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Lying Prophets by Eden Phillpotts

Part 7 out of 7

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dispatched a boy to Drift that Mary might be warned as to the letter she
would receive by the morning post, but the lad, though ample time was given
him to reach Drift before the postman, loitered by the way. Thus the
letters had arrived simultaneously, and it was quite an open question which
the receiver of them would open first.

Chance decided: Mary's hand, thrust haphazard into her pocket, came forth
with Hoy's epistle recently dispatched from Mousehole; and that she read,
the accident saving her at least some moments of bitter suffering.

"Dear Mary," wrote Noy, "you will get this by hand afore the coming in of
the penny post. When that comes in, there will be another letter for you
from me, sent off from London. It is all wrong, so burn it, and don't you
read it on no account. Burn it to ashes, for theer's a many reasons why you
should. I be coming up-long to see you arter dinner, and if you can walk
out in the air with me for a bit I'll thank you so to do. Your friend, J.
Noy. Burn the letter to dust 'fore anything else. Don't let it bide a
minute and doan't tell none you had it."

Curiosity was no part of Mary Chirgwin's nature. Now she merely thanked
Heaven which had led to the right letter and so enabled her unconsciously
to obey Joe's urgent command. Then she returned to the kitchen, placed his
earlier communication in the heart of the fire and watched while it
blackened, curled, blazed, and finally shuddered down into a red-hot ash.
She determined to see him and walk with him, as he asked, if he returned
with clean hands. While the letter which she had read neither proved nor
disproved such a supposition, the woman yet felt a secret and sure
conviction in her heart that Noy was coming back innocent at least of any
desperate action. That he was in Cornwall again and a free man appeared to
her proof sufficient that he had not committed violence.

Mary allowed her anxiety to interfere with no duty. By three o'clock she
was ready to set out, and, looking from her bedroom window as she tied on
her hat, she saw Joe Noy approaching up the hill. A minute later she was at
the door, and stood there waiting with her eyes upon him as he came up the
path. Then she looked down, and to the man it seemed as though she was
gazing at his right hand which held a stick.

"'Tis as it was, Mary Chirgwin--my hands be white," he said. "You needn't
fear, though I promised if you ever seed 'em agin as they'd be red. 'Tedn'
so. I was robbed of my hope, Mary. The Lard took Joan fust; then he took my
revenge from me. His will be done. The man died four-an'-twenty hours 'fore
I found en--just four-an'-twenty lil hours--that was all."

"Thank the Almighty God for it, Joe, as I shall till the day of my death.
Never was no prayer answered so surely as mine for you."

"Why, maybe I'll graw to thank God tu when 'tis farther to look back 'pon.
I caan't feel 'tis so yet. I caan't feel as he'm truly dead. An' yet 'twas
no lie, for I seed en, an' stood 'longside of en."

"God's Hand be everywheer in it. Think if I'd read poor Joan's letter an'
tawld 'e wheer the man's plaace of livin' was!"

"Iss, then I'd have slain en. 'Tis such lil things do mark out our paths. A
gert pichsher o' Joan he drawed--all done out so large as life; an' I found
it, an' it 'peared as if the dead was riz up again an' staring at me. If
'tis all the saame to you, Mary, us'll go an' look 'pon her graave now, for
I abbun seen it yet."

They walked in silence for some hundred yards along the lanes to Sancreed.
Then Noy spoke again.

"How be uncle?"

"Betwix' an' between. The trouble an' loss o' Joan aged en cruel, an' the
floods has brot things to a close pass. 'Twas the harder for en 'cause all
looked so more'n common healthy an' promisin' right up to the rain. But
he's got the faith as moves mountains; he do knaw that sorrer ban't sent
for nort."

"An' you? I wonder I'm bowldacious 'nough to look 'e in the faace, but
sorrer's not forgot me neither."

"'Tis a thing what awver-passes none. I've forgived 'e, Joe Noy, many a
long month past, an' I've prayed to God to lead 'e through this strait, an'
He have."

"'Tis main hard to knaw what road's the right wan, Mary."

"Iss fay, an' it is; an' harder yet to follow 'pon it when found."

"I judged as God was leadin' me against this here evil-doer to destroy en."

"'Twas the devil misleadin' 'e an' takin' 'e along on his awn dance, till
God saw, an' sent death."

"Thanks to your prayin', I'll lay."

"Thanks to the mightiness of His mercy, Joe. 'Twas the God us worships, you
mind, not Him of the Luke Gosp'lers nor any other 'tall. Theer's awnly wan
real, livin' God; an' you left Him for a sham."

"An' I'm punished for't. Wheer should I turn now? I've thrawed awver your
manner o' worship an' I'm sick o' the Gosp'lers, for 'twas theer God as led
me to this an' brot all my trouble 'pon me. He caan't be no God worth
namin', else how should He a treated that poor limb, Michael Tregenza, same
as He has. That man had sweated for his God day an' night for fifty years.
An' see his reward."

"Come back, come back to the auld road again, Joe, an' leave the ways o'
God to God. The butivul, braave thing 'bout our road be that wance lost
'tedn' allus lost. You may get night-foundered by the way, yet wi' the
comin' o' light, theer's allus a chance to make up lost ground agin an'
keep gwaine on."

"A body must b'lieve in somethin', else he'm a rudderless vessel seemin'ly,
but wi' sich a flood of 'pinions 'bout the airth, how's wan sailorman to
knaw what be safe anchorage and what ban't?"

Mary argued with him in strenuous fashion and increased her vehemence as he
showed signs of yielding. She knew well enough that religion was as
necessary to him in some shape as to herself.

Already a pageant of winter sunset began to unfold fantastic sheaves of
splendor, and over the horizon line of the western moors the air was
wondrously clear. It faded to intense white light where the uplands cut it,
while, above, the background of the sky was a pure beryl gradually burning
aloft into orange. Here waves of fire beat over golden shores and red
clouds extended as an army in regular column upon column. At the zenith,
billows of scarlet leaped in feathery foam against a purple continent and
the flaming tide extended from reef to reef among a thousand aerial bays
and estuaries of alternating gloom and glow until shrouded and dimmed in an
orange tawny haze of infinite distance. In the immediate foreground of this
majestic display, like a handful of rose-leaves fallen out of heaven, small
clouds floated directly downward, withering to blackness as they neared the
earth and lost the dying fires. Beneath the splendor of the sky the land
likewise flamed, the winding roadways glimmered, and many pools and ditches
reflected back the circumambient glory of the air.

In a few more minutes, Mary and Joe reached Sancreed churchyard and soon
stood beside the grave of Joan Tregenza.

"The grass won't close proper till the spring come," said Mary; "then the
turf will grow an' make it vitty; an' uncle's gwaine to set up a good slate
stone wi' the name an' date an' some verses. I planted them primroses 'long
the top myself. If wan abbun gone an' blossomed tu!"

She stooped to pick a primrose and an opening bud; but Joe stopped her.

"Doan't 'e pluck 'em. Never take no flowers off of a graave. They'm all the
dead have got."

"But they'll die, Joe. Theer's frost bitin' in the air already. They'll be
withered come marnin'."

"No matter for that," he said; "let 'em bide wheer they be."

The man was silent a while as he looked at the mound. Then he spoke again.

"Tell me about her. Talk 'bout her doin's an' sayin's. Did she forgive that
man afore she died or dedn' she?"

"Iss, I reckon so."

Mary mentioned those things best calculated in her opinion to lighten the
other's sorrow. He nodded from time to time as she spoke, and walked up and
down with his hands behind, him. When she stopped, he asked her to tell him
further facts. Then the light waned under the sycamore trees and only a red
fire still touched their topmost boughs.

"We'll go now," Noy said. "An' she died believin' just the same as what you
do--eh, Mary?"

"Uncle's sure of it--positive sartain 'twas so."

"An' you?"

"I pray that he was right. Iss fay, I've grawed to b'lieve truly our Joan
was saved, spite of all. I never 'sactly understood her thots, nor she
mine; but she'm in heaven now I do think."

"If bitterness an' sorrer counts she should be. An' you may take it from me
she is. An' I'll come back, tu, if I may hope for awnly the lowest plaace.
I'll come back an' walk along to church wance agin wi' you, wance 'fore I
goes back to sea. Will 'e let me do that, Mary Chirgwin?"

"I thank God to hear you say so. You'm welcome to come along wi' me next
Sunday if you mind to."

"An' now us'll go up the Carn an' look out 'pon the land and see the sun

They left the churchyard together, climbed the neighboring eminence and
stood silently at the top, their faces to the West.

A great pervasive calm and stillness in the air heralded frost. The sky had
grown strangely clear, and only the rack and ruin of the recent imposing
display now huddled into the arms of night on the eastern horizon. The sun,
quickly dropping, loomed mighty and fiery red. Presently it touched the
horizon, and its progress, unappreciated in the sky, became accentuated by
the rim of the world. A semi-circle of fire, a narrowing segment, a splash,
throbbing like a flame--then it had vanished, and light waned until there
trembled out the radiance of a brief after-glow. Already the voices of the
frost began to break the earth's silence. In the darkness of woods it was
busy casing the damp mosses in ice, binding the dripping outlets of hidden
water, whispering with infinitely delicate sound as it flung forth its
needles, the mother of ice, and suffered them to spread like tiny sudden
fingers on the face of freezing water. From the horizon the brightness of
the zodiacal light streamed mysteriously upward into the depth of heaven,
dimming the stars. But the brightness of them grew in splendor and
brilliancy as increasing cold gripped the world; and while the stealthy
feet of the frost raced and tinkled like a fairy tune, the starlight
flashed upon its magic silver, powdered its fabrics with light and pointed
its crystal triumphs with fire. Thus starlight and frost fell upon the
forest and the Cornish moor, beneath the long avenues of silence, and over
all the unutterable blackness of granite and dead heather. The earth slept
and dreamed dreams, as the chain of the cold tightened; all the earth
dreamed fair dreams, in night and nakedness; dreams such as forest trees
and lone elms, meadows and hills, moors and valleys, great heaths and the
waste, secret habitations of Nature, one and all do dream: of the passing
of another winter and the on-coming of another spring.


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