Part 4 out of 7
He picked up the note nearest to him, crumpled it into a ball and flung it
upon the fire.
"Michael, Michael!" cried his wife, rushing forward, "for God's love, what
be doin' of? The money ban't damned; the money's honest!"
But Joan did more than speak. As the gift flamed quickly up, then sunk to
gray ash, a tempest of passion carried her out of herself. She trembled in
her limbs, grew deadly pale, and flew at her father like a tigress. No evil
word had ever crossed her lips till then, though they had echoed in her
ears often enough. But now they jumped to her tongue, and she cursed Gray
Michael and tore the rest of the money out of his hand so quickly that his
intention of burning it was frustrated.
"It's mine, it's mine, blast you!" she screamed like a fury, "what right
have you to steal it? It's mine--gived me by wan whose shoe you ban't
worthy to latch! He's shawed me what you be, an' the likes o' you, wi' your
hell-fire an' prayin' an' sour looks. I ban't afeared 'o you no more--none
o' you. I be sick o' the smeech o' your God. 'Er's a poor thing alongside
o' mine an' Mister Jan's. I'll gaw, I'll gaw so far away as ever I can; an'
I'll never call 'e my faither agin, s'elp me God!"
Mrs. Tregenza had thanked Providence under her breath when Joan rescued the
notes, but now, almost for the first time, she realized that her own
interest in this pile of money was as nothing. Every penny belonged to her
stepdaughter, and her stepdaughter evidently meant to keep it. This
discovery hit her hard, and now the bitterness came forth in a flood of
words that tumbled each over the other and stung like hornets as they
Gray Michael's broadside had roared harmlessly over Joan's erect head;
Thomasin's small shot did not miss the mark. She was furious; her husband
stood dumb; her virago tongue hissed the truth; and Joan, listening, knew
that it was the truth.
No matter what the elder woman said. She missed no vile word of them all.
She called Joan every name that chills the ear of the fallen; and she
explained the meaning of her expressions; she bid the girl take herself and
the love-child within her from out the sight of honest folks; she told her
the man had turned his back forever, that only the ashy road of the ruined
remained for her to tread. And that was how the great news that Nature had
looked upon her for a mother came to Joan Tregenza. Here was the riddle of
the mysterious voice unraveled; here was the secret of her physical sorrows
made clear. She looked wildly from one to the other--from the man to the
woman; then she tottered a step away, clutching her money and her little
picture to her breast; and then she rolled over, a huddled, senseless heap,
upon the floor.
When Joan recovered consciousness she found her head and neck wet where her
stepmother had flung cold water over her. Thomasin was at that moment
burning a feather under her nose, but she stopped and withdrew it as the
girl's eyes opened.
"Theer, now you'll be well by night. He've gone aboard. Best to change your
gownd, for 'tis wetted. Then I'll tell 'e what 'er said. Can 'e get
Joan rose slowly and went with swimming brain to her room. She still held
her picture and her money. She took off her wet clothes, then sat down upon
her bed to think; and as her mind grew clear, there crept through the
gloomy shadows of the past tragedy a joy. It lightened her heart a moment,
then vanished again, like the moon blotted suddenly from the sky by a rack
of storm-cloud. Joan was full of the stupendous news. The shock of hearing
her most unsuspected condition had indeed stricken her insensible, but it
was the surprise of it more than the dismay. Now she viewed the
circumstance with uncertainty, not knowing the attitude "Mister Jan" would
adopt toward it. She argued with herself long hours, and peace brooded over
her at the end; for, as his cherished utterances passed in review before
her memory, the sense and sum of them seemed to promise well. He would be
very glad to share in the little life that was upon the way to earth. He
always spoke kindly of children; he had called them the flower-buds in
Nature's lap. Yes, he must be glad; and Nature would smile too. Nature knew
what it was to be a mother, Joan told herself. She was in Nature's hand
henceforth. But her blue eyes grew cold when she thought of the morning. So
much for St. Madron and his holy water; so much for the good angels who her
dead parent had told her were forever stretching loving, invisible hands to
guard and shield. "Mister Jan's be the awnly God," she thought, "an' He'm
tu far aways to mind the likes o' we; so us must trust to the gert Mother
o' the flowers." She accepted the position with an open heart, then turned
her thoughts to her loved one. Having now firmly convinced herself that her
condition would bring him gratification and draw them still nearer each to
the other, Joan yearned unutterably for his presence. She puzzled her
brains to know how she might communicate with him, how hasten his return.
She remembered that he had once told her his surname, but she could not
recollect it now. He had always been "Mister Jan" to her.
She went down to her supper in the course of the evening, and the great
matter in her mind was for a while put aside before a present necessity.
Action, she found, would be immediately required of her. Her father, before
going from the kitchen after she had fainted, directed Thomasin to bid her
never see his face again. She must depart, according to his direction, on
the following day; for the thatched cottage upon the cliff could be her
home no more.
"Theer weern't no time for talkin'; but I lay 'er'll sing differ'nt when
next ashore. You bide quiet here till 'er's home agin. 'Tain't nachur to
bid's awn flaish an' blood go its ways like that. An', 'pears to me, as
'tedn' the law neither. But you bide till he'm back. I be sorry as I spawk
so sharp, but you was that bowldacious that my dander brawk loose. Aw
Jimmery! to think as you dedn' knaw you was cheeldin'!"
"'Twas hearin' so suddint like as made me come over fainty."
"Ate hearty then. An' mind henceforrard you'm feedin' an' drinkin' for two.
Best get to bed so soon's you can. Us'll talk 'bout this coil in the
"Us'll talk now. I be off by light. I 'edn' gwaine to stop no more. Faither
sez I ban't no cheel o' his an' he doan't want to see my faace agen. Then
he shaan't. I'll gaw to them as won't be 'shamed o' me: my mother's
"Doan't 'e be in no tearin' hurry, Joan," said Mrs. Tregenza, thinking of
the money. "Let him, the chap, knaw fust what's come along o' his
carneying, an' maybe he'll marry 'e, as you sez, right away. Bide wi' me
till you tells en. Let en do what's right an' seemly. That's the shortest
"Iss fay; he'm a true man. But I ban't gwaine to wait for en in this 'ouse.
To-morrow I'll send my box up Drift by the fust omblibus as belongs to
Staaft, an' walk myself, an' tell Uncle Thomas all's there is to tell.
He've got a heart in his breast, an' I'll bide 'long wi' him till Mister
Jan do come back."
"Wheer's he to now?"
"To Lunnon. He've gone to make his house vitty for me."
"Well, best to get Uncle Chirgwin to write to en, onless you'd like me to
do it for 'e."
"No. He'll do what's right--a proper, braave man."
"An 'mazin' rich seemin'ly. For the Lard's love, if you'm gwaine up Drift,
take care o' all that blessed money. Doan't say no word 'bout it till you'm
in the farm, for theer's them--the tinners out o' work an' sich--as 'ud
knock 'e on the head for half of it. To think as Michael burned a hunderd
pound! Just a flicker o' purpley fire an' a hunderd pound gone! 'Tis 'nough
to make a body rave."
The girl flushed, and something of her father's stern look seemed reflected
in her face.
"He stawl my money. No, I judge his word be truth: he'm no faither o' mine
if the blood in the veins do count for anything."
Joan went to bed abruptly on this remark, and lay awake thinking and
wondering through a long night--thinking what she should say to Uncle
Chirgwin, wondering when "Mister Jan" was coming back to her, and picturing
his excitement at her intelligence. In the morning she packed her box, ate
her breakfast, and then went into the village to find somebody who would
carry her scanty luggage as far as Penzance. From there, an omnibus ran
through Drift, past Mr. Chirgwin's farmhouse door. Joan herself designed to
walk, the distance by road from Newlyn being but trifling. It chanced that
the girl met Billy Jago, he who in early spring had cut down an elm tree
while John Barron watched. Him Joan knew, for he had worked on her uncle's
farm for many years. Mr. Jago, who could be relied upon to do simple
offices, undertook the task readily enough and presently arrived with a
wheelbarrow. He whined, as ever, about his physical sufferings, but drank a
cup of tea with evident enjoyment, then fetched Joan's box from her room
and set off with it to meet the public vehicle. Her goods were to be left
at Drift, and Joan herself started at an early hour, wishing to be at the
farm before her property. She walked in the garden for the last time,
marked the magic progress of spring, then took an unemotional leave of her
"There 'edn' no call to leave no message as I can see," said Joan, while
she stood at the door. "He ban't my faither, he sez, so I'll take it for
truth. But I'll ask you to kiss Tom for me. Us was allus good brother an'
sister, whether or no; an' I loves en dearly."
"Iss, I knaw. He'll grizzle an' fret proper when he finds you'm gone.
Good-by to 'e. May the Lard forgive 'e, an' send your man 'long smart; an'
for heaven's sake doan't lose them notes."
"They be safe stawed next to my skin. Uncle Chirgwin'll look to them; an'
you needn't be axin' God A'mighty to forgive me, 'cause I abbun done
nothin' to want it. I be Nature's cheel now; an' I be in kindly hands. You
caan't understand that, but I knaws what I knaws through bein' taught.
Good-by to 'e. Maybe us'll see each other bimebye."
Joan held out her hand and Mrs. Tregenza shook it. Then she stood and
watched her stepdaughter walk away into Newlyn. The day was cold and
unpleasant, with high winds and driving mists. The village looked grayer
than usual; the boats were nearly all away; the gulls fluttered in the
harbor making their eternal music. Seaward, white horses flecked the leaden
water; a steamer hooted hoarsely, looming large under the low, sullen sky,
as it came between the pierheads. Presently a scat of heavy rain on a
squall of wind shut out the harbor for a time. Mrs. Tregenza waited until
Joan had disappeared, then went back to her kitchen, closed the door, sat
in Gray Michael's great chair by the hearth, put her apron over her head
and wept. But the exact reason for her tears she could not have explained,
for she did not know it. Mingled emotions possessed her. Disappointment had
something to do with this present grief; sorrow for Joan was also
responsible for it in a measure. That the girl should have asked her to
kiss Tom was good, Thomasin thought, and the reflection moved her to
further tears; while that Joan was going to put her money into the keeping
of a simple old fool like Uncle Chirgwin seemed a highly pathetic
circumstance to Mrs. Tregenza. Indeed, the more she speculated upon it the
sadder it appeared.
Meanwhile Joan, leaving Newlyn and turning inland along the little lane
which has St. Peter's church and the Newlyn brook upon its right, escaped
the wind and found herself walking through an emerald woodland world all
wrapped in haze and rain. Past the smelting works, where purple smoke made
wonderful color in rising against the young green, over the brook and under
the avenue of great elms went Joan. Her heart ached this morning, and she
thought of yesterday. It seemed as though a hundred years of experience had
passed over her since she knelt by St. Madron's stone altar. She told
herself bitterly how much wiser she was to-day, and, so thinking strange
thoughts, tramped forward over Buryas Bridge, and faced the winding hill
beyond. Then came doubts. Perhaps after all St. Madron had answered her
prayer. Else why the underlying joy that now fringed her sorrows with
Drift is a place well named, when seen, as then, gray through sad-colored
curtains of rain on the bare hilltop. But the orchard lands of the coomb
below were fair, and many primroses twinkled in the soaking green of the
tall hedge-banks. Joan splashed along through the mud, and presently a lump
rose in her throat, born of thoughts. It had seemed nothing to leave the
nest on the cliff, and she held her head high and thanked God for a great
deliverance. That was less than an hour ago; yet here, on the last hill to
Drift and within sight of the stone houses clustering at the summit, her
head sank lower and lower, and it was not the rain which dimmed her eyes.
She much doubted the value of further prayers now, yet every frantic hope
and aspiration found its vent in a petition to her new God, as Joan mounted
the hill. She prayed, because she could think of no other way to soothe her
heart; but her mind was very weary and sad--not at the spectacle of the
future, for that she knew was going to be fair enough--but at the vision of
the past, at the years ended forever, at the early pages of life closed and
locked, to be opened again no more. A childhood, mostly quite happy, was
over; she would probably visit the house wherein she was born never again.
But even in her sorrow, the girl wondered why she should be sad.
Mr. Chirgwin's farm fronted the highway, and its gray stone face was
separated therefrom by a small and neat patch of garden. Below the house a
gate opened into the farmyard, and Uncle Chirgwin's land chiefly sloped
away into the coomb behind, though certain fields upon the opposite side of
the highroad also pertained to him. The farmhouse was time-stained, and the
stone had taken some wealth of color where black and golden lichens fretted
it. The slates of the roof shone with wet and reflected a streak of white
light that now broke the clouds near the hidden sun. The drippings from the
eaves had made a neat row of little regular holes among the crocuses in the
garden. Tall jonquils also bent their heads there, heavy with water, and
the white violets which stood in patches upon either side of the front door
had each a raindrop glimmering within its cup. A japonica splashed one gray
wall with crimson blossoms and young green leaves; but, for the rest, this
house-front was quite bare. Joan saw Mary Chirgwin's neat hand in the snowy
short blinds which crossed the upper windows; and she knew that the
geraniums behind the diamond panes of the parlor were her uncle's care.
They dwelt indoors, winter and summer, and their lanky, straggling limbs
shut out much light.
The visitor did not go to the front door, whither a narrow path, flanked
with handsome masses of "Cornish diamonds," or quartz crystals, directly
led from the wicket, but entered at a larger gate which led into the
farmyard. Here cattle-byres and shippons ranged snugly on three sides of an
open space, their venerable slates yellow with lichens, their thatches
green with moss. In the center of the yard a great manure heap made
comfortable lying for pigs and poultry; while the farmhouse stretched back
upon the fourth side. Another gate opened beyond it, and led to the land
upon the sloping hill and in the valley below. Joan passed a row of cream
pans, shining like frosted silver in the mist, then turned from the bleak
and dripping world. The kitchen door was open, and revealed a large, low
chamber whose rafters were studded with orange-colored hams, whose
fireplace was vast and black save for a small wood fire filling but a
quarter of the hearth. Grocer's almanacs brought brave color to the walls,
sharing the same with a big dresser where the china made a play of
reflected light from the windows. Above the lofty mantel-piece there hung
an old fowling-piece, and a row of faded Daguerreotypes, into most of which
damp had eaten dull yellow patches. The mantel-shelf carried some rough
stoneware ornaments, an eight-day clock, a tobacco jar, and divers small
utensils of polished tin. A big table covered with American cloth filled
the center of the kitchen, a low settle crossed the alcove of the window,
and a leather screen, of four folds and five feet high, surrounded Uncle
Chirgwin's own roomy armchair in the chimney-corner. Strips of cocoanut
fiber lay upon the ground, but between them appeared the bare floor. It was
paved with blue stone for the most part, though here and there a square of
white broke the color; and the white patches had worn lower than the rest
under many generations of hobnailed boots. A faint odor of hams was in the
air, and the slight, stuffy smell of feathers.
A woman sat in the window as Joan entered. She had her back to the door,
and not hearing the footfall, went on with her work, which was the plucking
of a fowl. A cloth lay spread over the floor at her feet, and each moment
the pile of feathers upon it increased as the plucker worked with rhythmic
regularity and sang to herself the while.
Mary Chirgwin was a dark, good-looking girl, with a face in which strong
character appeared too prominently shadowed to leave room for absolute
beauty. But her features were regular if swarthy; her eyes were splendid,
and her brow, from which black hair was smoothly and plainly parted away,
rose broad and low. There was nothing to mark kinship between the cousins
save that both held their heads finely and possessed something of the same
distinction of carriage. Mary was eight-and-twenty, and, whatever might be
thought about her face, there could be but one opinion upon her feminine
splendor of figure. Her broad chest produced a strange speaking and singing
voice--mellow as Joan's, but far deeper in the notes. Mary gloried in
congregational melodies, and those who had not before heard her efforts at
church on Sundays would often mistake her voice for a man's. She was
dressed in print with a big apron overall; and her sleeves, turned up to
her elbows, showed a pair of fine arms, perfect as to shape, but brown of
color as the woman's face.
Joan stood motionless, then her cousin looked round suddenly and started
almost out of her chair at a sight so unexpected. But she composed herself
again instantly, put down the semi-naked fowl and came forward. They had
not seen each other since the time when Joe Noy flung over Mary for Joan;
and the latter, remembering this circumstance very well, had hoped she
might escape from meeting her cousin until after some talk with Uncle
Thomas. But Mary hid her emotion from Joan's sight, and they shook hands
and looked into one another's faces, each noting marked changes there since
the last occasion of their meeting. The elder spoke first, and went
straight to the past. It was her nature to have every connection and
concern of life upon a definite and clear understanding. She hated mystery,
she disliked things hidden, she never allowed the relations between herself
and any living being to stand otherwise than absolutely defined.
"You'm come, Joan, at last, though 'twas a soft day to choose. Listen
to me, will 'e? Then us can let the past lie, same as us lets sleepin'
dogs. I called 'pon God to blight your life, Joan Tregenza, when--you
knaw. I thot I weer gwaine to die, an' I read the cussin' psalm
[Footnote: _The Cursing Psalm--Psalm CIX_. If read by a wronged person
before death, it was, and is sometimes yet, supposed to bring
punishment upon the evil-doer.] agin you. 'Feared to me as you'd
stawl the awnly thing as ever brot a bit o' brightness to my life. But
that's all over. Love weern't for me; I awnly dreamed it weer. An' I
larned better an' didn't die; an' prayed to God a many times to
forgive that first prayer agin you. The likes o' you doan't know nort
'bout the grim side o' life or what it is to lose the glory o'
lovin'. But I doan't harbor no ill agin you no more."
"You'm good to hear, Polly, an' kind words is better'n food to me now. I'll
tell 'e 'bout myself bimebye. But I must speak to uncle fust. Things has
"Nothin' wrong wi' your folks?"
"I ain't got no folks no more. But I'll tell 'e so soon's I've tawld Uncle
"He'm in the croft somewheers. Better bide till dinner. Uncle'll be back by
"I caan't, Mary--not till I've spoke wi' en. I'll gaw long down Green Lane,
then I shall meet en for sure. An' if a box o' mine comes by the omblibus,
"A box! Whatever is there in it, Joan?"
"All's I've gotten in the world--leastways nearly. Doan't ax me nothin'
now. You'll knaw as soon as need be."
Without waiting for more words Joan departed, hastened through the gate on
the inner wall of the farmyard and walked along the steep hillside by a
lane which wound muddily downward to the grasslands, under high hazel
hedges. The new leaves dripped showers at every gust of the wind, then a
gleam of wan sunlight brightened distant vistas of the way, while Joan
heard the patter of a hundred hoofs in the mud, the bleat of lambs, the
deeper answer of ewes, the barking of a shepherd's dog. Soon the cavalcade
came into view--a flock of sheep first, a black and white dog with a black
and white pup, which was learning his business, next, and Uncle Chirgwin
himself bringing up the rear. The first sunshine of the day seemed to have
found him out. It shone over his round red face and twinkled in the dew on
his white whiskers. He stumped along upon short, gaitered legs, but went
not fast, and stayed at the steep shoulder of the hill that his lambs might
have rest and time to suck.
Mary Chirgwin meantime speculated on this sudden mystery of her cousin's
arrival. She spread the cloth for dinner, bid her maid lay another place
for Joan and wondered much what manner of news she brought. There were
changes in Joan's face since she saw it last--not changes which might have
been attributed to the possession of Joe Noy, but an alteration of
expression betokening thought, a look of increased age, of experiences not
wholly happy in their nature.
And Joan had also marked the changes in Mary. These indications were clear
enough and filled her with sorrow. A river of tears will leave its bed
marked upon a woman's face; and Joan, who had never thought overmuch of her
cousin's sorrows until then, began to feel her heart fill and run over with
sudden sympathy. She asked herself what life would look like for her if
"Mister Jan"; changed his mind now and never came back again. That was how
Mary felt doubtless when Joe Noy left her. Already Joan grew zealous in
thought for Mary. She would teach her something of that sweet wisdom which
was to support her own burden in the future; she would tell her about
Nature--the "All-Mother" as "Mister Jan" called her once. And, concerning
Joe Noy--might it be within the bounds of possibility, within the power of
time to bring these two together again? The thought was good to Joan, and
wholly occupied her mind until the sight of Uncle Chirgwin with his sheep
brought her back to the present moment and her own affairs.
When Mr. Chirgwin caught sight of Joan his astonishment knew no bounds, and
his first thought was that something must certainly be amiss. He stood in
the roadway, a picture of surprise, and, for a moment, forgot both his
sheep and lambs.
"My stars, Joan! Be it you really? Whatever do 'e make at Drift, 'pon such
a day as this? No evil news, I hope?"
"Uncle," she answered, "go slow a bit an' listen to what I've got to say.
You be a kind, good sawl as judges nobody, ban't you? And you love me
'cause your sister was my mother?"
"Surely, surely, Joan; an' I love you for yourself tu--nobody better in
"You wouldn' go for to send me to hell-fire, would 'e?"
"God forbid, lass! Why, whatever be talkin' 'bout?"
"Uncle Thomas, faither's not my faither no more now. He've turned me out
his house an' denied me. I ban't no darter of his henceforrard; an' he'm no
faither o' mine. He don't mean never to look 'pon my faace agin, nor me
'pon his. The cottage edn' no home for me no more."
"Joan, gal alive! what talk be this?"
"'Tis gospel. I'm a damned wummon, 'cordin' to my faither as was."
"God A'mighty! You--paart a Chirgwin--as comed, o' wan side, from her as
loved the Lard so dear, an', 'pon t'other, from him as feared un so much.
"Uncle Thomas, I be in the fam'ly way; an' faither's damned me, an'
likewise the man as loves me, an' the cheel I be gwaine to bring in the
world. I've comed to hear you speak. Will you say the same? If you will,
I'll pack off this instant moment."
The old man stood perfectly still and his jaw went down while he breathed
heavily; a world of amazement and piteous sorrow sat upon his face; his
voice shook and whistled in the sound as he answered.
"Joan! My poor Joan! My awn gal, this be black news--black news. Thank God
she'm not here to knaw--your mother."
"I've done no wrong, uncle; I ban't 'shamed of it. He'm a true, good man,
and he'm comin' to marry me quick."
"No, no, not him. I thot I loved en well till Mister Jan comed, an' opened
my blind eyes, an' shawed me what love was. Mister Jan's a gen'leman--a
furriner. He caan't live wi'out me no more; he's said as he caan't. An' I'm
droopin' an' longin' for the sight o' en. An' I caan't bide in the streets,
so I axes you to keep me till Mister Jan do come to fetch me. I find words
hard to use to 'splain things, but his God's differ'nt to what the Luke
Gosp'lers' is, an' I lay 'tis differ'nt to yourn. But his God's mine
anyways, an' I'm not afeared o' what I done, nor 'shamed to look folks in
the faace. That's how 'tis, Uncle Thomas. 'Tis Nature, you mind, an' I be
Nature's cheel no--wi' no faither nor mother but her."
The old man was snuffling, and a tear or two rolled down his red face,
gathered the damp already there and fell. He groaned to himself, then
brought forth a big, red pocket-handkerchief, and wept outright, while Joan
stood silently regarding him.
"I'd rather a met death than this; I'd rather a knawn you was coffined."
"Oh, if I could awnly 'splain!" she cried, frantically; "if I awnly could
find his words 'pon my tongue, but I caan't. They be hid down deep in me,
an' by them I lives from day to day; but how can I make others see same as
I see? I awnly brings sorrer 'pon sorrer now. Theer's nothin' left but him.
If you could a heard Mister Jan! You would understand, wi' your warm heart,
but I caan't make 'e; I've no terrible, braave, butivul words. I'll gaw my
ways then. If any sawl had tawld me as I'd ever bring tears down your faace
I'd never b'lieved 'em--never; but so I have, an' that's bitterness to me."
He took her by the hand and pressed it, then put his arm round her and
kissed her. His white bristles hurt, but Joan rejoiced exceedingly, and now
it was her turn to shed tears.
"He'll come back--he'm a true man," she sobbed; "theer ban't the likes o'
Mister Jan in Carnwall, an'--an' if you knawed en, you'd say no less. You'm
the fust as have got to my heart since he went; an' he'd bless 'e if he
"Come along with me, Joan," answered Uncle Chirgwin, straightening himself
and applying his big handkerchief to her face. "God send the man'll be
'longside 'e right soon, as you sez. Till he do come, you shaan't leave me
no more. Drift's home for you while you'm pleased to bide theer. An' I'll
see your faither presently, though I wish 'twas any other man."
"I knawed you was all us the same; I knawed you'd take me in. An' Mister
Jan shall knaw. An' he'll love you for't when he do."
"Come an' see me put the ewes an' lambs in the croft; then us'll gaw to
dinner, an' I'll hear you tell me all 'bout en."
He tried hard to put a hopeful face upon the position and, himself as
simple as a child, presently found Joan's story not hopeless at all. He
seemed indeed to catch some of her spirit as she proceeded and painted the
manifold glories of "Mister Jan" in the best language at her command. To
love Nature was no sin; Mr. Chirgwin himself did so; and as for the money,
instead of reading the truth of it, he told himself very wisely that the
giver of a sum so tremendous must at least be in earnest. The amount
astounded him. Fired by Joan's words, for as he played the ready listener
her eloquence increased, he fell to thinking as she thought, and even
speaking hopefully. The old farmer's reflections merely echoed his own
simple trust in men and had best not been uttered, for they raised Joan's
spirits to a futile height. But he caught the contagion from her and spoke
with sanguine words of the future, and even prayed Joan that, if wealth and
a noble position awaited her, she would endeavor to brighten the lives of
the poor as became a good Cornish woman. This she solemnly promised, and
they built castles in the air: two children together. His sheep driven to
their new pasture, Uncle Chirgwin led the way home and listened as he
walked to Joan's story. She quite convinced him before he reached his
kitchen door--partly because he was very well content to be convinced,
partly because he could honestly imagine no man base enough to betray this
particular blue-eyed child.
Mr. Chirgwin's extremely unworldly review of the position was balm to Joan.
Her heart grew warm again, and the old man's philosophy brightened her
face, as the sun, now making a great clearness after rain, brightened the
face of the land. But the recollection of Mary Chirgwin sobered her uncle
not a little. How she would take this tremendous intelligence he failed to
guess remotely. Opportunity to impart it occurred sooner than he expected,
for Joan's box had just arrived. During dinner the old man explained that
his niece was to be a visitor at Drift for a term of uncertain duration;
and after the meal, when Joan disappeared to unpack her box and make tidy a
little apple-room, which was now empty and at her service, Uncle Chirgwin
had speech with Mary. He braced himself to the trying task, waited until
the kitchen was empty of those among his servants who ate at his table, and
then replied to the question which his niece promptly put.
"What do this mean, Uncle Thomas? What's come o' Joan that she do drop in
'pon us like this here wi' never a word to say she was comin'?"
"Polly," he answered, "your cousin Joan have seen sore trouble, in a manner
o' speakin', an' you'd best to knaw fust as last. Us must be large-minded
'bout a thing like this She'm tokened to a gen'leman from Lunnon."
"What! An' him--Joe Noy?"
"To he plain wi' you, Polly, she've thrawed en over. Listen 'fore you
speaks. 'Twas a match o' Michael Tregenza's makin', I reckon, an', so
like's not, Joe weern't any more heart-struck than Joan. I finds it hard to
feel as I ought to Gray Michael, more shame to me. But Joan's failed in
love wi' a gen'leman, an' he with her, an' he'm comin' any mornin' to fetch
'er--an'--an'--you must be tawld--'tis time as he did come. An' he've sent
Joan a thousand pound o' paper money to shaw as 'e means the right thing."
But the woman's mind had not followed these last facts. Her face was white
to the lips; her hands were shaking. She put her head down upon them as she
sat by the fire, and a groan which no power could strangle broke from her
deep bosom. She spoke, and regretted her words a moment later. "Oh, my God!
an' he brawk off wi' me for the likes o' she!"
"Theer, theer, lass Mary, doan't 'e, doan't 'e. You've hid your tears that
cunnin', but my old eyes has seen the marks this many day an' sorrered for
'e. 'Tis a hard matter viewed from the point what you looks 'pon it; but I
knaws you, my awn good gal; I knaws your Saviour's done a 'mazin' deal to
hold you up. An' 'twont be for long, 'cause the man'll come for her mighty
soon seemin'ly. Can 'e faace it, the Lard helpin'? Poor Joan's bin kicked
out the house by her faither. I do _not_ like en--never did. What do
'e say? She doan't count it no sin, mind you, an' doan't look for no
reprovin', 'cause the gen'leman have taught her terrible coorious ideas;
but 'tis just this: we'm all sinners, eh, Polly? An' us caan't say 'sactly
what size a sin do look to God A'mighty's eye. An' us have got the Lard's
way o' handlin' sich like troubles writ out clear--eh? Eh, Polly? He dedn'
preach no sermon at the time neither."
The old man prattled on, setting out the position in the most favorable
light to Joan that seemed possible to him. But his listener was one no
longer. She had forgotten her cousin and the present circumstances, for her
thoughts were with a sailor at sea. One tremendous moment of savage joy
gripped her heart, but the primitive passion perished in its birth-pang and
left her cold and faint and ashamed. She wondered from what unknown,
unsecured corner of her soul the vile thing came. It died on the instant,
but the corpse fouled her thoughts and tainted them and made her feel faint
again. The irony of chance burst like a storm on the woman, and mazes of
tangled thoughts made her brain whirl in a chaos of bewilderment. She sat
motionless, her face dark, and much mystery in her wonderful eyes, while
Mr. Chirgwin, with shaking head and scriptural quotation and tears, babbled
on, pleading for Joan with all his strength. Mary heard little of what he
said. She was occupied with facts and asking herself her duty. From the
storm in her mind arose a clear question at last, and she could not answer
it. The point had appeared unimportant to anybody but Mary Chirgwin, but no
question of conduct ever looked trivial to her. At least the doubt was
definite and afforded mental occupation. She wondered now whether it was
well or possible that she and Joan could live together under the same roof.
Why such a problem had arisen she knew not; but it stood in the path, a
fact to be dealt with. Her heart told her that Joan and her uncle alike
erred in the supposition that the girl's seducer would ever return. She
read the great gift of money as Thomasin had read it--rightly; and the
thought of living with Joan was at first horrible to her.
Mr. Chirgwin talked and Mary reflected. Then she rose to leave the room.
"'Tis tu gert a thing for me to say--no wummon was ever plaaced like what I
be now. I do mean to see passon at Sancreed, uncle. He'll knaw what's right
for me. If he bids me stay, I'll stay. 'Tis the thot o' Joe Noy maddens me.
My head'll burst if I think any more. I'll go to passon."
"Whether you'll stay, Polly! Why shouldn't 'e stay? Surely it do--"
"Doan't 'e talk no more 'tall, uncle. You caan't knaw what this is to me,
you doan't understan' a wummon faaced wi' a coil like this here. Joe--Joe
as loved 'er, I s'pose, differ'nt to what 'e did me. An' she, when his back
weer turned--an'--an'--me--God help me!--as never could do less than love
en through all!"
She was gone before he had time to answer, but he realized her mighty agony
of mind and stood dumb and frightened before it. Then a thought came
concerning Joan and he felt that, at all costs, he must speak to Mary again
before she went out. Mr. Chirgwin waited quietly at the stair-foot until
she came down. The turmoil was in her eyes still, but she spoke calmly and
listened to him when he replied.
"Doan't 'e say nuthin' to Joan, Uncle Thomas. I be gwaine to larn my duty,
as is hidden from me. An' my duty I will do."
"An' so you alias have, Polly, since you was a grawed gal; an' God knaws
it. But--do'e think as you could--in a manner o' speakin'--hide names from
passon? Ban't no call to tell what's fallen out to other folks. Joan--eh,
Polly? Might 'e speak in a parable like--same as Scripture--wi'out namin'
no names. For Joan's sake, Mary--eh?"
She was silent a full minute, then answered slowly.
"I see what you mean, uncle. I hadn' thot o' she just then. Iss fay, you'm
right theer. Ban't no work o' mine to tell 'bout her."
She hesitated, and the old man spoke again.
"I s'pose that a bit o' prayer wouldn' shaw light on it--eh, Polly? Wi'out
gwaine to Sancreed. The Lard knaws your fix better'n what any words 'ud put
it clear to passon. An' theer's yourself tu. 'Pears to me, axin' your
pardon, for you'm clever'n what I am, that 'tedn' a tale what you can put
out 'fore any other body 'sactly--even a holy man like him."
She saw at once that it was not. Her custom had been to get the
kind-hearted old clergyman of her parish church to soothe the doubts and
perplexities which not seldom rose within her strenuous mind. And before
this great, crushing problem, with the pretext of the one difficulty which
had tumbled uppermost from the chaos and so been grasped as a reality, she
had naturally turned to her guide and friend. But, as her uncle spoke, she
saw that in truth this matter could not be laid naked before any man.
Another's hidden life was involved; another's secret must come out if all
was told, and Mary's sense of justice warned her that this could not be.
She had taken her own mighty grief to the little parsonage at Sancreed, and
a kindly counselor, who knew sorrow at first hand, helped her upon the road
that henceforth looked so lonely and so long; but this present trial,
though it tore the old wounds open, must be borne alone. She saw as much,
and turned and went upstairs again to her chamber.
"Think of her kindly," said Uncle Chirgwin as Mary left him without more
words. "She'm so young an' ignorant o' the gert world, Polly. An' if the
worst falls, which God forbid, 'tis her as'll suffer most, not we."
"Us have all got to suffer an' suffer this side our graaves," she said,
"So young an' purty as she be--the moral o' her mother. I doan't knaw--'tis
sich a wonnerful world--but them blue eyes--them round blue eyes couldn't
do a thing as was wrong afore God as wan might fancy," he said aloud, not
knowing she was out of earshot. Then he heaved a sigh, returned to the
kitchen, and presently departed to the fields.
WAITING FOR "MISTER JAN"
With searching of heart, Mary Chirgwin spent time during that afternoon. In
one room Joan, happier than she had been for many days, set out her few
possessions, boldly hung the picture of Joe Noy's ship upon the wall and
gazed at it with affection, for it spoke of the painter, not the sailor, to
her; while, in a chamber hard by, Mary solved the problem of the day,
coming at her conclusion with great struggle of mind and clashing of
arguments. She resolved at last to abide at Drift with her uncle and with
Joan. The reason for those events now crowding upon her life was hidden
from her; and why Providence saw fit to awaken or mightily intensify the
sorrows which time was lulling to sleep, she could not divine. She accepted
her position, none the less, doubted nothing but that the secret hidden in
these matters would some day be explained, and, according to her custom
before the approach of all mundane events and circumstances affecting
herself, viewed the present trial as heaven-sent to purify and strengthen.
So your religious egotists are ever wont to read into the great waves of
chance, as here and there a ripple from them sets their own little vessels
shaking, as here and there some splash of foam, a puff of wind, strikes the
nutshell which floats their lives, a personal, deliberate intervention, an
event designed by the Everlasting to test their powers, ripen their
characters, equip their souls for an eternity of satisfaction.
At tea time the cousins met again, and Uncle Chirgwin, returning from his
affairs, was rejoiced to learn Mary's decision. No outward sign marked her
struggle. She was calm, even stately, with a natural distinction which
physically appeared in her bearing and carriage. She chilled Joan a little,
but not with intention. Yet Joan was bold for her love and spoke no less
than the truth when she asserted that she viewed her position without shame
and without remorse. She spoke of it openly, fearlessly, and kept Uncle
Chirgwin on thorns between the cold silence of his elder niece and the
garrulous chatter of the younger. The saint was so stern, the sinner so
happy and so perfectly impressed with her own innocence, which latter fact
Mary too saw clearly; and it instantly solved half the problem in her mind.
Joan had obviously been sent to Drift that the truth might reach her heart.
She came a heathen from the outer darkness of sin, with vain babbling on
her lips and a mind empty. She called herself "Nature's child" and the
theatric thunders of Luke Gospeldom had never taught her that she was
God's. Here, then, was one to be brought into the fold with all possible
dispatch, and Mary, who loved religious battle, braced herself to the task
while silently listening to Joan, that she might the better learn what
manner of spiritual attack would best meet this sorry case.
Uncle Chirgwin took charge of his niece's bank-notes, and, after some
persuasion, consented to accept the weekly sum of three shillings and
sixpence from Joan. He made many objections to any such arrangement, but
the girl overruled them, declaring absolutely that she would not stop at
Drift, even until her future husband's return, unless the payment of money
was accepted from her. It bred a secret joy in Joan to feel that "Mister
Jan's" wealth now enabled her to enjoy an independence which even Mary
could not share. She much desired to give more money, but Uncle Chirgwin
reduced the sum to three shillings and sixpence weekly and would take no
more. This wealth was viewed with very considerable loathing by Mary
Chirgwin, and she criticised her uncle's decision unfavorably; but he
accepted the owner's view, arguing that it was only justice to all parties
so to do, until facts proved whether Joan was mistaken. The notes did not
cause him uneasiness--at any rate during this stage of affairs--and he took
them to Penzance upon the occasion of his next visit. Mr. Chirgwin's lawyer
saw to the safe bestowal of the money; and when she heard that her nine
hundred pounds would produce about five-and-twenty every year and yet not
decrease the while, Joan was much astonished.
Meantime John Barren neither came to fetch her, nor sent any writing to
tell of the causes for his delay. The girl was fruitful of new reasons for
his silence, and then grew a black fear which answered all doubts and, by
its reasonableness, terrified her. Perhaps "Mister Jan" was ill--too ill
even to write. He had but little strength--that she knew, and few
friends--of that Joan was also aware, for he had told her so. Yet, surely,
there were those, if only his servants, who might have written to bid her
hasten. A line--a single word--and she would get into the train and stop in
it until she saw "London" written on a board at a station. Then she would
leap out and find him and get to his heart and warm it and kiss life back
to his body, light to his loved gray eyes. So thinking, time dragged, and
as the novelty of the new life abated, and wore thin, Joan's spirits
wavered until long and longer intervals of gloomy sadness marked the
duration of each day for her. But she was young, and hope yet held revels
in her heart when the mood favored, when the wind was soft, the sun bright,
and Mother Nature seemed close and kind, as often happened. Joan worked
too, helping Mary and the maids, but after a wayward manner of her own.
There was no counting upon her and she loved better to be with her uncle,
abroad upon the land, or by herself, hidden in the orchard, in the fruit
garden, or in the secret places of the coomb.
She had her favorite spots, for as yet that great, overwhelming regard for
the old stone crosses, which came to her afterward, had not grown into a
live passion. Her present pilgrimages were short, her shrines those of
Nature's building. Much she loved the arm of an ancient apple-tree hid in
the very heart of the orchard. A great gnarled limb bent abruptly out, grew
long and low, and was propped at a distance of three yards from the parent
tree. Midway between the stem and support, a crooked elbow of the bough
made a pleasant seat for Joan; and here, when life at the farm looked more
gray than common, she came and sometimes sat long hours. Her perch raised
her above a velvet scented sea of wall-flowers which ran in regular waves
beneath the apple-trees, under murmuring of many bees. The blossom above
Joan's head was all a lacework of sunny rose and cream; and the sun painted
glorious russet harmonies below, glinted magically in the green and white
above, turned the gray lichens, which clustered on the weather side of the
trunks and boughs, to silver. The glory of life here always heartened Joan.
She felt the immortality of Nature, who, from naked earth and barren
boughs, thus at the sun's smile splendidly awakened, and teemed and
overflowed with bewildering, inexhaustible luxuriance. Nor seldom this
aspect of her Mother's infinite wealth touched her blood, and a strange
sensation as of very lust of life made her wild. At such times she would
pick the green things and tear them and watch the colorless life ooze from
their wounds; she would gather blossoms and scatter them against the wind,
break buds open and pluck their hearts out, fill her mouth with sorrel and
young grass-shoots, and feel the cool saps of them upon her palate. And
sometimes her Mother frightened her, for the dim clouds hid beneath the
horizon of maternity were moving now and their color was dark. Nature had
as many moods as Joan and often looked distant and terrible. Poor little
blue-eyed "sister of the sun and moon!" She likened herself so bravely to
the other children of her Mother--to the stars, to the fair birch-trees,
where emerald showers now twinkled down over the silver stems, to the
uncurling fronds of the fern, to the little trout in the coomb-stream; and
yet she was not content as they were.
"Her's good, so good, but oh! if her was a bit nigher--if I could sit in
her lap an' feel her arms around me an' thread the daisies into chains like
when I was a lil maid! But I be a grawed wummon now--an' yet caan't feel it
so--not yet. Her'll hold my hand, maybe, an' lead me 'pon the road past
pain an' sorrow. I can trust her, 'cause Mister Jan did say as Nature never
So the child's thoughts wandered on a day when she sat upon the bough and
brought a shower of pale petals down with every movement. But as yet only
the shadows of shadows clouded her thoughts when she thought about herself.
It was the loneliness brought real care--the loneliness and the waiting.
She spent time, too, in Uncle Chirgwin's old walled garden. This place and
its products went for little in the traffic of the farm, though every year
its owner was wont to count upon certain few baskets of choice fruit as an
addition to his income, and every year his hopes were blighted. For the
walls whereon his peaches and nectarines grew had stood through
generations, their red brick work was much fretted by time, and the
interstices between the bricks made snug homes for a variety of insects.
Joan once listened to her uncle upon this subject, and henceforth chose to
make his scanty fruit her special care.
"'Tis like this," he explained, "an' specially wi' the necter'ns. The
moment they graws a shade, an' long afore they stone, them dratted lil auld
sow-pigs [Footnote: _Sow-pigs_--Woodlice.] falls 'pon 'em cruel. Then
they waits theer time till the ripenin', an', blame me, but the varmints do
allus knaw just a day 'fore I does, when things be ready, an' they eats the
peaches an' necter'ns by night, gouging 'em shameful, same as if you'd done
it wi' your nails. 'Tis a terrible coorious wall for sow-pigs, likewise for
snails; an' I be allus a gwaine to have en repaired an' pinted, but yet
somehow 'tedn' done. But your sharp eyes'll be a sight o' use wi' creepin'
things. 'Tis a reg'lar Noah's Ark o' a wall, to be sure; not but what I lay
theer's five pound worth o' stone fruit 'pon it most years if 'twas let
Joan enjoyed watching the peaches grow. First they peeped like pearls from
the dried frills of their blossoms; then they expanded and cast off the
encumbrance of dead petals and nestled against the red bricks that sucked
up sunshine and held it for them when the sun had gone. She found the
garden wall was a whole busy world, and, taught by her vanished master, she
took interest in all that dwelt thereon. But the snails and woodlice she
slew ruthlessly that her uncle might presently come by his five pounds'
value of fruit.
Mary Chirgwin speedily discovered the task of reforming her cousin was like
to be lengthy and arduous. There appeared no foundations upon which to
work, and while the certainty of Barron's return still remained with Joan
as a vital guide to conduct, no other gospel than that which he had taught
found her a listener. She refused to go to church, to Mary's chagrin and
Uncle Chirgwin's sorrow; but he explained the matter correctly and indeed
found a clew to most of Joan's actions at this season. Mary saw the old
man's growing love for the new arrival, and a smaller mind might have sunk
to jealousy quickly enough under such circumstances, but she, deeply
concerned with Joan's eternal welfare, rose above temporary details, At the
same time her uncle's mild and tolerant attitude caused her pain.
"As to church-gwaine," he said, on a Sunday morning when he and his elder
niece had driven off to Sancreed as usual, leaving Joan in the orchard;
"she've larned to look 'pon it from a Luke Gosp'ler's pint o' view. Doan't
you fret, Polly. Let her bide. 'Twill come o' itself bimebye wan o' these
Sundays. Poor tiby lamb! Christ's a watchin' of her, Polly. An' if this
here gen'leman, by the name o' Mister Jan, doan't come--"
"You make me daft!" she interrupted, with impatience. "D'you mean as you
ever thot he would?"
"I hopes. Theer's sich a 'mazin' deal o' good in human nature. Mayhap he'm
wraslin' wi' his sawl to this hour. An' the Lard do allus fight 'pon the
side o' conscience. Iss fay! Some 'ow I do think as he'll come."
Mary said no more. She was quite positive that her cousin and her uncle
were alike mistaken; but she saw that, until the hard truth forced itself
upon Joan, the girl would go her present way. It was not that Joan lacked
goodness and sweetness, but, in Mary's opinion, she took an obstinate and
wrong-headed course upon the one vital subject of her own salvation. Mary
fought with herself to love Joan, and the battle now was only hard when Joe
Noy came within the scope of her thoughts. She banished him as much as she
could, but it never grew easy, and the complex problems bred of reflections
on this theme maddened her. For she had always loved him, and that
affection, thrust away as deadly-sin, when he left her for another, could
not be wholly strangled now.
Time hung heavily and more heavily with Joan at Drift. A fortnight passed;
but the hope of the ignorant and trustful dies very hard and the faith
which is bred of absolute love has a hundred lives. The girl walked into
Penzance every second day, and hope blazed brightly on the road to the
post-office, then sank a little deeper into the hidden places of her heart
as she plodded empty-handed back to Drift.
Slowly, and so gradually that she herself knew it not, her thoughts grew
something less occupied with John Barren, something more concerned about
herself. For the world was full of happy mothers now. One "Brindle"--a
knot-cow of repute--dropped a fine bull-calf in a croft hard by the
orchard, and Joan looked into "Brindle's" solemn eyes after the event, and
learned. She marveled to see the little brown calf stand on his shaking
legs within an hour of his birth; then his mother licked him lovingly,
while Uncle Chirgwin himself drew off her "buzzy milk." There was another
mother in a disused pigsty. There Joan found a red and white tortoise-shell
cat with four blind, squeaking atoms beside her, and as the cat rolled over
and the atoms sucked life, Joan saw her shining eyes, afore-time so bright
and hard, full of a new strange light, like the cloud that glimmers over
the fires of an opal. The cat's green orbs were full of mystery: of pain
past, of joy present. So again Joan learned. But a black tragedy blotted
out that little happy family in the pigsty, and Death, in the shape of Amos
Bartlett, Mr. Chirgwin's head man, fell upon them. Then the farmer learned
that his niece could be angry. One morning Joan found the mother cat
running wildly here and there, with a world of misery in its cry; while a
moment afterward she came upon the kittens in a duck pond. Mr. Bartlett was
present and explained.
"Them chets had to gaw, missy. 'Tis a auld word an' it ban't wise to take
no count of sayings like that. 'May chets bad luck begets.' You've heard
tell o' that? Never let live no kittens born in May. They theer dead chets
comed May Day."
"You'm a cruel devil!" she said hotly; "how'd you like for your two lil
children to be thrawed in the water, May or no May? Look at thicky cat,
breakin' her heart, poor twoad!"
Mr. Bartlett was justly angry that Joan could dare to thus class his
priceless red-headed twins with a litter of dead kittens, and he said more
than was wise, ramming home a truth, and that coarsely.
"Theer's plenty more wheer them comed from, I lay. Nachur's so free, you
see--tu free like sometimes. Ban't no dearth o' chets or childern as I've
heard on. They comes unaxed, an' unwanted tu. You might a heard tell o'
some sich p'raps?"
She blushed and shook with passion at this sudden new aspect of affairs.
Here was a standpoint from which nobody had viewed her before. Worse--far
worse than her father's rage or Uncle Chirgwin's tears was this. Amos
Bartlett represented the world's attitude. The world would not be angry
with her, or cry for her; it would merely laugh and pass on, like Mr.
Bartlett. So Joan learned yet again; and the new knowledge cowed her for
full eight-and-forty hours. But the eyes of the mothers had taught Joan
something of the secret of pain, and a thread of gravity ran henceforth
through all thoughts concerning the future. She much marveled that "Mister
Jan" had never touched upon this leaf in the book. Beauty was what he
invariably talked about, and he found beauty hidden in many a strange
matter too; but not in pain. That was because he suffered himself
sometimes, Joan suspected. And yet, to her, pain, though she had never felt
it, seemed not wholly hideous. She surprised herself mightily by the depth
of her own thoughts now. She seemed to stand upon the brink of deep matters
guessing dimly at things hidden. Then her moods would break again from the
clouds to brightness. Hot sunshine on her cheek always raised her young
spirits, and her health, now excellent, threw joy into life despite the
ever-present anxiety. Then came a meeting which roused interest and brought
very genuine delight with it.
It happened upon a fine Sunday afternoon, when Joan was walking through the
fields on the farm--those which extended southward--that she reached a
stile where granite blocks lay lengthwise, like the rungs of a ladder,
between two uprights. Here she stopped a while, and sat her down, and
looked out over the promise of fine hay. The undulating green expanse was
studded with the black knobs of ribwort plantain and gemmed with
buttercups, which here were dotted like sparks of fire, here massed in
broad bunches and splashes of color. The wind swept over the field, and its
course was marked by sudden flecks and ripples of transient sheeny light,
paler and brighter than the mass of the herbage. Then a figure appeared
afar off, following the course of the footpath where it wound through the
gold of the flowers and the silver of the bending grasses. It approached,
resolved itself into a fisher-boy and presently proved to be Tom Tregenza.
Joan ran forward to meet him as soon as the short figure, with its
exaggerated nautical roll, became known to her. She kissed her half-brother
warmly, and he hugged her and showed great delight at the meeting, for he
loved Joan well.
"I've stealed away, 'cause I was just burstin' to get sight of 'e again,
Joan. Faither's home an' I comed off for a walk, creepin' round here an'
hopin' as we'd meet. 'Tis mighty wisht to home now you'm gone, I can tell
'e. I've got a sore head yet along o' you."
"G'wan, bwoy! Why should 'e?"
"Iss so. 'Twas like this. When us comed back from sea wan mornin' a week
arter you'd gone I ups an' sez, ''Tis 'bout as lively as bad feesh ashore
now Joan ban't here.' I dedn' knaw faither was in the doorway when I said
it, 'cause he'd give out you was never to be named no more. But mother seed
en an' sez to me, 'Shut your mouth.' An', not knawin' faither was be'ind
me, I ups agin an' sez, 'Why caan't I, as be her awn brother, see Joan
anyway an' hear tell what 'tis she've done? I lay as it ban't no mighty
harm neither, 'cause Joan's true Tregenza!'"
"Good Lard! An' faither heard 'e?"
"Iss, an' next minute I knawed it. He blazed an' roared, an' comed over an'
bummed my head 'pon the earhole--a buster as might 'a' killed some lads. My
ivers! I seed stars 'nough to fill a new sky, Joan, an' I went down tail
over nose. I doubt theer's nobody in Newlyn what can hit like faither. But
I got up agin an' sot mighty still, an' faither sez, 'She as was here ban't
no Tregenza, nor my darter, nor nothin' to none under my hellings
[Footnote: _Hellings_--Roof.] no more--never more, mark that.' Then
mother thrawed her apern over her faace an' hollered, 'cause I'd got such a
welt, an' faither walked out in the garden. I was for axin' mother then,
but reckoned not for fear as he might be listenin' agin. But I knawed you
was up Drift, 'cause I heard mother say that much; an' now I've sot eyes on
you agin; an' I knaw you'll tell me what's wrong wi' you; an' if I can do
anything for 'e I will, sink or swim."
"Faither's a cruel beast, an' he'll come to a bad end, Tom, 'spite of they
Gosp'lers. He'm all wrong an' doan't knaw nothin' 'tall 'bout God. I do
knaw what I knaw. Theer's more o' God in that gert shine o' buttercups 'pon
the grass than in all them whey-faced chapel folks put together."
"My stars, Joan!"
"'Tis truth, an' you'll find 'tis some day, same as what I have."
"I doan't see how any lad be gwaine to make heaven myself," said Tom
gloomily. "Us had a mining cap'n from Camborne preach this marnin', an', by
Gollies! 'tweer like sittin' tu near a gert red'ot fire. Her rubbed it in,
I tell 'e, same as you rubs salt into a hake. Faither said 'twas braave
talk. But you, Joan, what's wrong with 'e, what have you done?"
"I ain't done no wrong, Tom, an' you can take my word for't."
"Do 'e reckon you'm damned, like what faither sez?"
"Never! I doan't care a grain o' wheat what faither sez. What I done
weern't no sin, 'cause him, as be wiser an' cleverer an' better every way
than any man in Carnwall, said 'tweern't; an' he knawed. I've heard wise
things said, an' I've minded some an' forgot others. None can damn folks
but God, when all's done, an' He's the last as would; for God do love even
the creeping, gashly worms under a turned stone tu well to damn 'em. Much
more humans. I be a Nature's cheel an' doan't b'lieve in no devil an' no
"I wish I was a Nachur's cheel then."
Joan flung down a little bouquet of starry stitchworts she had gathered
upon the way and turned very earnestly to Tom.
"You _be_, you _be_ a Nature's cheel. Us all be, but awnly a few
Tom laughed at this idea mightily.
"Well, I'll slip back long, Joan; an' if I be a Nachur's cheel, I be; but I
guess I'll keep it a secret. If I tawld faither as I dedn' b'lieve in no
auld devil, I guess he'd hurry me into next world so's I might see for
myself theer was wan."
They walked a little way together. Then Tom grew frightened and stopped his
companion. "Guess you'd best to be turnin'. Folks is 'bout everywheer in
the fields, bein' Sunday, an' if it got back to faither as I'd seed you,
he'd make me hop."
"D'you like the sea still, Tom?"
"Doan't I just! Better'n better; an' I be grawin' smart, 'cause I heard
faither tell mother so when I was in the wash'ouse an' they thot I wasn't.
Faither said as I'd got a hawk's eye for moorin's or what not. An' I licked
the bwoy on Pratt's bwoat a fortnight agone. A lot o' men seed me do't. I
hopes I'll hit so hard as faither hisself wan day, when I'm grawed.
Good-by, sister Joan. I'll see 'e agin when I can, an' bring up a feesh
maybe. Doan't say nothin' 'bout me to them at the farm, else it may get
So Tom marched off, speculating as to what particular lie would best meet
the case if cross-questioning awaited him on his return, and Joan watched
the thickset little figure very lovingly until it was out of sight.
June came. The wall-flowers were long plucked or dead, the last snows of
apple-blossom had vanished away, and the fruit was setting well. The
woodlice were already ruining the young nectarines. "They spiles 'em in
the growth an' scores 'em wi' their wicked lil teeth, then, come August
an' they ripens, they'll begin again. But the peaches they won't touch
now, 'cause of the fur 'pon 'em. Awnly they'll make up for't when the
things is ready for eatin'." So Uncle Thomas explained the position to
Joan. He, good man, had fulfilled his promise to see Michael Tregenza.
It happened that a load of oar-weed was wanted on the farm, and Mr.
Chirgwin, instead of sending one of the hands with horse and cart to
Newlyn according to his custom when seaweed was needed, went himself.
His elder niece expostulated with him and explained that such a trip
would be interpreted to mean straitened circumstances on the farm; but
her uncle was not proud, and when he explained that his real object was
an opportunity to speak with Joan's father Mary said no more.
Screwing courage to the sticking-point, therefore, the old man went down to
Newlyn on a morning when Joan was not by to question his movements. Fortune
favored him. Michael had landed at daylight and was not sailing again till
dusk. The fisherman listened patiently, but Mr. Chirgwin's inconsequent and
sentimental conversation sounded as tinkling brass upon his ear. Both
argued the question upon religious grounds, but from an entirely different
standpoint. Michael was not at the trouble to talk much, for his visitor
seemed scarce worthy of powder and shot. He explained that he deemed it
damnation to hold unnecessary converse with sinners; that, by her act, Joan
had raised eternal barriers between herself and those of her own home, and,
indeed, all chosen people; that he had walked in the light from the dawn of
his days until the present time, and could not imperil the souls of his
wife, his son and himself by any further communion with one, in his
judgment, lost beyond faintest possibility of redemption. Uncle Chirgwin
listened with open mouth to these sentiments. He longed to relate how Joan
had repented of her offense, how she had thrown herself upon the Lord, and
found peace and forgiveness. No such thing could be recorded, however, and
he felt himself at a disadvantage. He prayed for mercy on her behalf, but
mercy was a luxury Gray Michael deemed beyond the reach of man. He showed
absolutely no emotion upon the subject, and his chill unconcern quenched
the farmer's ardor. Mr. Chirgwin mourned mightily that he held not a
stronger case. Joan had tied his hands, at any rate, for the present. If
she would only come round, accept the truth and abandon her present
attitude--then he knew that he would fight like a giant for her, and that,
with right upon his side, he would surely prevail. His last words upon the
subject shadowed this conviction.
"Please God time may soften 'e, Tregenza; an', maybe, soften Joan tu. Her
heart's warm yet, an' the truth will find its plaace theer in the Lard's
awn time; but you--I doubt 'tedn' in you to change."
"Never, till wrong be right."
"You makes me sorry for 'e, Tregenza."
"Weep for yourself, Thomas Chirgwin. You'm that contented, an' the
contented sawl be allus farthest from God if you awnly knawed it. Wheer's
your fear an' tremblin' too? I've never seed 'e afeared or shaken 'fore the
thrawn o' the Most High in your life. But I 'sure 'e, thee'll come to it."
"An' you say that!' You'm 'mazin' blind, Tregenza, for all you walk in the
Light. The Light's dazed 'e, I'm thinkin', same as birds a breakin' theer
wings 'gainst lighthouse glasses. You sez you be a worm twenty times a day,
an' yet you'm proud enough for Satan hisself purty nigh. If you'm a worm,
why doan't 'e act like a worm an' be humble-minded? 'Tis the lil childern
gets into heaven. You'm stiff-necked, Michael Tregenza. I sez it respectful
an' in sorrer; but 'tis true."
"I hope the Lard won't lay thy sin to thy charge, my poor sawl," answered
the fisherman with perfect indifference. "You--you dares to speak agin me!
I wish I could give 'e a hand an' drag 'e a lil higher up the ladder o'
righteousness, Chirgwin; but you'm o' them as caan't dance or else won't,
not if God A'mighty's Self piped to 'e. Go your ways, an' knaw you'm in the
prayers of a man whose prayers be heard."
"Then pray for Joan. If you'm so cocksure you gets a hearin' 'fore us
church folks, 'tis your fust duty to plead for her."
"It was," he said. "Now it is too late, I've sweated for her, an' wrastled
wi' principalities an' powers for her, an' filled the night watches by sea
an' shore wi' gert agonies o' prayer for her. But 'tweern't to be. Her
name's writ in the big Book o' Death, not the small Book o' Life. David
prayed hard till that cheel, got wrong side the blanket, died. Then he
washed his face an' ate his meat. 'Twas like that wi' me. Joan's dead now.
Let the dead bury theer dead."
"'Tis awful to hear 'e, Tregenza."
"The truth's a awful thing, Chirgwin, but a lie is awfuler still. 'Tis the
common fate to be lost. You an' sich as you caan't grasp the truth 'bout
that. Heaven's no need to be a big plaace--theer 'edn' gwaine to be no
crowdin' theer. 'Tis hell as'll fill space wi' its roominess."
"I be gwaine," answered Mr. Chirgwin. "Us have talked three hour by the
clock, an' us ain't gotten wan thot in common. I trusts in Christ; you
trusts in yourself. Time'll shaw which was right. You damn the world; I
wouldn't damn a dew-snail. [Footnote: _Dew-snail_--A slug.] I awnly
sez again, 'May you live to see all the pints you'm wrong.' An' if you do,
'twill be a tidy big prospect."
They exchanged some further remarks in a similar strain. Then Tom informed
Uncle Chirgwin that his cart with a full load of oar-weed was waiting at
the door. Whereupon the old man got his hat, loaded his pipe, wished
Thomasin good-by, and drove sorrowfully away. Mrs. Tregenza had secretly
inquired after Joan's health and wealth. That the first was excellent, the
second carefully put away in the lawyer's hands, caused her satisfaction.
She told Mr. Chirgwin to make Joan write out a will.
"You never knaws," she said. "God keep the gal, but they do die now an'
agin. 'Tweer better she wrote about the money 'cordin' to a lawyer's way.
And, say, for the Lard's love, not to leave it to Michael. So well light a
fire wi' it as that. He bawled out as the money had lit a fire a'ready,
when I touched 'pon it to en--a fire as was gwaine to burn through
eternity; but Michael's not like a human. His ideas 'pon affairs is all
pure Bible. You an' me caan't grasp hold o' all he says. An' the money's
done no wrong. So you'll drop in Joan's ear as it might be worldly-wise to
save trouble by sayin' what should be done if anything ill failed 'pon
Uncle Chirgwin promised that he would do so, and Mrs. Tregenza felt a
weight off her mind which had distressed it for some while. She was
thinking of Tom, of course. She knew that Joan loved him, and though the
prospect of his ever coming by a penny of the money appeared slender, yet
to think that he might be in a will, named for hundreds of pounds, was a
shadowy sort of joy to her.
That night Joan's uncle told the girl of his afternoon's work, and she
expressed some sorrow that he should have thus exerted himself on her
"Faither's dirt beside the likes of you," she said. "'Twas wastin' good
time to talk to en, an' I wouldn't go back to Newlyn, you mind, if he was
to ax me 'pon his knees. I'm a poor fool of a gal, but I knaws enough to
laugh at the ignorance o' faither an' that fiddle-faaced crowd to the Luke
"Doan't 'e be bitter, Joan. Us all makes mistakes an' bad's the best o'
human creatures. Your faither will chaange, sure as I'm a livin' man, some
day. God ban't gwaine to let en gaw down to's graave wi' sich a 'mazin'
number o' wrong opinions. Else think o' the wakin' t'other side! Iss, it
caan't be. Why, as 'tis, if he went dead sudden, he'd gaw marchin' into
heaven as bold as brass, an' bang up to the right hand o' the thrawne!
Theer's a situation for a body! An' the awk'ardness o' havin' to step
forrard an' tell en! No, no, the man'll be humbled sure 'fore his journey's
end. Theer's Everlasting eyes 'pon en, think as you may."
"I never think at all about him," declared Joan, "an' I ban't gwaine to. He
won't chaange, an' I never wants en to. I've got you to love me, an' to
love; an' I'm--I'm waitin' for wan as be gawld to faither's dross."
She sighed as she spoke.
"Waitin' for en still?"
"Ay, for Mister Jan. It caan't be no gert length o' time now. I s'pose days
go quicker up Lunnon town than wi' us."
"Joan, my dovey, 'tis idle. Even I sees it now. I did think wi' you fust as
he was a true man. I caan't no more. I wish I could."
A month before Joan would have flashed into anger at such a speech as this,
but now she did not answer. Young love is fertile in imagination. She had
found a thousand glories in John Barren, and, when he left her, had woven a
thousand explanations for his delayed return. Now invention grew dull;
enthusiasm waned; her confidence was shaken, though she denied the fact
even to herself as a sort of treachery. But there is no standing still in
time. The remorseless fact of his non-return extended over weeks and
Mr. Chirgwin saw her silence, noted the little quiver of her mouth as he
declared his own loss of faith, stroked the hand she thrust dumbly into his
and felt her silence hurt his heart.
Presently Joan spoke.
"I've got none to b'lieve in en no more then--not wan now, not even you.
Whiles you stuck up for en I felt braave 'bout his comin'; now--now Mister
Jan have awnly got me to say a word for en. An' you doan't think he'm a
true man no more then, uncle?"
"Lassie, I wish to God as I did. Time's time. Why ban't he here?"
"I doan't dare think this is the end. I'm feared to look forrard now. If
it do wance come 'pon me as he've gone 'twill drive me mad, I knaws."
"No, never, not if you'd awnly turn your faace the right way. Theer's
oceans o' comfort an' love waitin' for 'e, gal. You did belong to a hard
world, as I knaws who have just comed from speech wi' your faither; but
'twas a world o' clean eatin' an' dressin' an' livin'--a God-fearin' world
leadin' up'ards on a narrer, ugly road, but a safe road, I s'pose. An' you
left it. You'll say I be harsh, but my heart do bleed for 'e, Joan. If
you'd awnly drop this talk 'bout Nature, as none of us understands, an'
turn to the livin' Christ, as all can understand. That's wheer rest lies
for 'e, nowheers else. You'm like Eve in the garden. She was kindiddled an'
did eat an' lost eternal life an' had to quit Eden. An' 'tis forbidden
fruit as you've ate, not knawin' 'twas sich. Nature doan't label her
pisins, worse luck."
"Eve? No, I ban't no Eve. She had Adam."
There was a world of sorrow in the words and the hopeless ring in them
startled Uncle Chirgwin, for it denoted greater changes in the girl's mind
than he thought existed. She seemed nearer to the truth. It cut his heart
to see her suffering, but he thanked Heaven that the inevitable knowledge
was coming, and prayed it might be the first step toward peace. He was
silent with his thoughts, and Joan spoke again, repeating her last words.
"Iss, Eve had Adam to put his arm around her an' kiss her wet eyes. He were
more to her than what the garden was, I'll lay, or God either. That's the
bitter black God o' my faither. What for did He let the snake in the garden
'tall if He really loved them fust poor fools? Why dedn' He put they
flamin' angels theer sooner. 'Twas the snake they should have watched an'
Uncle Chirgwin looked at her with round terrified eyes. She had never
echoed Barron's sentiments to such a horrified listener.
"Doan't, for pity's sake, Joan! The wickedness of it! Him as taught you to
think such frightful thoughts tried to ruin your sawl so well as your body.
Oh, if you'd awnly up an' say, 'That man was wrong an' I'll forget en an'
turn to the Saviour.'"
"You caan't understan'. I do put ugly bits o' thot afore 'e, but if you'd
heard him as opened my eyes, you'd knaw 'tedn' ugly taken altogether. I
knaws so much, but caan't speak it out. Us done no sin, an' I ban't shamed
to look the sun in the faace, nor you. An' he will come--he will--if
theer's a kind God in heaven he'll come back to me. If 'e doan't, then I'll
say that faither's God's the right wan."
"Doan't 'e put on a bold front, Joan gal. Theer's things tu deep for the
likes o' us. You ban't prayin' right, I reckon. Theer's a voice hid in you.
Listen to that. Nature's spawk to 'e an' now er's dumb. Listen to t'other,
lassie. Nature do guide beasts an' birds an' the poor herbs o' the field;
but you--you listen to t'other. You'll never be happy no more till you awns
'twas a sad mistake an' do ax in the right plaace for pardon."
"I want no pardon," she said. "I have done no wrong, I tell 'e. Wheer's
justice to? 'Cause the man do bide away, I be wicked; if he comed back
to-morrer an' married me--what then? I be sinless in the matter of it, an'
Nature do knaw it, an' God do knaw it."
But her breast heaved and her eyes were wet with unshed tears. Uncle
Chirgwin, her solitary trust and stand-by, had drifted away too. His hope
was dead and she could not revive it. He had never spoken so strongly
before, but now he was taking up Mary's line of action and had ranged
himself against her. It almost seemed to Joan that he reflected in a meek,
diluted fashion, as the moon turns the sun's golden fire to silver,
something of what he must have heard that afternoon from her father. This
defection acted definitely on the girl's temperament. She fought fear,
hardened her heart against doubt, cast suspicion far away as treason to
"Mister Jan" and gave to hope a new lease of life. She would be patient for
his sake, she would trust in him still.
There was something grand in the loneliness, she told herself. He would
know perhaps one day of her great patient faith and love. And the trial
would make her brain and heart bigger and better fit her for the position
of wife to him. The struggle was fought by her with that courage which lies
beyond man's comprehension. She looked at the world with bright eyes when
there was necessity for facing it; she exhausted her ingenuity in schemes
for communicating with John Barron. If he only knew! She felt that even had
change darkened his affection for her, yet, most surely, the thought of the
baby must tempt him back again. Thus, with sustained bravery and ignorance,
she left her hand in Nature's, and her faith, rising gloriously above the
doubt of the time, trusted that majestic heathen goddess as a little child
trusts its mother.
Fate played another prank upon her not long afterward and thrust into her
hands a possible means of access to John Barron. A favorite resort of
Joan's was the brook which ran down the valley beneath Drift and Sancreed.
The little stream wound through a fair coomb between orchards, meadows,
wastes of fern and heather. At this season of the year the valley was very
lonely, and a certain spot beside the stream often tempted Joan by reason
of its comfort and its peace. From here, sitting on a granite bowlder
clothed in soft green mosses and having a shape into which human limbs
might fit easily, the girl could see much that was fair. The meadows were
all sprinkled with the silver-mauve of cuckoo-flowers--Shakespeare's
"lady's smock"; the hills sloped upward under oaken saplings as yet too
young for the stripping; the valley stretched winding landward beneath
Sancreed. Above and far away stretched the Cornish moors dotted with man's
mining enterprises, chiefly deserted. Ding-Dong raised its gaunt engine
stack and, distant though it was, Joan's sharp eyes could see the rusty arm
of iron stretching forth from the brickwork, motionless, not worth the
removing. Close at hand, where the stream wandered babbling at her feet,
the whole glory of spring shone on blossoms and grasses where the world of
the stream-side sent forth a warm, living smell. The wildness of the upland
moors stretched down into the valley below them. There glimmered blue-green
patches of bracken, speckled with the red and white hides of calves which
fed and scampered dew-lap deep; and the fern was all sheened with light
where the sunshine brightened its polished leaves. The stream wound through
the midst, bedecked and adorned with purple bugle flowers, bridged with
dog-roses and honeysuckles, in festoons, in bunches and in sprays, crowned
with scented gorse, fringed with yellow irises which splashed flaming
reflections where the brook widened and slowed into shallow little
backwaters. Flags and cresses framed the margins; meadowsweets made the air
fragrant above, and granite bowlders fretted the waters silver, their
foundations hidden in dark water-weed. Sunshine danced on every tiny
cascade and threw stars and twinkling flashes of light upward from the
brown pools upon the banks. Everything was upon a miniature scale, even to
the trout which lived in the stream, flashed their dim shadows under its
waters, leaped into the air after the flies, set little clouds of sand
shimmering as they darted up and down or, when surprised, wriggled away
into favorite holes and hiding places beneath the banks and trailing weeds.
Ling and wortleberry too were moorland visitors in the valley, and the bog
heather already budded.
Here was one of the many favorite resting-places of Joan, and hither she
came on a rare morning in mid June at the wish of another person.
Uncle Chirgwin had set his niece a task, and the object of her present
visit was no mere dawdling and thinking while perched upon the granite
throne above the meadowsweets. This fact a basket and a three-pronged fork
indicated. Her uncle deemed himself an authority on simples and possessed
much information, mostly erroneous, concerning the properties of wild herbs
and flowers. A decoction of hemp agrimony he at all times considered a most
valuable bitter tonic; and of this plant the curious flesh-colored flowers
on their long green stems grew pretty freely by the stream-side in the
valley. The time of flowering was not yet come, but Joan knew the dull leaf
of the herb well enough and, that found, she could easily dig up the root,
wherein its virtue dwelt. But before starting on her search, the girl
rested a while where the serrated foliage and creamy blossom of the
meadowsweets laced and fringed the granite of her couch; and, as she sat
there, her eye taking in the happy valley, her brain reading into the
luxuriant life of nature, some strange new thoughts hidden until lately,
she became suddenly conscious of a phenomenon beyond her power to
immediately explain or understand It drove the hemp agrimony quite out of
her head, and, when the mystery came to be explained, filled Joan's mind
with the memory of her own sad affairs. First and repeatedly there
glimmered a gossamer over the stream, falling into the water and as often
rising again; then above the film of light flashed another, rising abruptly
golden into the sunshine. Not for a moment or two did she discover the
flashing thing was a fly-rod, but presently the man who held it appeared
below her at a bend of the streamlet. He was clad much like the artists,
and it made the blood flush hot to her cheek as she thought he might be
one. Young men sometimes fished the brook for the fingerling trout it
contained. They were small but sweet, and the catching them with a fly was
difficult work in a stream so overhung with tangles of vine and brier, so
densely planted in the wider reaches with water hemlock and lesser weeds.
This fisherman, at any rate, found successful sport beyond his power to
achieve. He flogged away, but hung his fly clear of the stream at every
second cast and deceived not the smallest troutlet of them all. The young
man, after the manner of those anglers classified as "chuck and chance it,"
worked his clumsy way toward Joan's chair on the granite bowlder.
Motionless she sat, and her drab attire and faded sun-bonnet harmonized so
well with the tones around it--the gray of the stones, the lights of the
river, the masses of the meadowsweet--that while noting a broad and
sparkling stickle winding away beneath her, the angler missed the girl
herself. This stickle spread, with an oily tremor and white undercurrent
full of air pearls, from a waterfall where the foot of Joan's throne
fretted the stream. Below it the waters slowed and ran smoothly into dark
brown shadows, being here marked by the wrinkled lines of their currents
and splashed with the sky's reflected blue. An ideal spot for a trout it
doubtless was, and the approaching sportsman exercised unusual care in his
approach, crouching along the bank and finally creeping bent double within
casting distance. Then, as he freed his fly, he saw Joan, like a queen of
the pool reigning motionless and silent. She moved and no fish was likely
to rise after within the visual radius of her sudden action. Thereupon the
angler in the man cursed; the artist in him drew a short, sharp breath. He
scrambled to his feet and looked again upon a beautiful picture. The plump,
baby freshness of Joan's face had vanished indeed, and there was that in
the slightly anxious expression and questioning look of her blue eyes that
had told any medical man he stood before a future mother; but, in her
seated position, no tangible suggestion of a hidden life was thrust upon
the spectator's view. He only saw a wondrously pretty woman in a charming
attitude, amid objects which enhanced her beauty by their own. She seemed a
trifle pale for a cottage girl, but her mouth was scarlet and dewy as ripe
wood-strawberries, her eyes were just of that color where the blue sky
above was reflected and changed to a darker shade by the pools of the
brook. She sat with her hands folded in her lap and looked straight at the
sportsman with a frank interest which surprised him. He was a modest lad,
but the sudden presentment of an object so lovely woke his pluck and he
fished ostentatiously to Joan's very feet, suspecting that the absurdity of
the action would not be apparent to her. She watched the morsel of feather
and fur dragged across the water after the fantastic fashion of the "chuck
and chancer," and he, when her eyes were on the water, kept his own fast
upon her face. Both man and woman were profoundly anxious each to hear the
other's voice, but neither felt brave enough to speak first. Then the
artist's ingenuity found a means, and Joan presently saw his fly stick fast
upon the side of the stream where she sat. The thing was caught at the
seed-head of a rush within reach of Joan's hand, and while this incident
appeared absolutely accidental, yet it was not so, for the artist had long
been endeavoring to get fast somewhere hard by Joan. Now, finding his
maneuver accomplished, he made but the feeblest efforts to loosen the fly,
then raised his hat and accosted Joan.
"Might I trouble you to set my line clear? Ashamed to ask such a thing, but
it would be awfully kind. Oh, thank you, thank you. Take care of your
fingers! The hook is very sharp."
Joan got the fly free in a moment, and then, to Harry Murdoch's
gratification, addressed him. The young fellow was Edmund Murdoch's cousin,
and at present dwelt in Newlyn with the elder artist already mentioned as
John Barron's friend.
"May I make so bold as to ax if you do knaw a paintin' gen'leman by name
o'--o' Mister Jan? Leastways, that's wan on's names, but I never can call
home the other, though he tawld me wance. He was here last early
spring-time, an' painted a gert picture of me up 'pon top the hill they
calls Gorse Point."
"Lucky devil," thought the artist; but though he knew something of Barron
and his work and had heard that Barron painted when at Newlyn, he did not
associate these facts with the girl before him.
"He'm in Lunnon, so far's I knaw," she continued.
Harry Murdoch had to look hard at Joan before answering, and he delayed a
while with an expression of deep thought upon his face. At length he spoke.
"No, I cannot say that I have heard of him or the picture. But perhaps some
of the men in Newlyn will know. He was lucky to get you to paint. I wish
you would let me try."
She shook her head impatiently.
"No, no. He done it 'cause--'cause he just wanted a livin' thing to fill up
a bit o' his canvas. 'Tweern't for shaw or for folks to see. He done it for
pleasure. An' I wants to knaw wheer he lives 'cause he might think I be in
Newlyn still, but I ban't. I'm livin' up Drift along wi' Mr. Chirgwin. An'
I wish he could knaw it."
"He was called 'Mister John'? Well, I'll see what I can do to find out
anything about him. And your name?"
"Joan Tregenza. If you'll be so good as to put a question round 'mongst the
painting gen'lemen, I'd thank 'e kindly."
"Then I certainly will. And on Saturday next I'll come here again to tell
you if I have heard anything. Will you come?"
"Iss fay, an' thank you, sir."
So he passed slowly forward, and she sat a full hour after he had left her
building new castles on the old crumbling foundations. It was even in her
mind to pray, to pray with her whole heart and soul; but chaos had settled
like a storm upon her beliefs. She did not know where to pray to now; yet
to-day Hope once more glimmered like a lighthouse lamp through the dreary
darkness. So she turned her eyes to that radiance and waited for next
Saturday to come.
Then she set about grubbing up roots of hemp agrimony where they grew. She
was almost happy and whistled gently to herself as she filled her little
That night Edmund Murdoch heard his cousin's story and explained that
"Mister Jan" was doubtless John Barron.
"I'm owing the beggar a letter; I'll write tomorrow."
"Was it a good picture?"
"I should say that few better ever came out of Newlyn. Perhaps none so
good. Is the model as pretty as ever?"
Young Harry raved of the vision that Joan had presented among the
"Well, I suppose he wouldn't mind her knowing where he lives; but he's such
a queer devil that I'll write and ask him first. We shall hear in a couple
of days; I can tell him her address, at any rate; then he may write direct
to her, if he cares to."
Four days elapsed, and then Edmund Murdoch received an answer to his
letter. He had written at length upon various affairs and his friend did no
"No. 6 Melbury Gardens, S.W.
"June 8, 189--.
"Dear Murdoch--Your long screed gave me some pleasure and killed an hour.
You relate the even course of your days since my departure from Cornwall,
and I envy the good health and happy contentment of mind which your note
indicates. I gained no slight benefit from my visit to the West Country,
and it had doubtless carried me bravely through this summer but for an
unfortunate event. A sharp cold, which settled on my chest, has laid me low
for some length of time, though I am now as well again as I shall ever be.
So much for facing the night air in evening dress. Nature has no patience
with our idiotic conventions, and hates alike man's shirt-front and woman's
bare bosom when displayed, as is our imbecile custom, at the most dangerous
hours in the twenty-four. My doctors are for sending me away, and I shall
probably follow their advice presently. But the end is not very far off.
"I rejoice that you have sucked in something of my spirit and are trying to
get at the heart of rocks and sea before you paint them. Men waste so much
time poking about in art galleries, like the blind moles they mostly are,
and forget that Nature's art gallery is open every day at sunrise. Dwell
much in the air, glean the secrets of dawns, listen when the white rain
whispers over woodland, translate the tinkle of summer seas where they kiss
your rocky shores; get behind the sunset; think not of what colors you will
mix when you try to paint it, but let the pageant sink into your soul like
a song. Do not drag your art everywhere. Forget it sometimes and develop
your individuality. You have learned to draw tolerably; now learn to think.
Believe me, the painting people do not think enough.
"Truly I am content to die in the face of the folly I read and see around
me. Know you what certain obscure writers are now about in magazines? They
are vindicating the cosmic forces, whitewashing Mother Nature after
Huxley's Romanes lecture! He told the truth, and Nature loved him for it;
but now come hysterical religious ciphers who squeak boldly forth in print
that Nature is the mother of altruism, that self-sacrifice is her first
law! One genius observes that 'tis their cruelty and selfishness have
arrested the progress of the tiger and the ape! Poor Nature! Never a word
of shotguns in all this drivel, of course. Cruelty and selfishness!
Qualities purely and solely human--qualities resulting from conscious
intelligence alone. You and I are selfish, not the ape; you and I are
cruel, not the tiger. He at least learns Nature's lessons and obeys her
dictates; we never do and never shall. A plague upon these fools with their
theologic rubbish heaps. They would prostitute the very fonts of reason and
make Nature's eternal circle fit the little squares of their own faiths.
Man! I tell you that the root of human misery might be pulled out and
destroyed to-morrow like the fang of a decayed tooth if only reason could
kill these weeds of falsehood which choke civilization and strangle
religion. But the world's 'doers' have all got 'faith' (or pretend to it);
the world's thinkers are mere shadows moving about in the background of
active affairs. They only write and talk. Action is the sole way of
chaining a nation's mind.
"Your churchman is active enough, hence the spread of that poison which
keeps human reason stunted, impotent, anaemic. Take Liberty--the cursed
ignis fatuus our dear poets have shrieked for, our preachers have prayed
for, our patriots have perished for through all time. In pursuit of this
rainbow-gold more blood and brains have been wasted than would have
sufficed to make a nation. And yet a breath from Reason blows the thing to
tatters, as an uprising wind annihilates a fog. Freedom is an attribute of
the Eternal, and creation cannot share it with him, any more than it can
share his throne with him. 'The liberty of the subject'! A contradiction in
terms. Banish this unutterable folly of freedom, and control the breeding
of human flesh as we control the output of beef and of mutton. Then the
face of the world will alter. Millions of money is annually spent in order
that mindless humanity, congenital lunatics and madmen, may be fed and
housed and kept alive. Their existences are to themselves less pleasurable
than that of the beasts, they are a source of agony to those who have borne
them; but they live to old age and devour tons of good food, while
wholesome intellects starve in the gutters of every big city. Banish this
cant of freedom then, I tell you. The lightning in heaven is not free; the
stars are not free; Nature herself is the created slave of the Great
Will--and _we_ prattle about liberty. Let the State look to it and
practice these lessons Nature has taught and still preaches patiently to
deaf ears. Let it be as penal to bring life into the world without
permission from authority as it is to put life out of the world. Let the
begetting of paupers be a crime; let the health and happiness of the
community rise higher than the satisfaction of individuals; let the
self-denial practiced by the reasonable few be made a legal necessity to
the unreasonable many. Let the blighted, the malformed, the brainless go
back to the earth from which they came. Let the world of humanity be
cleansed and sweetened and purified as Nature cleanses and sweetens and
purifies her own kingdom. She removes her failures; we put ours under glass
and treat them like hothouse flowers. That is called humanity; it is the
mad leading the mad.... But why waste your time? Nature will have the last
word; Reason must win in the end; a genius, at once thinker and doer, will
come along some day and put the world right, at a happy moment when the din
of theologists is out of its ears. We want a new practical religion; for
Christianity, distorted and twisted through the centuries into its present
outworn, effete, ignoble shape, is a mere political force or a money-making
machine, according to the genius of the country which professes it. The
golden key of the founder, which is lost, may be found again, but I think
it never will be."
[Here the man elaborated his opinions. They were like himself: a medley--a
farrago--wherein ascerbity, acuteness, and a mind naturally philosophic
were stranded in the arid deserts of a pessimism bred partly from his own
decaying physical circumstances and partly from recognition of his own
"I do not suppose that I shall paint any more. I had my Cornish picture
brought from its packing-case and framed, and supported on a great easel at
the foot of my bed while I was stricken down last month. Mistress Joan eyed
me curiously from under her hand, and through the night-watches, while my
man snored in the next chamber and I tossed with great unrest, the girl
seemed to live and move and smile at me under the flicker of the night
lamp. Everybody is pleased to say that 'Joe's Ship' seems good to them. I
have it now in the studio, and contrasted it yesterday with my bathing
negresses from Tobago. I think I like it better. It is difficult to read
the soul in black faces, especially when the models are freezing to death
as mine were. But there is something near to soul in this painted
Joan--more I doubt than the living reality would be found to possess
to-day. She was a good girl all the same, and I am gratified to hear she
did not quite forget me. I have written to her at the address you mention.
They pester me to send the picture somewhere, and to stop their
importunities--especially the women--I have promised to let the thing go to
the Institute in the autumn. I shall doubtless change my mind before the
"My life slowly but surely dwindles to that mere battle with Death which
your consumptive wages at the finish. I fancy Biskra will see my bones
later in the year. The R.A. took not less than six months off my waning
days this spring. Thank God they hung Brady as he deserved. Twenty good
works I saw--'the rest is silence.'
"Yours, while I remain,
It was true that the artist had written another letter addressed to Joan
Tregenza at Drift. He had written it first--written it hurriedly, wildly,
on the spur of the moment. But, after the completion of his communication
to Murdoch, the mood of the man changed. He had coldly read again the
former epistle, and altered his mind concerning it. Barron wanted Joan back
again sometimes, if life dragged more than usual; but pens and paper
generally modified his desire when he got that far toward calling her to
him. Her memory tickled him pleasantly and whiled away time. He framed the
various sketches he had made of her and suffered thought to occupy itself
with her as with no other woman who had entered his life. But the day on
which he wrote to Murdoch was a good one with him. He felt stronger and
better able to suck pleasure out of living than he had for a month.
"When I whistle she will come," he thought to himself. "Perhaps there would
be some pleasure in taking her to Biskra presently. I will wait, at any
rate, until nearer the last scene. She would be pretty to look at when I'm
dying. Yes, she shall close my eyes some day, if she likes. That's a
pleasant thought--for me."
So the letter to Murdoch was sent forth, but the letter to Joan, containing
some poetic thoughts on Nature, a pathetic description of Barron's
enfeebled state, and an appeal to her to join him that they might part no
more on this side the grave, was torn up. He laughed at the trouble he had
taken to print it all, and pondered pleasantly on the picture which Murdoch
had drawn of Joan ruling the kingdom of the meadowsweets, of her eager
question concerning "Mister Jan."
"Strange," he reflected, "that her mediocre intelligence should have clung
to a man so outwardly mean as myself. If I thought that she had remembered
half I said when I was with her, or had made a single attempt to practice
the gospel I preached so finely--damned if I wouldn't have her back again
to-morrow and be proud of her too. But it can't be. She was such an
absolute fool. No, I much fear she only desires to find out what has become
of the goose who laid the big golden egg. Or if she doesn't, perhaps her
God-fearing father and mother do."
Which opinion is not uninteresting, for it illustrates the usual failure of
materialism to discover or gauge those mental possibilities which lie
hidden within the humblest and worst equipped intelligences. John Barron
was an able man in some respects, but his knowledge of Joan Tregenza had
taught him nothing concerning her character and its latent powers of
With summer, Nature, proceeding on her busy way, approached again the
annual phenomena of seed-time and harvest. To Joan, as spring had brought
with it a world of mothers, so the subsequent season filled Nature with
babies; and, in the light of all this newborn life, the mothers suffered a
change. Now, sorrow-guided, did Joan begin to read under the face of
things, "to get behind the sunset," as Barren had said in his letter to
Murdoch, to realize a little of the mystery hidden in green leaves and
swelling fruits and ripening grain, to observe at least the presence of
mystery though she could not translate more than an occasional
manifestation thereof. She found much matter for wonder and for fear.
Visible Nature had grown to be a smiling curtain behind which raged eternal
struggles for life. Every leaf sheltered a tragedy, every bough was a
battlefield. The awful frailty of all existence began to dawn upon Joan
Tregenza, and the discovery left her helpless, lonely, longing for new
gods. She knew not where to turn. Any brightness from any source had been
Disenchantment came with the second visit of the artist to the stream.
There; young Murdoch had met her and told her that "Mister Jan" was going
to write her a letter. Upon which she had sung glad songs in a sunlit world
and amazed Mary and Uncle Chirgwin alike by the exhibition of a sudden and
profound happiness. But that longed-for letter never came; weeks passed by;
the truth rolled up over her life at last; and, as a world seen in a blaze
of sunshine only dazzles us and conceals its facts under too much light,
but reveals the same clear cut and distinct at dawn or early twilight, so
now Joan's eyes, obscured no more by the blinding promise of great joy,
began to see her world as it was, her future as it would be.
Strange thoughts came to her on an evening when she stood by the door of
the kitchen at Drift, waiting for the cart to return from market. It was a
cool, gray gloaming, wreathed in diaphanous mists born of past ram. These
rendered every outline of tree and building vague and immense. Where Joan
stood, the peace of the time was broken only by a gentle dripping from the
leaves of a great laurel by the gate which led from the farmyard to the
fields. Below it, moist ground was stamped with the trident impress of many
fowls' feet; and, now and then, a feather sidled down from the heart of the
evergreen, where poultry, black and white and spangled, were settling to
roost. A subdued clucking and fluttering marked their hidden perches; then
came showers of rain-drops from the shining leaves as a bird mounted to a
higher branch; after which silence fell again.
And Joan found all hope fairly dead at last. There and then, in the misty
eveningtide, the fact fell on the ear of her heart as though one had spoken
it; and henceforth she dated disenchantment from that hour. The whole
pageant of her romance, with the knightly figure of the painter that filled
its foreground, shriveled to a scroll no bigger than a curled, dead
leaf--sere, wasted, ghostly, and light enough to be washed away on a tear,
borne away upon a sigh.
Then there followed for her prodigious transformations in the panorama of
Nature. Seen from the standpoint of his great, overwhelming lie to her, the
philosophy which this man had professed changed in its appearance, and that
mightily. He had used his cleverness like a net to trap her, and now,
though she could not prove his words untrue save in one particular, yet
that crowning act of faithlessness much tended to vitiate all the beauties
of imagination which had gone before it. They were lilies grown from a
dung-heap. Looking back in the new cold sidelight, her life came out
clearly with all the color gone from it and the remorseless details
distinct. And in this survey Nature dwindled to a minor Deity, a goddess
with moods as many and whims as wild as a woman's. She was unstable, it
seemed to Joan then; the immemorial solidity and splendor of her had
departed; her eyes were not fixed on Heaven any more, nor did peace any
longer rest within them; they were frightened, terrified, and their wild
and furtive glances followed one Shadow, reflected one Shape. It stood
waiting at the end of all her avenues; It peered from the heart of her
forests; it wandered on her heaths and moors; it lay under the stones in
her rivers; it stalked her sea-shores, floated on her waves, rode upon her
lightning, hid in her four winds; and the Shadow's name was Death. Joan
stood face to face with it at last and gazed round-eyed at a revelation.
She was saddened to find her own story told by Nature in many allegories,
painted upon the garden, set forth in waste places, fashioned by humble
weeds, reflected in the small, brief lives of unconsidered creatures. Now
she imagined herself an ill-shaped apple in the orchard which the mother of
all had neglected. It was crumpled up on one side, twisted out of its fair
full beauty, ruined by some wicked influence--a failure. Now she was a fly
caught by the gold spider who set his web shaking to deceive. Now she was a
little bird singing one moment, the next crawling dazed and shaking under
the paw of a cat. Why should Nature make the strong her favorites and be so
cruel to the weak? That seemed an ungodly thing to Joan. She had only
reached this point. She had no inkling of the great cleansing process which
removes the dross, the eternal competition from which only the cleanest and
sweetest and best come forth first. She saw the battle indeed, but did not
understand the meaning of it any more than the rest of the world which, in
the words of the weakling Barren, beneath the emblems of a false humanity,
keeps its weeds under hot-house glasses and, out of mercy to futile
individuals, does terribly wrong its communities. Our cleansing processes
are only valuable so far as they go hand in hand with Nature, and where the
folly of many fools rejects the wisdom of the wise, there Nature has her
certain revenge sooner or later. The sins of the State are visited on the
children of the State, and those who repeal laws which Science, walking
hand in hand with Nature, has proposed, those who refuse laws which
Science, Nature-taught, urges upon Power, do not indeed suffer themselves,
but commit thousands of others to suffering. So their false sentiment in
effect poisons the blood-springs of a nation. Religion leads to these
disasters, and any religion answerable for gigantic human follies is either
false or most falsely comprehended.
Her uncle still tarried, and Joan, weary of waiting, betook herself and her
sorrows to the old garden, there to view a spectacle which she never tired
of. She watched the evening primroses, saw their green bud-cases spring
open and the soft yellow leaves tremble out like butterflies new come from
the chrysalis. She loved these little lemon-colored lamps that twinkled
anew at every sundown in the green twilight of the garden. She knew their
eyes would watch through the night and that their reward would be death.
Many shriveled fragments marked the old blossoms on the long stems, but the
crowns of each still put out new buds, and every dusk saw the wakening of
fresh blossoms heedless of their dead sisters below. "They was killed
'cause they looked at the sun," thought Joan. "I suppose the moon be theer
mistress and they should not chaange their god. Yet it do seem hard like to
be scorched to death for lookin' upward."
What she saw now typified in a dead flower was her own case under a new
symbol; but the girl wasted no anger on the man who had played with her to
make a holiday pleasant, on that mock sun whose light now turned to
darkness. Her mind was occupied entirely with pity for herself. And that
fact probably promised to be a sure first step to peace. The lonely void of
her life must be filled, else Joan was like to go mad; and the filling,
left to Faith, might yet be happily accomplished. For Faith, if no more
than a "worm with diamond eyes" yet has eyes of diamonds, and rainbows are
the arches of her shape. Faith is fair and a very heart-companion to those
who know her and love her courts; and Joan, of all others, was best endowed
by disposition and instinct for the possession of her. Faith had slept in
the girl's heart since her mother died; but, sleeping, had grown, and now
waited in all strength to be called to a great task. The void was at its
deepest just now; the lowest note of Joan's soul had sounded; the facts of
her ruin and desertion were fully accepted at last; and such knowledge
served even to turn the growing mother in her sour for a time. Maternal
instinct stood still just a little while at this point in the girl's inner
life; then, when all things whirled away to chaos; on this night, when
nothing remained sure for her but death; in her hour of ultimate,
unutterable weakness and at the dawn of a blank despair, came one last plea
from Uncle Chirgwin. Mary had given up talking, fairly wearied out and
convinced that to waste more words on Joan would be a culpable disposal of
time; but Mr. Chirgwin blundered doggedly on with the humility of a worm
and the obstinacy of a friendly dog. He hammered at the portals of Joan's
spiritual being with admirable pertinacity; and at length he had his
reward. Faith in something being an absolute and vital essential to the
welfare of every woman, Joan Tregenza was no exception to the rule.
It fell out on the night of her uncle's weekly visit to market, that Joan
had just returned from the garden, when she heard the clatter of the
spring-cart. It drew up at the kitchen door and Mary alighted with Mr.
Chirgwin. The baskets that had started laden with eggs, butter and other
produce came back empty save for a few brown paper parcels. Exceptional
prices had ruled in the market-place that day, so Mr. Chirgwin and his
niece returned home in excellent temper.
They all met at supper, together with those farm-servants who took their
meals at the farmer's table. Then the laborers and the women workers
withdrew; Mary sat down to a little sewing before bedtime; and Mr. Chirgwin
smoked his pipe and looked at Joan. He noticed that the weather reflected
much upon her moods. She was more than usually silent tonight despite the
bright news from market.
Presently Mary put on the kettle and brought out a bottle of rum. Her uncle
had taken his nightcap of spirit and water from her hand for nearly ten
years, and the little duty of preparing it was dear to her. She also made
cups of tea for Joan and herself. Mary often blamed herself for this luxury
and only allowed it on the night that ended those arduous duties proper to
market-day. "While thus employed, both she and Uncle Thomas tried to draw
Joan out of her gloomy silence.
"Theer's to be a braave sight o' singin' down to Penzance come next week,
Joan. Lunnon folks, they tell me, wi' names a foot tall stuck 'pon the
hoardings. Us thot 'twould be a pleasin' kind o' junketin' to go an'
listen. Not but entertainments o' singin' by night be mighty exciting to
the blood. Awnly just for wance, Polly reckoned it might do us all good.
An' Polly knaws what's singin' an' what edn' so well as any lass. The
riders [Footnote: _The riders_--A circus.] be comin' likewise, though
maybe that's tu wild an' savage amoosment for quiet folks."
"You an' Polly go to the singin' then. 'Tedn' for the likes o' me."
Then Joan turned to her cousin, who was pouring tea out of a little pot
which held two cups and no more.
"Let me have the last nine drops, Polly; they'm good for the heartache, an'
mine's more'n common sore to-night."
Mary sighed, opened her mouth to preach a sermon, but shut it without a
word. She drained the teapot into Joan's cup, and then, from a bright mood
for her, relapsed into cold silence. Uncle Chirgwin, however, prattled on
about the concert until his elder niece finished her tea and went to bed.
Then he put down his pipe, took a long pull at his drink, and began to talk
hurriedly to Joan.
"I bin an' got a wonnerful fine notion this day, drivin' home-long, Joan;
an' it's comed back an' back that importuneous that I lay it's truth, an'
sent for me to remember. D'you knaw that since you comed to Drift us have
prospered uncommon? Iss, us have. The winter dedn' give no mighty promise,
nor yet the spring, till you comed. Then the Lard smiled 'pon Drift. Look
at the hay what's gwaine to be cut, God willin', next week. I never seed
nothin' more butivul thick underneath in all my days. A rare aftermath tu,
I'll warrant. 'Tis so all round. The wheat's kernin' somethin' cruel
fine--I awnly wish theer was more of it--an' the sheep an' cattle's in
braave kelter likewise. Then the orchard do promise no worse. I never seed
such a shaw of russets an' of quarantines 'pon they old trees afore."
"'Tis a fine, fair season."
"Why, so I say--a 'mazin' summer thus far--but what's the reason o't?
That's the poser as an answer comed to in the cart a drivin' home. You'm
the reason! You mind when good Saint Levan walked through the fields that
the grass grawed the greener for his tread, an' many days arter, when he'd
gone dead years an' years, the corn allus comed richest 'long the path what
he trod. An' 'tis the same here, 'cause God's eye be on you, Joan Tregenza,
an' His eye caan't be fixed 'pon no spot wi'out brightening all around. You
mind me, that's solemn truth. The Lard's watchin' over you--watchin' double
tides, as the sailors say--and so this bit o' airth's smilin' from the herb
o' the field to the biggest tree as graws. He'm watchin' over Drift for
your sake, my girl, an' the farm prospers along o' the gert goodness o' the
watchin' Lard. Iss fay, He fills all things livin' with plenshousness, an'
fats the root an' swells the corn 'cause He'm breathin' sweet over the
land--'cause He'm wakin' an' watchin' for you, Joan."
"He'm watchin' all of us, I s'pose--just to catch the trippin' footstep,
like what faither sez. He abbun no call to worry no more 'bout me, I
reckon. I be Nature's cheel, I be; an' my mother's turnin' hard too--like a
cat, as purrs to 'e wan moment an' sclows 'e the next. My day's done. I've
chose wrong an' must abide by it. But 'tis along o' bein' sich a lil fool.
Nature pushes the weak to the wall. I've seed that much 'o late days. I was
born to have my heart broke, I s'pose. 'Tedn' nothin' very straange."
"I judge your angel do cry gert tears when you lets on like that, my Joan.
Oh, gal, why won't 'e give ear to me, as have lived fifty an' more winters
in the world than what you have? Why caan't 'e taste an' try what the Lard
is? Drabbit this nonsense 'bout Nature! As if you was a fitcher, or an
'awk, or an owl! Caan't 'e see what a draggle tail, low-minded pass all
this be bringin' 'e to? Yet you'm a thinkin' creature an' abbun done no
worse than scores o' folks who be tanklin' 'pon harps afore the throne o'
God this blessed minute. You chose wrong; you said so, an' I was glad to
hear 'e, for you never 'lowed even that much till this night. What then?
Everybody chooses wrong wan time or another. Some allus goes for it, like
the bud-pickers to the red-currant bushes, some slips here an' theer, an'
do straightway right 'emselves--right 'emselves again an' again. The best
life be just a slippin' up an' rightin' over an' over, till a man dies.
You've slipped young an' maybe theer's half a cent'ry o' years waitin' for
'e to get 'pon the right road; yet you sez you must abide by what you've
done. Think how it stands. You've forgived him as wronged 'e, an' caan't
the Lard forgive as easy as you can? He forgived you 'fore you was born. I
lay the Luke Gosp'lers never told 'e that braave fact, 'cause they doan't
knaw it theerselves. 'Tis like this: your man did take plain Nature for
God, an' he did talk fulishness 'bout finding Him in the scent o' flowers,
the hum o' bees an' sichlike. Mayhap Nature's a gude working God for a
selfish man, but she edn' wan for a maid, as you knaws by now. Then your
faither--his God do sit everlastingly alongside hell-mouth, an' laugh an'
girn to see all the world a walkin' in, same as the beasts walked in the
Ark. Theer's another picksher of a God for 'e; but mark this, gal, they be
lying prophets--lying prophets both! You've tried the wan, an' found it
left your heart hollow like, an' you've tried t'other an' found that left
it no better filled; now try Christ, will 'e--? Just try. Doan't keep Him,
as is allus busy, a waitin' your whims no more. Try Christ, Joan dearie,
an' you'll feel what you've never felt yet. I knaw, as put my 'and in His
when 'twas plump an' young as yourn. An' He holds it yet, now 'tis
shriveled an' crooked wi' rheumatics. He holds it. Iss, He do."
The old man put out his hand to Joan as he spoke and she took it between
her own and kissed it.
"You'm very good," she said, "an' you'm wise 'cause you'm auld an' have
seen many years. I prayed to Saint Madern to hear me not long since, an' I
bathed in his waters, an' went home happy. But awnly the birds an' the
rabbits heard me. An' next day faither turned me out o' his house an'
counted me numbered for hell."
"Saints be very well, but 'tedn' in 'cordance with what we'm tawld nowadays
to pray to any but the Lard direct."
He pleaded long and patiently, humbly praying for the religion which had
lightened his own road. The thought of his vast experience and the
spectacle of his own blameless and simple life, as she reviewed it, made
Joan relent at last. The great loneliness of her heart yearned for
something to fill it. Man had failed her, saints had failed her; Nature had
turned cold; and Uncle Chirgwin held out a great promise.
"Ban't no sort o' use, I'm thinkin'," she said at last, "but if you'm that
set 'pon it I'll do your wish. I owe you that an' more'n that. Iss, I'll
come along wi' you an' Mary to Sancreed church next Sunday. 'Tis lil enough
to do for wan as have done so much for me."
"Thank God!" he said earnestly. "That's good news, to be sure, bless your
purty eyes! An' doan't 'e go a tremblin' an' fearin', you mind, like to
meetin'. 'Tedn' no ways like that. Just love o' the Lard an' moosic an'
holy thots from passon, an' not more hell-fire than keeps a body
healthy-minded an' awake. My ivers! I could a'most sing an' dance myself
now, an' arter my day's work tu, to think as you'll sit alongside o' me in