, but secretly
fearing the issue in the light of his brother's hard, set face.

"You've something bothering you too, old man. I'm sure of it. God is
aware I don't know much about women myself, but--"

"Oh, dry up that rot! Don't think I'm blind, if you are. Don't deceive
yourself. There's a woman-hunger in you, too, though perhaps you haven't
found it out yet. What about that Blanchard girl?"

Martin flushed like a schoolboy; his hand went up over his mouth and
chin as though to hide part of his guilt, and he looked alarmed and
uneasy.

John laughed without mirth at the other's ludicrous trepidation.

"Good heavens! I've done nothing surely to suggest--?"

"Nothing at all--except look as if you were going to have a fit every
time you get within a mile of her. Lovers know the signs, I suppose.
Don't pretend you're made of different stuff to the rest of us, that's
all."

Martin removed his hand and gasped before the spectacle of what he had
revealed to other eyes. Then, after a silence of fifteen seconds, he
shut his mouth again, wiped his forehead with his hand, and spoke.

"I've been a silly fool. Only she's so wonderfully beautiful--don't you
think so?"

"A gypsy all over--if you call that beautiful."

The other flushed up again, but made no retort.

"Never mind me or anybody else. I want to speak to you about Phoebe, if
I may, John. Who have I got to care about but you? I'm only thinking of
your happiness, for that's dearer to me than my own; and you know in
your heart that I'm speaking the truth when I say so."

"Stick to your gate-posts and old walls and cow-comforts and dead
stones. We all know you can look farther into Dartmoor granite than most
men, if that's anything; but human beings are beyond you and always
were. You'd have come home a pauper but for me."

"D' you think I'm not grateful? No man ever had a better brother than
you, and you've stood between me and trouble a thousand times. Now I
want to stand between you and trouble."

"What the deuce d' you mean by naming Phoebe, then?"

"That is the trouble. Listen and don't shout me down. She's breaking her
heart--blind or not blind, I see that--breaking her heart, not for you,
but Will Blanchard. Nobody else has found it out; but I have, and I know
it's my duty to tell you; and I've done it."

An ugly twist came into John Grimbal's face. "You've done it; yes. Go
on."

"That's all, brother, and from your manner I don't believe it's entirely
news to you."

"Then get you gone, damned snake in the grass! Get gone, 'fore I lay a
hand on you! You to turn and bite _me!_ Me, that's made you! I see it
all--your blasted sheep's eyes at Chris Blanchard, and her always at
Monks Barton! Don't lie about it," he roared, as Martin raised his hand
to speak; "not a word more will I hear from your traitor's lips. Get out
of my sight, you sneaking hypocrite, and never call me 'brother' no
more, for I'll not own to it!"

"You'll be sorry for this, John."

"And you too. You'll smart all your life long when you think of this
dirty trick played against a brother who never did you no hurt. You to
come between me and the girl that's promised to marry me! And for your
own ends. A manly, brotherly plot, by God!"

"I swear, on my sacred honour, there's no plot against you. I've never
spoken to a soul about this thing, nor has a soul spoken of it to me;
that's the truth."

"Rot you, and your sacred honour too! Go, and take your lies with you,
and keep your own friends henceforth, and never cross my threshold
more--you or your sacred, stinking honour either."

Martin rose from his chair dazed and bewildered. He had seen his
brother's passion wither up many a rascal in the past; but he himself
had never suffered until now, and the savagery of this language hurled
against his own pure motives staggered him. He, of course, knew nothing
about Will Blanchard's enterprise, and his blundering and ill-judged
effort to restrain his brother from marrying Phoebe was absolutely
disinterested. It had been a tremendous task to him to speak on this
delicate theme, and regard for John alone actuated him; now he departed
without another word and went blankly to the little new stone house he
had taken and furnished on the outskirts of Chagford under Middledown.
He walked along the straight street of whitewashed cots that led him to
his home, and reflected with dismay on this catastrophe. The
conversation with his brother had scarcely occupied five minutes; its
results promised to endure a lifetime.

Meanwhile, and at the identical hour of this tremendous rupture, Chris
Blanchard, well knowing that the morrow would witness Phoebe's secret
marriage to her brother, walked down to see her. It happened that a
small party filled the kitchen of Monks Barton, and the maid who
answered her summons led Chris through the passage and upstairs to
Phoebe's own door. There the girls spoke in murmurs together, while
various sounds, all louder than their voices, proceeded from the kitchen
below. There were assembled the miller, Billy Blee, Mr. Chapple, and one
Abraham Chown, the police inspector of Chagford, a thin, black-bearded
man, oppressed with the cares of his office.

"They be arranging the programme of festive delights," explained Phoebe.
"My heart sinks in me every way I turn now. All the world seems thinking
about what's to come; an' I knaw it never will."

"'T is a wonnerful straange thing to fall out. Never no such happened
before, I reckon. But you 'm doin' right by the man you love, an' that's
a thought for 'e more comfortin' than gospel in a pass like this. A
promise is a promise, and you've got to think of all your life
stretching out afore you. Will's jonic, take him the right way, and that
you knaw how to do--a straight, true chap as should make any wife happy.
Theer'll be waitin' afterwards an' gude need for all the patience you've
got; but wance the wife of un, allus the wife of un; that's a butivul
thing to bear in mind."

"'T is so; 't is everything. An' wance we'm wed, I'll never tell a lie
again, an' atone for all I have told, an' do right towards everybody."

"You caan't say no fairer. Be any matter I can help 'e with?"

"Nothing. It's all easy. The train starts for Moreton at half-past nine.
Sam Bonus be gwaine to drive me in, and bide theer for me till I come
back from Newton. Faither's awnly too pleased to let me go. I said 't
was shopping."

"An' when you come home you'll tell him--Mr. Lyddon--straight?"

"Everything, an' thank God for a clean breast again."

"An' Will?"

"Caan't say what he'll do after. Theer'll be no real marryin' for us yet
a while. Faither can have the law of Will presently,--that's all I
knaw."

"Trust Will to do the right thing; and mind, come what may to him,
theer's allus Clem Hicks and me for friends."

"Ban't likely to be many others left, come to-morrow night. But I've run
away from my own thoughts to think of you and him often of late days.
He'll get money and marry you, won't he, when his aunt, Mrs. Coomstock,
dies?"

"No; I thought so tu, an' hoped it wance; but Clem says what she've got
won't come his way. She's like as not to marry, tu--there 'm a lot of
auld men tinkering after her, Billy Blee among 'em."

Sounds arose from beneath. They began with harsh and grating notes,
interrupted by a violent hawking and spitting. Then followed renewal of
the former unlovely noises. Presently, at a point in the song, for such
it was, half a dozen other voices drowned the soloist in a chorus.

"'T is Billy rehearsin' moosic," explained Phoebe, with a sickly smile.
"He haven't singed for a score of years; but they've awver-persuaded him
and he's promised to give 'em an auld ballet on my wedding-day."

"My stars! 't is a gashly auld noise sure enough," criticised Phoebe's
friend frankly; "for all the world like a stuck pig screechin', or the
hum of the threshin' machine poor faither used to have, heard long ways
off."

Quavering and quivering, with sudden painful flights into a cracked
treble, Billy's effort came to the listeners.

    "'Twas on a Monday marnin'
       Afore the break of day,
     That I tuked up my turmit-hoe
       An' trudged dree mile away!"

Then a rollicking chorus, with rough music in it, surged to their ears--

    "An' the fly, gee hoppee!
     The fly, gee whoppee!
     The fly be on the turmits,
     For 't is all my eye for me to try
     An' keep min off the turmits!"

Mr. Blee lashed his memory and slowly proceeded, while Chris, moved by a
sort of sudden mother-instinct towards pale and tearful Phoebe, strained
her to her bosom, hugged her very close, kissed her, and bid her be
hopeful and happy.

"Taake gude heart, for you 'm to mate the best man in all the airth but
wan!" she said; "an', if 't is awnly to keep Billy from singing in
public, 't is a mercy you ban't gwaine to take Jan Grimbal. Doan't 'e
fear for him. There'll be a thunder-storm for sartain; then he'll calm
down, as better 'n him have had to 'fore now, an' find some other gal."

With this comfort Chris caressed Phoebe once more, heartily pitying her
helplessness, and wishing it in her power to undertake the approaching
ordeal on the young bride's behalf. Then she departed, her eyes almost
as dim as Phoebe's. For a moment she forgot her own helpless matrimonial
projects in sorrow for her brother and his future wife. Marriage at the
registry office represented to her, as to most women, an unlovely,
uncomfortable, and unfinished ceremony. She had as easily pictured a
funeral without the assistance of the Church as a wedding without it.



CHAPTER IX

OUTSIDE EXETER GAOL


Within less than twelve hours of the time when she bid Chris farewell
Phoebe Lyddon was Phoebe Lyddon no more. Will met her at Newton; they
immediately proceeded to his uncle's office; and the Registrar had made
them man and wife in space of time so brief that the girl could hardly
realise the terrific event was accomplished, and that henceforth she
belonged to Will alone. Mr. Ford had his little joke afterwards in the
shape of a wedding-breakfast and champagne. He was gratified at the
event and rejoiced to be so handsomely and tremendously revenged on his
unfortunate enemy. The young couple partook of the good things provided
for them; but appetite was lacking to right enjoyment of the banquet,
and Will and his wife much desired to escape and be alone.

Presently they returned to the station and arrived there before Phoebe's
train departed. Her husband then briefly explained the remarkable course
of action he designed to pursue.

"You must be a braave gal and think none the worse of me. But't is this
way: I've broke law, and a month or two, or six, maybe, in gaol have got
to be done. Your faither will see to that."

"Prison! O, Will! For marryin' me?"

"No, but for marryin' you wi'out axin' leave. Miller Lyddon told me the
upshot of taking you, if I done it; an' I have; an' he'll keep his word.
So that's it. I doan't want to make no more trouble; an' bein' a man of
resource I'm gwaine up to Exeter by first train, so soon as you've
started. Then all bother in the matter will be saved Miller."

"O Will! Must you?"

"Ess fay, 't is my duty. I've thought it out through many hours. The
time'll soon slip off; an' then I'll come back an' stand to work. Here's
a empty carriage. Jump in. I can sit along with 'e for a few minutes."

"How ever shall I begin? How shall I break it to them, dearie?"

"Hold up your li'l hand," said Will with a laugh. "Shaw 'em the gawld
theer. That'll speak for 'e. 'S truth!" he continued, with a gesture of
supreme irritation, "but it's a hard thing to be snatched apart like
this--man an' wife. If I was takin' 'e home to some lew cot, all our
very awn, how differ'nt 't would be!"

"You will some day."

"So I will then. I've got 'e for all time, an' Jan Grimbal's missed 'e
for all time. Damned if I ban't a'most sorry for un!"

"So am I,--in a way,--as you are. My heart hurts me to think of him.
He'll never forgive me."

"Me, you mean. Well, 't is man to man, an' I ban't feared of nothing on
two legs. You just tell 'em that 't was to be, that you never gived up
lovin' me, but was forced into lyin' and such-like by the cruel way they
pushed 'e. Shaw 'em the copy of the paper if they doan't b'lieve the
ring. An' when Miller lifts up his voice to cuss me, tell un quiet that
I knawed what must come of it, and be gone straight to Exeter Gaol to
save un all further trouble. He'll see then I'm a thinking, calculating
man, though young in years."

Phoebe was now reduced to sighs and dry sobs. Will sat by her a little
longer, patted her hands and spoke cheerfully. Then the train departed
and he jumped from it as it moved and ran along the platform with a last
earnest injunction.

"See mother first moment you can an' explain how 't is. Mother'll
understand, for faither did similar identical, though he wasn't put in
clink for it."

He waved his hand and Phoebe passed homewards. Then the fire died out of
his eyes and he sighed and turned. But no shadow of weakness manifested
itself in his manner. His jaw hardened, he smote his leg with his stick,
and, ascertaining the time of the next train to Exeter, went back to bid
Mr. Ford farewell before setting about his business.

Will told his uncle nothing concerning the contemplated action; and such
silence was unfortunate, for had he spoken the old man's knowledge must
have modified his fantastic design. Knowing that Will came mysteriously
from regular employment which he declined to discuss, and assuming that
he now designed returning to it, Mr. Ford troubled no more about him. So
his nephew thanked the Registrar right heartily for all the goodness he
had displayed in helping two people through the great crisis of their
lives, and went on his way. His worldly possessions were represented by
a new suit of blue serge which he wore, and a few trifles in a small
carpet-bag.

It was the past rather than the present or future which troubled Will on
his journey to Exeter; and the secret of the last six months, whatever
that might be, lay heavier on his mind than the ordeal immediately ahead
of him. In this coming achievement he saw no shame; it was merely part
payment for an action lawless but necessary. He prided himself always on
a great spirit of justice, and justice demanded that henceforth he must
consider the family into which he had thus unceremoniously introduced
himself. To no man in the wide world did he feel more kindly disposed
than to Miller Lyddon; and his purpose was now to save his father-in-law
all the annoyance possible.

Arrived at Exeter, Will walked cheerfully away to the County Gaol, a
huge red-brick pile that scarce strikes so coldly upon the eye of the
spectator as ordinary houses of detention. Grey and black echo the
significance of a prison, but warm red brick strikes through the eye to
the brain, and the colour inspires a genial train of ideas beyond
reason's power instantly to banish. But the walls, if ruddy, were high,
and the rows of small, remote windows, black as the eye-socket of a
skull, stretched away in dreary iron-bound perspective where the sides
of the main fabric rose upward to its chastened architectural
adornments. Young Blanchard grunted to himself, gripped his stick, from
one end of which was suspended his carpet-bag, and walked to the wicket
at the side of the prison's main entrance. He rang a bell that jangled
with tremendous echoes among the naked walls within; then there followed
the rattle of locks as the sidegate opened, and a warder looked out to
ask Will his business. The man was burly and of stout build, while his
fat, bearded face, red as the gaol walls themselves, attracted Blanchard
by its pleasant expression. Will's eyes brightened at the aspect of this
janitor; he touched his hat very civilly, wished the man "good
afternoon," and was about to step in when the other stopped him.

"Doan't be in such a hurry, my son. What's brought 'e, an' who do 'e
want?"

"My business is private, mister; I wants to see the head man."

"The Governor? Won't nobody less do? You can't see him without proper
appointment. But maybe a smaller man might serve your turn?"

Will reflected, then laughed at the warder with that sudden magic of
face that even softened hard hearts towards him.

"To be plain, mate, I'm here to stop. You'll be sure to knaw 'bout it
sooner or late, so I'll tell 'e now. I've done a thing I must pay for,
and 't is a clink job, so I've comed right along."

The warder grew rather sterner, and his eye instinctively roamed for a
constable.

"Best say no more, then. Awnly you've comed to the wrong place. Police
station's what you want, I reckon."

"Why for? This be County Gaol, ban't it?"

"Ess, that's so; but we doan't take in folks for the axin'. Tu many
queer caraters about."

Will saw the man's eyes twinkle, yet he was puzzled at this unexpected
problem.

"Look here," he said, "I like you, and I'll deal fair by you an' tell
you the rights of it. Step out here an' listen."

"Mind, what you sez will be used against you, then."

"Theer ban't no secret in it, for that matter."

The husband thereupon related his recent achievement, and concluded
thus:

"So, having kicked up a mort o' trouble, I doan't want to make no
more--see? An' I stepped here quiet to keep it out of the papers, an'
just take what punishment's right an' vitty for marryin' a maid wi'out
so much as by your leave. Now, then, caan't 'e do the rest?"

He regarded the warder gravely and inquiringly, but as the red-faced man
slowly sucked up the humour of the situation, his mouth expanded and his
eyes almost disappeared. Then he spoke through outbursts and shakings of
deep laughter.

"Oh Lard! Wheerever was you born to?"

Will flushed deeply, frowned, and clenched his fists at this question.

"Shut your gert mouth!" he said angrily. "Doan't bellow like that, or
I'll hit 'e awver the jaw! Do'e think I want the whole of Exeter City to
knaw my errand? What's theer to gape an' snigger at? Caan't 'e treat a
man civil?"

This reproof set the official off again, and only a furious demand from
Blanchard to go about his business and tell the Governor he wanted an
interview partially steadied him.

"By Gor! you'll be the death of me. Caan't help it--honour
bright--doan't mean no rudeness to you. Bless your young heart, an' the
gal's, whoever she be. Didn't 'e knaw? But theer! course you didn't,
else you wouldn't be here. Why, 't is purty near as hard to get in
prison as out again. You'll have to be locked up, an' tried by judge an'
jury, and plead guilty, and be sentenced, an' the Lard He knaws what
beside 'fore you come here. How do the lawyers an' p'licemen get their
living?"

"That's news. I hoped to save Miller Lyddon all such trouble."

"Why not try another way, an' see if you can get the auld gentleman to
forgive 'e?"

"Not him. He'll have the law in due time."

"Well, I'm 'mazin' sorry I caan't oblige 'e, for I'm sure we'd be gude
friends, an' you'd cheer us all up butivul."

"But you 'm certain it caan't be managed?"

"Positive."

"Then I've done all a man can. You'll bear witness I wanted to come,
won't 'e?"

"Oh yes, I'll take my oath o' that. _I_ shaan't forget 'e."

"All right. And if I'm sent here again, bimebye, I'll look out for you,
and I hopes you'll be as pleasant inside as now."

"I'll promise that. Shall be awnly tu pleased to make you at home. I
like you; though, to be frank, I reckon you'm tu gnat-brained a chap to
make a wife happy."

"Then you reckon a damned impedent thing! What d' you knaw 'bout it?"

"A tidy deal. I've been married more years than you have hours, I lay."

"Age ban't everything; 't is the fashion brains in a man's head counts
most."

"That's right enough. 'T is something to knaw that. Gude-bye to 'e,
bwoy, an' thank you for makin' me laugh heartier than I have this month
of Sundays."

"More fule you!" declared Will; but he was too elated at the turn of
affairs to be anything but amiable just now. Before the other
disappeared, he stopped him.

"Shake hands, will 'e? I thank you for lightenin' my mind--bein' a man
of law, in a manner of speakin'. Ess, I'm obliged to 'e. Of coourse I
doan't _want_ to come to prison 'zackly. That's common sense."

"Most feel same as you. No doubt you're in the wrong, though the law
caan't drop on honest, straightforrard matrimony to my knowledge. Maybe
circumstances is for 'e."

"Ess, they be--every jack wan of 'em!" declared Will. "An' if I doan't
come here to stop, I'll call in some day and tell 'e the upshot of this
coil in a friendly way."

"Do so, an' bring your missis. Shall be delighted to see the pair of 'e
any time. Ax for Thomas Bates."

Will nodded and marched off, while the warder returned to his post, and
when he had again made fast the door behind him, permitted the full
splendor of his recent experience to tumble over his soul in a laughter
perhaps louder than any heard before or since within the confines of one
of Her Majesty's prisons.



CHAPTER X

THE BRINGING OF THE NEWS


Phoebe meantime returned to Chagford, withdrew herself into her chamber,
and feverishly busied brains and hands with a task commended that
morning by Will when she had mentioned it to him. The various trinkets
and objects of value lavished of late upon her by John Grimbal she made
into a neat packet, and tied up a sealskin jacket and other furs in a
second and more bulky parcel. With these and a letter she presently
despatched a maid to Mr. Grimbal's temporary address. Phoebe's note
explained how, weak and friendless until the sudden return of Will into
her life, she had been thrown upon wickedness, falsehood, and deceit to
win her own salvation in the face of all about her. She told him of the
deed done that day, begged him to be patient and forget her, and
implored him to forgive her husband, who had fought with the only
weapons at his command. It was a feeble communication, and Phoebe
thought that her love for Will might have inspired words more forcible;
but relief annihilated any other emotion; she felt thankful that the
lying, evasion, and prevarication of the last horrible ten days were at
an end. From the nightmare of that time her poor, bruised conscience
emerged sorely stricken; yet she felt that the battle now before her was
a healthy thing by comparison, and might serve to brace her moral senses
rather than not.

At the tea-table she first met her father, and there were present also
Billy Blee and Mr. Chapple. The latter had come to Monks Barton about a
triumphal arch, already in course of erection at Chagford market-place,
and his presence it was that precipitated her confession, and brought
Phoebe's news like a thunderbolt upon the company.

Mr. Chapple, looking up suddenly from the saucer that rested upon his
outspread fingers and thumb, made a discovery, and spoke with some
concern.

"Faith, Missy, that's ill luck--a wisht thing to do indeed! Put un off,
like a gude maid, for theer 's many a wise sayin' 'gainst it."

"What's her done?" asked Billy anxiously.

"Luke 'pon her weddin' finger. 'Tis poor speed to put un on 'fore her
lard an' master do it, at the proper moment ordained by Scripture."

"If she hasn't! Take un off, Miss Phoebe, do!" begged Mr. Blee, in real
trepidation; and the miller likewise commanded his daughter to remove
her wedding-ring.

"An auld wife's tale, but, all the same, shouldn't be theer till you 'm
a married woman," he said.

Thus challenged, the way was made smooth as possible for the young wife.
She went over to her father, walked close to him, and put her plump
little hand with its shining addition upon his shoulder.

"Faither dear, I be a married woman. I had to tell lies and play false,
but't was to you an' Mr. Grimbal I've been double, not to my husband
that is. I was weak, and I've been punished sore, but--"

"Why, gal alive! what rigmarole 's this? Married--ay, an' so you shall
be, in gude time. You 'm light-headed, lass, I do b'lieve. But doan't
fret, I'll have Doctor--"

"Hear me," she said, almost roughly. "I kept my word--my first sacred
word--to Will. I loved him, an' none else but him; an' 'tis done--I've
married him this marnin', for it had to be, an' theer's the sign an'
token of it I've brought along with me."

She drew the copy of the register from her pocket, opened it with
trembling fingers, set it before Mr. Lyddon, and waited for him to
speak. But it was some time before he found words or wind to do so.
Literally the fact had taken his breath. A curious expression, more grin
than frown--an expression beyond his control in moments of high
emotion--wrinkled his eyelids, stretched his lips, and revealed the
perfect double row of his false teeth. His hand went forward to the blue
paper now lying before him, then the fingers stopped half way and shook
in the air. Twice he opened his mouth, but only a sharp expiration,
between a sigh and a bark, escaped.

"My God, you've shook the sawl of un!" cried Billy, starting forward,
but the miller with an effort recovered his self-possession, scanned the
paper, dropped it, and lifted up his voice in lamentation.

"True--past altering--'t is a thing done! May God forgive you for this
wicked deed, Phoebe Lyddon--I'd never have b'lieved it of 'e--never--not
if an angel had tawld me. My awn that was, and my awnly one! My darter,
my soft-eyed gal, the crown of my grey hairs, the last light of my
life!"

"I pray you'll come to forgive me in time, dear faither. I doan't ax 'e
to yet a while. I had to do it--a faithful promise. 'T was for pure
love, faither; I lied for him--lied even to you; an' my heart 's been
near to breakin' for 'e these many days; but you'd never have listened
if I'd told 'e."

"Go," he said very quietly. "I caan't abear the sight of'e just now. An'
that poor fule, as thrawed his money in golden showers for 'e! Oh, my
gude God, why for did 'E leave me any childern at all? Why didn't 'E
take this cross-hearted wan when t' other was snatched away? Why didn't
'E fill the cup of my sorrer to the brim at a filling an' not drop by
drop, to let un run awver now I be auld?"

Phoebe turned to him in bitter tears, but the man's head was down on his
hands beside his plate and cup, and he, too, wept, with a pitiful
childish squeak between his sobs. Weakness so overwhelming and so
unexpected--a father's sorrow manifested in this helpless feminine
fashion--tore the girl's very heartstrings. She knelt beside him and put
her arms about him; but he pushed her away and with some return of
self-control and sternness again bid her depart from him. This Phoebe
did, and there was silence, while Mr. Lyddon snuffled, steadied himself,
wiped his face with a cotton handkerchief, and felt feebly for a pair of
spectacles in his pocket. Mr. Chapple, meantime, had made bold to scan
the paper with round eyes, and Billy, now seeing the miller in some part
recovered, essayed to comfort him.

"Theer, theer, maister, doan't let this black come-along-o't quench 'e
quite. That's better! You such a man o' sense, tu! 'T was
awver-ordained by Providence, though a artful thing in a young gal; but
women be such itemy twoads best o' times--stage-players by sex, they
sez; an' when love for a man be hid in 'em, gormed if they caan't fox
the God as made 'em!"

"Her to do it! The unthankfulness, the cold cruelty of it! An' me that
was mother an' father both to her--that did rock her cradle with these
hands an' wash the li'l year-auld body of her. To forget all--all she
owed! It cuts me that deep!"

"Deep as a wire into cheese, I lay. An' well it may; but han't no new
thing; you stablish yourself with that. The ways o' women 's like--'t
was a sayin' of Solomon I caan't call home just this minute; but he
knawed, you mind, none better. He had his awn petticoat trouble, same as
any other Christian man given to women. What do 'e say, neighbour?"

Billy, of opinion that Mr. Chapple should assist him in this painful
duty, put the last question to his rotund friend, but the other, for
answer, rose and prepared to depart.

"I say," he answered, "that I'd best go up-along and stop they chaps
buildin' the triumphant arch. 'Pears won't be called for now. An'
theer's a tidy deal else to do likewise. Folks was comin' in from the
Moor half a score o' miles for this merry-makin'."

"'T is a practical thought," said Billy. "Them as come from far be like
to seem fules if nothin' 's done. You go up the village an' I'll follow
'e so quick as I can."

Mr. Chapple thereupon withdrew and Billy turned to the miller. Mr.
Lyddon had wandered once and again up and down the kitchen, then fallen
into his customary chair; and there he now sat, his elbows on his knees,
his hands over his face. He was overwhelmed; his tears hurt him
physically and his head throbbed. Twenty years seemed to have piled
themselves upon his brow in as many minutes.

"Sure I could shed water myself to see you like this here," said Mr.
Blee, sympathetically; "but 't is wan of them eternal circumstances we
'm faaced with that all the rain falled of a wet winter won't wash away.
Theer 's the lines. They 'm a fact, same as the sun in heaven 's a fact.
God A'mighty's Self couldn't undo it wi'out some violent invention; an'
for that matter I doan't see tu clear how even Him be gwaine to magic a
married woman into a spinster again; any more than He could turn a
spinster into a married woman, onless some ordinary human man came
forrard. You must faace it braave an' strong. But that imp o'
Satan--that damn Blanchard bwoy! Theer! I caan't say what I think 'bout
him. Arter all that's been done: the guests invited, the banns axed
out, the victuals bought, and me retracin' my ballet night arter night,
for ten days, to get un to concert pitch--well, 't is a matter tu deep
for mere speech."

"The--the young devil! I shall have no pity--not a spark. I wish to God
he could hang for it!"

"As to that, might act worse than leave it to Jan Grimbal. He'll do
summat 'fore you've done talkin', if I knaw un. An' a son-in-law 's a
son-in-law, though he've brought it to pass by a brigand deed same as
this. 'T is a kicklish question what a man should do to the person of
his darter's husband. You bide quiet an' see what chances. Grimbal's
like to take law into his awn hands, as any man of noble nature might in
this quandary."

The disappointed lover's probable actions offered dreary food for
thought, and the two old men were still conversing when a maid entered
to lay the cloth for supper. Then Billy proceeded to the village and Mr.
Lyddon, unnerved and restless, rambled aimlessly into the open air,
addressed any man or woman who passed from the adjacent cottages, and
querulously announced, to the astonishment of chance listeners, that his
daughter's match was broken off.

An hour later Phoebe reappeared in the kitchen and occupied her usual
place at the supper-table. No one spoke a word, but the course of the
meal was suddenly interrupted, for there came a knock at the farmhouse
door, and without waiting to be answered, somebody lifted the latch,
tramped down the stone passage, and entered the room.

Now Phoebe, in the privacy of her little chamber beneath the thatch, had
reflected miserably on the spectacle of her husband far away in a prison
cell, with his curls cropped off and his shapely limbs clad
convict-fashion. When, therefore, Will, and not John Grimbal, as she
expected, stood before her, his wife was perhaps more astonished than
any other body present. Young Blanchard appeared, however. He looked
weary and hungry, for he had been on his legs during the greater part of
the day and had forgotten to eat since his pretence of wedding-breakfast
ten hours earlier. Now, newly returned from Exeter, he came straight to
Monks Barton before going to his home.

Billy Blee was the first to find his voice before this sudden
apparition. His fork, amply laden, hung in the air as though his arm was
turned to stone; with a mighty gulp he emptied his mouth and spoke.

"Gormed if you ban't the most 'mazin' piece ever comed out o' Chagford!"

"Miller Lyddon," said Will, not heeding Mr. Blee, "I be here to say wan
word 'fore I goes out o' your sight. You said you'd have law of me if I
took Phoebe; an' that I done, 'cause we was of a mind. Now we 'm man an'
wife, an' I'm just back from prison, wheer I went straight to save you
trouble. But theer 's preambles an' writs an' what not. I shall be to
mother's, an' you can send Inspector Chown when you like. It had to come
'cause we was of a mind."

He looked proudly at Phoebe, but departed without speaking to her, and
silence followed his going. Mr. Lyddon stared blankly at the door
through which Will departed, then his rage broke forth.

"Curse the wretch! Curse him to his dying day! An' I'll do more--more
than that. What he can suffer he shall, and if I've got to pay my last
shilling to get him punishment I'll do it--my last shilling I'll pay."

He had not regarded his daughter or spoken to her since his words at
their first meeting; and now, still ignoring Phoebe's presence, he began
eagerly debating with Billy Blee as to what law might have power to do.
The girl, wisely enough, kept silence, ate a little food, and then went
quietly away to her bed. She was secretly overjoyed at Will's return and
near presence; but another visitor might be expected at any moment, and
Phoebe knew that to be in bed before the arrival of John Grimbal would
save her from the necessity of a meeting she much feared. She entered
upon her wedding-night, therefore, while the voices below droned on, now
rising, now falling; then, while she was saying her prayers with half
her mind on them, the other half feverishly intent on a certain sound,
it came. She heard the clink, clink of the gate, thrown wide open and
now swinging backwards and forwards, striking the hasp each time; then a
heavy step followed it, feet strode clanging down the passage, and the
bull roar of a man's voice fell on her ear. Upon this she huddled under
the clothes, but listened for a second at long intervals to hear when he
departed. The thing that had happened, however, since her husband's
departure and John Grimbal's arrival, remained happily hidden from
Phoebe until next morning, by which time a climax in affairs was past
and the outcome of tragic circumstances fully known.

When Blanchard left the farm, he turned his steps very slowly homewards,
and delayed some minutes on Rushford Bridge before appearing to his
mother. For her voice he certainly yearned, and for her strong sense to
throw light upon his future actions; but she did not know everything
there was to be known and he felt that with himself, when all was said,
lay decision as to his next step. While he reflected a new notion took
shape and grew defined and seemed good to him.

"Why not?" he said to himself, aloud. "Why not go back? Seeing the
provocation--they might surely--?" He pursued the idea silently and came
to a determination. Yet the contemplated action was never destined to be
performed, for now an accident so trifling as the chance glimmer of a
lucifer match contributed to remodel the scheme of his life and wholly
shatter immediate resolutions. Craving a whiff of tobacco, without which
he had been since morning, Will lighted his pipe, and the twinkle of
flame as he did so showed his face to a man passing across the bridge at
that moment. He stopped in his stride, and a great bellow of wrath
escaped him, half savage, half joyful.

"By God! I didn't think to meet so soon!"

Here was a red-hot raving Nemesis indeed; and Will, while prepared for a
speedy meeting with his enemy, neither expected nor desired an encounter
just then. But it had come, and he knew what was before him. Grimbal,
just returned from a long day's sport, rode back to his hotel in a good
temper. He drank a brandy-and-soda at the bar, then went up to his rooms
and found Phoebe's letter; whereupon, as he was in muddy pink, he set
off straight for Monks Barton; and now he stood face to face with the
man on earth he most desired to meet. By the light of his match Will saw
a red coat, white teeth under a great yellow moustache, and a pair of
mad, flaming eyes, hungry for something. He knew what was coming, moved
quickly from the parapet of the bridge, and flung away his pipe to free
his hands. As he did so the other was on him. Will warded one tremendous
stroke from a hunting-crop; then they came to close quarters, and
Grimbal, dropping his whip, got in a heavy half-arm blow on his enemy's
face before they gripped in holds. The younger man, in no trim for
battle, reeled and tried to break away; but the other had him fast,
picked him clean off the ground, and, getting in his weight, used a
Yankee throw, with intent to drop Will against the granite of the
bridge. But though Blanchard went down like a child before the attack,
he disappeared rather than fell; and in the pitchy night it seemed as
though some amiable deity had caught up the vanquished into air. A
sudden pressure of the low parapet against his own legs as he staggered
forward, told John Grimbal what was done and, at the same moment, a
tremendous splash in the water below indicated his enemy's dismal
position. Teign, though not in flood at the time, ran high, and just
below the bridge a deep pool opened out. Around it were rocks upon which
rose the pillars of the bridge. No sound or cry followed Will
Blanchard's fall; no further splash of a swimmer, or rustle on the
river's bank, indicated any effort from him. Grimbal's first instincts
were those of regret that revenge had proved so brief. His desire was
past before he had tasted it. Then for a moment he hesitated, and the
first raving lust to kill Phoebe's husband waned a trifle before the
sudden conviction that he had done so. He crept down to the river,
ploughed about to find the man, questioning what he should do if he did
find him. His wrath waxed as he made search, and he told himself that he
should only trample Blanchard deeper into water if he came upon him. He
kicked here and there with his heavy boots; then abandoned the search
and proceeded to Monks Barton.

Into the presence of the miller he thundered, and for a time said
nothing of the conflict from which he had come. The scene needs no
special narration. Vain words and wishes, oaths and curses, filled John
Grimbal's mouth. He stamped on the floor, finding it impossible to
remain motionless, roared the others down, loaded the miller with bitter
reproaches for his blindness, silenced Mr. Blee on every occasion when
he attempted to join the discussion. The man, in fine, exhibited that
furious, brute passion and rage to be expected from such a nature
suddenly faced with complete dislocation of cherished hopes. His life
had been a long record of success, and this tremendous reverse, on his
first knowledge of it, came near to unhinge John Grimbal's mind. Storm
succeeded storm, explosion followed upon explosion, and the thought of
the vanity of such a display only rendered him more frantic. Then chance
reminded the raging maniac of that thing he had done, and now, removed
from the deed by a little time, he gloried in it.

"Blast the devil--short shrift he got--given straight into my hand! I
swore to kill him when I heard it; an' I have--pitched him over the
bridge and broken his blasted neck. I'd burn in ragin' hell through ten
lifetimes to do it again. But that's done once for all. And you can tell
your whore of a daughter she's a widow, not a wife!"

"God be gude to us!" cried Billy, while Mr. Lyddon started in dismay.
"Is this true you'm tellin'? Blue murder? An' so, like's not, his awn
mother'll find un when she goes to draw water in the marnin'!"

"Let her, and his sister, too; and my God-damned brother! All in
it--every cursed one of 'em. I'd like--I'd like--Christ--"

He broke off, was silent for a moment, then strode out of the room
towards the staircase. Mr. Lyddon heard him and rushed after him with
Billy. They scrambled past and stood at the stair-foot while Grimbal
glanced up in the direction of Phoebe's room, and then glared at the two
old men.

"Why not, you doddering fools? Can you still stand by her, cursed jade
of lies? My work's only half done! No man's ever betrayed me but he's
suffered hell for it; and no woman shall."

He raged, and the two with beating hearts waited for him.

Then suddenly laughing aloud, the man turned his back, and passed into
the night without more words.

"Mad, so mad as any zany!" gasped Mr. Blee. "Thank God the whim's took
un to go. My innards was curdlin' afore him!"

The extravagance of Grimbal's rage had affected Mr. Lyddon also. With
white and terrified face he crept after Grimbal, and watched that
tornado of a man depart.

"My stars! He do breathe forth threatenings and slaughters worse 'n in
any Bible carater ever I read of," said the miller, "and if what he sez
be true--"

"I'll wager 't is. Theer 's method in him. Your son-in-law, if I may say
it, be drownded, sure 's death. What a world!"

"Get the lanterns and call Sam Bonus. He must stand to this door an' let
no man in while we 'm away. God send the chap ban't dead. I don't like
for a long-cripple to suffer torture."

"That's your high religion. An' I'll carry the brandy, for 't is a
liquor, when all 's said, what 's saved more bodies in this world than
it 's damned sawls in the next, an' a thing pleasant, tu, used with
sense--specially if a man can sleep 'fore 't is dead in un."

"Hurry, hurry! Every minute may mean life or death. I'll call Bonus; you
get the lanterns."

Ten minutes later a huge labourer stood guard over Monks Barton, and the
miller, with his man, entered upon their long and fruitless search. The
thaw had come, but glimmering ridges of snow still outlined the bases of
northern-facing hedges along the river. With infinite labour and some
difficulty they explored the stream, then, wet and weary, returned by
the southern bank to their starting-point at Rushford Bridge. Here Billy
found a cloth cap by the water's edge, and that was the only evidence of
Will's downfall. As they clambered up from the river Mr. Lyddon noted
bright eyes shining across the night, and found that the windows of Mrs.
Blanchard's cottage were illuminated.

"They 'm waitin' for him by the looks of it," he said. "What ought us to
do, I wonder?"

Billy never objected to be the bearer of news, good or ill, so that it
was sensational; but a thought struck him at seeing the lighted windows.

"Why, it may be he's theer! If so, then us might find Grimbal didn't
slay un arter all. 'T was such a miz-maze o' crooked words he let fly
'pon us, that perhaps us misread un."

"I wish I thought so. Come. Us can ax that much."

A few minutes later they stood at Mrs. Blanchard's door and knocked. The
widow herself appeared, fully dressed, wide awake, and perfectly
collected. Her manner told Mr. Lyddon nothing.

"What might you want, Miller?"

"'T is Will. There's bin blows struck and violence done, I hear."

"I can tell 'e the rest. The bwoy's paid his score an' got full measure.
He wanted to be even with you, tu, but they wouldn't let un."

"If he ban't dead, I'll make him smart yet for his evil act."

"I warned 'e. He was cheated behind his back, an' played with the same
cards what you did, and played better."

"Wheer is he now? That's what I want to knaw."

"Up in the house. They met on the bridge an' Grimbal bested him, Will
bein' weary an' empty-bellied. When the man flinged him in the stream,
he got under the arch behind the rocks afore he lost his head for a time
and went senseless. When he comed to he crawled up the croft and I let
un in."

"Thank God he's not dead; but punishment he shall have if theer's
justice in the land."

"Bide your time. He won't shirk it. But he's hurted proper; you might
let Jan Grimbal knaw, 't will ease his mind."

"Not it," declared Billy; "he thought he'd killed un; cracked the neck
of un."

"The blow 'pon his faace scatted abroad his left nostril; the fall
brawked his arm, not his neck; an' the spurs t' other was wearin' tored
his leg to the bone. Doctor's seen un; so tell Grimbal. Theer's pleasure
in such payment."

She spoke without emotion, and showed no passion against the master of
the Red House. When Will had come to her, being once satisfied in her
immediate motherly agony that his life was not endangered, she allowed
her mind a sort of secret, fierce delight at his performance and its
success in the main issue. She was proud of him at the bottom of her
heart; but before other eyes bore herself with outward imperturbability.

"You'll keep the gal, I reckon?" she said quietly; "if you can hold hand
off Will till he'm on his legs again, I'd thank you."

"I shall do what I please, when I please; an' my poor fule of a daughter
stops with me as long as I've got power to make her."

"Hope you'll live to see things might have been worse."

"That's impossible. No worse evil could have fallen upon me. My grey
hairs a laughing-stock, and your awn brother's hand in it. He knawed
well enough the crime he was committing."

"You've a short memory, Miller. I lay Jan Grimbal knaws the reason if
you doan't. The worm that can sting does, if you tread on it. Gude-night
to 'e."

"An' how do you find yourself now?" Billy inquired, as his master and he
returned to Monks Barton.

"Weary an' sick, an' filled with gall. Was it wrong to make the match,
do 'e think, seein' 't was all for love of my cheel? Was I out to push
so strong for it? I seem I done right, despite this awful mischance."

"An' so you did; an' my feelin's be the same as yours to a split hair,
though I've got no language for em at this unnatural hour of marnin',"
said Billy.

Then in silence, to the bobbing illumination of their lanterns, Mr.
Lyddon and his familiar dragged their weary bodies home.



CHAPTER XI

LOVE AND GREY GRANITE


The lofty central area of Devon has ever presented a subject of
fascination to geologists; and those evidences of early man which adorn
Dartmoor to-day have similarly attracted antiquarian minds for many
generations past. But the first-named student, although his researches
plunge him into periods of mundane time inconceivably more remote than
that with which the archaeologist is concerned, yet reaches conclusions
more definite and arrives at a nearer approximation to truth than any
who occupy themselves in the same area with manifold and mysterious
indications of early humanity's sojourn. The granite upheaval during
that awful revolt of matter represented by the creation of Dartmoor has
been assigned to a period between the Carboniferous and Permian eras;
but whether the womb of one colossal volcano or the product of a
thousand lesser eruptions threw forth this granite monster, none may yet
assert. Whether Dartmoor first appeared as a mighty shield, with one
uprising spike in its midst, or as a target supporting many separate
bosses cannot be declared; for the original aspect of the region has
long vanished, though our worn and weathered land of tors still shadows,
in its venerable desolation, those sublimer, more savage glories
manifested ere the eye of man or beast existed to receive an image of
them.

But the earliest human problems presented by Devon's watershed admit of
no sure solution, albeit they date from a time adjacent contrasted with
that wherein the land was born. Nature's message still endures for man
to read as his knowledge grows; but the records of our primal fellows
have grown dim and uncertain as the centuries rolled over them. There
exists, however, within the lofty, lonely kingdom of the granite, a
chain of human evidences extending from prehistoric ages to the ruined
shepherd's cot of yesterday. At many spots a spectator may perceive in
one survey the stone ruin of the Danmonian's habitation, and hypaethral
temple or forum, the heather-clad debris left by Elizabethan streamers
of alluvial tin, the inky peat-ridges from which a moorman has just cut
his winter firing. But the first-named objects, with kindred fragments
that have similarly endured, chiefly fire imagination. Seen grey at
gloaming time, golden through sunny dawns, partaking in those spectral
transformations cast upon the moor by the movement of clouds, by the
curtains of the rain, by the silver of breaking day, the monotone of
night and the magic of the moon, these relics reveal themselves and
stand as a link between the present and the far past. Mystery broods
over them and the jealous wings of the ages hide a measure of their
secret. Thus far these lonely rings of horrent stones and the alignments
between them have concealed their story from modern man, and only in
presence of the ancient pound, the foundations of a dwelling, the
monolith that marked a stone-man's sepulchre, the robbed cairn and naked
kistvaen, may we speak with greater certainty and, through the
glimmering dawn of history and the records of Britain's earliest foes,
burrow back to aboriginal man on Dartmoor. Then research and imagination
rebuild the eternal rings of granite and, erecting upon them tall domes
of thatch and skins on wattle ribs, conceive the early village like a
cluster of gigantic mushrooms, whose cowls are uplifted in that rugged
fastness through the night of time. We see Palaeolithic man sink into
mother earth before the superior genius of his Neolithic successor; and
we note the Damnonian shepherds flourishing in lonely lodges and
preserving their flocks from the wolf, while Egypt's pyramids were still
of modern creation, and the stars twinkled in strange constellations,
above a world innocent as yet of the legends that would name them. The
stone-workers have vanished away, but their labour endures; their
fabricated flints still appear, brought to light from barrows and
peat-ties, from the burrows of rabbits and the mounds of the antiquary
mole; the ruins of their habitations, the theatres of their assemblies
and unknown ceremonies still stand, and probably will continue so to do
as long as Dartmoor's bosom lies bare to the storm and stress of the
ages.

Modern man has also fretted the wide expanse, has scratched its surface
and dropped a little sweat and blood; but his mansion and his cot and
his grave are no more; plutonic rock is the only tablet on which any
human story has been scribbled to endure. Castles and manor-houses have
vanished from the moorland confines like the cloudy palaces of a dream;
the habitations of the mining folk shall not be seen to-day, and their
handiwork quickly returns to primitive waste; fern and furze hide the
robbed cairn and bury the shattered cross; flood and lightning and
tempest roam over the darkness of a region sacred to them, and man
stretches his hand for what Nature touches not; but the menhir yet
stands erect, the "sacred" circles are circles still, and these, with
like records of a dim past, present to thinking travellers the crown and
first glory of the Moor. Integral portions of the ambient desolation are
they--rude toys that infant humanity has left in Mother Nature's lap;
and the spectacle of them twines a golden thread of human interest into
the fabric of each lonely heath, each storm-scarred mountain-top and
heron-haunted stream. Nothing is changed since skin-clad soldiers and
shepherds strode these wastes, felt their hearts quicken at sight of
women, or their hands clench over celt-headed spears before danger. Here
the babies of the stone-folk, as the boys and girls to-day, stained
their little mouths and ringers with fruit of briar and whortle; the
ling bloomed then as now; the cotton-grass danced its tattered plume;
the sphagnum mosses opened emerald-green eyes in marsh and quaking bog;
and hoary granite scattered every ravine and desert valley. About those
aboriginal men the Moor spread forth the same horizon of solemn
enfolding hills, and where twinkle the red hides of the moor-man's
heifers through upstanding fern, in sunny coombs and hawthorn thickets,
yesterday the stone-man's cattle roamed and the little eyes of a hidden
bear followed their motions. Here, indeed, the first that came in the
flesh are the last to vanish in their memorials; here Nature, to whom
the hut-circle of granite, all clad in Time's lichen livery of gold and
grey, is no older than the mushroom ring shining like a necklace of
pearls within it--Nature may follow what course she will, may build as
she pleases, may probe to the heart of things, may pursue the eternal
Law without let from the pigmies; and here, if anywhere from man's
precarious standpoint, shall he perceive the immutable and observe a
presentment of himself in those ephemera that dance above the burn at
dawn, and ere twilight passes gather up their gauze wings and perish.

According to individual temperament this pregnant region attracts and
fascinates the human spectator or repels him. Martin Grimbal loved
Dartmoor and, apart from ties of birth and early memories, his natural
predilections found thereon full scope and play. He was familiar with
most of those literary productions devoted to the land, and now
developed an ambition to add some result of personal observation and
research to extant achievements. He went to work with method and
determination, and it was not until respectable accumulations of notes
and memoranda already appeared as the result of his labours that the man
finally--almost reluctantly--reconciled himself to the existence of
another and deeper interest in his life than that furnished by the grey
granite monuments of the Moor. Hide it from himself he could no longer,
nor yet wholly from others. As in wild Devon it is difficult at any time
to escape from the murmur of waters unseen, so now the steady flood of
this disquieting emotion made music at all waking hours in Martin's
archaeologic mind, shattered his most subtle theories unexpectedly, and
oftentimes swept the granite clean out of his head on the flood of a
golden river.

After three months of this beautiful but disquieting experience, Martin
resigned himself to the conclusion that he was in love with Chris
Blanchard. He became very cautious and timid before the discovery. He
feared much and contemplated the future with the utmost distrust. Doubt
racked him; he checked himself from planning courses of conduct built on
mad presumptions. By night, as a sort of debauch, in those hours when
man is awake and fancy free, he conceived of a happy future with Chris
and little children about him; at morning light, if any shadow of that
fair vision returned, he blushed and looked round furtively, as though
some thought-reader's cold eye must be sneering at such presumption. He
despaired of finding neutral ground from which his dry mind could make
itself attractive to a girl. Now and again he told himself that the new
emotion must be crushed, in that it began to stand between him and the
work he had set himself to do for his county; but during more sanguine
moods he challenged this decision and finally, as was proper and right,
the flood of the man's first love drowned menhir and hut-circle fathoms
deep, and demanded all his attention at the cost of mental peace. An
additional difficulty appeared in the fact that the Blanchard family
were responsible for John Grimbal's misfortune; and Martin, without
confusing the two circumstances, felt that before him really lay the
problem of a wife or a brother. When first he heard of the event that
set Chagford tongues wagging so briskly, he rightly judged that John
would hold him one of the conspirators; and an engagement to Chris
Blanchard must certainly confirm the baffled lover's suspicions and part
the men for ever. But before those words, as they passed through his
brain, Martin Grimbal stopped, as the peasant before a shrine. "An
engagement to Chris Blanchard!" He was too much a man and too deep
merged in love to hesitate before the possibility of such unutterable
happiness.

For his brother he mourned deeply enough, and when the thousand rumours
bred of the battle on the bridge were hatched and fluttered over the
countryside, Martin it was who exerted all his power to stay them. Most
people were impressed with the tragic nature of the unfortunate John's
disappointment; but his energetic measures since the event were held to
pay all scores, and it was believed the matter would end without any
more trouble from him. Clement Hicks entertained a different opinion,
perhaps judging John Grimbal from the secrets of his own character; but
Will expressed a lively faith that his rival must now cry quits, after
his desperate and natural but unsuccessful attempt to render Phoebe a
widow. The shattered youth took his broken bones very easily, and only
grunted when he found that his wife was not permitted to visit him under
any pretence whatever; while as for Phoebe, her wild sorrow gradually
lessened and soon disappeared as each day brought a better account of
Will. John Grimbal vanished on the trip which was to have witnessed his
honeymoon. He pursued his original plans with the modification that
Phoebe had no part in them, and it was understood that he would return
to Chagford in the spring.

Thus matters stood, and when his brother was gone and Will and Phoebe
had been married a month, Martin, having suffered all that love could do
meantime, considered he might now approach the Blanchards. Ignorantly he
pursued an awkward course, for wholly unaware that Clement Hicks felt
any interest in Will and his sister beyond that of friendship, Martin
sought from him the general information he desired upon the subject of
Chris, her family and concerns.

Together the two men went upon various excursions to ancient relics that
interested them both, though in different measure. It was long before
Martin found courage to bring forth the words he desired to utter, but
finally he managed to do so, in the bracing conditions that obtained on
Cosdon Beacon upon the occasion of a visit to its summit. By this time
he had grown friendly with Hicks and must have learnt all and more than
he desired to know but for the bee-keeper's curious taciturnity. For
some whim Clement never mentioned his engagement; it was a subject as
absent from his conversation as his own extreme poverty; but while the
last fact Martin had already guessed, the former remained utterly
concealed from him. Neither did any chance discover it until some time
afterwards.

The hut-circles on Cosdon's south-eastern flank occupied Martin's
pencil. Clement gazed once upon the drawing, then turned away, for no
feeling or poetry inspired the work; it was merely very accurate. The
sketches made, both men ascended immense Cosdon, where its crown of
cairns frets the long summit; and here, to the sound of the wind in the
dead heather, with all the wide world of Northern Devon extended beneath
his gaze under a savage sunset, Martin found courage to speak. At first
Hicks did not hear. His eyes were on the pageant of the sky and paid
tribute of sad thought before an infinity of dying cloud splendours. But
the antiquary repeated his remark. It related to Will Blanchard, and
upon Clement dropping a monosyllabic reply his companion continued:

"A very handsome fellow, too. Miss Blanchard puts me in mind of him."

"They're much alike in some things. But though Chris knows her brother
to be good to look at, you'll never get Will to praise her. Funny, isn't
it? Yet to his Phoebe, she's the sun to a star."

"I think so too indeed. In fact, Miss Blanchard is the most beautiful
woman I ever saw."

Clement did not answer. He was gazing through the sunset at Chris, and
as he looked he smiled, and the sadness lifted a little from off his
face.

"Strange some lucky fellow has not won her before now," proceeded the
other, glancing away to hide the blush that followed his diplomacy.

Here, by all experience and reason, and in the natural sequence of
events Clement Hicks might have been expected to make his confession and
rejoice in his prize, but for some cause, from some queer cross-current
of disposition, he shut his mouth upon the greatest fact of his life. He
answered, indeed, but his words conveyed a false impression. What
sinister twist of mind was responsible for his silence he himself could
not have explained; a mere senseless monkey-mischief seemed to inspire
it. Martin had not deceived him, because the elder man was unused to
probing a fellow-creature for facts or obtaining information otherwise
than directly. Clement noted the false intonation and hesitation,
recollected his sweetheart's allusion to Martin Grimbal, and read into
his companion's question something closely akin to what in reality lay
behind it. His discovery might have been expected to hasten rather than
retard the truth, and a first impulse in any man had made the facts
instantly clear; but Clement rarely acted on impulse. His character was
subtle, disingenuous, secretive. Safe in absolute possession, the
discovery of Martin's attachment did not flutter him. He laughed in his
mind; then he pictured Chris the wife of this man, reviewed the worldly
improvement in her position such a union must effect, and laughed no
more. Finally he decided to hold his peace; but his motives for so doing
were not clear even to himself.

"Yes," he answered, "but she's not one to give her hand without her
heart."

These words, from Martin's point of view, embraced a definite assurance
that Chris was free; and, as they walked homewards, he kept silence upon
this thought for the space of half an hour. The uneasy hopes and black
fears of love circled him about. Perhaps his timorous mind, in some
moods, had been almost relieved at declaration of the girl's engagement
to another. But now the tremendous task of storming a virgin heart lay
ahead of him, as he imagined. Torments unfelt by those of less sensitive
mould also awaited Martin Grimbal. The self-assertive sort of man, who
rates himself as not valueless, and whose love will not prevent callous
calculation on the weight of his own person and purse upon the argument,
is doubtless wise in his generation, and his sanguine temperament
enables him to escape oceans of unrest, hurricanes of torment; but
self-distrust and humility have their value, and those who are oppressed
by them fall into no such pitiable extreme as that too hopeful lover on
whose sanguine ear "No" falls like a thunderbolt from red lips that were
already considered to have spoken "Yes." A suitor who plunges from lofty
peaks of assured victory into failure falls far indeed; but Martin
Grimbal stood little chance of suffering in that sort as his brother
John had done.

The antiquary spoke presently, fearing he must seem too self-absorbed,
but Clement had little to say. Yet a chance meeting twisted the
conversation round to its former topic as they neared home. Upon
Chagford Bridge appeared Miller Lyddon and Mr. Blee. The latter had been
whitewashing the apple-tree stems--a course to which his master attached
more importance than that pursued on Old Christmas Eve--and through the
gathering dusk the trunks now stood out livid and wan as a regiment of
ghosts.

"Heard from your brother since he left?" Mr. Lyddon inquired after
evening greetings.

"I cannot yet. I hope he may write, but you are more likely to hear than
I."

"Not me. I'm nothing to un now."

"Things will come right. Don't let it prey on your mind. No woman ever
made a good wife who didn't marry where her heart was," declared Martin,
exhibiting some ignorance of the subject he presumed to discuss.

"Ah! you was ag'in' us, I mind," said the miller, drawing in. "He said
as much that terrible night."

"He was wrong--utterly. I only spoke for his good. I saw that your
daughter couldn't stand the sight of him and shivered if he touched her.
It was my duty to speak. Strange you didn't see too."

"So easy to talk afterwards! I had her spoken word, hadn't I? She'd
never lied in all her life afore. Strange if I _had_ seen, I reckon."

"You frightened her into falsehood. Any girl might have been expected to
lie in that position," said Clement coolly; then Mr. Blee, who had been
fretting to join the conversation, burst into it unbidden.

"Be gormed if I ban't like a cat on hot bricks to hear 'e! wan might
think as Miller was the Devil hisself for cruelty instead o' bein', as
all knaws, the most muty-hearted[4] faither in Chagford."


[4] _Muty-hearted_ = soft-hearted.


"As to that, I doan't knaw, Billy," declared Mr. Lyddon stoutly; "I be a
man as metes out to the world same measure as I get from the world.
Right is right, an' law is law; an' if I doan't have the law of Will
Blanchard--"

"There's little enough you can do, I believe," said Hicks; "and what
satisfaction lies in it, I should like to know, if it's not a rude
question?"

The old man answered with some bitterness, and explained his power.

"William Blanchard's done abduction, according to Lawyer Bellamy of
Plymouth; an' abduction's felony, and that's a big thing, however you
look 'pon it."

"Long an' short is," cut in Billy, who much desired to air a little of
his new knowledge, "that he can get a sentence inside the limits of two
years, with or without hard labour; at mercy of judge and jury. That's
his dose or not his dose, 'cording to the gracious gudeness of Miller."

"Will's nearly ready to go," said Clement. "Let his arm once be
restored, and he'll do your hard labour with a good heart, I promise
you. He wants to please Mr. Lyddon, and will tackle two months or two
years or twenty."

"Two an' not a second less--with hard labour I'll wager, when all's
taken into account."

"Why are you so hot, Billy Blee? You're none the worse."

"Billy's very jealous for me, same as Elijah was for the Lard o' Hosts,"
said Mr. Lyddon.

Then Martin and Clement climbed the steep hill that lay between them and
Chagford, while the miller and his man pursued their way through the
valley.



CHAPTER XII

A STORY-BOOK


Despite the miller's explicit declaration, there was yet a doubt as to
what he might do in the matter of Will Blanchard. Six weeks is a period
of time that has often served to cool dispositions more fiery, purposes
more inflexible than those of Mr. Lyddon, and his natural placidity of
temperament, despite outbreaks, had begun to reassert itself. Billy
Blee, misunderstanding his master in this, suspected that the first
fires of rage were now sunk into a conflagration, not so visible, but
deeper and therefore more dangerous to the sufferer, if not to other
people. He failed to observe that each day of waiting lessened the
miller's desire towards action, and he continued to urge some step
against Will Blanchard, as the only road by which his master's peace of
mind might be regained. He went further, and declared delay to be very
dangerous for Mr. Lyddon's spleen and other physical organs. But though
humanity still prevented any definite step, Billy's master so far
adopted his advice as to see a solicitor and learn what the law's power
might be in the matter. Now he knew, as was recorded in the previous
chapter; and still Mr. Lyddon halted between two opinions. He usually
spoke on the subject as he had spoken to Martin Grimbal and Clement
Hicks; but in reality he felt less desire in the direction of revenge
than he pretended. Undoubtedly his daughter contributed not a little to
this irresolution of mind. During the period of Will's convalescence,
his wife conducted herself with great tact and self-restraint. Deep love
for her father not only inspired her, but also smoothed difficulties
from a road not easy. Phoebe kept much out of sight until the miller's
first dismay and sorrow had subsided; then she crept back into her old
position and by a thousand deft deeds and proper speeches won him again
unconsciously. She anticipated his unspoken desire, brightened his
every-day life by unobtrusive actions, preserved a bright demeanour,
never mentioned Will, and never contradicted her father when he did so.

Thus the matter stood, and Mr. Lyddon held his hand until young
Blanchard was abroad again and seeking work. Then he acted, as shall
appear. Before that event, however, incidents befell Will's household,
the first being an unexpected visit from Martin Grimbal; for the
love-sick antiquary nerved himself to this great task a week after his
excursion to Cosdon. He desired to see Will, and was admitted without
comment by Mrs. Blanchard. The sufferer, who sat at the kitchen fire
with his arm still in a sling, received Martin somewhat coldly, being
ignorant of the visitor's friendly intentions. Chris was absent, and
Will's mother, after hoping that Mr. Grimbal would not object to discuss
his business in the kitchen, departed and left the men together.

"Sit down," said Will. "Be you come for your brother or yourself?"

"For myself. I want to make my position clear. You must not associate me
with John in this affair. In most things our interests were the same,
and he has been a brother in a thousand to me; but concerning Miss--Mrs.
Blanchard--he erred in my opinion--greatly erred--and I told him so. Our
relations are unhappily strained, to my sorrow. I tell you this because
I desire your friendship. It would be good to me to be friends with you
and your family. I do not want to lose your esteem by a
misunderstanding."

"That's fair speech, an' I'm glad to hear 'e say it, for it ban't my
fault when a man quarrels wi' me, as anybody will tell 'e. An' mother
an' Chris will be glad. God knaws I never felt no anger 'gainst your
brother, till he tried to take my girl away from me. Flesh an' blood
weern't gwaine to suffer that."

"Under the circumstances, and with all the difficulties of your
position, I never could blame you."

"Nor Phoebe," said the other warmly. "I won't have wan word said against
her. Absolute right she done. I'm sick an' savage, even now, to think of
all she suffered for me. I grits my teeth by night when it comes to my
mind the mort o' grief an' tears an' pain heaped up for her--just
because she loved wan chap an' not another."

"Let the past go and look forward. The future will be happy presently."

"In the long run 't will for sure. Your brother's got all he wants, I
reckon, an' I doan't begrudge him a twinge; but I hope theer ban't no
more wheer that comed from, for his awn sake, 'cause if us met
unfriendly again, t' other might go awver the bridge, an' break worse 'n
his arm."

"No, no, Blanchard, don't talk and think like that. Let the past go. My
brother will return a wiser man, I pray, with his great disappointment
dulled."

"A gert disappointment! To be catched out stealin', an' shawed up for a
thief!"

"Well, forgive and forget. It's a valuable art--to learn to forget."

"You wait till you 'm faaced wi' such trouble, an' try to forget! But we
'm friends, by your awn shawm', and I be glad 't is so. Ax mother to
step in from front the house, will 'e? I'd wish her to know how we 'm
standin'."

Mrs. Blanchard appeared with her daughter, and subsequent conversation
banished a haunting sense of disloyalty to his brother from Martin's
mind. Chris never looked more splendid or more sweet than in that noon,
new come from a walk with Clement Hicks. Martin listened to her voice,
stayed as long as he dared, and then departed with many emotions
breaking like a storm upon his lonely life. He began to long for her
with overwhelming desire. He had scarcely looked at a woman till now,
and this brown-eyed girl of twenty, so full of life, so beautiful, set
his very soul helplessly adrift on the sea of love. Her sudden laugh,
like Will's, but softer and more musical, echoed in the man's ear as he
returned to his house and, in a ferment, tramped the empty rooms.

His own requirements had been amply met by three apartments, furnished
with sobriety and great poverty of invention; but now he pictured Chris
singing here, tripping about with her bright eyes and active fingers.
Like his brother before him, he fell back upon his money, and in
imagination spent many pounds for one woman's delight. Then from this
dream he tumbled back into reality and the recollection that his goddess
must be wooed and won. No man ever yet failed to make love from
ignorance how to begin, but the extent and difficulties of his
undertaking weighed very heavily on Martin Grimbal at this juncture. To
win even a measure of her friendship appeared a task almost hopeless.
Nevertheless, through sleepless nights, he nerved himself to the
tremendous attempt. There was not so much of self-consciousness in him,
but a great store of self-distrust. Martin rated himself and his powers
of pleasing very low; and unlike the tumultuous and volcanic methods of
John, his genius disposed him to a courtship of most tardy development,
most gradual ripening. To propose while a doubt existed of the answer
struck him as a proceeding almost beyond the bounds of man's audacity.
He told himself that time would surely show what chance or hope there
might be, and that opportunity must be left to sneak from the battle at
any moment when ultimate failure became too certainly indicated. In more
sanguine moods, however, by moonlight, or alone on the high moors,
greater bravery and determination awoke in him. At such times he would
decide to purchase new clothes and take thought for externals generally.
He also planned some studies in such concerns as pleased women if he
could learn what they might be. His first deliberate if half-hearted
attack relied for its effect upon a novel. Books, indeed, are priceless
weapons in the armory of your timid lover; and let but the lady discover
a little reciprocity, develop an unsuspected delight in literature, as
often happens, and the most modest volume shall achieve a practical
result as far beyond its intrinsic merit as above the writer's dream.

Martin, then, primed with a work of fiction, prayed that Chris might
prove a reader of such things, and called at Mrs. Blanchard's cottage
exactly one fortnight after his former visit. Chance favoured him to an
extent beyond his feeble powers to profit by. Will was out for a walk,
and Mrs. Blanchard being also from home, Martin enjoyed conversation
with Chris alone. He began well enough, while she listened and smiled.
Then he lost his courage and lied, and dragging the novel from his
pocket, asserted that he had bought the tale for her brother.

"A story-book! I doubt Will never read no such matter in his life, Mr.
Grimbal."

"But get him to try. It's quite a new thing. There's a poaching
adventure and so forth--all very finely done according to the critical
journals."

"He'll never sit down to that gert buke."

"You read it then, and tell him if it is good."

"Me! Well, I do read now and again, an' stories tu; but Will wouldn't
take my word. Now if Phoebe was to say 't was braave readin', he'd go
for it fast enough."

"I may leave it, at any rate?"

"Leave it, an' thank you kindly."

"How is Will getting on?"

"Quite well again. Awnly riled 'cause Mr. Lyddon lies so low. Clem told
us what the miller can do, but us doan't knaw yet what he will do."

"Perhaps he doesn't know himself," suggested Martin. The name of "Clem,"
uttered thus carelessly by her, made him envious. Then, inspired by the
circumstance, a request which fairly astounded the speaker by its valour
dropped on his listener's ear.

"By the way, don't call me 'Mr. Grimbal.' I hope you'll let me be
'Martin' in a friendly way to you all, if you will be so very kind and
not mind my asking."

The end of the sentence had its tail between its legs, but he got the
words cleanly out, and his reward was great.

"Why, of course, if you'd rather us did; an' you can call me 'Chris' if
you mind to," she said, laughing. "'T is strange you took sides against
your brother somehow to me."

"I haven't--I didn't--except in the matter of Phoebe. He was wrong
there, and I told him so,--"

He meant to end the sentence with the other's name, only the word stuck
in his throat; but "Miss Blanchard" he would not say, after her
permission, so left a gap.

"He'll not forgive 'e that in a hurry."

"Not readily, but some day, I hope. Now I must really go--wasting your
precious time like this; and I do hope you may read the book."

"That Will may?"

"No--yes--both of you, in fact. And I'll come to know whether you liked
it. Might I?"

"Whether Will liked it?"

She nodded and laughed, then the door hid her; while Martin Grimbal went
his way treading upon air. Those labourers whom he met received from him
such a "Good evening!" that the small parties, dropping back on Chagford
from their outlying toil, grinned inquiringly, they hardly knew at what.

Meantime, Chris Blanchard reflected, and the laughter faded out of her
eyes, leaving them grave and a little troubled. She was sufficiently
familiar with lovers' ways. The bold, the uncouth, the humble, and
timorous were alike within her experience. She watched this kind-faced
man grow hot and cold as he spoke to her, noted the admixture of
temerity and fear that divided his mind and appeared in his words. She
had seen his lips tremble and refuse to pronounce her name; and she
rightly judged that he would possibly repeat it aloud to himself more
than once before he slept that night. Chris was no flirt, and now
heartily regretted her light and friendly banter upon the man's
departure. "I be a silly fule, an' wouldn't whisper a word of this to
any but Clem," she thought, "for it may be nothing but the nervous way
of un, an' such a chap 's a right to seek a sight further 'n me for a
wife; an' yet they all 'pear the same, an' act the same soft sort o'
style when they 'm like it." Then she considered that, seeing what
friendship already obtained between Clement and Martin Grimbal, it was
strange the latter still went in ignorance. "Anyways, if I'm not wrong,
the sooner he 'm told the better, for he's a proper fashioned man," she
thought.

While Chris was still revolving this matter in her mind, Mrs. Blanchard
returned with some news.

"Postmistress stepped out of the office wi' this as I corned down the
village," she said. "'T is from Mrs. Watson, I fancy."

Her daughter brought a light, and the letter was perused. "Uncle 's took
bad," Mrs. Blanchard presently announced; "an' sends to say as he wants
me to go along an' help Sarah Watson nurse un."

"Him ill! I never thought he was made of stuff to be ill."

"I must go, whether or no. I'll take the coach to Moreton to-morrow."

Mrs. Blanchard mentally traversed her wardrobe as she drank tea, and had
already packed in anticipation before the meal was ended. Will, on
returning, was much perturbed at this bad news, for since his own
marriage Uncle Ford had become a hero among men to him.

"What's amiss she doan't say--Mrs. Watson--but it's more 'n a fleabite
else he wouldn't take his bed. But I hopes I'll have un to rights again
in a week or so. 'Mind me to take a bottle of last summer's Marshmally
brew, Chris. Doctors laugh at such physic, but I knaw what I knaw."

"Wonder if't would better him to see me?" mused Will.

"No, no; no call for that. You'll be fit to stand to work by Monday, so
mind your business an' traapse round an' look for it. Theer 's plenty
doin' 'pon the land now, an' I want to hear you' ve got a job 'fore I
come home. Husbands must work for two; an' Phoebe'll be on your hands
come less than a couple o' years."

"One year and five months and seven days 't is."

"Very well. You've got to mind a brace of things meantime; to make a
vitty home for her by the sweat of your body, an' to keep your hands off
her till she 'm free to come to 'e."

"Big things both, though I ban't afeared of myself afore 'em. I've
thought a lot in my time, an' be allowed to have sense an' spirit for
that matter."

"Spirit, ess fay, same as your faither afore you; but not so much sense
as us can see wi'out lightin' cannel."

"Wonder if Uncle Joel be so warm a man as he'd have us think sometimes
of an evenin' arter his hot whiskey an' water?" said Chris.

"Don't 'e count on no come-by-chance from him. He's got money, that I
knaw, but ban't gwaine to pass our way, for he tawld me so in as many
words. Sarah Watson will reap what he's sawed; an' who shall grumble? He
'm a just man, though not of the accepted way o' thinkin'."

"Why for didn't he marry her?" asked Will.

"Caan't tell'e, more'n the dead. Just a whim. I asked her same question,
when I was last to Newton, an' she said 't was to save the price of a
licence she reckoned, though in his way of life he might have got
matrimony cheap as any man. But theer 't is. Her 's bin gude as a wife
to un--an' better 'n many--this fifteen year."

"A very kind woman to me while I was biding along with uncle," said
Will. "All the same you should have some of the money."

"I'm well as I be. An' this dead-man-shoe talk's vain an' giddy. I lay
he'm long ways from death, an' the further the better. Now I be gwaine
to pack my box 'fore supper."

Mrs. Blanchard withdrew, and Chris, suddenly recollecting it, mentioned
Martin Grimbal's visit. Will laughed and read a page or two of the
story-book, then went out of doors to see Clement Hicks; and his sister,
with a spare hour before her while a rabbit roasted, sat near the spit
and occupied her mind with thought.

Will's business related to himself. He was weary of waiting for Mr.
Lyddon, and though he had taken care to let Phoebe know by Chris that
his arm was well and strong enough for the worst that might be found for
it to do, no notice was taken of his message, no sign escaped the
miller.

All interested persons had their own theories upon this silence. Mrs.
Blanchard suspected that Mr. Lyddon would do nothing at all, and Will
readily accepted this belief; but he found it impossible to wait with
patience for its verification. This indeed was the harder to him because
Clement Hicks predicted a different issue and foretold an action of most
malignant sort on the miller's part. What ground existed for attributing
any such deed to Mr. Lyddon was not manifest, but the bee-keeper stuck
to it that Will's father-in-law would only wait until he was in good
employment and then proceed to his confusion.

This conviction he now repeated.

"He's going to make you smart before he's done with you, if human
nature's a factor to rely upon. It's clear to me."

"I doan't think so ill of un. An' yet I ban't wishful to leave it to
chance. You, an' you awnly, knaw what lies hid in the past behind me.
The question is, should I take that into account now, or go ahead as if
it never had failed out?"

"Let it alone, as it has let you alone. Never rake it up again, and
forget it if you can. That's my advice to you. Forget you ever--"

"Hush!" said Will. "I'd rather not hear the word, even 'pon your lips."

They then discussed the main matter from the opposite vantage-grounds of
minds remote in every particular; but no promising procedure suggested
itself to either man, and it was not until upon his homeward way that
Will, unaided, arrived at an obvious and very simple conclusion. With
some glee he welcomed this idea.

"I'll just wait till Monday night," he said to himself, "an' then I'll
step right down to Miller, an' ax un what's in the wind, an' if I can
help his hand. Then he must speak if he's a man."



CHAPTER XIII

THE MILLER'S OFFER


Will, followed his determination and proceeded to Monks Barton on the
following Monday evening, at an hour when he knew that Mr. Lyddon would
have finished supper and be occupied about a pipe or a game of cards
with Mr. Blee. The old men occasionally passed an hour at "oaks" or
"cribbage" before retiring, but on this occasion they were engaged in
conversation, and both looked up with some surprise when Blanchard
appeared.

"You--you here again!" said the miller, and his mouth remained slightly
open after the words.

"You 'm allus setting sober hair on end--blessed if you ain't!" was
Billy's comment.

Will, for his part, made no introductory speeches, but went straight to
the point.

"Theer's my arm," he said, thrusting it out before him. "'T is mended so
neat that Doctor Parsons says no Lunnon bone-setter could have done it
better. So I've comed just to say theer's no call for longer waitin'. 'T
was a sportsmanlike thing in you, Miller Lyddon, to bide same as you
did; and now, if you'd set the law movin' an' get the job out o' hand,
I'd thank you kindly. You see, if they put me in for two year, 't will
leave mighty li'l time to get a home ready for Phoebe against the day
she comes of age."

"You needn't be at any trouble about that."

"But I shall be. Do 'e think my wife's gwaine to be any differ'nt to
lesser folks? A home she'll have, an' a braave, vitty home, tu, though
I've got to sweat blood for it. So if you'd take your bite so soon as
convenient, you'd sarve me."

"I doan't say you 'm axin' anything onreasonable," said Mr. Lyddon,
thoughtfully. "An' what might you think o'doin, when you comes out o'
prison?"

"First gude work that offers."

"Maybe you doan't kuaw that chaps whose last job was on the treadmill
finds it uncommon hard to get another?"

"Depends what they was theer for, I should reckon, Miller"

"Not a bit of it. Gaol-birds is all feathered alike inside clink, an'
honest men feathers 'em all alike when they come out," declared Will's
father-in-law.

"A sheer Cain, as no man will touch by the hand--that's what you'll be,"
added Billy, without apparent regret.

"If that's so," said Will, very calmly, "you'd best to think twice 'fore
you sends me. I've done a high-handed deed, bein' forced into the same
by happenings here when I went off last summer; but 't is auld history
now. I'd like to be a credit to 'e some time, not a misery for all time.
Why not--?" He was going to suggest a course of action more favourable
to himself than that promised; but it struck him suddenly that any
attitude other than the one in which he had come savoured of snivelling
for mercy. So he stopped, left a break of silence, and proceeded with
less earnestness in his voice.

"You've had a matter of eight weeks to decide in, so I thought I might
ax'e, man to man, what's gwaine to be done."

"I have decided," said the miller coldly; "I decided a week ago."

Billy started and his blue eyes blinked inquiringly. He sniffed his
surprise and said "Well!" under his breath.

"Ess, 't is so, I didn't tell 'e, Blee, 'cause I reckoned you'd try an'
turn me from my purpose, which wasn't to be done."

"Never--not me. I'm allus in flat agreement with 'e, same as any wise
man finds hisself all times."

"Well, doan't 'e take it ill, me keepin' it to myself."

"No, no--awnly seem' how--"

"If it 's all the same," interrupted Will, "I'd like to knaw what you 'm
gwaine for to do."

"I'm gwaine to do nort, Will Blanchard--nort at all. God He knaws you
've wronged me, an' more 'n me, an' her--Phoebe--worst of all; but I'll
lift no hand ag'in' you. Bide free an' go forrard your awn way--"

"To the Dowl!" concluded Billy.

There was a silence, then Will spoke with some emotion.

"You 'm a big, just man, Miller Lyddon; an' if theer was anything could
make me sorry for the past--which theer ban't--'t would be to knaw
you've forgived me."

"He ain't done no such thing!" burst out Mr. Blee. "Tellin' 'e to go to
the Dowl ban't forgivin' of 'e!"

"That was your word," answered Will hotly, "an' if you didn't open your
ugly mouth so wide, an' shaw such a 'mazing poor crop o' teeth same
time, me an' Miller might come to onderstanding. I be here to see him,
not you."

"Gar! you 'm a beast of a bwoy, looked at anyhow, an' I wouldn't have
no dealin's with 'e for money," snorted the old man.

"Theer we'll leave it then, Blanchard," said Mr. Lyddon, as Will turned
his back upon the last speaker without answering him. "Go your way an'
try to be a better man; but doan't ax me to forget what 's passed--no,
nor forgive it, not yet. I'll come to a Christian sight of it some day,
God willin'; but it 's all I can say that I bear you no ill-will."

"An' I'm beholden enough for that. You wait an' keep your eye on me.
I'll shaw you what's in me yet. I'll surprise 'e, I promise. Nobody in
these paarts 'cept mother, knaws what 's in me. But, wi'out boastful
words, I'll prove it. Because, Miller, I may assure 'e I'm a man as have
thought a lot in my time 'bout things in general."

"Ess, you'm a deep thinker, I doan't doubt. Now best to go; an', mind,
no dealins wi' Phoebe, for that I won't stand."

"I've thought that out, tu. I'll give 'e my word of honour 'pon that."

"Best to seek work t'other side the Moor, if you ax me. Then you'll be
out the way."

"As to that, I'd guessed maybe Martin Grimbal, as have proved a gert
friend to me an' be quite o' my way o' thinking, might offer garden work
while I looked round. Theer ban't a spark o' pride in me--tu much sense,
I hope, for that."

The miller sighed.

"You've done a far-reachin' thing, as hits a man from all sorts o'
plaaces, like the echo in Teign Valley. I caan't see no end to it yet."

"Martin Grimbal's took on Wat Widdicombe, so you needn't fule yourself
he'll give 'e work," snapped Mr. Blee.

"Well, theer be others."

And then that sudden smile, half sly, half sweet, leapt to Will's eyes
and brightened all his grave face, as the sun gladdens a grey sky after
rain.

"Look now, Miller Lyddon, why for shouldn't you, the biggest man to
Chagford, give me a bit of work? I ban't no caddlin'[5] chap, an' for
you--by God, I'd dig a mountain flat if you axed me!"


[5] _Caddling_ = loafing, idling.


"Well, I be gormed!" gasped Billy. It was a condition, though whether
physical or mental he only knew, to which Will reduced Mr. Blee upon
every occasion of their meeting.

"You hold your jaw an' let me talk to Mr. Lyddon. 'Tis like this, come
to look at it: who should work for 'e same as what I would? Who should
think for my wife's faither wi' more of his heart than me? I'd glory to
do a bit of work for 'e--aye, I would so, high or low; an' do it in a
way to make you rub your eyes!"

Billy saw the first-formed negative die still-born on his master's lips.
He began to cry out volubly that Monks Barton was over-manned, and that
scandal would blast every opening bud on the farm if such a thing
happened. Will glared at him, and in another moment Mr. Blee might have
suffered physically had not the miller lifted his hand and bid both be
silent.

For a full minute no man spoke, while in Mr. Lyddon's mind proceeded a
strange battle of ideas. Will's audacity awakened less resentment than
might have been foreseen. The man had bent before the shock of his
daughter's secret marriage and was now returning to his customary mental
condition. Any great altitude of love or extremity of hate was beyond
Mr. Lyddon's calibre. Life slipped away and left his forehead smooth.
Sorrow brought no great scars, joy no particular exaltation. This
temperament he had transmitted to Phoebe; and now she came into his mind
and largely influenced him. A dozen times he opened his mind to say
"No," but did not say it. Personal amiability could hardly have overcome
natural dislike of Blanchard at such a moment, but the unexpected
usually happens when weak natures are called upon to make sudden
decisions; and though such may change their resolve again and again at a
later date and before new aspects of the problem, their first hasty
determination will often be the last another had predicted from them.

A very curious result accrued from Mr. Lyddon's mental conflict, and it
was reached by an accidental train of thought. He told himself that his
conclusion was generous to the extreme of the Christian ideal; he
assured himself that few men so placed had ever before acted with such
notable magnanimity; but under this repeated mental asseveration there
spoke another voice which he stifled to the best of his power. The
utterance of this monitor may best be judged from what followed.

"If I gave you work you'd stand to it, Will Blanchard?" he asked at
length.

"Try me!"

"Whatsoever it might be?"

"Try me. Ban't for me to choose."

"I will, then. Come to-morrow by five, an' Billy shall show 'e what's to
do."

It would be difficult to say which, of those who heard the miller's
resolve received it with most astonishment. Will's voice was almost
tremulous.

"You'll never be sorry, never. I couldn't have hoped such a thing.
Caan't think how I comed to ax it. An' yet--but I'll buckle to anything
and everything, so help me. I'll think for 'e an' labour for 'e as no
hireling that was ever born could, I will. An' you've done a big,
grand-fashion thing, an' I'm yours, body an' bones, for it; an' you'll
never regret it."

The young man was really moved by an issue so unexpected. He had uttered
his suggestion on the spur of the moment, as he uttered most things, and
such a reception argued a greatness of heart and generosity of spirit
quite unparalleled in his experience. So he departed wishing all good on
Mr. Lyddon and meaning all good with his whole soul and strength.

When he had gone the miller spoke; but contrary to custom, he did not
look into Mr. Blee's face while so doing.

"You'm astonished, Billy," he said, "an' so be I, come to think of it.
But I'm gettin' tu auld to fret my life away with vain strife. I be
gwaine to prove un. He'd stand to anything, eh? 'Twas his word."

"An' well he might."

"Can 'e picture Blanchard cleaning out the pigs' house?"

"No fay!"

"Or worse?"

"Ah!"

They consulted, and it presently appeared that Mr. Lyddon deliberately
designed to set Will about the most degrading task the farm could
furnish.

"'Twill sting the very life of un!" said Billy gleefully, and he
proceeded to arrange an extremely trying programme for Will Blanchard.

"Doan't think any small spite leads me to this way of dealing with un,"
explained Mr. Lyddon, who knew right well that it was so. "But 'tis to
probe the stuff he's made of. Nothing should be tu hard for un arter
what he've done, eh?"

"You'm right. 'Tis true wisdom to chastise the man this way if us can,
an' shake his wicked pride."

Billy's genius lent itself most happily to this scheme. He applauded the
miller's resolution until his master himself began to believe that the
idea was not unjust; he ranged airily, like a blue-fly, from one
agglomeration of ordure to another; and he finally suggested a task, not
necessary to dwell on, but which reached the utmost height or depth of
originality in connection with such a subject. Mr. Lyddon laboured under
some shadow of doubt, but he quickly agreed when his man reminded him of
the past course of events.

"'Tis nothin', when all's said. Who'd doubt if he'd got to choose
between that or two year in gaol? He'm lucky, and I'll tell un so come
the marnin'."

Thus matters were left, and the miller retired in some secret shame, for
he had planned an act which, if great in the world's eye, had yet a dark
side from his own inner view of it; but Mr. Blee suffered no pang from
conscience upon the question. He heartily disliked Blanchard, and he
contemplated the morrow with keen satisfaction. If his sharp tongue had
power to deepen the wound awaiting Will's self-respect, that power would
certainly be exercised.

Meantime the youth himself passed homeward in a glow of admiration for
Mr. Lyddon.

"I'd lay down my life smilin' for un," he told Chris, who was astounded
at his news. "I'll think for un, an' act for un, till he'll feel I'm his
very right hand. An' if I doan't put a spoke in yellow Billy's wheel,
call me a fule. Snarling auld swine! But Miller! Theer's gude workin'
religion in that man; he'm a shining light for sartain."

They talked late upon this wondrous turn of fortune, then Will
recollected his mother and nothing would serve but that he wrote
instantly to tell her of the news.

"It'll cheer up uncle, tu, I lay," he said.

"A letter comed while you was out," answered Chris; "he'm holding his
awn, but 'tis doubtful yet how things be gwaine to fare in the upshot."

"Be it as 'twill, mother can do more 'n any other living woman could for
un," declared Will.



CHAPTER XIV

LOGIC


As Mr. Blee looked out upon a grey morning, the sallows leaping from
silver to gold, from bud to blossom, scattered brightness through the
dawn, and the lemon catkins of the hazel, the russet tassels of alders,
brought light along the river, warmth into the world. A bell beat five
from Chagford Church tower, and the notes came drowsily through morning
mists. Then quick steps followed on the last stroke of the hour and Will
stood by Billy's side in Monks Barton farmyard. The old man raised his
eyes from contemplation of a spade and barrow, bid Blanchard "Good
morning" with simulated heartiness, and led the way to work, while Will
followed, bringing the tools. They passed into a shrubbery of syringa
bushes twenty yards distant, and the younger man, whose humour had been
exceedingly amiable until that moment, now flushed to his eyes before
the spectacle of his labour.

"Do 'e mean that Miller's got nothin' for me to do but this?"

"Plenty, plenty, I 'sure 'e; but that ban't your business, be it?
Theer's the work, an' I'd rather 'twas yourn than mine. Light your pipe
an' go ahead. Not a purty job, more 'tis; but beggars mustn't be
choosers in this hard world."

Billy bolted after these remarks. He heard a growl behind him, but did
not look round. Half an hour later, he crept back again by a circuitous
route, watched Will awhile unseen, then stole grinning away to milk the
cows.

The young man, honestly thunderstruck at the task planned for him,
judged that thinking would not mend matters, and so began to work
quickly without stopping to reflect. But his thoughts could not be
controlled, any more than his disposition changed. A growing
consciousness of deep and deliberate insult surged up in him. The more
he brooded the slower he worked, and finally anger mastered
determination. He flung down his spade, saluted a red sunrise with the
worst language at his command, and strode down to the river. Here, for
some time and until blue smoke began to climb from the kitchen chimney
of the farm, Will paced about; then with a remarkable effort returned to
his task. He actually started again, and might have carried the matter
to completion; but an evil demon was abroad, and Billy, spying the young
man at work anew, reappeared.

"You'm makin' poor speed, my son," he said, viewing the other's progress
with affected displeasure.

It proved enough, for Will's smouldering fires were ready to leap at any
fuel.

"Go to blue, blazing hell!" he cried. "You'm at the bottom of this
business, I'll lay a pound. Get out o' my sight, you hookem-snivey auld
devil, or I'll rub your dirty ginger poll in it, sure's death!"

"My stars! theer's crooked words! Do 'e try an' keep tighter hand on
your temper, Blanchard. A man should knaw hisself anyways 'fore he has
the damn fulishness to take a wife. An' if you ax me--"

Mr. Blee's remarks were here brutally arrested, for the contents of
Will's spade saluted his furrowed features, and quite obliterated the
old man. He fled roaring, and the other flung his spade twenty yards
away, overturned his wheelbarrow, and again strode to the river. He was
fairly bubbling and boiling now, nor did the business of cleaning
gaiters and boots, arms and hands, restore him to peace. A black pig
gazed upon him and grunted as he came up from the water. It seemed to
him a reincarnation of Billy, and he kicked it hard. It fled screaming
and limping, while Will, his rage at full flood, proceeded through the
farmyard on his way home. But here, by unhappy chance, stood Mr. Lyddon
watching his daughter feed the fowls. Her husband ran full upon Phoebe,
and she blushed in a great wave of joy until the black scowl upon his
face told her that something was amiss. His evident anger made her
start, and the involuntary action upset her bowl of grain. For a moment
she stood motionless, looking upon him in fear, while at her feet fought
and struggled a cloud of feathered things around the yellow corn.

"If you've done your job, Will, may'st come and shaake Phoebe by the
hand," said Mr. Lyddon nervously, while he pretended not to notice the
other's passion.

"I haven't done it; and if I had, is a scavenger's hand fit to touch
hers?" thundered Blanchard. "I thought you was a man to swear by, and
follow through thick an' thin," he continued, "but you ban't. You'm a
mean, ill-minded sawl, as would trample on your awn flesh an' blood, if
you got the chance. Do your awn dirty work. Who be I that you should
call on me to wallow in filth to please your sour spite?"

"You hear him, you hear him!" cried out the miller, now angry enough
himself. "That's how I'm sarved for returnin' gude to his evil. I've
treated un as no man else on God's airth would have done; and this is
what I gets. He's mad, an' that's to speak kind of the wretch!"

The young wife could only look helplessly from one to the other. That
morning had dawned very brightly for her. A rumour of what was to happen
reached her on rising, but the short-lived hope was quickly shattered,
and though she had not seen him since their wedding-day, Phoebe was
stung into bitterness against Will at this juncture. She knew nothing of
particulars, but saw him now pouring harsh reproaches on her father, and
paying the miller's unexampled generosity with hard and cruel words. So
she spoke to her husband.

"Oh, Will, Will, to say such things! Do 'e love me no better 'n that? To
slight dear faither arter all he's forgiven!"

"If you think I'm wrong, say it, Phoebe," he answered shortly. "If you'm
against me, tu--"

"'Against you!' How can you speak so?"

"No matter what I say. Be you on his side or mine? 'Cause I've a right
to knaw."

"Caan't 'e see 'twas faither's gert, braave, generous thought to give 'e
work, an' shaw a lesson of gudeness? An' then we meet again--"

"Ess fay--happy meetin' for wife an' husband, me up to the eyes
in--Theer, any fule can see 'twas done a purpose to shame me."

"You're a fule to say it! 'Tis your silly pride's gwaine to ruin all
your life, an' mine, tu. Who's to help you if you've allus got the black
monkey on your shoulder like this here?"

"You'm a overbearin', headstrong madman," summed up the miller, still
white with wrath; "an' I've done with 'e now for all time. You've had
your chance an' thrawed it away."

"He put this on me because I was poor an' without work."

"He didn't," cried the girl, whose emotions for a moment took her clean
from Will to her father. "He never dreamed o' doin' any such thing. He
couldn't insult a beggar-man; an' you knaw it. 'Tis all your ugly,
wicked temper!"

"Then I'll take myself off, an' my temper, tu," said Will, and prepared
to do so; while Mr. Lyddon listened to husband and wife, and his last
hope for the future dwindled and died, as he heard them quarrel with
high voices. His daughter clung to him and supported his action, though
what it had been she did not know.

"Caan't 'e see you're breakin' faither's heart all awver again just as
'twas mendin'?" she said. "Caan't 'e sing smaller, if 'tis awnly for
thought of me? Doan't, for God's love, fling away like this."

"I met un man to man, an' did his will with a gude thankful heart, an'
comed in the dawn to faace a job as--"

"'Tweren't the job, an' you knaw it," broke in Mr. Lyddon. "I wanted to
prove 'e an' all your fine promises; an' now I knaw their worth, an'
your worth. An' I curse the day ever my darter was born in the world,
when I think she'm your wife, an' no law can break it."

He turned and went into the house, and Phoebe stood alone with her
husband.

"Theer!" cried Will. "You've heard un. That was in his heart when he
spoke me so fair. An' if you think like he do, say it. Lard knaws I
doan't want 'e no more, if you doan't want me!"

"Will! How can you! An' us not met since our marriage-day. But you'm
cruel, cruel to poor faither."

"Say so, an' think so; an' b'lieve all they tell 'e 'gainst your lawful
husband; an' gude-bye. If you'm so poor-spirited as to see your man do
thicky work, you choosed wrong. Not that 'tis any gert odds. Stop along
wi' your faither as you loves so much better 'n me. An' doan't you fear
I'll ever cross his threshold again to anger un, for I'd rather blaw my
brains out than do it."

He shook and stuttered with passion; his eyes glowed, his lips changed
from their natural colour to a leaden blue. He groped for the gate when
he reached it, and passed quickly out, heedless of Phoebe's sorrowful
cry to him. He heard her light step following and only hastened his
speed for answer. Then, hurrying from her, a wave of change suddenly
flowed upon his furious mind, and he began to be very sorry. Presently
he stopped and turned, but she had stayed her progress by now, and for a
moment's space stood and watched him, bathed in tears. At the moment
when he hesitated and looked back, however, his wife herself had turned
away and moved homewards. Had she been standing in one place, Will's
purposes would perchance have faded to air, and his arm been round her
in a moment; but now he only saw Phoebe retreating slowly to Monks
Barton; and he let her go.

Blanchard went home to breakfast, and though Chris discovered that
something was amiss, she knew him too well to ask any questions. He ate
in silence, the past storm still heaving in a ground-swell through his
mind. That his wife should have stood up against him was a sore thought.
It bewildered the youth utterly, and that she might be ignorant of all
details did not occur to him. Presently he told his wrongs to Chris, and
grew very hot again in the recital. She sympathised deeply, held him
right to be angry, and grew angry herself.

"He 'm daft," she said, "an' I'd think harder of him than I do, but that
he's led by the nose. 'Twas that auld weasel, Billy Blee, gived him the
wink to set you on a task he knawed you'd never carry through."

"Theer's truth in that," said Will; then he recollected his last meeting
with the miller's man, and suddenly roared with laughter.

"'Struth! What a picter he was! He agged an' agged at me till I got fair
mad, an'--well, I spiled his meal, I do b'lieve."

His merriment died away slowly in a series of long-drawn chuckles. Then
he lighted his pipe, watched Chris cleaning the cups and plates, and
grew glum again.

"'Twas axin' me--a penniless chap; that was the devil of it. If I'd been
a moneyed man wi'out compulsion to work, then I'd have been free to say
'No,' an' no harm done. De'e follow?"

"I'm thankful you done as you did. But wheer shall 'e turn now?"

"Doan't knaw. I'll lay I'll soon find work."

"Theer's some of the upland farms might be wanting harrowin' an' seed
plantin' done."

"Who's to Newtake, Gran'faither Ford's auld plaace, I wonder?"

"'Tis empty. The last folks left 'fore you went away. Couldn't squeeze
bare life out of it. That's the fourth party as have tried an' failed."

"Yet gran'faither done all right."

"He was a wonnerful man of business, an' lived on a straw a day, as
mother says. But the rest--they come an' go an' just bury gude money
theer to no better purpose than the gawld at a rainbow foot."

"Well, I'll go up in the village an' look around before Miller's got
time to say any word against me. He'll spoil my market if he can, I
knaw."

"He'd never dare!"

"I'd have taken my oath he wouldn't essterday. Now I think differ'nt. He
never meant friendship; he awnly wanted for me to smart. Clem Hicks was
right."

"Theer's Mr. Grimbal might give 'e work, I think. Go an' ax un, an' tell
un I sent 'e."

A moment later Chris was sorry she had made this remark.

"What be talkin' 'bout?" Will asked bluntly. "Tell un _you_ sent me?"

"Martin wants to be friends."

"'Martin,' is it?"

"He axed me to call un so."

"Do he knaw you'm tokened to Clem?"

"Caan't say. It almost 'peared as if he didn't last time he called."

"Then sooner he do the better. Axed you to call un 'Martin'!"

He stopped and mused, then spoke again.

"Our love-makin's a poor business, sure enough. I've got what I wanted
an', arter this marnin', could 'most find it in me to wish my cake was
dough again; an' you--you ain't got what you want, an' ban't no gert
sign you will, for Clem's the weakest hand at turnin' a penny ever I
met."

"I'll wait for un, whether or no," said Chris, fiercely. "I'll wait, if
need be, till we'm both tottling auld mumpheads!"

"Ess; an' when Martin Grimbal knaws that is so, 'twill be time enough to
ax un for work, I dare say,--not sooner. Better he should give Clem work
than me. I'd thought of him myself, for that matter."

"I've axed Clem to ax un long ago, but he won't."

"I'll go and see Clem right away. 'Tis funny he never let the man knaw
'bout you. Should have been the first thing he tawld un."

"Perhaps he thought 'twas so far off that--"

"Doan't care what he thought. Weern't plain dealin' to bide quiet about
that, an' I shall tell un so."

"Well, doan't 'e quarrel with Clem. He'm 'bout the awnly friend you've
got left now."

"I've got mother an' you. I'm all right. I can see as straight as any
man, an' all my brain-work in the past ban't gwaine to be wasted 'cause
wan auld miller fellow happens to put a mean trick on me. I'm above
caring. I just goes along and remembers that people has their failings."

"We must make allowance for other folk."

"So us must; an' I be allus doin' it; so why the hell doan't they make
allowance for me? That's why I boil awver now an' again--damn it! I gets
nought but kicks for my halfpence--allus have; an' I won't stand it from
mortal man much longer!"

Chris kept her face, for Will's views on conduct and man's whole duty to
man were no new thing.

"Us must keep patient, Will, 'specially with the auld."

"I be patient. It 'mazes me, looking back, to see what I have suffered
in my time. But a man's a man, not a post or a holy angel. Us wouldn't
hear such a deal about angels' tempers either if they'd got to faace all
us have."

"That's profanity an' wickedness."

"'Tis truth. Any fule can be a saint inside heaven; an' them that was
born theer and have flown 'bout theer all theer time, like birds in a
wood, did ought to be even-tempered. What's to cross'em?"

"You shouldn't say such things!"

Suddenly a light came into his eyes.

"I doan't envy 'em anyway. Think what it must be never to have no mother
to love 'e! They 'm poor, motherless twoads, for all their gold crowns
an' purple wings."

"Will! whatever will 'e say next? Best go to Clem. An' forget what I
spoke 'bout Martin Grimbal an' work. You was wiser'n me in that."

"I s'pose so. If a man ban't wiser 'n his sister, he's like to have poor
speed in life," said Will.

Then he departed, but the events of that day were still very far from an
end, and despite the warning of Chris, her brother soon stood on the
verge of another quarrel. It needed little to wake fresh storms in his
breast and he criticised Clement's reticence on the subject of his
engagement in so dictatorial and hectoring a manner that the elder man
quickly became incensed. They wrangled for half an hour, Hicks in
satirical humour, Will loud with assurances that he would have no
underhand dealings where any member of his family was concerned. Clement
presently watched the other tramp off, and in his mind was a dim
thought. Could Blanchard forget the past so quickly? Did he recollect
that he, Clement Hicks, shared knowledge of it? "He's a fool, whichever
way you look at him," thought the poet; "but hardly such a fool as to
forget that, or risk angering me of all men."

Later in the day Will called at a tap-room, drank half a pint of beer,
and detailed his injuries for the benefit of those in the bar. He asked
what man amongst them, situated as he had been, had acted otherwise; and
a few, caring not a straw either way, declared he had showed good pluck
and was to be commended; But the bulky Mr. Chapple--he who assisted
Billy Blee in wassailing Miller Lyddon's apple-trees--stoutly criticised
Will, and told him that his conduct was much to blame. The younger
argued against this decision and explained, with the most luminous
diction at his command, that 'twas in the offering of such a task to a
penniless man its sting and offence appeared.

"He knawed I was at low ebb an' not able to pick an' choose. So he gives
me a starvin' man's job. If I'd been in easy circumstances an' able to
say 'Yes' or 'No' at choice, I'd never have blamed un."

"Nonsense and stuff!" declared Mr. Chapple. "Theer's not a shadow of
shame in it."

"You'm Miller's friend, of coourse," said Will.

"'Tis so plain as a pike, I think!" squeaked a hare-lipped young man of
weak intellect who was also present. "Blanchard be right for sartain."

"Theer! If soft Gurney sees my drift it must be pretty plain," said
Will, in triumph.

"But as 'tis awnly him that does, lad," commented Mr. Chapple, drily,
"caan't say you've got any call to be better pleased. Go you back an' do
the job, like a wise man."

"I'd clear the peat out o' Cranmere Pool sooner!" said Will.

And he turned homewards again, wretched enough, yet fiercely prodding
his temper when it flagged, and telling himself repeatedly that he had
acted as became a man of spirit and of judgment. Then, upon a day
sufficiently leaden and dreary until that moment, burst forth sudden
splendours, and Will's life, from a standpoint of extreme sobriety in
time, instantly passed to rare brightness. Between the spot on the
highway where Chris met him and his arrival at home, the youth enjoyed
half a lifetime of glorious hopes and ambitions; but a cloud indeed
shadowed all this overwhelming joy in that the event responsible for his
change of fortune was itself sad.

While yet twenty yards from her brother Chris cried the news to him.

"He's dead--Uncle--he went quite sudden at the end; an' he'm to lie to
Chagford wi' gran'faither an' gran'mother."

"Dead! My God! An' I never seed un more! The best friend to me ever I
had--leastways I thought so till this marnin'."

"You may think so still."

"Ess, so I do. A kind man inside his skin. I knawed un better'n most
people--an' he meant well when he married me, out of pure love to us
both."

"He's left nobody no money but Mrs. Watson and you."

"If 'tis five pound, 'tis welcome to-day; an' if 'tis five shillin',
I'll thank un an' spend it 'pon a ring to wear for un. He was a gude
auld blid, an' I'm sorry he's gone."

"Will, Uncle's left 'e a thousand pound!"

"What! You'm jokin'."

"Solemn truth. 'Tis in mother's letter."

A rush of joy lighted up the young man's face. He said not a word; then
his eyes grew moist.

"To think as he could have loved a daft fule like me so well as that!
Me--that never done nothin'--no, not so much as to catch a dish of trout
for un, now an' again, when he was here."

"You couldn't, bein' water-keeper."

"What matter for that? I ought to have poached for un, seein' the manner
of man he was."

He kept silence for a while, then burst out--

"I'll buy the braavest marble stone can be cut. Nobody shall do it but
me, wi' doves or anchors or some such thing on it, to make it a fine
sight so long as the world goes on."

"Theer's plenty room 'pon the auld slate, for that matter," said Chris.

"Damn the auld slate! The man shall have white marble carvings, I tell
'e, if I've got to spend half the money buying 'em. He b'lieved in me;
he knawed I'd come to gude; an' I'm grateful to un."

During the evening Will was unusually silent and much busied with
thought. He knew little of the value of money, and a thousand pounds to
his mind represented possibilities wholly beyond the real power of that
sum to achieve. Chris presently visited the vicarage, and after their
supper, brother and sister sat late and discussed the days to come. When
the girl retired, Will's thoughts for a moment concerned themselves with
the immediate past rather than the future; and then it was that he
caught himself blankly before his own argument of the morning. To him
the force of the contention, now that his position was magically
changed, appeared strong as before. A little sophistry had doubtless
extricated him from this dilemma, but his nature was innocent of it, and
his face grew longer as the conclusion confronting him became more
clear. From his own logic--a mysterious abstraction, doubtless--he found
it difficult to escape without loss of self-respect. He still held that
the deed, impossible to him as a pauper, might be performed without
sacrifice of dignity or importance by a man of his present fortune. So
the muddle-headed youth saw his duty straight ahead of him; and he
regretted it heartily, but did not attempt to escape from it.

Ten minutes later, in his working clothes, he set out to Monks Barton,
carrying an old horn lantern that had swung behind his father's caravan
twenty years before. At the farm all lights were out save one in the
kitchen; but Will went about his business as silently as possible, and
presently found the spade where he had flung it, the barrow where he had
overthrown it in the morning. So he set to work, his pipe under his
nose, his thoughts afar off in a golden paradise built of Uncle Ford's
sovereigns.

Billy Blee, whose attic window faced out upon the northern side of the
farm, had gone to bed, but he was still awake, and the grunt of a
wheelbarrow quickly roused him. Gazing into the night he guessed what
was doing, dragged on his trousers, and hurried down-stairs to his
master.

The miller sat with his head on his hand. His pipe was out and the
"night-cap" Phoebe had mixed for him long ago, remained untasted.

"Guy Fawkes an 'angels! here's a thing! If that Jack-o'-lantern of a
bwoy ban't back again. He'm delvin' theer, for all the world like a
hobgoblin demon, red as blood in the flicker of the light. I fancied't
was the Dowl hisself. But 't is Blanchard, sure. Theer's some dark
thought under it, I'll lay, or else he wants to come around 'e again."

His master doubted not that Billy was dreaming, but he went aloft and
looked to convince himself. In silence and darkness they watched Will at
work. Then Mr. Blee asked a question as the miller turned to go.

"What in thunder do it mean?"

"God knaws, I doan't. The man or bwoy, or whatever you call un, beats
me. I ban't built to tackle such a piece as him. He's took a year off my
life to-day. Go to your bed, Billy, an' let un bide."

"Gormed if I wouldn't like to slip down an' scat un ower the head for
what he done to me this marnin'. Such an auld man as me, tu! weak in the
hams this ten year."

"But strong in the speech. Maybe you pricked him with a bitter word,
an'--theer, theer, if I ban't standin' up for the chap now! Yet if I've
wished un dead wance, I have fifty times since I first heard tell of un.
Get to bed. I s'pose us'll knaw his drift come to-morrow."

Mr. Lyddon and Billy retired, and both slept ere Will Blanchard's work
was done. Upon its completion he sought the cold nocturnal waters of the
river, and then did a thing he had planned an hour before. Entering the
farmyard, he flung a small stone at Phoebe's window in the thatch, then
another. But the first had roused his wife, for she lay above in
wakefulness and sorrow. She peeped out, saw Blanchard, knew him in the
lantern light, and opened the window.

"Will, my awn Will!" she said, with a throbbing voice.

"Ess fay, lovey! I knawed you'd sleep sweeter for hearin' tell I've done
the work."

"Done it?"

"Truth."

"It was a cruel, wicked shame; an' the blame's Billy Blee's, an' I've
cried my eyes out since I heard what they set you to do; an' I've said
what I thought; an' I'm sorry to bitterness about this marnin', dear
Will."

"'T is all wan now. I've comed into a mort of money, my Uncle Ford bein'
suddenly dead."

"Oh, Will, I could a'most jump out the window!"

"'T would be easier for me to come up-long."

"No, no; not for the world, Will!"

"Why for not? An' you that lovely, twinklin' in your white gownd, an' me
your lawful husband, an' a man o' money! Damned if I ain't got a mind to
climb up by the pear-tree!"

"You mustn't, you mustn't! Go away, dear, sweet Will. An' I'm so
thankful you've forgiven me for being so wicked, dear heart."

"Everybody'll ax to be forgiven now, I reckon; but you--theer ban't
nothin' to forgive you for. You can tell your faither I've forgived un
to-morrow, an' tell un I'm rich, tu. 'T will ease his mind. Theer, an'
theer, an theer!"

Will kissed his hand thrice, then vanished, and his wife shut her window
and, kneeling, prayed out thankful prayers.

As her husband crossed Rushford Bridge, his thought sped backward
through the storm and sunshine of past events. But chiefly he remembered
the struggle with John Grimbal and its sequel. For a moment he glanced
below into the dark water.

"'T is awver an' past, awver an' past," he said to himself. "I be at the
tail of all my troubles now, for theer's nought gude money an' gude
sense caan't do between 'em."



BOOK II

HIS ENTERPRISE


CHAPTER I

SPRINGTIME


Nature, waking at the song of woodland birds to find herself naked,
fashioned with flying fingers such a robe of young green and amber,
hyacinth and pearl as only she can weave or wear. A scent of the season
rose from multitudinous "buds, and bells, and stars without a name";
while the little world of Devon, vale and forest, upland and heathery
waste, rejoiced in the new life, as it rang and rippled with music and
colour even to the granite thrones of the Moor. Down by the margin of
Teign, where she murmured through a vale of wakening leaves and
reflected asphodels bending above her brink, the valley was born again
in a very pageant of golden green that dappled all the grey woods,
clothed branch and bough anew, ran flower-footed over the meadow, hid
nests of happy birds in every dell and dingle, and spread luxuriant life
above the ruin of the year that was gone. A song of hope filled each
fair noon; no wasted energy, no unfulfilled intent as yet saddened the
eye; no stunted, ruined nursling of Nature yet spoke unsuccess; no
canker-bitten bud marked the cold finger of failure; for in that first
rush of life all the earthborn host had set forth, if not equal, at
least together. The primroses twinkled true on downy coral stems and the
stars of anemone, celandine, and daisy opened perfect. Countless
consummate, lustrous things were leaping, mingling, and uncurling, aloft
and below, in the mazes of the wood, at the margins of the water.
Verdant spears and blades expanded; fair fans opened and tendrils
twined; simultaneous showers of heart-shaped, arrow-shaped, flame-shaped
foliage, all pure emerald and translucent beryl, made opulent outpouring
of that new life which now pulsed through the Mother's million veins.
Diaphanous mist wreaths and tender showers wooed the Spring; under
silver gauze of vernal rain rang wild rapture of thrushes, laughter of
woodpeckers, chime and chatter of jackdaws from the rock, secret
crooning of the cushat in the pines. From dawn till dusk the sweet air
was winnowed by busy wings; from dawn till dusk the hum and murmur of
life ceased not. Infinite possibility, infinite promise, marked the
time; and man shared a great new hope with the beasts and birds, and
wild violet of the wood. Blood and sap raced gloriously together, while
a chorus of conscious and unconscious creation sang the anthem of the
Spring in solemn strophe and antistrophe.

As life's litany rises once again, and before the thunder of that music
rolling from the valleys to the hills, human reason yearly hesitates for
a moment, while hope cries out anew above the frosty lessons of
experience. For a brief hour the thinker, perhaps wisely, turns from
memory, as from a cloud that blots the present with its shadow, and
spends a little moment in this world of opal lights and azure shades. He
forgets that Nature adorned the bough for other purpose than his joy;
forgets that strange creatures, with many legs and hungry mouths, will
presently tatter each musical dome of rustling green; forgets that he
gazes upon a battlefield awaiting savage armies, which will fill high
Summer with ceaseless war, to strew the fair earth with slain. He
suffers dead Winter to bury her dead, seeks the wine of life that brims
in the chalices of Spring flowers: plucks blade and blossom, and is a
child again, if Time has so dealt with him that for a little he can thus
far retrace his steps; and, lastly, he turns once more to the Mother he
has forgotten, to find that she has not forgotten him. The whisper of
her passing in a greenwood glade is the murmur of waters invisible and
of life unseen; the scent of her garment comes sweet on the bloom of the
blackthorn; high heaven and lowly forget-me-not alike mirror the blue of
her wonderful eyes; and the gleam of the sunshine on rippling rivers and
dreaming clouds reflects the gold of her hair. She moves a queen who,
passing through one fair corner of her world-wide kingdom, joys in it.
She, the sovereign of the universe, reigns here too, over the buds and
the birds, and the happy, unconsidered life of weald and wold. Each busy
atom and unfolding frond is dear to her; each warm nest and hidden
burrow inspires like measure of her care and delight; and at this time,
if ever, we may think of Nature as forgetting Death for one magic
moment, as sharing the wide joy of her wakening world, as greeting the
young mother of the year's hopes, as pressing to her bosom the babes of
Spring with many a sunny smile and rainbowed tear.

Through the woods in Teign Valley passed Clement Hicks and his
sweetheart about a fortnight after Lawyer Ford had been laid to rest in
Chagford Churchyard. Chris talked about her brother and the great
enterprise he had determined upon. She supported Will and spoke with
sanguine words of his future; but Clement regarded the project
differently.

"To lease Newtake Farm is a fool's trick," he said. "Everybody knows the
last experiments there. The place has been empty for ten months, and
those who touched it in recent years only broke their hearts and wasted
their substance."

"Well, they weern't such men as Will. Theer's a fitness about it, tu;
for Will's awn gran'faither prospered at Newtake; an' if he could get a
living, another may. Mother do like the thought of Will being there
somehow."

"I know it. The sentiment of the thing has rather blinded her natural
keen judgment. Curious that I should criticise sentiment in another
person; but it 's like my cranky, contrary way. Only I was thinking of
Will's thousand pounds. Newtake will suck it out of his pocket quicker
than Cranmere sucks up a Spring shower."

"Well, I'm more hopeful. He knows the value of money; an' Phoebe will
help him when she comes up. The months slip by so quickly. By the time
I've got the cobwebs out of the farm an' made the auld rooms
water-sweet, I dare say theer'll be talk of his wife joining him."

"You going up! This is the first I've heard of it."

"I meant to tell 'e to-day. Mother is willing and I'm awnly tu glad. A
man's a poor left-handed thing 'bout a house. I'd do more 'n that for
Will."

"Pity he doesn't think and do something for you. Surely a little of this
money--?"

"Doan't 'e touch on that, Clem. Us had a braave talk 'pon it, for he
wanted to make over two hundred pound to me, but I wouldn't dream of it,
and you wouldn't have liked me tu. You 'm the last to envy another's
fair fortune."

"I do envy any man fortune. Why should I starve, waiting for you, and--?"

"Hush!" she said, as though she had spoken to a little child. "I won't
hear no wild words to-day in all this gude gold sunshine."

"God damn everything!" he burst out. "What a poor, impotent wretch He's
made me--a thing to bruise its useless hands beating the door that will
never open! It maddens me--especially when all the world's happy, like
to-day--all happy but me. And you so loyal and true! What a fool you
are to stick to me and let me curse you all your life!"

"Doan't 'e, doan't 'e, Clem," said Chris wearily. She was growing well
accustomed to these ebullitions. "Doan't grudge Will his awn. Our turn
will come, an' perhaps sooner than we think for. Look round 'pon the
sweet fresh airth an' budding flowers. Spring do put heart into a body.
We 'm young yet, and I'll wait for 'e if 't is till the crack o' doom."

"Life's such a cursed short thing at best--just a stormy day between two
nights, one as long as past time, the other all eternity. Have you seen
a mole come up from the ground, wallow helplessly a moment or two, half
blind in the daylight, then sink back into the earth, leaving only a
mound? That's our life, yours and mine; and Fate grudges that even these
few poor hours, which make the sum of it, should be spent together.
Think how long a man and woman can live side by side at best. Yet every
Sunday of your life you go to church and babble about a watchful, loving
Maker!"

"I doan't know, Clem. You an' me ban't everybody. You've told me
yourself as God do play a big game, and it doan't become this man or
that woman to reckon their-selves more important than they truly be."

"A great game, yes; but a cursed poor game--for a God. The counters
don't matter, I know; they'll soon be broken up and flung away; and the
sooner the better. It's living hell to be born into a world where
there's no justice--none for king or tinker."

"Sit alongside of me and smell the primrosen an' watch thicky kingfisher
catching the li'l trout. I doan't like 'e in these bitter moods, Clem,
when your talk's all dead ashes."

He sat by her and looked out over the river. It was flooded in sunlight,
fringed with uncurling green.

"I'm sick and weary of life without you. 'Conscious existence is a
failure,' and the man who found that out and said it was wise. I wish I
was a bird or beast--or nothing. All the world is mating but you and me.
Nature hates me because I survive from year to year, not being fit to.
The dumb things do her greater credit than ever I can. The--"

"Now, I'll go--on my solemn word, I'll go--if you grumble any more!
Essterday you was so different, and said you'd fallen in love with Miss
Spring, and pretended to speak to her and make me jealous. You didn't do
that, but you made me laugh. An' you promised a purty verse for me. Did
'e make it up after all? I lay not."

"Yes, I did. I wasted two or three hours over it last night."

"Might 'e get ten shillings for it, like t' other?"

"It's not worth the paper it's on, unless you like it. Your praise is
better than money to me. Nobody wants any thoughts of mine. Why should
they?"

"Not when they 'm all sour an' poor, same as now; but essterday you
spoke like to a picture-book. Theer's many might have took gude from
what you said then."

He pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and flung it into her lap.

"I call it 'Spring Rain,'" he said. "Yesterday the world was grey, and I
was happy; to-day the world is all gold, and I'm finding life harder and
heavier than usual. Read it out slowly to me. It was meant to be read to
the song of the river, and never a prettier voice read a rhyme than
yours."

Chris smoothed the paper and recited her lover's lyrics. They had some
shadow of music in them and echoed Clem's love of beautiful things; but
they lacked inspiration or much skill.

  "'Neath unnumbered crystal arrows--
      Crystal arrows from the quiver
      Of a cloud--the waters shiver
   In the woodland's dim domain;
   And the whispering of the rain
   Tinkles sweet on silver Teign--
             Tinkles on the river.

  "Through unnumbered sweet recesses--
      Sweet recesses soft in lining
      Of green moss with ivy twining--
   Daffodils, a sparkling train,
   Twinkle through the whispering rain,
   Twinkle bright by silver Teign,
             With a starry shining.

  "'Mid unnumbered little leaf-buds--
      Little leaf-buds surely bringing
      Spring once more--song birds are winging;
   And their mellow notes again
   Throb across the whispering rain,
   Till the banks of silver Teign
             Echo with their singing."

Chris, having read, made customary cheerful comment according to her
limitations.

"'T is just like essterday--butivul grawing weather, but 'pears to me
it's plain facts more 'n poetry. Anybody could come to the streamside
and see it all for themselves."

"Many are far away, pent in bricks and mortar, yearning deep to see the
dance of the Spring, and chained out of sight of it. This might bring
one glimpse to them."

"An' so it might, if you sold it for a bit of money. Then it could be
printed out for 'em like t'other was."

"You don't understand--you won't understand--even you."

"I caan't please 'e to-day. I likes the li'l verses ever so. You do make
such things seem butivul to my ear--an' so true as a photograph."

Clem shivered and stretched his hand for the paper. Then, in a moment,
he had torn it into twenty pieces and sent the fragments afloat.

"There! Let her take them to the sea with her. She understands. Maybe
she'll find a cool corner for me too before many days are passed."

Chris began to feel her patience failing.

"What, in God's name, have I done to 'e you should treat me like this?"
she asked, with fire in her eyes.

"Been fool enough to love me," he answered. "But it's never too late for
a woman to change her mind. Leave a sinking ship, or rather a ship that
never got properly launched, but, sticking out of its element, was left
to rot. Why don't you leave me, Chris?"

She stroked his hand, then picked it up and laid her soft cheek against
it.

"Not till the end of the world comes for wan of us, Clem. I'll love 'e
always, and the better and deeper 'cause you 'm so wisht an' unlucky
somehow. But you 'm tu wise to be miserable all your time."

"You ought to make me a man if anything could. I burn away with hopes
and hopes, and more hopes for the future, and miss the paltry thing at
hand that might save me."

"Then miss it no more, love; seek closer, an' seek sharper. Maybe gude
work an' gude money 's awnly waitin' for 'e to find it. Doan't look at
the moon an' stars so much; think of me, an' look lower."

Slowly the beauty of the hour and the sweet-hearted girl at his elbow
threw some sunshine into Clement's moody heart. For a little while the
melancholy and shiftless dreamer grew happier. He promised renewed
activity in the future, and undertook, as a first step towards Martin
Grimbal, to inform the antiquary of that great fact which his foolish
whim had thus far concealed.

"Chance might have got it to his ears through more channels than one,
you would have thought; but he's a taciturn man, asks no questions, and
invites no confidences. I like him the better for it. Next week, come
what may, I'll speak to him and tell him the truth, like a plain, blunt
man."

"Do 'e that very thing," urged Chris. "Say we'm lovers these two year
an' more; an' that you'd be glad to wed me if your way o' life was
bettered. Ban't beggin', as he knaws, for nobody doubts you'm the most
book-learned man in Chagford after parson."

Together they followed the winding of the river and proceeded through
the valley, by wood, and stile, and meadow, until they reached Rushford
Bridge. Here they delayed a moment at the parapet and, while they did
so, John Grimbal passed on foot alone.

"His house is growing," said Clement, as they proceeded to Mrs.
Blanchard's cottage.

"Aye, and his hearth will be as cold as his heart--the wretch! Well he
may turn his hard face away from me and remember what fell out on this
identical spot! But for God's gude grace he'd have been hanged to Exeter
'fore now."

"You can't put yourself in his shoes, Chris; no woman can. Think what
the world looked like to him after his loss. The girl he wanted was so
near. His hands were stretched out for her; his heart was full of her.
Then to see her slip away."

"An' quite right, tu; as you was the first to say at the time. Who's
gwaine to pity a thief who loses the purse he's stole, or a poacher that
fires 'pon another man's bird an' misses it?"

"All the same, I doubt he would have made a better husband for Phoebe
Lyddon than ever your brother will."

His sweetheart gasped at criticism so unexpected.

"You--you to say that! You, Will's awn friend!"

"It's true; and you know it as well as anybody. He has so little common
sense."

But Chris flamed up in an instant. Nothing the man's cranky temper could
do had power to irritate her long. Nothing he might say concerning
himself or her annoyed her for five minutes; but, upon the subject of
her brother, not even from Clem did Chris care to hear a disparaging
word or unfavourable comment. And this criticism, of all others,
levelled against Will angered her to instant bitter answer before she
had time to measure the weight of her words.

"'Common sense'! Perhaps you'll be so kind as to give Will Blanchard a
li'l of your awn--you being so rich in it. Best look at home, and see
what you can spare!"

So the lovers' quarrel which had been steadily brewing under the
sunshine now bubbled over and lowered thunder-black for the moment, as
such storms will.

Clement Hicks, perfectly calm now that his sweetheart's temper was gone,
marched off; and Chris, slamming the cottage door, vanished, without
taking any further leave of him than that recorded in her last
utterance.



CHAPTER II

NEWTAKE FARM


Clement Hicks told the truth when he said that Mrs. Blanchard fell
something short of her usual sound judgment and sagacity in the matter
of Will's enterprise. The home of childhood is often apt enough to
exercise magic, far-reaching attraction, and even influence a mind for
the most part unsentimental. To Damaris the thought of her son winning
his living where her father had done so was pleasant and in accordance
with eternal fitness. Not without emotion did she accompany Will to
Newtake Farm while yet the proposed bargain awaited completion; not
without strange awakenings in the dormant recesses of her memory did
Will's mother pass and pass again through the scenes of her earliest
days. From the three stone steps, or "upping stock," at the farmhouse
door, whereat a thousand times she had seen her father mount his horse,
to the environment of the farmyard; from the strange, winding staircase
of solid granite that connected upper and lower storeys, to each mean
chamber in Newtake, did Mrs. Blanchard's eyes roam thoughtfully amid the
ghosts of recollections. Her girl's life returned and the occasional
bright days gleamed forth again, vivid by contrast with the prevailing
grey. So active became thought that to relieve her mind she spoke to
Will.

"The li'l chamber over the door was mine," she said; "an' your poor
uncle had the next. I can just mind him, allus at his books, to his
faither's pride. Then he went away to Newton to join some lawyer body
an' larn his business. An' I mind the two small maids as was my elder
sisters and comed betwixt me an' Joel. Both died--like candles blawed
out roughly by the wind. They wasn't made o' the stuff to stand
Dartymoor winters."

She paused for a few moments, then proceeded:

"Theer, to west of the yard, is a croft as had corn in it wan year,
though 'tis permanent grass now, seemin'ly. Your faither corned through
theer like a snake by night more'n wance; an' oftentimes I crept down
house, shivering wi' fear an' love, to meet him under moonlight while
the auld folks slept. Tim he'd grawed to a power wi' the gypsy people by
that time; but faither was allus hard against un. He hated wanderers in
tents or 'pon wheels, or even sea-gwaine sailor-men--he carried it that
far. Then comed a peep o' day when Tim's bonny yellow caravan 'peared
around the corner of that windin' road what goes all across the Moor. At
the first stirring of light, I was ready an' skipped out; an', to this
hour, I mind the last thing as touched me kindly was the red tongue of
the sheep-dog. He ran a mile after the van, unhappy-like; then Tim
ordered un away, an' he stood in the white road an' held up his paw an'
axed a question as plain as a human. So Tim hit un hard wi' a gert
stone, an' he yelped an' gived me up for lost, an' bolted home wi' his
tail between his legs an' his eye thrawed back full of sadness over his
shoulder. Ess fay! I can see the dust puffin' up under his pads in the
grey dawn so clear as I can see you."

Again she stopped, but only for breath.

"They never answered my writings. Faither wouldn't an' mother didn't
dare. But when I was near my time, Timothy, reckoning they'd yield then
if ever, arranged to be in Chagford when I should be brought to bed. Yet
'twas ordained differ'nt, an' the roundy-poundy, wheer the caravan was
drawed up when the moment corned, be just round theer on Metherill hill,
as you knaws. So it happened right under the very walls of Newtake. In
the stone circle you comed; an' by night arterwards, sweatin' for
terror, your gran'mother, as had heard tell of it, sneaked from Newtake
to kiss me an' press you to her body. Faither never knawed till long
arter; an' though mother used to say she heard un forgive me on his
death-bed, 'twas her awn pious wish echoing in her awn ears I reckon.
But that's all awver an' done."

Mrs. Blanchard now sank into silent perambulation of the deserted
chambers. In the kitchen the whitewash was grimy, the ceiling and
windows unclean. Ashes of a peat fire still lay upon the cracked
hearthstone, and a pair of worn-out boots, left by a tramp or the last
tenant, stood on the window-sill. Dust and filth were everywhere, but no
indication of dampness or decay.

"A proper auld rogue's-roost of dirt 'tis just now," said Will; "but a
few pound spent in the right way will do a deal for it."

"An' soap an' water more," declared Mrs. Blanchard, escaping from her
reverie. "What's to be spent landlord must spend," she continued. "A
little whitewash, and some plaster to fill them holes wheer woodwork's
poking through the ceiling, an' you'll be vitty again. 'Tis
lonesome-like now, along o' being deserted, an' you'll hear the rats
galloping an' gallyarding by night, but 'twill soon be all it was
again--a dear li'l auld plaace, sure enough!"

She eyed the desolation affectionately.

"Theer's money in it, any way, for what wan man can do another can."

"Aye, I hope so, I b'lieve 'tis so; but you'll have to live hard, an'
work hard, an' be hard, if you wants to prosper here. Your gran'faither
stood to the work like a giant, an' the sharpest-fashion weather hurt
him no worse than if he'd been a granite tor. Steel-built to his heart's
core, an' needed to be."

"An' I be a stern, far-seein' man, same as him. 'Tis generally knawn I'm
no fule; and my heart's grawed hard, tu of late days, along wi' the
troubles life's brought."

She shook her head.

"You'm your faither's son, not your gran'faither's. Tim was flesh an'
blood, same as you. T'other was stone. Stone's best, when you've got to
fight wi' stone; but if flesh an' blood suffers more, it joys more, tu.
I wouldn't have 'e differ'nt--not to them as loves 'e, any way."

"I sha'n't change; an' if I did to all the world else, 'twouldn't be to
you, mother. You knaw that, I reckon. I'm hopeful; I'm more; I'm 'bout
as certain of fair fortune as a man can be. Venwell rights[6] be mine,
and theer's no better moorland grazing than round these paarts. The
farm-land looks a bit foul, along o' being let go to rack, but us'll
soon have that clean again, an' some gude stuff into it, tu. My awn
work'll be staring me in the faace before summer; an' by the time Phoebe
do come to be mistress, nobody'll knaw Newtake, I promise 'e."


[6] _Venwell rights_ = Venville rights.


Mrs. Blanchard viewed with some uneasiness the spectacle of valley-born
and valley-nurtured Phoebe taking up her abode on the high lands. For
herself she loved them well, and the Moor possessed no terrors for her;
but she had wit to guess that her daughter-in-law would think and feel
differently. Indeed, neither woman nor man might reasonably be blamed
for viewing the farm without delight when first brought within the
radius of its influence.

Newtake stood, a squat and unlovely erection, under a tar-pitched roof
of slate. Its stone walls were coated with a stucco composition, which
included tallow as an ingredient and ensured remarkable warmth and
dryness. Before its face there stretched a winding road of white flint,
that climbed from the village, five miles distant, and soon vanished
amid the undulations of the hills; while, opposite, steep heathery
slopes and grassy coombs ascended abruptly to masses of weathered
granite; and at the rear a hillside, whereon Metherill's scattered
hut-circles made incursions even into the fields of the farm, fell to
the banks of Southern Teign where she babbled between banks of
brake-fern and heather. Swelling and sinking solemnly along the sky,
Dartmoor surrounded Newtake. At the entrance of the yard stood a broken
five-barred gate between twin masses of granite; then appeared a ragged
outbuilding or two, with roofs of lichen-covered slate; and upon one
side, in a row, grew three sycamores, bent out of all uprightness by
years of western winds, and coated as to their trunks with grey lichen.
Behind a cowyard of shattered stone pavement and cracked mud stood the
farm itself, and around it extended the fields belonging thereto. They
were six or seven in number, and embraced some five-and-fifty acres of
land, mostly indifferent meadow.

Seen from the winding road, or from the bird's-eye elevation of the
adjacent tor, Newtake, with its mean ship-pens and sties, outbuildings
and little crofts, all huddled together, poverty-stricken, time-fretted,
wind-worn, and sad of colour, appeared a mere forlorn fragment of
civilisation left derelict upon the savage bosom of an untamable land.
It might have represented some forsaken, night-foundered abode of men,
torn by earthquake or magic spell from a region wholly different, and
dropped and stranded here. It sulked solitary, remote, and forgotten;
its black roof frowned over its windows, and green tears, dribbling down
its walls in time past, had left their traces, as though even spring
sunlight was powerless to eradicate the black memories of winters past,
or soften the bitter certainty of others yet to come. The fields,
snatched from the Moor in time long past, now showed a desire to return
to their wild mother again. The bars of cultivation were broken and the
land struggled to escape. Scabious would presently throw a mauve pallor
over more than one meadow croft; in another, waters rose and rushes and
yellow iris flourished and defied husbandry; elsewhere stubble, left
unploughed by the last defeated farmer, gleamed silver-grey through a
growth of weeds; while at every point the Moor thrust forward hands
laden with briar and heather. They surmounted the low stone walls and
fed and flourished upon the clods and peat that crowned them. Nature
waved early gold of the greater furze in the van of her oncoming, and
sent her wild winds to sprinkle croft and hay-field, ploughed land and
potato patch, with thistledown and the seeds of the knapweed and rattle
and bracken fern. These heathen things and a thousand others, in all the
early vigour of spring, rose triumphant above the meek cultivation. They
trampled it, strangled it, choked it, and maddened the agriculturist by
their sturdy and stubborn persistence. A forlorn, pathetic blot upon the
land of the mist was Newtake, seen even under conditions of sunlight and
fair weather; but beheld beneath autumnal rains, observed at seasons of
deep snow or in the dead waste of frozen winters, its apparition
rendered the most heavy-hearted less sad before the discovery that there
existed a human abode more hateful, a human outlook more oppressive,
than their own.

To-day heavy moorland vapours wrapped Newtake in ghostly raiment, yet no
forlorn emotions clouded the survey of those who now wandered about the
lifeless farm. In the mind of one, here retracing the course of her
maidenhood, this scene, if sad, was beautiful. The sycamores, whose
brown spikes had burst into green on a low bough or two, were the trees
she loved best in the world; the naked field on the hillside, wherein a
great stone ring shone grey through the silver arms of the mist,
represented the theatre of her life's romance. There she had stolen
oftentimes to her lover, and in another such, not far distant, had her
son been born. Thoughts of little sisters rose in the naked kitchen,
with the memory of a flat-breasted, wild-eyed mother, who did man's
work; of a father, who spoke seldom and never twice--a father whose
heavy foot upon the threshold sent his children scuttling like rabbits
to hidden lairs and dens. She remembered the dogs; the bright gun-barrel
above the chimney-piece; the steam of clothes hung to dry after many a
soaking in "soft" weather; the reek of the peat; the brown eyes and
steaming nostrils of the bullocks, that sometimes looked through the
kitchen window in icy winter twilights, as though they would willingly
change their byres for the warmth within.

Mrs. Blanchard enjoyed the thought that her son should reanimate these
scenes of her own childhood; and he, burning with energy and zeal, and
not dead to his own significance as a man of money, saw promises of
prosperity on either hand. It lay with him, he told his heart, to win
smiling fatness from this hungry region. Right well he knew how it came
about that those who had preceded him had failed, missed their
opportunities, fooled themselves, and flung away their chances.
Evidences of their ignorance stared at him from the curtains of the
mist, but he knew better; he was a man who had thought a bit in his time
and had his head screwed on the right way, thank God. These facts he
poured into his mother's ear, and she smiled thoughtfully, noted the
changes time had wrought, and indicated to him those things the landlord
might reasonably be expected to do before Will should sign and seal.

The survey ended, her son helped Damaris into a little market-cart,
which he had bought for her upon coming into his fortune. A staid pony,
also his purchase, completed the equipage, and presently Mrs. Blanchard
drove comfortably away; while Will, who yet proposed to tramp, for the
twentieth time, each acre of Newtake land, watched her depart, then
turned to continue his researches. A world of thought rested on his
brown face. Arrived at each little field, he licked his pencil, and made
notes in a massive new pocketbook. He strode along like a conqueror of
kingdoms, frowned and scratched his curly head as problem after problem
rose, smiled when he solved them, and entered the solution in his book.
For the wide world was full of young green, and this sanguine youth
soared lark-high in soul under his happy circumstances. Will breathed
out kindness to all mankind just at present, and now before that
approaching welfare he saw writ largely in beggarly Newtake, before the
rosy dawn which Hope spread over this cemetery of other men's dead
aspirations, he felt his heart swell to the world. Two clouds only
darkened his horizon then. One was the necessity of beginning the new
life without his life's partner; while the other, formerly tremendous
enough, had long since shrunk to a shadow on the horizon of the past.
His secret still remained, but that circumstance was too remote to
shadow the new enterprise. It existed, however, and its recurrence wove
occasional gloomy patterns into the web of Will Blanchard's thought.



CHAPTER III

OVER A RIDING-WHIP


Will completed his survey and already saw, in his mind's eye, a brave
masque of autumn gold spreading above the lean lands of Newtake. From
this spectacle to that of garnered harvests and great gleaming stacks
bursting with fatness the transition was natural and easy. He pictured
kine in the farmyard, many sheep upon the hills, and Phoebe with such
geese, ducks, and turkeys as should make her quite forget the poultry of
Monks Barton. Then, having built castles in the air until his
imagination was exhausted, Will shut the outer gate with the touch of
possession, turned a moment to see how Newtake looked from the roadway,
found only the shadow of it looming through the mist, and so departed,
whistling and slapping his gaiters with an ash sapling.

It happened that beside a gate which closed the moorland precincts to
prevent cattle from wandering, a horseman stood, and as the pedestrian
passed him in the gathering gloaming, he dropped his hunting-stock while
making an effort to open the gate without dismounting.

"Bide wheer you be!" said Will; "I'll pick un up an' ope the gate for
'e."

He did so and handed the whip back to its owner. Then each recognised
the other, and there was a moment of silence.

"'Tis you, Jan Grimbal, is it?" asked the younger. "I didn't knaw 'e in
the dimpsy light."

He hesitated, and his words when they came halted somewhat, but his
meaning was evident.

"I'm glad you'm back to home. I'll forget all what's gone, if you will.
'Twas give an' take, I s'pose. I took my awn anyway, an' you comed near
killing me for't, so we'm upsides now, eh? We'm men o' the world
likewise. So--so shall us shake hands an' let bygones be, Jan Grimbal?"

He half raised his hand, and looked up, with a smile at the corner of
his lip ready to jump into life if the rider should accept his
friendship. But Grimbal's response was otherwise.

To say little goodness dwelt in this man had been untrue, but recent
events and the first shattering reverse that life brought him proved
sufficient to sour his very soul and eclipse a sun which aforetime shone
with great geniality because unclouded. Fate hits such men particularly
hard when her delayed blow falls. Existences long attuned to success and
level fortune; lives which have passed through five-and-thirty years of
their allotted span without much sorrow, without sharp thorns in the
flesh, without those carking, gnawing trials of mind and body which Time
stores up for all humanity--such feel disaster when it does reach them
with a bitterness unknown by those who have been in misery's school from
youth. Poverty does not bite the poor as it bites him who has known
riches and afterwards fights destitution; feeble physical circumstances
do not crush the congenital invalid, but they often come near to break
the heart of a man who, until their black advent, has known nothing but
rude health; great reverses in the vital issues of life and fortune fail
to obliterate one who knows their faces of old, but the first enemy's
cannon on Time's road must ever bring ugly shock to him who has advanced
far and happily without meeting any such thing.

Grimbal's existence had been of a rough-and-ready sort shone over by
success. Philosophy he lacked, for life had never turned his mind that
way; religion was likewise absent from him; and his recent tremendous
disappointment thus thundered upon a mind devoid of any machinery to
resist it. The possession of Phoebe Lyddon had come to be an accepted
and accomplished fact; he chose her for his own, to share the good
things Fortune had showered into his lap--to share them and be a
crowning glory of them. The overthrow of this scheme at the moment of
realisation upset his estimate of life in general and set him adrift and
rudderless, in the hurricane of his first great reverse. Of selfish
temperament, and doubly so by the accident of consistent success, the
wintry wind of this calamity slew and then swept John Grimbal's common
sense before it, like a dead leaf. All that was worst in him rose to the
top upon his trouble, and since Will's marriage the bad had been winning
on the good and thrusting it deeper and deeper out of sight or immediate
possibility of recovery. At all times John Grimbal's inferior
characteristics were most prominently displayed, and superficial
students of character usually rated him lower than others really worse
than himself, but who had wit to parade their best traits. Now, however,
he rode and strode the country a mere scowling ruffian, with his
uppermost emotions still stamped on his face. The calamity also bred an
unsuspected sensitiveness in him, and he smarted often under the
reflection of what others must be thinking. His capability towards
vindictiveness proved very considerable. Formerly his anger against his
fellow-men had been as a thunder-storm, tremendous but brief in
duration; now, before this bolt of his own forging, a steady, malignant
activity germinated and spread through the whole tissue of his mind.

Those distractions open to a man of Grimbal's calibre presently blunted
the edge of his loss, and successful developments of business also
served to occupy him during the visit he paid to Africa; but no
interests as yet had arisen to obscure or dull his hatred of Will
Blanchard. The original blaze of rage sank to a steady, abiding fire,
less obviously tremendous than that first conflagration, but in reality
hotter. In a nature unsubtle, revenge will not flourish as a grand
passion for any length of time. It must reach its outlet quickly and
attain to its ambition without overmuch delay, else it shrivels and
withers to a mere stubborn, perhaps lifelong, enmity--a dwarfish, mulish
thing, devoid of any tragic splendour. But up to the point that John
Grimbal had reached as yet, his character, though commonplace in most
affairs, had unexpectedly quickened to a condition quite profound where
his revenge was concerned.

He still cherished the certainty of a crushing retaliation. He was glad
he had not done Blanchard any lifelong injury; he was glad the man yet
lived for time and him to busy themselves about; he was even glad (and
herein appeared the unsuspected subtlety) that Will had prospered and
come by a little show of fortune. Half unconsciously he hoped for the
boy something of his own experiences, and had determined with
himself--in a spirit very melodramatic but perfectly sincere at
present--to ruin his enemy if patience and determination could
accomplish it.

In this mood, with his wrongs sharpened by return to Chagford and his
purposes red-hot, John Grimbal now ran against his dearest foe, received
the horsewhip from him, and listened to his offer of peace.

He still kept silence and Will lowered the half-lifted arm and spoke
again.

"As you please. I can bide very easy without your gude word."

"That's well, then," said the other, in his big voice, as his hands
tightened. "We've met again. I'm glad I didn't break your neck, for your
heart's left to break, and by the living God I'll break it! I can wait.
I'm older than you, but young enough. Remember, I'll run you down sooner
or later. I've hunted most things, and men aren't the cleverest beasts
and you're not the cleverest man I've bested in my time. You beat me--I
know it--but it would have been better for you if you hadn't been born.
There's the truth for your country ears, you damned young hound. I'll
fight fair and I'll fight to the finish. Sport--that's what it is. The
birds and the beasts and the fish have their close time; but there won't
be any close time for you, not while I can think and work against you.
So now you know. D' you hear me?"

"Ess," said Will, meeting the other's fierce eyes; "I hear 'e, an' so
might the dead in Chagford buryin'-ground. You hollers loud enough. I
ban't 'feared of nothing a hatch-mouthed,[7] crooked-minded man, same as
you be, can do. An' if I'm a hound, you 'm a dirty red fox, an'
everybody knaws who comes out top when they meet. Steal my gal, would
'e? Gaw your ways, an' mend your ways, an' swallow your bile. I doan't
care a flicker o' wildfire for 'e!"


[7] _Hatch-mouthed_ = foul mouthed; profane.


John Grimbal heard only the beginning of this speech, for he turned his
back on Will and rode away while the younger man still shouted after
him. Blanchard was in a rage, and would have liked to make a third trial
of strength with his enemy on the spot, but the rider vanished and Will
quickly cooled as he went down the hill to Chagford. The remembrance of
this interview, for all his scorn, chilled him when he reflected on John
Grimbal's threats. He feared nothing indeed, but here was another cloud,
and a black one, blown violently back from below the horizon of his life
to the very zenith. Malignity of this type was strange to him and
differed widely from the petty bickerings, jealousies, and strifes of
ordinary country existence. It discouraged him to feel in his hour of
universal contentment that a strong, bitter foe would now be at hand,
forever watching to bring ruin on him at the first opportunity. As he
walked home he asked himself how he should feel and act in Grimbal's
shoes, and tried to look at the position from his enemy's standpoint. Of
course he told himself that he would have accepted defeat with right
philosophy. It was a just fix for a man to find himself in,--a proper
punishment for a mean act. Arguing thus, from the right side of the
hedge, he forgot what wiser men have forgotten, that there is no
disputing about man's affection for woman, there is no transposition of
the standpoint, there is no looking through another's eyes upon a girl.
Many have loved, and many have rendered vivid pictures of the emotion,
touched with insight of genius and universally proclaimed true to nature
from general experience; but no two men love alike, and neither you nor
another man can better say how a third feels under the yoke, estimate
his thrall, or foretell his actions, despite your own experience, than
can one sufferer from gout, though it has torn him half a hundred times,
gauge the qualities of another's torment under the same disease. Will
could not guess what John Grimbal had felt for Phoebe; he knew nothing
of the other's disposition, because, young in knowledge of the world and
a boy still, despite his age, it was beyond him to appreciate even
remotely the mind of a man fifteen years older than himself--a man of
very different temper and one whose life had been such as we have just
described.

Home went Blanchard, and kept his meeting secret. His mother, returning
long before him, was already in some argument with Chris concerning the
disposal of certain articles of furniture, the pristine splendour of
which had been worn off at Newtake five-and-thirty years before. At
Farmer Ford's death these things passed to his son, and he, not
requiring them, had made them over to Damaris.

"They was flam-new when first my parents married and comed to Newtake,
many a year ago; and now I want 'em to go back theer. They've seed three
generations, an' I'd be well pleased that a fourth should kick its li'l
boots out against them. They 'm stout enough yet. Sweat went to building
of chairs an' tables in them days; now it's steam. Besides, 'twill save
Will's pocket a tidy bit."

Chris, however, though she could deny Will nothing, was divided here,
for why should her mother part from those trifles which contributed to
the ample adornment of her cottage? Certain stout horsehair furniture
and a piano were the objects Mrs. Blanchard chiefly desired should go to
Newtake. The piano, indeed, had never been there before. It was a
present to Damaris from her dead husband, who purchased the instrument
second-hand for five pounds at a farm sale. Its wiry jingle spoke of
evolution from harpsichord or spinet to the modern instrument; its
yellow keys, from which the ivory in some cases was missing, and its
high back, stained silk front, and fretted veneer indicated age; while
above the keyboard a label, now growing indistinct, set forth that one
"William Harper, of Red Lion Street, Maker of piano-fortes to his late
Majesty" was responsible for the instrument very early in the century.

Now Will joined the discussion, but his mother would take no denial.

"These chairs and sofa be yours, and the piano's my present to Phoebe.
She'll play to you of a Sunday afternoon belike."

"An' it's here she'll do it; for my Sundays'll be spent along with you,
of coourse, 'cept when you comes up to my farm to spend 'em. That's what
I hope'll fall out; an' I want to see Miller theer, tu, after he've
found I'm right and he'm wrong."

But the event proved that, even in his new capacity as a man of money
and a landholder, Will was not to win much ground with Mr. Lyddon. Two
circumstances contributed to the continued conflict, and just as Phoebe
was congratulating herself and others upon the increasing amity between
her father and her husband matters fell out which caused the miller to
give up all hope of Will for the hundredth time. First came the
occupancy of Newtake at a rent Mr. Lyddon considered excessive; and then
followed a circumstance that touched the miller himself, for, by the
offer of two shillings more a week than he received at Monks Barton,
Will tempted into his service a labourer held in great esteem by his
father-in-law.

Sam Bonus appeared the incarnation of red Devon earth, built up on solid
beef and mutton. His tanned face was framed in crisp black hair that no
razor had ever touched; his eyes were deep-set and bright; his narrow
brow was wrinkled, not with thought, but as the ape's. A remarkably tall
and powerful frame supported Sam's little head. He laboured like a horse
and gave as little trouble, triumphed in feats of brute strength,
laughed at a day's work, never knew ache or pain. He had always greatly
admired Blanchard, and, faced with the tempting bait of a florin a week
more than his present wage, abandoned Monks Barton and readily followed
Will to the Moor. His defection was greatly deplored, and though Will
told Mr. Blee what he intended beforehand, and made no secret of his
design to secure Sam if possible, Billy discredited the information
until too late. Then the miller heard of his loss, and, not unnaturally,
took the business ill.

"Gormed if it ban't open robbery!" declared Mr. Blee, as he sat and
discussed the matter with his master one evening, "an' the thankless,
ill-convenient twoad to go to Blanchard, of all men!"

"He'll be out of work again soon enough. And he needn't come back to me
when he is. I won't take him on no more."

"'Twould be contrary to human nature if you did."

"Human nature!" snapped the miller, with extreme irritation. "'Twould
puzzle Solomon to say what's come over human nature of late days."

"'Tis a nut wi' a maggot in it," mused Billy: "three parts rotten, the
rest sweet. An' all owing to fantastic inventions an' new ways of
believin' in God wi'out church-gwaine, as parson said Sunday. Such
things do certainly Play hell with human nature, in a manner o'
speakin'. I reckon the uprising men an' women's wickeder than us, as
sucked our mothers in quieter times afore the railroads."

"Bonus is such a fule!" said Mr. Lyddon, harking back to his loss. "Yet
I thought he belonged to the gude old-fashioned sort."

"I told un he was out in his reckoning, that he'd be left in the cold
bimebye, so sure as Blanchard was Blanchard and Newtake was Newtake; but
he awnly girned his gert, ear-wide girn, an' said he knawed better."

"To think of more gude money bein' buried up theer! You've heard my view
of all ground wi' granite under it. Such a deal ought to have been done
wi' that thousand pound."

"Oughts are noughts, onless they've strokes to 'em," declared Billy.
"'Tis a poor lookout, for he'm the sort as buys experience in the
hardest market. Then, when it's got, he'll be a pauper man, with what he
knaws useless for want o' what's spent gettin' it. Theer's the thought
o' Miss Phoebe, tu,--Mrs. Blanchard, I should say. Caan't see her biding
up to Newtake nohow, come the hard weather."

"'Wedlock an' winter tames maids an' beastes,'" said Mr. Lyddon
bitterly. "A true saw that."

"Ess; an' when 'tis wedlock wi' Blanchard, an' winter on Dartymoor,
'twould tame the daughter of the Dowl, if he had wan."

Billy laughed at this thought. His back rounded as he sat in his chair,
his head seemed to rise off his lower jaw, and the yellow frill of hair
under his chin stood stiffly out.

"He's my son-in-law; you 'pear to forget that, Blee," said Mr. Lyddon;
"I'm sure I wish I could, if 'twas even now an' again."

Thereupon Billy straightened his face and cast both rancour and
merriment to the winds.

"Why, so he be; an' grey hairs should allus make allowance for the young
youths; though I ain't forgot that spadeful o' muck yet, an' never
shall. But theer's poison in bwoy's blood what awnly works out of the
brain come forty. I'm sure I wish nothing but well to un. He's got his
saving graces, same as all of us, if we could but see 'em; an' come what
may, God looks arter His awn chosen fules, so theer's hope even for
Blanchard." "Cold consolation," said Mr. Lyddon wearily; "but't is all
we've got. Two nights since I dreamt I saw un starvin' on a dunghill. 'T
was a parable, I judge, an' meant Newtake Farm."



CHAPTER IV

DEFEATED HOPES


Below Newtake Farm the river Teign wound, with many a foaming fall and
singing rapid, to confluence with her twin sister in the valley beneath.
Here, at a certain spot, above the forest and beneath the farm, stood
Martin Grimbal on a bright afternoon in May. Over his head rose a rowan,
in a soft cloud of serrated foliage, with clusters of grey-green flower
buds already foretelling the crimson to come; about his feet a silver
army of uncurling fronds brightened the earth and softened the sharp
edges of the boulders scattered down the coomb. Here the lover waited to
the music of a cuckoo, and his eyes ever turned towards a stile at the
edge of the pine woods, two hundred yards distant from him.

The hour was one of tremendous possibilities, because Fate had been
occupied with Martin through many days, and now he stood on the brink of
great joy or sorrow. Clement Hicks had never spoken to him. During his
quarrel with Chris, which lasted a fortnight, the bee-keeper purposely
abstained from doing her bidding, while after their reconciliation every
other matter in the world was swallowed up for a time in the delight of
renewed love-making. The girl, assuming throughout these long weeks that
Martin now knew all, had met him in frank and kindly spirit on those
occasions when he planned to enjoy her society, and this open warmth
awoke renewed heart for Grimbal, who into her genial friendship read
promise and from it recruited hope. His love now dominated his spiritual
being and filled his life. Grey granite was grey granite only, and no
more. During his long walks by pillar-stone, remote row, and lonely
circle, Chris, and Chris alone, occupied his brain. He debated the
advisability of approaching Will, then turned rather to the thought of
sounding Mrs. Blanchard, and finally nerved himself to right action and
determined to address Chris. He felt this present heart-shaking suspense
must be laid at rest, for the peace of his soul, and therefore he took
his courage in his hands and faced the ordeal.

That day Chris was going up to Newtake. She had not yet settled there,
though her brother and Sam Bonus were already upon the ground, but the
girl came and went, busying her fingers with a hundred small matters
that daily increased the comfort of the little farm. Her way lay usually
by the coomb, and Martin, having learned that she was visiting Will on
the occasion in question, set out before her and awaited her here,
beside the river, in a lonely spot between the moorland above and the
forest below. He felt physically nervous, yet hope brightened his mind,
though he tried to strangle it. Worn and weary with his long struggle,
he paced up and down, now looking to the stile, now casting dissatisfied
glances upon his own person. Shaving with more than usual care, he had
cut his chin deeply, and, though he knew it not, the wound had bled
again since he left home and ruined both his collar and a new tie, put
on for the occasion.

Presently he saw her. A sunbonnet bobbed at the stile and Chris
appeared, bearing a roll of chintz for Newtake blinds. In her other hand
she carried half a dozen bluebells from the woods, and she came with the
free gait acquired in keeping stride through long tramps with Will when
yet her frocks were short. Martin loved her characteristic speed in
walking. So Diana doubtless moved. The spring sunshine had found Chris
and the clear, soft brown of her cheek was the most beautiful thing in
nature to the antiquary. He knew her face so well now: the dainty poise
of her head, the light of her eyes, the dark curls that always clustered
in the same places, the little updrawing at the corner of her mouth as
she smiled, the sudden gleam of her teeth when she laughed, and the
abrupt transitions of her expression from repose to gladness, from
gladness back again into repose.

She saw the man before she reached him, and waved her bluebells to show
that she had done so. Then he rose from his granite seat and took off
his hat and stood with it off, while his heart thundered, his eye
watered, and his mouth twitched. But he was outwardly calm by the time
Chris reached him.

"What a surprise to find 'e here, Martin! Yet not much, neither, for
wheer the auld stones be, theer you 'm to be expected."

"How are you, Chris? But I needn't ask. Yes, I'm fond of the stones."

"Well you may be. They talk to 'e like friends, seemingly. An' even I
knaw a sight more 'bout 'em now. You've made me feel so differ'nt to
'em, you caan't think."

"For that matter," he answered, leaping at the chance, "you've made me
feel different to them."

"Why, how could I, Martin?"

"I'll tell you. Would you mind sitting down here, just for a moment? I
won't keep you. I've no right to ask for a minute of your time; but
there's dry moss upon it--I mean the stone; and I was waiting on
purpose, if you'll forgive me for waylaying you like this. There's a
little thing--a big thing, I mean--the biggest--too big for words
almost, yet it wants words--and yet sometimes it doesn't--at
least--I--would you sit here?"

He was breathing rather hard, and his words were tripping. Managing his
voice ill, the tones of it ran away from bass to shrill treble. She saw
it all at a glance, and realised that Martin had been blundering on, in
pure ignorance and pure love, all these weary weeks. She sat down
silently and her mind moved like light along the wide gamut of fifty
emotions in a second. Anger and sorrow strove together,--anger with Clem
and his callous, cynic silence, sorrow for the panting wretch before
her. Chris opened her mouth to speak, then realised where her flying
thoughts had taken her and that, as yet, Martin Grimbal had said
nothing. Her unmaidenly attitude and the sudden reflection that she was
about to refuse one before he had asked her, awoke a hysteric
inclination to laugh, then a longing to cry. But all the anxious-visaged
man before her noted was a blush that waved like auroral light from the
girl's neck to her cheek, from her cheek to her forehead. That he saw,
and thought it was love, and thanked the Lord in his clumsy fashion
aloud.

"God be praised! I do think you guess--I do think you guess! But oh, my
dear, my dear, you don't know what 's in my heart for you. My little
pearl of a Chris, can you care for such a bear of a man? Can you let me
labour all my life long to make your days good to you? I love you so--I
do. I never thought when the moment came I should find tongue to speak
it, but I have; and now I could say it fifty thousand times. I'd just be
proud to tie your shoe-string, Chris, my dear, and be your old slave
and--Chris! my Chris! I've hurt you; I've made you cry! Was I--was I all
wrong? Don't, don't--I'll go--Oh, my darling one, God knows I
wouldn't--"

He broke off blankly and stood half sorrowful, half joyous. He knew he
had no right as yet to go to the comfort of the girl now sobbing beside
him, but hope was not dead. And Chris, overcome by this outpouring of
love, now suffered very deep sorrow, while she turned away from him and
hid her face and wept. The poor distracted fool still failed to guess
the truth, for he knew tint tears are the outcome of happiness as well
as misery. He waited, open-mouthed, he murmured something--God knows
what--then he went close and thought to touch her waist, but feared and
laid his hand gently on her shoulder.

"Don't 'e!" she said; and he began to understand and to struggle with
himself to lessen her difficulty.

"Forgive me--forgive me if you can, Chris. Was I all wrong? Then I ought
to have known better--but even an old stick like me--before you, Chris.
Somehow I--but don't cry. I wouldn't have brought the tears to your eyes
for all the world--dense idiot I am--"

"No, no, no; no such thing 't all, Martin. 'Tis I was cruel not to see
you didn't knaw. You've been treated ill, an' I'm cryin' that such a
gude--gude, braave, big-hearted man as you, should be brought to this
for a fule of a gal like me. I ban't worthy a handshake from 'e, or a
kind word. An'--an'--Clem Hicks--Clem be tokened to me these two year
an' more. He'm the best man in the world; an' I hate un for not tellin'
'e--an'--an'--"

Chris sobbed herself to the end of her tears; and the man took his
trial--like a man. His only thought was the sadness his blunder had
brought with it for her. To misread her blush seemed in his humility a
crime. His consistent unselfishness blinded him, for an instant at
least, to his own grief. He blamed himself and asked pardon and prepared
to get away out of her sight as soon as possible.

"Forgive me, Chris--I needn't ask you twice, I know--such a stupid
thing--I didn't understand--I never observed: but more shame to me. I
ought to have seen, of course. Anybody else would--any man of proper
feeling."

"How could 'e see it with a secret chap like him? He ought to have told
'e; I bid un speak months since; an' I thought he had; an' I hate un for
not doing it!"

"But you mustn't. Don't cry any more, and forget all about it. I could
almost laugh to think how blind I've been. We'll both laugh next time we
meet. If you're happy, then I'll laugh always. That's all I care for.
Now I know you're happy again, I'm happy, too, Chris--honour bright.
And I'll be a friend still--remember that--always--to you--to you and
him."

"I hate un, I say."

"Why, he didn't give me credit for being such a bat--such a mole. Now I
must be away. We'll meet pretty soon, I expect. Just forget this
afternoon as though it had never been, even though it's such a jolly
sunny one. And remember me as a friend--a friend still for all my
foolishness. Good-by for the present. Good-by."

He nodded, making the parting a slight thing and not missing the
ludicrous in his anxiety to spare her pain. He went down the valley,
leaving her sitting alone. He assumed a jaunty air and did not look
round, but hastened off to the stile. Never in his most light-hearted
moments had he walked thus or struck right and left at the leaves and
shrubs with such a clumsy affectation of nonchalance. Thus he played the
fool until out of sight; then his head came down, and his feet dragged,
and his walk and mien grew years older than his age. He stopped
presently and stood still, staring upon the silence. Westering sunlight
winnowed through the underwood, splashed into its sombre depths and
brightened the sobriety of a grey carpet dotted with dead cones. Sweet
scents floated downward upon the sad whisper that lives in every pine
forest; then came suddenly a crisp rattle of little claws and a tiny
barking, where two red squirrels made love, high aloft, amid the grey
lichens and emerald haze of a great larch that gleamed like a green lamp
through the night of the dark surrounding foliage.

Martin Grimbal dropped his stick and flung down his body in the hushed
and hidden dreamland of the wood. Now he knew that his hope had lied to
him, that the judgment he prided himself upon, and which had prompted
him to this great deed, was at fault. The more than common tact and
delicacy of feeling he had sometimes suspected he possessed in rare,
exalted moments, were now shown vain ideas born from his own conceit;
and the event had proved him no more subtle, clever, or far-seeing than
other men. Indeed, he rated himself as an abject blunderer and thought
he saw how a great overwhelming fear, at the bottom of his worship of
Chris, had been the only true note in all that past war of emotions. But
he had refused to listen and pushed forward; and now he stood thus.
Looking back in the light of his defeat, his previous temerity amazed
him. His own ugliness, awkwardness, and general unfitness to be the
husband of Chris were ideas now thrust upward in all honesty to the top
of his mind. No mock modesty or simulated delicacy inspired them, for
after defeat a man is frank with himself. Whatever he may have pretended
before he puts his love to the test, however he may have blinded himself
as to his real feelings and beliefs before he offers his heart, after
the event has ended unfavourably his real soul stands naked before him
and, according to his character, he decides whether himself or the girl
is the fool. Grimbal criticised his own audacity with scanty compassion
now; and the thought of the tears of Chris made him clench one hand and
smash it hard again and again into the palm of the other. No passionate
protest rose in his mind against the selfish silence of Clement Hicks;
he only saw his own blindness and magnified it into an absolute offence
against Chris. Presently, as the sunlight sank lower, and the straight
stems of the pines glimmered red-gold against the deepening gloom,
Martin retraced the scene that was past and recalled her words and
actions, her tears, the trembling of her mouth, and that gesture when
the wild flowers dropped from her hand and her fingers went up to cover
her eyes. Then a sudden desire mastered him: to possess the purple of
her bluebell bouquet. He knew she would not pick it up again when he was
gone; so he returned, stood in that theatre of Fate beneath the rowan,
saw where her body had pressed the grass, and found the fading flowers.

Then he turned to tramp home, with the truth gnawing his heart at last.
The excitement was over, all flutter of hope and fear at rest. Only that
bitter fact of failure remained, with the knowledge that one, but
yesterday so essential and so near, had now vanished like a rainbow
beyond his reach.

Martin's eyes were opened in the light of this experience. John came
into his mind, and estimating his brother's sufferings by his own, the
stricken man found room in his sad heart for pity.



CHAPTER V

THE ZEAL OF SAM BONUS


Under conditions of spring and summer Newtake Farm flattered Will's
hopes not a little. He worked like a giant, appropriated some of that
credit belonging to fine weather, and viewed the future with very
considerable tranquillity. Of beasts he purchased wisely, being guided
in that matter by Mr. Lyddon; but for the rest he was content to take
his own advice. Already his ambition extended beyond the present limits
of his domain; already he contemplated the possibility of reclaiming
some of the outlying waste and enlarging his borders. If the Duchy might
spread greedy fingers and inclose "newtakes," why not the Venville
tenants? Many besides Will asked themselves that question; the position
was indeed fruitful of disputes in various districts, especially on
certain questions involving cattle; and no moorland Quarter breathed
forth greater discontent against the powers than that of which Chagford
was the central parish.

Sam Bonus, inspired by his master's sanguine survey of life, toiled
amain, believed all that Will predicted, and approved each enterprise he
planned; while as for Chris, in due time she settled at Newtake and
undertook woman's work there with her customary thoroughness and energy.
To her lot fell the poultry, the pair of fox-hound puppies that Will
undertook to keep for the neighbouring hunt, and all the interior
economy and control of the little household.

On Sundays Phoebe heard of the splendid doings at Newtake; upon which
she envied Chris her labours, and longed to be at Will's right hand. For
the present, however, Miller Lyddon refused his daughter permission even
to visit the farm; and she obeyed, despite her husband's indignant
protests.

Thus matters stood while the sun shone brightly from summer skies. Will,
when he visited Chagford market, talked to the grizzled farmers,
elaborated his experience, shook his head or nodded it knowingly as
they, in their turn, discussed the business of life, paid due respect to
their wisdom, and offered a little of his own in exchange for it. That
the older men lacked pluck was his secret conviction. The valley folk
were braver; but the upland agriculturists, all save himself, went in
fear. Their eyes were careworn, their caution extreme; behind the summer
they saw another shadow forever moving; and the annual struggle with
those ice-bound or water-logged months of the early year, while as yet
the Moor had nothing for their stock, left them wearied and spiritless
when the splendour of the summer came. They farmed furtively, snatching
at such good as appeared, distrusting their own husbandry, fattening the
land with reluctance, cowering under the shadow of withered hopes and
disappointments too numerous to count. Will pitied this mean spirit and,
unfamiliar with wet autumns and hard winters on the high land, laughed
at his fellow-countrymen. But they were kind and bid him be cautious and
keep his little nest-egg snug.

"Tie it up in stout leather, my son," said a farmer from Gidleigh. "Ay,
an' fasten the bag wi' a knot as'll take 'e half an hour to undo; an'
remember, the less you open it, the better for your peace of mind."

All of which good counsel Blanchard received with expressions of
gratitude, yet secretly held to be but the croaking of a past
generation, stranded far behind that wave of progress on which he
himself was advancing crest-high.

It happened one evening, when Clement Hicks visited Newtake to go for a
walk under the full moon with Chris, that he learnt she was away for a
few days. This fact had been mentioned to Clement; but he forgot it, and
now found himself here, with only Will and Sam Bonus for company. He
accepted the young farmer's invitation to supper, and the result proved
unlucky in more directions than one. During this meal Clem railed in
surly vein against the whole order of things as it affected himself, and
made egotistical complaint as to the hardness of life; then, when his
host began to offer advice, he grew savage and taunted Will with his own
unearned good fortune. Blanchard, weary after a day of tremendous
physical exertion, made sharp answer. He felt his old admiration for
Clem Hicks much lessened of late, and it nettled him not a little that
his friend should thus attribute his present position to the mere
accident of a windfall. He was heartily sick of the other's endless
complaints, and now spoke roughly and to the point.

"What the devil's the gude of this eternal bleat? You'm allus snarlin'
an' gnashin' your teeth 'gainst God, like a rat bitin' the stick that's
killin' it."

"And why should God kill me? You've grown so wise of late, perhaps you
know."

"Why shouldn't He? Why shouldn't He kill you, or any other man, if He
wants the room of un for a better? Not that I believe parson's stuff
more 'n you; but grizzlin' your guts to fiddlestrings won't mend your
fortune. Best to put your time into work, 'stead o' talk--same as me an'
Bonus. And as for my money, you knaw right well if theer'd been two
thousand 'stead of wan, I'd have shared it with Chris."

"Easy to say! If there had been two, you would have said, 'If it was
only four'! That's human nature."

"Ban't my nature, anyway, to tell a lie!" burst out Will.

"Perhaps it's your nature to do worse. What were you about last
Christmas?"

Blanchard set down knife and fork and looked the other in the face. None
had heard this, for Bonus, his meal ended, went off to the little tallet
over a cattle-byre which was his private apartment.

"You'd rip that up again--you, who swore never to open' your mouth upon
it?"

"You're frightened now."

"Not of you, anyway. But you'd best not to come up here no more. I'm
weary of you; I don't fear you worse than a blind worm; but such as you
are, you've grawed against me since my luck comed. I wish Chris would
drop you as easy as I can, for you'm teachin' her to waste her life,
same as you waste yours."

"Very well, I'll go. We're enemies henceforth, since you wish it so."

"Blamed if you ban't enough to weary Job! 'Enemies'! It's like a child
talkin'. 'Enemies'! D'you think I care a damn wan way or t'other? You'm
so bad as Jan Grimbal wi' his big play-actin' talk. He'm gwaine to cut
my tether some day. P'r'aps you'll go an' help un to do it! The past is
done, an' no man who weern't devil all through would go back on such a
oath as you sweared to me. An' you won't. As to what's to come, you
can't hurt a straight plain-dealer, same as me, though you'm free an'
welcome to try if you please to."

"The future may take care of itself; and for your straight speaking I'll
give you mine. Go your way and I'll go my way; but until you beg my
forgiveness for this night's talk I'll never cross your threshold again,
or speak to you, or think of you."

Clement rose from his unfinished food, picked up his hat, and vanished,
and Will, dismissing the matter with a toss of his head and a
contemptuous expiration of breath, gave the poet's plate of cold potato
and bacon to a sheep-dog and lighted his pipe.

Not ten hours later, while yet some irritation at the beekeeper's spleen
troubled Blanchard's thoughts as he laboured upon his land, a voice
saluted him from the highway and he saw a friend.

"An' gude-marnin' to you, Martin. Another braave day, sure 'nough. Climb
awver the hedge. You'm movin' early. Ban't eight o'clock."

"I'm off to the 'Grey Wethers,' those old ruined circles under Sittaford
Tor, you know. But I meant a visit to you as well. Bonus was in the
farmyard and brought me with him."

"Ess fay, us works, I tell 'e. We'm fightin' the rabbits now. The li'l
varmints have had it all theer way tu long; but this wire netting'll
keep 'em out the corn next year an' the turnips come autumn. How be you
fearin'? I aint seen 'e this longful time."

"Well, thank you; and as busy as you in my way. I'm going to write a
book about the Dartmoor stones."

"'S truth! Be you? Who'll read it?"

"Don't know yet. And, after all, I have found out little that sharper
eyes haven't discovered already. Still, it fills my time. And it is that
I'm here about."

"You can go down awver my land to the hut-circles an' welcome whenever
you mind to."

"Sure of it, and thank you; but it's another thing just now--your
brother-in-law to be. I think perhaps, if he has leisure, he might be
useful to me. A very clever fellow, Hicks."

But Will was in no humour to hear Clement praised just then, or suggest
schemes for his advancement.

"He'm a weak sapling of a man, if you ax me. Allus grumblin', an' soft
wi' it--as I knaw--none better," said Blanchard, watching Bonus struggle
with the rabbit netting.

"He's out of his element, I think--a student--a bookish man, like
myself."

"As like you as chalk's like cheese--no more. His temper, tu! A bull in
spring's a fule to him. I'm weary of him an' his cleverness."

"You see, if I may venture to say so, Chris--"

"I knaw all 'bout that. 'Tis like your gudeness to try an' put a li'l
money in his pocket wi'out stepping on his corns. They 'm tokened. Young
people 's so muddle-headed. Bees indeed! Nice things to keep a wife an'
bring up a fam'ly on! An' he do nothin' but write rhymes, an' tear 'em
up again, an' cuss his luck, wi'out tryin' to mend it. I thought
something of un wance, when I was no more 'n a bwoy, but as I get up in
years I see the emptiness of un."

"He would grow happy and sweeter-hearted if he could marry your sister."

"Not him! Of course, if it's got to be, it will be. I ban't gwaine to
see Chris graw into an auld maid. An' come bimebye, when I've saved a
few hunderd, I shall set 'em up myself. But she's makin' a big mistake,
an', to a friend, I doan't mind tellin' 'e 'tis so."

"I hope you're wrong. They'll be happy together. They have great love
each for the other. But, of course, that's nothing to do with me. I
merely want Hicks to undertake some clerical work for me, as a matter of
business, and I thought you might tell me the best way to tackle him
without hurting his feelings. He's a proud man, I fancy."

"Ess; an' pride's a purty fulish coat for poverty, ban't it? I've gived
that man as gude advice as ever I gived any man; but what's
well-thought-out wisdom to the likes of him? Get un a job if you mind
to. I shouldn't--not till he shaws better metal and grips the facts o'
life wi' a tighter hand."

"I'll sound him as delicately as I can. It may be that his self-respect
would strengthen if he found his talents appreciated and able to command
a little money. He wants something of that sort--eh?"

"Doan't knaw but what a hiding wouldn't be so gude for un as anything,"
mused Will. There was no animosity in the reflection. His ill-temper had
long since vanished, and he considered Clement as he might have
considered a young, wayward dog which had erred and brought itself
within reach of the lash.

"I was welted in my time hard an' often, an' be none the worse," he
continued.

Martin smiled and shook his head.

"Might have served him once; too late now for that remedy, I fear."

There was a brief pause, then Will changed the conversation abruptly.

"How's your brother Jan?" he asked.

"He's furnishing his new house and busy about the formation of a
volunteer corps. I met him not long since in Fingle Gorge."

"Be you friends now, if I may ax?"

"I tried to be. We live and learn. Things happened to me a while ago
that taught me what I didn't know. I spoke to him and reminded him of
the long years in Africa. Blood's thicker than water, Blanchard."

"So 'tis. What did he make of it?"

"He looked up and hesitated. Then he shook his head and set his face
against me, and said he would not have my friendship as a gift."

"He's a gude hater."

"Time will bring the best of him to the top again some day. I understand
him, I think. We possess more in common than people suppose. We feel
deeply and haven't a grain of philosophy between us."

"Well, I reckon I've allus been inclined to deep ways of thought myself;
and work up here, wi' nothing to break your thoughts but the sight of a
hawk or the twinkle of a rabbit's scut, be very ripening to the mind. If
awnly Phoebe was here! Sometimes I'm in a mood to ramp down-long an'
hale her home, whether or no. But I sweats the longing out o' me wi'
work."

"The day will soon come. Time drags with me just now, somehow, but it
races with you, I'll warrant. I must get on with my book, and see Hicks
and try and persuade him to help me."

"'Tis like your big nature to put it that way. You'rn tu soft-hearted a
man to dwell in a house all alone. Let the dead stones bide, Martin, an'
look round for a wife. Theer's more gude advice. Blamed if I doan't
advise everybody nowadays! Us must all come to it. Look round about an'
try to love a woman. 'T will surprise 'e an' spoil sleep if you can
bring yourself to it. But the cuddlin' of a soft gal doan't weaken man's
thews and sinews neither. It hardens 'em, I reckon, an' puts fight in
the most poor-spirited twoad as ever failed in love. 'Tis a manly thing,
an' 'boldens the heart like; an', arter she's said 'Yes' to 'e, you'll
find a wonnerful change come awver life. 'Tis all her, then. The most
awnself[8] man feels it more or less, an' gets shook out of his shell.
You'll knaw some day. Of course I speaks as wan auld in love an' married
into the bargain."


[8] _Awnself_=selfish.


"You speak from experience, I know. And is Phoebe as wise as you, Will?"

"Waitin' be harder for a wummon. They've less to busy the mind, an' less
mind to busy, for that matter."

"That's ungallant."

"I doan't knaw. 'Tis true, anyway. I shouldn't have failed in love wi'
her if she'd been cleverer'n me."

"Or she with you, perhaps?"

"P'r'aps not. Anyway as it stands we'm halves of a whole: made for man
and wife. I reckon I weern't wan to miss my way in love like some poor
fules, as wastes it wheer they might see't wasn't wanted if they'd got
eyes in their heads."

"What it is to be so wise!"

Will laughed joyously in his wisdom.

"Very gude of 'e to say that. 'Tis a happy thing to have sense enough.
Not but we larn an' larn."

"So we should. Well, I must be off now. I'm safe on the Moor to-day!"

"Ess, by the looks of it. Theer'll likely come some mist after noon, but
shouldn't be very thick."

So they parted, Blanchard having unconsciously sown the seed of an ugly
crop that would take long in reaping. His remarks concerning Clement
Hicks were safe enough with Martin, but another had heard them as he
worked within earshot of his master. Bonus, though his judgment was
scanty, entertained a profound admiration for Will; and thus it came
about, that a few days later, when in Chagford, he called at the "Green
Man" and made some grave mischief while he sang his master's praises. He
extolled the glorious promise of Newtake, and the great improvements
already visible thereon; he reflected not a little of Will's own
flamboyant manner to the secret entertainment of those gathered in the
bar, and presently he drew down upon himself some censure.

Abraham Chown, the police inspector, first shook his head and prophesied
speedy destruction of all these hopes; and then Gaffer Lezzard
criticised still more forcibly.

"All this big-mouthed talk's cracklin' of thorns under a potsherd,"
hesaid. "You an' him be just two childern playin' at shop in the gutter,
an' the gutter's wheer you'll find yourselves 'fore you think to. What
do the man _knaw?_ Nothin'."

"Blanchard's a far-seein' chap," answered Sam Bonus stoutly. "An' a gude
master; an' us'll stick together, fair or foul."

"You may think it, but wait," said a small man in the corner. Charles
Coomstock, nephew of the widow of that name already mentioned, was a
wheelwright by trade and went lame, owing to an accident with hot iron
in youth.

"Ax Clem," continued Mr. Coomstock. "For all his cranky ways he knaws
Blanchard better'n most of us, an' I heard un size up the chap t'other
day in a word. He said he hadn't wit enough to keep his brains sweet."

"He'm a braave wan to talk," fired back Bonus. "Him! A poor luny as
caan't scrape brass to keep a wife on. Blanchard, or me either, could
crack un in half like a dead stick."

"Not that that's anything for or against," declared Gaffer Lezzard.
"Power of hand's nought against brain."

"It gaws a tidy long way 'pon Dartymoor, however," declared Bonus. "An'
Blanchard doan't set no 'mazin' store on Hicks neither, if it comes to
words. I heard un say awnly t'other forenoon that the man was a weak
saplin', allus grumblin', an' might be better for a gude hiding."

Now Charles Coomstock did not love his cousin Clement. Indeed, none of
those who had, or imagined they had, any shadow of right to a place in
Mary Coomstock's will cared much for others similarly situated; but the
little wheelwright was by nature a spreader of rumours and reports--an
intelligencer, malignant from choice. He treasured this assertion,
therefore, together with one or two others. Sam, now at his third glass,
felt his heart warm to Will. He would have fought with tongue or fist on
his behalf, and presently added to the mischief he had already done.

"To shaw 'e, neighbours, just the man he is, I may tell 'e that a larned
piece like Martin Grimbal ackshually comed all the way to Newtake not
long since to ax advice of un. An' 'twas on the identical matter of this
same Hicks. Mr. Grimbal wanted to give un some work to do, 'bout a book
or some such item; an' Will he ups and sez, 'Doan't,' just short an'
straight like that theer. 'Doan't,' he sez. 'Let un shaw what's in un
first'; an' t'other nodded when he said it."

Having now attested his regard for the master of Newtake, Sam jogged
off. He was pleased with himself, proud of having silenced more than one
detractor, and as his little brain turned the matter over, his lips
parted in a grin.

Coomstock meanwhile had limped into the cottage where Clement lived with
his mother. He did not garble his news, for it needed no artistic touch;
and, with nice sense of his perfect and effective instrument, he
realised the weapon was amply sharp enough without whetting, and
employed the story as it came into his hand. But Mr. Coomstock was a
little surprised and disappointed at his cousin's reserve and
self-restraint. He had hoped for a hearty outburst of wrath and the
assurance of wide-spreading animosity, yet no such thing happened, and
the talebearer presently departed in some surprise. Mrs. Hicks, indeed,
had shrilled forth a torrent of indignation upon the sole subject equal
to raising such an emotion in her breast, for Clem was her only son. The
man, however, took it calmly, or appeared to do so; and even when
Charles Coomstock was gone he refused to discuss the matter more.

But had his cousin, with Asmodeus-flight, beheld Clement during the
subsequent hours which he spent alone, it is possible that the
wheelwright had felt amply repaid for his trouble. Not until dawn stole
grey along the village street; not until sparrows in the thatch above
him began their salutation to the morning; not until Chagford rookery
had sent forth a harmonious multitude to the hills and valleys did
Clement's aching eyes find sleep. For hours he tossed and turned, now
trembling with rage, now prompted by some golden thread in the tangled
mazes of his mind to discredit the thing reported. Blanchard, as it
seemed, had come deliberately and maliciously between him and an
opportunity to win work. He burnt to know what he should do; and, like a
flame of forked light against the sombre background of his passion, came
the thought of another who hated Blanchard too. Will's secret glowed and
gleamed like the writing on the wall; looking out, Hicks saw it stamped
on the dark earth and across the starry night; and he wished to God that
the letters might so remain to be read by the world when it wakened.
Finally he slept and dreamed that he had been to the Red House, that he
had spoken to John Grimbal, and returned home again with a bag of gold.

When his mother came to call him he was lying half uncovered in a wild
confusion of scattered bed-clothes; and his arms and body were jerking
as a dog's that dreams. She saw a sort of convulsion pinch and pucker
his face; then he made some inarticulate sounds--as it were a frantic
negation; and then the noise of his own cry awakened him. He looked
wildly round and lifted his hands as though he expected to find them
full.

"Where is it? Where is it? The bag of money? I won't--I can't--Where is
it, I say?"

"I wish I knawed, lovey. Dream-gawld, I'm afeared. You've bin lying
cold, an' that do allus breed bad thoughts in sleep. 'Tis late; I done
breakfast an hour ago. An' Okehampton day, tu. Coach'll be along in
twenty minutes."

He sighed and dragged the clothes over himself.

"You'd best go to-day, mother. The ride will do you good, and I have
plenty to fill my time at home."

Mrs. Hicks brightened perceptibly before this prospect. She was a
little, faded woman, with a brown face and red-rimmed, weak eyes, washed
by many years of sorrow to the palest nondescript colour. She crept
through the world with no ambition but to die out of the poorhouse, no
prayer but a petition that the parish might not bury her at the end, no
joy save in her son. Life at best was a dreary business for her, and an
occasional trip to Okehampton represented about the only brightness that
ever crept into it. Now she bustled off full of excitement to get the
honey, and, having put on a withered bonnet and black shawl, presently
stood and waited for the omnibus.

Her son dwelt with his thoughts that day, and for him there was no peace
or pleasure. Full twenty times he determined to visit Newtake at once
and have it out with Will; but his infirmity of purpose acted like a
drag upon this resolution, and his pride also contributed a force
against it. Once he actually started, and climbed up Middledown to reach
the Moor beyond; then he changed his mind again as new fires of enmity
swept through it. His wrongs rankled black and bitter; and, faint under
them, he presently turned and went home shivering though the day was
hot.



CHAPTER VI

A SWARM OF BEES


Above Chagford rise those lofty outposts of Dartmoor, named respectively
Nattadown and Middledown. The first lies nearer to the village, and upon
its side, beneath a fir wood which crowns one spur, spread steep wastes
of fern and furze. This spot was a favourite one with Clement Hicks, and
a fortnight after the incidents last related he sat there smoking his
pipe, while his eyes roved upon the scene subtended before him. The hill
fell abruptly away, and near the bottom glimmered whitewashed cots along
a winding road. Still lower down extended marshy common land, laced with
twinkling watercourses and dotted with geese; while beyond, in many a
rise and fall and verdant undulation, the country rolled onwards through
Teign valley and upwards towards the Moor. The expanse seen from this
lofty standpoint extended like a mighty map, here revealing a patchwork
of multicoloured fields, here exhibiting tracts of wild waste and wood,
here beautifully indicating by a misty line, seen across ascending
planes of forest, the course of the distant river, here revealing the
glitter of remote waters damaskeened with gold. Little farms and
outlying habitations were scattered upon the land; and beyond them,
rising steadily to the sky-line, the regions of the Moor revealed their
larger attributes, wider expanses, more savage and abrupt configurations
of barren heath and weathered tor. The day passed gradually from gloom
to brightness, and the distance, already bathed in light, gleamed out of
a more sombre setting, where the foreground still reflected the shadows
of departing clouds, like a picture of great sunshine framed in
darkness. But the last vapours quickly vanished; the day grew very hot
and, as the sky indicated noon, all things beneath Clement's eyes were
soaked in a splendour of June sunlight. He watched a black thread lying
across a meadow five miles away. First it stretched barely visible
athwart the distance green; in half an hour it thickened without
apparent means; within an hour it had absorbed an eighth part at least
of the entire space. Though the time was very unusual for tilling of
land, Hicks knew that the combined operations of three horses, a man,
and a plough were responsible for this apparition, and he speculated as
to how many tremendous physical and spiritual affairs of life are thus
wrought by agents not visible to the beholder. Thus were his own
thoughts twisted back to those speculations which now perpetually
haunted them like the incubus of a dream. What would Will Blanchard say
if he woke some morning to find his secret in John Grimbal's keeping?
And, did any such thing happen, there must certainly be a mystery about
it; for Blanchard could no more prove how his enemy came to learn his
secret than might some urban stranger guess how the dark line grew
without visible means on the arable ground under Gidleigh.

From these dangerous thoughts he was roused by the sight of a woman
struggling up the steep hill towards him. The figure came slowly on, and
moved with some difficulty. This much Hicks noted, and then suddenly
realised that he beheld his mother. She knew his haunt and doubtless
sought him now. Rising, therefore, he hastened to meet her and shorten
her arduous climb. Mrs. Hicks was breathless when Clement reached her,
and paused a while, with her hand pressed to her side, before she could
speak. At length she addressed him, still panting between the syllables.

"My heart's a pit-pat! Hurry, hurry, for the Lard's sake! The bees be
playin'[9] an' they'll call Johnson if you ban't theer directly minute!"


[9] _Playing_ = swarming.


Johnson, a thatcher, was the only other man in Chagford who shared any
knowledge of apiarian lore with Clement.

"Sorry you should have had the journey only for that, mother. 'Twas so
unlikely a morning, I never thought to hear of a swarm to-day. I'll
start at once, and you go home quietly. You're sadly out of breath.
Where is it?"

"To the Red House--Mr. Grimbal's. It may lead to the handlin' of his
hives for all us can say, if you do the job vitty, as you 'm bound to."

"John Grimbal's!"

Hicks stood still as though this announcement had turned him into stone.

"Ess fay! Why do 'e stand glazin' like that? A chap rode out for 'e 'pon
horseback; an' a bit o' time be lost a'ready. They 'm swarmin' in the
orchard, an' nobody knaws more 'n the dead what to be at."

"I won't go. Let them get Johnson."

"'Won't go'! An' five shillin' hangin' to it, an' Lard knaws what more
in time to come! 'Won't go'! An' my poor legs throbbin' something cruel
with climbin' for 'e!"

"I--I'm not going there--not to that man. I have reason."

"O my gude God!" burst out the old woman, "what'll 'e do next? An'
me--as worked so hard to find 'e--an' so auld as I am! Please, please,
Clem, for your mother--please. Theer's bin so little money in the house
of late days, an' less to come. Doan't, if you love me, as I knaws well
you do, turn your back 'pon the scant work as falls in best o' times."

The man reflected with troubled eyes, and his mother took his arm and
tried to pull him down the hill.

"Is John Grimbal at home?" he asked.

"How shude I knaw? An' what matter if he is? Your business is with the
bees, not him. An' you've got no quarrel with him because that Blanchard
have. After what Will done against you, you needn't be so squeamish as
to make his enemies yourn."

"My business is with the bees--as you say, mother," he answered slowly,
repeating her words.

"Coourse 'tis! Who knaws a half of what you knaw 'bout 'em? That's my
awn braave Clem! Why, there might be a mort o' gude money for a man like
you at the Red House!"

"I'll go. My business is with the bees. You walk along slowly, or sit
down a while and get your breath again. I'll hurry."

She praised him and blessed him, crying after him as he
departed,--"You'll find all set out for 'e--veil, an' gloves, an' a
couple of bee-butts to your hand."

The man did not reply, but soon stumbled down the steep hill and
vanished; then five-and-twenty minutes later, with the implements of his
trade, he stood at the gate of the Red House, entered, and hastened
along the newly planted avenue.

John Grimbal had not yet gone into residence, but he dwelt at present in
his home farm hard by; and from this direction he now appeared to meet
the bee-keeper. The spectacle of Grimbal, stern, grave, and older of
manner than formerly, impressed Hicks not a little. In silence, after
the first salutation, they proceeded towards an adjacent orchard; and
from here as they approached arose an extravagant and savage din, as
though a dozen baited dogs, each with a tin kettle at his tail, were
madly galloping down some stone-paved street, and hurtling one against
the other as they ran.

"They can stop that row," said Hicks. "'Tis an old-fashioned notion that
it hurries swarming, but I never found it do so."

"You know best, though beating on tin pots and cans at such a time's a
custom as old as the hills."

"And vain as many others equally old. I have a different method to hurry
swarming."

Now they passed over the snows of a million fallen petals, while yet
good store of flowers hung upon the trees. June basked in the heart of
the orchard and a delicious green sweetness and freshness marked the
moment. Crimson and cream, all splashed with sunlight, here bloomed
against a sky of summer blue, here took a shade from the new-born leaves
and a shadow from branch and bough. To the eye, a mottled, dimpled glory
of apple-blossom spread above grey trunks and twisted branches, shone
through deep vistas of the orchard, brightened all the distance; while
upon the ear, now growing and deepening, arose one sustained and musical
susurration of innumerable wings.

"You will be wise to stay here," said Hicks. He himself stopped a
moment, opened his bag, put on his veil and gloves, and tucked his
trousers inside his stockings.

"Not I. I wish to see the hiving."

Twenty yards distant a play of light and glint and twinkle of many
frantic bees converged upon one spot, as stars numerically increase
towards the heart of a cluster. The sky was full of flying insects, and
their wings sparkled brightly in the sun; though aloft, with only the
blue for background, they appeared as mere dark points filling the air
in every direction. The swarm hung at the very heart of a little glade.
Here two ancient apple-trees stood apart, and from one low bough,
stretched at right angles to the parent stem, and not devoid of leaves
and blossoms, there depended a grey-brown mass from which a twinkling,
flashing fire leaped forth as from gems bedded in the matrix. Each
transparent wing added to the dazzle under direct sunlight; the whole
agglomeration of life was in form like a bunch of grapes, and where it
thinned away to a point the bees dropped off by their own weight into
the grass below, then rose again and either flew aloft in wide and
circling flight or rushed headlong upon the swarm once more. Across the
iridescent cluster passed a gleam and glow of peacock and iris, opal and
mother-of-pearl; while from its heart ascended a deep murmur, telling of
tremendous and accumulated energy suddenly launched into this peaceful
glade of apple-blossom and ambient green. The frenzy of the moment held
all that little laborious people. There was none of the concerted action
to be observed at warping, or simultaneous motion of birds in air and
fishes in water; but each unit of the shining army dashed on its own
erratic orbit, flying and circling, rushing hither and thither, and
sooner or later returning to join the queen upon the bough.

The glory of the moment dominated one and all. It was their hour--a
brief, mad ecstasy in short lives of ceaseless toil. To-day they
desisted from their labours, and the wild-flowers of the waste places,
and the old-world flowers in cottage gardens were alike forgotten. Yet
their year had already seen much work and would see more. Sweet pollen
from many a bluebell and anemone was stored and sealed for a generation
unborn; the asphodels and violets, the velvet wallflower and yellow
crocuses had already yielded treasure; and now new honey jewels were
trembling in the trumpets of the honeysuckle, at the heart of the wild
rose, within the deep cups of the candid and orange lilies, amid the
fairy caps of columbines, and the petals of clove-pinks. There the bees
now living laboured, and those that followed would find their sweets in
the clover,--scarlet and purple and white,--in the foxgloves, in the
upland deserts of the heather with their oases of euphrasy and sweet
wild thyme.

"Is it a true swarm or a cast?" inquired John Grimbal.

"A swarm, without much question, though it dawned an unlikely day for an
old queen to leave the hive. Still, the weather came over splendid
enough by noon, and they knew it was going to. Where are your butts? You
see, young maiden queens go further afield than old ones. The latter
take but a short flight for choice."

"There they are," said Grimbal, pointing to a row of thatched hives not
far off. "So that should be an old queen, by your showing. Is she
there?"

"I fancy so by the look of them. If the queen doesn't join, the bees
break up, of course, and go back to the butt. But I've brought a couple
of queens with me."

"I've seen a good few drones about the board lately."

"Sure sign of swarming at this season. Inside, if you could look, you'd
find plenty of queen cells, and some capped over. You'd come across a
murder or two as well. The old queens make short work of the young ones
sometimes."

"Woman-like."

Hicks admitted the criticism was just. Then, being now upon his own
ground, he continued to talk, and talk well, until he won a surly
compliment from his employer.

"You're a bee-master, in truth! Nobody'll deny you that."

Clement laughed rather bitterly.

"Yes, a king of bees. Not a great kingdom for man to rule."

The other studied his dark, unhappy face. Trouble had quickened
Grimbal's own perceptions, and made him a more accurate judge of sorrow
when he saw it than of yore.

"You've tried to do greater things and failed, perhaps," he said.

"Why, perhaps I have. A man's a hive himself, I've thought sometimes--a
hive of swarming, seething thoughts and experiences and passions, that
come and go as easily as any bees, and store the heart and brain."

"Not with honey, I'll swear."

"No--gall mostly."

"And every hive's got a queen bee too, for that matter," said Grimbal,
rather pleased at his wit responsible for the image.

"Yes; and the queens take each other's places quick enough, for we're
fickle brutes."

"A strange swarm we hive in our hearts, God knows."

"And it eats out our hearts for our pains."

"You've found out that, have you?" asked John curiously.

"Long ago."

"Everybody does, sooner or later."

There was a pause. Overhead the multitude dwindled while the great
glimmering cluster on the tree correspondingly increased, and the fierce
humming of the bees was like the sound of a fire. Clement feared
nothing, but he had seen few face a hiving without some distrust. The
man beside him, however, stood with his hands in his pockets,
indifferent and quite unprotected.

"You will be wiser to stand farther away, Mr. Grimbal. You're unlikely
to come off scot-free if you keep so close."

"What do I care? I've been stung by worse than insects."

"And I also," answered Clement, with such evident passion that the other
grew a little interested. He had evidently pricked a sore point in this
moody creature.

"Was it a woman stung you?"

"No, no; don't heed me."

Clement was on guard over himself again. "Your business is with
bees"--his mother's words echoed in his mind to the pulsing monotone of
the swarm. He tried to change the subject, sent for a pail of water, and
drew a large syringe from his bag, though the circumstances really
rendered this unnecessary. But John Grimbal, always finding a sort of
pleasure in his own torment, took occasion to cross-question Clement.

"I suppose I'm laughed at still in Chagford, am I not? Not that it
matters to me."

"I don't think so; an object of envy, rather, for good wives are easier
to get than great riches."

"That's your opinion, is it? I'm not so sure. Are you married?"

"No."

"Going to be, I'll wager, if you think good wives can be picked off
blackberry bushes."

"I don't say that at all. But I am going to be married certainly. I'm
fortunate and unfortunate. I've won a prize, but--well, honey's cheap. I
must wait."

"D' you trust her? Is waiting so easy?"

"Yes, I trust her, as I trust the sun to swing up out of the east
to-morrow, to set in the west to-night. She's the only being of my own
breed I do trust. As for the other question, no--waiting isn't easy."

"Nor yet wise. I shouldn't wait. Tell me who she is. Women interest me,
and the taking of 'em in marriage."

Hicks hesitated. Here he was drifting helpless under this man's hard
eyes--helpless and yet not unwilling. He told himself that he was safe
enough and could put a stop on his mouth when he pleased. Besides, John
Grimbal was not only unaware that the bee-keeper knew anything against
Blanchard, but had yet to learn that anybody else did,--that there even
existed facts unfavourable to him. Something, however, told Hicks that
mention of the common enemy would result from this present meeting, and
the other's last word brought the danger, if danger it might be, a step
nearer. Clement hesitated before replying to the question; then he
answered it.

"Chris Blanchard," he said shortly, "though that won't interest you."

"But it does--a good deal. I've wondered, some time, why I didn't hear
my own brother was going to marry her. He got struck all of a heap
there, to my certain knowledge. However, he 's escaped. The Lord be good
to you, and I take my advice to marry back again. Think twice, if she's
made of the same stuff as her brother."

"No, by God! Is the moon made of the same stuff as the marsh lights?"

Concentrated bitterness rang in the words, and a man much less acute
than Grimbal had guessed he stood before an enemy of Will. John saw the
bee-keeper start at this crucial moment; he observed that Hicks had said
a thing he much regretted and uttered what he now wished unspoken. But
the confession was torn bare and laid out naked under Grimbal's eyes,
and he knew that another man besides himself hated Will. The discovery
made his face grow redder than usual. He pulled at his great moustache
and thrust it between his teeth and gnawed it. But he contrived to hide
the emotion in his mind from Clement Hicks, and the other did not
suspect, though he regretted his own passion. Grimbals next words
further disarmed him. He appeared to know nothing whatever about Will,
though his successful rival interested him still.

"They call the man Jack-o'-Lantern, don't they? Why?"

"I can't tell you. It may be, though, that he is erratic and uncertain
in his ways. You cannot predict what he will do next."

"That's nothing against him. He's farming on the Moor now, isn't he?"

"Yes."

"Where did he come from when he dropped out of the clouds to marry
Phoebe Lyddon?"

The question was not asked with the least idea of its enormous
significance. Grimbal had no notion that any mystery hung over that
autumn time during which he made love to Phoebe and Will was absent from
Chagford. He doubted not that for the asking he could learn how Will had
occupied himself; but the subject did not interest him, and he never
dreamed the period held a secret. The sudden consternation bred in Hicks
by this question astounded him not a little. Indeed, each man amazed the
other, Grimbal by his question, Hicks by the attitude which he assumed
before it.

"I'm sure I haven't the least idea," he answered; but his voice and
manner had already told Grimbal all he cared to learn at the moment; and
that was more than his wildest hopes had even risen to. He saw in the
other's face a hidden thing, and by his demeanour that it was an
important one. Indeed, the bee-keeper's hesitation and evident alarm
before this chance question proclaimed the secret vital. For the
present, and before Clement's evident alarm, Grimbal dismissed the
matter lightly; but he chose to say a few more words upon it, for the
express purpose of setting Hicks again at his ease.

"You don't like your future brother-in-law?"

"Yes, yes, I do. We've been friends all our lives--all our lives. I like
him well, and am going to marry his sister--only I see his faults, and
he sees mine--that's all."

"Take my advice and shut your eyes to his faults. That's the best way if
you are marrying into his family. I've got cause to think ill enough of
the scamp, as you know and everybody knows; but life's too short for
remembering ill turns."

A weight rolled off Clement's heart. For a moment he had feared that the
man knew something; but now he began to suspect Grimbal's question to be
what in reality it was--casual interrogation, without any shadow of
knowledge behind it. Hicks therefore breathed again and trusted that his
own emotion had not been very apparent. Then, taking the water, he shot
a thin shower into the air, an operation often employed to hasten
swarming, and possibly calculated to alarm the bees into apprehension of
rain.

"Do wasps ever get into the hives?" asked Mr. Grimbal abruptly.

"Aye, they do; and wax-moths and ants, and even mice. These things eat
the honey and riddle and ruin the comb. Then birds eat the bees, and
spiders catch them. Honey-bees do nothing but good that I can see, yet
Nature 's pleased to fill the world with their enemies. Queen and drone
and the poor unsexed workers--all have their troubles; and so has the
little world of the hive. Yet during the few weeks of a bee's life he
does an amount of work beyond imagination to guess at."

"And still finds time to steal from the hives of his fellows?"

"Why, yes, if the sweets are exposed and can be tasted for nothing. Most
of us might turn robbers on the same terms. Now I can take them, and a
splendid swarm, too--finest I've seen this year."

The business of getting the glittering bunch of bees into a hive was
then proceeded with, and soon Clement had shaken the mass into a big
straw butt, his performance being completely successful. In less than
half an hour all was done, and Hicks began to remove his veil and shake
a bee or two off the rim of his hat.

John Grimbal rubbed his cheek, where a bee had stung him under the eye,
and regarded Hicks thoughtfully.

"If you happen to want work at any time, it might be within my power to
find you some here," he said, handing the bee-master five shillings.
Clement thanked his employer and declared he would not forget the offer;
he then departed, and John Grimbal returned to his farm.



CHAPTER VII

AN OFFER OF MARRIAGE


Billy Blee, who has appeared thus far as a disinterested spectator of
other people's affairs, had yet his own active and personal interests in
life. Them he pursued, at odd times, and in odd ways, with admirable
pertinacity; and as a crisis is now upon him and chance knits the
outcome of it into the main fabric of this narrative, Billy and his
actions command attention.

Allusion has already been made, and that frequently, to one Widow
Coomstock, whose attractions of income, and the ancillary circumstance
of an ample though elderly person, had won for her certain admirers more
ancient than herself. Once butt-woman, or sextoness, of Chagford Church,
the lady had dwelt alone, as Miss Mary Reed, for fifty-five years--not
because opportunity to change her state was denied her, but owing to the
fact that experience of life rendered her averse to all family
responsibilities. Mary Reed had seen her sister, the present Mrs. Hicks,
take a husband, had watched the result of that step; and this, with a
hundred parallel instances of misery following on matrimony, had
determined her against it. But when old Benjamin Coomstock, the timber
merchant and coal-dealer, became a widower, this ripe maiden, long known
to him, was approached before his wife's grave became ready for a stone.
To Chagford's amazement he so far bemeaned himself as to offer the
sextoness his hand, and she accepted it. Then, left a widow after two
years with her husband, Mary Coomstock languished a while, and changed
her methods of life somewhat. The roomy dwelling-house of her late
partner became her property and a sufficient income went with it. Mr.
Coomstock's business had been sold in his lifetime; the money was
invested, and its amount no man knew, though rumour, which usually
magnifies such matters, spoke of a very handsome figure; and Mrs.
Coomstock's lavish manner of life lent confirmation to the report. But
though mundane affairs had thus progressed with her, the woman's
marriage was responsible for very grave mental and moral deterioration.
Prosperity, and the sudden exchange of a somewhat laborious life for the
ease and comfort of independence, played havoc with Widow Coomstock. She
grew lax, gross in habit and mind, self-indulgent, and ill-tempered.
When her husband died her old friends lost sight of her, while only
those who had reason to hope for a reward still kept in touch with her,
and indeed forced themselves upon her notice. Everybody predicted she
would take another husband; but, though it was now nearly eight years
since Mr. Coomstock's death, his widow still remained one. Gaffer
Lezzard and Billy Blee had long pursued her with varying advantage, and
the latter, though his proposals were declined, yet saw in each refusal
an indication to encourage future hope.

Now, urged thereto by whispers that Mr. Lezzard had grown the richer by
three hundred pounds on the death of a younger brother in Australia,
Billy determined upon another attack. He also was worth something--less
indeed than three hundred pounds; though, seeing that he had been
earning reasonably good wages for half a century, the fact argued but
poor thrift in Mr. Blee. Of course Gaffer Lezzard's alleged legacy could
hardly be a sum to count with Mrs. Coomstock, he told himself; yet his
rival was a man of wide experience and an oily tongue: while, apart from
any question of opposition, he felt that another offer of marriage might
now be made with decorum, seeing that it was a full year since the last.
Mr. Blee therefore begged for a half-holiday, put on his broadcloth,
blacked his boots, anointed his lion-monkey fringe and scanty locks with
pomatum, and set forth. Mrs. Coomstock's house stood on the hill rising
into the village from Chagford Bridge. A kitchen garden spread behind
it; in front pale purple poppies had the ill-kept garden to themselves.

As he approached, Mr. Blee felt a leaden weight about his newly polished
boots, and a distinct flutter at the heart, or in a less poetical
portion of his frame.

"Same auld feeling," he reflected. "Gormed if I ban't gettin' sweaty
'fore the plaace comes in sight! 'Tis just the sinkin' at the navel,
like what I had when I smoked my first pipe, five-and-forty years
agone!"

The approach of another man steadied Billy, and on recognising him Mr.
Blee forgot all about his former emotions and gasped in the clutch of a
new one. It was Mr. Lezzard, evidently under some impulse of genial
exhilaration. There hung an air of aggression about him, but, though he
moved like a conqueror, his gait was unsteady and his progress slow. He
had wit to guess Billy's errand, however, for he grinned, and leaning
against the hedge waved his stick in the air above his head.

"Aw, Jimmery! if it ban't Blee; an' prinked out for a weddin', tu, by
the looks of it!"

"Not yourn, anyway," snapped back the suitor.

"Well, us caan't say 'zactly--world 's full o' novelties."

"Best pull yourself together, Gaffer, or bad-hearted folks might say you
was bosky-eyed.[10] That ban't no novelty anyway, but 't is early yet to
be drunk--just three o'clock by the church."


[10] _Bosky-eyed_ = intoxicated.


Mr. Blee marched on without waiting for a reply. He knew Lezzard to be
more than seventy years old and usually regarded the ancient man's
rivalry with contempt; but he felt uneasy for a few moments, until the
front door of Mrs. Coomstock's dwelling was opened to him by the lady
herself.

"My stars! You? What a terrible coorious thing!" she said.

"Why for?"

"Come in the parlour. Theer! coorious ban't the word!"

She laughed, a silly laugh and loud. Then she shambled before him to the
sitting-room, and Billy, familiar enough with the apartment, noticed a
bottle of gin in an unusual position upon the table. The liquor stood,
with two glasses and a jug of water, between the Coomstock family Bible,
on its green worsted mat, and a glass shade containing the stuffed
carcass of a fox-terrier. The animal was moth-eaten and its eyes had
fallen out. It could be considered in no sense decorative; but sentiment
allowed the corpse this central position in a sorry scheme of adornment,
for the late timber merchant had loved it. Upon Mrs. Coomstock's parlour
walls hung Biblical German prints in frames of sickly yellow wood; along
the window-ledge geraniums and begonias flourished, though gardeners had
wondered to see their luxuriance, for the windows were seldom opened.

"'It never rains but it pours,'" said Widow Coomstock. She giggled again
and looked at Billy. She was very fat, and the red of her face deepened
to purple unevenly about the sides of her nose. Her eyes were bright and
black. She had opened a button or two at the top of her dress, and her
general appearance, from her grey hair to her slattern heels, was
disordered. Her cap had fallen off on to the ground, and Mr. Blee
noticed that her parting was as a broad turnpike road much tramped upon
by Time. The room smelt stuffy beyond its wont and reeked not only of
spirits but tobacco. This Billy sniffed inquiringly, and Mrs. Coomstock
observed the action. "'Twas Lezzard," she said. "I like to see a man in
comfort. You can smoke if you mind to. Coomstock always done it, and a
man's no man without, though a dirty habit wheer they doan't use a
spittoon."

She smiled, but to herself, and was lost in thought a moment. He saw her
eyes very bright and her head wagging. Then she looked at him and
laughed again.

"You'm a fine figure of a man, tu," she said, apropos of nothing in
particular. But the newcomer understood. He rumpled his hair and snorted
and frowned at the empty glasses.

"Have a drop?" suggested Mrs. Coomstock; but Billy, of opinion that his
love had already enjoyed refreshment sufficient for the time, refused
and answered her former remark.

"A fine figure?--yes, Mary Coomstock, though not so fine for a man as
you for a woman. Still, a warm-blooded chap an' younger than my years."

"I've got my share o' warm blood, tu, Billy."

It was apparent. Mrs. Coomstock's plump neck bulged in creases over the
dirty scrap of white linen that represented a collar, while her massive
bust seemed bursting through her apparel.

"Coourse," said Mr. Blee, "an' your share, an' more 'n your share o'
brains, tu. He had bad luck--Coomstock--the worse fortune as ever fell
to a Chaggyford man, I reckon."

"How do 'e come at that, then?"

"To get 'e, an' lose 'e again inside two year. That's ill luck if ever I
seen it. Death's a envious twoad. Two short year of you; an' then up
comes a tumour on his neck unbeknawnst, an' off he goes, like a spring
lamb."

"An' so he did. I waked from sleep an' bid un rise, but theer weern't no
more risin' for him till the Judgment."

"Death's no courtier. He'll let a day-labourer go so peaceful an'
butivul as a child full o' milk goes to sleep; while he'll take a gert
lord or dook, wi' lands an' moneys, an' strangle un by inches, an' give
un the hell of a twistin'. You caan't buy a easy death seemin'ly."

"A gude husband he was, but jealous," said Mrs. Coomstock, her thoughts
busy among past years; and Billy immediately fell in with this view.

"Then you'm well rid of un. Theer's as gude in the world alive any
minute as ever was afore or will be again."

"Let 'em stop in the world then. I doan't want 'em."

This sentiment amused the widow herself more than Billy. She laughed
uproariously, raised her glass to her lips unconsciously, found it
empty, grew instantly grave upon the discovery, set it down again, and
sighed.

"It's a wicked world," she said. "Sure as men's in a plaace they brings
trouble an' wickedness. An' yet I've heard theer's more women than men
on the airth when all's said."

"God A'mighty likes 'em best, I reckon," declared Mr. Blee.

"Not but what 't would be a lonesome plaace wi'out the lords of
creation," conceded the widow.

"Ess fay, you 'm right theer; but the beauty of things is that none need
n't be lonely, placed same as you be."

"'Once bit twice shy,'" said Mrs. Coomstock. Then she laughed again. "I
said them very words to Lezzard not an hour since."

"An' what might he have answered?" inquired Billy without, however,
showing particular interest to know.

"He said he wasn't bit. His wife was a proper creature."

"Bah! second-hand gudes--that's what Lezzard be--a widow-man an' eighty
if a day. A poor, coffin-ripe auld blid, wi' wan leg in the graave any
time this twenty year."

Mrs. Coomstock's frame heaved at this tremendous criticism. She gurgled
and gazed at Billy with her eyes watering and her mouth open.

"You say that! Eighty an' coffin-ripe!"

"Ban't no ontruth, neither. A man 's allus ready for his elm overcoat
arter threescore an' ten. I heard the noise of his breathin' paarts when
he had brown kitty in the fall three years ago, an' awnly thrawed it off
thanks to the gracious gudeness of Miller Lyddon, who sent rich stock
for soup by my hand. But to hear un, you might have thought theer was a
wapsies' nest in the man's lungs."

"I doan't want to be nuss to a chap at my time of life, in coourse."

"No fay; 't is the man's paart to look arter his wife, if you ax me. I
be a plain bachelor as never thought of a female serious 'fore I seed
you. An' I've got a heart in me, tu. Ban't no auld, rubbishy, worn-out
thing, neither, but a tough, love-tight heart--at least so 't was till I
seed you in your weeds eight year agone."

"Eight year a widow! An' so I have been. Well, Blee, you've got a
powerful command of words, anyways. That I'll grant you."

"'T is the gert subject, Mary."

He moved nearer and put down his hat and stick; she exhibited
trepidation, not wholly assumed. Then she helped herself to more
spirits.

"A drop I must have to steady me. You men make a woman's heart go
flutterin' all over her buzzom, like a flea under her--"

She stopped and laughed, then drank. Presently setting down the glass
again, she leered in a manner frankly animal at Mr. Blee, and told him
to say what he might have to say and be quick about it. He fired a
little at this invitation, licked his lips, cleared his throat, and cast
a nervous glance or two at the window. But nobody appeared; no
thunder-visaged Lezzard frowned over the geraniums. Gaffer indeed was
sound asleep, half a mile off, upon one of those seats set in the open
air for the pleasure and convenience of wayfarers about the village. So
Billy rose, crossed to the large sofa whereon Mrs. Coomstock sat,
plumped down boldly beside her and endeavoured to get his arm round the
wide central circumference of her person. She suffered this courageous
attempt without objection. Then Billy gently squeezed her, and she
wriggled and opened her mouth and shut her eyes.

"Say the word and do a wise thing," he urged. "Say the word, Mary, an'
think o' me here as master, a-keeping all your damn relations off by
word of command."

She laughed.

"When I be gone you'll see some sour looks, I reckon."

"Nothing doan't matter then; 't is while you 'm here I'd protect 'e
'gainst 'em. Look, see! ban't often I goes down on my knees, 'cause a
man risin' in years, same as me, can pray to God more dignified sittin';
but now I will." He slid gingerly down, and only a tremor showed the
stab his gallantry cost him.

"You 'm a masterful auld shaver, sure 'nough!" said Mrs. Coomstock,
regarding Billy with a look half fish like, half affectionate.

"Rise me up, then," he said. "Rise me up, an' do it quick. If you love
me, as I see you do by the faace of you, rise me up, Mary, an' say the
word wance for all time. I'll be a gude husband to 'e an' you'll bless
the day you took me, though I sez it as shouldn't."

She allowed her fat left hand, with the late Mr. Coomstock's
wedding-ring almost buried in her third finger, to remain with Billy's;
and by the aid of it and the sofa he now got on his legs again. Then he
sat down beside her once more and courageously set his yellow muzzle
against her red cheek. The widow remained passive under this caress, and
Mr. Blee, having kissed her thrice, rubbed his mouth and spoke.

"Theer! 'T is signed and sealed, an' I'll have no drawin' back now."

"But--but--Lezzard, Billy. I do like 'e--I caan't hide it from 'e, try
as I will--but him--"

"I knawed he was t'other. I tell you, forget un. His marryin' days be
awver. Dammy, the man's 'most chuckle headed wi' age! Let un go his way
an' say his prayers 'gainst the trump o' God. An' it'll take un his time
to pass Peter when all 's done--a bad auld chap in his day. Not that I'd
soil your ears with it."

"He said much the same 'bout you. When you was at Drewsteignton, twenty
year agone--"

"A lie--a wicked, strammin', gert lie, with no more truth to it than a
auld song! He 'm a venomous beast to call home such a thing arter all
these years."

"If I did take 'e, you'd be a gude an' faithful husband, Billy, not a
gad-about?"

"Cut my legs off if I go gaddin' further than to do your errands."

"An' you'll keep these here buzzin' parties off me? Cuss 'em! They make
my life a burden."

"Doan't fear that. I'll larn 'em!"

"Theer 's awnly wan I can bide of the whole lot--an' that's my awn
nephew, Clem Hicks. He'll drink his drop o' liquor an' keep his mouth
shut, an' listen to me a-talkin' as a young man should. T'others are
allus yelpin' out how fond they be of me, and how they'd go to the
world's end for me. I hate the sight of 'em."

"A time-servin' crew, Mary; an' Clement Hicks no better 'n the rest,
mark my word, though your sister's son. 'T is cupboard love wi' all. But
money ban't nothin' to me. I've been well contented with enough all my
life, though 't is few can say with truth that enough satisfies 'em."

"Lezzard said money was nothin' to him neither, having plenty of his
awn. 'T was my pusson, not my pocket, as he'd falled in love with."

"Burnish it all! Theer 's a shameful speech! 'Your pusson'! Him! I'll
tell you what Lezzard is--just a damn evil disposition kep' in by skin
an' bones--that's Lezzard. 'Your pusson'!"

"I'm afraid I've encouraged him a little. You've been so backward in
mentioning the subject of late. But I'm sure I didn't knaw as he'd got a
evil disposition."

"Well, 't is so. An' 't is awnly your bigness of heart, as wouldn't
hurt a beetle, makes you speak kind of the boozy auld sweep. I'll soon
shaw un wheer he's out if he thinks you 'm tinkering arter him!"

"He couldn't bring an action for breach, or anything o' that, could he?"

"At his time of life! What Justice would give ear to un? An' the shame
of it!"

"Perhaps he misunderstood. You men jump so at a conclusion."

"Leave that to me. I'll clear his brains double-quick; aye, an' make un
jump for somethin'!"

"Then I suppose it's got to be. I'm yourn, Billy, an' theer needn't be
any long waitin' neither. To think of another weddin' an' another
husband! Just a drop or I shall cry. It's such a supporting thing to a
lone female."

Whether Mrs. Coomstock meant marriage or Plymouth gin, Billy did not
stop to inquire. He helped her, filled Lezzard's empty glass for
himself, and then, finding his future wife thick of speech, bleared of
eye, and evidently disposed to slumber, he departed and left her to
sleep off her varied emotions.

"I'll mighty soon change all that," thought Mr. Blee. "To note a fine
woman in liquor 's the frightfullest sight in all nature, so to say. Not
but what with Lezzard a-pawin' of her 't was enough to drive her to it."

That night the lover announced his triumph, whereon Phoebe congratulated
him and Miller Lyddon shook his head.

"'T is an awful experiment, Billy, at your age," he declared.

"Why, so 't is; but I've weighed the subject in my mind for years and
years, an 't wasn't till Mary Coomstock comed to be widowed that I
thought I'd found the woman at last. 'T was lookin' tremendous high, I
knaw, but theer 't is; she'll have me. She 'm no young giglet neither,
as would lead me a devil's dance, but a pusson in full blooth with ripe
mind."

"She drinks. I doan't want to hurt your feelings; but everybody says it
is so," declared the miller.

"What everybody sez, nobody did ought to believe," returned Mr. Blee
stoutly. "She 'm a gude, lonely sawl, as wants a man round the house to
keep off her relations, same as us has a dog to keep down varmints in
general. Theer 's the Hickses, an' Chowns, an' Coomstocks all a-stickin'
up theer tails an' a-purrin' an' a-rubbin' theerselves against the
door-posts of the plaace like cats what smells feesh. I won't have none
of it. I'll dwell along wi' she an' play a husband's part, an' comfort
the decline of her like a man, I warn 'e."

"Why, Mrs. Coomstock 's not so auld as all that, Billy," said Phoebe.
"Chris has often told me she's only sixty-two or three."

But he shook his head.

"Ban't a subject for a loving man to say much on, awnly truth 's truth.
I seed it written in the Coomstock Bible wan day. Fifty-five she were
when she married first. Well, ban't in reason she twald the naked truth
'bout it, an' who'd blame her on such a delicate point? No, I'd judge
her as near my awn age as possible; an' to speak truth, not so well
preserved as what I be."

"How's Monks Barton gwaine to fare without 'e, Blee?" whined the miller.

"As to that, be gormed if I knaw how I'll fare wi'out the farm. But
love--well, theer 't is. Theer 's money to it, I knaw, but what do that
signify? Nothin' to me. You'll see me frequent as I ride here an'
theer--horse, saddle, stirrups, an' all complete; though God He knaws
wheer my knees'll go when my boots be fixed in stirrups. But a man must
use 'em if theer 's the dignity of money to be kept up. 'T is just wan
of them oncomfortable things riches brings with it."

While Miller Lyddon still argued with Billy against the step he now
designed, there arrived from Chagford the stout Mr. Chappie, with his
mouth full of news.

"More weddin's," he said. "I comed down-long to tell 'e, lest you
shouldn't knaw till to-morrow an' so fall behind the times. Widow
Coomstock 's thrawed up the sponge and gived herself to that
importuneous auld Lezzard. To think o' such a Methuselah as him--aulder
than the century--fillin' the eye o' that full-bodied--"

"It's a black lie--blacker 'n hell--an' if't was anybody but you brought
the news I'd hit un awver the jaw!" burst out Mr. Blee, in a fury.

"He tawld me hisself. He's tellin' everybody hisself. It comed to a
climax to-day. The auld bird's hoppin' all awver the village so proud as
a jackdaw as have stole a shiny button. He'm bustin' wi' it in fact."

"I'll bust un! An' his news, tu. An' you can say, when you'm axed, 't is
the foulest lie ever falled out of wicked lips."

Billy now took his hat and stick from their corner and marched to the
door without more words.

"No violence, mind now, no violence," begged Mr. Lyddon. "This
love-making 's like to wreck the end of my life, wan way or another,
yet. 'T is bad enough with the young; but when it comes to auld,
bald-headed fules like you an' Lezzard--"

"As to violence, I wouldn't touch un wi' the end of a dung-fork--I
wouldn't. But I'm gwaine to lay his lie wance an' for all. I be off to
parson this instant moment. An' when my banns of marriage be hollered
out next Sunday marnin', then us'll knaw who 'm gwaine to marry Mother
Coomstock an' who ban't. I can work out my awn salvation wi' fear an'
tremblin' so well as any other man; an' you'll see what that
God-forsaken auld piece looks like come Sunday when he hears what's done
an' caan't do nought but just swallow his gall an' chew 'pon it."



CHAPTER VIII

MR. BLEE FORGETS HIMSELF


The Rev. James Shorto-Champernowne made no difficulty about Billy's
banns of marriage, although he doubtless held a private opinion upon the
wisdom of such a step, and also knew that Mrs. Coomstock was now a very
different woman from the sextoness of former days. He expressed a hope,
however, that Mr. Blee would make his future wife become a regular
church-goer again after the ceremony; and Billy took it upon himself to
promise as much for her. There the matter ended until the following
Sunday, when a sensation, unparalleled in the archives of St. Michael's,
awaited the morning worshippers.

Under chiming of bells the customary congregation arrived, and a
perceptible wave of sensation swept from pew to pew at the appearance of
more than one unfamiliar face. Of regular attendants we may note Mrs.
Blanchard and Chris, Martin Grimbal, Mr. Lyddon, and his daughter. Mr.
Blee usually sat towards the back of the church at a point immediately
behind those benches devoted to the boys. Here he kept perfect order
among the lads, and had done so for many years. Occasionally it became
necessary to turn a youngster out of church, and Billy's procedure at
such a time was masterly; but of opinion to-day that he was a public
character, he chose a more conspicuous position, and accepted Mr.
Lyddon's invitation to take a seat in the miller's own pew. He felt he
owed this prominence, not only to himself, but to Mrs. Coomstock. She,
good soul, had been somewhat evasive and indefinite in her manner since
accepting Billy, and her condition of nerves on Sunday morning proved
such that she found herself quite unable to attend the house of prayer,
although she had promised to do so. She sent her two servants, however,
and, spending the time in private between spirtual and spirituous
consolations of Bible and bottle, the widow soon passed into a temporary
exaltation ending in unconsciousness. Thus her maids found her on
returning from church.

Excitement within the holy edifice reached fever-heat when a most
unwonted worshipper appeared in the venerable shape of Mr. Lezzard. He
was supported by his married daughter and his grandson. They sought and
found a very prominent position under the lectern, and it was
immediately apparent that no mere conventional attendance for the
purpose of praising their Maker had drawn Mr. Lezzard and his relations.
Indeed he had long been of the Baptist party, though it derived but
little lustre from him. Much whispering passed among the trio. Then his
daughter, having found the place she sought in a prayer-book, handed it
to Mr. Lezzard, and he made a big cross in pencil upon the page and bent
the volume backwards so that its binding cracked very audibly. Gaffer
then looked about him with a boldness he was far from feeling; but the
spectacle of Mr. Blee, hard by, fortified his spirit. He glared across
the aisle and Billy glared back.

Then the bells stopped, the organ droned, and there came a clatter of
iron nails on the tiled floor. Boys and men proceeded to the choir
stalls and Mr. Shorto-Champernowne fluttered behind, with his sermon in
his hand. Like a stately galleon of the olden time he swept along the
aisle, then reached his place, cast one keen glance over the assembled
congregation, and slowly sinking upon his hassock enveloped his face and
whiskers in snowy lawn and prayed a while.

The service began and that critical moment after the second lesson was
reached with dreadful celerity. Doctor Parsons, having read a chapter
from the New Testament, which he emerged from the congregation to do,
and which he did ill, though he prided himself upon his elocution,
returned to his seat as the Vicar rose, adjusted his double eyeglasses
and gave out a notice as follows:

"I publish the banns of marriage between William Blee, Bachelor, and
Mary Coomstock, Widow, both of this parish. If any of you know cause, or
just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in
holy matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is for the first time of
asking."

There was a momentary pause. Then, nudged by his daughter, who had grown
very pale, Gaffer Lezzard rose. His head shook and he presented the
appearance of a man upon the verge of palsy. He held up his hand,
struggled with his vocal organs and at last exploded these words,
sudden, tremulous, and shrill:

"I deny it an' I defy it! The wummon be mine!"

Mr. Lezzard succumbed instantly after this effort. Indeed, he went down
as though shot through the head. He wagged and gasped and whispered to
his grandson,--

"Wheer's the brandy to?"

Whereupon this boy produced a medicine bottle half full of spirits, and
his grandfather, with shaking fingers, removed the cork and drank the
contents. Meantime the Vicar had begun to speak; but he suffered another
interruption. Billy, tearing himself from the miller's restraining hand,
leapt to his feet, literally shaking with rage. He was dead to his
position, oblivious of every fact save that his banns of marriage had
been forbidden before the assembled Christians of Chagford. He had
waited to find a wife until he was sixty years old--for this!

"You--_you_ to do it! You to get up afore this rally o' gentlefolks an'
forbid my holy banns, you wrinkled, crinkled, baggering auld lizard!
Gormed if I doan't wring your--"

"Silence in the house of God!" thundered Mr. Shorto-Champernowne, with
tones so resonant that they woke rafter echoes the organ itself had
never roused. "Silence, and cease this sacrilegious brawling, or the
consequences will be unutterably serious! Let those involved," he
concluded more calmly, "appear before me in the vestry after divine
service is at an end."

Having frowned, in a very tragic manner, both on Mr. Blee and Mr.
Lezzard, the Vicar proceeded with the service; but though Gaffer
remained in his place Billy did not. He rose, jammed on his hat, glared
at everybody, and assumed an expression curiously similar to that of a
stone demon which grinned from the groining of two arches immediately
above him. He then departed, growling to himself and shaking his fists,
in another awful silence; for the Vicar ceased when he rose, and not
until Billy disappeared and his footfall was heard no more did the angry
clergyman proceed.

A buzz and hubbub, mostly of laughter, ascended when presently Mr.
Shorto-Champernowne's parishioners returned to the air; and any chance
spectator beholding them had certainly judged he stood before an
audience now dismissed from a theatre rather than the congregation of a
church.

"Glad Will weern't theer, I'm sure," said Mrs. Blanchard. "He'd 'a'
laughed out loud an' made bad worse. Chris did as 't was, awnly parson's
roarin' luckily drowned it. And Mr. Martin Grimbal, whose eye I catched,
was put to it to help smilin'."

"Ban't often he laughs, anyway," said Phoebe, who walked homewards with
her father and the Blanchards; whereon Chris, from being in a boisterous
vein of merriment, grew grave. Together all returned to the valley. Will
was due in half an hour from Newtake, and Phoebe, as a special favour,
had been permitted to dine at Mrs. Blanchard's cottage with her husband
and his family. Clement Hicks had also promised to be of the party; but
that was before the trouble of the previous week, and Chris knew he
would not come.

Meantime, Gaffer Lezzard, supported by two generations of his family,
explained his reasons for objecting to Mr. Blee's proposed marriage.

"Mrs. Coomstock be engaged, right and reg'lar, to me," he declared.
"She'd gived me her word 'fore ever Blee axed her. I seed her essterday,
to hear final 'pon the subjec', an' she tawld me straight, bein' sober
as you at the time, as 't was _me_ she wanted an' meant for to have. She
was excited t' other day an' not mistress of herself ezacally; an' the
crafty twoad took advantage of it, an' jawed, an' made her drink an'
drink till her didn't knaw what her was sayin' or doin'. But she'm mine,
an' she'll tell 'e same as what I do; so theer's an end on 't."

"I'll see Mrs. Coomstock," said the Vicar. "I, myself will visit her
to-morrow."

"Canst punish this man for tryin' to taake her from me?"

"Permit yourself no mean desires in the direction of revenge. For the
present I decline to say more upon the subject. If it were possible to
punish, and I am not prepared to say it is not, it would be for brawling
in the house of God. After an experience extending over forty years, I
may declare that I never saw any such disreputable and horrifying
spectacle."

So the Lezzard family withdrew and, on the following day, Mrs. Coomstock
passed through most painful experiences.

To the clergyman, with many sighs and tears, she explained that Mr.
Lezzard's character had been maligned by Mr. Blee, that before the
younger veteran she had almost feared for her life, and been driven to
accept him out of sheer terror at his importunity. But when facts came
to her ears afterwards, she found that Mr. Lezzard was in reality all he
had declared himself to be, and therefore returned to him, threw over
Mr. Blee, and begged the other to forbid the banns, if as she secretly
learnt, though not from Billy himself, they were to be called on that
Sunday. The poor woman's ears tingled under Mr. Shorto-Champernowne's
sonorous reproof; but he departed at last, and by the time that Billy
called, during the same day, she had imbibed Dutch courage sufficient to
face him and tell him she had changed her mind. She had erred--she
confessed it. She had been far from well at the time and, upon
reconsideration of the proposal, had felt she would never be able to
make Mr. Blee happy, or enjoy happiness with him.

As a matter of fact, Mrs. Coomstock had accepted both suitors on one and
the same afternoon. First Gaffer, who had made repeated but rather vague
allusion to a sum of three hundred pounds in ready money, was taken
definitely; while upon his departure, the widow, only dimly conscious of
what was settled with her former admirer, said, "Yes" to Billy in his
turn. Had a third suitor called on that event-ful afternoon, it is quite
possible Mrs. Coomstock would have accepted him also.

The conversation with Mr. Blee was of short duration, and ended by
Billy calling down a comprehensive curse on the faithless one and
returning to Monks Barton. He had attached little importance to
Lezzard's public protest, upon subsequent consideration and after the
first shock of hearing it; but there was no possibility of doubting what
he now learned from Mrs. Coomstock's own lips. That she had in reality
changed her mind appeared only too certain.

So he went home again in the last extremity of fury, and Phoebe, who was
alone at the time, found herself swept by the hurricane of his wrath. He
entered snorting and puffing, flung his hat on the settle, his stick
into the corner; then, dropping into a seat by the fire, he began taking
off his gaiters with much snuffling and mumbling and repeated
inarticulate explosions of breath. This cat-like splutter always
indicated deep feeling in Mr. Blee, and Phoebe asked with concern what
was the matter now.

"Matter? Tchut--Tchut--Theer ban't no God--that's what's the matter!"

"Billy! How can you?"

"She'm gwaine to marry t'other, arter all! From her awn lips I've heard
it! That's what I get for being a church member from the womb! That's my
reward! God, indeed! Be them the ways o' a plain-dealin' God, who knaws
what's doin' in human hearts? No fay! Bunkum an' rot! I'll never lift my
voice in hymn nor psalm no more, nor pray a line o' prayer again. Who be
I to be treated like that? Drunken auld cat! I cussed her--I cussed her!
Wouldn't marry her now if she axed wi' her mouth in the dirt. Wheer's
justice to? Tell me that. Me in church, keepin' order 'mong the damn
boys generation arter generation, and him never inside the door since he
buried his wife. An' parson siding wi' un, I'll wager. Mother Coomstock
'll give un hell's delights, that's wan gude thought. A precious pair
of 'em! Tchut! Gar!"

"I doan't really think you could have loved Mrs. Coomstock overmuch,
Billy, if you can talk so ugly an' crooked 'bout her," said Phoebe.

"I did, I tell 'e--for years an' years. I went down on my knees to the
bitch--I wish I hadn't; I'll be sorry for that to my dying day. I kissed
her, tu,--s' elp me, I did. You mightn't think it, but I did--a faace
like a frost-bitten beetroot, as 't is!"

"Doan't 'e, please, say such horrible things. You must be wise about it.
You see, they say Mr. Lezzard has more money than you. At least, so Mrs.
Coomstock told her nephew, Clement Hicks. Every one of her relations is
savage about it."

"Well they may be. Why doan't they lock her up? If she ban't mad, nobody
ever was. 'Money'! Lezzard! Lying auld--auld--Tchut! Not money enough to
pay for a graave to hide his rotten bones, I lay. Oh, 't is enough
to--theer, what 's the use of talkin'? Tchut--Tchut!"

At this point Phoebe, fearing even greater extravagances in Mr. Blee's
language, left him to consider his misfortunes alone. Long he continued
in the profoundest indignation, and it was not until Miller Lyddon
returned, heard the news, and heartily congratulated Billy on a merciful
escape, that the old man grew a little calmer under his disappointment,
and moderated the bitterness and profanity of his remarks.



CHAPTER IX

A DIFFERENCE WITH THE DUCHY


Newtake Farm, by reason of Will's recent occupancy, could offer no very
considerable return during his first year as tenant; but that he
understood and accepted, and the tribulation which now fell upon him was
of his own making. To begin with, Sam Bonus vanished from the scene. On
learning, soon after the event, that Bonus had discussed Hicks and
himself at Chagford, and detailed his private conversation with Martin
Grimbal, Blanchard, in a fury, swept off to the loft where his man
slept, roused him from rest, threw down the balance of his wages, and
dismissed him on the spot. He would hear no word in explanation, and
having administered a passionate rebuke, departed as he had come, like a
whirlwind. Sam, smarting under this injustice, found the devil wake in
him through that sleepless night, and had there stood rick or stack
within reach of revenge, he might have dealt his master a return blow
before morning. As usual, after the lapse of hours, Will cooled down,
modified his first fiery indignation, and determined, yet without
changing his mind, to give Bonus an opportunity of explaining the thing
he had done. Chris had brought the news from Clement himself, and Will,
knowing that his personal relations with Clement were already strained,
felt that in justice to his servant he must be heard upon the question.
But, when he sought Sam Bonus, though still the dawn was only grey, he
found the world fuller for him by another enemy, for the man had taken
him at his word and departed. During that day and the next Will made
some effort to see Bonus, but nothing came of it, so, dismissing the
matter from his mind, he hired a new labourer--one Teddy Chown, son of
Abraham Chown, the Inspector of Police--and pursued his way.

Then his unbounded energy led him into difficulties of a graver sort.
Will had long cast covetous eyes on a tract of moorland immediately
adjoining Newtake, and there being little to do at the moment, he
conceived the adventurous design of reclaiming it. The patch was an acre
and a half in extent--a beggarly, barren region, where the heather
thinned away and the black earth shone with water and disintegrated
granite. Quartz particles glimmered over it; at the centre black pools
of stagnant water marked an abandoned peat cutting; any spot less
calculated to attract an agricultural eye would have been hard to
imagine; but Blanchard set to work, began to fill the greedy quag in the
midst with tons of soil, and soon caused the place to look
business-like--at least in his own estimation. As for the Duchy, he did
not trouble himself. The Duchy itself was always reclaiming land without
considering the rights and wrongs of the discontented Venville tenants,
and Will knew of many a "newtake" besides this he contemplated. Indeed,
had not the whole farm, of which he was now master, been rescued from
the Moor in time past? He worked hard, therefore, and his new assistant,
though not a Bonus, proved stout and active. Chris, who still dwelt with
her brother, was sworn to secrecy respecting Will's venture; and so
lonely a region did the farm occupy that not until he had put a good
month of work into the adjacent waste were any of those in authority
aware of the young farmer's performance.

A day came when the new land was cleaned, partly ploughed, and wholly
surrounded by a fence of split stumps, presently to be connected by
wires. At these Chown was working, while Will had just arrived with a
load of earth to add to the many tons already poured upon that hungry
central patch. He held the tailboard of the cart in his hand and was
about to remove it; when, looking up, his heart fluttered a moment
despite his sturdy consciousness of right. On the moor above him rode
grey old Vogwell, the Duchy's man. His long beard fluttered in the wind,
and Will heard the thud of his horse's hoofs as he cantered quickly to
the scene, passed between two of the stakes, and drew up alongside
Blanchard.

"Marnin', Mr. Vogwell! Fine weather, to be sure, an' gude for the peat
next month; but bad for roots, an' no mistake. Will 'e have a drink?"

Mr. Vogwell gazed sternly about him, then fixed his little bright eyes
on the culprit.

"What do this mean, Will Blanchard?"

"Well, why not? Duchy steals all the gude land from Venwell men; why for
shouldn't us taake a little of the bad? This here weern't no gude to
man or mouse. Ban't 'nough green stuff for a rabbit 'pon it. So I just
thought I'd give it a lick an' a promise o' more later on."

"'A lick an' a promise'! You've wasted a month's work on it, to the
least."

"Well, p'raps I have--though ban't wasted. Do 'e think, Mr. Vogwell, as
the Duchy might be disposed to give me a hand?"

Will generally tackled difficulties in this audacious fashion, and a
laugh already began to brighten his eye; but the other quenched it.

"You fool! You knawed you was doin' wrong better'n I can tell you--an'
such a plaace! A babe could see you 'm workin' awver living springs. You
caan't fill un even now in the drouth, an' come autumn an' rain 't will
all be bog again."

"Nothing of the sort," flamed out Will, quite forgetting his recent
assertion as to the poverty of the place. "Do 'e think, you, as awnly
rides awver the Moor, knaws more about soil than I as works on it?
'Twill be gude proofy land bimebye--so good as any Princetown way, wheer
the prison men reclaim, an' wheer theer's grass this minute as carries a
bullock to the acre. First I'll plant rye, then swedes, then maybe more
swedes, then barley; an', with the barley, I'll sow the permanent grass
to follow. That's gude rotation of crops for Dartymoor, as I knaw an'
you doan't; an' if the Duchy encloses the best to rob our things[11],
why for shouldn't we--"


[11] _Things_ = beasts; sheep and cattle.


"That'll do. I caan't bide here listenin' to your child's-talk all the
marnin'. What Duchy does an' doan't do is for higher 'n you or me to
decide. If this was any man's work but yours I'd tell Duchy this night;
but bein' you, I'll keep mute. Awnly mind, when I comes this way a
fortnight hence, let me see these postes gone an' your plough an' cart
t' other side that wall. An' you'll thank me, when you've come to more
sense, for stoppin' this wild-goose chase. Now I'll have a drop o'
cider, if it's all the same to you."

Will opened a stone jar which lay under his coat at hand, and answered
as he poured cider into a horn mug for Mr. Vogwell--

"Here's your drink; but I won't take your orders, so I tell 'e. Damn the
Duchy, as steals moor an' common wheer it pleases an' then grudges a man
his toil."

"That's the spirit as'll land 'e in the poorhouse, Will Blanchard," said
Mr. Vogwell calmly; "and that's such a job as might send 'e to the
County Asylum," he added, pointing to the operations around him. "As to
damning Duchy," he continued, "you might as well damn the sun or moon.
They'd care as little. Theer 'm some varmints so small that, though they
bite 'e with all their might, you never knaw it; an' so 't is wi' you
an' Duchy. Mind now, a fortnight. Thank 'e--so gude cider as ever I
tasted; an' doan't 'e tear an' rage, my son. What's the use?"

"'Twould be use, though, if us all raged together."

"But you won't get none to follow. 'Tis all talk. Duchy haven't got no
bones to break or sawl to lose; an' moormen haven't got brains enough to
do aught in the matter but jaw."

"An' all for a royal prince, as doan't knaw difference between yether
an' fuzz, I lay," growled Will. "Small blame to moormen for being
radical-minded these days. Who wouldn't, treated same as us?"

"Best not talk on such high subjects, Will Blanchard, or you might get
in trouble. A fortnight, mind. Gude marnin' to 'e."

The Duchy's man rode off and Will stood angry and irresolute. Then,
seeing Mr. Vogwell was still observing him, he ostentatiously turned to
the cart and tipped up his load of earth. But when the representative of
power had disappeared--his horse and himself apparently sinking into
rather than behind a heather ridge--Will's energy died and his mood
changed. He had fooled himself about this enterprise until the present,
but he could no longer do so. Now he sat down on the earth he had
brought, let his horse drag the cart after it, as it wandered in search
of some green thing, and suffered a storm of futile indignation to
darken his spirit.

Blanchard's unseasoned mind had, in truth, scarcely reached the second
milestone upon the road of man's experience. Some arrive early at the
mental standpoint where the five senses meet and merge in that sixth or
common sense, which may be defined as an integral of the others, and
which is manifested by those who possess it in a just application of all
the experience won from life. But of common sense Will had none. He
could understand laziness and wickedness being made to suffer; he could
read Nature's more self-evident lessons blazoned across every meadow,
displayed in every living organism--that error is instantly punished,
that poor food starves the best seed, that too much water is as bad as
too little, that the race is to the strong, and so forth; but he could
not understand why hard work should go unrewarded, why good intentions
should breed bad results, why the effect of energy, self-denial, right
ambitions, and other excellent qualities is governed by chance; why the
prizes in the great lottery fall to the wise, not to the well-meaning.
He knew himself for a hard worker and a man who accomplished, in all
honesty, the best within his power. What his hand found to do he did
with his might; and the fact that his head, as often as not, prompted
his hand to the wrong thing escaped him. He regarded his life as
exemplary, felt that he was doing all that might in reason be demanded,
and confidently looked towards Providence to do the rest. To find
Providence unwilling to help him brought a wave of riotous indignation
through his mind on each occasion of making that discovery. These waves,
sweeping at irregular intervals over Will, left the mark of their high
tides, and his mind, now swinging like a pendulum before this last
buffet dealt by Fate in semblance of the Duchy's man, plunged him into a
huge discontent with all things. He was ripe for mischief and would have
quarrelled with his shadow; but he did worse--he quarrelled with his
mother.

She visited him that afternoon, viewed his shattered scheme, and
listened as Will poured the great outrage upon her ear. Coming up at his
express invitation to learn the secret, which he had kept from her that
her joy might be the greater, Mrs. Blanchard only arrived in time to see
his disappointment. She knew the Duchy for a bad enemy, and perhaps at
the bottom of her conservative heart felt no particular delight at the
spectacle of Newtake enlarging its borders. She therefore held that
everything was for the best, and counselled patience; whereupon her son,
with a month's wasted toil staring him in the face, rebelled and took
her unconcerned demeanour ill. Damaris also brought a letter from
Phoebe, and this added fuel to the flame. Will dwelt upon his wife's
absence bitterly.

"Job's self never suffered that, for I read 'bout what he went through
awnly last night, for somethin' to kill an hour in the evenin'. An' I
won't suffer it. It's contrary to nature, an' if Phoebe ban't here come
winter I'll go down an' bring her, willy-nilly."

"Time'll pass soon enough, my son. Next summer will be here quick. Then
her'll have grawin' corn to look at and fine crops risin', an' more
things feedin' on the Moor in sight of her eyes. You see, upland farms
do look a little thin to them who have lived all their time in the
fatness of the valleys."

"If I was bidin' in one of them stone roundy-poundies, with nothin' but
a dog-kennel for a home, she ought to be shoulder to shoulder wi' me.
Did you leave my faither cause other people didn't love un?"

"That was differ'nt. Theer s Miller Lyddon. I could much wish you seed
more of him an' let un come by a better 'pinion of 'e. 'T s awnly
worldly wisdom, true; but--"

"I'm sick to death o' worldly wisdom! What's it done for me? I stand to
work nine an' ten hour a day, an' not wi'out my share o' worldly wisdom,
neither. Then I'm played with an' left to whistle, I ban't gwaine to
think so much, I tell 'e. It awnly hurts a man's head, an' keeps him
wakin' o' nights. Life's guess-work, by the looks of it, an' a fule's so
like to draw a prize as the wisest."

"That's not the talk as'll make Newtake pay, Will. You 'm worse than
poor Blee to Monks Barton. He's gwaine round givin' out theer ban't no
God 't all, 'cause Mrs. Coomstock took auld Lezzard 'stead of him."

"You may laugh if you like, mother. 'Tis the fashion to laugh at me
seemin'ly. But I doan't care. Awnly you'll be sorry some day, so sure as
you sit in thicky chair. Now, as you've nothin' but blame, best to go
back home. I'll put your pony in the shafts. 'Twas a pity you corned so
far for so little."

He went off, his breast heaving, while the woman followed him with her
eyes and smiled when he was out of sight. She knew him so well, and
already pictured her repentant son next Sunday. Then Will would be at
his mother's cottage, and cut the bit of beef at dinner, and fuss over
her comfort according to his custom.

She went into the farmyard and took the pony from him and led it back
into the stall. Then she returned to him and put her arm through his and
spoke.

"Light your pipe, lovey, an' walk a li'l way along down to the stones on
the hill, wheer you was born. Your auld mother wants to talk to 'e."



CHAPTER X

CONNECTING LINKS


Spaces of time extending over rather more than a year may now be
dismissed in a chapter.

Chris Blanchard, distracted between Will and her lover, stayed on at
Newtake after the estrangement, with a hope that she might succeed in
healing the breach between them; but her importunity failed of its good
object, and there came an August night when she found her own position
at her brother's farm grow no longer tenable.

The blinds were up, and rays from the lamp shot a broad band of light
into the farmyard, while now and again great white moths struck soft
blows against the closed window, then vanished again into the night.
Will smoked and Chris pleaded until a point, beyond which her brother's
patience could not go, was reached. Irritation grew and grew before her
ceaseless entreaty on Clement's behalf; for the thousandth time she
begged him to write a letter of apology and explanation of the trouble
bred by Sam Bonus; and he, suddenly rising, smashed down his clay pipe
and swore by all his gods he would hear the name of Hicks mentioned in
his house no more. Thus challenged to choose between her lover and her
brother, the girl did not hesitate. Something of Will's own spirit
informed her; she took him at his word and returned home next morning,
leaving him to manage his own household affairs henceforth as best he
might.

Upon the way to Chagford Chris chanced to meet with Martin Grimbal, and,
having long since accepted his offer of friendship, she did not hesitate
to tell him of her present sorrow and invite his sympathy. From
ignorance rather than selfishness did Chris take Martin literally when
he had hoped in the past they might remain friends, and their
intercourse was always maintained by her when chance put one in the
other's way--at a cost to the man beyond her power to guess.

Now he walked beside her, and she explained how only a word was wanting
between Will and Clement which neither would speak. Hicks had forgiven
Will, but he refused to visit Newtake until he received an apology from
the master of it; and Blanchard bore no ill-will to Clement, but
declined to apologise for the past. These facts Martin listened to,
while the blood beat like a tide within his temples, and a mist dimmed
his eyes as the girl laid her brown hand upon his arm now and again, to
accentuate a point. At such moments the truth tightened upon his soul
and much distressed him.

The antiquary had abandoned any attempt to forget Chris, or cease from
worshipping her with all his heart and soul; but the emotion now muzzled
and chained out of sight he held of nobler composition than that earlier
love which yearned for possession. Those dreary months that dragged
between the present and his first disappointment had served as
foundations for new developments of character in the man. He existed
through a period of unutterable despair and loneliness; then the fruits
of bygone battles fought and won came to his aid, and long-past years of
self-denial and self-control fortified his spirit. The reasonableness of
Martin Grimbal lifted him slowly but steadily from the ashes of
disappointment; even his natural humility helped him, and he told
himself he had no more than his desert. Presently, with efforts the very
vigour of which served as tonic to character, he began to wrestle at the
granite again and resume his archaeologic studies. Speaking in general
terms, his mind was notably sweetened and widened by his experience;
and, resulting from his own failure to reach happiness, there awoke in
him a charity and sympathy for others, a fellow-feeling with humanity,
remarkable in one whose enthusiasm for human nature was not large, whose
ruling passion, until the circumstance of love tinctured it, had led him
by ways which the bulk of men had pronounced arid and unsatisfying. Now
this larger insight was making a finer character of him and planting,
even at the core of his professional pursuits, something deeper than is
generally to be found there. His experience, in fact, was telling upon
his work, and he began slowly to combine with the labour of the
yard-measure and the pencil, the spade and the camera, just thoughts on
the subject of those human generations who ruled the Moor aforetime, who
lived and loved and laboured there full many a day before Saxon keel
first grated on British shingle.

To Chris did Martin listen attentively. Until the present time he had
taken Will's advice and made no offer of work to Clement; but now he
determined to do so, although he knew this action must mean speedy
marriage for Chris. Love, that often enough can shake a lifetime of
morality, that can set ethics and right conduct and duty playing a
devil's dance in the victim's soul, that can change the practised
customs of a man's life and send cherished opinions, accepted beliefs,
and approved dogmas spinning into chaos before its fiery onslaught--love
did not thus overpower Martin Grimbal. His old-fashioned mind was no
armour against it, and in that the passion proved true; religion
appeared similarly powerless to influence him; yet now his extreme
humility, his natural sense of justice and the dimensions of his passion
itself combined to lead him by a lofty road. Chris desired another man,
and Martin Grimbal, loving her to that point where her perfect happiness
dominated and, indeed, became his own, determined that his love should
bear fruit worthy of its object.

This kindly design was frustrated, however, and the antiquary himself
denied power to achieve the good action that he proposed, for on
visiting Clement in person and inviting his aid in the clerical portions
of a considerable work on moorland antiquities, the poet refused to
assist.

"You come too late," he said coldly. "I would not help you now if I
could, Martin Grimbal. Don't imagine pride or any such motive keeps me
from doing so. The true reason you may guess."

"Indeed! I can do nothing of the sort. What reason is there against your
accepting an offer to do remunerative and intellectual work in your
leisure hours--work that may last ten years for all I can see to the
contrary?"

"The reason is that you invited another man's judgment upon me, instead
of taking your own. Better follow Will Blanchard's advice still. Don't
think I'm blind. It is Chris who has made you do this."

"You're a very difficult man to deal with, really. Consider my
suggestion, Hicks, and all it might mean. I desire nothing but your
welfare."

"Which is only to say you are offering me charity."

Martin looked at the other quietly, then took his hat and departed. At
the door he said a last word.

"I don't want to think this is final. You would be very useful to me, or
I should not have asked you to aid my labour. Let me hear from you
within a week."

But Clement was firm in his folly; while, although they met on more than
one occasion, and John Grimbal repeated his offer of regular work, the
bee-keeper refused that proposal, also. He made some small sums out of
the Red House hives, but would not undertake any regular daily labour
there. Clement's refusal of Martin resulted from his own weak pride and
self-conscious stupidity; but a more subtle tangle of conflicting
motives was responsible for his action in respect of the elder Grimbal's
invitation. Some loyalty to the man whom he so cordially disliked still
inhabited his mind, and with it a very considerable distrust of himself.
He partly suspected the reason of John Grimbal's offer of work, and the
possibility of sudden temptation provoking from him utterance of words
best left unsaid could not be ignored after his former experience at the
hiving of the swarm.

So he went his way and told nobody--not even Chris--of these
opportunities and his action concerning them. Such reticence made two
women sad. Chris, after her conversation with Martin, doubted not but
that he would make some effort, and, hearing nothing as time passed,
assumed he had changed his mind; while Mrs. Hicks, who had greatly hoped
that Clement's visit to the Red House might result in regular
employment, felt disappointed when no such thing occurred.

The union of Mr. Lezzard and Mrs. Coomstock was duly accomplished to a
chorus of frantic expostulation on the part of those interested in the
widow's fortune. Mr. Shorto-Champernowne, having convinced himself that
the old woman was in earnest, could find no sufficient reason for doing
otherwise than he was asked, and finally united the couple. To Newton
Abbot they went for their honeymoon, and tribulation haunted them from
the first. Mrs. Lezzard refused her husband permission to inquire any
particulars of her affairs from her lawyer--a young man who had
succeeded Mr. Joel Ford--while the Gaffer, on his side, parried all his
lady's endeavours to learn more of the small fortune concerning which he
had spoken not seldom before marriage. Presently they returned to
Chagford, and life resolved itself into an unlovely thing for both of
them. Time brought no better understanding or mutual confidence; on the
contrary, they never ceased from wrangling over money and Mrs. Lezzard's
increasing propensity towards drink. The old man suffered most, and as
his alleged three hundred pounds did not appear, being, indeed, a mere
lover's effort of imagination, his wife bitterly resented marriage under
such false pretences, and was never weary of protesting. Of her own
affairs she refused to tell her husband anything, but as Mr. Lezzard was
found to possess no money at all, it became necessary to provide him
with a bare competence for the credit of the family. He did his best to
win a little more regard and consideration, in the hope that when his
wife passed away the reward of devotion might be reaped; but she never
forgave him, expressed the conviction that she would outlive him by many
years, and exhausted her ingenuity to make the old man rue his bargain.
Only one experience, and that repeated as surely as Mr. Blee met Mr.
Lezzard, was more trying to the latter than all the accumulated
misfortune of his sorry state--Gaffer's own miseries appeared absolutely
trivial by comparison with Mr. Blee's comments upon them.

With another year Blanchard and Hicks became in some sort reconciled,
though the former friendship was never renewed. The winter proved a
severe one, and Will experienced a steady drain on his capital, but he
comforted himself in thoughts of the spring, watched his wheat dapple
the dark ground with green, and also foretold exceptional crops of hay
when summer should return. The great event of his wife's advent at
Newtake occupied most of his reflections; while as for Phoebe herself
the matter was never out of her mind. She lived for the day in June that
should see her by her husband's side; but Miller Lyddon showed no
knowledge of the significance of Phoebe's twenty-first birthday; and
when Will brought up the matter, upon an occasion of meeting with his
father-in-law, the miller deprecated any haste.

"Time enough--time enough," he said. "You doan't want no wife to Newtake
these years to come, while I _do_ want a darter to home."

So Phoebe, albeit the course of operations was fully planned, forbore to
tell her father anything, and suffered the day to drift nearer and
nearer without expressly indicating the event it was to witness.



CHAPTER XI

TOGETHER


Though not free from various temporal problems that daily demanded
solution, Will very readily allowed his mind a holiday from all affairs
of business during the fortnight that preceded his wife's arrival at
Newtake. What whitewash could do was done; a carpet, long since
purchased but not laid down till now, adorned the miniature parlour;
while out of doors, becoming suddenly conscious that not a blossom would
greet Phoebe's eyes, Will set about the manufacture of a flower-bed
under the kitchen window, bound the plat with neat red tiles, and
planted therein half a dozen larkspurs--Phoebe's favourite flower--with
other happy beauties of early summer. The effort looked raw and unhappy,
however, and as ill luck would have it, these various plants did not
take kindly to their changed life, and greeted Phoebe with hanging
heads.

But the great morning came at last, and Will, rising, with the curious
thought that he would never sleep in the middle of his bed again, donned
his best dark-brown velveteens and a new pair of leathern gaiters, then
walked out into the air, where Chown was milking the cows. The day
dawned as brightly as the events it heralded, and Will, knowing that his
mother and Chris would be early at Newtake, strolled out to meet them.
Over against the farm rose moorland crowned by stone, and from off their
granite couches grey mists blushing to red now rose with lazy
deliberation and vanished under the sun's kiss. A vast, sweet,
diamond-twinkling freshness filled the Moor; blue shadows lay in the
dewy coombs, and sun-fires gleamed along the heather ridges. No
heath-bell as yet had budded, but the flame of the whins splashed many
undulations, and the tender foliage of the whortleberry, where it grew
on exposed granite, was nearly scarlet and flashed jewel-bright in the
rich texture of the waste. Will saw his cattle pass to their haunts,
sniffed the savour of them on the wind, and enjoyed the thought of being
their possessor; then his eyes turned to the valley and the road which
wound upwards from it under great light. A speck at length appeared
three parts of a mile distant and away started Blauchard, springing down
the hillside to intercept it. His heart sang within him; here was a
glorious day that could never come again, and he meant to live it
gloriously.

"Marnin', mother! Marnin', Chris! Let me get in between 'e. Breakfast
will be most ready by time we'm home. I knawed you d keep your word such
a rare fashion day!"

Will soon sat between the two women, while Mrs. Blanchard's pony
regulated its own pace and three tongues chattered behind it. A dozen
brown paper parcels occupied the body of the little cart, for Damaris
had insisted that the wedding feast should be of her providing. It was
proposed that Chris and her mother should spend the day at Newtake and
depart after drinking tea; while Phoebe was to arrive in a fly at one
o'clock.

After breakfast Chris busied herself indoors and occupied her quick
fingers in putting a dozen finishing touches; while Mrs. Blanchard
walked round the farm beside Will, viewed with outspoken approval or
secret distrust those evidences of success and failure spread about her,
and passed the abandoned attempt to reclaim land without a word or sign
that she remembered. Will crowed like a happy child; his mother poured
advice into his unheeding ears; and then a cart lumbered up with a great
surprise in it. True to her intention Mrs. Blanchard had chosen the day
of Phoebe 's arrival to send the old piano to Newtake, and now it was
triumphantly trundled into the parlour, while Will protested and
admired. It added not a little to the solid splendour of the apartment,
and Mrs. Blanchard viewed it with placid but genuine satisfaction. Its
tarnished veneer and red face looked like an old honest friend, so Will
declared, and he doubted not that his wife would rejoice as he did.

Presently the cart destined to bring Phoebe's boxes started for Chagford
under Ted Chown's direction. It was a new cart, and the owner hoped that
sight of it, with "William Blanchard, Newtake," nobly displayed on the
tail-board, would please his father-in-law.

Meantime, at Monks Barton the great day had likewise dawned, but Phoebe,
from cowardice rather than philosophy, did not mention what was to
happen until the appearance of Chown made it necessary to do so.

Mr. Blee was the first to stand bewildered before Ted's blunt
announcement that he had come for Mrs. Blanchard's luggage.

"What luggage? What the douce be talkin' 'bout?" he asked.

"Why, everything, I s'pose. She 'm comin' home to-day--that's knawn,
ban't it?"

"Gormed if 'tis! Not by me, anyways--nor Miller, neither."

Then Phoebe appeared and Billy heard the truth.

"My! An' to keep it that quiet! Theer'll be a tidy upstore when Miller
comes to hear tell--"

But Mr. Lyddon was at the door and Phoebe answered his questioning eyes.

"My birthday, dear faither. You must remember--why, you was the first to
give me joy of it! Twenty-one to-day, an' I must go--I must--'tis my
duty afore everything."

The old man's jaw fell and he looked the picture of sorrowful surprise.

"But--but to spring it like this! Why to-day? Why to-day? It's madness
and it's cruelty to fly from your home the first living moment you've
got the power. I'd counted on a merry evenin,' tu, an' axed more 'n wan
to drink your gude health."

"Many's the merry evenings us'll have, dear faither, please God; but a
husband's a husband. He've been that wonnerful patient, tu, for such as
him. 'T was my fault for not remindin' you. An' yet I did, now an'
again, but you wouldn't see it. Yet you knawed in your heart, an' I
didn't like to pain 'e dwellin' on it overmuch."

"How did I knaw? I didn't knaw nothin' 't all 'bout it. How should I? Me
grawin' aulder an' aulder, an' leanin' more an' more 'pon 'e at every
turn. An' him no friend to me--he 's never sought to win me--he 's--"

"Doan't 'e taake on 'bout Will, dearie; you'll come to knaw un better
bimebye. I ban't gwaine so far arter all; an' it's got to be."

Then the miller worked himself into a passion, dared Chown to take his
daughter's boxes, and made a scene very painful to witness and quite
futile in its effect. Phoebe could be strong at times, and a life's
knowledge of her father helped her now. She told Chown to get the boxes
and bade Billy help him; she then followed Mr. Lyddon, who was rambling
away, according to his custom at moments of great sorrow, to pour his
troubles into any ear that would listen. She put her arm through his,
drew him to the riverside and spoke words that showed she had developed
mentally of late. She was a woman with her father, cooed pleasantly to
him, foretold good things, and implored him to have greater care of his
health and her love than to court illness by this display of passion.
Such treatment had sufficed to calm the miller in many of his moods, for
she possessed great power to soothe him, and Mr. Lyddon now set
increased store upon his daughter's judgment; but to-day, before this
dreadful calamity, every word and affectionate device was fruitless and
only made the matter worse. He stormed on, and Phoebe's superior manner
vanished as he did so, for she could only play such a part if quite
unopposed in it. Now her father silenced her, frightened her, and dared
her to leave him; but his tragic temper changed when they returned to
the farm and he found his daughter's goods were really gone. Then the
old man grew very silent, for the inexorable certainty of the thing
about to happen was brought home to him at last.

Before a closed hackney carriage from the hotel arrived to carry Phoebe
to Newtake, Miller Lyddon passed through a variety of moods, and another
outburst succeeded his sentimental silence. When the vehicle was at the
gate, however, his daughter found tears in his eyes upon entering the
kitchen suddenly to wish him "good-by." But he brushed them away at
sight of her, and spoke roughly and told her to be gone and find the
difference between a good father and a bad husband.

"Go to the misery of your awn choosin'; go to him an' the rubbish-heap
he calls a farm! Thankless an' ontrue,--go,--an' look to me in the
future to keep you out of the poorhouse and no more. An' that for your
mother's sake--not yourn."

"Oh, Faither!" she cried, "doan't let them be the last words I hear 'pon
your lips. 'T is cruel, for sure I've been a gude darter to 'e, or tried
to be--an'--an'--please, dear faither, just say you wish us well--me an'
my husband. Please say that much. I doan't ax more."

But he rose and left her without any answer. It was then Phoebe's turn
to weep, and blinded with tears she slipped and hurt her knee getting
into the coach. Billy thereupon offered his aid, helped her, handed her
little white fox terrier m after her, and saw that the door was properly
closed.

"Be o' good cheer," he said, "though I caan't offer 'e much prospects of
easy life in double harness wi' Will Blanchard. But, as I used to say in
my church-gwaine days, 'God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.' Be it
as 'twill, I dare say theer 's many peaceful years o' calm,
black-wearin' widowhood afore 'e yet, for chaps like him do shorten
theer days a deal by such a tearin', high-coloured, passionate way of
life."

Mr. Blee opened the gate, the maids waved their handkerchiefs and wept,
and not far distant, as he heard the vehicle containing his daughter
depart, Mr. Lyddon would have given half that he had to recall the
spoken word. Phoebe once gone, his anger vanished and his love for her
won on him like sunshine after storm. Angry, indeed, he still was, but
with himself.

For Phoebe, curiosity and love dried her tears as she passed upward
towards the Moor. Then, the wild land reached, she put her head out of
the window and saw Newtake beech trees in the distance. Already the
foliage of them seemed a little tattered and thin, and their meagreness
of vesture and solitary appearance depressed the spectator again before
she arrived at them.

But the gate, thrown widely open, was reached at last, and there stood
Will and Mrs. Blanchard, Chris, Ted Chown, and the great bobtailed
sheep-dog, "Ship," to welcome her. With much emotion poor Phoebe
alighted, tottered and fell into the bear-hug of her husband, while the
women also kissed her and murmured over her in their sweet, broad Devon
tongue. Then something made Will laugh, and his merriment struck the
right note; but Ship fell foul of Phoebe's little terrier and there was
a growl, then a yelp and a scuffling, dusty battle amid frightened
fowls, whose protests added to the tumult. Upon this conflict descended
Will's sapling with sounding thuds administered impartially, and from
the skirmish the smaller beast emerged lame and crying, while the
sheep-dog licked the blood off his nose and went to heel with a red
light glimmering through his pale blue eyes.

Happiness returned indoors and Phoebe, all blushes and praises,
inspected her new home and the preparations made within it for her
pleasure. Perhaps she simulated more joy than the moment brought, for
such a day, dreamed of through years, was sure in its realisation to
prove something of an anti-climax after the cruel nature of all such
events. Despite Chris and her ceaseless efforts to keep joy at the
flood, a listlessness stole over the little party as the day wore on.
Phoebe found her voice not to be relied upon and felt herself drifting
into that state between laughter and tears which craves solitude for its
exhibition. The cows came home to be milked, and there seemed but few of
them after the great procession at Monks Barton. Yet Will demanded her
separate praises for each beast. In the little garden he had made,
budding flowers, untimely transplanted, hung their heads. But she
admired with extravagant adjectives, and picked a blossom and set it in
her dress. Anon the sun set, with no soft lights and shadows amidst the
valley trees she knew, when sunset and twilight played hide-and-seek
beside the river, but slowly, solemnly, in hard, clean, illimitable
glory upon horizons of granite and heather. The peat glowed as though it
were red-hot, and night brooded on the eastern face of every hill. Only
a jangling bell broke the startling stillness then, and, through long
weeks afterwards the girl yearned for the song of the river, as one who
has long slept by another's side sadly yearns for the sound of their
breathing by night, when they are taken away. Phoebe had little
imagination, but she guessed already that the life before her must
differ widely from that spent under her father's roof. Despite the
sunshine of the time and the real joy of being united to her husband at
last, she saw on every side more evidences of practical life than she
had before anticipated. But these braced her rather than not, and she
told herself truly that the sadness at bottom of her heart just then was
wholly begotten of the past and her departure from home. Deep unrest
came upon her as she walked with her husband and listened to his glad
voice. She longed greatly to be alone with him that her heart might be
relieved. She wanted his arms round her; she wanted to cry and let him
kiss the tears away.

Damaris Blanchard very fully understood much that was passing through
her daugher-in-law's mind, and she hastened her departure after an early
cup of tea. She took a last look at all the good things she had provided
for the wedding supper--a meal she declared must not be shared with Will
and Phoebe--and so made ready to depart. It was then her turn, and her
bosom throbbed with just one dumb, fleeting shadow of fear that found
words before her second thought had time to suppress them.

"You won't love me no less, eh, Will?" she whispered, holding his hand
between hers; and he saw her grey eyes almost frightened in the
gloaming.

"My God, no! No, mother; a man must have a dirty li'l heart in un if it
ban't big enough to hold mother an' wife."

She gripped his hand tighter.

"Ess fay, I knaw, I knaw; but doan't 'e put your mother first
now,--ban't nature. God bless an' keep the both of 'e. 'Twill allus be
my prayer."

The cart rattled away, Chris driving, and such silence as Phoebe had
never known held the darkening land. She noted a yellow star against the
sombre ridge of the world, felt Will's arm round her and turned to him,
seeking that comfort and support her nature cried out for.

Infinitely tender and loving was her husband then, and jubilant, too, at
first; but a little later, when Chown had been packed off to his own
apartment, with not a few delicacies he had never bargained for, the
conversation flagged and the banquet also.

The table was laden with two capons, a ham, a great sugared cake, a
whole Dutch cheese, an old-fashioned cut-glass decanter containing brown
sherry, and two green wine-glasses for its reception; yet these luxuries
tempted neither husband nor wife to much enjoyment of them. Indeed
Phoebe's obvious lowness of spirits presently found its echo in Will.
The silences grew longer and longer; then the husband set down his knife
and fork, and leaving the head of the table went round to his wife's
side and took her hand and squeezed it, but did not speak. She turned to
him and he saw her shut her eyes and give a little shiver. Then a tear
flashed upon her lashes and twinkled boldly down, followed by another.

"Phoebe! My awn li'l wummon! This be a wisht home-comin'! What the
plague's the matter wi' us?"

"Doan't 'e mind, dear heart. I'm happy as a bird under these silly
tears. But 'twas the leavin' o' faither, an' him so hard, an' me lovin'
him so dear, an'--an'--"

"Doan't 'e break your heart 'bout him. He'll come round right enough.
'Twas awnly the pang o' your gwaine away, like the drawin' of a tooth."

"Everybody else in the world knaws I ought to be here," sobbed Phoebe,
"but faither, he won't see it. An' I caan't get un out of my mind
to-night, sitting that mournfui an' desolate, wi' his ear deaf to
Billy's noise an' his thoughts up here."

"If he won't onderstand the ways of marriage, blessed if I see how we
can make him. Surely to God, 'twas time I had my awn?"

"Ess, dear Will, but coming to-day, 'pon top of my gert joy, faither's
sorrow seemed so terrible-like."

"He'll get awver it, an' so will you, bless you. Drink up some of this
braave stuff mother left. Sherry 't is, real wine, as will comfort 'e,
my li'l love. 'Tis I be gwaine to make your happiness henceforward,
mind; an' as for Miller, he belongs to an auld-fashioned generation of
mankind, and it's our place to make allowances. Auld folk doan't knaw
an' won't larn. But he'll come to knaw wan solid thing, if no more; an'
that is as his darter'll have so gude a husband as she've got faither,
though I sez it."

"'Tis just what he said I shouldn't, Will."

"Nevermind, forgive un, an' drink up your wine; 'twill hearten 'e."

A dog barked, a gate clinked, and there came the sound of a horse's
hoofs, then of a man dismounting.

Will told the rest of the story afterwards to Mrs. Blanchard.

"''Tis faither,' cries Phoebe, an' turns so pale as a whitewashed wall
in moonlight. 'Never!' I sez. But she knawed the step of un, an'
twinkled up from off her chair, an' 'fore ever the auld man reached the
door, 't was awpen. In he comed, like a lamb o' gentleness, an' said
never a word for a bit, then fetched out a little purse wi' twenty gawld
sovereigns in it. An' us all had some fine talk for more'n an hour, an'
he was proper faither to me, if you'll credit it; an' he drinked a glass
o' your wine, mother, an' said he never tasted none better and not much
so gude. Then us seed un off, an' Phoebe cried again, poor twoad, but
for sheer happiness this time. So now the future's clear as sunlight,
an' we'm all friends--'cept here an' theer."



CHAPTER XII

THROUGH ONE GREAT DAY


Just within the woods of Teign Valley, at a point not far distant from
that where Will Blanchard met John Grimbal for the first time, and
wrestled with him beside the river, there rises a tall bank, covered
with fern, shadowed by oak trees. A mossy bridle-path winds below, while
beyond it, seen through a screen of wych-elms and hazel, extend the
outlying meadows of Monks Barton.

Upon this bank, making "sunshine in a shady place," reclined Chris,
beneath a harmony of many greens, where the single, double, and triple
shadows of the manifold leaves above her created a complex play of light
and shade all splashed and gemmed with little sun discs. Drowsy noon-day
peace marked the hour; Chris had some work in her hand, but was not
engaged upon it; and Clement, who lolled beside her, likewise did
nothing. His eyes were upon a mare and foal in the meadow below. The
matron proceeded slowly, grazing as she went, while her lanky youngster
nibbled at this or that inviting tuft, then raced joyously in wide
circles and, returning, sought his mother's milk with the selfish
roughness of youth.

"Happy as birds, they be," said Chris, referring to the young pair at
Newtake. "It do make me long for us to be man an' wife, Clem, when I see
'em."

"We're that now, save for the hocus-pocus of the parsons you set such
store by."

"No, I'll never believe it makes no difference."

"A cumbrous, stupid, human contrivance like marriage! Was ever man and
woman happier for being bound that way? Can free things feel their
hearts beat closer because they are chained to one another by an effete
dogma?"

"I doan't onderstand all that talk, sweetheart, an' you knaw I don't;
but till some wise body invents a better-fashion way of joining man an'
maid than marriage, us must taake it as 'tis."

"There is a better way--Nature's."

She shook her head.

"If us could dwell in a hole at a tree-root, an' eat roots an' berries;
but we'm thinking creatures in a Christian land."

She stretched herself out comfortably and smiled up at him where he sat
with his chin in his hands. Then, looking down, he saw the delicious
outline of her and his eyes grew hot.

"God's love! How long must it be?" he cried; then, before she could
speak, he clipped her passionately to him and hugged her closely.

"Dearie, you'm squeezin' my breath out o' me!" cried Chris, well used to
these sudden storms and not averse to them. "We must bide patient an'
hold in our hearts," she said, lying in his arms with her face close to
his. "'Twill be all the more butivul when we'm mated. Ess fay! I love 'e
allus, but I love 'e better in this fiery mood than on the ice-cold days
when you won't so much as hold my hand."

"The cold mood's the better notwithstanding, and colder yet would be
better yet, and clay-cold best of all."

But he held her still, and pressed his beard against her brown neck.
Then the sound of a trotting horse reached his ears, he started up,
looked below, and saw John Grimbal passing by. Their eyes met, for the
horseman chanced to glance up as Clement thrust his head above the fern;
but Chris was invisible and remained so.

Grimbal stopped and greeted the bee-keeper.

"Have you forgotten your undertaking to see my hives once a month?"

"No, I meant coming next week."

"Well, as it happens I want to speak with you, and the present time's as
good as another. I suppose you were only lying there dreaming?"

"That's all. I'll come and walk along beside your horse."

He squeezed his sweetheart's hand, whispered a promise to return
immediately, then rose and stumbled down the bank, leaving Chris throned
aloft in the fern. For a considerable time John Grimbal said nothing,
then he began suddenly,--

"I suppose you know the Applebirds are leaving my farm?"

"Yes, Mrs. Applebird told my mother. Going to Sticklepath."

"Not easy to get a tenant to take their place."

"Is it not? Such a farm as yours? I should have thought there need be no
difficulty."

"There are tenants and tenants. How would you like it--you and your
mother? Then you could marry and be comfortable. No doubt Chris
Blanchard would make a splendid farmer's wife."

"It would be like walking into paradise for me; but--"

"The rent needn't bother you. My first care is a good tenant. Besides,
rent may take other shapes than pounds, shillings, and pence."

Hicks started.

"I see," he said; "you can't forget the chance word I spoke in anger so
long ago."

"I can't, because it happened to be just the word I wanted to hear. My
quarrel with Will Blanchard's no business of yours. The man's your enemy
too; and you're a fool to stand in your own light, You know something
that I don't know, concerning those weeks during which he disappeared.
Well, tell me. You can only live your life once. Why let it run to rot
when the Red House Farm wants a tenant? A man you despise, too."

"No. I promised. Besides, you wouldn't be contented with the knowledge;
you'd act on it."

Grimbal showed a lightning-quick perception of this admission; and
Hicks, too late, saw that the other had realised its force. Then he made
an effort to modify his assertion.

"When I say 'you'd act on it,' I mean that you might try to, though I
much doubt really if anything I could tell you would damage Blanchard."

"If you think that, then there can be no conscientious objection to
telling me. Besides, I don't say I should act on the knowledge. I don't
say I shall or I shall not. All you ve got to do is to say whether
you'll take the Red House Farm at a nominal rent from Michaelmas."

"No, man, no. You've met me in a bad moment, too, if you only knew. But
think of it--brother and sister; and I, in order to marry the woman,
betray the man. That's what it comes to. Such things don't happen."

"You re speaking plainly, at any rate. We ought to understand each other
to-day, if ever. I'll make you the same offer for less return. Tell me
where he was during those weeks--that's all. You needn't tell what he
was doing."

"If you knew one, you'd find out the other. Once and for all, I'll tell
you nothing. By an accidental question you discovered that I knew
something. That was not my fault. But more you never will know from
me--farm or no farm."

"You're a fool for your pains. And the end will be the same. The
information must reach me. You're a coward at heart, for it's fear, not
any tomfoolery of morals, that keeps your mouth shut. Don't deceive
yourself. I've often talked with you before to-day, and I know you think
as I do."

"What's that to do with it?"

"Everything. 'Good' and 'evil' are only two words, and what is man's
good and what is man's evil takes something cleverer than man to know.
It's no nonsense of 'right' and 'wrong' that's keeping you from a happy
home and a wife. What is it then?"

Hicks was silent a moment, then made answer.

"I don't know. I don't know any more than you do. Something has come
over me; I can't tell you what. I'm more surprised than you are at my
silence; but there it is. Why the devil I don't speak I don't know. I
only know I'm not going to. Our characters are beyond our own power to
understand."

"If you don't know, I'll tell you. You're frightened that he will find
out. You're afraid of him."

"It's vain trying to anger me into speaking," answered the other,
showing not a little anger the while; "I'm dumb henceforward."

"I hope you'll let your brain influence you towards reason. 'Tis a
fool's trick to turn your back on the chance of a lifetime. Better think
twice. And second thoughts are like to prove best worth following. You
know where to find me at any rate. I'll give you six weeks to decide
about it."

John Grimbal waited, hoping that Hicks might yet change his mind before
he took his leave; but the bee-keeper made no answer. His companion
therefore broke into a sharp trot and left him. Whereupon Clement stood
still a moment, then he turned back and, forgetting all about Chris,
proceeded slowly homewards to Chagford, deep in thought and heartily
astonished at himself. No one could have prompted his enemy to a more
critical moment for this great attack; no demon could have sent the
master of the Red House with a more tempting proposal; and yet Hicks
found himself resisting the lure without any particular effort or
struggle. On the one side this man had offered him all the things his
blood and brain craved; on the other his life still stretched drearily
forward, and nothing in it indicated he was nearer his ambition by a
hair's-breadth than a year before. Yet he refused to pay the price. It
amazed him to find his determination so fixed against betrayal of Will.
He honestly wondered at himself. The decision was bred from a curious
condition of mind quite beyond his power to comprehend. He certainly
recoiled from exposure of Blanchard's secret, yet coldly asked himself
what unsuspected strand of character held him back. It was not fear and
it was not regard for his sweetheart's brother; he did not know what it
was. He scoffed at the ideas of honour or conscience. These abstractions
had possessed weight in earlier years, but not now. And yet, while he
assured himself that no tie of temporal or eternal interest kept him
silent, the temptation to tell seemed much less on this occasion than in
the past when he took a swarm of John Grimbal's bees. Then, indeed, his
mind was aflame with bitter provocation. He affected a cynical attitude
to the position and laughed without mirth at a theory that suddenly
appeared in his mind. Perchance this steadfastness of purpose resulted,
after all, from that artificial thing, "conscience," which men catch at
the impressionable age when they have infantile ailments and pray at a
mother's knee. If so, surely reason must banish such folly before
another dawn and send him hot-foot at daybreak to the Red House. He
would wait and watch himself and see.

His reflections were here cut short, for a shrill voice broke in upon
them, and Clement, now within a hundred yards of his own cottage door,
saw Mr. Lezzard before him.

"At last I've found 'e! Been huntin' this longful time, tu. The Missis
wants 'e--your aunt I should say."

"Wants me?"

"Ess. 'T is wan o' her bad days, wi' her liver an' lights a bitin' at
her like savage creatures. She'm set on seein' you, an' if I go
home-along without 'e, she'll awnly cuss."

"What can she want me for?"

"She 's sick 'n' taken a turn for the wuss, last few days. Doctor
Parsons doan't reckon she can hold out much longer. 'Tis the
drink--she'm soaked in it, like a sponge."

"I'll come," said Hicks, and half an hour later he approached his aunt's
dwelling and entered it.

Mrs. Lezzard was now sunk into a condition of chronic crapulence which
could only end in one way. Her husband had been ordered again and again
to keep all liquor from her, but, truth to tell, he made no very
sustained effort to do so. The old man was sufficiently oppressed by his
own physical troubles, and as the only happiness earth now held for him
must depend on the departure of his wife, he watched her drinking
herself to death without concern and even smiled in secret at the
possibility of some happy, quiet, and affluent years when she was gone.

Mrs. Lezzard lay on the sofa in her parlour, and a great peony-coloured
face with coal-black eyes in it greeted Clement. She gave him her hand
and bid her husband be gone. Then, when Gaffer had vanished, his wife
turned to her nephew.

"I've sent for you, Clem Hicks, for more reasons than wan. I be gwaine
down the hill fast, along o' marryin' this cursed mommet[12] of a man,
Lezzard. He lied about his money--him a pauper all the time; and now he
waits and watches me o' nights, when he thinks I'm drunk or dreamin' an'
I ban't neither. He watches, wi' his auld, mangy poll shakin', an' the
night-lamp flingin' the black shadow of un 'gainst the bed curtain an'
shawin' wheer his wan front tooth sticks up like a yellow stone in a
charred field. Blast un to hell! He'm waitin' for my money, an' I've
told un he's to have it. But 'twas only to make the sting bite deeper
when the time comes. Not a penny--not a farthing--him or any of 'em."


[12] _Mommet_ = scarecrow.


"Don't get angry with him. He's not worth it. Tell me if I can help you
and how. You'll be up and about again soon, I hope."


"Never. Not me. Doctor Parsons be to blame. I hate that man. He knawed
it was weakness of heart that called for drink after Coonistock died;
an' he let me go on an' on--just to gain his own dark ends. You'll see,
you'll see. But that reminds me. Of all my relations you an' your
mother's all I care for; because you'm of my awn blood an' you've let me
bide, an' haven't been allus watchin' an' waitin' an' divin' me to the
bottle. An' the man I was fule enough to take in his dotage be worst of
all."

"Forget about these things. Anger's bad for you."

"Forget! Well, so I will forget, when I ve told 'e. I had the young man
what does my business, since old Ford died, awver here last week, an'
what there is will be yourn--every stiver yourn. Not the business, of
course; that was sold when Coonistock died; but what I could leave I
have. You expected nothin,' an' by God! you shall have all!"

She saw his face and hastened to lessen the force of the announcement in
some degree.

"Ban't much, mind, far less than you might think for--far less. Theer's
things I was driven to do--a lone woman wi'out a soul to care. An' wan
was--but you'll hear in gude time, you'll hear. It concerns Doctor
Parsons."

"I can't believe my senses. If you only knew what happened to me this
morning. And if you only knew what absolute paupers we are--mother and
I. Not that I would confess it to any living soul but you. And how can I
thank you? Words are such vain things."

"Ban't no call to thank me. 'Tis more from hatred of t' others than love
of you, when all's said. An' it ban't no gert gold mine. But I'd like to
be laid along wi' Coomstock; an' doan't, for God's love, bury Lezzard
wi' me; an' I want them words on auld George Mundy's graave set 'pon
mine--not just writ, but cut in a slate or some such lasting thing. 'Tis
a tidy tomb he've got, wi' a cherub angel, an' I'd like the same. You'll
find a copy o' the words in the desk there. My maid took it down last
Sunday. I minded the general meaning, but couldn't call home the rhymes.
Read it out, will 'e?"

Clement opened the desk, and found and read the paper. It contained a
verse not uncommon upon the tombstones of the last rural generation in
Devon:

  "Ye standers-by, the thread is spun;
   All pomp and pride I e'er did shun;
   Rich and poor alike must die;
   Peasants and kings in dust must lie;
   The best physicians cannot save
   Themselves or patients from the Grave."

"Them's the words, an' I've chose 'em so as Doctor Parsons shall have a
smack in the faace when I'm gone. Not that he's wan o' the 'best
physicians' by a mighty long way; but he'll knaw I was thinking of him,
an' gnash his teeth, I hope, every time he sees the stone. I owe him
that--an' more 'n that, as you'll see when I'm gone."

"You mustn't talk of going, aunt--not for many a day. You're a young
woman for these parts. You must take care--that's all."

But he saw death in her face while he spoke, and could scarcely hide the
frantic jubilation her promise had awakened in him. The news swept him
along on a flood of novel thoughts. Coming as it did immediately upon
his refusal to betray Will Blanchard, the circumstance looked, even in
the eyes of Hicks, like a reward, an interposition of Providence on his
behalf. He doubted not but that the bulk of mankind would so regard it.
There arose within him old-fashioned ideas concerning right and
wrong--clear notions that brought a current of air through his mind and
blew away much rotting foliage and evil fruit. This sun-dawn of
prosperity transformed the man for a moment, even awoke some just
ethical thoughts in him.

His reverie was interrupted, for, on the way from Mrs. Lezzard's home,
Clement met Doctor Parsons himself and asked concerning his aunt's true
condition.

"She gave you the facts as they are," declared the medical man. "Nothing
can save her. She's had _delirium tremens_ Lord knows how often. A
fortnight to a month--that's all. Nature loves these forlorn hopes and
tinkers away at them in a manner that often causes me to rub my eyes.
But you can't make bricks without straw. Nature will find the game 's up
in a few days; then she'll waste no more time, and your aunt will be
gone."

Home went Clement Hicks, placed his mother in a whirl of mental
rejoicing at this tremendous news, then set out for Chris. Their compact
of the morning--that she should await his return in the woods--he quite
forgot; but Mrs. Blanchard reminded him and added that Chris had
returned in no very good humour, then trudged up to Newtake to see
Phoebe. Cool and calm the widow stood before Clement's announcement,
expressed her gratification, and gave him joy of the promised change in
his life.

"Glad enough am I to hear tell of this. But you'll act just--eh? You
won't forget that poor auld blid, Lezzard? If she'm gwaine to leave un
out the account altogether, he'll be worse off than the foxes. His son's
gone to foreign paarts an' his darter's lyin'-in--not that her husband
would spare a crust o' bread for auld Lezzard, best o' times."

"Trust me to do what's right. Now I'll go and see after Chris."

"An' make it up with Will while sun shines on 'e. It's so easy, come
gude fortune, to feel your heart swellin' out to others."

"We are good friends now."

"Do'e think I doan't knaw better? Your quarrel's patched for the sake of
us women. Have a real make-up, I mean."

"I will, then. I'll be what I was to him, if he'll let me. I'll forgive
everything that's past--everything and every body."

"So do. An' doan't 'e tell no more of them hard sayings 'gainst powers
an' principalities an' Providence. Us be all looked arter, 'cording to
the unknawn planning of God. How's Mrs. Lezzard?"

"She'll be dead in a fortnight--perhaps less. As likely as not I might
marry Chris before the next new moon."

"Doan't think 'pon that yet. Be cool, an' keep your heart in bounds. 'T
is allus the way wi' such as you, who never hope nothing. Theer comes a
matter as takes 'em out of themselves, then they get drunk with hope,
all of a sudden, an' flies higher than the most sanguine folks, an'
builds castles 'pon clouds. Theer's the diggin' of a graave between you
and Chris yet. Doan't forget that."

"You can't evade solid facts."

"No, but solid facts, seen close, often put on a differ'nt faace to what
they did far-ways off."

"You won't dishearten me, mother; I'm a happy man for once."

"Be you? God forbid I should cloud 'e then; awnly keep wise as well as
happy, an' doan't fill Chris with tu gert a shaw of pomps an'
splendours. Put it away till it comes. Our dreams 'bout the future 's
allus a long sight better or worse than the future itself."

"Don't forbid dreaming. That's the sole happiness I've ever had until
now."

"Happiness, you call it? 'T is awnly a painted tinsel o' the mind, and
coming from it into reality is like waking arter tu much drink. So I've
heard my husband say scores o' times--him bein' a man much given to
overhopefulness in his younger days--same as Will is now."

Clement departed, and presently found himself with the cooler breezes of
the high lands upon his hot forehead. They put him in mind of Mrs.
Blanchard again, and their tendency, as hers had been, was to moderate
his ardour; but that seemed impossible just now. Magnificent sunshine
spread over the great wastes of the Moor; and through it, long before he
reached Newtake, Clement saw his sweetheart returning. For a little time
he seemed intoxicated and no longer his own master. The fires of the
morning woke in him again at sight of her. They met and kissed, and he
promised her some terrific news, but did not tell it then. He lived in
the butterfly fever of the moment, and presently imparted the fever to
her. They left the road and got away into the lonely heather; then he
told her that they would be man and wife within a fortnight.

They sat close together, far from every eye, in the shade of a thorn
bush that rose beside a lonely stone.

"Within the very shadow of marriage, and you are frightened of me still!
Frightened to let me pick an apple over the orchard wall when I am going
through the gate for my own the next moment! Listen! I hear our wedding
bells!"

Only the little lizard and the hovering hawk with gold eyes saw them.

"Our wedding bells!" said Chris.


Towards set of sun Hicks saw his sweetheart to her mother's cottage. His
ecstatic joys were sobered now, and his gratitude a little lessened.

"To think what marvels o' happiness be in store for us, Clem, my awn!"

"Yes--not more than we deserve, either. God knows, if there 's any
justice, it was your turn and mine to come by a little of the happiness
that falls to the lot of men and women."

"I doan't see how highest heaven's gwaine to be better than our married
life, so long as you love me."

"Heaven! Don't compare them. What's eternity if you're half a ghost,
half a bird? That's the bribe thrown out,--to be a cold-blooded, perfect
thing, and passionless as a musical box. Give me hot blood that flows
and throbs; give me love, and a woman's breast to lean on. One great day
on earth, such as this has been, is better than a million ages of
sexless perfection in heaven. A vain reward it was that Christ offered.
It seemed highest perfection to Him, doubtless; but He judged the world
by Himself. The Camel-driver was wiser. He promised actual, healthy
flesh in paradise--flesh that should never know an ache or pain--eternal
flesh, and the joys of it. We can understand that, but where's the joy
of being a spirit? I cling to the flesh I have, for I know that Nature
will very soon want back the dust she has lent me."



CHAPTER XIII

THE WILL


Agreeably to the prediction of Doctor Parsons, Mrs. Lezzard's journey
was ended in less than three weeks of her conversation with Clement
Hicks. Then came a night when she made an ugly end; and with morning a
group of gossips stood about the drawn blinds, licked their lips over
the details, and generally derived that satisfaction from death common
to their class. Indeed, this ghoulish gusto is not restricted to humble
folk alone. The instinct lies somewhere at the root of human nature,
together with many another morbid vein and trait not readily to be
analysed or understood. Only educated persons conceal it.

"She had deliriums just at the end," said Martha, her maid. "She called
out in a voice as I never heard afore, an' mistook her husband for the
Dowl."

"Poor sawl! Death's such a struggle at the finish for the full-blooded
kind. Doctor tawld me that if she'd had the leastest bit o'liver left,
he could 'a' saved her; but 'twas all soaked up by neat brandy, leaving
nought but a vacuum or some such fatal thing."

"Her hadn't the use of her innards for a full fortnight! Think o' that!
Aw. dallybuttons! It do make me cream all awver to hear tell of!"

So they piled horror upon horror; then came Clement Hicks, as one having
authority, and bade them begone. The ill-omened fowls hopped off;
relations began to collect; there was an atmosphere of suppressed
electricity about the place, and certain women openly criticised the
prominent attitude Hicks saw fit to assume. This, however, did not
trouble him. He wrote to the lawyer at Newton, fixed a day for the
funeral, and then turned his attention to Mr. Lezzard. The ancient
resented Clement's interference not a little, but Hicks speedily
convinced him that his animosity mattered nothing. The bee-keeper found
this little taste of power not unpleasant. He knew that everything was
his own property, and he enjoyed the hate and suspicion in the eyes of
those about him. The hungry crowd haunted him, but he refused it any
information. Mr. Lezzard picked a quarrel, but he speedily silenced the
old man, and told him frankly that upon his good behaviour must depend
his future position. Crushed and mystified, the widower whispered to
those interested with himself in his wife's estate; and so, before the
reading of the will, there slowly grew a very deep suspicion and hearty
hatred of Clement Hicks. None had considered him in connection with Mrs.
Lezzard's fortune, for he always kept aloof from her; but women cannot
easily shut their lips over such tremendous matters of news, and so it
came about that some whisper from Chris or dark utterance from old Mrs.
Hicks got wind, and a rumour grew that the bee-keeper was the dead
woman's heir.

Facts contributed colour to the suspicion, for it was known that Clement
had of late given Chris one or two pretty presents, and a ring that cost
gold. His savings were suspected to justify 110 such luxuries; yet that
a speedy change in his manner of life might be expected was also
manifest from the fact that he had been looking into the question of a
new stone cottage, on the edge of the Moor, where the heather in high
summer would ripple to the very doors of his beehives.

The distrust created by these facts was quickly set at rest, for Mrs.
Lezzard sank under ground within four days of her dissolution; then,
after the eating of funeral baked meats, those interested assembled in
the parlour to hear the will. The crowd whispered and growled, and
looked gloomily across at Hicks and the little figure of his mother who
had come in rusty black to witness his triumph. Then a young lawyer from
Newton adjusted his spectacles, rustled his papers, and poured himself
out a glass of grocer's port before proceeding. But his task involved no
strain upon him, and was indeed completed within five minutes. Black
disappointment, dismay, and despair were the seeds sown by that
unimpassioned voice; and at his conclusion a silence as blank as any
that reigned in the ears of the dead fell upon those who listened--on
those who had hoped so much and were confronted with so little.

"The will is remarkably concise. Mrs. Lezzard makes sundry bitter
statements which I think none will blame me for not repeating, though
all may see them here who desire so to do; she then constitutes Mr.
Clement Hicks, her nephew, sole residuary legatee. There is no
condition, no codicil; but I have regretfully to add that Mr. Hicks wins
little but this barren expression of good-will from the testatrix; for
the sufficient reason that she had nothing to leave. She laboured under
various delusions, among others that her financial position was very
different from what is the case. Upon her first husband's death, Mrs.
Coomstock, as she was then, made an arrangement with my late senior
partner, Mr. Joel Ford, and purchased an annuity. This absorbed nearly
all her capital; the rest she lost in an undesirable speculation of her
own choosing. I am amazed at the present extent of her obligations. This
dwelling-house, for instance, is mortgaged to her medical man, Doctor
Parsons, of Chagford. There is barely money to meet the debts. Some
fifty or sixty pounds in my hands will be absorbed by the calls of the
estate. Mrs. Lezzard's tastes--I sorrow to say it--were expensive in
some directions. There is an item of ten pounds twelve shillings
for--for brandy, if I may be pardoned for speaking plainly. The funeral
also appears to have been conducted on a scale more lavish than
circumstances warranted. However, there should be sufficient to defray
the cost, and I am sure nobody will blame Mr. Hicks for showing this
last respect to an amiable if eccentric woman. There is nothing to add
except that I shall be delighted to answer any questions--any questions
at all."

A few moments later, the lawyer mounted his dog-cart and rattled off to
enjoy a pleasant drive homeward.

Then the company spoke its mind, and Mary Lezzard's clay might well have
turned under that bitter hornet-buzz of vituperation. Some said little,
but had not strength or self-command to hide tears; some cursed and
swore. Mr. Lezzard wept unheeded; Mrs. Hicks likewise wept. Clement sat
staring into the flushed faces and angry eyes, neither seeing the rage
manifested before him, nor hearing the coarse volleys of reproach. Then
in his turn he attracted attention; and hard words, wasted on the dead,
hurtled like hail round his ears, with acid laughter, and bitter sneers
at his own tremendous awakening. Stung to the quick, the lame
wheelwright, Charles Coomstock, gloated on the spectacle of Clement's
dark hour, and heaped abuse upon his round-eyed, miserable mother. The
raw of his own wound found a sort of salve in this attack; and all the
other poor, coarse creatures similarly found comfort in their
disappointment from a sight of more terrific mortification than their
own. Venomous utterances fell about Clement Hicks, but he neither heard
nor heeded: his mind was far away with Chris, and the small shot of the
Coomstocks and the thunder of the Chowns alike flew harmlessly past him.
He saw his sweetheart's sorrow, and her grief, as yet unborn, was the
only fact that much hurt him now. The gall in his own soul only began to
sicken him when his eye rested on his mother. Then he rose and departed
to his home, while the little, snuffling woman ran at his heels, like a
dog.

Not until he had escaped the tempest of voices, and was hidden from the
world, did the bee-keeper allow his own cruel disappointment to appear.
Then, while his mother wept, he lifted up his voice and cursed God. As
his relations had won comfort by swearing at him, so now he soothed his
soul unconsciously in blasphemies. Then followed a silence, and his
mother dared to blame him and remind him of an error.

"You wouldn't turn the bee-butts when she died, though I begged and
prayed of 'e. Oh, if you'd awnly done what an auld woman, an' she your
mother, had told 'e! Not so much as a piece of crape would 'e suffer me
to tie 'pon 'em. An' I knawed all the while the hidden power o' bees."

Presently he left her, and went to tell Chris. She greeted him eagerly,
then turned pale and even terrified as she saw the black news in his
face.

"Just a gull and laughing-stock for the gods again, that's all, Chris.
How easily they fool us from their thrones, don't they? And our pitiful
hopes and ambitions and poor pathetic little plans for happiness shrivel
and die, and strew their stinking corpses along the road that was going
to be so gorgeous. The time to spill the cup is when the lip begins to
tremble and water for it--not sooner--the gods know! And now all's
changed--excepting only the memory of things done that had better been
left undone."

"But--but we shall be married at once, Clem?"

He shook his head.

"How can you ask it? My poor little all--twenty pounds--is gone on
twopenny-halfpenny presents during the past week or two. It seemed so
little compared to the fortune that was coming. It's all over. The great
day is further off by twenty pounds than it was before that poor drunken
old fool lied to me. Yet she didn't lie either; she only forgot; you
can't swim in brandy for nothing."

Fear, not disappointment, dominated the woman before him as she heard.
Sheer terror made her grip his arm and scream to him hysterically. Then
she wept wild, savage tears and called to God to kill her quickly. For a
time she parried every question, but an outburst so strangely unlike
Chris Blanchard had its roots deeper than the crushing temporary
disaster which he had brought with him. Clement, suspecting, importuned
for the truth, gathered it from her, then passed away into the dusk,
faced with the greatest problem that existence had as yet set him.
Crushed, and crushed unutterably, he returned home oppressed with a
biting sense of his own damnable fate. He moved as one distracted,
incoherent, savage, alone. The glorious palace he had raised for his
happiness crumbled into vast ruins; hope was dead and putrid; and only
the results of wild actions, achieved on false assumptions, faced him.
Now, rising out of his brief midsummer madness, the man saw a ghost; and
he greeted it with groan as bitter as ever wrung human heart.

Miller Lyddon sat that night alone until Mr. Blee returned to supper.

"Gert news! Gert news!" he shouted, while yet in the passage; "sweatin'
for joy an' haste, I be!"

His eyes sparkled, his face shone, his words tripped each other up by
the heels.

"Be gormed if ban't a 'mazin' world! She've left nought--dammy--less
than nought, for the house be mortgaged sea-deep to Doctor, an' theer's
other debts. Not a penny for nobody--nothin' but empty bottles--an' to
think as I thought so poor o' God as to say theer weern't none! What a
ramshackle plaace the world is!"

"No money at all? Mrs. Lezzard--it can't be!" declared Mr. Lyddon.

"But it is, by gum! A braave tantara 'mongst the fam'ly, I tell 'e. Not a
stiver--all ate up in a 'nuity, an' her--artful limb!--just died on the
last penny o' the quarter's payment. An' Lezzard left at the work'us
door--poor auld zawk! An' him fourscore an' never been eggicated an'
never larned nothin'!"

"To think it might have been your trouble, Blee!"

"That's it, that's it! That's what I be full of! Awnly for the watchin'
Lard, I'd been fixed in the hole myself. Just picture it! Me a-cussin'
o' Christ to blazes an' lettin' on theer wasn't no such Pusson; an' Him,
wide awake, a-keepin' me out o' harm's way, even arter the banns was
called! Theer's a God for 'e! Watchin' day an' night to see as I comed
by no harm! That's what 't is to have laid by a tidy mort o'
righteousness 'gainst a evil hour!"

"You 'm well out of it, sure enough."

"Ess, 't is so. I misjudged the Lard shocking, an' I'm man enough to up
and say it, thank God. He was right an' I was wrong; an' lookin' back, I
sees it. So I'll come back to the fold, like the piece of silver what
was lost; an' theer'll be joy in heaven, as well theer may be. Burnish
it all! I'll go along to church 'fore all men's eyes next Lard's Day
ever is."

"A gude thought, tu. Religion's a sort of benefit society, if you look
at it, an' the church be the bank wheer us pays in subscriptions
Sundays."

"An' blamed gude interest us gets for the money," declared Mr. Blee.
"Not but what I've drawed a bit heavy on my draft of late, along o'
pretendin' to heathen ways an' thoughts what I never really held with;
but 't is all wan now an' I lay I'll soon set the account right, wi' a
balance in my favour, tu. Seein' how shameful I was used, ban't likely
no gert things will be laid against me."

"And auld Lezzard will go to the Union?"

"A very fittin' plaace for un, come to think on 't. Awver-balanced for
sheer greed of gawld he was. My! what a wild-goose chase! An the things
he've said to me! Not that I'd allow myself--awuly from common humanity
I must see un an' let un knaw I bear no more malice than a bird on a
bough."

They drank, Billy deeper than usual. He was marvellously excited and
cheerful. He greeted God like an old friend returned to him from a
journey; and that night before retiring he stood stiffly beside his bed
and covered his face in his hands and prayed a prayer familiar among his
generation.

  "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
   Bless the bed that I lie on,
   Four cornders to my bed,
   Four angels overspread
   Two tu foot an' two tu head,
   An' all to carry me when I'm dead.
   An' when I'm dead an' in my graave,
     An' all my bones be rotten.
   The greedy worms my flaish shall ate,
     An' I shall be forgotten;
       For Christ's sake. Amen."

Having sucked from repetition of this ancient twaddle exactly that sort
of satisfaction the French or Roman peasant wins from a babble of a dead
language over beads, Billy retired with many a grunt and sigh of
satisfaction.

"It do hearten the spirit to come direct to the Throne," he reflected;
"an' the wonder is how ever I could fare for near two year wi'out my
prayers. Yet, though I got my monkey up an' let Jehovah slide, He knawed
of my past gudeness, all set down in the Book o' Life. An' now I've
owned up as I was wrong; which is all even the saints can do; 'cause
Judgment Day, for the very best of us, will awnly be a matter o' owning
up."



CHAPTER XIV

A HUNDRED POUNDS


The maddening recollection of things done wrought upon Clement Hicks
until it bred in him a distracted frenzy and blinded his judgment. He
lost all sense of proportion in his endeavour to come at a right course
of action, and a mind long inclined towards one road now readily drifted
upon it. To recover the position had been quite possible, and there were
not wanting those ready and eager to assist him; but at this crisis in
his fortune the man lost all power of reflection or self-control. The
necessity for instant action clamoured to him through daylight and
darkness; delay drove him hourly into a hysterical condition approaching
frenzy, and every road to escape save one appeared bolted and barred
against him. But, try as he might, his miseries could not be hidden, and
Will Blanchard, among others, sympathised very heartily with the great
disappointment that had now fallen upon Chris and her sweetheart. His
sister's attitude had astonished both him and his mother. They fancied
that Blanchards were made of sterner stuff; but Chris went down before
the blow in a manner very unexpected. She seemed dazed and unable to
recover from it. Her old elastic spirit was crushed, and a great sorrow
looked from her eyes.

Neither Will nor her mother could rouse her, and so it came about that
thinking how best he could play a brother's part, the master of Newtake
decided on a notable deed and held that the hour for it must be delayed
no longer. He debated the circumstance from every point of view,
examined his accounts, inspected the exact figures represented by the
remainder of his uncle's legacy and then broke the matter to Phoebe. To
his mother he had already spoken concerning the intention, and she
approved it, though without knowing particulars. Phoebe, however,
happened to be quite as familiar with Will's affairs as Will himself,
and while his determination to give Clement and Chris a hundred pounds
was easily come at and most cheering to his heart, the necessity of
breaking the news to his wife appeared not so easy or pleasant. Indeed,
Will approached the task with some trepidation, for a recent event made
it doubly difficult. They sat together one night, after six weeks of
married life, and he plunged into the matter.

"'Tis sad them two being kept apart like this," he said abruptly.

"'Tis so. Nobody feels it more'n me. Matters was hard with us, and now
they 'm all smooth and the future seems fairly bright, tu."

"Very bright," he said stoutly. "The hay's best ever come off my ground,
thanks to the manure from Monks Barton; and look at the wurzels! Miller
hisself said he've never seed a more promising crop, high or low. An'
the things be in prime kelter, tu; an' better than four hunderd pound of
uncle's money still left."

"Long may it be left, I'm sure. 'Tis terrible work dipping into it, an'
I looks at both sides of a halfpenny 'fore I spend it. Wish you would.
You'm tu generous, Will. But accounts are that difficult."

This was not the spirit of the hour, however.

"I was gwaine to say that out of all our happiness an' fortune we might
let a little bubble awver for Chris--eh? She'm such a gude gal, an' you
love her so dearly as what I do a'most."

Phoebe read the project in a flash, but yet invited her husband to
explain.

"What d'you mean?" she asked distrustfully and coldly.

"I can see in your face you knaw well enough. That four-hunderd-odd
pound. I've sometimes thought I should have given Chris a bit of the
windfall when first it comed. But now--well, theer's this cruel coil
failed on 'em. You knaw the hardness of waiting. 'Twould be a butivul
thing to let 'em marry an' feel't was thanks to us."

"You want to go giving them money?"

"Not 'give' 'zactly. Us'll call it a loan, till the time they see their
way clearer."

Phoebe sighed and was silent for a while.

"Poor dears," she said at length. "I feel for 'em in my heart, same as
you do; yet somehow it doan't look right."

"Not right, Phoebe?"

"Not wise, then. Remember what you say the winters be up here--such
dreary months with no money coming in and all gwaine out to keep life in
the things."

"'Tis a black, bitin' business on the high farms--caan't deny that."

"Money flies so."

"Then let some fly to a gude end. You knaw I'm a hard, keen man where
other people be concerned, most times."

His wife laughed frankly, and he grew red.

"Damn it, Phoebe, doan't you take me like that else you'll get the rough
edge of my tongue. 'Tis for you to agree with what I'm pleased to say,
not contradict it. I _be_ a hard, keen man, and knaws the value of money
as well as another. But Chris is my awn sister, an' the long an' the
short is, I'm gwaine to give Clem Hicks a hunderd pound."

"Will! It's not reasonable, it's not fair--us working so hard
an'--an'--"

"They 'm to have it, anyway."

Her breath caught in a little, helpless gasp. Without a word she picked
up the material in her hands, huddled it up, and thrust it across the
table towards him. Then the passion faded out of his face, his eyes
softened and grew dreamy, he smiled, and rubbed his brown cheek with the
flannel.

"My awn, li'l clever woman, as have set about the fashioning of a bairn
so soon! God bless 'e, an' bless 'e an' be gude to 'e, an' the wee thing
coming!"

He put his arm round her and patted her hair and purred softly to her;
whereupon she relented and kissed him.

"You knaw best, Will, dearie; you nearly allus knaw best; but your
heart's bigger 'n your pocket--an' a li'l child do call so loud for the
spendin' o' money."

"Aye, I knaw, I knaw; 'tis a parent's plaace to stand up for his
offspring through fire an' water; an' I reckon I won't be the worst
faither as ever was, either. I can mind the time when I was young
myself. Stern but kind's the right rule. Us'll bring un up in the proper
way, an' teach un to use his onderstandin' an' allus knuckle down 'fore
his elders. To tell 'e truth, Phoebe, I've a notion I might train up a
cheel better'n some men."

"Yes, Will, I think so, tu. But 'tis food an' clothes an' li'l boots an'
such-like comes first. A hunderd pounds be such a mort o' money."

"'Twill set 'em up in a fair way."

"Fifty wouldn't hardly do, p'r'aps?"

"Hardly. I like to carry a job through clean an' vitty while I'm on it."

"You've got such a big spirit."

"As to that, money so spent ban't lost--'tis all in the fam'ly."

"Of course 'tis a gude advertisement for you. Folk'll think you'm
prosperin' an' look up to you more."

"Well, some might, though I doan't 'zactly mean it like that. Yet the
putting out o' three figures o' money must make neighbours ope their
eyes. Not that I want anybody to knaw either."

So, against her judgment, Phoebe was won over, and presently she and her
husband made merry at prospect of the great thing contemplated. Will
imitated Clement's short, glum, and graceless manner before the gift;
Phoebe began to spend the money and plan the bee-keeper's cottage when
Chris should enter it as a bride; and thus, having enjoyed an hour of
delight the most pure and perfect that can fall to human lot, the young
couple retired.

Elsewhere defeat and desolation marked the efforts of the luckless poet
to improve his position. All thoughts drifted towards the Red House, and
when, struggling from this dark temptation, he turned to Martin Grimbal
rather than his brother, Fate crushed this hope also. The antiquary was
not in Chagford, and Clement recollected that Martin had told him he
designed some visits to the doom rings of Iceland, and other
contemporary remains of primeval man in Brittany and in Ireland. To find
him at present was impossible, for he had left no address, and his
housekeeper only knew that he would be out of England until the autumn.

Now the necessity for action gained gigantically upon Hicks, and spun a
net of subtle sophistry that soon had the poor wretch enmeshed beyond
possibility of escape. He assured himself that the problem was reduced
to a mere question of justice to a woman. A sacrifice must be made
between one whom he loved better than anything in the world, and one for
whom he cared not at all. That these two persons chanced to be brother
and sister was an unfortunate accident, but could not be held a
circumstance strong enough to modify his determination. He had, indeed,
solemnly sworn to Will to keep his secret, but what mattered that before
this more crushing, urgent duty to Chris? His manhood cried out to him
to protect her. Nothing else signified in the least; the future--the
best that he could hope for--might be ashy and hopeless now; but it was
with the immediate present and his duty that he found himself concerned.
There remained but one grim way; and, through such overwhelming,
shattering storm and stress as falls to the lot of few, he finally took
it. To marry at any cost and starve afterwards if necessary, had been
the more simple plan; and that course of action must first have occurred
to any other man but this; to him, however, it did not occur. The
crying, shrieking need for money was the thing that stunned him and
petrified him. Shattered and tossed to the brink of aberration,
stretched at frightful mental tension for a fortnight, he finally
succumbed, and told himself that his defeat was victory.

He wrote to John Grimbal, explained that he desired to see him on the
morrow, and the master of the Red House, familiar with recent affairs,
rightly guessed that Hicks had changed his mind. Excited beyond measure,
the victor fixed a place for their conversation, and it was a strange
one.

"Meet me at Oke Tor," he wrote. "By an accident I shall be in the Taw
Marshes to-morrow, and will ride to you some time in the
afternoon.--J.G."

Thus, upon a day when Will Blanchard called at Mrs. Hicks's cottage,
Clement had already started for his remote destination on the Moor. With
some unconscious patronage Will saluted Mrs. Hicks and called for
Clement. Then he slapped down a flat envelope under the widow's eyes.

"Us have thought a lot about this trouble, mother, an' Phoebe's hit on
as braave a notion as need be. You see, Clem's my close friend again
now, an' Chris be my sister; so what's more fittin' than that I should
set up the young people? An' so I shall, an' here's a matter of Bank of
England notes as will repay the countin'. Give 'em to Clem wi' my
respects."

Then Will suffered a surprise. The little woman before him swelled and
expanded, her narrow bosom rose, her thin lips tightened, and into her
dim eyes there came pride and brightness. It was her hour of triumph,
and she felt a giantess as she stood regarding the envelope and Will.
Him she had never liked since his difference with her son concerning
Martin Grimbal, and now, richer for certain news of that morning, she
gloried to throw the gift back.

"Take your money again, bwoy. No Hicks ever wanted charity yet, least of
all from a Blanchard. Pick it up; and it's lucky Clement ban't home, for
he'd have said some harsh words, I'm thinking. Keep it 'gainst the rainy
days up to Newtake. And it may surprise 'e to knaw that my son's worth
be getting found out at last. It won't be so long 'fore he takes awver
Squire Grimbal's farm to the Red House. What do 'e think o' that? He've
gone to see un this very day 'bout it."

"Well, well! This be news, and no mistake--gude news, tu, I s'pose. Jan
Grimbal! An' what Clem doan't knaw 'bout farmin', I'll be mighty pleased
to teach un, I'm sure."

"No call to worry yourself; Clem doan't want no other right arm than his
awn."

"Chris shall have the money, then; an' gude luck to 'em both, say I."

He departed, with great astonishment the main emotion of his mind.
Nothing could well have happened to surprise him more, and now he felt
that he should rejoice, but found it difficult to do so.

"Braave news, no doubt," he reflected, "an' yet, come to think on it,
I'd so soon the devil had given him a job as Grimbal. Besides, to choose
him! What do Clement knaw 'bout farmin'? Just so much as I knaw 'bout
verse-writin', an' no more."



CHAPTER XV

"THE ANGEL OF THE DARKER DRINK"


Patches of mist all full of silver light moved like lonely living things
on the face of the high Moor. Here they dispersed and scattered, here
they approached and mingled together, here they stretched forth pearly
fingers above the shining granite, and changed their shapes at the whim
of every passing breeze; but the tendency of each shining, protean mass
was to rise to the sun, and presently each valley and coomb lay clear,
while the cool vapours wound in luminous and downy undulations along the
highest points of the land before vanishing into air.

A solitary figure passed over the great waste. He took his way northward
and moved across Scorhill, leaving Wattern Tor to the left. Beneath its
ragged ridges, in a vast granite amphitheatre, twinkled the cool
birth-springs of the little Wallabrook, and the water here looked leaden
under shade, here sparkled with silver at the margin of a cloud shadow,
here shone golden bright amid the dancing heads of the cotton-grass
under unclouded sunlight. The mist wreaths had wholly departed before
noon, and only a few vast mountains of summer gold moved lazily along
the upper chambers of the air. A huge and solitary shadow overtook the
man and spread itself directly about him, then swept onwards; infinite
silence encompassed him; once from a distant hillside a voice cried to
him, where women and children moved like drab specks and gathered the
ripe whortleberries that now wove purple patterns into the fabric of the
Moor; but he heeded not the cry; and other sound there was none save the
occasional and mournful note of some lonely yellowhammer perched upon a
whin. Into the prevalent olive-brown of the heath there had now stolen
an indication of a magic change at hand, for into the sober monotone
crept a gauzy shadow, a tremor of wakening flower-life, half pearl, half
palest pink, yet more than either. Upon the immediate foreground it
rippled into defined points of blossom, which already twinkled through
all the dull foliage; in the middle distance it faded; afar off it
trembled as a palpable haze of light under the impalpable reeling of the
summer air. A week or less would see the annual miracle peformed again
and witness that spacious and solemn region in all the amethystine
glories of the ling. Fiercely hot grew the day, and the distances, so
distinct through mist rifts and wreaths in the clearness of early
morning, now retreated--mountain upon mountain, wide waste on waste--as
the sun climbed to the zenith. Detail vanished, the Moor stretched
shimmering to the horizon; only now and again from some lofty point of
his pilgrimage did the traveller discover chance cultivation through a
dip in the untamed region he traversed. Then to the far east and north,
the map of fertile Devon billowed and rolled in one enormous misty
mosaic,--billowed and rolled all opalescent under the dancing atmosphere
and July haze, rolled and swept to the sky-line, where, huddled by
perspective into the appearance of density, hung long silver tangles of
infinitely remote and dazzling cloud against the blue.

From that distant sponge in the central waste, from Cranmere, mother of
moorland rivers, the man presently noted wrinkles of pure gold trickling
down a hillside two miles off. Here sunshine touched the river Taw,
still an infant thing not far advanced on the journey from its fount;
but the play of light upon the stream, invisible save for this finger of
the sun, indicated to the solitary that he approached his destination.
Presently he stood on the side of lofty Steeperton and surveyed that
vast valley known as Taw Marsh, which lies between the western foothills
of Cosdon Beacon and the Belstone Tors to the north. The ragged manes of
the latter hills wind through the valley in one lengthy ridge, and
extend to a tremendous castellated mass of stone, by name Oke Tor.

This erection, with its battlements and embrasures, outlying scarps and
counterscarps, remarkably suggests the deliberate and calculated
creation of man. It stands upon a little solitary hill at the head of
Taw Marsh, and wins its name from the East Okement River which runs
through the valley on its western flank. Above wide fen and marsh it
rises, yet seen from Steeperton's vaster altitude, Oke Tor looks no
greater than some fantastic child-castle built by a Brobding-nagian baby
with granite bricks. Below it on this July day the waste of bog-land was
puckered with brown tracts of naked soil, and seamed and scarred with
peat-cuttings. Here and there drying turfs were propped in pairs and
dotted the hillsides; emerald patches of moss jewelled the prevailing
sobriety of the valley, a single curlew, with rising and falling
crescendos of sound, flew here and there under needless anxiety, and far
away on White Hill and the enormous breast of Cosdon glimmered grey
stone ghosts from the past,--track-lines and circles and pounds,--the
work of those children of the mist who laboured here when the world was
younger, whose duty now lay under the new-born light of the budding
heath. White specks dotted the undulations where flocks roamed free; in
the marsh, red cattle sought pasture, and now was heard the
jingle-jangle of a sheep-bell, and now the cry of bellowing kine.

Like a dark incarnation of suffering over this expansive scene passed
Clement Hicks to the meeting with John Grimbal. His unrest was
accentuated by the extreme sunlit peace of the Moor, and as he sat on
Steeperton and gazed with dark eyes into the marshes below, there
appeared in his face the battlefield of past struggles, the graves of
past hopes. A dead apathy of mind and muscle succeeded his mental
exertion and passion of thought. Increased age marked him, as though
Time, thrusting all at once upon him bitter experiences usually spread
over many years of a man's life, had weighed him down, humped his back,
thinned his hair, and furrowed his forehead under the load. Within his
eyes, behind the reflected blue of the sky, as he raised them to it, sat
mad misery; and an almost tetanic movement of limb, which rendered it
impossible for him to keep motionless even in his present recumbent
position, denoted the unnatural excitation of his nerves. The throb and
spasm of the past still beat against his heart. Like a circular storm in
mid-ocean, he told himself that the tempest had not wholly ended, but
might reawaken, overwhelm him, and sweep him back into the turmoil
again. As he thought, and his eye roved for a rider on a brown horse,
the poor wretch was fighting still. Yesterday fixed determination marked
his movements, and his mind was made up; to-day, after a night not
devoid of sleep, it seemed that everything that was best in him had
awakened refreshed, and that each mile of the long tramp across Dartmoor
had represented another battle fought with his fate. Justice, Justice
for himself and the woman he loved, was the cry raised more than once
aloud in sharp agony on that great silence. And only the drone of the
shining-winged things and the dry rustle of the grasshoppers answered
him.

Like the rest of the sore-smitten and wounded world, he screamed to the
sky for Justice, and, like the rest of the world, forgot or did not know
that Justice is only a part of Truth, and therefore as far beyond man's
reach as Truth itself. Justice can only be conceived by humanity, and
that man should even imagine any abstraction so glorious is wonderful,
and to his credit. But Justice lies not only beyond our power to mete to
our fellows; it forms no part of the Creator's methods with us or this
particular mote in the beam of the Universe. Man has never received
Justice, as he understands it, and never will; and his own poor,
flagrant, fallible travesty of it, erected to save him from himself, and
called Law, more nearly approximates to Justice than the treatment which
has ever been apportioned to humanity. Before this eternal spectacle of
illogical austerity, therefore, man, in self-defence and to comfort his
craving and his weakness, has clung to the cheerful conceit of
immortality; has pathetically credited the First Cause with a grand
ultimate intention concerning each suffering atom; has assured himself
that eternity shall wipe away all tears and blood, shall reward the
actors in this puppet-show with golden crowns and nobler parts in a
nobler playhouse. Human dreams of justice are responsible for this
yearning towards another life, not the dogmas of religion; and the
conviction undoubtedly has to be thanked for much individual right
conduct. But it happens that an increasing number of intellects can find
solace in these theories no longer; it happens that the liberty of free
thought (which is the only liberty man may claim) will not longer be
bound with these puny chains. Many detect no just argument for a future
life; they admit that adequate estimate of abstract Justice is beyond
them; they suspect that Justice is a human conceit; and they see no
cause why its attributes should be credited to the Creator in His
dealings with the created, for the sufficient reason that Justice has
never been consistently exhibited by Him. The natural conclusion of such
thought need not be pursued here. Suffice it that, taking their stand on
pure reason, such thinkers deny the least evidence of any life beyond
the grave; to them, therefore, this ephemeral progression is the
beginning and the end, and they live every precious moment with a
yearning zest beyond the power of conventional intellects to conceive.

Of such was Clement Hicks. And yet in this dark hour he cried for
Justice, not knowing to whom or to what he cried. Right judgment was
dead at last. He rose and shook his head in mute answer to the voices
still clamouring to his consciousness. They moaned and reverberated and
mingled with the distant music of the bellwether, but his mind was made
up irrevocably now; he had determined to do the thing he had come to do.
He told himself nothing much mattered any more; he laughed as he rose
and wiped the sweat off his face, and passed down Steeperton through
debris of granite. "Life's only a breath and then--Nothing," he thought;
"but it will be interesting to see how much more bitterness and agony
those that pull the strings can cram into my days. I shall watch from
the outside now. A man is never happy so long as he takes a personal
interest in life. Henceforth I'll stand outside and care no more, and
laugh and laugh on through the years. We're greater than the Devil that
made us; for we can laugh at all his cursed cruelty--we can laugh, and
we can die laughing, and we can die when we please. Yes, that's one
thing he can't do--torment us an hour more than we choose."

Suicide was always a familiar thought with this man, but it had never
been farther from his mind than of late. Cowardly in himself, his love
for Chris Blanchard was too great to suffer even the shadow of
self-slaughter to tempt him at the present moment. What might happen in
the future, he could not tell; but while her happiness was threatened
and her life's welfare hung in the balance, his place was by her side.
Then he looked into Will Blanchard's future and asked himself what was
the worst that could result from his pending treachery. He did not know
and wished time had permitted him to make inquiries. But his soul was
too weary to care. He only looked for the ordeal to be ended; his aching
eyes, now bent on his temporal environment, ranged widely for the
spectacle of a rider on a brown horse.

A red flag flapped from a lofty pole at the foot of Steeperton, but
Hicks, to whom the object and its significance were familiar, paid no
heed and passed on towards Oke Tor. On one side the mass rose gradually
up by steps and turrets; on the other, the granite beetled into a low
cliff springing abruptly from the turf. Within its clefts and crannies
there grew ferns, and to the north-east, sheltered under ledges from the
hot sun, cattle and ponies usually stood or reclined upon such a summer
day as this, and waited for the oncoming cool of evening before
returning to pasture. On the present occasion, however, no stamp of
hoof, snort of nostril, whisk of tail, and hum of flies denoted the
presence of beasts. For some reason they had been driven elsewhere.
Clement climbed the Tor, then stood upon its highest point, and turning
his back to the sun, scanned the wide rolling distances over which he
had tramped, and sought fruitlessly for an approaching horseman. But no
particular hour had been specified, and he knew not and cared not how
long he might have to wait.

In a direction quite contrary to that on which the eyes of Hicks were
set, sat John Grimbal upon his horse and talked with another man. They
occupied a position at the lower-most end of Taw Marsh, beneath the
Belstones; and they watched some seventy artillerymen busily preparing
for certain operations of a nature to specially interest the master of
the Red House. Indeed the pending proceedings had usually occupied his
mind, to total exclusion of all other affairs; but to-day even more
momentous events awaited him in the immediate future, and he looked from
his companion along the great valley to where Oke Tor appeared, shrunk
to a mere grey stone at the farther end. Of John Grimbal's life, it may
now be said that it drifted into a confirmed and bitter misogyny. He saw
no women, spoke of the sex with disrespect, and chose his few friends
among men whose sporting and warlike instincts chimed with his own.
Sport he pursued with dogged pertinacity, but the greater part of his
leisure was devoted to the formation of a yeomanry corps at Chagford,
and in this design he had made good progress. He still kept his wrongs
sternly before his mind, and when the old bitterness began to grow
blunted, deliberately sharpened it again, strangling alike the good work
of time and all emotions of rising contentment and returning peace.
Where was the wife whose musical voice and bright eyes should welcome
his daily home-coming? Where were the laughing and pattering-footed
little ones? Of these priceless treasures the man on the Moor had robbed
him. His great house was empty and cheerless. Thus he could always blow
the smouldering fires into active flame by a little musing on the past;
but how long it might be possible to sustain his passion for revenge
under this artificial stimulation of memory remained to be seen. As yet,
at any rate, the contemplation of Will Blanchard's ruin was good to
Grimbal, and the accident of his discovery that Clement Hicks knew some
secret facts to his enemy's disadvantage served vastly to quicken the
lust for a great revenge. From the first he had determined to drag
Clement's secret out of him sooner or later, and had, until his recent
offer of the Red House Farm, practised remarkable patience. Since then,
however, a flicker of apparent prosperity which overtook the bee-keeper
appeared to diminish Grimbal's chances perceptibly; but with the sudden
downfall of Clement's hopes the other's ends grew nearer again, and at
the last it had scarcely surprised him to receive the proposal of Hicks.
So now he stood within an hour or two of the desired knowledge, and his
mind was consequently a little abstracted from the matter in hand.

The battery, consisting of four field-guns, was brought into action in
the direction of the upper end of the valley, while Major Tremayne, its
commanding officer and John Grimbal's acquaintance, explained to the
amateur all that he did not know. During the previous week the master of
the Red House and other officers of the local yeomanry interested in
military matters had dined at the mess of those artillery officers then
encamped at Okehampton for the annual practice on Dartmoor; and the
outcome of that entertainment was an invitation to witness some shooting
during the forthcoming week.

The gunners in their dark blue uniforms swarmed busily round four
shining sixteen-pounders, while Major Tremayne conversed with his
friend. He was a handsome, large-limbed man, with kindly eyes.

"Where's your target?" asked Grimbal, as he scanned the deep distance of
the valley.

"Away there under that grey mass of rock. We've got to guess at the
range as you know; then find it. I should judge the distance at about
two miles--an extreme limit. Take my glass and you'll note a line of
earthworks thrown up on this side of the stone. That is intended to
represent a redoubt and we're going to shell it and slay the dummy men
posted inside."

"I can see without the glass. The rock is called Oke Tor, and I'm going
to meet a man there this afternoon."

"Good; then you'll be able to observe the results at close quarters.
They'll surprise you. Now we are going to begin. Is your horse all
right? He looks shifty, and the guns make a devil of a row."

"Steady as time. He's smelt powder before to-day."

Major Tremayne now adjusted his field-glasses, and carefully inspected
distant earthworks stretched below the northern buttresses of Oke Tor.
He estimated the range, which he communicated to the battery; then after
a slight delay came the roar and bellow of the guns as they were fired
in slow succession.

But the Major's estimate proved too liberal, for the ranging rounds fell
far beyond the target, and dropped into the lofty side of Steeperton.

The elevation of the guns was accordingly reduced, and Grimbal noted the
profound silence in the battery as each busy soldier performed his
appointed task.

At the next round shells burst a little too short of the earthworks, and
again a slight modification in the range was made. Now missiles began to
descend in and around the distant redoubt, and each as it exploded dealt
out shattering destruction to the dummy men which represented an enemy.
One projectile smashed against the side of Oke Tor, and sent back the
ringing sound of its tremendous impact.

Subsequent practice, now that the range was found, produced results
above the average in accuracy, and Major Tremayne's good-humour
increased.

"Five running plump into the redoubt! That's what we can do when we
try," he said to Grimbal, while the amateur awarded his meed of praise
and admiration.

Anon the business was at an end; the battery limbered up; the guns, each
drawn by six stout horses, disappeared with many a jolt over the uneven
ground, as the soldiers clinked and clashed away to their camp on the
high land above Okehamptou.

Under the raw smell of burnt powder Major Tremayne took leave of Grimbal
and the rest; each man went his way; and John, pursuing a bridle-path
through the marshes of the Taw, proceeded slowly to his appointment.

An unexpected spring retarded Grimbal's progress and made a considerable
detour necessary. At length, however, he approached Oke Tor, marked the
tremendous havoc of the firing, and noted a great grey splash upon the
granite, where one shell had abraded its weathered face.

John Grimbal dismounted, tied up his horse, then climbed to the top of
the Tor, and searched for an approaching pedestrian. Nobody was visible
save one man only; amounted soldier riding round to strike the red
warning flags posted widely about the ranges. Grimbal descended and
approached the southern side, there to sit on the fine intermingled turf
and moss and smoke a cigar until his man should arrive. But rounding the
point of the low cliff, he found that Hicks was already there.

Clement, his hat off, reclined upon his back with his face lifted to the
sky. Where his head rested, the wild thyme grew, and one great, black
bumble-bee boomed at a deaf ear as it clumsily struggled in the purple
blossoms. He lay almost naturally, but some distortion of his neck and a
film upon his open eyes proclaimed that the man neither woke nor slept.

His lonely death was on this wise. Standing at the edge of the highest
point of Oke Tor, with his back to the distant guns, he had crowned the
artillerymen's target, himself invisible. At that moment firing began,
and the first shell, suddenly shrieking scarcely twenty yards above his
head, had caused Hicks to start and turn abruptly. With this action he
lost his balance; then a projection of the granite struck his back as he
fell and brought him heavily to the earth upon his head.

Now the sun, creeping westerly, already threw a ruddiness over the Moor,
and this warm light touching the dead man's cheek brought thither a hue
never visible in life, and imparted to the features a placidity very
startling by contrast with the circumstances of his sudden and violent
end.



CHAPTER XVI

BEFORE THE DAWN


It proclaims the attitude of John Grimbal to his enemy that thus
suddenly confronted with the corpse of a man whom he believed in life,
his first emotion should have betokened bitter disappointment and even
anger. Will Blanchard's secret, great or small, was safe enough for the
present; and the hand stretched eagerly for revenge clutched air.

Convincing himself that Hicks was dead, Grimbal galloped off towards
Belstone village, the nearest centre of civilisation. There he reported
the facts, directed police and labourers where to find the body and
where to carry it, and subsequently rode swiftly back to Chagford.
Arrived at the market-place, he acquainted Abraham Chown, the
representative of the Devon constabulary, with his news, and finally
writing a brief statement at the police station before leaving it,
Grimbal returned home.

Not until after dark was the impatient mother made aware of her son's
end, and she had scarcely received the intelligence before he came home
to her--with no triumphant news of the Red House Farm, but dead, on a
sheep-hurdle. Like summer lightning Clement's fate leapt through the
length and breadth of Chagford. It penetrated to the vicarage; it
reached outlying farms; it arrived at Monks Barton, was whispered near
Mrs. Blanchard's cottage by the Teign, and, in the early morning of the
following day, reached Newtake.

Then Will, galloping to the village while dawn was yet grey, met Doctor
Parsons, and heard the truth of these uncertain rumours which had
reached him.

"It seems clear enough when Grimbal's statement comes to be read,"
explained the medical man. "He had arranged a meeting with poor Hicks on
Oke Tor, and, when he went to keep his appointment, found the
unfortunate man lying under the rocks quite dead. The spot, I must tell
you, was near a target of the soldiers at Okehampton, and John Grimbal
first suspected that Hicks, heedless of the red warning flags, had
wandered into the line of fire and been actually slain by a projectile.
But nothing of that sort happened. I have seen him. The unfortunate man
evidently slipped and fell from some considerable height upon his head.
His neck is dislocated and the base of the skull badly fractured."

"Have you seen my poor sister?"

"I was called last night while at Mrs. Hicks's cottage, and went almost
at once. It's very terrible--very. She'll get brain fever if we're not
careful. Such a shock! She was walking alone, down in the croft by the
river--all in a tremendously heavy dew too. She was dry-eyed and raved,
poor girl. I may say she was insane at that sad moment. 'Weep for
yourself!' she said to me. 'Let this place weep for itself, for there's
a great man has died. He was here and lived here and nobody knew--nobody
but his mother and I knew what he was. He had to beg his bread almost,
and God let him; but the sin of it is on those around him--you and the
rest.' So she spoke, poor child. These are not exactly her words, but
something like them. I got her indoors to her mother and sent her a
draught. I've just come from confining Mrs. Woods, and I'll walk down
and see your sister now before I go home if you like. I hope she may be
sleeping."

Will readily agreed to this suggestion; and together the two men
proceeded to the valley.

But many things had happened since the night. When Doctor Parsons left
Mrs. Blanchard, she had prevailed upon Chris to go to bed, and then
herself departed to the village and sat with Mrs. Hicks for an hour.
Returning, she found her daughter apparently asleep, and, rather than
wake her, left the doctor's draught unopened; yet Chris had only
simulated slumber, and as soon as her mother retreated to her own bed,
she rose, dressed, crept from the house, and hastened through the night
to where her lover lay.

The first awful stroke had fallen, but the elasticity of the human mind
which at first throws off and off such terrible shocks, and only after
the length of many hours finally accepts them as fact, saved Chris
Blanchard from going mad. Happily she could not thus soon realise the
truth. It recurred, like the blows of a sledge, upon her brain, but
between these cruel reminders of the catastrophe, the knowledge of
Clement's death escaped her memory entirely, and more than once, while
roaming the dew alone, she asked herself suddenly what she was doing and
why she was there. Then the mournful answer knelled to her heart, and
the recurrent spasms of that first agony slowly, surely settled into one
dead pain, as the truth was seared into her knowledge. A frenzied burst
of anger succeeded, and under its influence she spoke to Doctor Parsons,
who approached her beside the river and with tact and patience at length
prevailed upon her to enter her home. She cursed the land that had borne
him, the hamlet wherein he had dwelt; and her mother, not amazed at her
fierce grief, found each convulsive ebullition of sorrow natural to the
dark hour, and soothed her as best she could. Then the elder woman
departed a while, not knowing the truth and feeling such a course
embraced the deeper wisdom.

Left alone, her future rose before Chris, as she sat upon her bed and
saw the time to come glimmer out of the night in colours more ashy than
the moonbeams on the cotton blind. Yet, as she looked her face burned,
and one flame, vivid enough, flickered through all the future; the light
on her own cheeks. Her position as it faced her from various points of
view acted upon her physical being--suffocated her and brought a scream
to her lips. There was nobody to hear it, nobody to see the girl tear
her hair, rise from her couch, fall quivering, face downward, on the
little strip of carpet beside her bed. Who could know even a little of
what this meant to her? Women had often lost the men they loved, but
never, never like this. So she assured herself. Past sorrows and fears
dwindled to mere shadows now; for the awful future--the crushing months
to come, rose grim and horrible on the horizon of Time, laden with
greater terrors than she could face and live.

Alone, Chris told herself she might have withstood the oncoming
tribulation--struggled through the storms of suffering and kept her
broken heart company as other women had done before and must again; but
she would not be alone. A little hand was stretching out of the
loneliness she yearned for; a little voice was crying out of the
solitude she craved. The shadows that might have sheltered her were full
of hard eyes; the secret places would only echo a world's cruel laughter
now--that world which had let her loved one die uncared for, that world
so pitiless to such as she. Her thoughts were alternately defiant and
fearful; then, before the picture of her mother and Will, her emotions
dwindled from the tragic and became of a sort that weeping could
relieve. Tears, now mercifully released from their fountains, softened
her bruised soul for a time and moderated the physical strain of her
agony. She lay long, half-naked, sobbing her heart out. Then came the
mad desire to be back with Clement at any cost, and profound pity for
him overwhelmed her mind to the exclusion of further sorrow for herself.
She forgot herself wholly in grief that he was gone. She would never
hear him speak or laugh again; never again kiss the trouble from his
eyes; never feel the warm breath of him, the hand-grip of him. He was
dead; and she saw him lying straight and cold in a padded coffin, with
his hands crossed and cerecloth stiffly tying up his jaws. He would sink
into the silence that dwelt under the roots of the green grass; while
she must go on and fight the world, and in fighting it, bring down upon
his grave bitter words and sharp censures from the lips of those who did
not understand.

Before which reflection Death came closer and looked kind; and the
thought of his hand was cool and comforting, as the hand of a grey moor
mist sweeping over the heath after fiery days of cloudless sun. Death
stood very near and beckoned at the dark portals of her thought. Behind
him there shone a great light, and in the light stood Clem; but the
Shadow filled all the foreground. To go to her loved one, to die quickly
and take their mutual secret with her, seemed a right and a precious
thought just then; to go, to die, while yet he lay above the earth, was
a determination that had even a little power to solace her agony. She
thought of meeting him standing alone, strange, friendless on the other
side of the grave; she told herself that actual duty, if not the vast
love she bore him, pointed along the unknown road he had so recently
followed. It was but justice to him. Then she could laugh at Time and
Fate and the juggling unseen Controller who had played with him and her,
had wrecked their little lives, forced their little passions under a
sham security, then snapped the thread on which she hung for everything,
killed the better part of herself, and left her all alone without a hand
to shield or a heart to pity. In the darkness, as the moon stole away
and her chamber window blackened, she sounded all sorrow's wide and
solemn diapason; and the living sank into shadows before her mind's
accentuated and vivid picture of the dead. Future life loomed along one
desolate pathway that led to pain and shame and griefs as yet untasted.
The rocks beside the way hid shadowy shapes of the unfriendly; for no
mother's kindly hand would support her, no brother's stout arm would be
lifted for her when they knew. No pure, noble, fellow-creature might be
asked for aid, not one might be expected to succour and cherish in the
great strait sweeping towards her. Some indeed there were to look to for
the moment, but their voices and their eyes would harden presently, when
they knew.

She told herself they must never know; and the solution to the problem
of how to keep her secret appeared upon the threshold of the unknown
road her lover had already travelled. Now, at the echo of the lowest
notes, while she lay with uneven pulses and shaking limbs, it seemed
that she was faced with the parting of the ways and must make instant
choice. Time would not wait for her and cared nothing whether she chose
life or death for her road. She struggled with red thoughts, and fever
burnt her lips and stabbed her forehead. Clement was gone. In this
supreme hour no fellow-creature could fortify her courage or direct her
tottering judgment. Once she thought of prayer and turned from it
shuddering with a passionate determination to pray no more. Then the
vision of Death shadowed her and she felt his brief sting would be
nothing beside the endless torment of living. Dangerous thoughts
developed quickly in her and grew to giants. Something clamoured to her
and cried that delay, even of hours, was impossible and must be fatal to
secrecy. A feverish yearning to get it over, and that quickly, mastered
her, and she began huddling on some clothes.

Then it was that the sudden sound of the cottage door being shut and
bolted reached her ear. Mrs. Blanchard had returned and knowing that she
would approach in a moment, Chris flung herself on the bed and pretended
to be sleeping soundly. It was not until her mother withdrew and herself
slumbered half an hour later that the distracted woman arose, dressed
herself, and silently left the house as we have said.

She heard the river calling to her, and through its murmur sounded the
voice of her loved one from afar. The moon shone clear and the valley
was full of vapoury gauze. A wild longing to see him once more in the
flesh before she followed him in the spirit gained upon Chris, and she
moved slowly up the hill to the village. Then, as she went, born of the
mists upon the meadows, and the great light and the moony gossamers
diamonded with dew, there rose his dear shape and moved with her along
the way. But his face was hidden, and he vanished at the first outposts
of the hamlet as she passed into Chagford alone. The cottage shadows
fell velvety black in a shining silence; their thatches were streaked,
their slates meshed with silver; their whitewashed walls looked
strangely awake and alert and surrounded the woman with a sort of blind,
hushed stare. One solitary patch of light peered like a weary eye from
that side of the street which lay in shadow, and Chris, passing through
the unbolted cottage door, walked up the narrow passage within and
softly entered.

Condolence and tears and buzz of sorrowful friends had passed away with
the stroke of midnight. Now Mrs. Hicks sat alone with her dead and gazed
upon his calm features and vaguely wondered how, after a life of such
disappointment and failure and bitter discontent, he could look so
peaceful. She knew every line that thought and trouble had ruled upon
his face; she remembered their coming; and now, between her fits of
grief, she scanned him close and saw that Death had wiped away the
furrows here and there, and smoothed his forehead and rolled back the
years from off him until his face reminded her of the strange, wayward
child who was wont to live a life apart from his fellows, like some wild
wood creature, and who had passed almost friendless through his boyhood.
Fully he had filled her widowed life, and been at least a loving child,
a good son. On him her withered hopes had depended, and, even in their
darkest hours, he had laughed at her dread of the workhouse, and assured
her that while head and hands remained to him she need not fear, but
should enjoy the independence of a home. Now this sole prop and stay was
gone--gone, just as the black cloud had broken and Fate relented.

The old woman sat beside him stricken, shrivelled, almost reptilian in
her red-eyed, motionless misery. Only her eyes moved in her wrinkled,
brown face, and reflected the candle standing on the mantelpiece above
his head. She sat with her hands crooked over one another in her lap,
like some image wrought of ebony and dark oak. Once a large house-spider
suddenly and silently appeared upon the sheet that covered the breast of
the dead. It flashed along for a foot or two, then sat motionless; and
she, whose inclination was to loathe such things unutterably, put forth
her hand and caught it without a tremor and crushed it while its hairy
legs wriggled between her fingers.

To the robbed mother came Chris, silent as a ghost. Only the old woman's
eyes moved as the girl entered, fell down by the bier, and buried her
face in the pillow that supported her lover's head. Thus, in profound
silence, both remained awhile, until Chris lifted herself and looked in
the dead face and almost started to see the strange content stamped on
it.

Then Mrs. Hicks began to speak in a high-pitched voice which broke now
and again as her bosom heaved after past tears.

"The awnly son of his mother, an' she a widow wummon; an' theer 's no
Christ now to work for the love of the poor. I be shattered wi' many
groans an' tears, Chris Blanchard, same as you be. You knawed him--awnly
you an' me; but you 'm young yet, an' memory's so weak in young brains
that you'll outlive it all an' forget."

"Never, never, mother! Theer 's no more life for me--not here. He's
callin' to me--callin' an' callin' from yonder."

"You'll outlive an' forget," repeated the other. "I cannot, bein' as I
am. An', mind this, when you pray to Heaven, ax for gold an' diamonds,
ax for houses an' lands, ax for the fat of the airth; an' ax loud. No
harm in axin'. Awnly doan't pitch your prayers tu dirt low, for ban't
the hardness of a thing stops God. You 'm as likely or onlikely to get a
big answer as a little. See the blessin' flowin' in streams for some
folks! They do live braave an' happy, with gude health, an' gude wives,
an' money, an' the fruits of the land; they do get butivul childer, as
graws up like the corners of the temple; an' when they come to die, they
shut their eyes 'pon kind faaces an' lie in lead an' oak under polished
marble. All that be theers; an' what was his--my son's?"

"God forgot him," sobbed Chris, "an' the world forgot him--all but you
an' me."

The old woman shifted her hands wearily.

"Theer's a mort for God to bear in mind, but 't is hard, here an' there,
wheer He slips awver some lowly party an' misses a humble whisper.
Clamour if you want to be heard; doan't go with bated breath same as I
done. 'T was awnly a li'l thing I axed, an' axed it twice a day on my
knees, ever since my man died twenty-three year agone. An' often as not
thrice Sundays, so you may count up the number of times I axed if you
mind to. Awnly a li'l rubbishy thing you might have thought: just to
bring his fair share o' prosperity to Clem an' keep my bones out the
poorhouse at the end. But my bwoy 's brawk his neck by a cruel death,
an' I must wear the blue cotton."

"No, no, mother."

"Ess. Not that it looks so hard as it did. This makes it easy--" and she
put her hand on her son's forehead and left it there a moment.

Presently she continued:

"I axed Clem to turn the bee-butts at my sister's passing--Mrs.
Lezzard. But he wouldn't; an' now they'll be turned for him. Wise though
the man was, he set no store on the dark, hidden meaning of honey-bees
at times of death. Now the creatures be masterless, same as you an' me;
an' they'll knaw it; an' you'll see many an' many a-murmuring on his
graave 'fore the grass graws green theer; for they see more 'n what we
can."

She relapsed into motionless silence and, herself now wholly tearless,
watched the tears of Chris, who had sunk down on the floor between the
mother and son.

"Why for do _you_ cry an' wring your hands so hard?" she asked suddenly.
"You'm awnly a girl yet--young an' soft-cheeked wi' braave bonny eyes.
Theer'll be many a man's breast for you to comfort your head on. But me!
Think o' what's tearin' my auld heart to tatters--me, so bleared an'
ugly an' lonely. God knaws God's self couldn't bring no balm to
me--none, till I huddle under the airth arter un; but you--your wound
won't show by time the snaw comes again."

"You forget when you loved a man first if you says such a thing as
that."

"Theer's no eternal, lasting fashion o' love but a mother's to her awn
male childer," croaked the other. "Sweethearts' love is a thing o' the
blood--a trick o' Nature to tickle us poor human things into breeding
'gainst our better wisdom; but what a mother feels doan't hang on no
such broken reed. It's deeper down; it's hell an' heaven both to wance;
it's life; an' to lose it is death. See! Essterday I'd 'a' fought an'
screamed an' took on like a gude un to be fetched away to the Union; but
come they put him in the ground, I'll go so quiet as a lamb."

Another silence followed; then the aged widow pursued her theme, at
first in the same dreary, cracked monotone, then deepening to passion.

"I tell you a gude wife will do 'most anything for a husband an' give
her body an' soul to un; but she expects summat in return. She wants his
love an' worship for hers; but a mother do give all--all--all--an' never
axes nothin' for it. Just a kiss maybe, an' a brightening eye, or a kind
word. That's her pay, an' better'n gawld, tu. She'm purty nigh satisfied
wi' what would satisfy a dog, come to think on it. 'T is her joy to fret
an' fume an' pine o' nights for un, an' tire the A'mighty's ear wi'
plans an' suggestions for un; aye, think an' sweat an' starve for un all
times. 'T is her joy, I tell 'e, to smooth his road, an' catch the
brambles by his way an' let 'em bury their thorns in her flesh so he
shaa'n't feel 'em; 't is her joy to hear him babble of all his hopes an'
delights; an' when the time comes she'll taake the maid of his heart to
her awn, though maybe 't is breakin' wi' fear that he'll forget her in
the light of the young eyes. Ax your awn mother if what I sez ban't
God's truth. We as got the bwoys be content wi' that little. We awnly
want to help theer young shoulders wi' our auld wans, to fight for 'em
to the last. We'll let theer wives have the love, we will, an' ax no
questions an'--an' we'll break our hearts when the cheel 's took out o'
his turn--break our hearts by inches--same as I be doin' now."

"An' doan't I love, tu? Weern't he all the world to me, tu? Isn't my
heart broken so well as yours?" sobbed Chris.

"Hear this, you wummon as talks of a broken heart," answered the elder
almost harshly. "Wait--wait till you 'm the mother of a li'l man-cheel,
an' see the shining eyes of un a-lookin' into yourn while your nipple's
bein' squeezed by his naked gums, an' you laugh at what you suffered for
un, an' hug un to you. Wait till he'm grawed from baby to bwoy, from
bwoy to man; wait till he'm all you've got left in the cold, starved
winter of a sorrowful life; an' wait till he'm brought home to 'e like
this here, while you've been sittin' laughin' to yourself an' countin'
dream gawld. Then turn about to find the tears that'll comfort 'e, an'
the prayers that'll soothe 'e, and the God that'll lift 'e up; but you
won't find 'em, Chris Blanchard."

The girl listened to this utterance, and it filled her with a sort of
weird wonder as at a revelation of heredity. Mrs. Hicks had ever been
taciturn before her, and now this rapid outpouring of thoughts and
phrases echoed like the very speech of the dead. Thus had Clement
talked, and the girl dimly marvelled without understanding. The
impression passed, and there awoke in Chris a sudden determination to
whisper to this bereaved woman what she could not even tell her own
mother. A second thought had probably changed her intention, but she did
not wait for any second thought. She acted on impulse, rose, put her
arms round the widow, and murmured her secret. The other started
violently and broke her motionless posture before this intelligence.

"Christ! And he knawed--my son?"

"He knawed."

"Then you needn't whisper it. There's awnly us three here."

"An' no others must knaw. You'll never tell--never? You swear that?"

"Me tell! No, no. To think! Then theer's real sorrow for you, tu, poor
soul--real, grawin' sorrow tu. Differ'nt from mine, but real enough.
Yet--"

She relapsed into a stone-like repose. No facial muscle moved, but the
expression of her mind appeared in her eyes and there gradually grew a
hungry look in them--as of a starving thing confronted with food. The
realisation of these new facts took a long time. No action accompanied
it; no wrinkle deepened; no line of the dejected figure lifted; but when
she spoke again her voice had greatly changed and become softer and very
tremulous.

"O my dear God! 't will be a bit of Clement! Had 'e thought o' that?"

Then she rose suddenly to her feet and expression came to her face--a
very wonderful expression wherein were blended fear, awe, and something
of vague but violent joy--as though one suddenly beheld a loved ghost
from the dead.

"'T is as if all of un weern't quite lost! A li'l left--a cheel of his!
Wummon! You'm a holy thing to me--a holy thing evermore! You'm bearin'
sunshine for your summertime and my winter--if God so wills!"

Then she lifted up her voice and cried to Chris with a strange cry, and
knelt down at her feet and kissed her hands and stroked them.

"Go to un," she said, leaping up; "go to Clem, an' tell un, in his ear,
that I knaw. It'll reach him if you whisper it. His soul ban't so very
far aways yet. Tell un I knaw, tu--you an' me. He'd glory that I knawed.
An' pray henceforrard, as I shall, for a bwoy. Ax God for a bwoy--ax
wi'out ceasin' for a son full o' Clem. Our sorrows might win to the
Everlasting Ear this wance. But, for Christ's sake, ax like wan who has
a right to, not fawning an' humble."

The woman was transfigured as the significance of this news filled her
mind. She wept before a splendid possibility. It fired her eyes and
straightened her shrivelled stature. For a while her frantic utterances
almost inspired Chris with the shadow of similar emotions; but another
side of the picture knew no dawn. This the widow ignored--indeed it had
not entered her head since her first comment on the confession. Now,
however, the girl reminded her,--

"You forget a little what this must be to me, mother."

"Light in darkness."

"I hadn't thought that; an the gert world won't pity me, as you did
when I first told you."

"You ban't feared o' the world, be you? The world forgot un. 'T was your
awn word. What's the world to you, knawin' what you knaw? Do 'e want to
be treated soft by what was allus hell-hard to him? Four-and-thirty
short years he lived, then the world beginned to ope its eyes to his
paarts, an' awnly then--tu late, when the thread of his days was spun.
What's the world to you and why should you care for its word, Chris
Blanchard?"

"Because I am Chris Blanchard," she said. "I was gwaine to kill myself,
but thought to see his dear face wance more before I done it. Now--"

"Kill yourself! God's mercy! 'T will be killing Clem again if you do!
You caan't; you wouldn't dare; theer's black damnation in it an' flat
murder now. Hear me, for Christ's sake, if that's the awful thought in
you: you'm God's chosen tool in this--chosen to suffer an' bring a bwoy
in the world--Clem's bwoy. Doan't you see how't is? 'Kill yourself'! How
can 'e dream it? You've got to bring a bwoy, I tell 'e, to keep us from
both gwaine stark mad. 'T was foreordained he should leave his holy
likeness. God's truth! You should be proud 'stead o' fearful--such a man
as he was. Hold your head high an' pray when none's lookin', pray
through every wakin' hour an' watch yourself as you'd watch the case of
a golden jewel. What wise brain will think hard of you for followin' the
chosen path? What odds if a babe's got ringless under the stars or in a
lawful four-post bed? Who married Adam an' Eve? You was the wife of un
'cordin' to the first plan o' the livin' God; an' if He changed His
lofty mind when't was tu late, blame doan't fall on you or the dead.
Think of a baaby--his baaby--under your breast! Think of meetin' him in
time to come, wi' another soul got in sheer love! Better to faace the
people an' let the bairn come to fulness o' life than fly them an' cut
your days short an' go into the next world empty-handed. Caan't you see
it? What would Clem say? He'd judge you hard--such a lover o' li'l
childer as him. 'T is the first framework of an immortal soul you've got
unfoldin', like a rosebud hid in the green, an' ban't for you to nip
that life for your awn whim an' let the angels in heaven be fewer by
wan. You must live. An' the bwoy'll graw into a tower of strength for
'e--a tower of strength an' a glass belike wheer you'll see Clem rose
again."

"The shame of it. My mother and Will--Will who's a hard judge, an' such
a clean man."

"'Clean'! Christ A'mighty! You'd madden a saint of heaven! Weern't Clem
clean, tu? If God sends fire-fire breaks out--sweet, livin' fire. You
must go through with it--aye, an' call the bwoy Clem, tu. Be you shamed
of him as he lies here? Be you feared of anything the airth can do to
you when you look at him? Do 'e think Heaven's allus hard? No, I tell
'e, not to the young--not to the young. The wind's mostly tempered to
the shorn lamb, though the auld ewe do oftentimes sting for it, an' get
the seeds o' death arter shearing. Wait, and be strong, till you feel
Clem's baaby in your arms. That'll be reward enough, an' you won't care
no more for the world then. His son, mind; who be you to take life, an'
break the buds of Clem's plantin'? Worse than to go in another's garden
an' tear down green fruit."

So she pleaded volubly, with an electric increase of vitality, and
continued to pour out a torrent of words, until Chris solemnly promised,
before God and the dead, that she would not take her life. Having done
so, some new design informed her.

"I must go," she said; "the moon has set and dawn is near. Dying be so
easy; living so hard. But live I will; I swear it, though theer's awnly
my poor mad brain to shaw how."

"Clem's son, mind. An' let me be the first to see it, for I feel't will
be the gude pleasure of God I should."

"An' you promise to say no word, whatever betides, an' whatever you
hear?"

"Dumb I'll be, as him theer--dumb, countin' the weeks an' months."

"Day's broke, an' I must go home-along," said Chris. She repeated the
words mechanically, then moved away without any formal farewell. At the
door she turned, hastened back, kissed the dead man's face again, and
then departed, while the other woman looked at her but spoke no more.

Alone, with the struggle over and her object won, the mother shrank and
dwindled again and grew older momentarily. Then she relapsed into the
same posture as before, and anon, tears bred of new thoughts began to
trickle painfully from their parched fountains. She did not move, but
let them roll unwiped away. Presently her head sank back, her cap fell
off and white hair dropped about her face.

Fingers of light seemed lifting the edges of the blind. They gained
strength as the candle waned, and presently at cock-crow, when
unnumbered clarions proclaimed morning, grey dawn with golden eyes
brightened upon a dead man and an ancient woman fast asleep beside him.



CHAPTER XVII

MISSING


John Grimbal, actuated by some whim, or else conscious that under the
circumstances decorum demanded his attendance, was present at the
funeral of Clement Hicks. Some cynic interest he derived from the
spectacle of young Blanchard among the bearers; and indeed, as may be
supposed, few had felt this tragic termination of his friend's life more
than Will. Very genuine remorse darkened his days, and he blamed himself
bitterly enough for all past differences with the dead. It was in a mood
at once contrite and sorrowful that he listened to the echo of falling
clod, and during that solemn sound mentally traversed the whole course
of his relations with his sister's lover. Of himself he thought not at
all, and no shadowy suspicion of relief crossed his mind upon the
reflection that the knowledge of those fateful weeks long past was now
unshared. In all his quarrels with Clement, no possibility of the man
breaking his oath once troubled Will's mind; and now profound sorrow at
his friend's death and deep sympathy with Chris were the emotions that
entirely filled the young farmer's heart.

Grimbal watched his enemy as the service beside the grave proceeded.
Once a malignant thought darkened his face, and he mused on what the
result might be if he hinted to Blanchard the nature of his frustrated
business with Hicks at Oke Tor. All Chagford had heard was that the
master of the Red House intended to accept Clement Hicks as tenant of
his home farm. The fact surprised many, but none looked behind it for
any mystery, and Will least of all. Grimbal's thoughts developed upon
his first idea; and he asked himself the consequence if, instead of
telling Blanchard that he had gone to learn his secret, he should
pretend that it was already in his possession. The notion shone for a
moment only, then went out. First it showed itself absolutely futile,
for he could do no more than threaten, and the other must speedily
discover that in reality he knew nothing; and secondly, some shadow of
feeling made Grimbal hesitate. His desire for revenge was now developing
on new lines, and while his purpose remained unshaken, his last defeat
had taught him patience. Partly from motives of policy, partly, strange
as it may seem, from his instincts as a sportsman, he determined to let
the matter of Hicks lie buried. For the dead man's good name he cared
nothing, however, and victory over Will was only the more desired for
this postponement. His black tenacity of purpose won strength from the
repulse, but the problem for the time being was removed from its former
sphere of active hatred towards his foe. How long this attitude would
last, and what idiosyncrasy of character led to it, matters little. The
fact remained that Grimbal's mental posture towards Blanchard now more
nearly resembled that which he wore to his other interests in life. The
circumstance still stood first, but partook of the nature of his
emotions towards matters of sport. When a heavy trout had beaten him
more than once, Grimbal would repair again and again to its particular
haunt and leave no legitimate plan for its destruction untried. But any
unsportsmanlike method of capturing or slaying bird, beast, or fish
enraged him. So he left the churchyard with a sullen determination to
pursue his sinister purpose straightforwardly.

All interested in Clement Hicks attended the funeral, including his
mother and Chris. The last had yielded to Mrs. Blanchard's desire and
promised to stop at home; but she changed her mind and conducted herself
at the ceremony with a stoic fortitude. This she achieved only by an
effort of will which separated her consciousness entirely from her
environment and alike blinded her eyes and deafened her ears to the
mournful sights and sounds around her. With her own future every fibre
of her mind was occupied; and as they lowered her lover's coffin into
the earth a line of action leapt into her brain.

Less than four-and-twenty hours later it seemed that the last act of the
tragedy had begun. Then, hoarse as the raven that croaked Duncan's
coming, Mr. Blee returned to Monks Barton from an early visit to the
village. Phoebe was staying with her father for a fortnight, and it was
she who met the old man as he paddled breathlessly home.

"More gert news!" he gasped; "if it ban't too much for wan in your way
o' health."

"Nothing wrong at Newtake?" cried Phoebe, turning pale.

"No, no; but family news for all that."

The girl raised her hand to her heart, and Miller Lyddon, attracted by
Billy's excited voice, hastened to his daughter and put his arm round
her.

"Out with it," he said. "I see news in 'e. What's the worst or best?"

"Bad, bad as heart can wish. A peck o' trouble, by the looks of it.
Chris Blanchard be gone--vanished like a dream! Mother Blanchard called
her this marnin', an' found her bed not so much as creased. She've
flown, an' there's a braave upstore 'bout it, for every Blanchard's
wrong in the head more or less, beggin' your pardon, missis, as be awnly
wan by marriage."

"But no sign? No word or anything left?"

"Nothing; an' theer's a purty strong faith she'm in the river, poor
lamb. Theer's draggin' gwaine to be done in the ugly bits. I heard tell
of it to the village, wheer I'd just stepped up to see auld Lezzard
moved to the work'ouse. A wonnerful coorious, rackety world, sure
'nough! Do make me giddy."

"Does Will know?" asked Mr. Lyddon.

"His mother's sent post-haste for un. I doubt he 'm to the cottage by
now. Such a gude, purty gal as she was, tu! An' so mute as a twoad at
the buryin', wi' never a tear to soften the graave dust. For why? She
knawed she'd be alongside her man again 'fore the moon waned. An' I hope
she may be. But 't was cross-roads an' a hawthorn stake in my young
days. Them barbarous ancient fashions be awver, thank God, though
whether us lives in more religious times is a question, when you see the
things what happens every hour on the twenty-four."

"I must go to them," cried Phoebe.

"I'll go; you stop at home quietly, and don't fret your mind," answered
her father.

"Us must all do what us can--every manjack. I be gwaine corpse-searchin'
down valley wi' Chapple, an' that 'mazin' water-dog of hisn; an' if 't
is my hand brings her out the Teign, 't will be done in a kind,
Christian manner, for she's in God's image yet, same as us; an' ugly
though a drownin' be, it won't turn me from my duty."



BOOK III

HIS GRANITE CROSS


CHAPTER I

BABY


Succeeding upon the tumultuous incidents of Clement's death and Chris
Blanchard's disappearance, there followed a period of calm in the lives
of those from whom this narrative is gleaned. Such transient peace
proved the greater in so far as Damaris and her son were concerned, by
reason of an incident which befell Will on the evening of his sister's
departure. Dead she certainly was not, nor did she mean to die; for,
upon returning to Newtake after hours of fruitless searching, Blanchard
found a communication awaiting him there, though no shadow of evidence
was forthcoming to show how it had reached the farm. Upon the ledge of
the window he discovered it when he returned, and read the message at a
glance:

"Don't you nor mother fear nothing for me, nor seek me out, for it would
be vain. I'm well, and I'm so happy as ever I shall be, and perhaps I'll
come home-along some day.--CHRIS."

On this challenge Will acted, ignored his sister's entreaty to attempt
no such thing, and set out upon a resolute search of nearly two months'
duration. He toiled amain into the late autumn, but no hint or shadow of
her rewarded the quest, and sustained failure in an enterprise where his
heart was set, for his mother's sake and his own, acted upon the man's
character, and indeed wrought marked changes in him. Despite the letter
of Chris, hope died in Will, and he openly held his sister dead; but
Mrs. Blanchard, while sufficiently distressed before her daughter's
flight, never feared for her life, and doubted not that she would return
in such time as it pleased her to do so.

"Her nature be same as yours an' your faither's afore you. When he'd got
the black monkey on his shoulder he'd oftentimes leave the vans for a
week and tramp the very heart o' the Moor alone. Fatigue of body often
salves a sore mind. He loved thunder o' dark nights--my husband did--and
was better for it seemin'ly. Chris be safe, I do think, though it's a
heart-deep stroke this for me, 'cause I judge she caan't 'zactly love me
as I thought, or else she'd never have left me. Still, the cold world,
what she knaws so little 'bout, will drive her back to them as love her,
come presently."

So, with greater philosophy than her son could muster, Damaris practised
patience; while Will, after a perambulation of the country from north to
south, from west to east, after weeks on the lonely heaths and
hiding-places of the ultimate Moor, after visits to remote hamlets and
inquiries at a hundred separate farmhouses, returned to Newtake, worn,
disappointed, and gloomy to a degree beyond the experience of those who
knew him. Neither did the cloud speedily evaporate, as was most usual
with his transient phases of depression. Circumstances combined to
deepen it, and as the winter crowded down more quickly than usual, its
leaden months of scanty daylight and cold rains left their mark on Will
as time had never done before.

During those few and sombre days which represented the epact of the
dying year, Martin Grimbal returned to Chagford. He had extended his
investigations beyond the time originally allotted to them, and now came
back to his home with plenty of fresh material, and even one or two new
theories for his book. He had received no communications during his
absence, and the news of the bee-keeper's death and his sweetheart's
disappearance, suddenly delivered by his housekeeper, went far to
overwhelm him. It danced joy up again through the grey granite. For a
brief hour splendid vistas of happiness reopened, and his laborious life
swept suddenly into a bright region that he had gazed into longingly
aforetime and lost for ever. He fought with himself to keep down this
rosy-fledged hope; but it leapt in him, a young giant born at a word.
The significance of the freedom of Chris staggered him. To find her was
the cry of his heart, and, as Will had done before him, he straightway
set out upon a systematic attempt to discover the missing girl. Of such
uncertain temper was Blanchard's mind at this season, however, that he
picked a quarrel out of Martin's design, and questioned the antiquary's
right to busy himself upon an undertaking which the brother of Chris had
already failed to accomplish.

"She belonged to me, not to you," he said, "an' I done all a man could
do to find her. See her again we sha'n't, that's my feelin', despite
what she wrote to me and left so mysterious on the window. Madness comed
awver her, I reckon, an' she've taken her life, an' theer ban't no call
for you or any other man to rip up the matter again. Let it bide as 't
is. Such black doin's be best set to rest."

But, while Martin did not seek or desire Will's advice in the matter, he
was surprised at the young farmer's attitude, and it extracted something
in the nature of a confession from him, for there was little, he told
himself, that need longer be hidden from the woman's brother.

"I can speak now, at least to you, Will," he said. "I can tell you, at
any rate. Chris was all the world to me--all the world, and accident
kept me from knowing she belonged to another man until too late. Now
that he has gone, poor fellow, she almost seems within reach again. You
know what it is to love. I can't and won't believe she has taken her
life. Something tells me she lives, and I am not going to take any man's
word about it. I must satisfy myself."

Thereupon Blanchard became more reasonable, withdrew his objections and
expressed a very heartfelt hope that Martin might succeed where he had
failed. The lover entered methodically upon his quest and conducted the
inquiry with a rigorous closeness and scrupulous patience quite beyond
Will's power despite his equally earnest intentions. For six months
Martin pursued his hope, and few saw or heard anything of him during
that period.

Once, during the early summer, Will chanced upon John Grimbal at the
first meeting of the otter hounds in Teign Vale; but though the younger
purposely edged near his enemy where he stood, and hoped that some word
might fall to indicate their ancient enmity dead, John said nothing, and
his blue eyes were hard and as devoid of all emotion as turquoise beads
when they met the farmer's face for one fraction of time.

Before this incident, however, there had arisen upon Will's life the
splendour of paternity. A time came when, through one endless night and
silver April morning, he had tramped his kitchen floor as a tiger its
cage, and left a scratched pathway on the stones. Then his mother hasted
from aloft and reported the arrival of a rare baby boy.

"Phoebe 's doin' braave, an' she prays of 'e to go downlong fust thing
an' tell Miller all 's well. Doctor Parsons hisself says 't is a 'mazing
fine cheel, so it ban't any mere word of mine as wouldn't weigh, me
bein' the gran'mother."

They talked a little while of the newcomer, then, thankful for an
opportunity to be active after his long suspense, the father hurried
away, mounted a horse, and soon rattled down the valleys into Chagford,
at a pace which found his beast dead lame on the following day. Mighty
was the exhilaration of that wild gallop as he sped past cot and farm
under morning sunshine with his great news. Labouring men and chance
wayfarers were overtaken from time to time. Some Will knew, some he had
never seen, but to the ear of each and all without discrimination he
shouted his intelligence. Not a few waved their hats and nodded and
remembered the great day in their own lives; one laughed and cried
"Bravo!" sundry, who knew him not, marvelled and took him for a lunatic.

Arrived at Chagford, familiar forms greeted Will in the market-place,
and again he bawled his information without dismounting.

"A son 'tis, Chapple--comed an hour ago--a brave li'l bwoy, so they
tell!"

"Gude luck to it, then! An' now you'm a parent, you must--"

But Will was out of earshot, and Mr. Chapple wasted no more breath.

Into Monks Barton the farmer presently clattered, threw himself off his
horse, tramped indoors, and shouted for his father-in-law in tones that
made the oak beams ring. Then the miller, with Mr. Blee behind him,
hastened to hear what Will had come to tell.

"All right, all right with Phoebe?" were Mr. Lyddon's first words, and
he was white and shaking as he put the question.

"Right as ninepence, faither--gran'faither, I should say. A butivul li'l
man she've got--out o' the common fine, Parsons says, as ought to
knaw--fat as a slug wi' 'mazin' dark curls on his wee head, though my
mother says 'tis awnly a sort o' catch-crop, an' not the lasting hair
as'll come arter."

"A bwoy! Glory be!" said Mr. Blee. "If theer's awnly a bit o' the
gracious gudeness of his gran'faither in un, 'twill prove a prosperous
infant."

"Thank God for a happy end to all my prayers," said Mr. Lyddon. "Billy,
get Will something to eat an' drink. I guess he's hungry an' starved."

"Caan't eat, Miller; but I'll have a drop of the best, if it's all the
same to you. Us must drink their healths, both of 'em. As for me 'tis a
gert thing to be the faither of a cheel as'll graw into a man some day,
an' may even be a historical character, awnly give un time."

"So 'tis a gert thing. Sit down; doan't tramp about. I lay you've been
on your feet enough these late hours."

Will obeyed, but proceeded with his theme, and though his feet were
still his hands were not.

"Us be faced wi' the upbringing an' edication of un. I mean him to be
brought up to a power o' knowledge, for theer's nothin' like it. Doan't
you think I be gwaine to shirk doin' the right thing by un', Miller,
'cause it aint so. If 'twas my last fi'-pun' note was called up for
larnin' him, he'd have it."

"Theer's no gert hurry yet," declared Billy. "Awnly you'm right to look
in the future and weigh the debt every man owes to the cheel he gets.
He'll never cost you less thought or halfpence than he do to-day, an',
wi'out croakin' at such a gay time, I will say he'll graw into a greater
care an' trouble, every breath he draws."

"Not him! Not the way I'm gwaine to bring un up. Stern an' strict an' no
nonsense, I promise 'e"

"That's right. Tame un from the breast. I'd like for my paart to think
as the very sapling be grawin' now as'll give his li'l behind its fust
lesson in the ways o' duty," declared Mr. Blee. "Theer 's certain things
you must be flint-hard about, an' fust comes lying. Doan't let un lie;
flog it out of un; an' mind, 'tis better for your arm to ache than for
his soul to burn."

"You leave me to do right by un. You caan't teach me, Billy, not bein' a
parent; though I allow what you say is true enough."

"An' set un to work early; get un into ways o' work so soon as he's able
to wear corduroys. An' doan't never let un be cruel to beastes; an'
doan't let un--"

"Theer, theer!" cried Mr. Lyddon. "Have done with 'e! You speak as fules
both, settin' out rules o' life for an hour-old babe. You talk to his
mother about taming of un an' grawing saplings for his better
bringing-up. She'll tell 'e a thing or two. Just mind the slowness o'
growth in the human young. 'T will be years before theer's enough of un
to beat."

"They do come very gradual to fulness o' body an' reason," admitted
Billy; "and 't is gude it should be so; 't is well all men an' women 's
got to be childer fust, for they brings brightness an' joy 'pon the
earth as babies, though 't is mostly changed when they 'm grawed up. If
us could awnly foretell the turnin' out o' childern, an' knaw which 't
was best to drown an' which to save in tender youth, what a differ'nt
world this would be!"

"They 'm poor li'l twoads at fust, no doubt," said Will to his
father-in-law.

"Ess, indeed they be. 'T is a coorious circumstance, but generally
allowed, that humans are the awnly creatures o' God wi' understandin',
an' yet they comes into the world more helpless an' brainless, an' bides
longer helpless an' brainless than any other beast knawn."

"Shouldn't call 'em 'beastes' 'zactly, seem' they've got the Holy Ghost
from the church font ever after," objected Billy. "'T is the differ'nce
between a babe an' a pup or a kitten. The wan gets God into un at
christenin', t' other wouldn't have no Holy Ghost in un if you baptised
un over a hunderd times. For why? They 'm not built in the Image."

"When all's said, you caan't look tu far ahead or be tu forehanded wi'
bwoys," resumed Will. "Gallopin' down-long I said to myself, 'Theer's
things he may do an' things he may not do. He shall choose his awn road
in reason, but he must be guided by me in the choice.' I won't let un go
for a sailor--never. I'll cut un off wi' a shillin' if he thinks of it."

"Time enough when he can walk an' talk, I reckon," said Billy, who,
seeing how his master viewed the matter, now caught Mr. Lyddon's manner.

"Ess, that's very well," continued Will, "but time flies that fast wi'
childer. Then I thought, 'He'll come to marry some day, sure's Fate.'
Myself, I believe in tolerable early marryin's."

"By God! I knaw it!" retorted Mr. Lyddon, with an expression wherein
appeared mingled feelings not a few; "Ess, fay! You'm right theer. I
should take Time by the forelock if I was you, an' see if you can find a
maiden as'll suit un while you go back-along through the village."

"Awnly, as 'tis better for the man to number more years than the
wummon," added Billy, "it might be wise to bide a week or two, so's he
shall have a bit start of his lady."

"Now, you'm fulin me! An' I caan't stay no more whether or no, 'cause I
was promised to see Phoebe an' my son in the arternoon. Us be gwaine to
call un Vincent William Blanchard, arter you an' me, Miller; an' if it
had been a gal, us meant to call un arter mother; an' I do thank God
'bout the wee bwoy in all solemn soberness, 'cause 'tis the fust real
gude thing as have falled to us since the gwaine of poor Chris. 'Twill
be a joy to my mother an' a gude gran'son to you, I hope."

"Go home, go home," said Mr. Lyddon. "Get along with 'e this minute, an'
tell your wife I'm greatly pleased, an' shall come to see her mighty
soon. Let us knaw every day how she fares--an'--an'--I'm glad as you
called the laddie arter me. 'Twas a seemly thought."

Will departed, and his mind roamed over various splendid futures for his
baby. Already he saw it a tall, straight, splendid man, not a hair
shorter than his own six feet two inches. He hoped that it would possess
his natural wisdom, augmented by Phoebe's marvellous management of
figures and accounts. He also desired for it a measure of his mother's
calm and stately self-possession before the problems of life, and he had
no objection that his son should reflect Miller Lyddon's many and
amiable virtues.

He returned home, and his mother presently bid him come to see Phoebe.
Then a sudden nervousness overtook Will, tough though he was. The door
shut, and husband and wife were alone together, for Damaris disappeared.
But where were all those great and splendid pictures of the future?
Vanished, vanished in a mist. Will's breast heaved; he saw Phoebe's
star-bright eyes peeping at him, and he touched the treasure beside
her--oh, so small it was!

He bent his head low over them, kissed his wife shyly, and peeped with
proper timidity under the flannel.

"Look, look, Will, dearie! Did 'e ever see aught like un? An' come
evenin', he 'm gwaine to have his fust li'l drink!"



CHAPTER II

THE KNIGHT OF FORLORN HOPES


The child brought all a child should bring to Newtake, though it could
not hide the fact that Will Blanchard drifted daily a little nearer to
the end of his resources. But occasional success still flattered his
ambition, and he worked hard and honestly. In this respect at least the
man proved various fears unfounded, yet the result of his work rarely
took shape of sovereigns. He marvelled at the extraordinary steadiness
with which ill-fortune clung to Newtake and cursed when, on two
quarter-days out of the annual four, another dip had to be made into the
dwindling residue of his uncle's bequest. Some three hundred pounds yet
remained when young Blanchard entered upon a further stage of his
career,--that most fitly recorded as happening within the shadow of a
granite cross.

After long months of absence from home, Martin Grimbal returned, silent,
unsuccessful, and sad. Upon the foundations of facts he had built many
tentative dwelling-places for hope; but all had crumbled, failure
crowned his labours, and as far from the reach of his discovery seemed
the secret of Chris as the secrets of the sacred circles, stone avenues,
and empty, hypaethral chambers of the Moor. Spiritless and bitterly
discouraged, he returned after such labours as Will had dreamed not of;
and his life, succeeding upon this deep disappointment, seemed far
advanced towards its end in Martin's eyes--a journey whose brightest
incidents, happiest places of rest, most precious companions were all
left behind. This second death of hope aged the man in truth and sowed
his hair with grey. Now only a melancholy memory of one very beautiful
and very sad remained to him. Chris indeed promised to return, but he
told himself that such a woman had never left an unhappy mother for such
period of time if power to come home still belonged to her. Then,
surveying the past, he taxed himself heavily with a deliberate and cruel
share in it. Why had he taken the advice of Blanchard and delayed his
offer of work to Hicks? He told himself that it was because he knew such
a step would definitely deprive him of Chris for ever; and therein he
charged himself with offences that his nature was above committing. Then
he burst into bitter blame of Will, and at a weak moment--for nothing is
weaker than the rare weakness of a strong man--he childishly upbraided
the farmer with that fateful advice concerning Clement, and called down
upon his head deep censure for the subsequent catastrophe. Will, as may
be imagined, proved not slow to resent such an attack with heart and
voice. A great heat of vain recrimination followed, and the men broke
into open strife.

Sick with himself at this pitiable lapse, shaken in his self-respect,
desolate, unsettled, and uncertain of the very foundations on which he
had hitherto planted his life, the elder man existed through a black
month, then braced himself again, looked out into the world, set his
dusty desk in order, and sought once more amidst the relics of the past
for comfort and consolation. He threw himself upon his book and told
himself that it must surely reward his pains; he toiled mightily at his
lonely task, and added a little to man's knowledge.

Once it happened that the Rev. Shorto-Champernowne met Martin. Riding
over the Moor after a visit to his clerical colleague of Gidleigh, the
clergyman trotted through Scorhill Circle, above northern Teign, and
seeing a well-known parishioner, drew up a while.

"How prosper your profound studies?" he inquired. "Do these evidences of
aboriginal races lead you to any conclusions of note? For my part, I am
not wholly devoid of suspicion that a man might better employ his time,
though I should not presume to make any such suggestion to you."

"You may be right; but one is generally unwise to stamp on his ruling
passion if it takes him along an intellectual road. These cryptic stones
are my life. I want to get the secret of them or find at least a little
of it. What are these lonely rings? Where are we standing now? In a
place of worship, where men prayed to the thunder and the sun and stars?
Or a council chamber? Or a court of justice, that has seen many a doom
pronounced, much red blood flow? Or is it a grave? 'T is the fashion to
reject the notion that they represent any religious purpose; yet I
cannot see any argument against the theory. I go on peeping and prying
after a spark of truth. I probe here, and in the fallen circle yonder
towards Cosdon; I follow the stone rows to Fernworthy; I trudge again
and again to the Grey Wethers--that shattered double ring on Sittaford
Tor. I eat them up with my eyes and repeople the heath with those who
raised them. Some clay a gleam of light may come. And if it does, it
will reach me through deep study on those stone men of old. It is along
the human side of my investigations I shall learn, if I learn anything
at all."

"I hope you may achieve your purpose, though the memoranda and data are
scanty. Your name is mentioned in the _Western Morning News_ as a
painstaking inquirer."

"Yet when theories demand proof--that's the rub!"

"Yes, indeed. You are a knight of forlorn hopes, Grimbal," answered the
Vicar, alluding to Martin's past search for Chris as much as to his
present archaeologic ambitions. Then he trotted on over the river, and
the pedestrian remained as before seated upon a recumbent stone in the
midst of the circle of Scorhill. Silent he sat and gazed into the
lichens of grey and gold that crowned each rude pillar of the lonely
ring. These, as it seemed, were the very eyes of the granite, but to
Martin they represented but the cloak of yesterday, beneath which
centuries of secrets were hidden. Only the stones and the eternal west
wind, that had seen them set up and still blew over them, could tell him
anything he sought to know.

"A Knight of Forlorn Hopes," mused the man. "So it is, so it is. The
grasshopper, rattling his little kettledrum there, knows nearly as much
of this hoary secret as I do; and the bird, that prunes his wing on the
porphyry, and is gone again. Not till some Damnonian spirit rises from
the barrow, not till some chieftain of these vanished hosts shall take
shape out of the mists and speak, may we glean a grain of this buried
knowledge. And who to-day would believe ten thousand Damnonian ghosts,
if they stirred here once again and thronged the Moor and the moss and
the ruined stone villages with their moonbeam shapes?

"Gone for ever; and she--my Chris--my dear--is she to dwell in the
darkness for all time, too? O God, I would rather hear one whisper of
her voice, feel one touch of her brown hand, than learn the primal truth
of every dumb stone wonder in the world!"



CHAPTER III

CONCERNING THE GATE-POST


So that good store of roots and hay continue for the cattle during those
months of early spring while yet the Moor is barren; so that the
potato-patch prospers and the oats ripen well; so that neither pony nor
bullock is lost in the shaking bogs, and late summer is dry enough to
allow of ample peat-storing--when all these conditions prevail, your
moorman counts his year a fat one. The upland farmers of Devon are in
great measure armed against the bolts of chance by the nature of their
lives, the grey character of even their most cheerful experiences and
the poverty of their highest ambitions. Their aspirations, becoming
speedily cowed by ill-requited toil and eternal hardship, quickly dwarf
and shrink, until even the most sanguine seldom extend hope much beyond
necessity.

Will grumbled, growled, and fought on, while Phoebe, who knew how nobly
the valleys repaid husbandry, mourned in secret that his energetic
labours here could but produce such meagre results. Very gradually their
environment stamped its frosty seal on man and woman; and by the time
that little Will was two years old his parents viewed life, its good and
its evil, much as other Moor folks contemplated it. Phoebe's heart was
still sweet enough, but she grew more selfish for herself and her own,
more self-centred in great Will and little Will. They filled her
existence to the gradual exclusion of wider sympathies. Miller Lyddon
had given his grandson a silver mug on the day he was baptised, though
since that time the old man held more aloof from the life of Newtake
than Phoebe understood. Sometimes she wondered that he had never offered
to assist her husband practically, but Will much resented the suggestion
when Phoebe submitted it to him. There was no need for any such thing,
he declared. As for him, transitory ambitions and hopes gleamed up in
his career as formerly, though less often. So man and wife found their
larger natures somewhat crushed by the various immediate problems that
each day brought along with it. Beyond the narrow horizon of their own
concerns they rarely looked, and Chagford people, noting the change,
declared that life at Newtake was tying their tongues and lining their
foreheads. Will certainly grew more taciturn, less free of advice,
perhaps less frank than formerly. A sort of strangeness shadowed him,
and only his mother or his son could dispel it. The latter soon learnt
to understand his father's many moods, and would laugh or cry, show joy
or fear, according to the tune of the man's voice.

There came an evening in mid-September when Will sat at the open hearth
and smoked, with his eyes fixed on a fire of scads.[13] He remained very
silent, and Phoebe, busy about a small coat of red cloth, to keep the
cold from her little son's bones during the coming winter, knew that it
was not one of her husband's happiest evenings. His eyes were looking
through the fire and the wall behind it, through the wastes and
wildernesses beyond, through the granite hills to the far-away edge of
the world, where Fate sat spinning the threads of the lives of his loved
ones. Threads they looked, in his gloomy survey of that night, much
deformed with knot and tangle, for the Spinner cared nothing at all
about them. She suffered each to wind heedlessly away; she minded not
that they were ugly; she spared no strand of gold or silver from her
skein of human happiness to brighten the grey fabric of them. So it
seemed to Will, and his temper chimed with the rough night. The wind
howled and growled down the chimney, uttered many a sudden yell and
ghostly moan, struck with claws invisible at the glowing heart of the
peat fire, and sent red sparks dancing from a corona of faint blue
flame.


[13] _Scad_ = the outer rind of the peat, with ling and grass
still adhering to it.


"Winter's comin' quick," said Phoebe, biting her thread.

"Ess, winter's allus comin' up here. The fight begins again so soon as
ever 't is awver--again and again and again, 'cordin' to the workin'
years of a man's life. Then he turns on his back for gude an' all, an'
takes his rest, wheer theer's no more seasons, nor frost, nor sunshine,
in the world under."

"You'm glumpy, dear heart. What's amiss? What's crossed 'e? Tell me, an'
I lay I'll find a word to smooth it away. Nothin' contrary happened to
market?"

"No, no--awnly my nature. When the wind's spelling winter in the
chimbley, an' the yether's dead again, 't is wisht lookin' forrard. The
airth 's allus dyin', an' the life of her be that short, an' grubbing of
bare food an' rent out of her is sour work after many years. Thank God
I'm a hopeful, far-seem' chap, an' sound as a bell; but I doan't make
money for all my sweat, that's the mystery."

"You will some day. Luck be gwaine to turn 'fore long, I hope. An' us
have got what's better 'n money, what caan't be bought."

"The li'l bwoy?"

"Aye; if us hadn't nothin' but him, theer's many would envy our lot."

"Childer's no such gert blessin', neither."

"Will! How can you say it?"

"I do say it. We 'm awnly used to keep up the breed, then thrawed o' wan
side. I'm sick o' men an' women folks. Theer's too many of 'em."

"But childer--our li'l Will. The moosic of un be sweeter than song o'
birds all times, an' you'd be fust to say so if you wasn't out of
yourself."

"He 'm a braave, small lad enough; but theer again! Why should he have
been pitched into this here home? He might have been put in a palace
just as easy, an' born of a royal queen mother, 'stead o' you; he might
have opened his eyes 'pon marble walls an' jewels an' precious stones,
'stead of whitewash an' a peat fire. Be that baaby gwaine to thank us
for bringing him in the world, come he graw up? Not him! Why should he?"

"But he will. We 'm his faither an' mother. Do 'e love your mother less
for bearin' you in a gypsy van? Li'l Will's to pay us noble for all our
toil some day, an' be a joy to our grey hairs an' a prop to our auld
age, please God."

"Ha, ha!--story-books! Gi' me a cup o' milk; then us'll go to bed."

She obeyed; he piled turf upon the hearth, to keep the fire alight until
morning, then took up the candle and followed Phoebe through another
chamber, half-scullery, half-storehouse, into which descended the
staircase from above. Here hung the pale carcase of a newly slain pig,
suspended by its hind legs from a loop in the ceiling; and Phoebe, many
of whose little delicacies of manner had vanished of late, patted the
carcase lovingly, like the good farmer's wife she was.

"Wish theer was more so big in the sties," she said.

Arrived at her bedside, the woman prayed before sinking to rest within
reach of her child's cot; while Will, troubling Heaven with no petition
or thanksgiving, was in bed five minutes sooner than his wife.

"Gude-night, lad," said Phoebe, as she put the candle out, but her
husband only returned an inarticulate grunt for answer, being already
within the portal of sleep.

A fair morning followed on the tempestuous night, and Winter, who had
surely whispered her coming under the darkness, vanished again at dawn.
The Moor still provided forage, but all light was gone out of the
heather, though the standing fern shone yellow under the sun, and the
recumbent bracken shed a rich russet in broad patches over the dewy
green where Will had chopped it down and left it to dry for winter
fodder. He was very late this year in stacking the fern, and designed
that labour for his morning's occupation.

Ted Chown chanced to be away for a week's holiday, so Will entered his
farmyard early. The variable weather of his mind rarely stood for long
at storm, but, unlike the morning, he had awakened in no happy mood.

A child's voice served for a time to smooth his brow, now clouded from
survey of a broken spring in his market-cart; then came the lesser Will
with a small china mug for his morning drink. Phoebe watched him
sturdily tramp across the yard, and the greater Will laughed to see his
son's alarm before the sudden stampede of a belated heifer, which now
hastened through the open gate to join its companions on the hillside.

"Cooshey, cooshey won't hurt 'e, my li'l bud!" cried Phoebe, as Ship
jumped and barked at the lumbering beast. Then the child doubled round a
dung-heap and fled to his father's arms. From the byre a cow with a full
udder softly lowed, and now small Will had a cup of warm milk; then,
with his red mouth like a rosebud in mist and his father's smile
magically and laughably reproduced upon his little face, he trotted back
to his mother.

A moment later Will, still milking, heard himself loudly called from the
gate. The voice he knew well enough, but it was pitched unusually high,
and denoted a condition of excitement and impatience very seldom to be
met with in its possessor. Martin Grimbal, for it was he, did not
observe Blanchard, as the farmer emerged from the byre. His eye was bent
in startled and critical scrutiny of a granite post, to which the front
gate of Newtake latched, and he continued shouting aloud until Will
stood beside him. Then he appeared on his hands and knees beside the
gate-post. He had flung down his stick and satchel; his mouth was
slightly open; his cap rested on the side of his head; his face seemed
transfigured before some overwhelming discovery.

Relations were still strained between these men; and Will did not forget
the fact, though it had evidently escaped Martin in his present
excitement.

"What the deuce be doin' now?" asked Blanchard abruptly.

"Man alive! A marvel! Look here--to think I have passed this stone a
hundred times and never noticed!"

He rose, brushed his muddy knees, still gazing at the gate-post, then
took a trowel from his bag and began to cut away the turf about the base
of it.

"Let that bide!" called out the master sharply. "What be 'bout, delving
theer?"

"I forgot you didn't know. I was coming to see you on my way to the
Moor. I wanted a drink and a handshake. We mustn't be enemies, and I'm
heartily sorry for what I said--heartily. But here's a fitting object to
build new friendship on. I just caught sight of the incisions through a
fortunate gleam of early morning light. Come this side and see for
yourself. To think you had what a moorman would reckon good fortune at
your gate and never guessed it!"

"Fortune at my gate? Wheer to? I aint heard nothin' of it."

"Here, man, here! D' you see this post?"

"Not bein' blind, I do."

"Yet you were blind, and so was I. There 's excuse for you--none for me.
It's a cross! Yes, a priceless old Christian cross, buried here head
downward by some profane soul in the distant past, who found it of size
and shape to make a gate-post. They are common enough in Cornwall, but
very rare in Devon. It's a great--a remarkable discovery in fact, and
I'm right glad I found it on your threshold; for we may be friends again
beside this symbol fittingly enough--eh, Will?"

"Bother your rot," answered the other coldly, and quite unimpassioned
before Martin's eloquence. "You doubted my judgment not long since and
said hard things and bad things; now I take leave to doubt yours. How do
'e knaw this here 's a cross any more than t' other post the gate hangs
on?"

Martin, recalled to reality and the presence of a man till then
unfriendly, blushed and shrank into himself a little. His voice showed
that he suffered pain.

"I read granite as you read sheep and soil and a crop ripening above
ground or below--it's my business," he explained, not without
constraint, while the enthusiasm died away out of his voice and the fire
from his face. "See now, Will, try and follow me. Note these very faint
lines, where the green moss takes the place of the lichen. These are
fretted grooves--you can trace them to the earth, and on a 'rubbing,' as
we call it, they would be plainer still. They indicate to me incisions
down the sides of a cross-shaft. They are all that many years of
weathering have left. Look at the shape too: the stone grows slightly
thinner every way towards the ground. What is hidden we can't say yet,
but I pray that the arms may be at least still indicated. You see it is
the base sticking into the air, and more's the pity, a part has gone,
for I can trace the incisions to the top. God knows the past history of
it, but--"

"Perhaps He do and perhaps He doan't," interrupted the farmer. "Perhaps
it weer a cross an' perhaps it weern't; anyway it's my gate-post now,
an' as to diggin' it up, you may be surprised to knaw it, Martin
Grimbal, but I'll see you damned fust! I'm weary of all this bunkum
'bout auld stones an' circles an' the rest; I'm sick an' tired o'
leavin' my work a hunderd times in summer months to shaw gaping fules
from Lunnon an' Lard knaws wheer, them roundy-poundies 'pon my land.
'Tis all rot, as every moorman knaws; yet you an' such as you screams if
us dares to put a finger to the stone nowadays. Ban't the granite ours
under Venwell? You knaw it is; an' because dead-an'-gone folk,
half-monkeys belike, fashioned their homes an' holes out of it, be that
any cause why it shouldn't be handled to-day? They've had their use of
it; now 'tis our turn; an 'tis awnly such as you be, as comes here in
shining summer, when the land puts on a lying faace, as though it didn't
knaw weather an' winter--'tis awnly such as you must cry out against us
of the soil if we dares to set wan stone 'pon another to make a wall or
to keep the blasted rabbits out the young wheat."

"Your attitude is one-sided, Will," said Martin Grimbal gently;
"besides, remember this is a cross. We're dealing with a relic of our
faith, take my word for it."

"Faith be damned! What's a cross to me? 'Tisdoin' more gude wheer't is
than ever it done afore, I'll swear."

"I hope you'll live to see you're wrong, Blanchard. I've met you in an
evil hour it seems. You're not yourself. Think about it. There's no
hurry. You pride yourself on your common sense as a rule. I'm sure it
will come to your rescue. Granted this discovery is nothing to you, yet
think what it means to me. If I'd found a diamond mine I couldn't be
better pleased--not half so pleased as now."

Will reflected a moment; but the other had not knowledge of character to
observe or realise that he was slowly becoming reasonable.

"So I do pride myself on my common sense, an' I've some right to. A
cross is a cross--I allow that--and whatever I may think, I ban't so
small-minded as to fall foul of them as think differ'nt. My awn mother
be a church-goer for that matter, an' you'll look far ways for her
equal. But of coourse I knaw what I knaw. Me an' Hicks talked out
matters of religion so dry as chaff."

"Yet a cross means much to many, and always will while the land
continues to call itself Christian."

"I knaw, I knaw. 'Twill call itself Christian long arter your time an'
mine; as to bein' Christian--that's another story. Clem Hicks lightened
such matters to me--fule though he was in the ordering of his awn life.
But s'pose you digs the post up, for argeyment's sake. What about me, as
have to go out 'pon the Moor an' blast another new wan out the virgin
granite wi' gunpowder? Do'e think I've nothin' better to do with my time
than that?"

Here, in his supreme anxiety and eagerness, forgetting the manner of man
he argued with, Martin made a fatal mistake.

"That's reasonable and business-like," he said. "I wouldn't have you
suffer for lost time, which is part of your living. I'll give you ten
pounds for the stone, Will, and that should more than pay for your time
and for the new post."

He glanced into the other's face and instantly saw his error. The
farmer's countenance clouded and his features darkened until he looked
like an angry Redskin. His eyes glinted steel-bright under a ferocious
frown; the squareness of his jaw became much marked.

"You dare to say that, do'e? An' me as good a man, an' better, than you
or your brother either! Money--you remind me I'm--Theer! You can go to
blue, blazin' hell for your granite crosses--that's wheer you can
go--you or any other poking, prying pelican! Offer money to me, would
'e? Who be you, or any other man, to offer me money for wasted time? As
if I was a road scavenger or another man's servant! God's truth! you
forget who you'm talkin' to!"

"This is to purposely misunderstand me, Blanchard. I never, never, meant
any such thing. Am I one to gratuitously insult or offend another?
Typical this! Your cursed temper it is that keeps you back in the world
and makes a failure of you," answered the student of stones, his own
temper nearly lost under exceptional provocation.

"Who says I be a failure?" roared Will in return. "What do you know, you
grey, dreamin' fule, as to whether I'm successful or not so? Get you
gone off my land or--"

"I'll go, and readily enough. I believe you're mad. That's the
conclusion I'm reluctantly driven to--mad. But don't for an instant
imagine your lunatic stupidity is going to stand between the world and
this discovery, because it isn't."

He strapped on his satchel, picked up his stick, put his hat on
straight, and prepared to depart, breathing hard.

"Go," snorted Will; "go to your auld stones--they 'm the awnly fit
comp'ny for 'e. Bruise your silly shins against 'em, an' ax 'em if a
moorman's in the right or wrong to paart wi' his gate-post to the fust
fule as wants it!"

Martin Grimbal strode off without replying, and Will, in a sort of grim
good-humour at this victory, returned to milking his cows. The
encounter, for some obscure reason, restored him to amiability. He
reviewed his own dismal part in it with considerable satisfaction, and,
after going indoors and eating a remarkably good breakfast, he lighted
his pipe and, in the most benignant of moods, went out with a horse and
cart to gather withered fern.



CHAPTER IV

MARTIN'S RAID


Mrs. Blanchard now dwelt alone, and all her remaining interests in life
were clustered about Will. She perceived that his enterprise by no means
promised to fulfil the hopes of those who loved him, and realised too
late that the qualities which enabled her father to wrest a living from
the moorland farm were lacking in her son. He, of course, explained it
otherwise, and pointed to the changes of the times and an universal fall
in the price of agricultural produce. His mother cast about in secret
how to help him, but no means appeared until, upon an evening some ten
days after Blanchard's quarrel with Grimbal over the gate-post, she
suddenly determined to visit Monks Barton and discuss the position with
Miller Lyddon.

"I want to have a bit of a tell with 'e," she said, "'pon a matter so
near to your heart as mine. Awnly you've got power an' I haven't."

"I knaw what you'm come about before you speak," answered the other."
Sit you down an' us'll have a gude airing of ideas. But I'm sorry we
won't get the value o' Billy Blee's thoughts 'pon the point, for he's
away to-night."

Damaris rather rejoiced than sorrowed in this circumstance, but she was
too wise to say so.

"A far-thinkin' man, no doubt," she admitted.

"He is; an' 't is straange your comin' just this night, for Blee's away
on a matter touching Will more or less, an' doan't reckon to be home
'fore light."

"What coorious-fashion job be that then?"

"Caan't tell 'e the facts. I'm under a promise not to open my mouth, but
theer's no gert harm. Martin Grimbal's foremost in the thing so you may
judge it ban't no wrong act, and he axed Billy to help him at my advice.
You see it's necessary to force your son's hand sometimes. He'm that
stubborn when his mind's fixed."

"A firm man, an' loves his mother out the common well. A gude son, a
gude husband, a gude faither, a hard worker. How many men's all that to
wance, Miller?"

"He is so--all--an' yet--the man have got his faults, speaking
generally."

"That's awnly to say he be a man; an' if you caan't find words for the
faults, 't is clear they ban't worth namin'."

"I can find words easy enough, I assure 'e; but a man's a fule to waste
breath criticising the ways of a son to his mother--if so be he's a gude
son."

"What fault theer is belongs to me. I was set on his gwaine to Newtake
as master, like his gran'faither afore him. I urged the step hot, and I
liked the thought of it."

"So did he--else he wouldn't have gone."

"You caan't say that. He might have done different but for love of me.
'T is I as have stood in his way in this thing."

"Doan't fret yourself with such a thought, Mrs. Blanchard; Will's the
sort as steers his awn ship. Theer's no blame 'pon you. An' for that
matter, if your faither saved gude money at Newtake, why caan't Will?"

"Times be changed. You've got to make two blades o' grass graw wheer wan
did use, if you wants to live nowadays."

"Hard work won't hurt him."

"But it will if he reckons't is all wasted work. What's more bitter than
toiling to no account, an' _knawin_ all the while you be?"

"Not all wasted work, surely?"

"They wouldn't allow it for the world. He's that gay afore me, an'
Phoebe keeps a stiff upper lip, tu; but I go up unexpected now an' again
an' pop in unawares an' sees the truth. You with your letter or message
aforehand, doan't find out nothing, an' won't."

"He'm out o' luck, I allow. What's the exact reason?"

"You'll find it in the Book, same as I done. I knaw you set gert store
'pon the Word. Well, then, 'them the Lard loveth He chasteneth.' That's
why Will's languishin' like. 'T won't last for ever."

"Ah! But theer's other texts to other purpose. Not that I want 'e to
dream my Phoebe's less to me than your son to you. I've got my eye on
'em, an' that's the truth; an' on my li'l grandson, tu."

"Theer's gert things buddin' in that bwoy."

"I hope so. I set much store on him. Doan't you worrit, mother, for the
party to Newtake be bound up very close wi' my happiness, an' if they
was wisht, ban't me as would long be merry. I be gwaine to give Master
Will rope enough to hang himself, having a grudge or two against him
yet; then, when the job's done, an' he's learnt the hard lesson to the
dregs, I'll cut un down in gude time an' preach a sarmon to him while
he's in a mood to larn wisdom. He's picking up plenty of information,
you be sure--things that will be useful bimebye: the value of money, the
shortness o' the distance it travels, the hardness o' Moor ground, an'
men's hearts, an' such-like branches of larning. Let him bide, an' trust
me."

The mother was rendered at once uneasy and elated by this speech. That,
if only for his wife and son's sake, Will would never be allowed to fail
entirely seemed good to know; but she feared, and, before the
patronising manner of the old man, felt alarm for the future. She well
knew how Will would receive any offer of assistance tendered in this
spirit.

"Like your gude self so to promise; but remember he 'm of a lofty mind
and fiery."

"Stiff-necked he be, for certain; but he may graw quiet 'fore you think
it. Nothing tames a man so quick as to see his woman and childer folk
hungry--eh? An' specially if 't is thanks to his awn mistakes."

Mrs. Blanchard flushed and felt a wave of anger surging through her
breast. But she choked it down.

"You 'm hard in the grain, Lyddon--so them often be who've lived over
long as widow men. Theer 's a power o' gude in my Will, an' your eyes
will be opened to see it some day. He 'm young an' hopeful by nature;
an' such as him, as allus looks up to gert things, feels a come down
worse than others who be content to crawl. He 'm changing, an' I knaw
it, an' I've shed more 'n wan tear awver it, bein' on the edge of age
myself now, an' not so strong-minded as I was 'fore Chris went. He 'm
changing, an' the gert Moor have made his blood beat slower, I reckon,
an' froze his young hope a bit."

"He 's grawiug aulder, that's all. 'T is right as he should chatter
less an' think more."

"I suppose so; yet a mother feels a cold cloud come awver her heart to
watch a cheel fighting the battle an' not winning it. Specially when she
can awnly look on an' do nothin'."

"Doan't you fear. You 'm low in spirit, else you'd never have spoke so
open; but I thank you for tellin' me that things be tighter to Newtake
than I guessed. You leave the rest to me. I knaw how far to let 'em go;
an' if we doan't agree 'pon that question, you must credit me with the
best judgment, an' not think no worse of me for helpin' in my awn way
an' awn time."

With which promise Mrs. Blanchard was contented. Surveying the position
in the solitude of her home, she felt there was much to be thankful for.
Yet she puzzled her heart and head to find schemes by which the miller's
charity might be escaped. She considered her own means, and pictured her
few possessions sold at auction; she had already offered to go and dwell
at Newtake and dispose of her cottage. But Will exploded so violently
when the suggestion reached his ears that she never repeated it.

While the widow thus bent her thoughts upon her son, and gradually sank
to sleep with the problems of the moment unsolved, a remarkable series
of incidents made the night strange at Newtake Farm.

Roused suddenly a little after twelve o'clock by an unusual sound,
Phoebe woke with a start and cried to her husband:

"Will--Will, do hark to Ship! He 'm barkin' that savage!"

Will turned and growled sleepily that it was nothing, but the bark
continued, so he left his bed and looked out of the window. A waning
moon had just thrust one glimmering point above the sombre flank of the
hill. It ascended as he watched, dispensed a sinister illumination, and
like some remote bale-fire hung above the bosom of the nocturnal Moor.
His dog still barked, and in the silence Will could hear a clink and
thud as it leapt to the limit of its chain. Then out of the night a
lantern danced at Newtake gate, and Blanchard, his eyes now trained to
the gloom, discovered several figures moving about it.

"Baggered if it bau't that damned Grimbal come arter my gate-post," he
gasped, launched instantly to high wakefulness by the suspicion. Then,
dragging on his trousers, and thrusting the tail of his nightshirt
inside them, he tumbled down-stairs, with passion truly formidable, and
hastened naked footed through the farmyard.

Four men blankly awaited him. Ignoring their leader--none other than
Martin himself--he turned upon Mr. Blee, who chanced to be nearest, and
struck from his hand a pick.

"What be these blasted hookem-snivey dealings, then?" Will thundered
out, "an' who be you, you auld twisted thorn, to come here stealin' my
stone in the dead o' night?"

Billy's little eyes danced in the lantern fire, and he answered hastily
before Martin had time to speak.

"Well, to be plain, the moon and the dog's played us false, an' you'd
best to knaw the truth fust as last. Mr. Grimbal's writ you two
straight, fair letters 'bout this job, so he've explained to me, an' you
never so much as answered neither; so, seem' this here's a right
Christian cross, ban't decent it should bide head down'ards for all
time. An' Mr. Grimbal have brought up a flam-new granite post, hasp an'
all complete--'t is in the cart theer--an' he called on me as a
discreet, aged man to help un, an' so I did; an' Peter Bassett an' Sam
Bonus here corned likewise, by my engagement, to do the heavy work an'
aid in a gude deed."

"Dig an inch, wan of 'e, and I'll shaw what's a gude deed! I doan't want
no talk with you or them hulking gert fules. 'T is you I'd ax, Martin
Grimbal, by what right you'm here."

"You wouldn't answer my letters, and I couldn't find it in my heart to
leave an important matter like this. I know I wasn't wise, but you don't
understand what a priceless thing this is. I thought you'd find the new
one in the morning and laugh at it. For God's sake be reasonable and
sensible, Blanchard, and let me take it away. There's a new post I'll
have set up. It's here waiting. I can't do more."

"But you'll do a darned sight less. Right's right, an' stealin's
stealin'. You wasn't wise, as you say--far from it. You'm in the wrong
now, an' you knaw it, whatever you was before. A nice bobbery! Why
doan't he take my plough or wan of the bullocks? Damned thieves, the lot
of'e!"

"Doan't cock your nose so high, Farmer," said Bonus, who had never
spoken to Will since he left Newtake; "'t is very onhandsome of 'e to be
tellin' like this to gentle-folks."

"Gentlefolks! Gentlefolks would ax your help, wouldn't they? You, as be
no better than a common poacher since I turned 'e off! You shut your
mouth and go home-long, an' mind your awn business, an' keep out o' the
game preserves. Law's law, as you'm like to find sooner'n most folks."

This pointed allusion to certain rumours concerning the labourer's
present way of life angered Bonus not a little, but it also silenced
him.

"Law's law, as you truly say, Will Blanchard," answered Mr. Blee, "an'
theer it do lie in a nutshell. A man's gate-post is his awn as a common,
natural gate-post; but bein' a sainted cross o' the Lard sticked in the
airth upsy-down by some ancient devilry, 't is no gate-post, nor yet
every-day moor-stone, but just the common property of all Christian
souls."

"You'm out o' bias to harden your heart, Mr. Blanchard, when this
gentleman sez 't is what 't is," ventured the man Peter Bassett, slowly.

"An' so you be, Blanchard, an' 't is a awful deed every ways, an' you'll
larn it some day. You did ought to be merry an' glad to hear such a
thing 's been found 'pon Newtake. Think o' the fortune a cross o' Christ
brings to 'e!"

"An' how much has it brought, you auld fule?"

"Gude or bad, you'll be a sight wuss off it you leave it wheer 't is,
now you knaw. Theer'll be hell to pay if it's let bide now, sure as eggs
is eggs an' winter, winter. You'll rue it; you'll gnash awver it; 't
will turn against 'e an' rot the root an' blight the ear an' starve the
things an' break your heart. Mark me, you'm doin' a cutthroat deed an'
killin' all your awn luck by leavin' it here an hour longer."

But Will showed no alarm at Mr. Blee's predictions.

"Be it as 't will, you doan't touch my stone--cross or no cross. Damn
the cross! An' you tu, every wan of 'e, dirty night birds!"

Then Martin, who had waited, half hoping that Billy's argument might
carry weight, spoke and ended the scene.

"We'll talk no more and we'll do no more," he said. "You're wrong in a
hundred ways to leave this precious stone to shut a gate and keep in
cows, Blanchard. But if you wouldn't heed my letters, I suppose you
won't heed my voice."

"Why the devil should I heed your letters? I told 'e wance for all,
didn't I? Be I a man as changes my mind like a cheel?"

"Crooked words won't help 'e, Farmer," said the stolid Bassett. "You 'm
wrong, an' you knaw right well you 'm wrong, an' theer'll come a day of
reckoning for 'e, sure 's we 'm in a Christian land."

"Let it come, an' leave me to meet it. An' now, clear out o' this, every
wan, or I'll loose the dog 'pon 'e!"

He turned hurriedly as he spoke and fetched the bobtailed sheep-dog on
its chain. This he fastened to the stone, then watched the defeated
raiders depart. Grimbal had already walked away alone, after directing
that a post which he had brought to supersede the cross, should be left
at the side of the road. Now, having obeyed his command, Mr. Blee,
Bonus, and Bassett climbed into the cart and slowly passed away
homewards. The moon had risen clear of earth and threw light sufficient
to show Bassett's white smock still gleaming through the night as Will
beheld his enemies depart.

Ten minutes later, while he washed his feet, the farmer told Phoebe of
the whole matter, including his earlier meeting with Martin, and the
antiquary's offer of money. Upon this subject his wife found herself in
complete disagreement with Blanchard, and did not hesitate to say so.

"Martin Grimbal 's so gude a friend as any man could have, an' you did
n't ought to have bullyragged him that way," she declared.

"You say that! Ban't a man to speak his mind to thieves an' robbers?"

"No such thing. 'T is a sacred stone an' not your property at all. To
refuse ten pound for it!"

"Hold your noise, then, an' let me mind my business my awn way," he
answered roughly, getting back to bed; but Phoebe was roused and had no
intention of speaking less than her mind.

"You 'm a knaw-nought gert fule," she said, "an' so full of silly pride
as a turkey-cock. What 's the stone to you if Grimbal wants it? An' him
taking such a mint of trouble to come by it. What right have you to
fling away ten pounds like that, an' what 's the harm to earn gude money
honest? Wonder you ban't shamed to sell anything. 'T is enough these
times for a body to say wan thing for you to say t'other."

This rebuke from a tongue that scarcely ever uttered a harsh word
startled Will not a little. He was silent for half a minute, then made
reply.

"You can speak like that--you, my awn wife--you, as ought to be heart
an' soul with me in everything I do? An' the husband I am to 'e. Then I
should reckon I be fairly alone in the world, an' no mistake--'cept for
mother."

Phoebe did not answer him. Her spark of anger was gone and she was
passing quickly from temper to tears.

"'T is queer to me how short of friends I 'pear to be gettin',"
confessed Will gloomily. "I must be differ'nt to what I fancied for I
allus felt I could do with a waggon-load of friends. Yet they 'm
droppin' off. Coourse I knaw why well enough, tu. They've had wind o'
tight times to Newtake, though how they should I caan't say, for the
farm 's got a prosperous look to my eye, an' them as drops in dinnertime
most often finds meat on the table. Straange a man what takes such level
views as me should fall out wi' his elders so much."

"'T is theer fault as often as yours; an' you've got me as well as your
mother, Will; an' you've got your son. Childern knaw the gude from the
bad, same as dogs, in a way hid from grawn folks. Look how the li'l
thing do run to 'e 'fore anybody in the world."

"So he do; an' if you 'm wise enough to see that, you ought to be wise
enough to see I'm right 'bout the gate-post. Who 's Martin Grimbal to
offer me money? A self-made man, same as me. Yet he might have had it,
an' welcome if he'd axed proper."

"Of course, if you put it so, Will."

"Theer 's no ways else to put it as I can see."

"But for your awn peace of mind it might be wisest to dig the cross up.
I listened by the window an' heard Billy Blee tellin' of awful cusses,
an' he 's wise wi'out knawin' it sometimes."

"That's all witchcraft an' stuff an' nonsense, an' you ought to knaw
better, Phoebe. 'T is as bad as setting store on the flight o' magpies,
or gettin' a dead tooth from the churchyard to cure toothache, an'
such-like folly."

"Ban't folly allus, Will; theer 's auld tried wisdom in some ancient
sayings."

"Well, you guide your road by my light if you want to be happy. 'T is
for you I uses all my thinking brain day an' night--for your gude an'
the li'l man's."

"I knaw--I knaw right well 't is so, dear Will, an' I'm sorry I spoke so
quick."

"I'll forgive 'e before you axes me, sweetheart. Awnly you must larn to
trust me, an' theer 's no call for you to fear. Us must speak out
sometimes, an' I did just now, an' 't is odds but some of them chaps,
Grimbal included, may have got a penn'orth o' wisdom from me."

"So 't is, then," she said, cuddling to him; "an' you'll do well to
sleep now; an'--an' never tell again, Will, you've got nobody but your
mother while I'm above ground, 'cause it's against justice an' truth an'
very terrible for me to hear."

"'T was a thoughtless speech," admitted Will, "an' I'm sorry I spake it.
'T was a hasty word an' not to be took serious."

They slept, while the moon wove wan harmonies of ebony and silver into
Newtake. A wind woke, proclaiming morning, as yet invisible; and when it
rustled dead leaves or turned a chimney-cowl, the dog at the gate
stirred and growled and grated his chain against the granite cross.



CHAPTER V

WINTER


As Christmas again approached, adverse conditions of weather brought
like anxieties to a hundred moormen besides Will Blanchard, but the
widespread nature of the trouble by no means diminished his individual
concern. A summer of unusual splendour had passed unblessed away, for
the sustained drought represented scanty hay and an aftermath of meagre
description. Cereals were poor, with very little straw, and the heavy
rains of November arrived too late to save acres of starved roots on
high grounds. Thus the year became responsible for one prosperous
product alone: rarely was it possible to dry so well those stores
gathered from the peat beds. Huge fires, indeed, glowed upon many a
hearth, but the glory of them served only to illumine anxious faces. A
hard winter was threatened, and the succeeding spring already appeared
as no vision to welcome, but a hungry spectre to dread.

Then, with the last week of the old year, winter swept westerly on
hyperborean winds, and when these were passed a tremendous frost won
upon the world. Day followed day of weak, clear sunshine and low
temperature. The sun, upon his shortest journeys, showed a fiery face as
he sulked along the stony ridges of the Moor, and gazed over the
ice-chained wilderness, the frozen waters, and the dark mosses that
never froze, but lowered black, like wounds on a white skin. Dartmoor
slept insensible under granite and ice; no sheep-bell made music; no
flocks wandered at will; only the wind moaned in the dead bells of the
heather; only the foxes slunk round cot and farm; only the shaggy ponies
stamped and snorted under the lee of the tors and thrust their smoking
muzzles into sheltered clefts and crannies for the withered green stuff
that kept life in them. Snow presently softened the outlines of the
hills, set silver caps on the granite, and brought the distant horizon
nearer to the eye under crystal-clear atmosphere. Many a wanderer, thus
deceived, plodded hopefully forward at sight of smoke above a roof-tree,
only to find his bourne, that seemed so near, still weary miles away.
The high Moors were a throne for death. Cold below freezing-point
endured throughout the hours of light and grew into a giant when the sun
and his winter glory had huddled below the hills.

Newtake squatted like a toad upon this weary waste. Its crofts were bare
and frozen two feet deep; its sycamores were naked save for snow in the
larger forks, and one shivering concourse of dead leaves, where a bough
had been broken untimely, and thus held the foliage. Suffering almost
animate peered from its leaded windows; the building scowled; cattle
lowed through the hours of day, and a steam arose from their red hides
as they crowded together for warmth. Often it gleamed mistily in the
light of Will's lantern when at the dead icy hour before dawn he went
out to his beasts. Then he would rub their noses, and speak to them
cheerfully, and note their congealed vapours where these had ascended
and frozen in shining spidery hands of ice upon the walls and rafters of
the byre. Fowls, silver-spangled and black, scratched at the earth from
habit, fought for the daily grain with a ferocity the summer never saw,
stalked spiritless in puffed plumage about the farmyard and collected
with subdued clucking upon their roosts in a barn above the farmyard
carts as soon as the sun had dipped behind the hills. Ducks complained
vocally, and as they slipped on the glassy pond they quacked out a
mournful protest against the times.

The snow which fell did not melt, but shone under the red sunshine,
powdered into dust beneath hoof and heel; every cart-rut was full of
thin white ice, like ground window-glass, that cracked drily and split
and tinkled to hobnails or iron-shod wheel. The snow from the house-top,
thawed by the warmth within, ran dribbling from the eaves and froze into
icicles as thick as a man's arm. These glittered almost to the ground
and refracted the sunshine in their prisms.

Warm-blooded life suffered for the most part silently, but the inanimate
fabric of the farm complained with many a creak and crack and groan in
the night watches, while Time's servant the frost gnawed busily at old
timbers and thrust steel fingers into brick and mortar. Only the
hut-circles, grey glimmering through the snow on Metherill, laughed at
those cruel nights, as the Neolithic men who built them may have laughed
at the desperate weather of their day; and the cross beside Blanchard's
gate, though an infant in age beside them, being fashioned of like
material, similarly endured. Of more lasting substance was this stone
than an iron tongue stuck into it to latch the gate, for the metal
fretted fast and shed rust in an orange streak upon the granite.

Where first this relic had risen, when yet its craftsman's work was
perfect and before the centuries had diminished its just proportions, no
living man might say. Martin Grimbal suspected that it had marked a
meeting-place, indicated some Cistercian way, commemorated a notable
deed, or served to direct the moorland pilgrim upon his road to that
trinity of great monasteries which flourished aforetime at Plympton, at
Tavistock, and at Buckland of the Monks; but between its first uprising
and its last, a duration of many years doubtless extended.

The antiquary's purpose had been to rescue the relic, judge, by close
study of the hidden part, to what date it might be assigned, then
investigate the history of Newtake Farm, and endeavour to trace the
cross if possible. After his second repulse, however, and following upon
a conversation with Phoebe, whom he met at Chagford, Martin permitted
the matter to remain in abeyance. Now he set about regaining Will's
friendship'in a gradual and natural manner. That done, he trusted to
disinter the coveted granite at some future date and set it up on
sanctified ground in Chagford churchyard, if the true nature of the
relic justified that course. For the present, however, he designed no
step, for his purpose was to visit the Channel Islands early in the new
year, that he might study their testimony to prehistoric times.

A winter, to cite whose parallel men looked back full twenty years,
still held the land, though February had nearly run. Blanchard daily
debated the utmost possibility of his resources with Phoebe, and fought
the inclement weather for his early lambs. Such light as came into life
at Newtake was furnished by little Will, who danced merrily through ice
and snow, like a scarlet flower in his brilliant coat. The cold pleased
him; he trod the slippery duck pond in triumph, his bread-and-milk never
failed. To Phoebe her maternal right in the infant seemed recompense
sufficient for all those tribulations existence just now brought with
it; from which conviction resulted her steady courage and cheerfulness.
Her husband's nebulous rationalism clouded Phoebe's religious views not
at all. She daily prayed to Christ for her child's welfare, and went to
church whenever she could, at the express command of her father. A flash
of folly from Will had combined with hard weather to keep the miller
from any visit to Newtake. Mr. Lyddon, on the beginning of the great
frost, had sent two pairs of thick blankets from the Monks Barton stores
to Phoebe, and Will, opening the parcel during his wife's absence,
resented the gift exceedingly, and returned it by the bearer with a curt
message of thanks and the information that he did not need them. Much
hurt, the donor turned his face from Newtake for six weeks after this
incident, and Phoebe, who knew nothing of the matter, marvelled at her
father's lengthy and unusual silence.

As for Will, during these black days, the steadfast good temper of his
wife almost irritated him; but he saw the prime source of her courage,
and himself loved their small son dearly. Once a stray journal fell into
his hands, and upon an article dealing with emigration he built secret
castles in the air, and grew more happy for the space of a week. His
mother ailed a little through the winter, and he often visited her. But
in her presence he resolutely put off gloom, spoke with sanguine tongue
of the prosperity he foresaw during the coming spring, and always
foretold the frost must break within four-and-twenty-hours. Damaris
Blanchard was therefore deceived in some measure, and when Will spent
five shillings upon a photograph of his son, she felt that the Newtake
prospects must at least be more favourable than she feared, and let the
circumstance of the picture be generally known.

Not until the middle of March came a thaw, and then unchained waters and
melted snows roared and tumbled from the hills through every coomb and
valley. Each gorge, each declivity contributed an unwonted torrent; the
quaking bogs shivered as though beneath them monsters turned in sleep or
writhed in agony; the hoarse cry of Teign betokened new tribulations to
the ears of those who understood; and over the Moor there rolled and
crowded down a sodden mantle of mist, within whose chilly heart every
elevation of note vanished for days together. Wrapped in impenetrable
folds were the high lands, and the gigantic vapour stretched a million
dripping tentacles over forests and wastes into the valleys beneath. Now
it crept even to the heart of the woods; now it stealthily dislimned in
lonely places; now it redoubled its density and dominated all things.
The soil steamed and exuded vapour as a soaked sponge, and upon its
surcharged surface splashes and streaks and sheets of water shone pallid
and ash-coloured, like blind eyes, under the eternal mists and rains.
These accumulations threw back the last glimmer of twilight and caught
the first grey signal of approaching dawn; while the land, contrariwise,
had welcomed night while yet wan sunsets struggled with the rain, and
continued to cherish darkness long after morning was in the sky. Every
rut and hollow, every scooped cup on the tors was brimming now; springs
unnumbered and unknown had burst their secret places; the water floods
tumbled and thundered until their rough laughter rang like a knell in
the ears of the husbandmen; and beneath crocketed pinnacles of half a
hundred church towers rose the mournful murmur of prayer for fair
weather.

There came an afternoon in late March when Mr. Blee returned to Monks
Barton from Chagford, stamped the mud off his boots and leggings, shook
his brown umbrella, and entered the kitchen to find his master reading
the Bible.

"'Tis all set down, Blee," exclaimed Mr. Lyddon with the triumphant
voice of a discoverer. "These latter rains be displayed in the Book,
according to my theory that everything 's theer!"

"Pity you didn't find 'em out afore they comed; then us might have
bought the tarpaulins cheap in autumn, 'stead of payin' through the nose
for 'em last month. Now 't is fancy figures for everything built to keep
out rain. Rabbit that umberella! It's springed a leak, an' the water's
got down my neck."

"Have some hot spirits, then, an' listen to this--all set out in Isaiah
forty-one--eighteen: 'I will open rivers in high places and fountains in
the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water and
the dry land springs of water.' Theer! If that ban't a picter of the
present plague o' rain, what should be?"

"So 't is; an' the fountains in the midst of the valleys be the
awfullest part. Burnish it all! The high land had the worst of the
winter, but we in the low coombs be gwaine to get the worst o' the
spring--safe as water allus runs down-long."

"'T will find its awn level, which the prophet knawed."

"I wish he knawed how soon."

"'T is in the Word, I'll wager. I may come upon it yet."

"The airth be damn near drowned, an' the air's thick like a washin'-day
everywheers, an' a terrible braave sight o' rain unshed in the elements
yet."

"'T will pass, sure as Noah seed a rainbow."

"Ess, 't will pass; but Monks Barton's like to be washed to Fingle
Bridge fust. Oceans o' work waitin', but what can us be at? Theer ban't
a bit o' land you couldn't most swim across."

"Widespread trouble, sure 'nough--all awver the South Hams, high an'
low."

"By the same token, I met Will Blanchard an hour agone. Gwaine in the
dispensary, he was. The li'l bwoy's queer--no gert ill, but a bit of a
tisseck on the lungs. He got playin' 'bout, busy as a rook, in the dirt,
and catched cold."

Miller Lyddon was much concerned at this bad news.

"Oh, my gude God!" he exclaimed, "that's worse hearin' than all or any
you could have fetched down. What do Doctor say?"

"Wasn't worth while to call un up, so Will thought. Ban't nothin' to
kill a beetle, or I lay the mother of un would have Doctor mighty soon.
Will reckoned to get un a dose of physic--an' a few sweeties. Nature's
all for the young buds. He won't come to no hurt."

"Fust thing morning send a lad riding to Newtake," ordered Mr. Lyddon.
"Theer's no sleep for me to-night, no, nor any more at all till I hear
tell the dear tibby-lamb's well again. 'Pon my soul, I wonder that
headstrong man doan't doctor the cheel hisself."

"Maybe he will. Ban't nothin 's beyond him."

"I'll go silly now. If awnly Mrs. Blanchard was up theer wi' Phoebe."

"Doan't you grizzle about it. The bwoy be gwaine to make auld bones
yet--hard as a nut he be. Give un years an' he'll help carry you to the
graave in the fulness of time, I promise 'e," said Billy, in his
comforting way.



CHAPTER VI

THE CROSS UPREARED

Mr. Blee had but reported Will correctly, and it was not until some
hours later that the child at Newtake caused his parents any alarm. Then
he awoke in evident suffering, and Will, at Phoebe's frantic entreaty,
arose and was soon galloping down through the night for Doctor Parsons.

His thundering knock fell upon the physician's door, and a moment later
a window above him was opened.

"Why can't you ring the bell instead of making that fiendish noise, and
waking the whole house? Who is it?"

"Blanchard, from Newtake."

"What's wrong?"

"'T is my bwoy. He've got something amiss with his breathing parts by
the looks of it."

"Ah."

"Doan't delay. Gert fear comed to his mother under the darkness, 'cause
he seemed nicely when he went to sleep, then woke up worse. So I felt us
had better not wait till morning."

"I'll be with you in five minutes."

Soon the Doctor appeared down a lane from the rear of the house. He was
leading his horse by the bridle.

"I'm better mounted than you," he said, "so I'll push forward. Every
minute saved is gained."

Will thanked him, and Doctor Parsons disappeared. When the father
reached home, it was to hear that his child was seriously ill, though
nothing of a final nature could be done to combat the sickness until it
assumed a more definite form.

"It's a grave case," said the physician, drearily in the dawn, as he
pulled on his gloves and discussed the matter with Will before
departing. "I'll be up again to-night. We mustn't overlook the
proverbial vitality of the young, but if you are wise you will school
your mind and your wife's to be resigned. You understand."

He stroked his peaked naval beard, shook his head, then mounted his
horse and was gone.

From that day forward life stood still at Newtake, in so far as it is
possible for life to do so, and a long-drawn weariness of many words
dragged dully of a hundred pages would be necessary to reflect that tale
of noctural terrors and daylight respites, of intermittent fears, of
nerve-shattering suspense, and of the ebb and flow of hope through a
fortnight of time. Overtaxed and overwrought, Phoebe ceased to be of
much service in the sick-room after a week without sleep; Will did all
that he could, which was little enough; but his mother took her place in
the house unquestioned at this juncture, and ruled under Doctor Parsons.
The struggle seemed to make her younger again, to rub off the
slow-gathering rust of age and charm up all her stores of sense and
energy.

So they battled for that young life. More than once a shriek from Phoebe
would echo to the farm that little Will was gone; and yet he lived; many
a time the child's father in his strength surveyed the perishing atom,
and prayed to take the burden, all too heavy for a baby's shoulders. In
one mood he supplicated, in another cursed Heaven for its cruelty.

There came a morning in early April when their physician, visiting
Newtake before noon, broke it to husband and wife that the child could
scarcely survive another day. He promised to return in the evening, and
left them to their despair. Mrs. Blanchard, however, refused to credit
this assurance, and cried to them to be hopeful still.

In the afternoon Mr. Blee rode up from Monks Barton. Daily a messenger
visited Newtake for Mr. Lyddon's satisfaction, but it was not often that
Billy came. Now he arrived, however, entered the kitchen, and set down a
basket laden with good things. The apartment lacked its old polish and
cleanliness. The whitewash was very dirty; the little eight-day clock on
the mantelpiece had run down; the begonias in pots on the window-ledge
were at death's door for water. Between two of them a lean cat stretched
in the sun and licked its paws; beside the fire lay Ship with his nose
on the ground; and Will sat close by, a fortnight's beard upon his chin.
He looked listlessly up as Mr. Blee entered and nodded but did not
speak.

"Well, what 's the best news? I've brought 'e fair-fashioned weather at
any rate. The air 's so soft as milk, even up here, an' you can see the
green things grawin' to make up for lost time. Sun was proper hot on my
face as I travelled along. How be the poor little lad?"

"Alive, that's all. Doctor's thrawed un awver now."

"Never! Yet I've knawed even Parsons to make mistakes. I've brought 'e a
braave bunch o' berries, got by the gracious gudeness of Miller from
Newton Abbot; also a jelly; also a bottle o' brandy--the auld stuff from
down cellar--I brushed the Dartmoor dew, as 't is called, off the bottle
myself; also a fowl for the missis."

"No call to have come. 'T is all awver bar the end."

"Never say it while the child's livin'! They 'm magical li'l twoads for
givin' a doctor the lie. You 'm wisht an' weary along o' night
watchings."

"Us must faace it. Ban't no oncommon thing. Hope's dead in me these many
days; an' dying now in Phoebe--dying cruel by inches. She caan't bring
herself to say 'gude-by' to the li'l darling bwoy."

"What mother could? What do Mrs. Blanchard the elder say?"

"She plucks up 'bout it. She 'm awver hopeful."

"Doan't say so! A very wise woman her."

Phoebe entered at this moment, and Mr. Blee turned from where he was
standing by his basket.

"I be cheerin' your gude man up," he said.

She sighed, and sat down wearily near Will.

"I've brought 'e a chick for your awn eatin' an'--"

Here a scuffle and snarling and spitting interrupted Billy. The hungry
cat, finding a fowl almost under its nose, had leapt to the ground with
it, and the dog observed the action. Might is right in hungry
communities; Ship asserted himself, and almost before the visitor
realised what had happened, poor Phoebe's chicken was gone.

"Out on the blamed thieves!" cried Billy, astounded at such manners. He
was going to strike the dog, but Will stopped him.

"Let un bide," he said. "He didn't take it, an' since it weern't for
Phoebe, better him had it than the cat. He works for his livin', she
doan't."

"Such gwaines-on 'mongst dumb beasts o' the field I never seen!"
protested Billy; "an' chickens worth what they be this spring!"

Presently conversation drifted into a channel that enabled the
desperate, powerless man to use his brains and employ his muscles; while
for the mother it furnished a fresh gleam of hope built upon faith.
Billy it was who brought about this consummation. Led by Phoebe he
ascended to the sick-room and bid Mrs. Blanchard "good-day." She sat
with the insensible child on her lap by the fire, where a long-spouted
kettle sent forth jets of steam.

"This here jelly what I've brought would put life in a corpse I do
b'lieve; an' them butivul grapes, tu,--they'll cool his fever to
rights, I should judge."

"He 'm past all that," said Phoebe.

"Never!" cried the other woman. "He'm a bit easier to my thinkin'."

"Let me take un then," said the mother. "You'm most blind for sleep."

"Not a bit of it. I'll have forty winks later, after Doctor's been
again."

Will here entered, sat down by his mother, and stroked the child's
little limp hand.

"He ban't fightin' so hard, by the looks of it," he said.

"No more he is. Come he sleep like this till dark, I lay he'll do
braave."

Nobody spoke for some minutes, then Billy, having pondered the point in
silence, suddenly relieved his mind and attacked Will, to the
astonishment of all present.

"'Tis a black thought for you to knaw this trouble's of your awn wicked
hatching, Farmer," he said abruptly; "though it ban't a very likely time
to say so, perhaps. Yet theer's life still, so I speak."

Will glared speechless; but Billy knew himself too puny and too
venerable to fear rough handling. He regarded the angry man before him
without fear, and explained his allusion.

"You may glaze 'pon me, an' stick your savage eyes out your head; but
that doan't alter truth. 'T 'as awnly a bit ago in the fall as I told un
what would awvertake un," he continued, turning to the women. "He left
the cross what Mr. Grimbal found upsy-down in the airth; he stood up
afore the company an' damned the glory of all Christian men. Ess fay, he
done that fearful thing, an' if 't weern't enough to turn the Lard's
hand from un, what was? Snug an' vitty he weer afore that, so far as
anybody knawed; an' since--why, troubles have tumbled 'pon each other's
tails like apple-dranes out of a nest."

The face of Phoebe was lighted with some eagerness, some deep anxiety,
and not a little passion as she listened to this harangue.

"You mean that gate-stone brought this upon us?" she asked.

"No, no, never," declared Damaris; "'t is contrary to all reason."

"'T is true, whether or no; an' any fule, let alone a man as knaws like
I do, would tell 'e the same. 'T is common sense if you axes me. Your
man was told 't was a blessed cross, an' he flouted the lot of us an'
left it wheer 't was. 'T is a challenge, if you come to think of it, a
scoffin' of the A'mighty to the very face of Un. I wouldn't stand it
myself if I was Him."

"Will, do 'e hear Mr. Blee?" asked Phoebe.

"I hear un. 'T is tu late now, even if what he said was true, which it
ban't."

"Never tu late to do a gude deed," declared Billy; "an' you'll have to
come to it, or you'll get the skin cussed off your back afore you 'm
done with. Gormed if ever I seed sich a man as you! Theer be some gude
points about 'e, as everything must have from God A'mighty's workshop,
down to poisonous varmints. But certain sure am I that you don't ought
to think twice 'pon this job."

"Do 'e mean it might even make the differ'nee between life an' death to
the bwoy?" asked Phoebe breathlessly.

"I do. Just all that."

"Will--for God's love, Will!"

"What do 'e say, mother?"

"It may be truth. Strange things fall out. Yet it never hurted my
parents in the past."

"For why?" asked Billy. "'Cause they didn't knaw 't was theer, so
allowance was made by the Watching Eye. Now 't is differ'nt, an' His
rage be waxing."

"Your blessed God 's got no common sense, then--an' that's all I've got
to say 'bout it. What would you have me do?"

Will put the question to Mr. Blee, but his wife it was who answered,
being now worked up to a pitch of frenzy at the delay.

"Go! Dig--dig as you never digged afore! Dig the holy stone out the
ground direckly minute! Now, now, Will, 'fore the life's out of his li'l
flutterin' body. Lay bare the cross, an' drag un out for God in heaven
to see! Doan't stand clackin' theer, when every moment's worth more'n
gawld."

"So like's not He'll forgive 'e if 'e do," argued Mr. Blee. "Allowed the
Lard o' Hosts graws a bit short in His temper now an' again, as with
them gormed Israelites, an' sich like, an' small blame to Him; but He's
all for mercy at heart, 'cordin' to the opinion of these times, so you'd
best to dig."

"Why doan't he strike me down if I've angered Him--not this innocent
cheel?"

"The sins of the fathers be visited--" began Mr. Blee glibly, when Mrs.
Blanchard interrupted.

"Ban't the time to argue, Will. Do it, an' do it sharp, if't will add
wan grain o' hope to the baaby's chance."

The younger woman's sufferings rose to a frantic half-hushed scream at
the protracted delay.

"O Christ, why for do 'e hold back? Ban't anything worth tryin' for your
awn son? I'd scratch the stone out wi' my raw, bleedin' finger-bones if
I was a man. Do 'e want to send me mad? Do 'e want to make me hate the
sight of 'e? Go--go for love of your mother, if not of me!"

"An' I'll help," said Billy, "an' that chap messin' about in the yard
can lend a hand likewise. I be a cracked vessel myself for strength, an'
past heavy work, but my best is yours to call 'pon in this pass."

Will turned and left the sick-room without more words, while Billy
followed him.

The farmer fetched two picks and a shovel, called Ted Chown and a minute
later had struck the first blow towards restoration of his granite
cross. All laboured with their utmost power, and Will, who had flung off
his coat and waistcoat, bared his arms, tightened his belt, and did the
work of two men. The manual labour sweetened his mind a little, and
scoured it of some bitterness. While Mr. Blee, with many a grunt and
groan, removed the soil as the others broke it away, Blanchard, during
these moments of enforced idleness, looked hungrily at the little window
of the upper chamber where all his hopes and interests were centred.
Then he swung his pick again.

Presently a ray of sunlight brightened Newtake, and contributed to
soothe the toiling father. He read promise into it, and when three feet
below the surface indications of cross-arms appeared upon the stone,
Will felt still more heartened. Grimbal's prediction was now verified;
and it remained only to prove Billy's prophecy also true. His tremendous
physical exertions, the bright setting sunshine, and the discovery of
the cross affected Will strangely. His mind swung round from frank
irreligion, to a sort of superstitious credulity, awestricken yet
joyful, that made him cling to the saving virtue of the stone. Because
Martin had been right in his assertion concerning the gate-post,
Blanchard felt a hazy conviction that Blee's estimate of the stone's
virtue must also prove correct. He saw his wife at the window, and waved
to her, and cried aloud that the cross was uncovered.

"A poor thing in holy relics, sure 'nough," said Billy, wiping his
forehead.

"But a cross--a clear cross? Keep workin', Chown, will 'e? You still
think 'twill serve, doan't 'e, Blee?"

"No room for doubt, though woful out o' repair," answered Billy,
occupied with the ancient monument. "Just the stumps o' the arms left,
but more'n enough to swear by."

All laboured on; then the stone suddenly subsided and fell in such a
manner that with some sloping of one side of the excavated pit they were
able to drag it out.

"Something's talking to me as us have done the wan thing needful,"
murmured Will, in a subdued voice, but with more light than the sunset
on his face. "Something's hurting me bad that I said what I said in the
chamber, an' thought what I thought. God's nigher than us might think,
minding what small creatures we be. I hope He'll forgive them words."

"He's a peacock for eyes, as be well knawn," declared Mr. Blee. "An'
He've got His various manners an' customs o' handlin' the human race.
Some He softens wi' gude things an' gude fortune till they be bound to
turn to Him for sheer shame; others He breaks 'pon the rocks of His
wrath till they falls on their knees an' squeals for forgiveness. I've
seed it both ways scores o' times; an' if your little lad 's spared to
'e, you'll be brought to the Lard by a easier way than you deserve,
Blanchard."

"I knaw, I knaw, Mr. Blee. He 'm surely gwaine to let us keep li'l
Willy, an' win us to heaven for all time."

The cross now lay at their feet, and Billy was about to return to the
house and see how matters prospered, when Will bade him stay a little
longer.

"Not yet," he said.

"What more's to do?"

"I feel a kind o' message like to set it plumb-true under the sky. Us
caan't lift it, but if I pull a plank or two out o' the pig's house an'
put a harrow chain round 'em, we could get the cross on an' let a horse
pull un up theer to the hill, and set un up. Then us would have done all
man can."

He pointed to the bosom of the adjacent hill, now glowing in great
sunset light.

"Starve me! but you 'm wise. Us'll set the thing up under the A'mighty's
eye. 'Twill serve--mark my words. 'Twill turn the purpose of the Lard o'
Hosts, or I'm no prophet."

"'Tis in my head you 'm right. I be lifted up in a way I never was."

"The Lard 's found 'e by the looks of it," said Billy critically,
"either that, or you 'm light-headed for want of sleep. But truly I
think He've called 'e. Now 't is for you to answer."

They cleaned the cross with a bucket or two of water, then dragged it
half-way up the hill, and, where a rabbit burrow lessened labour, raised
their venerable monument under the afterglow.

"It do look as if it had been part o' the view for all time," declared
Ted Chown, as the party retreated a few paces; and, indeed, the stone
rose harmoniously upon its new site, and might have stood an immemorial
feature of the scene.

Blanchard stayed not a moment when the work was done but strode to
Newtake like a jubilant giant, while Mr. Blee and Chown, with the horse,
tools, and rough sledge, followed more slowly.

The father proceeded homewards at tremendous speed; a glorious hope
filled his heart, sharing the same with sorrow and repentance. He
mumbled shamefaced prayers as he went, speaking half to himself, half to
Heaven. He rambled on from a petition for forgiveness into a broken
thanksgiving for the mercy he already regarded as granted. His labours,
the glamour of the present achievement, and the previous long strain
upon his mind and body, united to smother reason for one feverish hour.
Will walked blindly forward, now with his eyes upon the window under
Newtake's dark roof below him, now turning to catch sight of the grey
cross uplifted on the hill above. A great sweeping sea of change was
tumbling through his intellect, and old convictions with scraps of
assured wisdom suffered shipwreck in it. His mind was exalted before the
certainty of unutterable blessing; his soul clung to the splendid
assurance of a Personal God who had wrought actively upon his behalf,
and received his belated atonement.

Far behind, Mr. Blee was improving the occasion for benefit of young Ted
Chown.

"See how he do stride the hill wi' his head held high, same as Moses
when he went down-long from the Mount. Look at un an' do likewise,
Teddy; for theer goes a man as have grasped God! 'Tis a gert, gay day in
human life when it comes."

Will Blanchard hurried through the farm gate, where it swung idly with
its sacred support gone forever; then he drew a great breath and glanced
upwards before proceeding into the darkness of the unlighted house. As
he did so wheels grated at the entrance, and he knew that Doctor Parsons
must be just behind him. Above stairs the sick-room was still unlighted,
the long-necked kettle still puffed steam, but the fire had shrunk, and
Will's first word was a protest that it had been allowed to sink so low.
Then he looked round, and the rainbow in his heart faded and died.
Damaris sat like a stone woman by the window; Phoebe lay upon the bed
and hugged a little body in a blanket. Her hair had fallen down; out of
the great shadows he saw the white blur on her face, and heard her voice
sound strange as she cried monotonously, in a tone from which the first
passion had vanished through an hour of iteration.

"O God, give un back to me; O God, spare un; O kind God, give my li'l
bwoy back."



CHAPTER VII

GREY TWILIGHT


In the soft earth they laid him, "the little child whose heart had
fallen asleep," and from piling of a miniature mound, from a small brown
tumulus, now quite hid under primroses, violets, and the white anemones
of the woods, Will Blanchard and his mother slowly returned to Newtake.
He wore his black coat; she was also dressed in black; the solitary
mourning coach dragged slowly up the hill to the Moor, and elsewhere
another like it conveyed Mr. Lyddon homeward.

Neither mother nor son had any heart to speak. The man's soul was up in
arms; he had rebelled against his life, and since the death of his boy,
while Phoebe remained inert in her desolation and languished under a
mental and bodily paralysis wherein she had starved to death but for
those about her, he, on the contrary, found muscle and mind clamouring
for heroic movement. He was feverishly busy upon the farm, and ranged in
thought with a savage activity among the great concerns of men. His
ill-regulated mind, smarting under the blows of Chance, whirled from
that past transient wave of superstitious emotion into an opposite
extreme. Now he was ashamed of his weakness, and suffered convictions
proper to the narrowness of an immature intellect to overwhelm him. He
assured himself that his tribulations were not compatible with the
existence of a Supreme Being. Like poor humanity the wide world over,
his judgment became vitiated, his views distorted under the stroke of
personal sorrow, and, beneath the pressure of that gigantic egotism
which ever palsies the mind of man at sudden loss of what he holds
dearest upon earth, poor Blanchard cried in his heart there was no God.

Here we are faced with a curious parallel, offered within the limits of
this narrative. As the old labourer, Blee, had arrived at the same
conclusion, then modified it and returned to a creed in the light of
subsequent events, so now Will had found himself, on the evening of his
child's funeral, with fresh interests aroused and recent convictions
shaken. An incipient negation of Deity, built upon the trumpery basis of
his personal misfortunes, was almost shattered within the week that saw
its first existence. A mystery developed in his path, and startling
incidents awoke a new train of credulity akin to that already manifested
over the ancient cross. The man's uneven mind was tossed from one
extreme of opinion to the other, and that element of superstition, from
which no untutored intellect in the lap of Nature is free, now found
fresh food and put forth a strong root within him.

Returning home, Will approached Phoebe with a purpose to detail the sad,
short scene in Chagford churchyard, but his voice rendered her
hysterical, so he left her with his mother, put on his working clothes,
and wandered out into the farmyard. Presently he found himself idly
regarding a new gate-post: that which Martin Grimbal formerly brought
and left hard by the farm. Ted Chown had occupied himself in erecting it
during the morning.

The spectacle reminded Will of another, and he lifted his eyes to the
cross on the undulation spread before him. As he did so some object
appeared to flutter out of sight not far above it, among the rocks and
loose 'clatters' beneath the summit of the tor. This incident did not
hold Will's mind, but, prompted to motion, restless, and in the power of
dark thoughts, he wandered up the Moor, tramped through the heather, and
unwittingly passed within a yard of the monument he had raised upon the
hill. He stood a moment and looked at the cross, then cursed and spat
upon it. The action spoke definitely of a mental chaos unexampled in one
who, until that time, had never lacked abundant self-respect. His deed
done, it struck Will Blanchard like a blow; he marvelled bitterly at
himself, he knew such an act was pitiful, and remembered that the brain
responsible for it was his own. Then he clenched his hands and turned
away, and stood and stared out over the world.

A wild, south-west wind blew, and fitful rain-storms sped separately
across the waste. Over the horizon clouds massed darkly, and the
wildernesses spread beneath them were of an inflamed purple. The seat of
the sun was heavily obscured at this moment, and the highest
illumination cast from sky to earth broke from the north. The effect
thus imparted to the scene, though in reality no more than usual,
affected the mind as unnatural, and even sinister in its operation of
unwonted chiaro-oscuro. Presently the sullen clearness of the distance
was swept and softened by a storm. Another, falling some miles nearer,
became superimposed upon it. Immediately the darkness of the horizon
lifted and light generally increased, though every outline of the hills
themselves vanished under falling rain. The turmoil of the clouds
proceeded, and after another squall had passed there followed an aerial
battle amid towers and pinnacles and tottering precipices of sheer
gloom. The centre of illumination wheeled swiftly round to the sun as
the storm travelled north, then a few huge silver spokes of wan sunshine
turned irregularly upon the stone-strewn desert.

Will watched this elemental unrest, and it served to soothe that greater
storm of sorrows and self-condemnation then raging within him. His
nature found consolation here, the cool hand of the Mother touched his
forehead as she passed in her robe of rain, and for the first time since
childhood the man hid his face and wept.

Presently he moved forward again, walked to the valleys and wandered
towards southern Teign, unconsciously calmed by his own random movements
and the river's song. Anon, he entered the lands of Metherill, and soon
afterwards, without deliberate intention, moved through that Damnonian
village which lies there. A moment later and he stood in the hut-circle
where he himself had been born. Its double stone courses spread around
him, hiding the burrows of the rabbits; and sprung from between two
granite blocks, brave in spring verdure, with the rain twinkling in
little nests of flower buds as yet invisible, there rose a hawthorn.
Within the stones a ewe stood and suckled its young, but there was no
other sign of life. Then Blanchard, sitting here to rest and turning his
eyes whither he had come, again noticed some sudden movement, but,
looking intently at the spot, he saw nothing and returned to his own
thoughts. Sitting motionless Will retraced the brief course of his
career through long hours of thought; and though his spirit bubbled to
white heat more than once during the survey, yet subdued currents of
sense wound amid his later reflections. Crushed for a moment under the
heavy load of life and its lessons, he presented a picture familiar
enough, desirable enough, necessary enough to all humanity, yet pathetic
as exemplified in the young and unintelligent and hopeful. It was the
picture of the dawn of patience--a patience sprung from no religious
inspiration, but representing Will's tacit acknowledgment of defeat in
his earlier battles with the world. The emotion did not banish his
present rebellion against Fate and evil fortune undeserved; but it
caused him to look upon life from a man's standpoint rather than a
child's, and did him a priceless service by shaking to their foundations
his self-confidence and self-esteem. Selfish at least he was not from a
masculine standard, and now his thoughts returned to Phoebe in her
misery, and he rose and retraced his steps with a purpose to comfort her
if he could.

The day began to draw in. Unshed rains massed on the high tors, but
towards the west one great band of primrose sky rolled out above the
vanished sun and lighted a million little amber lamps in the hanging
crystals of the rain. They twinkled on thorns and briars, on the grass,
the silver crosiers of uncurling ferns, and all the rusty-red young
heather.

Then it was that rising from his meditations and turning homeward, the
man distinctly heard himself called from some distance. A voice repeated
his name twice--in clear tones that might have belonged to a boy or a
woman.

"Will! Will!"

Turning sharply upon a challenge thus ringing through absolute
loneliness and silence, Blanchard endeavoured, without success, to
ascertain from whence the summons came. He thought of his mother, then
of his wife, yet neither was visible, and nobody appeared. Only the old
time village spread about him with its hoary granite peering from under
caps of heather and furze, ivy and upspringing thorn. And each stock and
stone seemed listening with him for the repetition of a voice. The sheep
had moved elsewhere, and he stood companionless in that theatre of
vanished life. Trackways and circles wound grey around him, and the
spring vegetation above which they rose all swam into one dim shade, yet
moved with shadows under oncoming darkness. Attributing the voice to his
own unsettled spirit, Blanchard proceeded upon his road to where the
skeleton of a dead horse stared through the gloaming beside a quaking
bog. Its bones were scattered by ravens, and Will used the bleached
skull as a stepping stone. Presently he thought of the flame-tongues
that here were wont to dance through warm summer nights. This memory
recalled his own nickname in Chagford--"Jack-o'-Lantern"--and, for the
first time in his life, he began to appreciate its significance. Then,
being a hundred yards from his starting-place in the hut-circle, he
heard the hidden voice again. Clear and low, it stole over the
intervening wilderness, and between two utterances was an interval of
some seconds.

"Will! Will!"

For one instant the crepitation of fear passed over Blanchard's scalp
and skin. He made an involuntary stride away from the voice; then he
shook himself free of all alarm, and, not desirous to lose more
self-respect that day, turned resolutely and shouted back,--

"I hear 'e. What's the business? I be comin' to 'e if you'll bide wheer
you be."

That some eyes were watching him out of the gathering darkness he did
not doubt, and soon pushing back, he stood once more in the ruined
citadel of old stones, mounted one, steadied himself by a young ash that
rose beside it, and raised his voice again,--

"Now, then! I be here. What's to do? Who's callin' me?"

An answer came, but of a sort widely different from what he expected.
There arose, within twenty yards of him, a sound that might have been
the cry of a child or the scream of a trapped animal. Assuming it to be
the latter, Will again hesitated. Often enough he had laughed at the
folk-tales of witch hares as among the most fantastic fables of the old;
yet at this present moment mystic legends won point from the
circumstances in which he found himself. He hurried forward to the edge
of a circle from which the sound proceeded. Then, looking before him, he
started violently, sank to his knees behind a rock, and so remained,
glaring into the ring of stones.

       *       *       *       *       *

In less than half an hour Blanchard, with his coat wrapped round some
object that he carried, returned to Newtake and summoned assistance with
a loud voice.

Presently his wife and mother entered the kitchen, whereupon Will
discovered his burden and revealed a young child. Phoebe fainted dead
away at sight of it, and while her husband looked to her Mrs. Blanchard
tended the baby, which was hungry but by no means alarmed. As for Will,
his altered voice and most unusual excitement of manner indicated
something of the shock he had received. Having described the voice which
called him, he proceeded after this fashion to detail what followed:

"I looked in the very hut-circle I was born, an' I shivered all over,
for I thought 'twas the li'l ghost of our wee bwoy--by God, I did! It
sat theer all alone, an' I stared an' froze while I stared. Then it
hollered like a gude un, an' stretched out its arms, an' I seed 'twas
livin' an' never thought how it comed theer. He 'in somethin' smaller
than our purty darling, yet like him in a way, onless I'm forgetting."

"'Tis like," said Damaris, dandling the child and making it happy. "'Tis
a li'l bwoy, two year old or more, I should guess. It keeps crying 'Mam,
mam,' for its mother. God forgive the woman."

"A gypsy's baby, I reckon," said Phoebe languidly.

"I doan't think it," answered her husband; "I'm most feared to guess
what 'tis. Wan thing's sure; I was called loud an' clear or I'd never
have turned back; an' yet, second time I was called, my flesh crept."

"The little flannels an' frock be thick an' gude, but they doan't shaw
nought."

"The thing's most as easy to think a miracle as not. He looked up in my
eyes as I brought un away, an' after he'd got used to me he was quiet as
a mouse an' snuggled to me."

"They'd have said 'twas a fairy changeling in my young days," mused Mrs.
Blanchard, "but us knaws better now. 'Tis a li'l gypsy, I'll warn 'e,
an' some wicked mother's dropped un under your nose to ease her
conscience."

"What will you do? Take un to the poorhouse?" asked Phoebe.

"'Poorhouse'! Never! This be mine, tu. Mine! I was called to it, weern't
I? By a human voice or another, God knaws. Theer's more to this than us
can see."

His women regarded him with blank amazement, and he showed considerable
impatience tinder their eyes. It was clear he desired that they should
dwell on no purely materialistic or natural explanation of the incident.

"Baan't a gypsy baaby," he said; "'tis awnly the legs an' arms of un as
be brown. His body's as white as curds, an' his hair's no darker than
our awn Willy's was."

"If it ban't a gypsy's, whose be it?" said Phoebe, turning to the infant
for the first time.

"Mine now," answered Will stoutly. "'Twas sent an' give into my awn hand
by one what knawed who 'twas they called. My heart warmed to un as he
lay in my arms, an' he'm mine hencefarrard."

"What do 'e say, Phoebe?" asked Mrs. Blanchard, somewhat apprehensively.
She knew full well how any such project must have struck her if placed
in the bereaved mother's position. Phoebe, however, made no immediate
answer. Her sorrowful eyes were fixed on the child, now sitting happily
on the elder woman's lap.

"A nice li'l thing, wi' a wunnerful curly head--eh, Phoebe? Seems more
'n chance to me, comin' as it have on this night-black day. An' like our
li'l angel, tu, in a way?" asked Will.

"Like him--in a way, but more like you," she answered; "more like you
than your awn was--terrible straange that--the living daps o' Will!
Ban't it?"

Damaris regarded her son and then the child.

"He be like--very," she admitted. "I see him strong. An' to think he
found the bwoy 'pon that identical spot wheer he fust drawed breath
himself!"

"'Tis a thing of hidden meaning," declared Will. "An' he looked at me
kindly fust he seed me; 'twas awnly hunger made un shout--not no fear o'
me. My heart warmed to un as I told 'e. An' to come this day!"

Phoebe had taken the child, and was looking over its body in a
half-dazed fashion for the baby marks she knew. Silently she completed
the survey, but there was neither caress in her fingers nor softness in
her eyes. Presently she put the child back on Mrs. Blanchard's lap and
spoke, still regarding it with a sort of dull, almost vindictive
astonishment.

"Terrible coorious! Ban't no child as ever I seed or heard tell of; an'
nothin' of my dead lamb 'bout it, now I scans closer. But so like to
Will! God! I can see un lookin' out o' its baaby eyes!"



BOOK IV

HIS SECRET


CHAPTER I

A WANDERER RETURNS


Ripe hay swelled in many a silver-russet billow, all brightened by the
warm red of sorrel under sunshine. When the wind blew, ripples raced
over the bending grasses, and from their midst shone out mauve scabious
and flashed occasional poppies. The hot July air trembled agleam with
shining insects, and drowsily over the hayfield, punctuated by
stridulation of innumerable grasshoppers, there throbbed one sustained
murmur, like the remote and mellow music of wood and strings. A lark
still sang, and the swallows, whose full-fledged young thrust open beaks
from the nests under Newtake eaves, skimmed and twittered above the
grass lands, or sometimes dipped a purple wing in the still water where
the irises grew.

Blanchard and young Ted Chown had set about their annual labour of
saving the hay, and now a rhythmic breathing of two scythes and merry
clink of whetstones against steel sounded afar on the sleepy summer air.
The familiar music came to Phoebe's ear where she sat at an open kitchen
window of Newtake. Her custom was at times of hay harvest to assist in
the drying of the grass, and few women handled a fork better; but there
had recently reached the farm an infant girl, and the mother had plenty
to do without seeking beyond her cradle.

Phoebe made no demur about receiving Will's little foundling of the
hut-circle. His heart's desire was usually her amibition also, and
though Timothy, as the child had been called, could boast no mother's
love, yet Phoebe proved a kind nurse, and only abated her attention upon
the arrival of her own daughter. Then, as time softened the little mound
in Chagford churchyard with young green, so before another baby did the
mother's bereavement soften, sink deeper into memory, revive at longer
intervals to conjure tears. Her character, as has been indicated,
admitted of no supreme sustained sorrow. Suffer she did, and fiery was
her agony; but another child brought occupation and new love; while her
husband, after the first sentimental outburst of affection over the
infant he had found at Metherill, settled into an enduring regard for
him, associated him, by some mental process impossible of explanation,
with his own lost one, and took an interest, blended of many curious
emotions, in the child.

Drying hay soon filled the air with a pleasant savour, and stretched out
grey-green ribbons along the emerald of the shorn meadows. Chown
snuffled and sweated and sneezed, for the pollen always gave him hay
fever; his master daily worked like a giant from dawn till the
owl-light, drank gallons of cider, and performed wonders with the
scythe. A great hay crop gladdened the moormen, and Will, always
intoxicated by a little fair fortune, talked much of his husbandry,
already calculated the value of the aftermath, and reckoned what number
of beasts he might feed next winter.

"'Most looks as if I'd got a special gift wi' hay," he said to his
mother on one occasion. She had let her cottage to holiday folk, and was
spending a month on the Moor.

Mrs. Blanchard surveyed the scene from under her sunbonnet and nodded.

"Spare no trouble, no trouble, an' have it stacked come Saturday.
Theer'll be thunder an' gert rains after this heat. Be the rushes ready
for thatchin' of it?"

"Not yet; but that's not to say I've forgot."

"I'll cut some for 'e myself come the cool of the evenin'. An' you can
send Ted with the cart to gather 'em up."

"No, no, mother. I'll make time to-morrow."

"'Twill be gude to me, an' like auld days, when I was a li'l maid. You
sharp the sickle an' fetch the skeiner out, tu, for I was a quick hand
at bindin' ropes o' rushes, an' have made many a yard of 'em in my
time."

Then she withdrew from the tremendous sunshine, and Will, now handling a
rake, proceeded with his task.

Two days later a rick began to rise majestically at the corner of
Blanchard's largest field, while round about it was gathered the human
life of the farm. Phoebe, with her baby, sat on an old sheepskin rug in
the shadow of the growing pile; little Tim rollicked unheeded with Ship
in the sweet grass, and clamoured from time to time for milk from a
glass bottle; Will stood up aloft and received the hay from Chown's
fork, while Mrs. Blanchard, busy with the "skeiner" stuck into the side
of the rick, wound stout ropes of rushes for the thatching.

Then it was that Will, glancing out upon the Moor, observed a string of
gypsy folk making slow progress towards Chagford. Among the various
Romany cavalcades which thus passed Newtake in summer time this appeared
not the least strange. Two ordinary caravans headed the procession. A
man conducted each, a naked-footed child or two trotted beside them, and
an elder boy led along three goats. The travelling homes were encumbered
with osier-and cane-work, and following them came a little broken-down,
open vehicle. This was drawn by two donkeys, harnessed tandem-fashion,
and the chariot had been painted bright blue. A woman drove the concern,
and in it appeared a knife-grinding machine and a basket of cackling
poultry, while some tent-poles stuck out behind. Will laughed at this
spectacle, and called his wife's attention to it, whereon Phoebe and
Damaris went as far as the gate of the hayfield to win a nearer view.
The gypsies, however, had already passed, but Mrs. Blanchard found time
to observe the sky-blue carriage and shake her head at it.

"What gwaines-on! Theer's no master minds 'mongst them people nowadays,"
she said. "Your faither wouldn't have let his folk make a show of
themselves like that."

"They 'm mostly chicken stealers nowadays," declared Will; "an' so surly
as dogs if you tell 'em to go 'bout theer business."

"Not to none o' your name--never," declared his mother. "No gypsy's
gwaine to forget my husband in his son's time. Many gude qualities have
they got, chiefly along o' living so much in the awpen air."

"An' gude appetites for the same cause! Go after Tim, wan of 'e. He've
trotted down the road half a mile, an' be runnin' arter that blue
concern as if't was a circus. Theer! Blamed if that damned gal in the
thing ban't stoppin' to let un catch up! Now he'm feared, an' have
turned tail an' be coming back. 'Tis all right; Ship be wi' un."

Presently the greater of Will's two ricks approached completion, and all
the business of thatch and spar gads and rush ropes began. At his
mother's desire he wasted no time, and toiled on, long after his party
had returned to Newtake; but with the dusk he made an end for that day,
stood up, rested his back, and scanned the darkening scene before
descending.

At eveningtide there had spread over the jagged western outlines of the
Moor an orange-tawny sunset, whereon the solid masses of the hills burnt
into hazy gold, all fairy-bright, unreal, unsubstantial as a
cloud-island above them, whose solitary and striated shore shone purple
through molten fire.

Detail vanished from the Moor; dim and dimensionless it spread to the
transparent splendour of the horizon, and its eternal attributes of
great vastness, great loneliness, great silence reigned together
unfretted by particulars. Gathering gloom diminished the wide glory of
the sky, and slowly robbed the pageant of its colour. Then rose each
hill and undulation in a different shade of night, and every altitude
mingled into the outlines of its neighbour. Nocturnal mists, taking grey
substance against the darkness of the lower lands, wound along the
rivers, and defined the depths and ridges of the valleys. Moving waters,
laden with a last waning gleam, glided from beneath these vapoury
exhalations, and even trifling rivulets, now invisible save for chance
splashes of light, lacked not mystery as they moved from darkness into
darkness with a song. Stars twinkled above the dewy sleep of the earth,
and there brooded over all things a prodigious peace, broken only by
batrachian croakings from afar.

These phenomena Will Blanchard observed; then yellow candle fires
twinkled from the dark mass of the farmhouse, and he descended in
splendid weariness and strode to supper and to bed.

Yet not much sleep awaited the farmer, for soon after midnight a gentle
patter of small stones at his window awakened him. Leaping from his bed
and looking into the darkness he saw a vague figure that raised its hand
and beckoned without words. Fear for the hay was Will's first emotion,
but no indication of trouble appeared. Once he spoke, and as he did so
the figure beckoned again, then approached the door. Blanchard went down
to find a woman waiting for him, and her first whispered word made him
start violently and drop the candle and matches that he carried. His
ears were opened and he knew Chris without seeing her face.

"I be come back--back home-along, brother Will," she said, very quietly.
"I looked for mother to home, but found she weern't theer. An' I be
sorry to the heart for all the sorrow I've brought 'e both. But it had
to be. Strange thoughts an' voices was in me when Clem went, an' I had
to hide myself or drown myself--so I went."

"God's gudeness! Lucky I be made o' strong stuff, else I might have
thought 'e a ghost an' no less. Come in out the night, an' I'll light a
candle. But speak soft. Us must break this very gentle to mother."

"Say you'll forgive me, will 'e? Can 'e do it? If you knawed half you'd
say 'yes.' I'm grawed a auld, cold-hearted woman, wi' a grey hair here
an' theer a'ready."

"So've I got wan an' another, tu, along o' worse sorrow than yours.
Leastways as bad as yourn. Forgive 'e? A thousand times, an' thank
Heaven you'm livin'! Wheer ever have 'e bided? An' me an' Grimbal
searched the South Hams, an' North, tu, inside out for 'e, an' he put
notices in the papers--dozens of 'em."

"Along with the gypsy folk for more 'n three year now. 'Twas the movin'
an' rovin', and the opening my eyes on new things that saved me from
gwaine daft. Sometimes us coined through Chagford, an' then I'd shut my
eyes tight an' lie in the van, so's not to see the things his eyes had
seen--so's not to knaw when us passed the cottage he lived in. But now
I've got to feel I could come back again."

"You might have writ to say how you was faring."

"I didn't dare. You'd bin sure to find me, an' I didn't want 'e to then.
'Tis awver an' done, an' 'twas for the best."

"You'm a woman, an' can say them silly words, an' think 'em true in your
heart, I s'pose. 'For the best!' I caan't see much that happens for the
best under my eyes. Will 'e have bite or sup?"

"No, nothin'. You get back to your bed. Us'll talk in the marnin'. I'll
bide here. You an' Phoebe be well, an'--an' dear mother?"

"We'm well. You doan't ax me after the fust cheel Phoebe had."

"I knaw. I put some violets theer that very night. We were camped just
above Chagford, not far from here."

"Theer's a li'l gal now, an' a bwoy as I'll tell'e about bimebye. A
sheer miracle't was that falled out the identical day I buried my Willy.
No natural fashion of words can explain it. But that'll keep. Now let me
look at'e. Fuller in the body seemin'ly, an' gypsy-brown, by God! So
brown as me, every bit. Well, well, I caan't say nothin'. I'm carried
off my legs wi' wonder, an' joy, tu, for that matter. Next to Phoebe an'
mother I allus loved 'e best. Gimme a kiss. What a woman, to be sure!
Like a thief in the night you went; same way you've comed back. Why
couldn't 'e wait till marnin'?"

"The childer--they grawed to love me that dear--also the men an' women.
They've been gude to me beyond power o' words for faither's sake. They
knawed I was gwaine, an' I left 'em asleep. 'T was how they found me
when I runned away. I falled asleep from weariness on the Moor, an' they
woke me, an' I thrawed in my lot with them from the day I left that
pencil-written word for 'e on the window-ledge."

"Me bein' in the valley lookin' for your drowned body the while! Women
'mazes me more the wiser I graw. Come this way, to the linhay. There's a
sweet bed o' dry fern in the loft, and you must keep out o' sight till
mother's told cunning. I'll hit upon a way to break it to her so soon as
she's rose. An' if I caan't, Phoebe will. Come along quiet. An' I be
gwaine to lock 'e in, Chris, if't is all the same to you. For why?
Because you might fancy the van folks was callin' to 'e, an' grow hungry
for the rovin' life again."

She made no objection, and asked one more question as they went to the
building.

"How be Mrs. Hicks, my Clem's mother?"

"Alive; that's all. A poor auld bed-lier now; just fading away quiet.
But weak in the head as a baaby. Mother sees her now an' again. She
never talks of nothin' but snuff. 'T is the awnly brightness in her
life. She's forgot everythin' 'bout the past, an' if you went to see
her, she'd hold out her hand an' say, 'Got a little bit o' snuff for a
auld body, dearie? 'an' that's all."

They talked a little longer, while Will shook down a cool bed of dry
fern--not ill-suited to the sultry night; then Chris kissed him again,
and he locked her in and returned to Phoebe.

Though the wanderer presently slept peacefully enough, there was little
more repose that night for her brother or his wife. Phoebe herself
became much affected by the tremendous news. Then they talked into the
early dawn before any promising mode of presenting Chris to her mother
occurred to them. At breakfast Will followed a suggestion of Phoebe's,
and sensibly lessened the shock of his announcement.

"A 'mazin' wonnerful dream I had last night," he began abruptly. "I
thought I was roused long arter midnight by a gert knocking, an' I went
down house an' found a woman at the door. 'Who be you?' I sez. 'Why, I
be Chris, brother Will,' she speaks back, 'Chris, come home-along to
mother an' you.' Then I seed it was her sure enough, an' she telled me
all about herself, an' how she'd dwelt wi' gypsy people. Natural as life
it weer, I assure 'e."

This parable moved Mrs. Blanchard more strongly than Will expected. She
dropped her piece of bread and dripping, grew pale, and regarded her son
with frightened eyes. Then she spoke.

"Tell me true, Will; don't 'e play with a mother 'bout a life-an'-death
thing like her cheel. I heard voices in the night, an' thought 't was a
dream--but--oh, bwoy, not Chris, not our awn Chris!--'t would 'most kill
me for pure joy, I reckon."

"Listen to me, mother, an' eat your food. Us won't have no waste here,
as you knaw very well. I haven't tawld 'e the end of the story. Chris,
'pearin' to be back again, I thinks, 'this will give mother
palpitations, though 't is quite a usual thing for a darter to come back
to her mother,' so I takes her away to the linhay for the night an'
locks her in; an' if 't was true, she might be theer now, an' if it weer
n't--"

Damaris rose, and held the table as she did so, for her knees were weak
under her.

"I be strong--strong to meet my awn darter. Gimme the key, quick--the
key, Will--do 'e hear me, child?"

"I'll come along with 'e."

"No, I say. What! Ban't I a young woman still? 'T was awnly essterday
Chris corned in the world. You just bide with Phoebe, an' do what I tell
'e."

Will handed over the key at this order, and Mrs. Blanchard, grasping it
without a word, passed unsteadily across the farmyard. She fumbled at
the lock, and dropped the key once, but picked it up quickly before Will
could reach her, then she unfastened the door and entered.



CHAPTER II

HOPE RENEWED


Jon Grimbal's desires toward Blanchard lay dormant, and the usual
interests of life filled his mind. The attitude he now assumed was one
of sustained patience and observation; and it may best be described in
words of his own employment.

Visiting Drewsteignton, about a month after the return of Chris
Blanchard to her own, the man determined to extend his ride and return
by devious ways. He passed, therefore, where the unique Devonian
cromlech stands hard by Bradmere pool. A lane separates this granite
antiquity from the lake below, and as John Grimbal rode between them,
his head high enough to look over the hedge, he observed a ladder raised
against the Spinsters' Rock, as the cromlech is called, and a man with a
tape-measure sitting on the cover stone.

It was the industrious Martin, home once again. After his difference
with Blanchard, the antiquary left Devon for another tour in connection
with his work, and had devoted the past six months to study of
prehistoric remains in Guernsey, Herm, and other of the Channel Islands.

Before departing, he had finally regained his brother's friendship,
though the close fraternal amity of the past appeared unlikely to return
between them. Now John recognised Martin, and his first impulse produced
pleasure, while his second was one of irritation. He felt glad to see
his brother; he experienced annoyance that Martin should thus return to
Chagford and not call immediately at the Red House.

"Hullo! Home again! I suppose you forgot you had a brother?"

"John, by all that's surprising! Forget? Was it probable? Have I so many
flesh-and-blood friends to remember? I arrived yesterday and called on
you this morning, only to find you were at Drewsteignton; so I came to
verify some figures at the cromlech, hoping we might meet the sooner."

He was beside his brother by this time, and they shook hands over the
hedge.

"I'll leave the ladder and walk by you and have a chat."

"It's too hot to ride at a walk. Come you here to Bradmere Pool. We can
lie down in the shade by the water, and I'll tether my horse for half an
hour."

Five minutes later the brothers sat under the shadow of oaks and beeches
at the edge of a little tarn set in fine foliage.

"Pleasant to see you," said Martin. "And looking younger I do think.
It's the open air. I'll wager you don't get slimmer in the waist-belt
though."

"Yes, I'm all right."

"What's the main interest of life for you now?"

John reflected before answering.

"Not quite sure. Depends on my mood. Just been buying a greyhound bitch
at Drewsteignton. I'm going coursing presently. A kennel will amuse me.
I spend most of my time with dogs. They never change. I turn to them
naturally. But they overrate humanity."

"Our interests are so different. Yet both belong to the fresh air and
the wild places remote from towns. My book is nearly finished. I shall
publish it in a year's time, or even less."

"Have you come back to stop?"

"Yes, for good and all now."

"You have found no wife in your wanderings?"

"No, John. I shall never marry. That was a dark spot in my life, as it
was in yours. We both broke our shins over that."

"I broke nothing--but another man's bones."

He was silent for a moment, then proceeded abruptly on this theme.

"The old feeling is pretty well dead though. I look on and watch the man
ruining himself; I see his wife getting hard-faced and thin, and I
wonder what magic was in her, and am quite content. I wouldn't kick him
a yard quicker to the devil if I could. I watch him drift there."

"Don't talk like that, dear old chap. You're not the man you pretend to
be, and pretend to think yourself. Don't sour your nature so. Let the
past lie and go into the world and end this lonely existence."

"Why don't you?"

"The circumstances are different. I am not a man for a wife. You are, if
ever there was one."

"I had him within a hair's-breadth once," resumed the other
inconsequently. "Blanchard, I mean. There 's a secret against him. You
didn't know that, but there is. Some black devilry for all I can tell.
But I missed it. Perhaps if I knew it would quicken up my spirit and
remind me of all the brute made me endure."

"Yet you say the old feeling is dead!"

"So it is--starved. Hicks knew. He broke his neck an hour too soon. It
was like a dream of a magnificent banquet I had some time ago. I woke
with my mouth watering, just as the food was uncovered, and I felt so
damned savage at being done out of the grub that I got up and went
down-stairs and had half a pint of champagne and half a cold roast
partridge! I watch Blanchard go down the hill--that's all. If this
knowledge had come to me when I was boiling, I should have used it to
his utmost harm, of course. Now I sometimes doubt, even if I could hang
the man, whether I should take the trouble to do it."

"Get away from him and all thought of him."

"I do. He never crosses my mind unless he crosses my eyes. I ride past
Newtake occasionally, and see him sweating and slaving and fighting the
Moor. Then I laugh, as you laugh at a child building sand castles
against an oncoming tide. Poor fool!"

"If you pity, you might find it in your heart to forgive."

"My attitude is assured. We will call it one of mere indifference. You
made up that row over the gate-post when his first child died, didn't
you?"

"Yes, yes. We shall be friendly--we must be, if only for the sake of the
memory of Chris. You and I are frank to-day. But you saw long ago what I
tried to hide, so it is no news to you. You will understand. When Hicks
died I thought perhaps after years--but that's over now. She 's gone."

"Didn't you know? She 's back again."

"Back! Good God!"

John laughed at his brother's profound agitation.

"Like as not you'd see her if you went over Rushford Bridge. She 's back
with her mother. Queer devils, all of them; but I suppose you can have
her for the asking now if you couldn't before. Damnably like her
brother she is. She passed me two days ago, and looked at me as if I was
transparent, or a mere shadow hiding something else."

A rush of feeling overwhelmed Martin before this tremendous news. He
could not trust himself to speak. Then a great hope wrestled with him
and conquered. In his own exaltation he desired to see all whom he loved
equally lifted up towards happiness.

"I wish to Heaven you would open your eyes and raise them from your dogs
and find a wife, John."

"Ah! We all want the world to be a pretty fairy tale for our friends.
You scent your own luck ahead, and wish me to be lucky too. I ought to
thank you for that; but, instead, I'll give you some advice. Don't
bother yourself with the welfare of others; to do that is to ruin your
own peace of mind and court more trouble than your share. Every
big-hearted man is infernally miserable--he can't help it. The only
philosopher's stone is a stone heart; that is what the world 's taught
me."

"Never! You're echoing somebody else, not yourself, I'll swear. I know
you better. We must see much of each other in the future. I shall buy a
little trap that I may drive often to the Red House. And I should like
to dedicate my book to you, if you would take it as a compliment."

"No, no; give it to somebody who may be able to serve you. I'm a fool in
such things and know no more about the old stones than the foxes and
rabbits that burrow among them. Come, I must get home. I'm glad you have
returned, though I hated you when you supported them against me; but
then love of family 's a mere ghost against love of women. Besides, how
seldom it is that a man's best friend is one of his own blood."

They rose and departed. John trotted away through Sandypark, having
first made Martin promise to sup with him that night, and the pedestrian
proceeded by the nearest road to Rushford Bridge.

Chris he did not see, but it happened that Mr. Lyddon met him just
outside Monks Barton, and though Martin desired no such thing at the
time, nothing would please the miller but that his friend should return
to the farm for some conversation.

"Home again, an' come to glasses, tu! Well, they clear the sight, an' we
must all wear 'em sooner or late. 'T is a longful time since I seed 'e,
to be sure."

"All well, I hope?"

"Nothing to grumble at. Billy an' me go down the hill as gradual an'
easy as any man 's a right to expect. But he's gettin' so bald as a
coot; an' now the shape of his head comes to be knawed, theer 's
wonnerful bumps 'pon it. Then your brother's all for sport an' war. A
Justice of the Peace they've made un, tu. He's got his volunteer chaps
to a smart pitch, theer's no gainsaying. A gert man for wild diversions
he is. Gwaine coursin' wi' long-dogs come winter, they tell me."

"And how are Phoebe and her husband?"

"A little under the weather just now; but I'm watchin' 'em unbeknawnst.
Theer's a glimmer of hope in the dark if you'll believe it, for Will
ackshally comed to me esster-night to ax my advice--_my_ advice--on a
matter of stock! What do 'e think of that?"

"He was fighting a losing battle in a manly sort of way it seemed to me
when last I saw him."

"So he was, and is. I give him eighteen month or thereabout--then'll
come the end of it."

"The 'end'! What end? You won't let them starve? Your daughter and the
little children?"

"You mind your awn business, Martin," said Mr. Lyddon, with nods and
winks. "No, they ban't gwaine to starve, but my readin' of Will's
carater has got to be worked out. Tribulation's what he needs to sweeten
him, same as winter sweetens sloes; an' 't is tribulation I mean him to
have. If Phoebe's self caan't change me or hurry me 't is odds you
won't. Theer's a darter for 'e! My Phoebe. She'll often put in a whole
week along o' me still. You mind this: if it's grawn true an' thrawn
true from the plantin', a darter's love for a faither lasts longer 'n
any mortal love at all as I can hear tell of. It don't wear out wi'
marriage, neither, as I've found, thank God. Phoebe rises above auld age
and the ugliness an' weakness an' bad temper of auld age. Even a poor,
doddering ancient such as I shall be in a few years won't weary her;
she'll look back'ards with butivul clear eyes, an' won't forget. She'll
see--not awnly a cracked, shrivelled auld man grizzling an' grumbling in
the chimbley corner, but what the man was wance--a faither, strong an'
lusty, as dandled her, an' worked for, an' loved her with all his heart
in the days of his bygone manhood. Ess, my Phoebe's all that; an' she
comes here wi' the child; an' it pleases me, for rightly onderstood,
childern be a gert keeper-off of age."

"I'm sure she's a good daughter to you, Miller. And Will?"

"Doan't you fret. We've worked it out in our minds--me an' Billy; an' if
two auld blids like us can't hatch a bit o' wisdom, what brains is worth
anything? We'm gwaine to purify the awdacious young chap 'so as by
fire,' in holy phrase."

"You're dealing with a curious temperament."

"I'm dealing with a damned fule," said Mr. Lyddon frankly; "but theer's
fules an' fules, an' this partickler wan's grawed dear to me in some
ways despite myself. 'T is Phoebe's done it at bottom I s'pose. The
man's so full o' life an' hope. Enough energy in un for ten men; an'
enough folly for twenty. Yet he've a gude heart an' never lied in's life
to my knawledge."

"That's to give him praise, and high praise. How's his sister? I hear
she's returned after all."

"Ess--naughty twoad of a gal--runned arter the gypsies! But she'm
sobered now. Funny to think her mother, as seemed like a woman robbed of
her right hand when Chris went, an' beginned to graw into the sere
onusual quick for a widow, took new life as soon as her gal comed back.
Just shaws what strength lies in a darter, as I tell 'e."

The old man's garrulity gained upon him, and though Martin much desired
to be gone, he had not the heart to hasten.

"A darter's the thing an'--but't is a secret yet--awnly you'll see what
you'll see. Coourse Billy's very well for gathered wisdom and high
conversation 'bout the world to come; but he ban't like a woman round
the house, an' for all his ripe larnin' he'll strike fire
sometimes--mostly when I gives him a bad beating at 'Oaks' of a evenin'.
Then he'm so acid as auld rhubarb, an' dots off to his bed wi'out a
'gude-night.'"

For another ten minutes Mr. Lyddon chattered, but at the end of that
time Martin escaped and proceeded homewards. His head throbbed and his
mind was much excited by the intelligence of the day. The yellow
stubbles, the green meadows, the ploughed lands similarly spun before
him and whirled up to meet the sky. As he re-entered the village a
butcher's cart nearly knocked him down. Hope rose in a glorious new
sunrise--the hope that he had believed was set for ever. Then, passing
that former home of Clement Hicks and his mother, did Grimbal feel great
fear and misgiving. The recollection of Chris and her love for the dead
man chilled him. He remembered his own love for Chris when he thought
she must be dead. He told himself that he must hope nothing; he repeated
to himself how fulfilment of his desire, now revived after long sleep,
might still be as remote as when Chris Blanchard said him nay in the
spring wastes under Newtake five years and more ago. His head dinned
this upon his heart; but his heart would not believe and responded with
a sanguine song of great promise.



CHAPTER III

ANSWERED


At a spot in the woods some distance below Newtake, Martin Grimbal sat
and waited, knowing she whom he sought must pass that way. He had called
at the farm and been welcomed by Phoebe. Will was on the peat beds, and,
asking after Chris, he learnt that she had gone into the valley to pick
blackberries and dewberries, where they already began to ripen in the
coombs.

Under aisles of woodland shadows he sat, where the river murmured down
mossy stairs of granite in a deep dingle. Above him, the varying foliage
of oak and ash and silver birch was already touched with autumn, and
trembled into golden points where bosses of pristine granite, crowned
with the rowan's scarlet harvest, arose above their luxuriance. The
mellow splendour of these forests extended to the river's brink, along
which towered noble masses of giant osmunda, capped by seed spears of
tawny red. Here and there gilded lances splashed into the stream or
dotted its still pools with scattered sequins of sunshine, where light
winnowed through the dome of the leaves; and at one spot, on a wrinkled
root that wound crookedly from the alder into the river, there glimmered
a halcyon, like an opal on a miser's bony finger. From above the
tree-tops there sounded cynic bird-laughter, and gazing upwards Martin
saw a magpie flaunt his black and white plumage across the valley; while
at hand the more musical merriment of a woodpecker answered him.

Then a little child's laugh came to his ear, rippling along with the
note of the babbling water, and one moment later a small, sturdy boy
appeared. A woman accompanied him. She had slipped a foot into the
river, and thus awakened the amusement of her companion.

Chris steadied herself after the mishap, balanced her basket more
carefully, then stooped down to pick some of the berries that had
scattered from it on the bank. When she rose a man with a brown face and
soft grey eyes gleaming through gold-rimmed spectacles appeared
immediately before.

"Thank God I see you alive again. Thank God!" he said with intense
feeling, as he took her hand and shook it warmly. "The best news that
ever made my heart glad, Chris."

She welcomed him, and he, looking into her eyes, saw new knowledge
there, a shadow of sobriety, less of the old dance and sparkle. But he
remembered the little tremulous updrawing of her lip when a smile was
born, and her voice rang fuller and sweeter than any music he had ever
heard since last she spoke to him. A smile of welcome she gave him,
indeed, and a pressure of his hand that sent magic messages with it to
the very core of him. He felt his blood leap and over his glasses came a
dimness.

"I was gwaine to write first moment I heard 'e was home. An' I wish I
had, for I caan't tell 'e what I feel. To think of 'e searchin' the wide
world for such a good-for-nought! I thank you for your generous
gudeness, Martin. I'll never forget it--never. But I wasn't worth no
such care."

"Not worth it! It proved the greatest, bitterest grief of all my
life--but one--that I couldn't find you. We grew by cruel stages to
think--to think you were dead. The agony of that for us! But, thank God,
it was not so. All at least is well with you now?"

"All ban't never well with men an' women. But I'm more fortunate than I
deserve to be, and can make myself of use. I've lived a score of years
since we met. An I've comed back to find't is a difficult world for
those I love best, unfortunately."

Thus, in somewhat disjointed fashion, Chris made answer.

"Sit a while and speak to me," replied Martin. "The laddie can play
about. Look at him marching along with that great branch of king fern
over his shoulder!"

"'T is an elfin cheel some ways. Wonnerful eyes he've got. They burn me
if I look at'em close," said Chris. She regarded Timothy without
sentiment and her eyes were bright and hard.

"I hope he will turn out well. Will spoke of him the other day. He is
very fond of the child. It is singularly like him, too--a sort of little
pocket edition of him."

"So I've heard others say. Caan't see it at all myself. Look at the eyes
of un."

"Will believes the boy has got very unusual intelligence and may go
far."

"May go so far as the workhouse," she answered, with a laugh. Then,
observing that her reply pained Martin, Chris snatched up small Tim as
he passed by and pressed him to her breast and kissed him.

"You like him better than you think, Chris--poor little motherless
thing."

"Perhaps I do. I wonder if his mother ever looks hungry towards Newtake
when she passes by?"

"Perhaps others took him and told the mother that he was dead."

"She's dead herself more like. Else the thing wouldn't have falled out."

There was a pause, then Martin talked of various matters. But he could
not fight for long against the desire of his heart and presently
plunged, as he had done five years before, into a proposal.

"He being gone--poor Clem--do you think--? Have you thought, I mean? Has
it made a difference, Chris? 'T is so hard to put it into words without
sounding brutal and callous. Only men are selfish when they love."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

A sudden inspiration prompted his reply. He said nothing for a moment,
but with a hand that shook somewhat, drew forth his pocketbook, opened
it, fumbled within, and then handed over to Chris the brown ruins of
flowers long dead.

"You picked them," he said slowly; "you picked them long ago and flung
them away from you when you said 'No' to me--said it so kindly in the
past. Take them in your hand again."

"Dead bluebells," she answered. "Ess, I can call home the time. To think
you gathered them up!" She looked at him with something not unlike love
in her eyes and fingered the flowers gently. "You'm a gude man, Martin
--the husband for a gude lass. Best to find one if you can. Wish I could
help'e."

"Oh, Chris, there's only one woman in the world for me. Could you--even
now? Could you let me stand between you and the world? Could you, Chris?
If you only knew what I cannot put into words. I'd try so hard to make
you happy."

"I knaw, I knaw. But theer's no human life so long as the road to
happiness, Martin. And yet--"

He took her hand and for a moment she did not resist him. Then little
Tim's voice chimed out merrily at the stream margin, and the music had
instant effect upon Chris Blanchard.

She drew her hand from Martin and the next moment he saw his dead
bluebells hurrying away and parting company for ever on the dancing
water. Chris watched them until they vanished; then she turned and
looked at him, to find that he grew very pale and agitated. Even his
humility had hardly foreseen this decisive answer after the yielding
attitude Chris first assumed when she suffered him to hold her hand. He
looked into her face inquiring and frightened. The silence that followed
was broken by continued laughter and shouting from Timothy. Then Martin
tried to connect the child's first merriment with the simultaneous
change in the mood of the woman he worshipped, but failed to do so.

At that moment Chris spoke. She made utterance under the weight of great
emotion and with evident desire to escape the necessity of a direct
negative, while yet leaving her refusal of Martin's offer implicit and
distinct.

"I mind when a scatter of paper twinkled down this river just like them
dead blossoms. Clem thrawed them, an' they floated away to the sea, past
daffadowndillies an' budding lady-ferns an' such-like. 'T was a li'l bit
of poetry he'd made up to please me--and I, fule as I was, didn't say
the right thing when he axed me what I thought; so Clem tore the rhymes
in pieces an' sent them away. He said the river would onderstand. An'
the river onderstands why I dropped them dead blossoms in, tu. A wise,
ancient stream, I doubt. An' you 'm wise, tu; an' can take my answer
wi'out any more words, as will awnly make both our hearts ache."

"Not even if I wait patiently? You couldn't marry me, dear Chris? You
couldn't get to love me?"

"I couldn't marry you. I'm a widow in heart for all time. But I thank
God for the gude-will of such a man as you. I cherish it and 't will be
dear to me all my life. But I caan't come to 'e, so doan't ax it."

"Yet you're young to live for a memory, Chris."

"Better 'n nothing. And listen; I'll tell you this, if 't will make my
'No' sound less hard to your ear. I loves you--I loves you better 'n any
living man 'cept Will, an' not less than I love even him. I wish I could
bring 'e a spark of joy by marryin' you, for you was allus very gude,
an' thought kindly of Clem when but few did. I'd marry you if 't was
awnly for that; yet it caan't never be, along o' many reasons. You must
take that cold comfort, Martin."

He sighed, then spoke.

"So be it, dear one. I shall never ask again. God knows what holds you
back if you can even love me a little."

"Ess, God knaws--everything."

"I must not cry out against that. Yet it makes it all the harder. To
think that you will dedicate all your beautiful life to a memory! it
only makes my loss the greater, and shows the depths of you to me."

She uttered a little scream and her cheek paled, and she put up her
hands with the palms outward as though warding away his words.

"Doan't 'e say things like that or give me any praise, for God's sake. I
caan't bear it. I be weak, weak flesh an' blood, weaker 'n water. If you
could only see down in my heart, you'd be cured of your silly love for
all time."

He did not answer, but picked up her basket and proceeded with her out
of the valley. Chris gave a hand to the child, and save for Tim's
prattle there was no speaking.

At length they reached Newtake, when Martin yielded up the basket and
bade Chris "good-night." He had already turned, when she called him back
in a strange voice.

"Kiss the li'l bwoy, will 'e? I want 'e to. I'm that fond of un. An' he
'peared to take to 'e; an' he said 'By-by' twice to 'e, but you didn't
hear un."

Then the man kissed Tim on a small, purple-stained mouth, and saw his
eyes very lustrous with sleep, for the day was done.

Woman and child disappeared; the sacking nailed along the bottom of
Newtake Gate to keep the young chicks in the farmyard rustled over the
ground, and Martin, turning his face away, moved homewards.

But the veil was not lifted for him; he did not understand. A secret,
transparent enough to any who regarded Chris Blanchard and her
circumstances from a point without the theatre of action, still remained
concealed from all who loved her.



CHAPTER IV

THE END OF THE FIGHT


Will Blanchard was of the sort who fight a losing battle,

  "Still puffing in the dark at one poor coal,
   Held on by hope till the last spark is out."

But the extinction of his ambitions, the final failure of his enterprise
happened somewhat sooner than Miller Lyddon had predicted. There dawned
a year when, just as the worst of the winter was past and hope began to
revive for another season, a crushing catastrophe terminated the
struggle.

Mr. Blee it was who brought the ill news to Monks Barton, having first
dropped it at Mrs. Blanchard's cottage and announced it promiscuously
about the village. Like a dog with a bone he licked the intelligence
over and, by his delay in imparting the same, reduced his master to a
very fever of irritation.

"Such a gashly thing! Of all fules! The last straw I do think. He's got
something to grumble at now, poor twoad. Your son-in-law; but
now--theer--gormed if I knaw how to tell 'e!"

Alarmed at this prelude, with its dark hints of unutterable woe, Mr.
Lyddon took off his spectacles in some agitation, and prayed to know the
worst without any long-drawn introduction.

"I'll come to it fast enough, I warn 'e. To think after years an' years
he didn't knaw the duffer'nce 'twixt a bullock an' a sheep! Well--well!
Of coourse us knawed times was tight, but Jack-o'-Lantern be to the end
of his dance now. 'T is all awver."

"What's the matter? Come to it, caan't 'e?"

"No ill of the body--not to him or the fam'ly. An' you must let me tell
it out my awn way. Well, things bein' same as they are, the bwoy caan't
hide it. Dammy! Theer's patches in the coat of un now--neat sewed, I'll
grant 'e, but a patch is a patch; an' when half a horse's harness is
odds an' ends o' rope, then you knaw wi'out tellin' wheer a man be
driving to. 'T is 'cordin' to the poetry!--

  "'Out to elbows,
     Out to toes,
    Out o' money,
     Out o' clothes.'

But--"

"Caan't 'e say what's happened, you chitterin' auld magpie? I'll go up
village for the news in a minute. I lay 'tis knawn theer."

"Ban't I tellin' of 'e? 'Tis like this. Will Blanchard's been mixin' a
bit of chopped fuzz with the sheep's meal these hard times, like his
betters. But now I've seed hisself today, lookin' so auld as Cosdon
'bout it. He was gwaine to the horse doctor to Moreton. An' he tawld me
to keep my mouth shut, which I've done for the most paart."

"A little fuzz chopped fine doan't hurt sheep."

"Just so. 'Cause why? They aint got no 'bibles' in their innards; but
he've gone an' given it same way to the bullocks."

"Gude God!"

"'Tis death to beasts wi' 'bibles.' An' death it is. The things caan't
eat such stuff' cause it sticketh an' brings inflammation. I seed same
fule's trick done wance thirty year ago; an' when the animals weer cut
awpen, theer 'bibles' was hell-hot wi' the awfulest inflammation ever
you heard tell of."

"How many's down? 'Twas all he had to count upon."

"Awnly eight standin' when he left. I could have cried 'bout it when he
tawld me. He 'm clay in the Potter's hand for sartain. Theer's nought
squenches a chap like havin' the bailiffs in."

"Cruel luck! I'd meant to let him be sold out for his gude--but now."

"Do what you meant to. Doan't go back on it. 'Tis for his gude. 'Twas
his awn mistake. He tawld me the blame was his. Let un get on the bed
rock. Then he'll be meek as a worm."

"I doubt it. A sale of his goods will break his heart."

"Not it! He haven't got much as'll be hard to paart from. Stern
measures--stern measures for his everlastin' welfare. Think of the
wild-fire sawl of un! Never yet did a sawl want steadin' worse'n his.
Keep you to the fust plan, and he'll thank'e yet."

Elsewhere two women--his wife and sister--failed utterly in well-meaning
efforts to comfort the stricken farmer. Presently, before nightfall,
Mrs. Blanchard also arrived at Newtake, and Will listened dully with
smouldering eyes as his mother talked. The veterinary surgeon from
Moreton had come, but his efforts were vain. Only two beasts out of
five-and-twenty still lived.

"Send for butcher," he said. "He'll be more use than I can be. The thing
is done and can't be undone."

Chris entered most closely into her brother's feelings and spared him
the expressions of sorrow and sympathy which stung him, even from his
mother's lips, uttered at this crisis. She set about preparing supper,
which weeping Phoebe had forgotten.

"You'll weather it yet, bwoy," Mrs. Blanchard said.

"Theer's a little bit as I've got stowed away for'e; an' come the hay--"

"Doan't talk that way. 'Tis done with now. I'm quite cool'pon it. We
must go as we'm driven. No more gropin' an' fightin' on this blasted
wilderness for me, that's all. I be gwaine to turn my back 'pon it--fog
an' filthy weather an' ice an' snow. You wants angels from heaven to
help 'e, if you're to do any gude here; an' heaven's long tired o' me
an' mine. So I'll make shift to do wi'out. An' never tell me no more
lies 'bout God helpin' them as helps themselves, 'cause I've proved it
ban't so. I be gwaine to furrin' lands to dig for gawld or di'monds. The
right build o' man for gawld-seekin', me; 'cause I've larned patience
an' caan't be choked off a job tu easy."

"Think twice. Bad luck doan't dog a man for ever. An' Phoebe an' the
childer."

"My mind's made up. I figured it out comin' home from Moreton. I'm away
in six weeks or less. A chap what's got to dig for a livin' may just as
well handle his tools where theer's summat worth findin' hid in the
land, as here, on this black, damned airth, wheer your pick strikes fire
out o' stone twenty times a day. The Moor's the Moor. Everybody knaws
the way of it. Scratch its faace an' it picks your pocket an' breaks
your heart--not as I've got a heart can be broken."

"If 'e could awnly put more trust in the God of your faithers, my son.
He done for them, why shouldn't He do for you?"

"Better ax Him. Tired of the fam'ly, I reckon."

"You hurt your mother, Will, tellin' so wicked as that."

"An' faither so cruel," sobbed Phoebe. "I doan't knaw what ever us have
done to set him an' God against us so. I've tried that hard; an' you've
toiled till the muscles shawed through your skin; an' the li'l bwoy took
just as he beginned to string words that butivul; an' no sign of another
though't is my endless prayer."

"The ways of Providence--" began Mrs. Blanchard drearily; but Will
stopped her, as she knew he would.

"Doan't mother--I caan't stand no more on that head today. I'll dare
anybody to name Providence more in my house, so long as 'tis mine.
Theer's the facts to shout out 'gainst that rot. A honest, just,
plain-dealin' man--an' look at me."

"Meantime we're ruined an' faither doan't hold out a finger."

"Take it stern an' hard like me. 'Tis all chance drawin' of prize or
blank in gawld diggin'. The 'new chums,' as they call 'em, often finds
the best gawld, 'cause they doan't knaw wheer to look for it, an' goes
pokin' about wheer a skilled man wouldn't. That's the crooked way things
happen in this poor world."

"You wouldn't go--not while I lived, sure? I couldn't draw breath
comfortable wi'out knawin' you was breathin' the same air, my son."

"You'll live to knaw I was in the right. If fortune doan't come to you,
you must go to it, I reckon. Anyways, I ban't gwaine to bide here a
laughing-stock to Chagford; an' you'm the last to ax me to."

"Miller would never let Phoebe go."

"I shouldn't say 'by your leave' to him, I promise'e. He can look on an'
see the coat rottin' off my back in this desert an' watch his darter
gwaine thin as a lath along o' taking so much thought. He can look on at
us, hisself so comfortable as a maggot in a pear, an' see. Not that I'd
take help--not a penny from any man. I'm not gwaine to fail. I'll be a
snug chap yet."

The stolid Chown entered at this moment.

"Butcher'll be up bimebye. An' the last of em's failed down," he said.

"So be it. Now us'll taake our supper," answered his master.

The meal was ready and presently Blanchard, whose present bitter humour
prompted him to simulate a large indifference, made show of enjoying his
food. He brought out the brandy for his mother, who drank a little with
her supper, and helped himself liberally twice or thrice until the
bottle was half emptied. The glamour of the spirit made him optimistic,
and he spoke with the pseudo-philosophy that alcohol begets.

"Might have been worse, come to think of it. If the things weren't
choked, I doubt they'd been near starved. 'Most all the hay's done, an'
half what's left--a load or so--I'd promised to a chap out Manaton way.
But theer't is--my hand be forced, that's all. So time's saved, if you
look at it from a right point."

"You'm hard an' braave, an' you've got a way with you 'mong men. Faace
life, same as faither did, an' us'll look arter Phoebe an' the childer,"
said Chris.

"I couldn't leave un," declared Will's wife. "'T is my duty to keep
along wi'un for better or worse."

"Us'll talk 'bout all that later. I be gwaine to act prompt an' sell
every stick, an' then away, a free man."

"All our furniture an' property!" moaned Phoebe, looking round her in
dismay.

"All--to the leastest bit o' cracked cloam."

"A forced sale brings nought," sighed Damaris.

"Theer's hunderds o' pounds o' gude chattels here, an' they doan't go
for a penny less than they 'm worth. Because I'm down, ban't no reason
for others to try to rob me. If I doan't get fair money I'll make a fire
wi' the stuff an' burn every stick of it."

"The valuer man, Mr. Bambridge, must be seen, an' bills printed out an'
sticked 'pon barn doors an' such-like, same as when Mrs. Lezzard died,"
said Phoebe. "What'll faither think then?"

Will laughed bitterly.

"I'll see a few's dabbed up on his awn damned outer walls, if I've got
to put 'em theer myself. An' as to the lists, I'll make 'em this very
night. Ban't my way to let the dust fall upon a job marked for doin'.
To-night I'll draw the items."

"Us was gwaine to stay along with 'e, Will," said his mother.

"Very gude--as you please. Make shake-downs in the parlour, an' I'll
write in the kitchen when you'm gone to bed. Set the ink an' pen an'
paper out arter you've cleared away. I'm allowed to be peart enough in
matters o' business anyway, though no farmer o' course, arter this."

"None will dare to say any such thing," declared Phoebe. "You can't do
miracles more than others."

"I mind when Ellis, to Two Streams Farm, lost a mort o' bullocks very
same way," said Mrs. Blanchard.

"'Tis that as they'll bring against me an' say, wi' such a tale in my
knawledge, I ought to been wiser. But I never heard tell of it before,
though God knows I've heard the story often enough to-day."

It was now dark, and Will, lighting a lantern, rose and went out into
the yard. From the kitchen window his women watched him moving here and
there; while, as he passed, the light revealed great motionless, rufous
shapes on every hand. The corpses of the beasts hove up into the
illumination and then vanished again as the narrow circle of lantern
light bobbed on, jerking to the beat of Will's footsteps. From the
window Damaris observed her son make a complete perambulation of his
trouble without comment. Then a little emotion trembled on her tongue.

"God's hand be lifted 'gainst the bwoy, same as 't was 'gainst the
patriarch Job seemin'ly. Awnly he bent to the rod and Will--"

"He'm noble an' grand under his sorrows. Who should knaw but me?" cried
Phoebe. "A man in ten thousand, he is, an' never yields to no rod. He'll
win his way yet; an' I be gwaine to cleave to un if he travels to the
other end o' the airth."

"I doan't judge un, gal. God knaws he's been the world to me since his
faither died. He'm my dear son. But if he'd awnly bend afore the
A'mighty breaks him."

"He's got me."

"Ess, an' he'm mouldin' you to his awn vain pride an' wrong ways o'
thinking. If you could lead un right, 't would be a better wife's
paart."

"He'm wiser'n me, an' stronger. Ban't my place to think against him.
Us'll go our ways, childern tu, an' turn our backs 'pon this desert. I
hate the plaace now, same as Will."

Chris here interrupted Phoebe and called her from the other room.

"Wheer's the paper an' ink to? I be setting out the things against Will
comes in. He axed for 'em to be ready, 'cause theer's a deal o'
penmanship afore him to-night. An' wheer's that li'l dictionary what I
gived un years ago? I lay he'll want it."



CHAPTER V

TWO MIGHTY SURPRISES


Will returned from survey of his tribulation. Hope was dead for the
moment, and death of hope in a man of Blanchard's character proved
painful. The writing materials distracted his mind. Beginning without
interest, his composition speedily absorbed him; and before the task was
half completed, he already pictured it set out in great black or red
print upon conspicuous places.

"I reckon it'll make some of 'em stare to see the scholar I am,
anyways," he reflected.

Through the hours of night he wrote and re-wrote. His pen scratched
along, echoed by an exactly similar sound from the wainscots, where mice
nibbled in the silence. Anon, from the debris of his composition, a
complete work took shape; and when Phoebe awoke at three o'clock,
discovered her husband was still absent, and sought him hurriedly, she
found the inventory completed and Will just fastening its pages together
with a piece of string. He was wide awake and in a particularly happy
humour.

"Ban't you never comin' to bed? 'T is most marnin'," she said.

"Just comin'. What a job! Look here--twelve pages. I be surprised myself
to think how blamed well I've got through wi' it. You doan't knaw what
you can do till you try. I used to wonder at Clem's cleverness wi' a
pen; but I be purty near so handy myself an' never guessed it!"

"I'm sure you've made a braave job of it. I'll read it fust thing
to-morrow."

"You shall hear it now."

"Not now, Will; 't is so late an' I'm three paarts asleep. Come to bed,
dearie."

"Oh--if you doan't care--if it's nought to you that I've sit up all
night slavin' for our gude--"

"Then I'll hear it now. Coourse I knaw 't is fine readin'. Awnly I
thought you'd be weary."

"Sit here an' put your toes to the heat."

He set Phoebe in the chimney corner, wrapped his coat round her, and
threw more turf on the fire.

"Now you'm vitty; an' if theer's anything left out, tell me."

"I lay, wi' your memory, you've forgot little enough."

"I lay I haven't. All's here; an' 't is a gert wonder what a lot o' gude
things us have got. They did ought to fetch a couple o' hunderd pound at
least, if the sale's carried out proper."

"They didn't cost so much as that."

"By Gor! Didn't they? Well, set out in full, like this here, they do
sound as if they ought to be worth it. Now, I'll read 'em to see how it
all sounds in spoken words."

He cleared his throat and began:

"'Sale this day to Newtake Farm, near Chagford, Dartmoor, Devonshire.
Mr. William Blanchard, being about to leave England for foreign parts,
desires to sell at auction his farm property, household goods, cloam,
and effects, etc., etc., as per items below, to the best bidder. Many
things so good as new.' How do 'e like that, Phoebe?"

"Butivul; but do 'e mean in all solemn seriousness to go out England? 'T
is a awful thought, come you look at it close."

"Ess, 't is a gert, bold thing to do; but I doan't fear it. I be gettin'
into a business-like way o' lookin' 'pon life of late; an' I counts the
cost an' moves arter, as is the right order. Listen to these items set
out here. If they 'm printed big, wan under t'other, same as I've wrote
'em, they'll fill a barn door purty nigh!"

Then he turned to his papers.

"'The said goods and chattels are as follows, namely,'--reg'lar lawyer's
English, you see, though how I comed to get it so pat I caan't tell. Yet
theer 'tis--'namely, 2 washing trays; 3 zinc buckets; 1 meat preserve; 1
lantern; 2 bird-cages; carving knife and steel (Sheffield make)--'"

"Do'e judge that's the best order, Will?"

"Coourse 't is! I thought that out specially. Doan't go thrawin' me from
my stride in the middle. Arter 'Sheffield make,' 'half-dozen knives and
forks; sundry ditto, not so good; hand saw; 2 hammers; 1 cleaver;
salting trendle; 3 wheelbarrows--'"

"Doan't forget you lent wan of 'em to Farmer Thackwell."

"No, I gived it to un, him bein' pushed for need of wan. It slipped my
memory. '2 wheelbarrows.' Then I goes on, 'pig stock; pig trough; 2
young breeding sows; 4 garden tools; 2 peat cutters; 2 carts; 1 market
trap; 1 empty cask; 1 Dutch oven; 1 funnel; 2 firkins and a cider jib;
small sieve; 3 pairs new Bedford harrows; 1 chain harrow (out of
repair).' You see all's straight enough, which it ban't in some sales.
No man shall say he's got less than full value."

"You'm the last to think of such a thing."

"I am. It goes on like this: '5 mattocks; 4 digging picks; 4 head
chains; 1 axe; sledge and wedges; also hooks, eyes, and hasps for hard
wood.' Never used 'em all the time us been here. '2 sets of trap
harness, much worn.' I ban't gwaine to sell the dogs--eh? Us won't sell
Ship or your li'l terrier. What do 'e say?"

"No. Nobody would buy two auld dogs, for that matter."

"Though how a upland dog like Ship be gwaine to faace the fiery sunshine
on furrin gawld diggings, I caan't answer. Here goes again: '1 sofa; 1
armchair; 4 fine chairs with green cloth seats; 1 bedstead; 2 cots; 1
cradle; feather beds and palliasses and bolster pillows to match;
wash-stands and sets of crockery, mostly complete; 2 swing glasses; 3
bedroom chairs; 1 set of breeching harness--'"

"Hadn't 'e better put that away from the furniture?"

"No gert odds. 'Also 1 set leading harness; 2 tressels and ironing
board; 2 fenders; fire-irons and fire-dogs; 1 old oak chest; 1 wardrobe;
1 Brussels carpet (worn in 1 spot only)--'"

"Ban't worn worth namin'."

"Ess fay, 'tis wheer I sit Sundays--'9 feet by 11; 3 four-prong dung
forks.' I'll move them. They doan't come in none tu well theer, I allow.
'5 cane-seated chairs, 1 specimen of wax fruit under glass.'"

"I caan't paart wi' that, lovey. Faither gived it to me; an' 'twas
mother's wance on a time."

"Well, bein' a forced sale it ought to go. An' seein' how Miller's left
us to sail our awn boat to hell--but still, if you'm set on it."

He crossed it out, then suddenly laughed until the walls rang.

"Hush! You'll wake everybody. What do 'e find to be happy about?"

"I was thinkin' that down in them furrin, fiery paarts we'm gwaine to,
as your wax plums an' pears'll damned soon run away. They'll melt for
sartin!"

"Caan't be so hot as that! The li'l gal will never stand it. Read on
now. Theer ban't much left, surely?"

"Scores o' things! '1 stuffed kingfisher in good case with painted
picture at back; 1 fox mask; 1 mahogany 2-lap table; 1 warming-pan;
Britannia metal teapot and 6 spoons ditto metal; 5 spoons--smaller--ditto
metal.'"

"I found the one us lost."

"Then 'tis '6 spoons--smaller--ditto metal.' Then, 'ironing stove; 5
irons; washing boiler; 4 fry pans; 2 chimney crooks; 6 saucepans; pestle
and mortar; chimney ornaments; 4 coloured almanacs--one with picture of
the Queen--'"

"They won't fetch nothin'."

"They might. 'Knife sharper; screen; pot plants; 1 towel-rail; 1 runner;
2 forms; kitchen table; scales and weights and beam; 1 set of casters; 4
farm horses, aged; 3 ploughs; 1 hay wain; 1 stack of dry fern; 1-1/2
tons good manure; old iron and other sundries, including poultry, ducks,
geese, and fowls.' That's all."

"Not quite; but I caan't call to mind much you've left out 'cept all the
china an' linen."

"Ah! that's your job. An' I just sit here an' brought the things to my
memory, wan by wan! An' that bit at the top came easy as cutting a
stick!"

"'Tis a wonnerful piece o' work! An' the piano, Will?"

"I hadn't forgot that. Must take it along wi' us, or else send it down
to mother. Couldn't look her in the faace if I sold that."

"Ban't worth much."

"Caan't say. Cost faither five pound, though that was long ago. Anyway I
be gwaine to buy it in."

Silence then fell upon them. Phoebe sighed and shivered. A cock crew and
his note came muffled from the hen-roost. A dim grey dawn just served to
indicate the recumbent carcasses without.

"Come to bed now an' take a little rest 'fore marnin', dearie. You've
worked hard an' done wonders."

"Ban't you surprised I could turn it out?"

"That I be. I'd never have thought 'twas in 'e. So forehanded, tu!
A'most afore them poor things be cold."

"'Tis the forehandedness I prides myself 'pon. Some of us doan't know
all that's in me yet. But they'll live to see it."

"I knaw right well they will."

"This'll 'maze mother to-morrow."

"'Twill, sure 'nough."

"Would 'e like me to read it just wance more wi'out stoppin', Phoebe?"

"No, dear love, not now. Give it to us all arter breakfast in the
marnin'."

"So I will then; an' take it right away to the auctioneer the minute
after."

He put his papers away in the drawer of the kitchen table and retired.
Uneasy sleep presently overtook him and long he tossed and turned,
murmuring of his astonishment at his own powers with a pen.

His impetuosity carried the ruined man forward with sufficient speed
over the dark bitterness of failure confessed, failure advertised,
failure proclaimed in print throughout the confines of his little world.
He suffered much, and the wide-spread sympathy of friends and
acquaintance proved no anodyne but rather the reverse. He hated to see
eyes grow grave and mouths serious upon his entry; he yearned to turn
his back against Chagford and resume the process of living in a new
environment. Temporary troubles vexed him more than the supreme disaster
of his failure. Mr. Bambridge made considerable alterations in his
cherished lucubration; and when the advertisement appeared in print, it
looked mean and filled but a paltry space. People came up before the
sale to examine the goods, and Phoebe, after two days of whispered
colloquies upon her cherished property, could bear it no longer, and
left Newtake with her own little daughter and little Timothy. The Rev.
Shorto-Champernowne himself called, stung Will into sheer madness, which
he happily restrained, then purchased an old oak coffer for two pounds
and ten shillings.

Miller Lyddon made no sign, and hard things were muttered against him
and Billy Blee in the village. Virtuous indignation got hold upon the
Chagford quidnuncs and with one consent they declared Mr. Lyddon to
blame. Where was his Christian charity--that charity which should begin
at home and so seldom does? This interest in others' affairs took shape
on the night before the Newtake sale. Then certain of the baser sort
displayed their anger in a practical form, and Mr. Blee was hustled one
dark evening, had his hat knocked off, and suffered from a dead cat
thrown by unseen hands. The reason for this outrage also reached him.
Then, chattering with indignation and alarm, he hurried home and
acquainted Mr. Lyddon with the wild spirit abroad.

As for Blanchard, he roamed moodily about the scene of his lost battle.
In his pockets were journals setting forth the innumerable advantages of
certain foreign regions that other men desired to people for their
private ends. But Will was undecided, because all the prospects
presented appeared to lead directly to fortune.

The day of the sale dawned fine and at the appointed hour a thin stream
of market carts and foot passengers wound towards Newtake from the
village beneath and from a few outlying farms. Blanchard had gone up the
adjacent hill; and lying there, not far distant from the granite cross,
he reclined with his dog and watched the people. Him they did not see;
but them he counted and found some sixty souls had been attracted by his
advertisement. Men laughed and joked, and smoked; women shrugged their
shoulders, peeped about and disparaged the goods. Here and there a
purchaser took up his station beside a coveted lot. Some noticed that
none of those most involved were present; others spread a rumour that
Miller Lyddon designed to stop the sale at the last moment and buy in
everything. But no such incident broke the course of proceedings.

Will, from his hiding-place in the heather, saw Mr. Bambridge drive up,
noted the crowd follow him about the farm, like black flies, and felt
himself a man at his own funeral. The hour was dark enough. In the ear
of his mind he listened to the auctioneer's hammer, like a death-bell,
beating away all that he possessed. He had worked and slaved through
long years for this,--for the sympathy of Chagford, for the privilege of
spending a thousand pounds, for barely enough money to carry himself
abroad. A few more figures dotted the white road and turned into the
open gate at Newtake. One shape, though too remote to recognise with
certainty, put him in mind of Martin Grimbal, another might have been
Sam Bonus. He mused upon the two men, so dissimilar, and his mind dwelt
chiefly with the former. He found himself thinking how good it would be
if Martin proposed to Chris again; that the antiquary had done so was
the last idea in his thoughts.

Presently a brown figure crept through Newtake gate, hesitated a while,
then began to climb the hill and approach Blanchard. Ship recognised it
before Will's eyes enabled him to do so, and the dog rose from a long
rest, stretched, sniffed the air, then trotted off to the approaching
newcomer.

It was Ted Chown; and in five minutes he reached his master with a
letter. "'Tis from Miller Lyddon," he said. "It comed by the auctioneer.
I thought you was up here."

Blanchard took it without thanks, waited until the labourer had
departed, then opened the letter with some slight curiosity.

He read a page of scriptural quotations and admonitions, then tore the
communication in half with a curse and flung it from him. But presently
his anger waned; he rose, picked up his father-in-law's note, and
plodded through it to the end.

His first emotion was one of profound thanksgiving that he had done so.
Here, at the very end of the letter, was the practical significance of
it.

"Powder fust, jam arter, by God!" cried Will aloud. Then a burst of
riotous delight overwhelmed him. Once again in his darkest hour had
Fortune turned the wheel. He shouted, put the letter into his breast
pocket, rose up and strode off to Chagford as fast as his legs would
carry him. He thought what his mother and wife would feel upon such
news. Then he swore heartily--swore down blessings innumerable on Miller
Lyddon, whistled to his dog, and so journeyed on.

The master of Monks Barton had reproved Will through long pages, cited
Scripture at him, displayed his errors in a grim procession, then
praised him for his prompt and manly conduct under the present
catastrophe, declared that his character had much developed of recent
years, and concluded by offering him five-and-thirty shillings a week at
Monks Barton, with the only stipulation that himself, his wife, and the
children should dwell at the farm.

Praise, of which he had received little enough for many years, was pure
honey to Will. From the extremity of gloom and from a dark and settled
enmity towards Mr. Lyddon, he passed quicker than thought to an opposite
condition of mind.

"'Tis a fairy story--awnly true!" he said to himself as he swept along.

Will came near choking when he thought of the miller. Here was a man
that believed in him! Newtake tumbled clean out of his mind before this
revelation of Mr. Lyddon's trust and confidence. He was full to the
brainpan with Monks Barton. The name rang in his ears. Before he reached
Chagford he had planned innumerable schemes for developing the valley
farm, for improving, saving, increasing possibilities in a hundred
directions. He pictured himself putting money into the miller's pocket.
He determined to bring that about if he had to work four-and-twenty
hours a day to do it. He almost wished some profound peril would
threaten his father-in-law, that he, at the cost of half his life, if
need be, might rescue him and so pay a little of this great debt. Ship,
taking the cue from his master, as a dog will, leapt and barked before
him. In the valley below, Phoebe wept on Mrs. Blanchard's bosom, and
Chris said hard things of those in authority at Monks Barton; up aloft
at Newtake, shillings rather than pounds changed hands and many a poor
lot found no purchaser.

Passing by a gate beneath the great hill of Middledown, Will saw two
sportsmen with a keeper and a brace of terriers, emerge from the wild
land above. They were come from rabbit shooting, as the attendant's
heavy bag testified. They faced him as he passed, and, recognising John
Grimbal, Will did not look at his companion. At rest with the world just
then, happy and contented to a degree he had not reached for years, the
young farmer was in such amiable mood that he had given the devil "good
day" on slightest provocation. Now he was carried out of himself, and
spoke upon a joyous inclination of the moment.

"Marnin' to 'e, Jan Grimbal! Glad to hear tell as your greyhound winned
the cup down to Newton coursing."

The other was surprised into a sort of grunt; then, as Will moved
rapidly out of earshot, Grimbal's companion addressed him. It was Major
Tremayne; and now the soldier regarded Blanchard's vanishing figure with
evident amazement, then spoke.

"By Jove! Tom Newcombe, by all that's wonderful," he said.



CHAPTER VI

THE SECRET OUT


NOW many different persons in various places were simultaneously
concerned with Will Blanchard and his affairs.

At Newtake, Martin Grimbal was quietly buying a few lots--and those
worth the most money. He designed these as a gift for Phoebe; and his
object was not wholly disinterested. The antiquary could by no means
bring himself to accept his last dismissal from Chris. Seeing the vague
nature of those terms in which she had couched her refusal, and
remembering her frank admission that she could love him, he still hoped.
All his soul was wrapped up in the winning of Chris, and her face came
between him and the proof-sheets of his book; the first thoughts of his
wakening mind turned to the same problem; the last reflections of a
brain sinking to rest were likewise occupied with it. How could he win
her? Sometimes his yearning desires clamoured for any possible road to
the precious goal, and he remembered his brother's hint that a secret
existed in Will's life. At such times he wished that he knew it, and
wondered vaguely if the knowledge were of a nature to further his own
ambition. Then he blushed and thought ill of himself But this personal
accusation was unjust, for it is the property of a strong intellect
engaged about affairs of supreme importance, to suggest every possible
action and present every possible point of view by the mere mechanical
processes of thinking. The larger a brain, the more alternative courses
are offered, the more facets gleam with thought, the more numerous the
roads submitted to judgment. It is a question of intellect, not ethics.
Right actions and crooked are alike remorselessly presented, and the
Council of Perfection, which holds that to think amiss is sin, must
convict every saint of unnumbered offences. As reasonably might we blame
him who dreams murder. Departure from rectitude can only begin where
evil thought is converted into evil action, for thought alone of all
man's possessions and antecedents is free, and a lifetime of
self-control and high thinking will not shut the door against ideas.
That Martin--a man of luminous if limited intellect--should have
considered every possible line of action which might assist him to come
at the highest good life could offer was inevitable; but he missed the
reason of certain sinister notions and accused himself of baseness in
giving birth to them. Nevertheless, the idea recurred and took shape. He
associated John's assertion of a secret with another rumour that had
spread much farther afield. This concerned the parentage of little
Timothy the foundling, for it was whispered widely of late that the
child belonged to Blanchard. Of course many people knew all the facts,
were delighted to retail them, and could give the mother's name. Only
those most vitally concerned had heard nothing as yet.

These various matters were weighing not lightly on Martin's mind during
the hours of the Newtake sale; and meantime Will thundered into his
mother's cottage and roared the news. He would hear of no objection to
his wish, that one and all should straightway proceed to Monks Barton,
and he poured forth the miller's praises, while Phoebe was reduced to
tears by perusal of her father's letter to Will.

"Thank Heaven the mystery's read now, an' us can see how Miller had his
eyes 'pon 'e both all along an' just waited for the critical stroke,"
said Mrs. Blanchard. "Sure I've knawed him these many years an' never
could onderstand his hard way in this; but now all's clear."

"He might have saved us a world of trouble and a sea o' tears if he'd
awnly spoken sooner, whether or no," murmured Chris, but Will would
tolerate no unfriendly criticism.

"He'm a gert man, wi' his awn way o' doin' things, like all gert men,"
he burst out; "an' ban't for any man to call un in question. He knawed
the hard stuff I was made of and let me bide accordin'. An' now get your
bonnets on, the lot of 'e, for I'm gwaine this instant moment to Monks
Barton."

They followed him in a breathless procession, as he hurried across the
farmyard.

"Rap to the door quick, dear heart," said Phoebe, "or I'll be cryin'
again."

"No more rappin' after thicky butivul letter," answered Will. "Us'll gaw
straight in."

"You walk fust, Phoebe--'tis right you should," declared Mrs. Blanchard.
"Then Will can follow 'e; an' me an' Chris--us'll walk 'bout for a bit,
till you beckons from window."

"Cheer up, Phoebe," cried Will. "Trouble's blawed awver for gude an' all
now by the look of it. 'Tis plain sailing hencefarrard, thank God, that
is, if a pair o' strong arms, working morning an' night for Miller, can
bring it about."

So they went together, where Mr. Lyddon waited nervously within; and
Damaris and Chris walked beside the river.

Upon his island sat the anchorite Muscovy duck as of yore. He was
getting old. He still lived apart and thought deeply about affairs; but
his conclusions he never divulged.

Yet another had been surprised into unutterable excitement during that
afternoon. John Grimbal found the fruit of long desire tumble into his
hand at last, as Major Tremayne made his announcement. The officer was
spending a fortnight at the Red House, for his previous friendship with
John Grimbal had ripened.

"By Jove! Tom Newcombe, by all that's wonderful!" he exclaimed, as Will
swung past him down the hill to happiness.

"That's not his name. It's Blanchard. He's a young fool of a farmer, and
Lord knows what he's got to be so cock-a-hoop about. Up the hill they're
selling every stick he's got at auction. He's ruined."

"He might be ruined, indeed, if I liked. 'Tom Newcombe' he called
himself when he was with us."

"A soldier!"

"He certainly was, and my servant; about the most decent,
straightforward, childlike chap that ever I saw."

"God!"

"You're surprised. But it's a fact. That's Newcombe all right. You
couldn't forget a face and a laugh like his. The handsomest man I've
ever seen, bar none. He borrowed a suit of my clothes, the beggar, when
he vanished. But a week later I had the things back with a letter. He
trusted me that far. I tried to trace him, of course, but was not sorry
I failed."

"A letter!"

"Yes, giving a reason for his desertion. Some chap was running after his
girl and had got her in a corner and bullied her into saying 'Yes,'
though she hated the sight of him. I'd have done anything for Tom. But
he took the law into his own hands. He disappeared--we were at
Shorncliffe then if I remember rightly. The chap had joined to get
abroad, and he told me all his harum-scarum ambitions once. I hope the
poor devil was in time to rescue his sweetheart, anyway."

"Yes, he was in time for that."

"I'm glad."

"Should you see him again, Tremayne, I would advise your pretending not
to know him. Unless, of course, you consider it your duty to proclaim
him."

"Bless your life, I don't know him from Adam," declared the Major. "I'm
not going to move after all these years. I wish he'd come back to me
again, all the same. A good servant."

"Poor brute! What's the procedure with a deserter? Do you send soldiers
for him or the police?"

"A pair of handcuffs and the local bobby, that's all. Then the man's
handed over to the military authorities and court-martialled."

"What would he get?"

"Depends on circumstances and character. Tom might probably have six
months, as he didn't give himself up. I should have thought, knowing the
manner of man, that he would have done his business, married the girl,
then come back and surrendered. In that case, being peace time, he would
only have forfeited his service, which didn't amount to much."

So John Grimbal learned the secret of his enemy at last; but, to pursue
a former simile, the fruit had remained so long out of reach that now it
was not only overripe, but rotten. There began a painful resuscitation
of desires towards revenge--desires long moribund. To flog into life a
passion near dead of inanition was Grimbal's disgusting task. For days
and nights the thing was as Frankenstein's creation of grisly shreds and
patches; then it moved spasmodically,--or he fancied that it moved.

He fooled himself with reiterated assurances that he was glorying in the
discovery; he told himself that he was not made of the human stuff that
can forgive bitter wrongs or forget them until cancelled. He painted in
lurid colours his past griefs; through a ghastly morass of revenge grown
stale, of memories deadened by time, he tried to struggle back to his
original starting-point in vanished years, and feel as he felt when he
flung Will Blanchard over Rushford Bridge.

Once he wished to God the truth had never reached him; then he urged
himself to use it instantly and plague his mind no more. A mental
exhaustion and nausea overtook him. Upon the night of his discovery he
retired to sleep wishing that Blanchard would be as good as his rumoured
word and get out of England. But this thought took a shape of reality in
the tattered medley of dreams, and Grimbal, waking, leapt on to the
floor in frantic fear that his enemy had escaped him.

As yet he knew nothing of Will's good fortune, and when it came to his
ears it unexpectedly failed to reawaken resentment or strengthen his
animosity. For, as he retraced the story of the past years, it was with
him as with a man reading the narrative of another's wrongs. He could
not yet absorb himself anew in the strife; he could not revive the
personal element.

Sometimes he looked at himself in the glass as he shaved; and the sight
of the grey hair thickening on the sides of his head, the spectacle of
the deep lines upon his forehead and the stamp of many a shadowy
crow's-foot about his blue eyes--these indications served more than all
his thoughts to sting him into deeds and to rekindle an active
malignancy.



CHAPTER VII

SMALL TIMOTHY


A year and more than a year passed by, during which time some pure
sunshine brightened the life of Blanchard. Chagford laughed at his
sustained good fortune, declared him to have as many lives as a cat, and
secretly regretted its outspoken criticism of Miller Lyddon before the
event of his generosity. Life at Monks Barton was at least wholly happy
for Will himself. No whisper or rumour of renewed tribulation reached
his ear; early and late he worked, with whole-hearted energy; he
differed from Mr. Blee as seldom as possible; he wearied the miller with
new designs, tremendous enterprises, particulars concerning novel
machinery, and much information relating to nitrates. Newtake had
vanished out of his life, like an old coat put off for the last time. He
never mentioned the place and there was now but one farm in all Devon
for him.

Meantime a strange cloud increased above him, though as yet he had not
discerned so much as the shadow of it. This circumstance possessed no
connection with John Grimbal. Time passed and still he did not take
action, though he continued to nurse his wrongs through winter, spring,
and summer, as a child nurses a sick animal. The matter tainted his life
but did not dominate it. His existence continued to be soured and
discoloured, yet not entirely spoiled. Now a new stone of stumbling lay
ahead and Grimbal's interest had shifted a little.

Like the rest of Chagford he heard the rumour of little Timothy's
parentage--a rumour that grew as the resemblance ripened between
Blanchard and the child. Interested by this thought and its
significance, he devoted some time to it; and then, upon an early
October morning, chance hurried the man into action. On the spur of an
opportunity he played the coward, as many another man has done, only to
mourn his weakness too late.

There came a misty autumn sunrise beside the river and Grimbal,
hastening through the valley of Teign, suddenly found himself face to
face with Phoebe. She had been upon the meadows since grey dawn, where
many mushrooms set in silvery dew glimmered like pearls through the
mist; and now, with a full basket, she was returning to Monks Barton for
breakfast. As she rested for a moment at a stile between two fields,
Grimbal loomed large from the foggy atmosphere and stood beside her. She
moved her basket for him to pass and her pulses quickened but slightly,
for she had met him on numerous occasions during past years and they
were now as strangers. To Phoebe he had long been nothing, and any
slight emotion he might awaken was in the nature of resentment that the
man could still harden his heart against her husband and remain thus
stubborn and obdurate after such lapse of time. When, therefore, John
Grimbal, moved thereto by some sudden prompting, addressed Will's wife,
she started in astonishment and a blush of warm blood leapt to her face.
He himself was surprised at his own voice; for it sounded unfamiliar, as
though some intelligent thing had suddenly possessed him and was using
his vocal organs for its own ends.

"Don't move. Why, 't is a year since we met alone, I think. So you are
back at Monks Barton. Does it bring thoughts? Is it all sweet? By your
face I should judge not."

She stared and her mouth trembled, but she did not answer.

"You needn't tell me you're happy," he continued, with hurried words.
"Nobody is, for that matter. But you might have been. Looking at your
ruined life and my own, I can find it in my heart to be sorry for us
both."

"Who dares to say my life is ruined?" she flashed out. "D' you think I
would change Will for the noblest in the land? He _is_ the noblest. I
want no pity--least of all yourn. I've been a very lucky
woman--and--everybody knaws it whatever they may say here an' theer."

She was strong before him now; her temper appeared in her voice and she
took her basket and rose to leave him.

"Wait one moment. Chance threw us here, and I'll never speak to you
again if you resent it. But, meeting you like this, something seemed to
tell me to say a word and let you know. I'm sorry you are so
wretched--honestly."

"I ban't wretched! Never was a happier wife."

"Never was a better one, I know; but happy? Think. I was fond of you
once and I can read between the lines--the little thin lines on your
forehead. They are newcomers. I'm not deceived. Nor is it hidden. That
the man has proved faithless is common knowledge now. Facts are hard
things and you've got the fact under your eyes. The child's his living
image."

"Who told you, and how dare you foul my ears and thoughts with such
lies?" she asked, her bosom heaving. "You'm a coward, as you always was,
but never more a coward than this minute."

"D' you pretend that nobody has told you this? Aren't your own eyes
bright enough to see it?"

The man was in a pitiful mood, and now he grew hot and forgot himself
wholly before her stinging contempt. She did not reply to his question
and he continued,--

"Your silence is an answer. You know well enough. Who's the mother?
Perhaps you know that, too. Is she more to him than you are?"

Phoebe made a great effort to keep herself from screaming. Then she
moved hastily away, but Grimbal stopped her and dared her to proceed.

"Wait. I'll have this out. Why don't you face him with it and make him
tell you the truth? Any plucky woman would. The scandal grows into a
disgrace and your father's a fool to stand it. You can tell him so from
me."

"Mind your awn business an' let me pass, you hulking, gert, venomous
wretch!" she cried. Then a blackguard inspiration came to the man, and,
suffering under a growing irritation with himself as much as with
Phoebe, he conceived an idea by which his secret might after all be made
a bitter weapon. He assured himself, even while he hated the sight of
her, that justice to Phoebe must be done. She had dwelt in ignorance
long enough. He determined to tell her that she was the wife of a
deserter. The end gained was the real idea in his mind, though he tried
to delude himself. The sudden idea that he might inform Blanchard
through Phoebe of his knowledge really actuated him.

"You may turn your head away as if I was dirt, you little fool, and you
may call me what names you please; but I'm raising this question for
your good, not my own. What do I care? Only it's a man's part to step in
when he sees a woman being trampled on."

"A man!" she said. "You'm not in our lives any more, an' we doan't want
'e in 'em. More like to a meddlin' auld woman than a man, if you ax me."

"You can say that? Then we'll put you out of the question. I, at least,
shall do my duty."

"Is it part of your duty to bully me here alone? Why doan't 'e faace the
man, like a man, 'stead of blusterin' to me 'bout it? Out on you! Let me
pass, I tell 'e."

"Doan't make that noise. Just listen and stand still. I'm in earnest. It
pleases me to know the true history of this child, and I mean to. As a
Justice of the Peace I mean to."

"Ax Will Blanchard then an' let him answer. Maybe you'll be sorry you
spoke arter."

"You can tell him I want to see him; you can say I order him to come to
the Red House between eight and nine next Monday."

"Be you a fule? Who's he, to come at your bidding?"

"He's a--well, no matter. You've got enough to trouble you. But I think
he will come. Tell him that I know where he was during the autumn and
winter of the year that I returned home from Africa. Tell him I know
where he came from to marry you. Tell him the grey suit of clothes
reached the owner safely--remember, the grey suit of clothes. That will
refresh his memory. Then I think he will come fast enough and let me
have the truth concerning this brat. If he refuses, I shall take steps
to see justice done."

"I lay he's never put himself in the power of a black-hearted, cruel
beast like you," blazed out the woman, furious and frightened at once.

"Has he not? Ask him. You don't know where he was during those months? I
thought you didn't. I do. Perhaps this child--perhaps the other woman's
the married one--"

Phoebe dropped her basket and her face grew very pale before the horrors
thus coarsely spread before her. She staggered and felt sick at the
man's last speech. Then, with one great sob of breath, she turned her
back on him, nerved herself to use her shaking legs, and set off at her
best speed, as one running from some dangerous beast of the field.

Grimbal made no attempt to follow, but watched her fade into the mist,
then turned and pursued his way through the dripping woodlands. Sunrise
fires gleamed along the upper layers of the fading vapours and gilded
autumn's handiwork. Ripe seeds fell tapping through the gold of the
horse-chestnuts, and many acorns also pattered down upon a growing
carpet of leaves. Webs and gossamers twinkled in the sunlight, and the
flaming foliage made a pageant of colour through waning mists where red
leaves and yellow fell at every breath along the thinning woods. Beneath
trees and hedgerows the ripe mosses gleamed, and coral and amber fungi,
with amanita and other hooded folk. In companies and clusters they
sprang or arose misshapen, sinister, and alone. Some were orange and
orange-tawny; others white and purple; not a few peered forth livid,
blotched, and speckled, as with venom spattered from some reptile's
jaws. On the wreck of the year they flourished, sucked strange life from
rotten stick and hollow tree, opened gills on lofty branch and bough,
shone in the green grass rings of the meadows, thrust cup and cowl from
the concourse of the dead leaves in ditches, clustered like the uprising
roof-trees of a fairy village in dingle and in dene.

At the edge of the woods John Grimbal stood, and the hour was very dark
for him and he cursed at the loss of his manhood. His heart turned to
gall before the thought of the thing he had done, as he blankly
marvelled what unsuspected base instinct had thus disgraced him. He had
plumbed a possibility unknown within his own character, and before his
shattered self-respect he stood half passionate, half amazed. Chance had
thus wrecked him; an impulse had altered the whole face of the problem;
and he gritted his teeth as he thought of Blanchard's feelings when
Phoebe should tell her story. As for her, she at least had respected him
during the past years; but what must henceforth be her estimate of him?
He heaped bitter contempt upon himself for this brutality to a woman; he
raged, as he pursued long chains of consequences begot of this single
lapse of self-control. His eye was cleared from passion; he saw the base
nature of his action and judged himself as others would judge him. This
spectacle produced a definite mental issue and aroused long-stagnant
emotions from their troubled slumbers. He discovered that a frank hatred
of Will Blanchard awoke and lived. He told himself this man was to blame
for all, and not content with poisoning his life, now ravaged his soul
also and blighted every outlook of his being. Like a speck upon an
eyeball, which blots the survey of the whole eye, so this wretch had
fastened upon him, ruined his ambitions, wrecked his life, and now
dragged his honour and his very manhood into the dust. John Grimbal
found himself near choked by a raging fit of passion at last. He burnt
into sheer frenzy against Blanchard; and the fuel of the fire was the
consciousness of his own craven performance of that morning. Flying from
self-contemplation, he sought distraction and even oblivion at any
source where his mind could win it; and now he laid all blame on his
enemy and suffered the passion of his own shame and remorse to rise, as
it had been a red mist, against this man who was playing havoc with his
body and soul. He trembled under the loneliness of the woods in a
debauch of mere brute rage that exhausted him and left a mark on the
rest of his life. Even his present powers appeared trifling and their
exercise a deed unsatisfying before this frenzy. What happiness could be
achieved by flinging Blanchard into prison for a few months at most?
What salve could be won from thought of this man's disgrace and social
ruin? The spectacle sank into pettiness now. His blood was surging
through his veins and crying for action. Primitive passion gripped him
and craved primitive outlet. At that hour, in his own deepest
degradation, the man came near madness, and every savage voice in him
shouted for blood and blows and batterings in the flesh.

Phoebe Blauchard hastened home, meanwhile, and kept her own counsel upon
the subject of the dawn's sensational incidents. Her first instinct was
to tell her husband everything at the earliest opportunity, but Will had
departed to his work before she reached the farm, and on second thoughts
she hesitated to speak or give John Grimbal's message. She feared to
precipitate the inevitable. In her own heart what mystery revolved about
Will's past performances undoubtedly embraced the child fashioned in his
likeness; and though she had long fought against the rumour and deceived
herself by pretending to believe Chris, whose opinion differed from that
of most people, yet at her heart she felt truth must lie hidden
somewhere in the tangle. Will and Mr. Lyddon alone knew nothing of the
report, and Phoebe hesitated to break it to her husband. He was
happy--perhaps in the consciousness that nobody realised the truth; and
yet at his very gates a bitter foe guessed at part of his secret and
knew the rest. Still Phoebe could not bring herself to speak
immediately. A day of mental stress and strain ended, and she retired
and lay beside Will very sad. Under darkness of night the threats of the
enemy grew into an imminent disaster of terrific dimensions, and with
haunting fear she finally slept, to waken in a nightmare.

Will, wholly ignorant of the facts, soothed Phoebe's alarm and calmed
her as she clung to him in hysterical tears.

"No ill shall come to 'e while I live," she sobbed: "not if all the
airth speaks evil of 'e. I'll cleave to 'e, and fight for 'e, an' be a
gude wife, tu,--a better wife than you've been husband."

"Bide easy, an' doan't cry no more. My arm's round 'e, dearie. Theer,
give awver, do! You've been dreamin' ugly along o' the poor supper you
made, I reckon. Doan't 'e think nobody's hand against me now, for ban't
so. Folks begin to see the manner of man I am; an' Miller knaws, which
is all I care about. He've got a strong right arm workin' for him an' a
tidy set o' brains, though I sez it; an' you might have a worse husband,
tu, Phoebe; but theer--shut your purty eyes--I knaw they 'm awpen still,
for I can hear your lashes against the sheet. An' doan't 'e go out in
the early dews mushrooming no more, for 't is cold work, an' you've got
to be strong these next months."

She thought for a moment of telling him boldly concerning the legend
spreading on every side; but, like others less near and dear to him, she
feared to do so.

Knowing Will Blanchard, not a man among the backbiters had cared to risk
a broken head by hinting openly at the startling likeness between the
child and himself; and Phoebe felt her own courage unequal to the task
just then. She racked her brains with his dangers long after he was
himself asleep, and finally she determined to seek Chris next morning
and hear her opinion before taking any definite step.

On the same night another pair of eyes were open, and trouble of a sort
only less deep than that of the wife kept her father awake. Billy had
taken an opportunity to tell his master of the general report and spread
before him the facts as he knew them.

The younger members of the household had retired early, and when Miller
Lyddon took the cards from the mantelpiece and made ready for their
customary game, Mr. Blee shook his head and refused to play.

"Got no heart for cards to-night," he said.

"What's amiss, then? Thank God I've heard little to call ill news for a
month or two. Not but what I've fancied a shadow on my gal's face more'n
wance."

"If not on hers, wheer should 'e see it?" asked Mr. Blee eagerly."
I've seed it, tu, an' for that matter theer's sour looks an' sighs
elsewheer. People ban't blind, worse luck. 'Tis grawed to be common
talk, an' I've fired myself to tell you, 'cause 'tis fitting an' right,
an' it might come more grievous from less careful lips."

"Go on then; an' doan't rack me longer'n you can help. Use few words."

"Many words must go to it, I reckon. 'Tis well knawn I unfolds a bit o'
news like the flower of the field--gradual and sure. You might have
noticed that love-cheel by the name of Timothy 'bout the plaace? Him as
be just of age to harry the ducks an' such-like."

"A nice li'l bwoy, tu, an' fond of me; an' you caan't say he'm a
love-cheel, knawin' nothin' 'bout him."

"Love-cheel or changeling, 'tis all wan. Have'e ever thought 'twas
coorious the way Blanchard comed by un?"

"Certainly 'twas--terrible coorious."

"You never doubted it?"

"Why for should I? Will's truthful as light, whatever else he may be."

"You believe as he went 'pon the Moor an' found that bwoy in a
roundy-poundy under the gloamin'?"

"Ess, I do."

"Have'e ever looked at the laddie close?"

"Oftentimes--so like Will as two peas."

"Theer 'tis! The picter of Will! How do'e read that?"

"Never tried to. An accident, no more."

"A damn queer accident, if you ax me. Burnish it all! You doan't see
yet, such a genius of a man as you tu! Why, Will Blanchard's the faither
of the li'l twoad! You've awnly got to know the laws of nature an'
such-like to swear to it. The way he walks an' holds his head, his
curls, his fashion of lording it awver the birds an' beasts, the sudden
laugh of un--he's Will's son, for a thousand pound, an' his mother's
alive, like as not."

"No mother would have gived up a child that way."

"'Zactly so! Onless she gived it to the faither!" said Billy
triumphantly.

Mr. Lyddon reflected and showed an evident disposition to scoff at the
whole story.

"'Tis stuff an' rubbish!" he said. "You might as well find a mare's nest
t'other side an' say 'twas Will's sister's child. 'Tis almost so like
her as him, an' got her brown eyes in the bargain."

"God forbid!" answered Billy, in horror. "That's flat libel, an' I'd be
the last to voice any such thing for money. If a man gets a cheel wrong
side the blanket 'tis just a passing sarcumstance, an' not to be took
too serious. Half-a-crown a week is its awn punishment like. But if a
gal do, 'tis destruction to the end of the chapter, an' shame
everlasting in the world to come, by all accounts. You didn't ought to
think o' such things, Miller,--takin' a pure, gude maiden's carater like
that. Surprised at 'e!"

"'Tis just as mad a thought wan way as t'other, and if you'm surprised
so be I. To be a tale-bearer at your time o' life!"

"That gormed Blanchard's bewitched 'e from fust to last!" burst out
Billy. "If a angel from heaven comed down-long and tawld 'e the truth
'bout un, you wouldn't b'lieve. God stiffen it! You make me mad! You'd
stand 'pon your head an' waggle your auld legs in the air for un if he
axed 'e."

"I'll speak to him straight an' take his word for it. If it's true, he
'm wickedly to blame, I knaw that."

"I was thinkin' of your darter. 'Tis black thoughts have kept her waking
since this reached her ears."

"Did you tell her what people were sayin'? I warrant you did!"

"You'm wrong then. No such thing. I may have just heaved a sigh when I
seed the bwoy playin' in front of her, an' looked at Blanchard, an'
shook my head, or some such gentle hint as that. But no more."

"Well, I doan't believe a word of it; an' I'll tell you this for your
bettering,--'tis poor religion in you, Blee, to root into other people's
troubles, like a pig in a trough; an' auld though you be, you 'm not tu
auld to mind what it felt like when the blood was hot an' quick to race
at the sight of a maid."

"I practice same as I preach, whether or no," said Billy stoutly, "an' I
can't lay claim to creating nothing lawful or unlawful in my Maker's
image. 'Tis something to say that, in these godless days. I've allus
kept my foot on the world, the flesh, an' the Devil so tight as the best
Christian in company; an' if that ban't a record for a stone, p'raps
you'll tell me a better. Your two-edged tongue do make me feel sometimes
as though I did ought to go right away from 'e, though God knaws--God,
He knaws--"

Billy hid his face and began to weep, while Mr. Lyddon watched the
candle-light converge to a shining point upon his bald skull.

"Doan't go against a word in season, my dear sawl. 'Tis our duty to set
each other right. That's what we'm put here for, I doubt. Many's the
time you've given me gude advice, an' I've thanked 'e an' took it."

Then he went for the spirits and mixed Mr. Blee a dose of more than
usual strength.

"You'm the most biting user of language in Chagford, when you mind to
speak sour," declared Billy. "If I thought you meant all you said, I'd
go an' hang myself in the barn this instant moment. But you doan't."

He snuffled and dried his scanty tears on a red handkerchief, then
cheered up and drank his liquor.

"It do take all sorts to make a world, an' a man must act accordin' as
he'm built," continued Mr. Lyddon. "Ban't no more use bein' angered wi'
a chap given to women than 'tis bein' angered wi' a fule, because he's a
fule. What do 'e expect from a fule but folly, or a crab tree but
useless fruit, or hot blood but the ways of it? This ban't to speak of
Will Blanchard, though. 'Pon him we'll say no more till he've heard
what's on folks' tongues. A maddening bwoy--I'll allow you that--an'
he've took a year or two off my life wan time an' another. 'Pears I
ban't never to graw to love un as I would; an' yet I caan't quite help
it when I sees his whole-hearted ferment to put money into my pocket; or
when I hears him talk of nitrates an' the ways o' the world; or watches
un playin' make-believe wi' the childer--himself the biggest cheel as
ever laughed at fulishness or wanted spankin' an' putting in the
corner."



CHAPTER VIII

FLIGHT


On the following morning Miller Lyddon arose late, looked from his
window and immediately observed the twain with whom his night thoughts
had been concerned. Will stood at the gate smoking; small Timothy, and
another lad, of slightly riper years, appeared close by. The children
were fighting tooth and nail upon the ownership of a frog, and this
reptile itself, fastened by the leg to a stick, listlessly watched the
progress of the battle. Will likewise surveyed the scene with genial
attention, and encouraged the particular little angry animal who had
most claim upon his interest. Timothy kicked and struck out pretty
straight, but fought in silence; the bigger boy screamed and howled and
scratched.

"Vang into un, man, an' knock his ugly head off!" said Will
encouragingly, and the babe to whom he spoke made renewed efforts as
both combatants tumbled into the road, the devil in their little bright
eyes, each puny muscle straining. Tim had his foe by the hair, and the
elder was trying to bite his enemy's leg, when Martin Grimbal and Chris
Blanchard approached from Rushford Bridge. They had met by chance, and
Chris was coming to the farm while the antiquary had business elsewhere.
Now a scuffle in a cloud of dust arrested them and the woman,
uninfluenced by considerations of sportsmanship, pounced upon Timothy,
dragged him from his operations, and, turning to Will, spoke as Martin
Grimbal had never heard her speak before.

"You, a grawed man, to stand theer an' see that gert wild beast of a
bwoy tear this li'l wan like a savage tiger! Look at his sclowed faace
all streaming wi' blood! 'S truth! I'd like to sarve you the same, an' I
would for two pins! I'm ashamed of 'e!"

"He hit wi' his fistes like a gude un," said Will, grinning; "an' he'm
made o' the right stuff, I'll swear. Couldn't have done better if he was
my awn son. I be gwaine to give un a braave toy bimebye. You see t'other
kid's faace come to-morrow!"

Martin Grimbal watched Chris fondle the gasping Timothy, clean his
wounds, calm his panting heart; then, as though a superhuman voice
whispered in his ear, her secret stood solved, and the truth of
Timothy's parentage confronted him in a lightning flash of the soul. He
looked at Chris as a man might gaze upon a spectre; he stared at her and
through her into her past; he pieced each part of the puzzle to its
kindred parts until all stood complete; he read "mother" in her voice,
in her caressing hands and gleaming eyes as surely as man reads morning
in the first light of dawn; and he marvelled that a thing so clear and
naked had been left to his discovery. The revelation shook him not a
little, for he was familiar with the rumours concerning Tim's paternity,
and had been disposed to believe them; but from the moment of the new
thought's inception it gripped him, for he felt that the thing was true.
As lamps, so ordered that the light of each may fall on the fringe of
darkness where its fellow fades, and thus complete a chain of
illumination, so the present discovery, duly considered, was but one
point of truth revealing others. It made clear much that had not been
easy to understand, and the tremendous fact rose in his mind as a link
in such a perfect sequence of evidence that doubt actually vanished
before he had lost sight of Chris and passed dumfounded upon his way.
Her lover's sudden death, her own disappearance, the child's advent at
Newtake, and the woman's subsequent return--these main incidents
connected a thousand others and explained what little mystery still
obscured the position. He pursued his road and marvelled as he went how
a tragedy so thinly veiled had thus escaped every eye. Within the story
that Chris had told, this other story might be intercalated without
convicting her of any spoken falsehood. Now he guessed at the reason why
Timothy's mother had refused to marry him on his last proposal; then,
thinking of the child, he knew Tim's father.

So he stood before the truth; and it filled his heart with some agony
and some light. Examining his love in this revelation, he discovered
strange things; and first, that it was love only that had opened his
eyes and enabled him to solve the secret at all. Nobody had made the
discovery but himself, and he, of all men the least likely to come at
any concern others desired to hide from him, had fathomed this great
fact, had won it from the heart of unconscious Chris. His love widened
and deepened into profound pity as he thought of all that her secret and
the preservation of it must have meant; and tears dimmed his eyes as he
pictured her life since her lover's passing.

To him the discovery hurt Chris so little that for a time he underrated
the effect of it upon other people. His affection rose clean above the
unhappy fact, and it was some time before he began to appreciate the
spectacle of Chris under the world's eye with the truth no longer
hidden. Then a sense of his own helplessness overmastered him; he walked
slowly, drew up at a gate and stood motionless, leaning over it. So
silent did he stand, and so long, that a stoat hopped across the road
within two yards of him.

He realised to the full that he was absolutely powerless. Chris alone
must disperse the rumours fastening on her brother if they were to be
dispersed. He knew that she would not suffer any great cloud of unjust
censure to rest upon Will, and he saw what a bitter problem must be
overwhelming her. Nobody could help her and he, who knew, was as
powerless as the rest. Then he asked himself if that last conviction was
true. He probed the secret places of his mind to find an idea; he prayed
for some chance spark or flash of genius to aid him before this trial;
he mourned his own simple brains, so weak to aid him in this vital pass.
But of all living men the accidental discovery was most safe with him.
His heart went out to the secret mother, and he told himself that he
would guard her mystery like gold.

It was strange in a nature so timorous that not once did a suspicion he
had erred overtake him, and presently he wondered to observe how ancient
this discovery of the motherhood of Chris had grown within his mind. It
appeared as venerable as his own love for her. He yearned for power to
aid; without conscious direction of his course he proceeded and strode
along for hours. Then he ate a meal of bread and cheese at an inn and
tramped forward once more upon a winding road towards the village of
Zeal.

Through his uncertainty, athwart the deep perplexity of his mind, moved
hope and a shadowed joy. Within him arose again the vision of happiness
once pictured and prayed for, once revived, never quite banished to the
grey limbo of ambitions beyond fulfilment. Now realities saddened the
thought of it and brought ambition within a new environment less
splendid than the old. But, despite clouds, hope shone fairly forth at
last. So a planet, that the eye has followed at twilight and then lost a
while, beams anew at dawn after lapse of days, and wheels in wide mazes
upon some new background of the unchanging stars.

Elsewhere Mr. Lyddon braced himself to a painful duty, and had private
speech with his son-in-law. Like a thunderbolt the circling suspicions
fell on Will, and for a moment smothered his customary characteristics
under sheer surprise.

The miller spoke nervously, and walked up and down with his eyes
averted.

"Ban't no gert matter, I hope, an' I won't keep 'e from your work five
minutes. You've awnly got to say 'No,' an' theer's an end of it so far
as I'm concerned. 'Tis this: have 'e noticed heads close together now
an' again when you passed by of late?"

"Not me. Tu much business on my hands, I assure 'e. Coourse theer's
envious whisperings; allus is when a man gets a high place, same as what
I have, thanks to his awn gude sense an' the wisdom of others as knaws
what he's made of. But you trusted me wi' all your heart, an' you'll
never live to mourn it."

"I never want to. You'm grawing to be much to me by slow stages. Yet
these here tales. This child Timothy. Who's his faither, Will, an' who's
his mother?"

"How the flaming hell should I knaw? I found him same as you finds a
berry on a briar. That's auld history, surely?"

"The child graws so 'mazing like you, that even dim eyes such as mine
can see it."

A sudden flash of light came into Blanchard's face. Then the fire died
as quickly as it had been kindled, and he grew calm.

"God A'mighty!" he said, in a voice hushed and awed. "They think that! I
lay that's why your darter's cried o' nights, then, an' Chris have
grawed sad an' wisht in her ways, an' mother have pet the bwoy wan
moment an' been short wi' un the next."

He remained marvellously quiet under this attack, but amazement chiefly
marked his attitude. Miller Lyddon, encouraged by this unexpected
reasonableness, spoke again more sternly.

"The thing looks bad to a wife an' mother, an' 'tis my duty to ax 'e for
a plain, straightforward answer 'pon it. Human nature's got a ugly trick
of repeatin' itself in this matter, as we all knaws. But I'll say nought
an' think nought till you answers me. Be the bwoy yourn or not? Tell me
true, with your hand on this."

He took his Bible from the mantelpiece, while Will, apparently cowed by
the gravity of the situation, placed both palms upon it, then fixed his
eyes solemnly upon Mr. Lyddon.

"As God in heaven's my judge, he ban't no cheel of mine, and I knaw
nothing about him--no, nor yet his faither nor mother nor plaace of
birth. I found un wheer I said, and if I've lied by a fraction, may God
choke me as I stand here afore you."

"An' I believe you to the bottom!" declared his father-in-law. "I
believe you as I hopes to be believed myself, when I stands afore the
Open Books an' says I've tried to do my duty. You've got me on your
side, an' that's to say you'll have Phoebe an' your mother, tu, for
certain."

Then Blanchard's mood changed, and there came a tremendous rebound from
the tension of the last few minutes. In the anti-climax following upon
his oath, passion, chained a while by astonishment, broke loose in a
whirlwind.

"Let 'em believe or disbelieve, who cares?" he thundered out. "Not
me--not a curse for you or anybody, my awn blood or not my awn blood. To
harbour lies against me! But women loves to believe bad most times."

"Who said they believed it, Will? Doan't go mad, now 'tis awver and
done."

"They _did_ believe it; I knaw, I seed it in theer faaces, come to think
of it. 'Tis the auld song. I caan't do no right. Course I've got childer
an' ruined maids in every parish of the Moor! God damn theer lying,
poisonous tongues, the lot of 'em! I'm sick of this rotten, lie-breeding
hole, an' of purty near every sawl in it but mother. She never would
think against me. An' me, so true to Phoebe as the honey-bee to his awn
butt! I'll go--I'll get out of it--so help me, I will--to a clean land,
'mongst clean-thinking folk, wheer men deal fair and judge a chap by his
works. For a thought I'd wring the neck of the blasted child, by God I
would!"

"He've done no wrong."

"Nor me neither. I had no more hand in his getting than he had himself.
Poor li'l brat; I'm sorry I spoke harsh of him. He was give me--he was
give me--an' I wish to God he _was_ mine. Anyways he shaa'n't come to no
harm. I'll fight the lot of 'e for un, till he 's auld enough to fight
for hisself."

Then Will burst out of Monks Barton and vanished. He passed far from the
confines of the farm, roamed on to the high Moor, and nothing further
was seen of him until the following day.

Those most concerned assembled after his departure and heard the result
of the interview.

"Solemn as a minister he swore," explained Mr. Lyddon; "an' then, a'most
before his hands was off the Book, he burst out like a screeching,
ravin' hurricane. I half felt the oath was vain then, an' 't was his
real nature bubblin' up like."

They discussed the matter, all save Chris, who sat apart, silent and
abstracted. Presently she rose and left them, and faced her own trouble
single-handed, as she had similarly confronted greater sorrows in the
past.

She was fully determined to conceal her cherished secret still; yet not
for the superficial reason that had occurred to any mind. Vast mental
alterations had transformed Chris Blanchard since the death of Clement.
Her family she scarcely considered now; no power of logic would have
convinced her that she had wronged them or darkened their fame. In the
past, indeed, not the least motive of her flight had centred in the fear
of Will; but now she feared nobody, and her own misfortune held no
shadow of sin or shame for her, looking back upon it. Those who would
have denied themselves her society or friendship upon this knowledge it
would have given her no pang to lose. She could feel fiercely still, as
she looked back to the birth of her son and traced the long course of
her sufferings; and she yet experienced occasional thrills of
satisfaction in her weaker moments, when she lowered the mask and
reflected, not without pride, on the strength and determination that had
enabled her to keep her secret. But to reveal the truth now was a
prospect altogether hateful in the eyes of Chris, and she knew the
reason. More than once had she been upon the brink of disclosure, since
recent unhappy suspicions had darkened Phoebe's life; but she had
postponed the necessary step again and again, at one thought. Her
fortitude, her apathy, her stoic indifference, broke down and left her
all woman before one necessity of confession; her heart stood still when
she remembered that Martin Grimbal must know and judge. His verdict she
did, indeed, dread with all her soul, and his only; for him she had
grown to love, and the thought of his respect and regard was precious to
her. Everybody must know, everybody or nobody. For long she could
conceive of no action clearing Will in the eyes of the wider circle who
would not be content to take his word, and yet leaving herself
uninvolved. Then the solution came. She would depart once more with the
child. Such a flight was implicit confession, and could not be
misunderstood. Martin must, indeed, know, but she would never see him
after he knew. To face him after the truth had reached his ear seemed to
Chris a circumstance too terrible to dwell upon. Her action, of course,
would proclaim the parentage of Timothy, and free Will from further
slanderings; while for herself, through tears she saw the kind faces of
the gypsy people and her life henceforth devoted to her little one.

To accentuate the significance of the act she determined to carry out
her intention that same day, and during the afternoon opportunity
offered. Her son, playing alone in the farmyard, came readily enough for
a walk, and before three o'clock they had set out. The boy's face was
badly scratched from his morning battle, but pain had ceased, and his
injuries only served as an object of great interest to Timothy. Where
water in ditch or puddle made a looking-glass he would stop to survey
himself.

A spectator, aware of certain facts, had viewed the progress of Chris
with some slight interest. Three ways were open to her, three main
thoroughfares leading out of Chagford to places of parallel or greater
importance. Upon the Moor road Will wandered in deep perturbation; on
that to Okehampton walked another man, concerned with the same problem
from a different aspect; the third highway led to Moreton; and thither
Chris might have proceeded unchallenged. But a little public vehicle
would be returning just then from the railway station. That the runaway
knew, and therefore selected another path.

In her pocket was all the money that she had; in her heart was a sort of
alloyed sorrow. Two thoughts shared her mind after she had decided upon
a course of action. She wondered how quickly Tim would learn to call her
"mother," for that was the only sweet word life still held; yet of the
child's father she did not think, for her mind, without special act of
volition, turned and turned again to him upon whom the Indian summer of
her love had descended.



CHAPTER IX

UNDER COSDON BEACON


Beneath a region where the "newtakes" straggle up Cosdon's eastern flank
and mark a struggle between man and the giant beacon, Chris Blanchard
rested a while upon the grass by the highway. Tim, wrapped in a shawl,
slept soundly beside his mother, and she sat with her elbows on her
knees and one hand under her chin. It was already dusk; dark mist
wreaths moved upon the Moor, and oncoming night winds sighed of rain.
Then a moment before her intended departure from this most solitary spot
she heard footsteps upon the road. Not interested to learn anything of
the passer-by, Chris remained with her eyes upon the ground, but the
footsteps stopped suddenly before her, whereupon she looked up and saw
Martin Grimbal.

After a perambulation of twenty miles he had now set his face homewards,
and thus the meeting was accomplished. Utmost constraint at first marked
the expression of both man and woman, and it was left for Martin to
break the silence, for Chris only started at seeing him, but said
nothing. Her mind, however, ranged actively upon the reason of Grimbal's
sudden appearance, and she did not at first believe it accidental.

"Why, my dear, what is this? You have wandered far afield!"

He addressed her in unnatural tones, for surprise and emotion sent his
voice up into his head, and it came thin and tremulous as a woman's.
Even as he spoke Martin feared. From the knowledge gleaned by him that
morning he suspected the meaning of this action, and thought that Chris
was running away.

And she, at the same moment, divined that he guessed the truth in so far
as the present position was concerned. Still she did not speak, and he
grew calmer and took her silence as an admission.

"You're going away from Chagford? Is it wise?"

"Ess, Martin, 'tis best so. You see this poor child be breedin' trouble,
an' bringing bad talk against Will. He ban't wanted--little Timothy--an'
I ban't wanted overmuch, so it comed to me I'd--I'd just slip away out
of the turmoil an' taake Tim. Then--"

She stopped, for her heart was beating so fast that she could speak no
more. She remembered her own arguments in the recent past,--that this
flight must tell all who cared to reflect that the child was her own.
Now she looked up at Martin to see if he had guessed it. But he
exhibited extreme self-control and she was reassured.

"Just like your thoughtful self to try and save others from sorrow.
Where are you going to, Chris? Don't tell me more than you please; but I
may be useful to you on this, the first stage of the journey."

"To Okehampton to-night. To-morrow--but I'd rather not say any more. I
don't care so long as you think I'm right."

"I haven't said that yet. But I'll go as far as Zeal with you. Then
we'll get a covered cab or something. We may reach the village before
rain."

"No call for your coming. 'Tis awnly a short mile."

"But I must. I'll carry the laddie. Poor little man! Hard to be the
cause of such a bother."

He picked Timothy up so gently that the child did not wake.

"Now," he said, "come along. You must be tired already."

"How gude you be!" she said wearily. "I'm glad you doan't scold or fall
into a rage wi' me, for I knaw I'm right. The bwoy's better away, and
I'm small use to any now. But I can be busy with this little wan. I
might do worse than give up my life to un--eh, Martin?"

Then some power put words in his mouth. He trembled when he had spoken
them, but he would not have recalled them.

"You couldn't do better. It's a duty staring you in the face."

She started violently, and her dark skin flamed under the night.

"Why d'you say that?" she asked, with loud, harsh voice, and stopping
still as she did so. "Why d'you say 'duty'?"

He, too, stood and looked at her.

"My dear," he answered, "love's a quick, subtle thing. It can make even
such a man as I am less stupid than Nature built him. It fires dull
brains; it adds sight to dim eyes; it shows the bookworm how to find out
secrets hidden from keener spirits; it lifts a veil from the loved one
and lets the lover see more than anybody else can. Be patient with me. I
spoke because I love you still with all my heart and soul, Chris; I
spoke, because what I feel for you is lifelong, and cannot change. Had I
not still worshipped the earth under your feet I would have died rather
than tell you. But love makes me bold. I have watched you so long and
prayed for you so often. I have seen little differences in you that
nobody else saw. And to-day I know. I knew when you picked up Timothy
and flew at Will. Since then I've wandered Heaven can tell where, just
thinking and thinking and wondering and seeing no way. And all the time
God meant me to come and find you and tell you."

She understood; she gave one bitter cry that started an echo from ruined
mine-workings hard at hand; then she turned from him, and, in a moment
of sheer hopeless misery, flung herself and her wrecked ambitions upon
the ground by the wayside.

For a moment the man stood scared by this desperate answer to his words.
Then he put his burden down, approached Chris, knelt beside her, and
tried to raise her. She sat up at last with panting breast and eyes in
which some terror sat.

"You!" she said. "You to knaw! Wasn't my cup full enough before but
that my wan hope should be cut away, tu? My God, I 'mauld in sorrow
now--very auld. But 't is awver at last. You knaw, an' I had to hear it
from your awn lips! Theer 's nought worse in the world for me now."

Her hands were pressed against her bosom, and as he unconsciously moved
a little towards her she shrank backwards, then rose to her feet.
Timothy woke and cried, upon which she turned to him and picked him up.

"Go!" she cried suddenly. "If ever you loved me, get out of my sight
now, or you'll make me want to kill myself again."

He saw the time was come for strong self-assertion, and spoke.

"Listen!" he said. "You don't understand, but you must. I'm the only man
in the world who knows--the only one, and I've told you because it was
stamped into my brain to tell you, and because I love you perhaps better
than one creature has any right to love another."

"You knaw. Isn't it enough? Who else did I care for? Who else mattered
to me? Mother or brother or other folk? I pray you to go an' leave me.
God knaws how hard it was to hide it, but I hugged it an' suffered more
'n any but a mother could fathom 'cause things weer as they weer. Then
came this trouble, an' still none seed. But 't was meant you should, an'
the rest doan't matter. I'd so soon go back now as not."

"So you shall," he answered calmly; "only hear this first. Last time I
spoke about what was in my heart, Chris, you told me you could love me,
but that you would not marry me, and I said I would never ask you again.
I shall keep my word, sweetheart. I shall not ask; I shall take without
asking. You love me; that is all I care for. The little boy came between
last time; now nothing does."

He took the woman in his arms and kissed her, but the next moment he was
flying to where water lay in a ditch, for his unexpected attitude had
overpowered Chris. She raised her hands to his shoulders, uttered a
faint cry, then slipped heavily out of his arms in a faint. The man
rushed this way and that, the child sat and howled noisily, the woman
remained long unconscious, and heavy rain began to fall out of the
darkness; yet, to his dying day that desolate spot of earth brought
light to Martin's eyes as often as he passed it.

Chris presently recovered her senses, and spoke words that made her
lover's heart leap. She uttered them in a sad, low voice, but her hand
was in his, pressing it close the while.

"Awften an' awften I've axed the A'mighty to give me wan little glint o'
knawledge as how 'twould all end. If I'd knawed! But I never guessed how
big your sawl was, Martin. I never thought you was the manner of man to
love a woman arter that."

"God knows what's in my heart, Chris."

"I'll tell 'e everything some day. Lookin' back it doan't 'pear no ways
wicked, though it may seem so in cold daylight to cold hearts."

"Come, come with me, for the rain grows harder. I know where I can hire
a covered carriage at an inn. 'Tis only five minutes farther on, and
poor Tim's unhappy."

"He'm hungry. You won't be hard 'pon my li'l bwoy if I come to 'e,
Martin?"

"You know as well as I can tell you. There's one other thing. About
Chagford, Chris? Are you afraid of it? I'll turn my back on it if you
like. I'll take you to Okehampton now if you would rather go there."

"Never! 'Tis for you to care, not me. So you knaw an' forgive--what's
the rest? Shadows. But let me hold your hand an' keep my tongue still.
I'm sick an' fainty wi' this gert turn o' the wheel. 'T is tu deep for
any words."

He felt not less uplifted, but his joy was a man's. It rolled and
tumbled over his being like the riotous west wind. Under such stress his
mind could find no worthy thing to say, and yet he was intoxicated and
had to speak. He was very unlike himself. He uttered platitudes; then
the weight of Timothy upon his arm reminded him that the child existed.

"He shall go to a good school, Chris."

She sighed.

"I wish I could die quick here by the roadside, dear Martin, for living
along with you won't be no happier than I am this moment. My thoughts do
all run back, not forward. I've lived long enough, I reckon. If I'd told
'e! But I'd rather been skinned alive than do it. I'd have let the rest
knaw years agone but for you."

Driving homewards half an hour later, Chris Blanchard told Martin that
part of her story which concerned her life after the birth of Timothy.

"The travellin' people was pure gawld to me," she said. "And theer's
much to say of theer gert gudeness. But I can tell 'e that another time.
It chanced the very day Will's li'l wan was buried we was to Chagford,
an' the sad falling-out quickened my awn mind as to a thought 'bout my
cheel. It comed awver me to leave un at Newtake. I left the vans wheer
they was camped that afternoon, an' hid 'pon the hill wi' the baaby.
Then Will comed out hisself, an' I chaanged my thought an' followed un
wheer he roamed, knawin' the colour of his mind through them black hours
as if 'twas my awn. 'Twas arter he'd left the roundy-poundy wheer he was
born that I put my child in it, then called tu un loud an' clear. He
never knawed the voice, which was the awnly thing I feared. But a voice
long silent be soon forgot. I bided at hand till I saw the bwoy in
brother Will's arms. An' then I knawed 'twas well an' that mother would
come to see it. Arterwards I suffered very terrible wi'out un. But I
fought wi' myself an' kept away up to the time I'd fixed in my mind.
That was so as nobody should link me with the li'l wan in theer
thoughts. Waitin' was the hard deed, and seein' my bwoy for the first
time when I went to Newtake was hard tu. But 'tis all wan now."

She remained silent until the lengthy ride was ended and her mother's
cottage reached. Then, as that home she had thought to enter no more
appeared again, the nature of the woman awoke for one second, and she
flung herself on Martin's heart.

"May God make me half you think me, for I love you true, an' you'm the
best man He ever fashioned," she said. "An' to-morrow's Sunday," she
added inconsequently, "an' I'll kneel in church an' call down lifelong
blessings on 'e."

"Don't go to-morrow, my darling. And yet--but no, we'll not go, either
of us. I couldn't hear my own banns read out for the world, and I don't
think you could; yet read they'll be as sure as the service is held."

She said nothing, but he knew that she felt; then mother and child were
gone, and Martin, dismissing his vehicle, proceeded to Monks Barton with
the news that all was well.

Mrs. Blanchard heard her daughter's story and its sequel. She exhibited
some emotion, but no grief. The sorrow she may have suffered was never
revealed to any eye by word or tear.

"I reckoned of late days theer was Blanchard blood to the child," she
said, "an' I won't hide from you I thought more'n wance you was so like
to be the mother as Will the faither of un. Go to bed now, if you caan't
eat, an' taake the bwoy, an' thank God for lining your dark cloud with
this silver. If He forgives 'e, an' this here gude grey Martin forgives
'e, who be I to fret? Worse'n you've been forgived at fust hand by the
Lard when He travelled on flesh-an'-blood feet 'mong men; an' folks have
short memories for dates, an' them as sniggers now will be dust or
dotards 'fore Tim's grawed. When you've been a lawful wife ten year an'
more, who's gwaine to mind this? Not little Tim's fellow bwoys an' gals,
anyway. His awn generation won't trouble him, an' he'll find a wise
guardian in Martin, an' a lovin' gran'mother in me. Dry your eyes an' be
a Blanchard. God A'mighty sends sawls in the world His awn way, an'
chooses the faithers an' mothers for 'em; an' He's never taught Nature
to go second to parson yet, worse luck. 'Tis done, an' to grumble at a
dead man's doin's--specially if you caan't mend 'em--be vain."

"My share was half, an' not less," said Chris.

"Aye, you say so, but 'tis a deed wheer the blame ban't awften divided
equal," answered Mrs. Blanchard. "Wheer's the maiden as caan't wait for
her weddin' bells?"

The use of the last two words magically swept Chris back into the past.
The coincidence was curious, and she remembered when a man, destined
never to listen to such melody, declared impatiently that he heard it in
the hidden heart of a summer day long past. She did not reply to her
mother, but arose and took her child and went to rest.



CHAPTER X

BAD NEWS FOR BLANCHARD


On the morning that saw the wedding of Chris and Martin, Phoebe
Blanchard found heart and tongue to speak to her husband of the thing
she still kept locked within her mind. Since the meeting with John
Grimbal she had suffered much in secret, but still kept silence; and
now, after a quiet service before breakfast on a morning in
mid-December, most of those who had been present as spectators returned
to the valley, and Phoebe spoke to Will as they walked apart from the
rest. A sight of the enemy it was that loosed her lips, for, much to the
surprise of all present, John Grimbal had attended his brother's
wedding. As the little gathering streamed away after the ceremony, he
had galloped off again with a groom behind him, and the incident now led
to greater things.

"Chill-fashion weddin'," said Will, as he walked homewards, "but it
'pears to me all Blanchards be fated to wed coorious. Well, 't is a gude
matter out o' hand. I knaw I raged somethin' terrible come I fust heard
it, but I think differ'nt now, specially when I mind what Chris must
have felt those times she seed me welting her child an' heard un yell,
yet set her teeth an' never shawed a sign."

"Did 'e note Jan Grimbal theer?"

"I seed un, an' I catched un wi' his eye on you more 'n wance. He 's
grawed to look nowadays as if his mouth allus had a sour plum in it."

"His brain's got sour stuff hid in it if his mouth haven't. Be you ever
feared of un?"

"Not me. Why for should I be? He'll be wan of the fam'ly like, now. He
caan't keep his passion alive for ever. We 'm likely to meet when Martin
do come home again from honeymooning."

"Will, I must tell you something--something gert an' terrible. I should
have told 'e 'fore now but I was frightened."

"Not feared to speak to me?"

"Ess, seeing the thing I had to say. I've waited weeks in fear an'
tremblin', expecting something to happen, an' all weighed down with
fright an' dread. Now, what wi' the cheel that's comin', I caan't carry
this any more."

Being already lachrymose, after the manner of women at a wedding, Phoebe
now shed a tear or two. Will thereupon spoke words of comfort, and
blamed her for hiding any matter from him.

"More trouble?" he said. "Yet I doan't think it,--not now,--just as I be
right every way. I guess 't is your state makes you queer an' glumpy."

"I hope 't was vain talk an' not true anyway."

"More talk 'bout me? You'd think Chagford was most tired o' my name,
wouldn't 'e? Who was it now?"

"Him--Jan Grimbal. I met him 'mong the mushrooms. He burst out an' said
wicked, awful things, but his talk touched the li'l bwoy. He thought Tim
was yourn an' he was gwaine to do mischief against you."

"Damn his black mind! I wonder he haven't rotted away wi' his awn bile
'fore now."

"But that weern't all. He talked an' talked, an' threatened if you
didn't go an' see him, as he'd tell 'bout you in the past, when you was
away that autumn-time 'fore us was married."

"Did he, by God! Doan't he wish he knawed!"

"He does knaw, Will--least he said he did."

"Never dream it, Phoebe. 'T is a lie. For why? 'Cause if he did knaw I
shouldn't--but theer, I've never tawld 'e, an' I ban't gwaine to now.
Awnly I'll say this,--if Grimbal really knawed he'd have--but he can't
knaw, and theer 's an end of it."

"To think I should have been frighted by such a story all these weeks!
An' not true. Oh! I wish I'd told 'e when he sent the message. 'T would
have saved me so much."

"Ess, never keep nothin' from me, Phoebe. Theer 's troubles that might
crush wan heart as comes a light load divided between two. What
message?"

"Some silly auld story 'bout a suit of grey clothes. He said I was to
tell 'e the things was received by the awner."

Will Blanchard stood still so suddenly that it seemed as though magic
had turned him into stone. He stood, and his hands unclasped, and
Phoebe's church service which he carried fell with a thud into the road.
His wife watched him change colour, and noted in his face an expression
she had never before seen there.

"Christ A'mighty!" he whispered, with his eyes reflecting a world of
sheer amazement and even terror; "he _does_ knaw!"

"What? Knaw what, Will? For the Lard's sake doan't 'e look at me like
that; you'll frighten my heart into my mouth."

"To think he knawed an' watched an' waited all these years! The spider
patience o' that man! I see how 't was. He let the world have its way
an' thought to see me broken wi'out any trouble from him. Then, when I
conquered, an' got to Miller's right hand, an' beat the world at its awn
game, he--an' been nursing this against me! The heart of un!"

He spoke to himself aloud, gazing straight before him at nothing.

"Will, tell me what 't is. Caan't your awn true wife help 'e now or
never?"

Recalled by her words he came to himself, picked up her book, and walked
on. She spoke again and then he answered,--

"No, 't is a coil wheer you caan't do nought--nor nobody. The black
power o' waitin'--'t is that I never heard tell of. I thought I knawed
what was in men to the core--me, thirty years of age, an' a ripe man if
ever theer was wan. But this malice! 'T is enough to make 'e believe in
the devil."

"What have you done?" she cried aloud. "Tell me the worst of it, an' how
gert a thing he've got against you."

"Bide quiet," he answered. "I'll tell 'e, but not on the public road.
Not but he'll take gude care every ear has it presently. Shut your mouth
now an' come up to our chamber arter breakfast an' I'll tell 'e the
rights of it. An' that dog knawed an' could keep it close all these
years!"

"He's dangerous, an' terrible, an' strong. I see it in your faace,
Will."

"So he is, then; ban't no foxin' you 'bout it now. 'T is an awful power
of waitin' he've got; an' he haven't bided his time these years an'
years for nothin'. A feast to him, I lay. He've licked his damned lips
many a score o' times to think of the food he'd fat his vengeance with
bimebye."

"Can he taake you from me? If not I'll bear it."

"Ess fay, I'm done for; credit, fortune, all gone. It might have been
death if us had been to war at the time."

She clung to him and her head swam.

"Death! God's mercy! you've never killed nobody, Will?"

"Not as I knaws on, but p'r'aps ban't tu late to mend it. It freezes
me--it freezes my blood to think what his thoughts have been. No, no,
ban't death or anything like that. But 't is prison for sure if--"

He broke off and his face was very dark.

"What, Will? If what? Oh, comfort me, comfort me, Will, for God's sake!
An' another li'l wan comin'!"

"Doan't take on," he said. "Ban't my way to squeal till I'm hurt. Let it
bide, an' be bright an' cheery come eating, for mother 's down in the
mouth at losin' Chris, though she doan't shaw it."

Mrs. Blanchard, with little Timothy, joined the breakfast party at Monks
Barton, and a certain gloom hanging over the party, Mr. Blee commented
upon it in his usual critical spirit.

"This here givin' in marriage do allus make a looker-on down in the
mouth if he 's a sober-minded sort o' man. 'T is the contrast between
the courageousness of the two poor sawls jumpin' into the state, an' the
solid fact of bein' a man's wife or a woman's husband for all time. The
vows they swear! An' that Martin's voice so strong an' cheerful! A
teeming cause o' broken oaths the marriage sarvice; yet each new pair
comes along like sheep to the slaughter."

"You talk like a bachelor man," said Damaris.

"Not so, Mrs. Blanchard, I assure 'e! Lookers-on see most of the game.
Ban't the mite as lives in a cheese what can tell e' 'bout the flavour
of un. Look at a married man at a weddin'--all broadcloth an'
cheerfulness, like the fox as have lost his tail an' girns to see
another chap in the same pickle."

"Yet you tried blamed hard to lose your tail an' get a wife, for all
your talk," said Will, who, although his mind was full enough, yet could
generally find a sharp word for Mr. Blee.

"Bah to you!" answered the old man angrily. "_That_ for you! 'T is allus
your way to bring personal talk into high conversation. I was improvin'
the hour with general thoughts; but the vulgar tone you give to a
discourse would muzzle the wisdom o' Solomon."

Miller Lyddon here made an effort to re-establish peace and soon
afterwards the meal came to an end.

Half an hour later Phoebe heard from her husband the story of his brief
military career: of how he had enlisted as a preliminary to going abroad
and making his fortune, how he had become servant to one Captain
Tremayne, how upon the news of Phoebe's engagement he had deserted, and
how his intention to return and make a clean breast of it had been twice
changed by the circumstances that followed his marriage. Long he took in
detailing every incident and circumstance.

"Coming to think," he said, "of coourse 't is clear as Grimbal must knaw
my auld master. I seed his name raised to a Major in the _Western
Morning News_ a few year agone, an' he was to Okehampton with a
battalion when Hicks come by his death. So that's how't is; an' I ban't
gwaine to bide Grimbal's time to be ruined, you may be very sure of
that. Now I knaw, I act."

"He may be quite content you should knaw. That's meat an' drink enough
for him, to think of you gwaine in fear day an' night."

"Ess, but that's not my way. I ban't wan to wait an enemy's pleasure."

"You won't go to him, Will?"

"Go to un? Ess fay--'fore the day's done, tu."

"That's awnly to hasten the end."

"The sooner the better."

He tramped up and down the bedroom with his eyes on the ground, his
hands in his pockets.

"A tremendous thing to tumble up on the surface arter all these years;
an' a tremendous time for it to come. 'T was a crime 'gainst the Queen
for my awn gude ends. I had to choose 'tween her an' you; I'd do the
same to-morrow. The fault weern't theer. It lay in not gwaine back."

"You couldn't; your arm was broke."

"I ought to have gone back arter 't was well. Then time had passed, an'
uncle's money corned, an' they never found me. But theer it lies ahead
now, sure enough."

"Perhaps for sheer shame he'll bide quiet 'bout it. A man caan't hate
another man for ever."

"I thought not, same as you, but Grimbal shaws we 'm wrong."

"Let us go, then; let us do what you thought to do 'fore faither comed
forward so kind. Let us go away to furrin paarts, even now."

"I doubt if he'd let me go. 'T is mouse an' cat for the minute.
Leastways so he's thought since he talked to 'e. But he'll knaw
differ'nt 'fore he lies in his bed to-night. Must be cut an' dried an'
settled."

"Be slow to act, Will, an'--"

"Theer! theer!" he said, "doan't 'e offer me no advice, theer's a gude
gal, 'cause I couldn't stand it even from you, just this minute. God
knaws I'm not above takin' it in a general way, for the best tried man
can larn from babes an' sucklings sometimes; but this is a thing calling
for nothin' but shut lips. 'T is my job an' I've got to see it through
my own way."

"You'll be patient, Will? 'T isn't like other times when you was right
an' him wrong. He's got the whip-hand of 'e, so you mustn't dictate."

"Not me. I can be reasonable an' just as any man. I never hid from
myself I was doin' wrong at the time. But, when all's said, this auld
history's got two sides to it--'specially if you remember that 't was
through John Grimbal's awn act I had to do wan wrong thing to save you
doin' a worse wan. He'll have to be reasonable likewise. 'T is man to
man."

Will's conversation lasted another hour, but Phoebe could not shake his
determination, and after dinner Blanchard departed to the Red House, his
destination being known to his wife only.

But while Will marched upon this errand, the man he desired to see had
just left his own front door, struck through leafless coppices of larch
and silver beech that approached the house, and then proceeded to where
bigger timber stood about a little plateau of marshy land, surrounded by
tall flags. The woodlands had paid their debt to Nature in good gold,
and all the trees were naked. An east wind lent a hard, clean clearness
to the country. In the foreground two little lakes spread their waters
steel-grey in a cup of lead; the distance was clear and cold and compact
of all sober colours save only where, through a grey and interlacing
nakedness of many boughs, the roof of the Red House rose.

John Grimbal sat upon a felled tree beside the pools, and while he
remained motionless, his pipe unlighted, his gun beside him, a spaniel
worked below in the sere sedges at the water's margin. Presently the dog
barked, a moor-hen splashed, half flying, half swimming, across the
larger lake, and a snipe got up and jerked crookedly away on the wind.
The dog stood with one fore-paw lifted and the water dripping along his
belly. He waited for a crack and puff of smoke and the thud of a bird
falling into the water or the underwood. But his master did not fire; he
did not even see the flushing of the snipe; so the dog came up and
remonstrated with his eyes. Grimbal patted the beast's head, then rose
from his seat on the felled tree, stretched his arms, sat down again and
lighted his pipe.

The event of the morning had turned his thoughts in the old direction,
and now they were wholly occupied with Will Blanchard. Since his fit of
futile spleen and fury after the meeting with Phoebe, John had slowly
sunk back into the former nerveless attitude. From this an occasional
wonder roused him--a wonder as to whether the woman had ever given her
husband his message at all. His recent active hatred seemed a little
softened, though why it should be so he could not have explained. Now he
sometimes assured himself that he should not proceed to extremities, but
hang his sword over Will's head a while and possibly end by pardoning
him altogether.

Thus he paltered with his better part and presented a spectacle of one
mentally sick unto death by reason of shattered purpose. His unity of
design was gone. He had believed the last conversation with Phoebe in
itself sufficient to waken his pristine passion, but anger against
himself had been a great factor of that storm, apart from which
circumstance he made the mistake of supposing that his passion slept,
whereas in reality it was dead. Now, if Grimbal was to be stung into
activity, it must be along another line and upon a fresh count.

Then, as he reflected by the little tarns, there approached Will
Blanchard himself; and Grimbal, looking up, saw him standing among white
tussocks of dead grass by the water-side and rubbing the mud off his
boots upon them. For a moment his breath quickened, but he was not
surprised; and yet, before Will reached him, he had time to wonder at
himself that he was not.

Blanchard, calling at the Red House ten minutes after the master's
departure, had been informed by old Lawrence Vallack, John's factotum,
that he had come too late. It transpired, however, that Grimbal had
taken his gun and a dog, so Will, knowing the estate, made a guess at
the sportsman's destination, and was helped on his way when he came
within earshot of the barking spaniel.

Now that animal resented his intrusion, and for a moment it appeared
that the brute's master did also. Will had already seen Grimbal where he
sat, and came swiftly towards him.

"What are you doing here, William Blanchard? You're trespassing and you
know it," said the landowner loudly. "You can have no business here."

"Haven't I? Then why for do'e send me messages?"

Will stood straight and stern in front of his foe. His face was more
gloomy than the sombre afternoon; his jaw stood out very square; his
grey eyes were hard as the glint of the east wind. He might have been
accuser, and John Grimbal accused. The sportsman did not move from his
seat upon the log. But he felt a flush of blood pulse through him at the
other's voice, as though his heart, long stagnant, was being sluiced.

"That? I'd forgotten all about it. You've taken your time in obeying
me."

"This marnin', an' not sooner, I heard what you telled her when you
catched Phoebe alone."

"Ah! now I understand the delay. Say what you've got to say, please, and
then get out of my sight."

"'T is for you to speak, not me. What be you gwaine to do, an' when be
you gwaine to do it? I allow you've bested me, God knaws how; but
you've got me down. So the sooner you say what your next step is, the
better."

The older man laughed.

"'T isn't the beaten party makes the terms as a rule."

"I want no terms; I wouldn't make terms with you for a sure plaace in
heaven. Tell me what you be gwaine to do against me. I've a right to
knaw."

"I can't tell you."

"You mean as you won't tell me?"

"I mean I can't--not yet. After speaking to your wife I forgot all about
it. It doesn't interest me."

"Be you gwaine to give me up?"

"Probably I shall--as a matter of duty. I'm a bit of a soldier myself.
It's such a dirty coward's trick to desert. Yes, I think I shall make an
example of you."

Will looked at him steadily.

"You want to wake the devil in me--I see that. But you won't. I'm aulder
an' wiser now. So you 'm to give me up? I knawed it wi'out axin'."

"And that doesn't wake you?"

"No. Seein' why I deserted an' mindin' your share in drivin' me."

Grimbal did not answer, and Will asked him to name a date.

"I tell you I shall suit myself, not you. When you will like it least,
be sure of that. I needn't pretend what I don't feel. I hate the sight
of you still, and the closer you come the more I hate you. It rolls
years off me to see your damned brown face so near and hear your voice
in my ear,--years and years; and I'm glad it does. You've ruined my
life, and I'll ruin yours yet."

There was a pause; Blanchard stared cold and hard into Grimbal's eyes;
then John continued, and his flicker of passion cooled a little as he
did so,--

"At least that's what I said to myself when first I heard this little
bit of news--that I'd ruin you; now I'm not sure."

"At least I'll thank you to make up your mind. 'T is turn an' turn
about. You be uppermost just this minute. As to ruining me, that's as
may be."

"Well, I shall decide presently. I suppose you won't run away. And it 's
no great matter if you do, for a fool can't hide himself under his
folly."

"I sha'n't run. I want to get through with this and have it behind me."

"You're in a hurry now."

"It 's just an' right. I knaw that. An' ban't no gert odds who 's
informer. But I want to have it behind me--an' you in front. Do 'e see?
This out o' hand, then it 's my turn again. Keepin' me waitin' 'pon such
a point be tu small an' womanish for a fight between men. 'T is your
turn to hit, Jan Grimbal, an' theer 's no guard 'gainst the stroke, so
if you're a man, hit an' have done with it."

"Ah! you don't like the thought of waiting!"

"No, I do not. I haven't got your snake's patience. Let me have what
I've got to have, an' suffer it, an' make an' end of it."

"You're in a hurry for a dish that won't be pleasant eating, I assure
you."

"It's just an' right I tell 'e; an' I knaw it is, though all these years
cover it. Your paart 's differ'nt. I lay you 'm in a worse hell than me,
even now."

"A moralist! How d' you like the thought of a damned good
flogging--fifty lashes laid on hot and strong?"

"Doan't you wish you had the job? Thrashing of a man wi' his legs an'
hands tied would just suit your sort of courage."

"As to that, they won't flog you really; and I fancy I could thrash you
still without any help. Your memory 's short. Never mind. Get you gone
now; and never speak to me again as long as you live, or I shall
probably hit you across the mouth with my riding-whip. As to giving you
up, you're in my hands and must wait my time for that."

"Must I, by God? Hark to a fule talkin'! Why should I wait your
pleasure, an' me wi' a tongue in my head? You've jawed long enough. Now
you can listen. I'll give _myself_ up, so theer! I'll tell the truth,
an' what drove me to desert, an' what you be anyway--as goes ridin' out
wi' the yeomanry so braave in black an' silver with your sword drawed!
That'll spoil your market for pluck an' valour, anyways. An' when I've
done all court-martial gives me, I'll come back!"

He swung away as he spoke; and the other sat on motionless for an hour
after Will had departed.

John Grimbal's pipe went out; his dog, weary of waiting, crept to his
feet and fell asleep there; live fur and feathers peeped about and
scanned his bent figure, immobile as a tree-trunk that supported it; and
the gun, lying at hand, drew down a white light from a gathering
gloaming.

One great desire was in the sportsman's mind,--he already found himself
hungry for another meeting with Blanchard.



CHAPTER XI

PHOEBE TAKES THOUGHT


That night Will sat and smoked in his bedroom and talked to Phoebe, who
had already gone to rest. She looked over her knees at him with round,
sad eyes; while beside her in a cot slept her small daughter. A candle
burned on the mantelpiece and served to illuminate one or two faded
pictures; a daguerreotype of Phoebe as a child sitting on a donkey, and
an ancient silhouette of Miller Lyddon, cut for him on his visit to the
Great Exhibition. In a frame beneath these appeared the photograph of
little Will who had died at Newtake.

"He thinks he be gwaine to bide his time an' let me stew an' sweat for
it," said the man moodily.

"Awnly a born devil could tell such wickedness. Ban't theer no ways o'
meetin' him, now you knaw? If you'd speak to faither--"

"What 's the use bringing sorrow on his grey hairs?"

"Well, it's got to come; you knaw that. Grimbal isn't the man to
forgive."

"Forgive! That would be worst of all. If he forgived me now I'd go mad.
Wait till I've had soldier law, then us'll talk 'bout forgiving arter."

Phoebe shivered and began to cry helplessly, drying her eyes upon the
sheet.

"Theer--theer," he said; "doan't be a cheel. We 'm made o' stern stuff,
you an' me. 'T is awnly a matter of years, I s'pose, an' the reason I
went may lessen the sentence a bit. Mother won't never turn against me,
an' so long as your faither can forgive, the rest of the world's welcome
to look so black as it pleases."

"Faither'll forgive 'e."

"He might--just wance more. He've got to onderstand my points better
late days."

"Come an' sleep then, an' fret no more till marnin' light anyway."

"'Tis the thing hidden, hanging over my head, biding behind every
corner. I caan't stand it; I caan't wait for it. I'll grow sheer devil
if I've got to wait; an', so like as not, I'll meet un faace to faace
some day an' send un wheer neither his bark nor bite will harm me. Ess
fay--solemn truth. I won't answer for it. I can put so tight a hand 'pon
myself as any man since Job, but to sit down under this--"

"Theer's nought else you can do," said Phoebe. She yawned as she spoke,
but Will's reply strangled the yawn and effectually woke her up.

"So Jan Grimbal said, an' I blamed soon shawed un he was out. Theer's a
thing I can do an' shall do. 'T will sweep the ground from under un; 't
will blaw off his vengeance harmless as a gun fired in the air; 't will
turn his malice so sour as beer after thunder. I be gwaine to give
myself up--then us'll see who's the fule!"

Phoebe was out of bed with her arms round her husband in a moment.

"No, no--never. You couldn't, Will; you daren't--'tis against nature.
You ban't free to do no such wild thing. You forget me, an' the li'l
maid, an' t' other comin'!"

"Doan't 'e choke me," he said; "an' doan't 'e look so terrified. Your
small hands caan't keep off what's ahead o' me; an' I wouldn't let 'em
if they could. 'T is in this world that a chap's got to pay for his sins
most times, an' damn short credit, tu, so far as I can see. So what they
want to bleat 'bout hell-fire for I've never onderstood, seeing you get
your change here. Anyway, so sure as I do a trick that ban't 'zactly
wise, the whip 's allus behind it--the whip--"

He repeated the word in a changed voice, for it reminded him of what
Grimbal had threatened. He did not know whether there might be truth in
it. His pride winced and gasped. He thought of Phoebe seeing his bare
back perhaps years afterwards. A tempest of rage blackened his face and
he spoke in a voice hoarse and harsh.

"Get up an' go to bed. Doan't whine, for God's sake, or you'll drive me
daft. I've paid afore, an' I'll pay again; an' may the Lard help him who
ever owes me ought. No mercy have I ever had from living man,--'cept
Miller,--none will I ever shaw."

"Not to-morrow, Will--not this week. Promise that, an' I'll get into bed
an' bide quiet. For your love o' me, just leave it till arter Christmas
time. Promise that, else you'll kill me. No, no, no--you shaa'n't shout
me down 'pon this. I'll cry to 'e while I've got life left. Promise not
till Christmas be past."

"I'll promise nothing. I must think in the peace o' night. Go to sleep
an 'bide quiet, else you'll wake the li'l gal."

"I won't--I won't--I'll never sleep again. Caan' t'e think o' me so well
as yourself--you as be allus thinking o' me? Ban't I to count in an
awful pass like this? I'm no fair-weather wife, as you knaws by now. If
you gives yourself up, I'll kill myself. You think I couldn't, but I
could. What's my days away from you?"

"Hush, hush!" he said. "Be you mad? 'T is a matter tu small for such
talk as that."

"Promise, then, promise you'll be dumb till arter Christmas."

"So I will, if you 'm that set on it; but if you knawed what waitin'
meant to the likes o' me, you wouldn't ax. You've got my word, now
keep quiet, theer 's a dear love, an' dry your eyes."

He put her into bed, and soon stretched himself beside her. Then she
clung to him as though powers were already dragging him away for ever.
Will, bored and weary, was sorry for his wife with all his soul, and
kept grunting words of good cheer and comfort as he sank to sleep. She
still begged and prayed for delay, and by her importunity made him
promise at last that he would take no step until after New Year's Day.
Then, finding she could win no more in that direction, Phoebe turned to
another aspect of the problem, and began to argue with unexpected if
sophistic skill. Her tears were now dry, her eyes very bright beneath
the darkness; she talked and talked with feverish volubility, and her
voice faded into a long-drawn murmur as Will's hearing weakened on the
verge of unconsciousness.

"Why for d' you say you was wrong in what you done? Why d' you harp an'
harp 'pon that, knawin' right well you'd do the same again to-morrow?
You wasn't wrong, an' the Queen's self would say the same if she
knawed. 'T was to save a helpless woman you runned; an' her--Queen
Victoria--wi' her big heart as can sigh for the sorrow of even such
small folks as us--she'd be the last to blame 'e."

"She'll never knaw nothin' 'bout it, gude or bad. They doan't vex her
ears wi' trifles. I deserted, an' that's a crime."

"I say 't weern't no such thing. You had to choose between that an'
letting me die. You saved my life; an' the facts would be judged the
same by any as was wife an' mother, high or low. God A'mighty 's best
an' awnly judge how much you was wrong; an' you knaw He doan't blame 'e,
else your heart would have been sore for it these years an' years. You
never blamed yourself till now."

"Ess, awften an' awften I did. It comed an' went, an' comed an' went
again, like winter frosts. True as I'm living it comed an' went like
that."

Thus he spoke, half incoherently, his voice all blurred and vague with
sleep.

"You awnly think 't was so. You'd never have sat down under it else. It
ban't meant you should give yourself up now, anyways. God would have
sent the sojers to find 'e when you runned away if He'd wanted 'em to
find 'e. You didn't hide. You looked the world in the faace bold as a
lion, didn't 'e? Coourse you did; an' 't is gwaine against God's will
an' wish for you to give yourself up now. So you mustn't speak an' you
must tell no one--not even faither. I was wrong to ax 'e to tell him.
Nobody at all must knaw. Be dumb, an' trust me to be dumb. 'T is buried
an' forgot. I'll fight for 'e, my dearie, same as you've fought for me
many a time; an' 't will all fall out right for 'e, for men 's come
through worse passes than this wi' fewer friends than what you've got."

She stopped to win breath and, in the silence, heard Will's regular
respiration and knew that he slept. How much he had heard of her speech
Phoebe could not say, but she felt glad to think that some hours at
least of rest and peace now awaited him. For herself she had never been
more widely awake, and her brains were very busy through the hours of
darkness. A hundred thoughts and schemes presented themselves. She
gradually eliminated everybody from the main issue but Will, John
Grimbal, and herself; and, pursuing the argument, began to suspect that
she alone had power to right the wrong. In one direction only could such
an opinion lead--a direction tremendous to her. Yet she did not shrink
from the necessity ahead; she strung herself up to face it; she longed
for an opportunity and resolved to make one at the earliest moment.

Now that night was the longest in the whole year; and yet to Phoebe it
passed with magic celerity.

Will awakened about half-past five, rose immediately according to his
custom, lighted a candle, and started to dress himself. He began the day
in splendid spirits, begotten of good sleep and good health; but his
wife saw the lightness of heart, the bustling activity of body, sink
into apathy and inertia as remembrance overtook his wakening hour. It
was like a brief and splendid dawn crushed by storm-clouds at the very
rise of the sun.

Phoebe presently dressed her little daughter and, as soon as the child
had gone down-stairs, Will resumed the problems of his position.

"I be in two minds this marnin'," he said. "I've a thought to tell
mother of this matter. She 'm that wise, I've knawed her put me on the
right track 'fore now, an' never guess she'd done it. Not but what I
allus awn up to taking advice, if I follow it, an' no man 's readier to
profit by the wisdom of his betters than me. That's how I've done all I
have done in my time. T' other thought was to take your counsel an' see
Miller 'pon it."

"I was wrong, Will--quite wrong. I've been thinking, tu. He mustn't
knaw, nor yet mother, nor nobody. Quite enough knaws as 't is."

"What's the wisdom o' talkin' like that? Who 's gwaine to hide the
thing, even if they wanted to? God knaws I ban't. I'd like, so well as
not, to go up Chagford next market-day an' shout out the business afore
the world."

"You can't now. You must wait. You promised. I thought about it with
every inch of my brain last night, an' I got a sort of feeling--I caan't
explain, but wait. I've trusted you all my life long an' allus shall;
now 't is your turn to trust me, just this wance. I've got great
thoughts. I see the way; I may do much myself. You see, Jan Grimbal--"

Will stood still with his chin half shorn.

"You dare to do that," he said, "an' I'll raise Cain in this plaace;
I'll--"

He broke off and laughed at himself.

"Here be I blusterin' like a gert bully now! Doan't be feared, Phoebe.
Forgive my noise. You mean so well, but you caan't hide your secrets,
fortunately. Bless your purty eyes--tu gude for me, an' allus was,
braave li'l woman!

"But no more of that--no seekin' him, an' no speech with him, if that's
the way your poor, silly thought was. My bones smart to think of you
bearin' any of it. But doan't you put no oar into this troubled water,
else the bwoat'll capsize, sure as death. I've promised 'e not to say a
word till arter New Year; now you must promise me never, so help you, to
speak to that man, or look at un, or listen to a word from un. Fly him
like you would the devil; an' a gude second to the devil he is--if 't is
awnly in the matter o' patience. Promise now."

"You 'm so hasty, Will. You doan't onderstand a woman's cleverness in
such matters. 'T is just the fashion thing as shaws what we 'm made of."

"Promise!" he thundered angrily. "Now, this instant moment, in wan
word."

She gave him a single defiant glance. Then the boldness of her eyes
faded and her lips drooped at the corners.

"I promise, then."

"I should think you did."

A few minutes later Will was gone, and Phoebe dabbed her moist eyes and
blamed herself for so clumsily revealing her great intention,--to see
John Grimbal and plead with him. This secret ambition was now swept
away, and she knew not where to turn or how to act for her husband.



CHAPTER XII

NEW YEAR'S EVE AND NEW YEAR'S DAY


From this point in his career Will Blanchard, who lacked all power of
hiding his inner heart, soon made it superficially apparent that new
troubles had overtaken him. No word concerning his intolerable anxieties
escaped him, but a great cloud of tribulation encompassed every hour,
and was revealed to others by increased petulance and shortness of
temper. This mental friction quickly appeared on the young man's face,
and his habitual expression of sulkiness which formerly belied him, now
increased and more nearly reflected the reigning temperament of
Blanchard's mind. His nerves were on the rack and he grew sullen and
fretful. A dreary expression gained upon his features, an expression sad
as a winter twilight brushed with rain. To Phoebe he seldom spoke of the
matter, and she soon abandoned further attempts to intrude upon his
heart though her own was breaking for him. Billy Blee and the farm hands
were Will's safety-valve. One moment he showered hard and bitter words;
the next, at sight of some ploughboy's tears or older man's reasonable
anger, Will instantly relented and expressed his sorrow. The dullest
among them grew in time to discern matters were amiss with him, for his
tormented mind began to affect his actions and disorder the progress of
his life. At times he worked laboriously and did much with his own hands
that might have been left to others; but his energy was displayed in a
manner fitful and spasmodic; occasionally he would vanish altogether for
four-and-twenty hours or more; and none knew when he might appear or
disappear.

It happened on New Year's Eve that a varied company assembled at the
"Green Man" according to ancient custom. Here were Inspector Chown, Mr.
Chapple, Mr. Blee, Charles Coomstock, with many others; and the assembly
was further enriched by the presence of the bell-ringers. Their services
would be demanded presently to toll out the old year, to welcome with
joyful peal the new; and they assembled here until closing time that
they might enjoy a pint of the extra strong liquor a prosperous publican
provided for his customers at this season.

The talk was of Blanchard, and Mr. Blee, provided with a theme which
always challenged his most forcible diction, discussed Will freely and
without prejudice.

"I 'most goes in fear of my life, I tell 'e; but thank God 't is the
beginning of the end. He'll spread his wings afore spring and be off
again, or I doan't knaw un. Ess fay, he'll depart wi' his fiery nature
an' horrible ideas 'pon manuring of land; an' a gude riddance for Monks
Barton, I say."

"'Mazing 't is," declared Mr. Coomstock, "that he should look so black
all times, seeing the gude fortune as turns up for un when most he wants
it."

"So 't is," admitted Billy. "The faace of un weer allus sulky, like to
the faace of a auld ram cat, as may have a gude heart in un for all his
glowerin' eyes. But him! Theer ban't no pleasin' un. What do he want?
Surely never no man 's failed on his feet awftener."

"'T is that what 's spoilin' un, I reckon," said Mr. Chappie. "A li'l
ill-fortune he wants now, same as a salad o' green stuff wants some bite
to it. He'd grumble in heaven, by the looks of un. An' yet it do shaw
the patience of God wi' human sawls."

"Ess, it do," answered Mr. Blee; "but patience ban't a virtue, pushed tu
far. Justice is justice, as I've said more 'n wance to Miller an'
Blanchard, tu, an' a man of my years can see wheer justice lies so clear
as God can. For why? Because theer ban't room for two opinions. I've
give my Maker best scores an' scores o' times, as we all must; but truth
caan't alter, an' having put thinking paarts into our heads, 't is more
'n God A'mighty's Self can do to keep us from usin' of'em."

"A tremenjous thought," said Mr. Chapple.

"So 't is. An' what I want to knaw is, why should Blanchard have his
fling, an' treat me like dirt, an' ride rough-shod awver his betters,
an' scowl at the sky all times, an' nothin' said?"

"Providence doan't answer a question just 'cause we 'm pleased to ax
wan," said Abraham Chown. "What happens happens, because 't is
foreordained, an' you caan't judge the right an' wrong of a man's life
from wan year or two or ten, more 'n you can judge a glass o' ale by a
tea-spoon of it. Many has a long rope awnly to hang themselves in the
end, by the wonnerful foresight of God."

"All the same, theer'd be hell an' Tommy to pay mighty quick, if you an'
me did the things that bwoy does, an' carried on that onreligious,"
replied Mr. Blee, with gloomy conviction. "Ban't fair to other people,
an' if 't was Doomsday I'd up an' say so. What gude deeds have he done
to have life smoothed out, an' the hills levelled an' the valleys filled
up? An' nought but sour looks for it."

"But be you sure he 'm happy?" inquired Mr. Chapple. "He 'm not the man
to walk 'bout wi' a fiddle-faace if 't was fair weather wi' un. He've
got his troubles same as us, depend upon it."

Blanchard himself entered at this moment. It wanted but half an hour to
closing time when he did so, and he glanced round the bar, snorted at
the thick atmosphere of alcohol and smoke, then pulled out his pipe and
took a vacant chair.

"Gude evenin', Will," said Mr. Chapple.

"A happy New Year, Blanchard," added the landlord.

"Evening, sawls all," answered Will, nodding round him. "Auld year's
like to die o' frost by the looks of it--a stinger, I tell 'e. Anybody
seen Farmer Endicott? I've been looking for un since noon wi' a message
from my faither-in-law."

"I gived thicky message this marnin'," cried Billy.

"Ess, I knaw you did; that's my trouble. You gived it wrong. I'll just
have a pint of the treble X then. 'T is the night for 't."

Will's demeanour belied the recent conversation respecting him. He
appeared to be in great spirits, joked with the men, exchanged shafts
with Billy, and was the first to roar with laughter when Mr. Blee got
the better of him in a brisk battle of repartee. Truth to tell, the
young man's heart felt somewhat lighter, and with reason. To-morrow his
promise to Phoebe held him no longer, and his carking, maddening trial
of patience was to end. The load would drop from his shoulders at
daylight. His letter to Mr. Lyddon had been written; in the morning the
miller must read it before breakfast, and learn that his son-in-law had
started for Plymouth to give himself up for the crime of the past. John
Grimbal had made no sign, and the act of surrender would now be
voluntary--a thought which lightened Blanchard's heart and induced a
turn of temper almost jovial. He joined a chorus, laughed with the
loudest, and contrived before closing time to drink a pint and a half of
the famous special brew. Then the bell-ringers departed to their duties,
and Mr. Chapple with Mr. Blee, Will, and one or two other favoured
spirits spent a further half-hour in their host's private parlour, and
there consumed a little sloe gin, to steady the humming ale.

"You an' me must see wan another home," said Will when he and Mr. Blee
departed into the frosty night.

"Fust time as ever you give me an arm," murmured Billy.

"Won't be the last, I'm sure," declared Will.

"I've allus had a gude word for 'e ever since I knawed 'e," answered
Billy.

"An' why for shouldn't 'e?" asked Will.

"Beginning of New Year 's a solemn sarcumstance," proceeded Billy, as a
solitary bell began to toll. "Theer 's the death-rattle of eighteen
hunderd an' eighty-six! Well, well, we must all die--men an' mice."

"An' the devil take the hindmost."

Mr. Blee chuckled.

"Let 's go round this way," he said.

"Why? Ban't your auld bones ready for bed yet? Theer 's nought theer but
starlight an' frost."

"Be gormed to the frost! I laugh at it. Ban't that. 'T is the Union
workhouse, wheer auld Lezzard lies. I likes to pass, an' nod to un as he
sits on the lew side o' the wall in his white coat, chumping his
thoughts between his gums."

"He 'm happier 'n me or you, I lay."

"Not him! You should see un glower 'pon me when I gives un 'gude day.'
I tawld un wance as the Poor Rates was up somethin' cruel since he'd
gone in the House, an' he looked as though he'd 'a' liked to do me
violence. No, he ban't happy, I warn 'e."

"Well, you won't see un sitting under the stars in his white coat, poor
auld blid. He 'm asleep under the blankets, I lay."

"Thin wans! Thin blankets an' not many of 'em. An' all his awn doin'.
Patent justice, if ever I seed it."

"Tramp along! You can travel faster 'n that. Ess fay! Justice is the
battle-cry o' God against men most times. Maybe they 'm strong on it in
heaven, but theer 's damned little filters down here. Theer go the
bells! Another New Year come. Years o' the Lard they call 'em! Years o'
the devil most times, if you ax me. What do 'e want the New Year to
bring to you, Billy?"

"A contented 'eart," said Mr. Blee, "an' perhaps just half-a-crown more
a week, if 't was seemly. Brains be paid higher 'n sweat in this world,
an' I'm mostly brain now in my dealin's wi' Miller. A brain be like a
nut, as ripens all the year through an' awnly comes to be gude for
gathering when the tree 's in the sere. 'T is in the autumn of life a
man's brain be worth plucking like--eh?"

"Doan't knaw. They 'm maggoty mostly at your age!"

"An' they 'm milky mostly at yourn!"

"Listen to the bells an' give awver chattering," said Will.

"After gude store o' drinks, a sad thing like holy bells ringing in the
dark afar off do sting my nose an' bring a drop to my eye," confessed
Mr. Blee. "An' you--why, theer 's a baaby hid away in the New Year for
you--a human creature as may do gert wonders in the land an' turn out
into Antichrist, for all you can say positive. Theer 's a braave thought
for 'e!"

This remark sobered Blanchard and his mind travelled into the future, to
Phoebe, to the child coming in June.

Billy babbled on, and presently they reached Mrs. Blanchard's cottage.
Damaris herself, with a shawl over her head, stood and listened to the
bells, and Will, taking leave of Mr. Blee, hastened to wish his mother
all happiness in the year now newly dawned. He walked once or twice up
and down the little garden beside her, and with a tongue loosened by
liquor came near to telling her of his approaching action, but did not
do so. Meantime Mr. Blee steered himself with all caution over Rushford
Bridge to Monks Barton.

Presently the veteran appeared before his master and Phoebe, who had
waited for the advent of the New Year before retiring. Miller Lyddon was
about to suggest a night-cap for Billy, but changed his mind.

"Enough 's as gude as a feast," he said. "Canst get up-stairs wi'out
help?"

"Coourse I can! But the chap to the 'Green Man's' that perfuse wi' his
liquor at seasons of rejoicing. More went down than was chalked up; I
allow that. If you'll light my chamber cannel, I'll thank 'e, missis;
an' a Happy New Year to all."

Phoebe obeyed, launched Mr. Blee in the direction of his chamber, then
turned to receive Will's caress as he came home and locked the door
behind him.

The night air still carried the music of the bells. For an hour they
pealed on; then the chime died slowly, a bell at a time, until two
clanged each against the other. Presently one stopped and the last,
weakening softly, beat a few strokes more, then ceased to fret the
frosty birth-hour of another year.

The darkness slipped away, and Blanchard who had long learned to rise
without awakening his wife, was up and dressed again soon after five
o'clock. He descended silently, placed a letter on the mantelpiece in
the kitchen, abstracted a leg of goose and a hunch of bread from the
larder, then set out upon a chilly walk of five miles to Moreton
Hampstead. From there he designed to take train and proceed to Plymouth
as directly and speedily as possible.

Some two hours later Will's letter found itself in Mr. Lyddon's hand,
and his father-in-law learnt the secret. Phoebe was almost as amazed as
the miller himself when this knowledge came to her ear; for Will had not
breathed his intention to her, and no suspicion had crossed his wife's
mind that he intended to act with such instant promptitude on the
expiration of their contract.

"I doubted I knawed him through an' through at last, but 't is awnly
to-day, an' after this, that I can say as I do," mused Mr. Lyddon over
an untasted breakfast. "To think he runned them awful risks to make you
fast to him! To think he corned all across England in the past to make
you his wife against the danger on wan side, an' the power o' Jan
Grimbal an' me drawed up 'pon the other!"

Pursuing this strain to Phoebe's heartfelt relief, the miller neither
assumed an attitude of great indignation at Will's action nor affected
despair of his future. He was much bewildered, however.

"He'll keep me 'mazed so long as I live, 'pears to me. But he 'm gone
for the present, an' I doan't say I'm sorry, knawin' what was behind. No
call for you to sob yourself into a fever. Please God, he'll be back
long 'fore you want him. Us'll make the least we can of it, an' bide
patient until we hear tell of him. He've gone to Plymouth--that's all
Chagford needs to knaw at present."

"Theer 's newspapers an' Jan Grimbal," sobbed Phoebe.

"A dark man wi' fixed purposes, sure enough," admitted her father, for
Will's long letter had placed all the facts before him. "What he'll do
us caan't say, though, seein' Will's act, theer 's nothin' more left for
un. Why has the man been silent so long if he meant to strike in the
end? Now I must go an' tell Mrs. Blanchard. Will begs an' prays of me to
do that so soon as he shall be gone; an' he 'm right. She ought to knaw;
but 't is a job calling for careful choice of words an' a light hand.
Wonder is to me he didn't tell her hisself. But he never does what
you'd count 'pon his doing."

"You won't tell Billy, faither, will 'e? Ban't no call for that."

"I won't tell him, certainly not; but Blee 's a ferret when a thing 's
hid. A detective mind theer is to Billy. How would it do to tell un
right away an' put un 'pon his honour to say nothing?"

"He mustn't knaw; he mustn't knaw. He couldn't keep a secret like
that if you gived un fifty pounds to keep it. So soon tell a town-crier
as him."

"Then us won't," promised Mr. Lyddon, and ten minutes after he proceeded
to Mrs. Blanchard's cottage with the news. His first hasty survey of the
position had not been wholly unfavourable to Will, but he was a man of
unstable mind in his estimates of human character, and now he chiefly
occupied his thoughts with the offence of desertion from the army. The
disgrace of such an action magnified itself as he reflected upon Will's
unhappy deed.

Phoebe, meantime, succumbed and found herself a helpless prey of terrors
vague and innumerable. Will's fate she could not guess at; but she felt
it must be severe; she doubted not that his sentence would extend over
long years. In her dejection and misery she mourned for herself and
wondered what manner of babe would this be that now took substance
through a season of such gloom and accumulated sorrows. The thought
begat pity for the coming little one,--utmost commiseration that set
Phoebe's tears flowing anew,--and when the miller returned he found his
daughter stricken beyond measure and incoherent under her grief. But Mr.
Lyddon came back with a companion, and it was her husband, not her
father, who dried Phoebe's eyes and cheered her lonely heart. Will,
indeed, appeared and stood by her suddenly; and she heard his voice and
cried a loud thanksgiving and clasped him close.

Yet no occasion for rejoicing had brought about this unexpected
reappearance. Indeed, more ill-fortune was responsible for it. When Mr.
Lyddon arrived at Mrs. Blanchard's gate, he found both Will and Doctor
Parsons standing there, then learnt the incident that had prevented his
son-in-law's proposed action.

Passing that way himself some hours earlier, Will had been suddenly
surprised to see blue smoke rising from a chimney of the house. It was a
very considerable time before such event might reasonably be expected
and a second look alarmed Blanchard's heart, for on the little
chimney-stack he knew each pot, and it was not the kitchen chimney but
that of his mother's bedroom which now sent evidence of a newly lighted
fire into the morning.

In a second Will's plans and purposes were swept away before this
spectacle. A fire in a bedroom represented a circumstance almost outside
his experience. At least it indicated sickness unto death. He was in the
house a moment later, for the latch lifted at his touch; and when he
knocked at his mother's door and cried his name, she bade him come in.

"What's this? What's amiss with 'e, mother? Doan't say 't is anything
very bad. I seed the smoke an' my heart stood still."

She smiled and assured him her illness was of no account.

"Ban't nothing. Just a shivering an' stabbing in the chest. My awn
fulishness to be out listening to they bells in the frost. But no call
to fear. I awnly axed my li'l servant to get me a cup o' tea, an' she
comed an' would light the fire, an' would go for doctor, though theer
ban't no 'casion at all."

"Every occasion, an' the gal was right, an' it shawed gude sense in such
a dinky maid as her. Nothin' like taaking a cold in gude time. Do 'e
catch heat from the fire?"

Mrs. Blanchard's eyes were dull, and her breathing a little disordered.
Will instantly began to bustle about. He added fuel to the flame, set on
a kettle, dragged blankets out of cupboards and piled them upon his
mother. Then he found a pillow-case, aired it until the thing scorched,
inserted a pillow, and placed it beneath the patient's head. His
subsequent step was to rummage dried marshmallows out of a drawer,
concoct a sort of dismal brew, and inflict a cup upon the sick woman.
Doctor Parsons still tarrying, Will went out of doors, knocked a brick
from the fowl-house wall, brought it in, made it nearly red hot, then
wrapped it up in an old rug and applied it to his parent's feet,--all of
which things the sick woman patiently endured.

"You 'm doin' me a power o' gude, dearie," she said, as her discomfort
and suffering increased.

Presently Doctor Parsons arrived, checked Will in fantastic experiments
with a poultice, and gave him occupation in a commission to the
physician's surgery. When he returned, he heard that his mother was
suffering from a severe chill, but that any definite declaration upon
the case was as yet impossible.

"No cause to be 'feared?" he asked.

"'T is idle to be too sanguine. You know my philosophy. I've seen a
scratched finger kill a man; I've known puny babes wriggle out of
Death's hand when I could have sworn it had closed upon them for good
and all. Where there 's life there 's hope."

"Ess, I knaw you," answered Will gloomily; "an' I knaw when you say that
you allus mean there ban't no hope at all."

"No, no. A strong, hale woman like your mother need not give us any fear
at present. Sleep and rest, cheerful faces round her, and no amateur
physic. I'll see her to-night and send in a nurse from the Cottage
Hospital at once."

Then it was that Miller Lyddon arrived, and presently Will returned
home. He wholly mistook Phoebe's frantic reception, and assumed that her
tears must be flowing for Mrs. Blanchard.

"She'll weather it," he said. "Keep a gude heart. The gal from the
hospital ban't coming 'cause theer 's danger, but 'cause she 'm smart
an' vitty 'bout a sick room, an' cheerful as a canary an' knaws her
business. Quick of hand an' light of foot for sartin. Mother'll be all
right; I feel it deep in me she will."

Presently conversation passed to Will himself, and Phoebe expressed a
hope this sad event would turn him from his determination for some time
at least.

"What determination?" he asked. "What be talkin' about?"

"The letter you left for faither, and the thing you started to do," she
answered.

"'S truth! So I did; an' if the sight o' the smoke an' then hearin' o'
mother's trouble didn't blaw the whole business out of my brain!"

He stood amazed at his own complete forgetfulness.

"Queer, to be sure! But coourse theer weern't room in my mind for
anything but mother arter I seed her stricken down."

During the evening, after final reports from Mrs. Blanchard's sick-room
spoke of soothing sleep, Miller Lyddon sent Billy upon an errand, and
discussed Will's position.

"Jan Grimbal 's waited so long," he said, "that maybe he'll wait longer
still an' end by doin' nothin' at all."

"Not him! You judge the man by yourself," declared Will. "But he 's made
of very different metal. I lay he's bidin' till the edge of this be
sharp and sure to cut deepest. So like 's not, when he hears tell mother
's took bad he'll choose that instant moment to have me marched away."

There was a moment's silence, then Blanchard burst out into a fury bred
of sudden thought, and struck the table heavily with his fist.

"God blast it! I be allus waitin' now for some wan's vengeance! I caan't
stand this life no more. I caan't an' I won't--'t is enough to soften
any man's wits."

"Quiet! quiet, caan't 'e?" said the miller, as though he told a dog to
lie down. "Theer now! You've been an' gived me palpitations with your
noise. Banging tables won't mend it, nor bad words neither. This thing
hasn't come by chance. You 'm ripening in mind an' larnin' every day.
You mark my word; theer 's a mort o' matters to pick out of this new
trouble. An' fust, patience."

"Patience! If a patient, long-suffering man walks this airth, I be him,
I should reckon. I caan't wait the gude pleasure of that dog, not even
for you, Miller."

"'T is discipline, an' sent for the strengthening of your fibre.
Providence barred the road to-day, else you'd be in prison now. Ban't
meant you should give yourself up--that's how I read it."

"'T is cowardly, waitin' an' playin' into his hands; an' if you awnly
knawed how this has fouled my mind wi' evil, an' soured the very taste
of what I eat, an' dulled the faace of life, an' blunted the right
feeling in me even for them I love best, you'd never bid me bide on
under it. 'T is rotting me--body an' sawl--that's what 't is doin'. An'
now I be come to such a pass that if I met un to-morrow an' he swore on
his dying oath he'd never tell, I shouldn't be contented even wi'
that."

"No such gude fortune," sighed Phoebe.

"'T wouldn't be gude fortune," answered her husband. "I'm like a dirty
chamber coated wi' cobwebs an' them ghostly auld spiders as hangs dead
in unsecured corners. Plaaces so left gets worse. My mind 's all in a
ferment, an' 't wouldn't be none the better now if Jan Grimbal broke
his damned neck to-morrow an' took my secret with him. I caan't breathe
for it; it 's suffocating me."

Phoebe used subtlety in her answer, and invited him to view the position
from her standpoint rather than his own.

"Think o' me, then, an' t' others. 'T is plain selfishness, this talk,
if you looks to the bottom of it."

"As to that, I doan't say so," began Mr. Lyddon, slowly stuffing his
pipe. "No. When a man goes so deep into his heart as what Will have
before me this minute, doan't become no man to judge un, or tell 'bout
selfishness. Us have got to save our awn sawls, an' us must even leave
wife, an' mother, and childer if theer 's no other way to do it. Ban't
no right living--ban't no fair travelling in double harness wi'
conscience, onless you've got a clean mind. An' yet waitin' 'pears the
only way o' wisdom just here. You've never got room in that head o'
yourn for more 'n wan thought to a time; an' I doan't blame 'e theer
neither, for a chap wi' wan idea, if he sticks to it, goes further 'n
him as drives a team of thoughts half broken in. I mean you 'm
forgettin' your mother for the moment. I should say, wait for her
mendin' 'fore you do anything."

Back came Blanchard's mind to his mother with a whole-hearted swing.

"Ess," he said, "you 'm right theer. My plaace is handy to her till she
'm movin'; an' if he tries to take me before she 'm down-house again, by
God! I'll--"

"Let it bide that way then. Put t' other matter out o' your mind so far
as you can. Fill your pipe an' suck deep at it. I haven't seen 'e smoke
this longful time; an' in my view theer 's no better servant than
tobacco to a mind puzzled at wan o' life's cross-roads."



CHAPTER XIII

MR. LYDDON'S TACTICS


In the morning Mrs. Blanchard was worse, and some few days later lay in
danger of her life. Her son spent half his time in the sick-room, walked
about bootless to make no sound, and fretted with impatience at thought
of the length of days which must elapse before Chris could return to
Chagford. Telegrams had been sent to Martin Grimbal, who was spending
his honeymoon out of England; but on the most sanguine computation he
and his wife would scarcely be home again in less than ten days or a
fortnight.

Hope and gloom succeeded each other swiftly within Will Blanchard's
mind, and at first he discounted the consistent pessimism of Doctor
Parsons somewhat more liberally than the issue justified. When,
therefore, he was informed of the truth and stood face to face with his
mother's danger, hope sank, and his unstable spirit was swept from an
altitude of secret confidence to the opposite depth of despair.

Through long silences, while she slept or seemed to do so, the young man
traced back his life and hers; and he began to see what a good mother
means. Then he accused himself of many faults and made impetuous
confession to his wife and her father. On these occasions Phoebe
softened his self-blame, but Mr. Lyddon let Will talk, and told him for
his consolation that every mother's son must be accused of like
offences.

"Best of childer falls far short," he assured Will; "best brings tu many
tears, if 't is awnly for wantonness; an' him as thinks he've been all
he should be to his mother lies to himself; an' him as says he has, lies
to other people."

Will's wild-hawk nature was subdued before this grave crisis in his
parent's life; he sat through long nights and tended the fire with quiet
fingers; he learnt from the nurse how to move a pillow tenderly, how to
shut a door without any sound. He wearied Doctor Parsons with futile
propositions, but the physician's simulated cynicism often broke down in
secret before this spectacle of the son's dog-like pertinacity.
Blanchard much desired to have a vein opened for his mother, nor was all
the practitioner's eloquence equal to convincing him such a course could
not be pursued.

"She 'm gone that gashly white along o' want o' blood," declared Will;
"an' I be busting wi' gude red blood, an' why for shouldn't you put in
a pipe an' draw off a quart or so for her betterment? I'll swear 't
would strengthen the heart of her."

Time passed, and it happened on one occasion, while walking abroad
between his vigils, that Blanchard met John Grimbal. Will had reflected
curiously of late days into what ghostly proportions his affair with the
master of the Red House now dwindled before this greater calamity of his
mother's sickness; but sudden sight of the enemy roused passion and
threw back the man's mind to that occasion of their last conversation in
the woods.

Yet the first words that now passed were to John Grimbal's credit. He
made an astonishing and unexpected utterance. Indeed, the spoken word
surprised him as much as his listener, and he swore at himself for a
fool when Will's retort reached his ear.

They were passing at close quarters,--Blanchard on foot, John upon
horseback,--when the latter said,--

"How 's Mrs. Blanchard to-day?"

"Mind your awn business an' keep our name off your lips!" answered the
pedestrian, who misunderstood the question, as he did most questions
where possible, and now supposed that Grimbal meant Phoebe.

His harsh words woke instant wrath.

"What a snarling, cross-bred cur you are! I should judge your own family
will be the first to thank me for putting you under lock and key. Hell
to live with, you must be."

"God rot your dirty heart! Do it--do it; doan't jaw--do it! But if you
lay a finger 'pon me while my mother 's bad or have me took before she
'm stirring again, I'll kill you when I come out. God 's my judge if I
doan't!"

Then, forgetting what had taken him out of doors, and upon what matter
he was engaged, Will turned back in a tempest, and hastened to his
mother's cottage.

At Monks Barton Mr. Lyddon and his daughter had many and long
conversations upon the subject of Blanchard's difficulties. Both
trembled to think what might be the issue if his mother died; both began
to realise that there could be no more happiness for Will until a
definite extrication from his present position was forthcoming. At his
daughter's entreaty the miller finally determined on a strong step. He
made up his mind to visit Grimbal at the Red House, and win from him, if
possible, some undertaking which would enable him to relieve his
son-in-law of the present uncertainty.

Phoebe pleaded for silence, and prayed her father to get a promise at
any cost in that direction.

"Let him awnly promise 'e never to tell of his free will, an' the door
against danger 's shut," she said. "When Will knaws Grimbal 's gwaine to
be dumb, he'll rage a while, then calm down an' be hisself again. 'T is
the doubt that drove him frantic."

"I'll see the man, then; but not a word to Will's ear. All the fat would
be in the fire if he so much as dreamed I was about any such business.
As to a promise, if I can get it I will. An' 'twixt me an' you, Phoebe,
I'm hopeful of it. He 's kept quiet so long that theer caan't be any
fiery hunger 'gainst Will in un just now. I'll soothe un down an' get
his word of honour if it 's to be got. Then your husband can do as he
pleases."

"Leave the rest to me, Faither."

A fortnight later the cautious miller, after great and exhaustive
reflection, set out to carry into practice his intention. An appointment
was made on the day that Will drove to Moreton to meet his sister and
Martin Grimbal. This removed him out of the way, while Billy had been
despatched to Okehampton for some harness, and Mr. Lyddon's daughter,
alone in the secret, was spending the afternoon with her mother-in-law.

So Miller walked over to the Red House and soon found himself waiting
for John Grimbal in a cheerless but handsome dining-room. The apartment
suggested little occupation. A desk stood in the window, and upon it
were half a dozen documents under a paper-weight made from a horse's
hoof. A fire burned in the broad grate; a row of chairs, upholstered in
dark red leather, stood stiffly round; a dozen indifferent oil-paintings
of dogs and horses filled large gold frames upon the walls; and upon a
massive sideboard of black oak a few silver cups, won by Grimbal's dogs
at various shows and coursing meetings, were displayed.

Mr. Lyddon found himself kept waiting about ten minutes; then John
entered, bade him a cold "good afternoon" without shaking hands, and
placed an easy-chair for him beside the fire.

"Would you object to me lighting my pipe, Jan Grimbal?" asked the miller
humbly; and by way of answer the other took a box of matches from his
pocket and handed it to the visitor.

"Thank you, thank you; I'm obliged to you. Let me get a light, then I'll
talk to 'e."

He puffed for a minute or two, while Grimbal waited in silence for his
guest to begin.

"Now, wi'out any beatin' of the bush or waste of time, I'll speak. I be
come 'bout Blanchard, as I dare say you guessed. The news of what he
done nine or ten years ago comed to me just a month since. A month 't
was, or might be three weeks. Like a bolt from the blue it falled 'pon
me an' that's a fact. An' I heard how you knawed the thing--you as had
such gude cause to hate un wance."

"'Once?'"

"Well, no man's hate can outlive his reason, surely? I was with 'e, tu,
then; but a man what lets himself suffer lifelong trouble from a fule be
a fule himself. Not that Blanchard 's all fule--far from it. He've
ripened a little of late years--though slowly as fruit in a wet summer.
Granted he bested you in the past an' your natural hope an' prayer was
to be upsides wi' un some day. Well, that's all dead an' buried, ban't
it? I hated the shadow of un in them days so bad as ever you did; but
you gets to see more of the world, an' the men that walks in it when you
'm moved away from things by the distance of a few years. Then you find
how wan deed bears upon t' other. Will done no more than you'd 'a' done
if the cases was altered. In fact, you 'm alike at some points, come to
think of it."

"Is that what you've walked over here to tell me?"

"No; I'm here to ax 'e frank an' plain, as a sportsman an' a straight
man wi' a gude heart most times, to tell me what you 'm gwaine to do
'bout this job. I'm auld, an' I assure 'e you'll hate yourself if you
give un up. 'T would be outside your carater to do it."

"You say that! Would you harbour a convict from Princetown if you found
him hiding on your farm?"

"Ban't a like case. Theer 's the personal point of view, if you
onderstand me. A man deserts from the army ten years ago, an' you, a
sort o' amateur soldier, feels 't is your duty to give un to justice."

"Well, isn't that what has happened?"

"No fay! Nothing of the sort. If 't was your duty, why didn't you do it
fust minute you found it out? If you'd writ to the authorities an' gived
the man up fust moment, I might have said 't was a hard deed, but I'd
never have dared to say 't weern't just. Awnly you done no such thing.
You nursed the power an' sucked the thought, same as furriners suck at
poppy poison. You played with the picture of revenge against a man you
hated, an' let the idea of what you'd do fill your brain; an' then, when
you wanted bigger doses, you told Phoebe what you knawed--reckoning as
she'd tell Will bimebye. That's bad, Jan Grimbal--worse than poisoning
foxes, by God! An' you knaw it."

"Who are you, to judge me and my motives?"

"An auld man, an' wan as be deeply interested in this business. Time was
when we thought alike touching the bwoy; now we doan't; 'cause your
knowledge of un hasn't grawed past the point wheer he downed us, an'
mine has."

"You're a fool to say so. D' you think I haven't watched the young
brute these many years? Self-sufficient, ignorant, hot-headed, always in
the wrong. What d' you find to praise in the clown? Look at his life.
Failure! failure! failure! and making of enemies at every turn. Where
would he be to-day but for you?"

"Theer 's a rare gert singleness of purpose 'bout un."

"A grand success he is, no doubt. I suppose you couldn't get on without
him now. Yet you cursed the cub freely enough once."

"Bitter speeches won't serve 'e, Grimbal; but they show me mighty clear
what's hid in you. Your sawl 's torn every way by this thing, an' you
turn an' turn again to it, like a dog to his vomit, yet the gude in 'e
drags 'e away."

"Better cut all that. You won't tell me what you've come for, so I'll
tell you. You want me to promise not to move in this matter,--is that
so?"

"Why, not ezackly. I want more 'n that. I never thought for a minute you
would do it, now you've let the time pass so far. I knaw you'll never
act so ugly a paart now; but Will doan 't, an' he'll never b'lieve me
if I told un."

The other made a sound, half growl, half mirthless laugh.

"You've taken it all for granted, then--you, who know more about what
's in my mind than I do myself? You're a fond old man; and if you'd
wanted to screw me up to the pitch of taking the necessary trouble, you
couldn't have gone a better way. I've been too busy to bother about the
young rascal of late or he'd lie in gaol now."

"Doan't say no such vain things! D' you think I caan't read what your
face speaks so plain? A man's eyes tell the truth awftener than what his
tongue does, for they 'm harder to break into lying. 'Tu busy'! You be
foul to the very brainpan wi' this job an' you knaw it."

"Is the hatred all on my side, d' you suppose? Curse the brute to hell!
And you'd have me eat humble-pie to the man who 's wrecked my life?"

"No such thing at all. All the hatred be on your side. He'd forgived 'e
clean. Even now, though you 'm fretting his guts to fiddlestrings
because of waiting for 'e, he feels no malice--no more than the caged
rat feels 'gainst the man as be carrying him, anyway."

"You're wrong there. He'd kill me to-morrow. He let me know it. In a
weak moment I asked him the other day how his mother was; and he turned
upon me like a mad dog, and told me to keep his name off my lips, and
said he'd have my life if I gave him up."

"That's coorious then, for he 's hungry to give himself up, so soon as
the auld woman 's well again."

"Talk! I suppose he sent you to whine for him?"

"Not so. He'd have blocked my road if he'd guessed."

"Well, I'm honest when I say I don't care a curse what he does or does
not. Let him go his way. And as to proclaiming him, I shall do so when
it pleases me. An odious crime that,--a traitor to his country."

"Doan't become you nor me to dwell 'pon that, seeing how things was."

Grimbal rose.

"You think he 's a noble fellow, and that your daughter had a merciful
escape. It isn't for me to suggest you are mistaken. Now I've no more
time to spare, I'm afraid."

The miller also rose, and as he prepared to depart he spoke a final
word.

"You 'm terrible pushed for time, by the looks of it. I knaw 't is hard
in this life to find time to do right, though every man can make a
'mazing mort o' leisure for t' other thing. But hear me: you 'm ruinin'
yourself, body an' sawl, along o' this job--body an' sawl, like apples
in a barrel rots each other. You 'm in a bad way, Jan Grimbal, an' I'm
sorry for 'e--brick house an' horses an' dogs notwithstanding. Have a
spring cleaning in that sulky brain o' yourn, my son, an' be a man wi'
yourself, same as you be a man wi' the world."

The other sneered.

"Don't get hot. The air is cold. And as you've given so much good
advice, take some, too. Mind your own business, and let your son-in-law
mind his."

Mr. Lyddon shook his head.

"Such words do only prove me right. Look in your heart an' see how 't is
with you that you can speak to an auld man so. 'T is common metal
shawing up in 'e, an' I'm sorry to find it."

He set off home without more words and, as chance ordered the incident,
emerged from the avenue gates of the Red House while a covered vehicle
passed by on the way from Moreton Hampstead. Its roof was piled with
luggage, and inside sat Chris, her husband, and Will. They spied Mr.
Lyddon and made room for him; but later on in the evening Will taxed the
miller with his action.

"I knawed right well wheer you'd come from," he said gloomily, "an' I'd
'a' cut my right hand off rather than you should have done it. You did
n't ought, Faither; for I'll have no living man come between me an'
him."

"I made it clear I was on my awn paart," explained Mr. Lyddon; but that
night Will wrote a letter to his enemy and despatched it by a lad before
breakfast on the following morning.

     "Sir," he said, "this comes to say that Miller seen you yesterday
     out of his own head, and if I had knowed he was coming I would have
     took good care to prevent it.

     "W. BLANCHARD."



CHAPTER XIV

ACTION


Time passed, and Mrs. Blanchard made a slow return to health. Her
daughter assumed control of the sick-room, and Martin Grimbal was denied
the satisfaction of seeing Chris settled in her future home for a period
of nearly two months. Then, when the invalid became sufficiently
restored to leave Chagford for change of air, both Martin and Chris
accompanied her and spent a few weeks by the sea.

Will, meantime, revolved upon his own affairs and suffered torments long
drawn out. For these protracted troubles those of his own house were
responsible, and both Phoebe and the miller greatly erred in their
treatment of him at this season. For the woman there were indeed
excuses, but Mr. Lyddon might have been expected to show more wisdom and
better knowledge of a character at all times transparent enough. Phoebe,
nearing maternal tribulation, threw a new obstacle in her husband's way,
and implored him by all holy things, now that he had desisted from
confession thus far, to keep his secret yet a little longer and wait for
the birth of the child. She used every possible expedient to win this
new undertaking from Will, and her father added his voice to hers. The
miller's expressed wish, strongly urged, frequently repeated, at last
triumphed, and against his own desire and mental promptings, Blanchard,
at terrible cost to himself, had promised patience until June.

Life, thus clouded and choked, wrought havoc with the man. His natural
safety-valves were blocked, his nerves shattered, his temper poisoned.
Primitive characteristics appeared as a result of this position, and he
exhibited the ferocity of an over-driven tame beast, or a hunted wild
one. In days long removed from this crisis he looked back with chill of
body and shudder of mind to that nightmare springtime; and he never
willingly permitted even those dearest to him to retrace the period.

The struggle lasted long, but his nature beat Blanchard before the end,
burst its bonds, shattered promises and undertakings, weakened marital
love for a while, and set him free by one tremendous explosion and
victory of natural force. There had come into his head of late a new
sensation, as of busy fingers weaving threads within his skull and iron
hands moulding the matter of his brain into new patterns. The demon
things responsible for his torment only slept when he slept, or when, as
had happened once or twice, he drank himself indifferent to all mundane
matters. Yet he could not still them for long, and even Phoebe had heard
mutterings and threats of the thread-spinners who were driving her
husband mad.

On an evening in late May she became seriously alarmed for his reason.
Circumstances suddenly combined to strangle the last flickering breath
of patience in Will, and the slender barriers were swept away in such a
storm as even Phoebe's wide experience of him had never parallelled.
Miller Lyddon was out, at a meeting in the village convened to determine
after what fashion Chagford should celebrate the Sovereign's Jubilee;
Billy also departed about private concerns, and Will and his wife had
Monks Barton much to themselves. Even she irritated the suffering man at
this season, and her sunken face and chatter about her own condition and
future hopes of a son often worried him into sheer frenzy. His promise
once exacted she rarely touched upon that matter, believing the less
said the better, but he misunderstood her reticence and held it selfish.
Indeed, Blanchard fretted and chafed alone now; for John Grimbal's
sustained silence had long ago convinced Mr. Lyddon that the master of
the Red House meant no active harm, and Phoebe readily grasped at the
same conclusion.

This night, however, the flood-gates crumbled, and Will, before a futile
assertion from Phoebe touching the happy promise of the time to come and
the cheerful spring weather, dashed down his pipe with an oath, clenched
his hands, then leapt to his feet, shook his head, and strode about like
a maniac.

"Will! You've brawk un to shivers--the butivul wood pipe wi' amber that
I gived 'e last birthday!"

"Damn my birthday--a wisht day for me 't was! I've lived tu long--tu
long by all my years, an' nobody cares wan salt tear that I be roastin'
in hell-fire afore my time. I caan't stand it no more--no more at
all--not for you or your faither or angels in heaven or ten million
babies to be born into this blasted world--not if I was faither to 'em
all. I must live my life free, or else I'll go in a madhouse. Free--do
'e hear me? I've suffered enough and waited more 'n enough. Ban't months
nor weeks neither--'t is a long, long lifetime. You talk o' time
dragging! If you knawed--if you knawed! An' these devil-spinners allus
knotting an' twisting. I could do things--I could--things man never
dreamed. An' I will--for they 'm grawing and grawing, an' they'll burst
my skull if I let 'em bide in it. Months ago I've sat on a fence
unbeknawnst wheer men was shooting, an' whistled for death. So help me,
't is true. Me to do that! Theer 's a cur for 'e; an' yet ban't me
neither, but the spinners in my head. Death 's a party easily called,
mind you. A knife, or a pinch o' powder, or a drop o' deep water--they
'll bring un to your elbow in a moment. Awnly, if I done that, I'd go in
company. Nobody should bide to laugh. Them as would cry might cry, but
him as would laugh should come along o' me--he should, by God!"

"Will, Will! It isn't my Will talking so?"

"It be me, an' it ban't me. But I'm in earnest at last, an' speakin'
truth. The spinners knaw, an' they 'm right. I'm sick to sheer hate o'
my life; and you've helped to make me so--you and your faither likewise.
This thing doan't tear your heart out of you an' grind your nerves to
pulp as it should do if you was a true wife."

"Oh, my dear, my lovey, how can 'e say or think it? You knaw what it has
been to me."

"I knaw you've thought all wrong 'pon it when you've thought at all. An'
Miller, tu. You've prevailed wi' me to go on livin' a coward's life for
countless ages o' time--me--me--creepin' on the earth wi' my tail
between my legs an' knawin' I never set eyes on a man as ban't braver
than myself. An' him--Grimbal--laughing, like the devil he is, to think
on what my life must be!"

"I caan't be no quicker. The cheel's movin' an' bracin' itself up an'
makin' ready to come in the world, ban't it? I've told 'e so fifty
times. It's little longer to wait."

"It's no longer. It's nearer than sleep or food or drink. It's comin'
'fore the moon sets. 'T is that or the madhouse--nothin' else. If you'd
felt the fire as have been eatin' my thinking paarts o' late days you'd
knaw. Ban't no use your cryin', for 't isn't love of me makes you.
Rivers o' tears doan't turn me no more. I'm steel now--fust time for a
month--an' while I'm steel I'll act like steel an' strike like steel.
I've had shaky nights an' silly nights an' haunted nights, but my head
's clear for wance, an' I'll use it while 'tis."

"Not to do no rash thing, Will? For Christ's sake, you won't hurt
yourself or any other?"

"I must meet him wance for all."

"He 'm at the council 'bout Jubilee wi' faither an' parson an' the
rest."

"But he'll go home arter. An' I'll have 'Yes' or 'No' to-night--I will,
if I've got to shake the word out of his sawl. I ban't gwaine to be
driven lunatic for him or you or any. Death's a sight better than a soft
head an' a lifetime o' dirt an' drivelling an' babbling, like the
brainless beasts they feed an' fatten in asylums. That's worse cruelty
than any I be gwaine to suffer at human hands--to be mewed in wan of
them gashly mad-holes wi' the rack an' ruins o' empty flesh grinning an'
gibbering 'pon me from all the corners o' the airth. I be sane now--sane
enough to knaw I'm gwaine mad fast--an' I won't suffer it another hour.
It's come crying and howling upon my mind like a storm this night, an'
this night I'll end it."

"Wait at least until the morning. See him then."

"Go to bed, an' doan't goad me to more waiting, if you ever loved me.
Get to bed--out of my sight! I've had enough of 'e and of all human
things this many days. An' that's as near madness as I'm gwaine. What I
do, I do to-night."

She rose from her chair in sudden anger at his strange harshness, for
the wife who has never heard an unkind word resents with passionate
protest the sting of the first when it falls. Now genuine indignation
inflamed Phoebe, and she spoke bitterly.

"'Enough of me'! Ess fay! Like enough you have--a poor, patient creature
sweatin' for 'e, an' thinkin' for 'e, an' blotting her eyes with tears
for 'e, an' bearin' your childer an' your troubles, tu! 'Enough of me.'
Ess, I'll get gone to my bed an' stiffen my joints wi' kneelin' in
prayer for 'e, an' weary God's ear for a fule!"

His answer was an action, and before she had done speaking he stretched
above him and took his gun from its place on an old beam that extended
across the ceiling.

"What in God's name be that for? You wouldn't--?"

"Shoot a fox? Why not? I'm a farmer now, and I'd kill best auld red Moor
fox as ever gave a field forty minutes an' beat it. You was whinin'
'bout the chicks awnly this marnin'. I'll sit under the woodstack a bit
an' think 'fore I starts. Ban't no gude gwaine yet."

Will's explanation of his deed was the true one, but Phoebe realised in
some dim fashion that she stood within the shadow of a critical night
and that action was called upon from her. Her anger waned a little, and
her heart began to beat fast, but she acted with courage and
promptitude.

"Let un be to-night--auld fox, I mean. Theer 'm more chicks than young
foxes, come to think of it; an' he 'm awnly doin' what you forget to
do--fighting for his vixen an' cubs."

She looked straight into Will's eyes, took the gun out of his hands,
climbed on to a chair, and hung the weapon up again in its place.

He laughed curiously, and helped his wife to the ground again.

"Thank you," she said. "Now go an' do what you want to do, an' doan't
forget the future happiness of women an' childer lies upon it." Her
anger was nearly gone, as he spoke again.

"How little you onderstand me arter all these years--an' never
will--nobody never will but mother. What did 'e fear? That I'd draw
trigger on the man from behind a tree, p'r'aps?"

"No--not that, but that you might be driven to kill yourself along o'
having such a bad wife."

"Now we 'm both on the mad road," he said bitterly. Then he picked up
his stick and, a moment later, went out into the night.

Phoebe watched his tall figure pass over the river, and saw him
silhouetted against dead silver of moonlit waters as he crossed the
stepping-stones. Then she climbed for the gun again, hid it, and
presently prepared for her father's return.

"What butivul peace an quiet theer be in ministerin' to a gude faither,"
she thought, "as compared wi' servin' a stormy husband!" Then sorrow
changed to active fear, and that, in its turn, sank into a desolate
weariness and indifference. She detected no semblance of justice in her
husband's outburst; she failed to see how circumstances must sooner or
late have precipitated his revolt; and she felt herself very cruelly
misjudged, very gravely wronged.

Meantime Blanchard passed through a hurricane of rage against his enemy
much akin to that formerly recorded of John Grimbal himself, when the
brute won to the top of him and he yearned for physical conflict. That
night Will was resolved to get a definite response or come to some
conclusion by force of arms. His thoughts carried him far, and before he
took up his station within the grounds of the Red House, at a point from
which the avenue approach might be controlled, he had already fallen
into a frantic hunger for fight and a hope that his enemy would prove of
like mind. He itched for assault and battery, and his heart clamoured to
be clean in his breast again.

Whatever might happen, he was determined to give himself up on the
following day. He had done all he could for those he loved, but he was
powerless to suffer more. He longed now to trample his foe into the
dust, and, that accomplished, he would depart, well satisfied, and
receive what punishment was due. His accumulated wrongs must be paid at
last, and he fully determined, an hour before John Grimbal came
homewards, that the payment should be such as he himself had received
long years before on Rushford Bridge. His muscles throbbed for action as
he sat and waited at the top of a sloping bank dotted with hawthorns
that extended upwards from the edge of the avenue and terminated on the
fringe of young coverts.

And now, by a chance not uncommon, two separate series of circumstances
were about to clash, while the shock engendered was destined to
precipitate the climax of Will Blanchard's fortunes, in so far as this
record is concerned. On the night that he thus raged and suffered the
gall bred of long inaction to overflow, John Grimbal likewise came to a
sudden conclusion with himself, and committed a deed of nature definite
so far as it went.

In connection with the approaching Jubilee rejoicings a spirit in some
sense martial filled the air, and Grimbal with his yeomanry was destined
to play a part. A transient comet-blaze of militarism often sparkles
over fighting nations at any season of universal joy, and that more
especially if the keystone of the land's constitution be a crown. This
fire found material inflammable enough in the hearts of many Devonshire
men, and before its warm impulse John Grimbal, inspired by a particular
occasion, compounded with his soul at last. Rumoured on long tongues
from the village ale-house, there had come to his ears the report of
certain ill-considered utterances made by his enemy upon the events of
the hour. They were only a hot-headed and very miserable man's foolish
comments upon things in general and the approaching festival in
particular, and they served but to illustrate the fact that no
ill-educated and passionate soul can tolerate universal rejoicings,
itself wretched; but Grimbal clutched at this proven disloyalty of an
old deserter, and told himself that personal questions must weigh with
him no more.

"The sort of discontented brute that drifts into Socialism and all
manner of wickedness," he thought. "The rascal must be muzzled once for
all, and as a friend to the community I shall act, not as an enemy to
him."

This conclusion he came to on the evening of the day which saw
Blanchard's final eruption, and he was amazed to find how
straightforward and simple his course appeared when viewed from the
impersonal standpoint of duty. His brother was due to dine with John
Grimbal in half an hour, for both men were serving on a committee to
meet that night upon the question of the local celebrations at Chagford,
and they were going together. Time, however, remained for John to put
his decision into action. He turned to his desk, therefore, and wrote.
The words to be employed he knew by heart, for he had composed his
letter many months before, and it was with him always; yet now, seen
thus set out upon paper for the first time, it looked strange.

     "RED HOUSE, CHAGFORD, DEVON.

     "_To the Commandant, Royal Artillery, Plymouth._

     "SIR,--It has come to my knowledge that the man, William Blanchard,
     who enlisted in the Royal Artillery under the name of Tom Newcombe
     and deserted from his battery when it was stationed at Shorncliffe
     some ten years ago, now resides at this place on the farm of Monks
     Barton, Chagford. My duty demands that I should lodge this
     information, and I can, of course, substantiate it, though I have
     reason to believe the deserter will not attempt to evade his just
     punishment if apprehended. I have the honour to be,

     "Your obedient servant,

     "JOHN GRIMBAL,

     "Capt. Dev. Yeomanry."

He had just completed this communication when Martin arrived, and as his
brother entered he instinctively pushed the letter out of sight. But a
moment later he rebelled against himself for the act, knowing the ugly
tacit admission represented by it. He dragged forth the letter,
therefore, and greeted his brother by thrusting the note before him.

"Read that," he said darkly; "it will surprise you, I think. I want to
do nothing underhand, and as you're linked to these people for life
now, it is just that you should hear what is going to happen. There's
the knowledge I once hinted to you that I possessed concerning William
Blanchard. I have waited and given him rope enough. Now he's hanged
himself, as I knew he would, and I must act. A few days ago he spoke
disrespectfully of the Queen before a dozen other loafers in a
public-house. That's a sin I hold far greater than his sin against me.
Read what I have just written."

Martin gazed with mildness upon John's savage and defiant face. His
brother's expression and demeanour by no means chimed with the judicial
moderation of his speech. Then the antiquary perused the letter, and
there fell no sound upon the silence, except that of a spluttering pen
as John Grimbal addressed an envelope.

Presently Martin dropped the letter on the desk before him, and his face
was very white, his voice tremulous as he spoke.

"This thing happened more than ten years ago."

"It did; but don't imagine I have known it ten years."

"God forbid! I think better of you. Yet, if only for my sake, reflect
before you send this letter. Once done, you have ruined a life. I have
seen Will several times since I came home, and now I understand the
terrific change in him. He must have known that you know this. It was
the last straw. He seems quite broken on the wheel of the world, and no
wonder. To one of his nature, the past, since you discovered this
terrible secret, must have been sheer torment."

John Grimbal doubled up the letter and thrust it into the envelope,
while Martin continued:

"What do you reap? You're not a man to do an action of this sort and
live afterwards as though you had not done it. I warn you, you intend a
terribly dangerous thing. This may be the wreck of another soul besides
Blanchard's. I know your real nature, though you've hidden it so close
of late years. Post that letter, and your life's bitter for all time.
Look into your heart, and don't pretend to deceive yourself."

His brother lighted a match, burnt red wax, and sealed the letter with a
signet ring.

"Duty is duty," he said.

"Yes, yes; right shall be done and this extraordinary thing made known
in the right quarter. But don't let it come out through you; don't
darken your future by such an act. Your personal relations with the man,
John,--it's impossible you should do this after all these years."

The other affixed a stamp to his letter.

"Don't imagine personal considerations influence me. I'm a soldier, and
I know what becomes a soldier. If I find a traitor to his Queen and
country am I to pass upon the other side of the road and not do my duty
because the individual happens to be a private enemy? You rate me low
and misjudge me rather cruelly if you imagine that I am so weak."

Martin gasped at this view of the position, instantly believed himself
mistaken, and took John at his word. Thereon he came near blushing to
think that he should have read such baseness into a brother's character.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I ought to be ashamed to have
misunderstood you so. I could not escape the personal factor in this
terrible business, but you, I see, have duly weighed it. I wronged you.
Yes, I wronged you, as you say. The writing of that letter was a very
courageous action, under the circumstances--as plucky a thing as ever
man did, perhaps. Forgive me for taking so mean a view of it, and
forgive me for even doubting your motives."

"I want justice, and if I am misunderstood for doing my duty--why, that
is no new thing. I can face that, as better men have done before me."

There was a moment or two of silence; then Martin spoke, almost
joyfully.

"Thank God, I see a way out! It seldom happens that I am quick in any
question of human actions, but for once, I detect a road by which right
may be done and you still spared this terrible task. I do, indeed,
because I know Blanchard better than you do. I can guess what he has
been enduring of late, and I will show him how he may end the torture
himself by doing the right thing even now."

"It's fear of me scorching the man, not shame of his own crime."

"Then, as the stronger, as a soldier, put him out of his misery and set
your mind at ease. Believe me, you may do it without any reflection on
yourself. Tell him you have decided to take no step in the affair, and
leave the rest to me. I will wager I can prevail upon him to give
himself up. I am singularly confident that I can bring it about. Then,
if I fail, do what you consider to be right; but first give me leave to
try and save you from this painful necessity."

There followed a long silence. John Grimbal saw how much easier it was
to deceive another than himself, and, before the spectacle of his
deluded brother, felt that he appreciated his own real motives and
incentives at their true worth. The more completely was Martin
hoodwinked, the more apparent did the truth grow within John's mind.
What was in reality responsible for his intended action never looked
clearer than then, and as Martin spoke in all innocence of the courage
that must be necessary to perform such a deed, Grimbal passed through
the flash of a white light and caught a glimpse of his recent mental
processes magnified by many degrees in the blinding ray. The spectacle
sickened him a little, weakened him, touched the depths of him, stirred
his nature. He answered presently in a voice harsh, abrupt, and deep.

"I've lied often enough in my life," he said, "and may again, but I
think never to you till to-day. You're such a clean-minded, big-hearted
man that you don't understand a mind of my build--a mind that can't
forgive, that can't forget, that's fed full for years on the thought of
revenging that frightful blow in the past. What you feared and hinted
just now was partly the truth, and I know it well enough. But that is
only to say my motives in this matter mixed."

"None but a brave man would admit so mucn, but now you wrong yourself,
as I wronged you. We are alike. I, too, have sometimes in dark moments
blamed myself for evil thoughts and evil deeds beyond my real deserts.
So you. I know nothing but your sense of duty would make you post that
letter."

"We've wrecked each other's lives, he and I; only he's a boy, and his
life's before him; I'm a man, and my life is lived, for I'm the sort
that grows old early, and he's helped Time more than anybody knows but
myself."

"Don't say that. Happiness never comes when you are hungering most for
it; sorrow never when you believe yourself best tuned to bear it. Once I
thought as you do now. I waited long for my good fortune, and said
'good-by' to all my hope of earthly delight."

"You were easier to satisfy than I should have been. Yet you were
constant, too,--constant as I was. We're built that way. More's the
pity."

"I have absolutely priceless blessings; my cup of happiness is full.
Sometimes I ask myself how it comes about that one so little deserving
has received so much; sometimes I waken in the very extremity of fear,
for joy like mine seems greater than any living thing has a right to."

"I'm glad one of us is happy."

"I shall live to see you equally blessed."

"It is impossible."

There was a pause, then a gong rumbled in the hall, and the brothers
went to dinner. Their conversation now ranged upon varied local topics,
and it was not until the cloth had been removed according to
old-fashioned custom, and fruit and wine set upon a shining table, that
John returned to the crucial subject of the moment.

He poured out a glass of port for Martin, and pushed the cigars towards
him, then spoke,--

"Drink. It's very good. And try one of those. I shall not post that
letter."

"Man, I knew it! I knew it well, without hearing so from you. Destroy
the thing, dear fellow, and so take the first step to a peace I fear you
have not known for many days. All this suffering will vanish quicker
than a dream then. Justice is great, but mercy is greater. Yours is the
privilege of mercy, and yet justice shall not suffer either--not if I
know Will Blanchard."

They talked long and drank more than usual, while the elder man's grim
and moody spirit lightened a little before his determination and his
wine. The reek of past passions, the wreckage of dead things, seemed to
be sweeping out of his mind. He forgot the hour and their engagement
until the time fixed for that conference was past. Then he looked at his
watch, rose from the table, and hurried to the hall.

"Let us not go," urged Martin. "They will do very well without us, I am
sure."

But John's only answer was to pull on his driving gloves. He anticipated
some satisfaction from the committee meeting; he suspected, indeed, that
he would be asked to take the chair at it, and, like most men, he was
not averse to the exercise of a little power in a small corner.

"We must go," he said. "I have important suggestions to make, especially
concerning the volunteers. A sham fight on Scorhill would be a happy
thought. We'll drive fast, and only be twenty minutes late."

A dog-cart had been waiting half an hour, and soon the brothers quickly
whirled down Red House avenue. A groom dropped from behind and opened
the gate; then it was all his agility could accomplish to scramble into
his seat again as a fine horse, swinging along at twenty miles an hour,
trotted towards Chagford.



CHAPTER XV

A BATTLE


Silent and motionless sat Blanchard, on the fringe of a bank at the
coppice edge. He watched the stars move onward and the shadows cast by
moonlight creep from west to north, from north to east. Hawthorn scented
the night and stood like masses of virgin silver under the moon; from
the Red House 'owl tree'--a pollarded elm, sacred to the wise bird--came
mewing of brown owls; and once a white one struck, swift as a streak of
feathered moonlight, on the copse edge, and passed so near to Blanchard
that he saw the wretched shrew-mouse in its talons. "'Tis for the young
birds somewheers," he thought; "an' so they'll thrive an' turn out
braave owlets come bimebye; but the li'l, squeakin', blind shrews,
what'll they do when no mother comes home-along to 'em?"

He mused drearily upon this theme, but suddenly started, for there came
the echo of slow steps in the underwood behind him. They sank into
silence and set Will wondering as to what they might mean. Then another
sound, that of a galloping horse and the crisp ring of wheels, reached
him, and, believing that John Grimbal was come, he strung himself to the
matter in hand. But the vehicle did not stop. A flash of yellow light
leapt through the distance as a mail-cart rattled past upon its way to
Moreton. This circumstance told Will the hour and he knew that his vigil
could not be much longer protracted.

Then death stalked abroad again, but this time in a form that awoke the
watcher's deep-rooted instincts, took him clean out of himself, and
angered him to passion, not in his own cause but another's. There came
the sudden scream of a trapped hare,--that sound where terror and agony
mingle in a cry half human,--and so still was the hour that Blanchard
heard the beast's struggles though it was fifty yards distant. A hare in
a trap at any season meant a poacher--a hated enemy of society in
Blanchard's mind; and his instant thought was to bring the rascal to
justice if he could. Now the recent footfall was explained and Will
doubted not that the cruel cry which had scattered his reveries would
quickly attract some hidden man responsible for it. The hare was caught
by a wire set in a run at the edge of the wood, and now Blanchard
crawled along on his stomach to within ten yards of the tragedy, and
there waited under the shadow of a white-thorn at the edge of the woods.
Within two minutes the bushes parted and, where the foliage of a young
silver birch showered above lesser brushwood, a man with a small head
and huge shoulders appeared. Seeing no danger he crept into the open,
lifted his head to the moon, and revealed the person and features of Sam
Bonus, the labourer with whom Will had quarrelled in times long past.
Here, then, right ahead of him, appeared such a battle as Blanchard had
desired, but with another foe than he anticipated. That accident
mattered nothing, however. Will only saw a poacher, and to settle the
business of such an one out of hand if possible was, in his judgment, a
definite duty to be undertaken by every true man at any moment when
opportunity offered.

He walked suddenly from shadow and stood within three yards of the
robber as Bonus raised the butt of his gun to kill the shrieking beast
at his feet.

"You! An' red-handed, by God! I knawed 't was no lies they told of 'e."

The other started and turned and saw who stood against him.

"Blanchard, is it? An' what be you doin' here? Come for same reason,
p'r'aps?"

"I'd make you pay, if 't was awnly for sayin' that! I'm a man to steal
others' fur out of season, ban't I? But I doan't have no words wi' the
likes o' you. I've took you fair an' square, anyways, an' will just ax
if you be comin' wi'out a fuss, or am I to make 'e?"

The other snarled.

"You--you come a yard nearer an' I'll blaw your damned head--"

But the threat was left unfinished, and its execution failed, for Will
had been taught to take an armed man in his early days on the river, and
had seen an old hand capture more than one desperate character. He knew
that instantaneous action might get him within the muzzle of the gun and
out of danger, and while Bonus spoke, he flew straight upon him with
such unexpected celerity that Sam had no time to accomplish his purpose.
He came down heavily with Blanchard on top of him, and his weapon fell
from his hand. But the poacher was not done with. As they lay
struggling, he found his foot clear and managed to kick Will twice on
the leg above the knee. Then Blanchard, hanging like a dog to his foe,
freed an arm, and hit hard more than once into Sam's face. A blow on the
nose brought red blood that spurted over both men black as ink under the
moonlight.

It was not long before they broke away and rose from their first
struggle on the ground, but Bonus finally got to his knees, then to his
feet, and Will, as he did the same, knew by a sudden twinge in his leg
that if the poacher made off it must now be beyond his power to follow.

"No odds," he gasped, answering his thought aloud, while they wrestled.
"If you've brawk me somewheers 't is no matter, for you 'm marked all
right, an' them squinting eyes of yourn'll be blacker 'n sloes come
marnin'."

This obvious truth infuriated Bonus. He did not attempt to depart, but,
catching sight of his gun, made a tremendous effort to reach it. The
other saw this aim and exerted his strength in an opposite direction.
They fought in silence awhile--growled and cursed, sweated and swayed,
stamped and slipped and dripped blood under the dewy and
hawthorn-scented night. Bonus used all his strength to reach the gun;
Will sacrificed everything to his hold. He suffered the greater
punishment for a while, because Sam fought with all his limbs, like a
beast; but presently Blanchard threw the poacher heavily, and again they
came down together, this time almost on the wretched beast that still
struggled, held by the wire at hand. It had dragged the fur off its leg,
and white nerve fibres, torn bare, glimmered in the red flesh under the
moon.

Both fighters were now growing weaker, and each knew that a few minutes
more must decide the fortune of the battle. Bonus still fought for the
gun, and now his weight began to tell. Then, as he got within reach, and
stretched hand to grasp it, Blanchard, instead of dragging against him,
threw all his force in the same direction, and Sam was shot clean over
the gun. This time they twisted and Will fell underneath. Both
simultaneously thrust a hand for the weapon; both gripped it, and then
exerted their strength for possession. Will meant using it as a club if
fate was kind; the other man, rating his own life at nothing, and,
believing that he bore Blanchard the grudge of his own ruin, intended,
at that red-hot moment, to keep his word and blow the other's brains out
if he got a chance to do so.

Then, unheard by the combatants, a distant gate was thrown open, two
brilliant yellow discs of fire shone along the avenue below, and John
Grimbal returned to his home. Suddenly, seeing figures fighting
furiously on the edge of the hill not fifty yards away, he pulled up,
and a din of conflict sounded in his ears as the rattle of hoof and
wheel and harness ceased. Leaping down he ran to the scene of the
conflict as fast as possible, but it was ended before he arrived. A gun
suddenly exploded and flashed a red-hot tongue of flame across the
night. A hundred echoes caught the detonation and as the discharge
reverberated along the stony hills to Fingle Gorge, Will Blanchard
staggered backwards and fell in a heap, while the poacher reeled, then
steadied himself, and vanished under the woods.

"Bring a lamp," shouted Grimbal, and a moment later his groom obeyed;
but the fallen man was sitting up by the time John reached him, and the
gun that had exploded was at his feet.

"You 'm tu late by half a second," he gasped. "I fired myself when I
seed the muzzle clear. Poachin' he was, but the man 's marked all right.
Send p'liceman for Sam Bonus to-morrer, an' I lay you'll find a
picter."

"Blanchard!"

"Ess fay, an' no harm done 'cept a stiff leg. Best to knock thicky poor
twoad on the head. I heard the scream of un and comed along an' waited
an' catched my gen'leman in the act."

The groom held a light to the mangled hare.

"Scat it on the head," said Will, "then give me a hand."

He was helped to his feet; the servant went on before with the lamp, and
Blanchard, finding himself able to walk without difficulty, proceeded,
slowly supporting himself by the poacher's gun.

Grimbal waited for him to speak and presently he did so.

"Things falls out so different in this maze of a world from what man may
count on."

"How came it that you were here?"

"Blamed if I can tell 'e till I gather my wits together. 'Pears half a
century or so since I comed; yet ban't above two hour agone."

"You didn't come to see Sam Bonus, I suppose?"

"No fay! Never a man farther from my thought than him when I seed un
poke up his carrot head under the moon. I was 'pon my awn affairs an'
comed to see you. I wanted straight speech an' straight hitting; an' I
got 'em, for that matter. An' fightin' 's gude for the blood, I
reckon--anyway for my fashion blood."

"You came to fight me, then?"

"I did--if I could make 'e fight."

"With that gun?"

"With nought but a savage heart an' my two fistes. The gun belongs to
Sam Bonus. Leastways it did, but 't is mine now--or yours, as the party
most wronged."

"Come this way and drink a drop of brandy before you go home. Glad you
had some fighting as you wanted it so bad. I know what it feels like to
be that way, too. But there wouldn't have been blows between us. My mind
was made up. I wrote to Plymouth this afternoon. I wrote, and an hour
later decided not to post the letter. I've changed my intentions
altogether, because the point begins to appear in a new light. I'm sorry
for a good few things that have happened of late years."

Will breathed hard a moment; then he spoke slowly and not without more
emotion than his words indicated.

"That's straight speech--if you mean it. I never knawed how 't was that
a sportsman, same as you be, could keep rakin' awver a job an' drive a
plain chap o' the soil like me into hell for what I done ten year
agone."

"Let the past go. Forget it; banish it for all time as far as you have
the power. Blame must be buried both sides. Here's the letter upon my
desk. I'll burn it, and I'll try to burn the memory often years with it.
Your road's clear for me."

"Thank you," said Blanchard, very slowly. "I lay I'll never hear no
better news than that on this airth. Now I'm free--free to do how I
please, free to do it undriven."

There was a long silence. Grimbal poured out half a tumbler of brandy,
added soda water, then handed the stimulant to Will; and Blauchard,
after drinking, sat in comfort a while, rubbed his swollen jaw, and
scraped the dried blood of Bonus off his hands.

"Why for did you chaange so sudden?" he asked, as Grimbal turned to his
desk.

"I could tell you, but it doesn't matter. A letter in the mind looks
different to one on paper; and duty often changes its appearance, too,
when a man is honest with himself. To be honest with yourself is the
hardest sort of honesty. I've had speech with others about this--my
brother more particularly."

"I wish to God us could have settled it without no help from outside."

Grimbal rang the bell, then answered.

"As to settling it, I know nothing about that. I've settled with my own
conscience--such as it is."

"I'd come for 'Yes' or 'No.'"

"Now you have a definite answer."

"An' thank you. Then what 's it to be between us, when I come back? May
I ax that? Them as ban't enemies no more might grow to be friends--eh?"

What response Grimbal would have made is doubtful. He did not reply, for
his servant, Lawrence Vallack, entered at the moment, and he turned
abruptly upon the old man.

"Where 's the letter I left upon my desk? It was directed to Plymouth."

"All right, sir, all right; don't worrit. I've eyes in my head for my
betters still, thank God. I seed un when I come to shut the shutters an'
sent Joe post-haste to the box. 'T was in plenty of time for the mail."

John emptied his lungs in a great respiration, half-sigh, half-groan. He
could not speak. Only his fingers closed and he half lifted his hand as
though to crush the smirking ancient. Then he dropped his arm and looked
at Blanchard, asking the question with his eyes that he could find no
words for.

"I heard the mail go just 'fore the hare squealed," said Will stolidly,
"an' the letter with it for certain."

Grimbal started up and rushed to the hall while the other limped after
him.

"Doan't 'e do nothin' fulish. I believe you never meant to post un. Ess,
I'll take your solemn word for that. An' if you didn't mean to send
letter, 't is as if you hadn't sent un. For my mind weer fixed, whatever
you might do."

"Don't jaw, now! There 's time to stop the mail yet. I can get to
Moreton as soon or sooner than that crawling cart if I ride. I won't be
fooled like this!"

He ran to the stables, called to the groom, clapped a saddle on the
horse that had just brought him home, and in about three minutes was
riding down the avenue, while his lad reached the gate and swung it open
just in time. Then Grimbal galloped into the night, with heart and soul
fixed upon his letter. He meant to recover it at any reasonable cost.
The white road streaked away beneath him, and a breeze created by his
own rapid progress steadied him as he hastened on. Presently at a
hill-foot, he saw how to save a mile or more by short cuts over
meadow-land, so left the highway, rode through a hayfield, and dashed
from it by a gap into a second. Then he grunted and the sound was one of
satisfaction, for his tremendous rate of progress had served its object
and already, creeping on the main road far ahead, he saw the vehicle
which held the mail.

Meanwhile Blanchard and the man-servant stood and watched John Grimbal's
furious departure.

"Pity," said Will. "No call to do it. I've took his word, an' the end 's
the same, letter or no letter. Now let me finish that theer brandy, then
I'll go home."

But Mr. Vallack heard nothing. He was gazing out into the night and
shaking with fear.

"High treason 'gainst the law of the land to lay a finger on the mail. A
letter posted be like a stone flinged or a word spoken--out of our
keeping for all time. An' me to blame for it. I'm a ruined man along o'
taking tu much 'pon myself an' being tu eager for others. He'll fling me
out, sure 's death. 'T is all up wi' me."

"As to that, I reckon many a dog gets a kick wheer he thinks he 's
earned a pat," said Will; "that's life, that is. An' maybe theer's sore
hearts in dumb beasts, tu, sometimes, for a dog loves praise like a
woman. He won't sack 'e. You done what 'peared your duty."

Blanchard then left the house, slowly proceeded along the avenue and
presently passed out on to the highroad. As he walked the pain of his
leg diminished, but he put no strain upon it and proceeded very
leisurely towards home. Great happiness broke into his mind, undimmed by
aching bones and bruises. The reflection that he was reconciled to John
Grimbal crowded out lesser thoughts. He knew the other had spoken truth,
and accepted his headlong flight to arrest the mail as sufficient proof
of it. Then he thought of the possibility of giving himself up before
Grimbal's letter should come to be read.

At home Phoebe was lying awake in misery waiting for him. She had
brought up to their bedroom a great plate of cold bacon with vegetables
and a pint of beer; and as Will slowly appeared she uttered a cry and
embraced him with thanksgivings. Upon Blanchard's mind the return to his
wife impressed various strange thoughts. He soothed her, comforted her,
and assured her of his safety. But to him it seemed that he spoke with a
stranger, for half a century of experience appeared to stretch between
the present and his departure from Monks Barton about three hours
before. His wife experienced similar sensations. That this cheerful,
battered, hungry man could be the same who had stormed from her into the
night a few short hours before, appeared impossible.



CHAPTER XVI

A PAIR OF HANDCUFFS


Mr. Blee, to do him justice, was usually the first afoot at Monks
Barton, both winter and summer. The maids who slept near him needed no
alarum, for his step on the stair and his high-pitched summons, "Now
then, you lazy gals, what be snorin' theer for, an' the day broke?" was
always sufficient to ensure their wakening.

At an early hour of the morning that dawned upon Will's nocturnal
adventures, Billy stood in the farmyard and surveyed the shining river
to an accompaniment of many musical sounds. On Monks Barton thatches the
pigeons cooed and bowed and gurgled to their ladies, cows lowed from the
byres, cocks crew, and the mill-wheel, already launched upon the
business of the day, panted from its dark habitation of dripping moss
and fern.

Billy sniffed the morning, then proceeded to a pig's sty, opened a door
within it, and chuckled at the spectacle that greeted him.

"Burnish it all! auld sow 's farrowed at last, then. Busy night for her,
sure 'nough! An' so fine a litter as ever I seed, by the looks of it."

He bustled off to get refreshment for the gaunt, new-made mother, and as
he did so met Ted Chown, who now worked at Mr. Lyddon's, and had just
arrived from his home in Chagford.

"Marnin', sir; have 'e heard the news? Gert tidings up-long I 'sure 'e."

"Not so gert as what I've got, I'll lay. Butivul litter 't is. Come an'
give me a hand."

"Bonus was catched poachin' last night to the Red House. An' he've had
his faace smashed in, nose broke, an' all. He escaped arter; but he went
to Doctor fust thing to-day an' got hisself plastered; an' then, knawin'
't weern't no use to hide, comed right along an' gived hisself up to
faither."

"My stars! An' no more'n what he desarved, that's certain."

"But that ban't all, even. Maister Jan Grimbal's missing! He rode off
last night, Laard knaws wheer, an' never a sign of un seed since.
They've sent to the station 'bout it a'ready; an' they 'm scourin' the
airth for un. An' 't was Maister Blanchard as fought wi' Bonus, for Sam
said so."

"Guy Fawkes an' angels! Here, you mix this. I must tell Miller an' run
about a bit. Gwaine to be a gert day, by the looks of it!"

He hurried into the house, met his master and began with breathless
haste,--

"Awful doin's! Awful doin's, Miller. Such a sweet-smellin' marnin', tu!
Bear yourself stiff against it, for us caan't say what remains to be
told."

"What's wrong now? Doan't choke yourself. You 'm grawin' tu auld for all
the excitements of modern life, Billy. Wheer's Will?"

"You may well ax. Sleepin' still, I reckon, for he comed in long arter
midnight. I was stirrin' at the time an' heard un. Sleepin' arter black
deeds, if all they tell be true."

"Black deeds!"

"The bwoy Ted's just comed wi' it. 'T is this way: Bonus be at death's
door wi' a smashed nose, an' Blanchard done it; an' Jan Grimbal's
vanished off the faace o' the airth. Not a sign of un seed arter he
drove away last night from the Jubilee gathering. An' if 't is murder,
you'll be in the witness-box, knawin' the parties same as you do; an'
the sow 's got a braave litter, though what's that arter such news?"

"Guess you 'm dreamin', Blee," said Mr. Lyddon, as he took his hat and
walked into the farmyard.

Billy was hurt.

"Dreamin', be I? I'm a man as dreams blue murders, of coourse! Tu auld
to be relied on now, I s'pose. Theer! Theer!" he changed his voice and
it ran into a cracked scream of excitement. "Theer! P'r'aps I'm
dreamin', as Inspector Chown an' Constable Lamacraft be walkin' in the
gate this instant moment!"

But there was no mistaking this fact. Abraham Chown entered, marched
solemnly to the party at the door, cried "Halt!" to his subordinate,
then turned to Mr. Lyddon.

"Good-day to you, Miller," he said, "though 't is a bad day, I'm
fearin'. I be here for Will Blanchard, _alias_ Tom Newcombe."

"If you mean my son-in-law, he 's not out of bed to my knawledge."

"Dear sawls! Doan't 'e say 't is blue murder--doan't 'e say that!"
implored Mr. Blee. His head shook and his tongue revolved round his
lips.

"Not as I knaws. We 'm actin' on instructions from the military to
Plymouth."

"Theer 's allus wickedness hid under a alias notwithstanding," declared
Billy, rather disappointed; "have 'e found Jan Grimbal?"

"They be searchin' for un. Jim Luke, Inspector to Moreton, an' his men
be out beatin' the country. But I'm here, wi' my staff, for William
Blanchard. March!"

Lamacraft, thus addressed, proceeded a pace or two until stopped by Mr.
Lyddon.

"No call to go in. He'll come down. But I'm sore puzzled to knaw what
this means, for awnly last night I heard tell from Jan Grimbal's awn
lips that he'd chaanged his mind about a private matter bearin' on
this."

"I want the man, anyways, an' I be gwaine to have un," declared
Inspector Chown. He brought a pair of handcuffs from his pocket and gave
them to the constable.

"Put up them gashly things, Abraham Chown," said the miller sternly.
"Doan't 'e knaw Blanchard better 'n that?"

"Handcuffed he'll be, whether he likes it or not," answered the other;
"an' if theer's trouble, I bid all present an' any able-bodied men 'pon
the premises to help me take him in the Queen's name."

Billy hobbled round the corner, thrust two fingers into his mouth, and
blew a quavering whistle; whereupon two labourers, working a few hundred
yards off, immediately dropped their tools and joined him.

"Run you here," he cried. "P'lice be corned to taake Will Blanchard, an'
us must all give the Law a hand, for theer'll be blows struck if I knaw
un."

"Will Blanchard! What have he done?"

"Been under a alias--that's the least of it, but--God, He knaws--it may
rise to murder. 'T is our bounden duty to help Chown against un."

"Be danged if I do!" said one of the men.

"Nor me," declared the other. "Let Chown do his job hisself--an' get his
jaw broke for his trouble."

But they followed Mr. Blee to where the miller still argued against
Lamacraft's entrance.

"Why didn't they send soldiers for un? That's what he reckoned on,"
said Mr. Lyddon.

"'T is my job fust."

"I'm sorry you've come in this high spirit. You knaw the man and ought
to taake his word he'd go quiet and my guarantee for it."

"I knaw my duty, an' doan't want no teachin' from you."

"You're a fule!" said Miller, in some anger. "An' 't will take more 'n
you an' that moon-faced lout to put them things on the man, or I'm much
mistaken."

He went indoors while the labourers laughed, and the younger constable
blushed at the insult.

"How do 'e like that, Peter Lamacraft?" asked a labourer.

"No odds to me," answered the policeman, licking his hands nervously and
looking at the door. "I ban't feared of nought said or done if I've got
the Law behind me. An' you'm liable yourself if you doan't help."

"Caan't wait no more," declared Mr. Chown. "If he's in bed, us'll take
un in bed. Come on, you!"

Thus ordered to proceed, Lamacraft set his face resolutely forward and
was just entering the farm when Phoebe appeared. Her tears were dry,
though her voice was unsteady and her eyelids red.

"Gude mornin', Mr. Chown," she said.

"Marnin', ma'am. Let us pass, if you please."

"Are you coming in? Why?"

"Us caan't bide no more, an' us caan't give no more reasons. The Law
ban't 'spected to give reasons for its deeds, an' us won't be bamboozled
an' put off a minute longer," answered Chown grimly. "March, I tell 'e,
Peter Lamacraft."

"You caan't see my husband."

"But we'm gwaine to see un. He've got to see me, an' come along wi' me,
tu. An' if he's wise, he'll come quiet an' keep his mouth shut. That
much I'll tell un for his gude."

"If you'll listen, I might make you onderstand how 'tis you caan't see
Will," said Phoebe quietly. "You must knaw he runned away an' went
soldiering before he married me. Then he comed back for love of me
wi'out axin' any man's leave."

"So much the worse, ma'am; he'm a desarter!"

"The dark wickedness!" gasped Mr. Blee; "an' him dumb as a newt 'bout it
all these years an' years! The conscience of un!"

"Well, you needn't trouble any more," continued Phoebe to the policemen.
"My husband be gwaine to take this matter into his awn hands now."

Inspector Chown laughed.

"That's gude, that is!--now he 'm blawn upon!"

"He 's gwaine to give himself up--he caan't do more," said Phoebe,
turning to her father who now reappeared.

"Coourse he caan't do more. What more do 'e want?" the miller inquired.

"Him," answered Mr. Chown. "No more an' no less; an' everything said
will be used against him."

"You glumpy auld Dowl!" growled a labouring man.

"All right, all right. You just wait, all of 'e! Wheer's the man? How
much longer be I to bide his pleasure? March! Damn it all! be the Law a
laughing-stock?" The Inspector was growing very hot and excited.

"He's gone," said Phoebe, as Mr. Lamacraft entered the farm, put one
foot on the bottom step of the stairs, then turned for further orders.
"He's gone, before light. He rested two hours or so, then us harnessed
the trap an' he drove away to Moreton to take fust train to Plymouth by
way o' Newton Abbot. An' he said as Ted Chown was to go in arter
breakfast an' drive the trap home."

"Couldn't tell me nothin' as had pleased me better," said the miller.
"'T is a weight off me--an' off him I reckon. Now you 'm answered, my
son; you can telegraph back as you corned wi' your auld handcuffs tu
late by hours, an' that the man's on his way to give hisself up."

"I've only got your word for it."

"An' what better word should 'e have?" piped Billy, who in the space of
half a minute had ranged himself alongside his master. "You to question
the word o' Miller Lyddon, you crooked-hearted raven! Who was it spoke
for 'e fifteen year ago an' got 'em to make 'e p'liceman 'cause you was
tu big a fule to larn any other trade? Gert, thankless twoad! An' who
was it let 'em keep the 'Green Man' awpen two nights in wan week arter
closin' time, 'cause he wanted another drop hisself?"

"Come you away," said the Inspector to his constable. "Ban't for the
likes of we to have any talk wi' the likes o' they. But they'll hear
more of this; an' if theer's been any hookem-snivey dealin's with the
Law, they'll live to be sorry. An' you follow me likewise," he added to
his son, who stood hard by. "You come wi' me, Ted, for you doan't do no
more work for runaway soldiers, nor yet bald-headed auld antics like
this here!"

He pointed to Mr. Blee, then turned to depart.

"Get off honest man's land, you black-bearded beast!" screamed Billy.
"You 'm most like of any wan ever I heard tell of to do murder yourself;
an' auld as I be, I'd crawl on my hands an' knees to see you scragged
for 't, if 't was so far as the sun in heaven!"

"That's libel," answered Mr. Chown, with cold and haughty authority;
"an' you've put yourself in the grip of the Law by sayin' it, as you'll
knaw before you 'm much aulder."

Then, with this trifling advantage, he retreated, while Lamacraft and
Ted brought up the rear.

"So theer's an end of that. Now us'll fall to wi' no worse appetites,"
declared Miller. "An' as to Will," he added, "'fore you chaps go, just
mind an' judge no man till you knaw what's proved against him. Onless
theer's worse behind than I've larned so far, I'm gwaine to stand by
un."

"An' me, tu!" said Mr. Blee, with a fine disregard for his recent
utterances. "I've teached the chap purty nigh all he knaws an' I ban't
gwaine to turn on un now, onless 't is proved blue murder. An' that
Chown 's a disgrace to his cloth; an' I'd pull his ugly bat's ears on my
awn behalf if I was a younger an' spryer man."



CHAPTER XVII

SUSPENSE


The fate of John Grimbal was learned within an hour or two of Inspector
Chown's departure from Monks Barton; and by the time that Martin Grimbal
had been apprised of the matter his brother already lay at the Red
House.

John had been found at daybreak upon the grass-land where he rode
overnight on his journey to intercept the mail. A moment after he
descried the distant cart, his horse had set foot in a hole; and upon
the accident being discovered, the beast was found lying with a broken
leg within twenty yards of its insensible master. His horse was shot,
John Grimbal carried home with all despatch, and Doctor Parsons arrived
as quickly as possible, to do all that might be done for the sufferer
until an abler physician than himself reached the scene.

Three dreary days saw Grimbal at the door of death, then a brief
interval of consciousness rewarded unceasing care, and a rumour spread
that he might yet survive. Martin, when immediate fear for his brother's
life was relieved, busied himself about Blanchard, and went to Plymouth.
There he saw Will, learned all facts concerning the letter, and did his
best to win information of the prisoner's probable punishment. Fears,
magnified rumours, expressed opinions, mostly erroneous, buzzed in the
ears of the anxious party at Monks Barton. Then Martin Grimbal returned
to Chagford and there came an evening when those most interested met
after supper at the farm to hear all he could tell them.

Long faces grouped round Martin as he made his statement in a grey June
twilight. Mr. Blee and the miller smoked, Mrs. Blanchard sat with her
hand in her daughter's, and Phoebe occupied a comfortable arm-chair by
the wood fire. Between intervals of long silence came loud, juicy,
sounds from Billy's pipe, and when light waned they still talked on
until Chris stirred herself and sought the lamp.

"They tell me," began Martin, "that a deserting soldier is punished
according to his character and with regard to the fact whether he
surrenders himself or is apprehended. Of course we know Will gave
himself up, but then they will find out that he knew poor John's
unfortunate letter had reached its destination--or at any rate started
for it; and they may argue, not knowing the truth, that it was the fact
of the information being finally despatched made Will surrender. They
will say, I am afraid, as they said to me: 'Why did he wait until now if
he meant to do the right thing? Why did he not give himself up long
ago?'"

"That's easy answered: to please others," explained Mr. Lyddon. "Fust
theer was his promise to Phoebe, then his mother's illness, then his
other promise, to bide till his wife was brought to bed. Looking back I
see we was wrong to use our power against his awn wish; but so it
stands."

"I ought to go; I ought to be alongside un," moaned Phoebe; "I was at
the bottom of everything from fust to last. For me he run away; for me
he stopped away. Mine's the blame, an' them as judge him should knaw it
an' hear me say so."

"Caan't do no such vain thing as that," declared Mr. Blee. "'T was never
allowed as a wife should be heard 'pon the doin's of her awn husband.
'Cause why? She'd be one-sided--either plump for un through thick an'
thin, or else all against un, as the case might stand."

"As to the sentence," continued Martin, "if a man with a good character
deserts and thinks better of it and goes back to his regiment, he is not
as a rule tried by court-martial at all. Instead, he loses all his
former service and has to begin to reckon his period of engagement--six
or seven years perhaps--all over again. But a notoriously bad character
is tried by court-martial in any case, whether he gives himself up or
not; and he gets a punishment according to the badness of his past
record. Such a man would have from eighty-four days' imprisonment, with
hard labour, up to six months, or even a year, if he had deserted more
than once. Then the out-and-out rascals are sentenced to be 'dismissed
her Majesty's service.'"

"But the real gude men," pleaded Phoebe--"them as had no whisper 'gainst
'em, same as Will? They couldn't be hard 'pon them, 'specially if they
knawed all?"

"I should hope not; I'm sure not. You see the case is so unusual, as an
officer explained to me, and such a great length of time has elapsed
between the action and the judgment upon it. That is in Will's favour. A
good soldier with a clean record who deserts and is apprehended does not
get more than three months with hard labour and sometimes less. That's
the worst that can happen, I hope."

"What's hard labour to him?" murmured Billy, whose tact on occasions of
universal sorrow was sometimes faulty. "'Tis the rankle of bein' in
every blackguard's mouth that'll cut Will to the quick."

"What blackguards say and think ban't no odds," declared Mrs. Blanchard.
"'Tis better--far better he should do what he must do. The disgrace is
in the minds of them that lick theer lips upon his sorrow. Let him pay
for a wrong deed done, for the evil he did that gude might come of it. I
see the right hand o' God holding' the li'l strings of my son's life,
an' I knaw better'n any of 'e what'll be in the bwoy's heart now."

"Yet, when all's said, 'tis a mournful sarcumstance an' sent for our
chastening," contended Mr. Blee stoutly. "Us mustn't argue away the
torment of it an' pretend 'tis nought. Ban't a pleasing thing,
'specially at such a time when all the airth s gwaine daft wi' joy for
the gracious gudeness o' God to the Queen o' England. In plain speech,
't is a damn dismal come-along-of-it, an' I've cried by night, auld
though I am, to think o' the man's babes grawin' up wi' this round theer
necks. An' wan to be born while he 'm put away! Theer 's a black
picksher for 'e! Him doin' hard labour as the Law directs, an' his wife
doin' hard labour, tu--in her lonely bed! Why, gormed if I--"

"For God's sake shut your mouth, you horrible old man!" burst out
Martin, as Phoebe hurried away in tears and Chris followed her. "You're
a disgrace to humanity and I don't hesitate--I don't hesitate at all to
say you have no proper feeling in you!"

"Martin's right, Billy," declared Mr. Lyddon without emotion. "You 'm a
thought tu quick to meet other people's troubles half way, as I've told
'e before to-night. Ban't a comely trait in 'e. You've made her run off
sobbing her poor, bruised heart out. As if she hadn't wept enough o'
late. Do 'e think us caan't see what it all means an' the wisht cloud
that's awver all our heads, lookin' darker by contrast wi' the happiness
of the land, owing to the Jubilee of a gert Queen? Coourse we knaw.
But't is poor wisdom to talk 'bout the blackness of a cloud to them as
be tryin' to find its silver lining. If you caan't lighten trouble, best
to hold your peace."

"What's the use of cryin' 'peace' when us knaws in our hearts 'tis war?
Us must look inside an' outside, an' count the cost same as I be doin'
now," declared Mr. Blee. "Then to be catched up so harsh 'mong friends!
Well, well, gude-night, all; I'll go to my rest. Hard words doan't
break, though they may bruise. But I'll do my duty, whether or no."

He rose and shuffled to the door, then looked round and opened his mouth
to speak again. But he changed his mind, shook his head, snorted
expressively, and disappeared.

"A straange-fashioned chap," commented Mrs. Blanchard, "wi' sometimes a
wise word stuck in his sour speech, like a gude currant in a bad
dumpling."



CHAPTER XVIII

THE NIGHT OF JUBILEE


Unnumbered joy fires were writing the nation's thanksgiving across the
starry darkness of a night in June. Throughout the confines of
Britain--on knolls arising beside populous towns, above the wild cliffs
of our coasts, in low-lying lands, upon the banks of rivers, at the
fringes of forests and over a thousand barren heaths, lonely wastes, and
stony pinnacles of untamed hills, like some mundane galaxy of stars or
many-tongued outbreak of conflagration, the bonfires glimmered. And
their golden seed was sown so thickly, that from no pile of those
hundreds then brightening the hours of darkness had it been possible to
gaze into the night and see no other.

Upon the shaggy fastnesses of Devon's central waste, within the bounds,
metes, and precincts of Dartmoor Forest, there shone a whole
constellation of little suns, and a wanderer in air might have counted a
hundred without difficulty, whilst, for the beholders perched upon Yes
Tor, High Wilhays, or the bosom of Cosdon during the fairness and
clearness of that memorable night, fully threescore beacons flamed. All
those granite giants within the field of man's activities, all the
monsters whose enormous shades fell at dawn or evening time upon the
hamlets and villages of the Moor, now carried on their lofty crowns the
flames of rejoicing. Bonfires of varying size, according to the energy
and importance of the communities responsible for them, dotted the
circumference of the lonely region in a vast, irregular figure, but
thinned and ceased towards the unpeopled heart of the waste. On Wattern,
at Cranmere, upon Fur Tor, and under the hoary, haunted woods of
Wistman, no glad beacons blazed or voices rang. There Nature, ignorant
of epochs and heeding neither olympiad nor lustrum, cycle nor century,
ruled alone; there, all self-centred, self-contained, unwitting of
conscious existence and its little joys, her perfection above praise and
more enduring than any chronicle of it, asking for no earthborn
acclamations of her eternal reign, demanding only obedience from all on
penalty of death, the Mother swayed her sceptre unseen. Seed and stone,
blade and berry, hot blood and cold, did her bidding and slept or
stirred at her ordinance. A nightjar harshly whirred beneath her
footstool; wan tongues of flame rose and fell upon her quaking altars; a
mountain fox, pattering quick-footed to the rabbit warren, caught light
from those exhalations in his round, green eyes and barked.

Humanity thronged and made merry around numberless crackling piles of
fire. Men and women, boys and girls, most noisily rejoiced, and from
each flaming centre of festivity a thin sound of human shouting and
laughter streamed starward with the smoke.

Removed by brief distance in space, the onlooker, without overmuch
strain or imagination, might stride a pace or two backward in time and
conceive himself for a moment as in the presence of those who similarly
tended beacons on these granite heights of old. Then, truly, the object
and occasion were widely different; then, perchance, in answer to evil
rumour moving zigzag on black bat-wings through nights of fear, many a
bale-fire had shot upwards, upon the keystone of Cosdon's solemn arch,
beckoned like a bloody hand towards north and south, and cried danger to
a thousand British warriors lurking in moor, and fen, and forest.
Answering flames had leapt from Hay Tor, from Buckland Beacon, from
Great Mis Tor in the west; and their warning, caught up elsewhere, would
quickly penetrate to the heart of the South Hams, to the outlying
ramparts of the Cornish wastes, to Exmoor and the coast-line of the
north. But no laughter echoed about those old-time fires. Their lurid
light smeared wolfskins, splashed on metal and untanned hide, illumined
barbaric adornments, fierce faces, wild locks, and savage eyes. Anxious
Celtic mothers and maidens stood beside their men, while fear and rage
leapt along from woman's face to woman's face, as some gasping wretch,
with twoscore miles of wilderness behind him, told of high-beaked
monsters moving under banks of oars, of dire peril, of death and ruin,
suddenly sprung in a night from behind the rim of the sea.

Since then the peaks of the Moor have smiled or scowled under countless
human fires, have flashed glad tidings or flamed ill news to many
generations. And now, perched upon one enormous mass of stone, there
towered upward a beacon of blazing furze and pine. In its heart were tar
barrels and the monster bred heat enough to remind the granite beneath
it of those fires that first moulded its elvan ingredients to a concrete
whole and hurled them hither.

About this eye of flame crowded those who had built it, and the roaring
mass of red-hot timber and seething pitch represented the consummation
of Chagford's festivities on the night of Jubilee. The flames, obedient
to such light airs as were blowing, bent in unison with the black
billows of smoke that wound above them. Great, trembling tongues
separated from the mass and soared upward, gleaming as they vanished;
sparks and jets, streams and stars of light, shot from the pile to
illuminate the rolling depths of the smoke cloud, to fret its curtain
with spangles and jewels of gold atid ruby, to weave strange, lurid
lights into the very fabric of its volume. Far away, as the breezes drew
them, fell a red glimmer of fire, where those charred fragments caught
in the rush and hurled aloft, returned again to earth; and the whole
incandescent structure, perched as it was upon the apex of Yes Tor,
suggested at a brief distance a fiery top-knot of streaming flame on
some vast and demoniac head thrust upward from the nether world.

Great splendour of light gleamed upon a ring of human beings.
Adventurous spirits leapt forth, fed the flames with faggots and furze
and risked their hairy faces within the range of the bonfire's scorching
breath. Alternate gleam and glow played fantastically upon the
spectators, and, though for the most part they moved but little while
their joy fire was at its height, the conflagration caused a sheer
devil's dance of impish light and shadow to race over every face and
form in the assemblage. The fantastic magician of the fire threw humps
on to straight backs, flattened good round breasts, wrote wrinkles on
smooth faces, turned eyes and lips into shining gems, made white teeth
yellow, cast a grotesque spell of the unreal on young shapes, of the
horrible upon old ones. A sort of monkey coarseness crept into the red,
upturned faces; their proportions were distorted, their delicacy
destroyed. Essential lines of figures were concealed by the inky
shadows; unimportant features were thrown into a violent prominence; the
clean fire impinged abruptly on a night of black shade, as sunrise on
the moon. There was no atmosphere. Human noses poked weirdly out of
nothing, human hands waved without arms, human heads moved without
bodies, bodies bobbed along without legs. The heart-beat and furnace
roar of the fire was tremendous, but the shouts of men, the shriller
laughter of women, and the screams and yells of children could be heard
through it, together with the pistol-like explosion of sap turned to
steam, and rending its way from green wood. Other sounds also fretted
the air, for a hundred yards distant--in a hut-circle--the Chagford
drum-and-fife band lent its throb and squeak to the hour, and struggled
amain to increase universal joy. So the fire flourished, and the
plutonian rock-mass of the tor arose, the centre of a scene itself
plutonian.

Removed by many yards from the ring of human spectators, and scattered
in wide order upon the flanks of the hill, stood tame beasts. Sheep
huddled there and bleated amazement, their fleeces touched by the
flicker of the distant fire; red heifers and steers also faced the flame
and chewed the cud upon a spectacle outside all former experience; while
inquisitive ponies drew up in a wide radius, snorted and sniffed with
delicate, dilated nostrils at the unfamiliar smell of the breeze, threw
up their little heads, fetched a compass at top speed and so returned;
then crowded flank to flank, shoulder to shoulder, and again blankly
gazed at the fire which reflected itself in the whites of their shifty
eyes.

Fitting the freakish antics of the red light, a carnival spirit, hard to
rouse in northern hearts, awakened within this crowd of Devon men and
women, old men and children. There was in their exhilaration some
inspiration from the joyous circumstance they celebrated; and something,
too, from the barrel. Dancing began and games, feeble by day but not
lacking devil when pursued under cover of darkness. There were hugging
and kissing, and yells of laughter when amorous couples who believed
themselves safe were suddenly revealed lip to lip and heart to heart by
an unkind flash of fire. Some, as their nature was, danced and screamed
that flaming hour away; some sat blankly and smoked and gazed with less
interest than the outer audience of dumb animals; some laboured amain to
keep the bonfire at blaze. These last worked from habit and forgot their
broadcloth. None bade them, but it was their life to be toiling; it came
naturally to mind and muscle, and they laughed while they laboured and
sweated. A dozen staid groups witnessed the scene from surrounding
eminences, but did not join the merrymakers. Mr. Shorto-Champernowne,
Doctor Parsons, and the ladies of their houses stood with their feet on
a tumulus apart; and elsewhere Mr. Chapple, Charles Coomstock, Mr. Blee,
and others, mostly ancient, sat on the granite, inspected the
pandemonium spread before them, and criticised as experts who had seen
bonfires lighted before the greater part of the present gathering was
out of its cradle. But no cynic praising of past time to the
disparagement of the present marked their opinions. Mr. Chapple indeed
pronounced the fire brilliantly successful, and did not hesitate to
declare that it capped all his experience in this direction.

"A braave blaze," he said, "a blaze as gives the thoughtful eye an' nose
a tidy guess at what the Pit's like to be. Ess, indeed, a religious
fire, so to say; an' I warrant the prophet sat along just such another
when he said man was born to trouble sure as the sparks fly up'ard."

Somewhat earlier on the same night, under the northern ramparts of
Dartmoor, and upon the long, creeping hill that rises aloft from
Okehampton, then dips again, passes beneath the Belstones, and winds by
Sticklepath and Zeal under Cosdon, there rattled a trap holding two men.
From their conversation it appeared that one was a traveller who now
returned southward from a journey.

"Gert, gay, fanciful doin's to-night," said the driver, looking aloft
where Cosdon Beacon swelled. "You can see the light from the blaze
up-long, an' now an' again you can note a sign in the night like a
red-hot wire drawed up out the airth. They 'm sky-rockets, I judge."

"'T is a joyful night, sure 'nough."

The driver illustrated a political ignorance quite common in rural
districts ten years ago and not conspicuously rare to-day. He laboured
under uneasy suspicions that the support of monarchy was a direct and
dismal tax upon the pockets of the poor.

"Pity all the fuss ban't about a better job," he said. "Wan auld,
elderly lady 's so gude as another, come to think of it. Why shouldn't
my mother have a jubilee?"

"What for? 'Cause she've borne a damned fule?" asked the other man
angrily. "If that's your way o' thought, best keep it in your thoughts.
Anyhow, I'll knock your silly head off if I hears another word to that
tune, so now you knaw."

The speaker was above medium height and breadth, the man who drove him
happened to be unusually small.

"Well, well, no offence," said the latter.

"There is offence; an' it I heard a lord o' the land talk that way
to-night, I'd make un swallow every dirty word of it. To hell wi' your
treason!"

The driver changed the subject.

"Now you can see a gude few new fires," he said. "That's the Throwleigh
blaze; an' that, long ways off, be--"

"Yes Tor by the look of it. All Chagford's traapsed up-long, I warn 'e,
to-night."

They were now approaching a turning of the ways and the traveller
suddenly changed his destination.

"Come to think of it, I'll go straight on," he said. "That'll save you a
matter o' ten miles, tu. Drive ahead a bit Berry Down way. Theer I'll
leave 'e an' you'll be back home in time to have some fun yet."

The driver, rejoicing at this unhoped diminution of his labours, soon
reached the foot of a rough by-road that ascends to the Moor between the
homesteads of Berry Down and Creber.

Yes Tor now arose on the left under its cap of flame, and the wayfarer,
who carried no luggage, paid his fare, bid the other "good-night," and
then vanished into the darkness.

He passed between the sleeping farms, and only watch-dogs barked out of
the silence, for Gidleigh folks were all abroad that night. Pressing
onwards, the native hurried to Scorhill, then crossed the Teign below
Batworthy Farm, passed through the farmyard, and so proceeded to the
common beneath Yes Tor. He whistled as he went, then stopped a moment to
listen. The first drone of music and remote laughter reached his ear. He
hurried onwards until a gleam lighted his face; then he passed through
the ring of beasts, still glaring fascinated around the fire; and
finally he pushed among the people.

He stood revealed and there arose a sudden whisper among some who knew
him, but whom he knew not. One or two uttered startled cries at this
apparition, for all associated the newcomer with events and occurrences
widely remote from the joy of the hour. How he came among them now, and
what event made it possible for him to stand in their midst a free man,
not the wisest could guess.

A name was carried from mouth to mouth, then shouted aloud, then greeted
with a little cheer. It fell upon Mr. Blee's ear as he prepared to start
homewards; and scarcely had the sound of it set him gasping when a big
man grew out of the flame and shadow and stood before him with extended
hand.

"Burnish it all! You! Be it Blanchard or the ghost of un?"

"The man hisself--so big as bull's beef, an' so free as thicky fire!"
said Will.

Riotous joy sprang and bubbled in his voice. He gripped Billy's hand
till the old man jumped and wriggled.

"Free! Gude God! Doan't tell me you've brawke loose--doan't 'e say that!
Christ! if you haven't squashed my hand till theer's no feeling in it!
Doan't 'e say you've runned away?"

"No such thing," answered Will, now the centre of a little crowd. "I'll
tell 'e, sawls all, if you mind to hear. 'Tis this way: Queen Victoria,
as have given of the best she've got wi' both hands to the high men of
the land, so they tell me, caan't forget nought, even at such a time as
this here. She've made gert additions to all manner o' men; an' to me,
an' the likes o' me she've given what's more precious than bein' lords
or dukes. I'm free--me an' all as runned from the ranks. The Sovereign
Queen's let deserters go free, if you can credit it; an' that's how I
stand here this minute."

A buzz and hum with cheers and some laughter and congratulations
followed Will's announcement. Then the people scattered to spread his
story, and Mr. Blee spoke.

"Come you down home to wance. Ban't none up here as cares a rush 'bout
'e but me. But theer 's a many anxious folks below. I comed up for auld
sake's sake an' because ban't in reason to suppose I'll ever see another
joy fire 'pon Yes Tor rock, at my time o' life. But us'll go an' carry
this rare news to Chagford an' the Barton."

They faded from the red radius of the fire and left it slowly dying.
Will helped Billy off rough ground to the road. Then he set off at a
speed altogether beyond the old man's power, so Mr. Blee resorted to
stratagem.

"'Bate your pace; 'bate your pace; I caan't travel that gait an' talk
same time. Yet theer's a power o' fine things I might tell 'e if you'd
listen."

"'T is hard to walk slow towards a mother an' wife like what mine be,
after near a month from 'em; but let's have your news, Billy, an' doan't
croak, for God's sake. Say all's well wi' all."

"I ban't no croaker, as you knaws. Happy, are 'e?--happy for wance? I
suppose you'll say now, as you've said plenty times a'ready, that you 'm
to the tail of your troubles for gude an' all--just in your auld, silly
fashion?"

"Not me, auld chap, never no more--so long as you 'm alive! Ha, ha,
ha--that's wan for you! Theer! if 't isn't gude to laugh again!"

"I be main glad as I've got no news to make 'e do anything else, though
ban't often us can be prophets of gude nowadays. But if you've grawed a
streak wiser of late, then theer's hope, even for a scatterbrain like
you, the Lard bein' all-powerful. Not that jokes against such as me
would please Him the better."

"I've thought a lot in my time, Billy; an' I haven't done thinking yet.
I've comed to reckon as I caan't do very well wi'out the world, though
the world would fare easy enough wi'out me."

Billy nodded.

"That's sense so far as it goes," he admitted. "Obedience be hard to the
young; to the auld it comes natural; to me allus was easy as dirt from
my youth up. Obedience to betters in heaven an' airth. But you--you with
your born luck--never heard tell of nothin' like it 't all. What's a fix
to you? You goes in wan end an' walks out t' other, like a rabbit
through a hedge. Theer you was--in such a tight pass as you might say
neither God nor angels could get 'e free wi'out a Bible miracle, when,
burnish it all! if the Jubilee Queen o' England doan't busy herself
'bout 'e!"

"'T is true as I'm walkin' by your side. I'd give a year o' my wages to
knaw how I could shaw what I think about it."

"You might thank her. 'T is all as humble folks can do most times when
Queens or Squires or the A'mighty Hisself spares a thought to better us.
Us can awnly say 'thank you.'"

There was a silence of some duration; then Billy again bid his companion
moderate his pace.

"I'm forgetting all I've got to tell 'e, though I've news enough for a
buke," he said.

"How's Jan Grimbal, fust plaace?"

"On his legs again an' out o' danger if the Lunnon doctor knaws
anything. A hunderd guineas they say that chap have had! Your name was
danced to a mad tune 'pon Grimbal's lips 'fore his senses corned back to
un. Why for I caan't tell 'e. He've shook hands wi' Death for sartain
while you was away."

"An' mother, an' wife, an' Miller?"

"Your mother be well--a steadfast woman her be. Joy doan't lift her up,
an' sorrow doan't crush her. Theer's gert wisdom in her way of life. 'T
is my awn, for that matter. Then Miller--well, he 'm grawin' auld an'
doan't rate me quite so high as formerly--not that I judge anybody but
myself. An' your missis--theer, if I haven't kept it for the last! 'Tis
news four-an-twenty hour old now an' they wrote to 'e essterday, but I
lay you missed the letter awin' to me--"

"Get on!"

"Well, she've brought 'e a bwoy--so now you've got both sorts--bwoy an'
cheel. An' all doin' well as can be, though wisht work for her, thinkin'
'pon you the while."

Will stood still and uttered a triumphant but inarticulate
sound--half-laugh, half-sob, half-thanksgiving. Then the man spoke, slow
and deep,--

"He shall go for a soldier!"

"Theer! Now I knaw 't is Blanchard back an' no other! Hear me, will 'e;
doan't plan no such uneven way of life for un."

"By God, he shall!"

The words came back over Will Blanchard's shoulder, for he was fast
vanishing.

"Might have knawed he wouldn't walk along wi' me arter that," thought
Billy. Then he lifted up his voice and bawled to the diminishing figure,
already no more than a darker blot on the darkness of night.

"For the Lard's love go in quiet an' gradual, or you'll scare the life
out of 'em all."

And the answer came back,--

"I knaw, I knaw; I ban't the man to do a rash deed!"

Mr. Blee chuckled and plodded on through the night while Will strode far
ahead.

Presently he stood beside the wicket of Mrs. Blanchard's cottage and
hesitated between two women. Despite circumstances, there came no
uncertain answer from the deepest well-springs of him. He could not pass
that gate just then. And so he stopped and turned and entered; and she,
his mother, sitting in thought alone, heard a footfall upon the great
nightly silence--a sudden, familiar footfall that echoed to her heart
the music it loved best.

THE END.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Children of the Mist" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home