Part 3 out of 7
Wildbrooks--are they going to the Wildbrooks?"
"Ay, and over the Wildbrooks," said Old Gerard.
"But they're in flood," gasped Young Gerard. "They'll never cross it
in the spring floods."
"They'll manage it somehow. The Rough--did you see his eyes when
you--? ho, ho! he'll cross it somehow."
"He can't," the boy muttered. "The April tide's too strong. He will
drown in the flood."
"And she," said Old Gerard.
"Perhaps she will swim on the flood," said Young Gerard faintly. And
he sighed and sank back on the earth.
"Ay, you'll be sore," chuckled the old man. "You had your salve
before you had your drubbing. Lie there. I must be gone on
He took up his staff and went down the hill for the last time to
Combe Ivy, to purchase his freedom.
But Young Gerard lay with his face pressed to the turf. "And that
was the bridegroom," he said, and shook where he lay.
"Young shepherd," said a voice beside him. He looked up and saw the
hooded crone, come out of the hut. "Why do you water the earth?"
said she. "Have not the rains done their work?"
"What work, dame?"
"You've as fine a cherry in flower," said she, "as ever blossomed in
Gay Street in the season of singing and dancing."
"Singing and dancing!" he cried, his voice choking, and he sprang up
despite his pains. "Don't speak to me, dame, of singing and dancing.
You're old, like the withered branch of a tree, but did you not see
with your old eyes, and hear with your old ears? Did you not see her
come up the green hillside with singing and dancing? Oh, yes, my
cherry's in flower, like a crown for a bride, and the spring is all
in movement, and the birds are all in song, and she--she came up the
hillside with singing and dancing."
"I saw," said the crone, "and I heard. I'm not so old, young
shepherd, that I do not remember the curse of youth."
"What's that?" he said moodily.
"To bear the soul of a master in the body of a slave," said she; "to
be a flower in a sealed bud, the moon in a cloud, water locked in
ice, Spring in the womb of the year, love that does not know
"But when it does know?" said Young Gerard slowly.
"Oh, when it knows!" said she. "Then the flower of the fruit will
leap through the bud, and the moon will leap like a lamb on the
hills of the sky, and April will leap in the veins of the year, and
the river will leap with the fury of Spring, and the headlong heart
will cry in the body of youth, I will not be a slave, but I will be
the lord of life, because--"
"Because?" said Young Gerard.
"Because I will!"
Young Gerard said nothing, and they sat together in a long silence
in the darkness, and time went by filling the sky with stars.
Now as they sat the hilltop once more began to waver with shadows
and voices, but this time the shadows came on heavy feet and weary,
and the voices were forlorn. One feebly cried, "Hola!" And round the
belt of trees straggled the rout that had left them an hour or so
earlier. But now they were sodden and dejected, draggled and
woebegone, as sorry a spectacle as so many drowned rats.
"Fire!" moaned one. "Fire! fire!"
"Who's burning?" said Young Gerard, and got quickly on his feet; but
he did not see the two he looked for.
"None's burning, fool, but many are drowning. Do we not look like
drowned men? How shall we ever get back to Combe Ivy, and warmth and
drink and comforts? Would we were burning!"
"What has happened?" the boy demanded.
"We went in search of the ferry," he said, "but the ferry was
"We couldn't find the ferry," said a second.
"No," mumbled a third, "the river had drunk it up. Where there were
paths there are brooks, and where there were meadows, lakes."
The miserable crew broke out into plaints and questions--"Have you
no fire? have you no food? no coverings?"
"None," said Young Gerard. "Where is the bride?"
"Have you do drink?"
"Where is the bride?"
"The groom stumbled," said one. "Let us to Combe Ivy, in comfort's
name. There'll be drink there."
He staggered down the hill, and his fellows made after him. But
Young Gerard sprang upon one, and gripped him by the shoulder and
shook him, and for the third time cried:
"Where is the bride?"
"In the water," he answered heavily, "because--there was--no wine."
Then he dragged himself out of the boy's grasp, and fell down the
hill after his companions.
Young Gerard stood for one instant listening and holding his breath.
Suddenly he said, "My lost lamb, crying on the hills." He ran into
the shed and looked about, and snatched from the settle the green
and cherry cloak, and from the wall the crystal and silver lantern.
He struck a spark from a flint and lit the wick. It burned brightly
and steadily. Then he ran out of the shed. The old woman rose up in
"That's a good light," said she, "and a warm cloak."
"Don't stop me!" said Young Gerard, and ran on. She nodded, and as
he vanished in one direction, she vanished in the other.
He had not run far when he saw one more shadow on the hills; and it
came with faltering steps, and a trembling sobbing breath, and he
held up his lantern and the light fell on Thea, shivering in her wet
veil. As the flame struck her eyes she sighed, "Oh, I can't see the
way--I can't see!"
Young Gerard hurried to her and said, "Come this way," and he took
her hand; but she snatched it quickly from him.
"Go, man!" she said. "Don't touch me. Go!"
"Don't be frightened of me," said Young Gerard gently.
Then she looked at him and whispered, "Oh--it is you--shepherd. I
was trying to find you. I'm cold."
Young Gerard wrapped the cloak about her, and said, "Come with me.
I'll make you a fire."
He took her back to the shed. But she did not go in. She crouched on
the ground under the cherry-tree. Young Gerard moved about
collecting brushwood. They scarcely looked at each other; but once
when he passed her he said, "You're shivering."
"It's because I'm so wet," said Thea.
"Did you fall in the water?"
She nodded. "The floods were so strong."
"It's a bad night for swimming," said Young Gerard.
"Yes, shepherd." She then said again, "Yes." He could tell by her
voice that she was smiling faintly. He glanced at her and saw her
looking at him; both smiled a little and glanced away again. He
began to pile his brushwood for the fire.
After a short pause she said timidly, "Are you sore, shepherd?"
"No, I feel nothing," said he.
"They beat you very hard."
"I did not feel their blows."
"How could you not feel them?" she said in a low voice. He looked at
her again, and again their eyes met, and again parted quickly.
"Now I'll strike a spark," said Young Gerard, "and you'll be warm
He kindled his fire; the branches crackled and burned, and she knelt
beside the blaze and held her hands to it.
"I was never here by night before," she said.
"Yes, once," said Young Gerard. "You often came, didn't you, to
gather flowers in the morning and to swim in the river at noon. But
once before you were here in the night."
"Was I?" said she.
He dropped a handful of cones into her lap, throwing the last on the
fire. She threw another after it, and smiled as it crackled.
"I remember," she said. "Thank you, shepherd. You were always kind
and found me the things I wanted, and gave me your cup to drink of.
Who'll drink of it now?"
"No one," he said, "ever again."
He went and fetched the cup and gave it to her. "Burn that too,"
said Young Gerard. Thea put it into the fire and trembled. When it
was burned she asked very low, "Will you be lonely?"
"I'll have my sheep and my thoughts."
"Yes," said Thea, "and stars when the sheep are folded. The stars
are good to be with too."
"Good to see and not be seen by," he said.
"How do you know they don't see you?" she asked shyly.
"One shepherd on a hill isn't much for the eye of a star. He may
watch them unwatched, while they come and go in their months.
Sometimes there aren't any, and sometimes not more than one pricking
the sky near the moon. But to-night, look! the sky's like a tree
with full branches."
Thea looked up and said with a child's laugh, "Break me a branch!"
"I'd want Jacob's Ladder for that," smiled Young Gerard.
"Then shake the tree and bring them down!" she insisted.
"Here come your stars," said Young Gerard. Suddenly she was
enveloped in a falling shower, white and heavenly.
"The stars--!" she cried. "Oh, what is it?"
"My cherry-tree--it's in flower--" said Young Gerard, and his voice
trembled. She looked up quickly and saw that he was standing beside
her, shaking the tree above her head. And now their eyes met and did
not separate. He put out his hand and broke a branch from the tree
and offered it to her. She took it from him slowly, as though she
were in a dream, and laid it in her lap, and put her face in her
hands and began to cry.
Young Gerard whispered, "Why are you crying?"
Thea said, "Oh, my wedding, my wedding! Only last year I thought of
the night of my wedding and how it would be. It was not with
torchlight and shouting and wine, but moonlight and silence and the
scent of wild blossoms. And now I know that it was not the night of
my wedding I dreamed of."
"What did you dream of?" asked Young Gerard.
"The night of my first love."
"Thea," said Young Gerard, and he knelt beside her.
"And my love's first kiss."
"Oh, Thea," said Young Gerard, and he took her hands.
"Why did you not feel their blows?" she said. "I felt them."
Their arms went round each other, and for the second time that night
Young Gerard said, "I've always wondered if this would happen."
And Thea answered, "I didn't know it would be you."
"Didn't you? didn't you?" he whispered, stroking her head, wondering
at himself doing what he had so often dreamed of doing.
"Oh," she faltered, "sometimes I thought--it might--be you,
"When I came over the Mount to swim in the river, and saw you in the
distance among your sheep, there was a swifter river running through
all my body. When I came every April to ask for your cherry-tree,
what did it matter to me that it was not in bloom? for all my heart
was wild with bloom, oh, Gerard, my--lover!"
"Oh, Thea, my love! What can I give you, Thea, I, a shepherd?"
"You were the lord of the earth, and you gave me its flowers and its
birds and its secret waters. What more could you give me, you, a
shepherd and my lord?"
"The wild white bloom of its fruit-trees that comes to the branches
in April like love to the heart. I'll give it you now. Sit here, sit
here! I'll make you a bower of the cherry, and a crown, and a carpet
too. There's nothing in all April lovely and wild enough for you
to-night, your bridal night, my lady and my darling!"
And in a great fit of joy he broke branch after branch from the tree
as she sat at its foot, and set them about her, and filled her arms
to overflowing, and crowned her with blossoms, and shook the bloom
under her feet, till her shy happy face, paling and reddening by
turns, looked out from a world of flowers and she cried between
laughing and weeping, "Oh, Gerard, oh, you're drowning me!"
"It's the April floods," shouted Young Gerard, "and I must drown
with you, Thea, Thea, Thea!" And he cast himself down beside her,
and clasped her amid all the blossoming, and with his head on her
shoulder kissed and kissed her till he was breathless and she as
pale as the flowers that smothered their kisses.
And then suddenly he folded her in the green mantle, blossoms and
all, and sprang up and lifted her to his breast till she lay like a
child in the arms of its mother; and he picked up the lantern and
said, "Now we will go away for ever."
"Where are we going?" she whispered with shining eyes.
"To the Wildbrooks," he said.
"To drown in the floods together?" She closed her eyes.
"There's a way through all floods," said Young Gerard.
And he ran with her over the hills with all his speed.
And Old Gerard returned to a hut as empty as it had been
one-and-twenty years ago. And they say that Combe Ivy, having never set eyes
on the boy in his life, swore that the shepherd's tale had been a
fiction from first to last, and kept him a serf to the end of his
("What a night of stars it is!" said Martin Pippin, stretching his
"Good heavens, Master Pippin," cried Joyce, "what a moment to
"It is worth mentioning," said Martin, "at all moments when it is
so. I would not think of mentioning it in the middle of a
"You should as little think of mentioning it," said Joyce, "in the
middle of a story."
"But I am at the end of my story, Mistress Joyce."
Joscelyn: Preposterous! Oh! Oh, how can you say so? I am ashamed of
Martin: Dear Mistress Joscelyn, I thank you in charity's name for
being that for me which I have never yet succeeded in being for
Joscelyn: What! are you not ashamed to offer us a broken gift? Your
story is like a cracked pitcher with half the milk leaked out. What
was the secret of the Lantern, the Cloak, and the Cherry-tree?
Joyce: Who was the lovely lady, his mother? and who the old crone?
Jennifer: What was the end of the Rough Master of Coates?
Jessica: Did not the lovers drown in the floods?
Jane: And if they did not, what became of them?
"Please," said little Joan, "tell us why Young Gerard dreamed those
dreams. Oh, please tell us what happened."
"Women's taste is for trifles," said Martin. "I have offered you my
cake, and you wish only to pick off the nuts and the cherries."
"No," said Joan, "we wish you to put them on. Do you not love nuts
and cherries on a cake?"
"More than anything," said Martin.)
A long while ago, dear maidens, there were Lords in Gay Street, and
up and down the Street the cherry-trees bloomed in Spring as they
bloomed nowhere else in Sussex, and under the trees sang and danced
the loveliest lads and lasses in all England, with hearts like
children. And on all their holiday clothes they worked the leaf and
branch and flower and fruit of the cherry. And they never wore
anything else but their holiday clothes, because in Gay Street it
was always holidays.
And a long while ago there were Gypsies on Nyetimber Common, the
merriest Gypsies in the southlands, with the gayest tatters and the
brightest eyes, and the maddest hearts for mirth-making. They were
also makers of lanterns when they were anything else but what all
And once the son of a Gypsy King loved the daughter of a Lord of Gay
Street, and she loved him. And because of this there was wrath in
Gay Street and scorn on Nyetimber, and all things were done to keep
the lovers apart. But they who attempt this might more profitably
chase wild geese. So one night in April they were taken under one of
her father's own wild cherries by the light of one of his father's
own lanterns. And it was her father and his father who found them,
as they had missed them, in the same moment, and were come hunting
for sweethearts by night with their people behind them.
Then the Lord of Gay Street pronounced a curse of banishment on his
own daughter, that she must go far away beyond the country of the
floods, and another on his own tree, that it might never blossom
more. And there and then it withered. And the Gypsy King pronounced
as dark a curse of banishment on his own son, and a second on his
own lantern, that it might never more give light. And there and then
it went out.
Then from the crowd of gypsies came the oldest of them all, who was
the King's great-grandmother, and she looked from the angry parents
to the unhappy lovers and said, "You can blight the tree and make
the lantern dark; nevertheless you cannot extinguish the flower and
the light of love. And till these things lift the curse and are seen
again united among you, there will be no Lords in Gay Street nor
Kings on Nyetimber."
And she broke a shoot from the cherry and picked up the lantern and
gave them to the lady and her lover; and then she took them one by
each hand and went away. And the Lord of Gay Street and the Gypsy
King died soon after without heirs, and the joy went out of the
hearts of both peoples, and they dressed in sad colors for
But the three traveled south through the country of the floods, and
on the way the King's son was drowned, as others had been before
him, and after him the Rough Master of Coates. But the crone brought
the lady safely through, and how she was at once delivered of her
son and her sorrow, dear maidens, you know.
And for one-and-twenty years the crone was seen no more, and then of
a sudden she re-appeared at daybreak and bade her people put on
their bright apparel because their King was coming with a young
Queen; and after this she led them to Gay Street where she bade the
folk to don their holiday attire, because their Lord was on his way
with a fair Lady. And all those girls and boys, the dark and the
light, felt the child of joy in their hearts again, and they went in
the morning with singing and dancing to welcome the comers under the
I entreat you now, Mistress Joyce, for the second hair from your
The milkmaids put their forgotten apples to their mouths, and the
chatter began to run out of them like juice from bitten fruit.
Jessica: What did you think of this story, Jane?
Jane: I did not know what to think, Jessica, until the very
conclusion, and then I was too amazed to think anything. For who
would have imagined the young Shepherd to be in reality a lord?
Martin: Few of us are what we seem, Mistress Jane. Even chimney-
sweeps are Jacks-in-Green on May-Days; for the other three-hundred-
and-sixty-four days in the year they pretend to be chimney-sweeps.
And I have actually known men who appeared to be haters of women,
when they secretly loved them most tenderly.
Joscelyn: It does not surprise me to hear this. I have always
understood men to be composed of caprices.
Martin: They are composed of nothing else. I see you know them
through and through.
Joscelyn: I do not know anything at all about them. We do not study
what does not interest us.
Martin: I hope, Mistress Joscelyn, you found my story worthy of
Joscelyn: It served its turn. Might one, by going to Rackham Hill,
see this same cherry-tree and this same shed?
Martin: Alas, no. The shed rotted with time and weather, and bit by
bit its sides were rebuilt with stone. And the cherry-tree Old
Gerard chopped down in a fury, and made firewood of it. But it too
had served its turn. For as every man's life (and perhaps, but you
must answer for this, every woman's life), awaits the hour of
blossoming that makes it immortal, so this tree passed in a single
night from sterility to immortality; and it mattered as little if
its body were burned the next day, as it would have mattered had
Gerard and Thea gone down through the waters that night instead of
many years later, after a life-time of great joy and delight.
Joyce: I am glad of that. There were moments when I feared it would
not be so.
Jennifer: I too. For how could it be otherwise, seeing that he was a
shepherd and she a lord's daughter?
Jessica: And when it was related how she was to wed the Rough Master
of Coates, my hopes were dashed entirely.
Jane: And when they beat Young Gerard I was perfectly certain he was
Joan: I rather fancied the tale would end happily, all the same.
Martin: I fancied so too. For though any of these accidents would
have marred the ending, love is a divinity above all accidents, and
guards his own with extraordinary obstinacy. Nothing could have
thwarted him of his way but one thing.
Five of the Milkmaids: Oh, what?
Martin: Had Thea been one of those who are not interested in the
study of men.
Nobody said anything in the Apple-Orchard.
Joscelyn: She need not have been condemned to unhappiness on that
account, singer. And what does the happiness or unhappiness of an
idle story weigh? Whether she wedded another, or whether they were
parted by whatever cause, such as her superior station, or even his
death, it's all one to me.
Jennifer: And me.
Jessica: And me.
Jane: And me.
Martin: The tale is judged. Let it go hang. For a cloud has dropped
over nine-tenths of the moon, like the eyelid of a girl who still
peeps through her lashes, but will soon fall asleep for weariness. I
have made her lids as heavy as yours with my poor story. Let us all
sleep and forget it.
So the girls lay down in the grass and slept. But Joyce went on
swinging. And every time she swayed past him she looked at Martin,
and her lips opened and shut again, nothing having escaped them but
a very little laughter. The tenth time this happened Martin said:
"What keeps your lashes open, Mistress Joyce, when your comrades'
lie tangled on their cheeks? Is it the same thing that opens your
lips and peeps through the doorway and runs away again?"
"MUST my lashes shut because others' do?" said Joyce. "May not
lashes have whims of their own?"
"Nothing is more whimsical," said Martin Pippin. "I have known, for
instance, lashes that WILL be golden though the hair of the head be
dark. It is a silly trick."
"I don't dislike such lashes," said Joyce. "That is, I think I
should not if ever I saw them."
Martin: Perhaps you are right. I should love them in a woman.
Joyce: I never saw them in a woman.
Martin: In a man they would be regrettable.
Joyce: Then why did you give them to Young Gerard?
Martin: Did I? It was pure carelessness. Let us change the color of
Joyce: No, no! I will not have them changed. I would not for the
Martin: Dear Mistress Joyce, if I had the world to offer you, I
would sit by the road and break it with a pickax rather than change
a single eyelash in Young Gerard's lids. Since you love them.
Joyce: Oh, did I say so?
Martin: Didn't you?--Mistress Joyce, when you laugh I am ready to
forgive you all your debts.
Joyce: Why, what do I owe you?
Martin: An eyelash.
Joyce: I am sure I do not.
Martin: No? Then a hair of some sort. How will you be able to sleep
to-night with a hair on your conscience? For your own sake, lift
Joyce: To tell you the truth, I fear to redeem my promise lest you
are unable to redeem yours.
Martin: Which was?
Joyce: To blow it to its fellow, who is now wandering in the night
Martin: I will do it, nevertheless.
Joyce: It is easier promised than proved. But here is the hair.
Martin: Are you certain it is the same hair?
Joyce: I kept it wound round my finger.
Martin: I know no better way of keeping a hair. So here it goes!
And he held the hair to his lips and blew on it.
Martin: A blessing on it. It will soon be wedded.
Joyce: I have your word on it.
Martin: You shall have your eyes on it if you will tell me one
Joyce: Is it a little thing?
Martin: It's as trifling as a hair. I wish only to know why you have
fallen out with men.
Joyce: For the best of reasons. Why, Master Pippin! they say the
world is round!
Martin: Heaven preserve us! was ever so giddy a statement? Round?
Why, the world's as full of edges as the dealings of men and women,
in which you can scarcely go a day's march without reaching the end
of all things and tumbling into heaven. I tell you I have traveled
the world more than any man living, and it takes me all my time to
keep from falling off the brink. Round? The world is one great
Joyce: I said so! I said so! I know I was right! I should like to
Martin: Were you only able to go out of the Orchard, you would be
free to tell--them so. They are such fools, these men.
Joyce: Not in all matters, Master Pippin, but certainly in this.
They are good at some things.
Martin: For my part I can't think what.
Joyce: They whitewash cowsheds beautifully.
Martin: Who wouldn't? Whitewash is such beautiful stuff. No, let us
be done with these round-minded men and go to bed. Good night, dear
Joyce: Ah, but singer! you have not yet proved your fable of the two
hairs, which you swore were as hard to keep apart as the two lovers
in your tale.
"Whom love guarded against accidents," said Martin; and he held out
to her the third finger of his left hand, and wound at its base were
the two hairs, in a ring as fine as a cobweb. She took his finger
between two of hers and laughed, and examined it, and laughed again.
"You have been playing the god of love to my hairs," said Joyce.
"Somebody must protect those that cannot, or will not, be kind to
themselves," said Martin. And then his other fingers closed quickly
on her hand, and he said: "Dear Mistress Joyce, help me to play the
god of love to Gillian, and give me your key to the Well-House,
because there were moments when you feared my tale would end
She pulled her hand away and began to swing rapidly, without
answering. But presently she exclaimed, "Oh, oh! it has dropped!"
"What? what?" said Martin anxiously.
But she only cried again, "Oh, my heart! it has dropped under the
"In love's name," said Martin, "let me recover your heart."
He groped in the grass and found what she had dropped, and then was
obliged to fall flat on his back to escape her feet as she swung.
"Well, any time's a time for laughing," said Martin, crawling forth
and getting on his knees. "Here's the key to your heart, laughing
"Oh, Martin! how can I take it with my hands on the ropes?"
"Then I'll lay it on your lap."
"Oh, Martin! how do you expect it to stay there while I swing?"
"Then you must stop swinging."
"Oh, Martin! I will never stop swinging as long as I live!"
"Then what must I do with this key?"
"Oh, Martin! why do you bother me so about an old key? Can't you see
"Oh, Joyce! when you laugh I must--I must--"
And he caught her two little feet in his hands as she next flew by,
and kissed each one upon the instep.
Then he ran to his bed under the hedge, and she sat where she was
till her laughing turned to smiling, and her smiling to sleeping.
"Maids! maids! maids!"
It was morning.
"To your hiding-place, Master Pippin!" urged Joscelyn. "It's our
master come again."
Martin concealed himself with speed, and an instant later the
farmer's burly face peered through the gap in the hedge.
"Good morrow, maids."
"Good morrow, master."
"Has my daughter stopped weeping yet?"
"No, master," said Joyce, "but I begin to think that she will before
"A little longer will be too long," moaned Gillman, "for my purse is
running dry with these droughty times, and I shall have to mortgage
the farm to buy me ale, since I am foiled of both water and milk.
Who would have daughters when he might have sons? Gillian!" he
cried, "when will ye learn that old heads are wiser than young
But Gillian paid no more attention to him than to the cawing rooks
in the elms in the oatfield.
"Take your bread, maids," said Gillman, "and heaven send us grace
"Just an instant, master," said Joyce. "I would like to know if
Blossom my Shorthorn is well?"
"As well as a child without its mother, maid, though Michael has
turned nurse to her. But she seems sworn to hold back her milk till
you come again. Rack and ruin, nothing but rack and ruin!"
And off he went.
Then breakfast was prepared as on the previous day, and Gillian's
stale loaf was broken for the ducks. But Joscelyn pointed out that
one of the kissing-crusts had been pulled off in the night.
"Your stories, Master Pippin, are doing their work," said she.
"I begin to think so," said Martin cheerfully. And then they fell to
on their own white loaves and sweet apples.
When they had breakfasted Martin observed that he could make better
and longer daisy-chains than any one else in the world, and his
statement was pooh-poohed by six voices at once. For girls' fingers,
said these voices, had been especially fashioned by nature for the
making of daisy-chains. Martin challenged them to prove this, and
they plucked lapfuls of the small white daisies with big yellow
eyes, and threaded chains of great length, and hung them about each
other's necks. And so deft and dainty was their touch that the
chains never broke in the making or, what is still more delicate a
matter, in the hanging. But Martin's chains always broke before he
had joined the last daisy to the first, and the girls jeered at him
for having no necklace to match their necklaces of pearls and gold,
and for failing so contemptibly in his boast. And he appeared so
abashed by their jeers that little Joan relented and made a longer
chain than any that had been made yet, and hung it round his neck.
At which he was merry again, and confessed himself beaten, and the
girls became very gracious, being in their triumph even more pleased
with him than with themselves. Which was a great deal. And by then
it was dinner-time.
After dinner Martin proposed that as they had sat all the morning
they should run all the afternoon, so they played Touchwood. And
Martin was He. But an orchard is so full of wood that he had a hard
job of it. And he observed that Jennifer had very little daring, and
scarcely ever lifted her finger from the wood as she ran from one
tree to another; and that Jane had no daring at all, and never even
left her tree. And that Joscelyn was extremely daring when it was
safe to be so; and that Jessica was daring enough to tweak him and
run away, while Joyce was more daring still, for she tweaked him and
did not run. As for little Joan, she puzzled him most of all; for
half the time she outdid them all in daring, and then she was
uncatchable, slipping through his very fingers like a ray of
sunlight a child tries to hold; but the other half of the time she
was timidity itself, and crept from tree to tree, and if he were
near became like a little frightened rabbit, forgetting, or being
through fear unable, to touch safety; and then she was snared more
easily than any.
By supper, however, every maid had been He but Jane. For no man can
catch what doesn't run.
"How the time has flown," said Joscelyn, when they were all seated
about the middle tree after the meal.
"It makes such a difference," said Jennifer, "when there's something
to do. We never used to have anything to do till Master Pippin came,
and now life is all games and stories."
"The games," said Joscelyn, "are well enough."
"Shall we," said Martin, "forego the stories?"
"Oh, Master Pippin!" said Jennifer anxiously, "we surely are to have
a story to-night?"
"Unless we are to remain here for ever," said Martin, "I fear we
must. But for my part I am quite happy here. Are not you, Mistress
"Your questions are idle," said she. "You know very well that we
cannot escape a story."
"You see, Mistress Jennifer," said Martin. "Let us resign ourselves
therefore. And for your better diversion, please sit in the swing,
and when the story is tedious you will have a remedy at hand."
So saying, he put Jennifer on the seat and her hands on the ropes,
and the five other girls climbed into the tree, while he took the
bough that had become his own. And all provided themselves with
"Begin," said Joscelyn.
"A story-teller," said Martin, "as much as any other craftsman,
needs his instruments, of which his auditors are the chief. And of
these I lack one." And he fixed his eyes of the weeper in the Well-House.
"You have six already," said Joscelyn. "The seventh you must acquire
as you proceed. So begin."
"Without the vital tool?" cried Martin. "As well might you bid Madam
Toad to spin flax without her distaff."
"What folly is this?" said Joscelyn. "Toads don't spin."
"Don't they?" said Martin, much astonished. "I thought they did.
What then is toadflax? Do the wildflowers not know?"
And still keeping his eyes fixed on Gillian he thrummed and sang--
Toad, toad, old toad,
What are you spinning?
Seven hanks of yellow flax
Into snow-white linen.
What will you do with it
Then, toad, pray?
Make shifts for seven brides
Against their wedding-day.
Suppose e'er a one of them
Refuses to be wed?
Then she shall not see the jewel
I wear in my head.
As he concluded, Gillian raised herself on her two elbows, and with
her chin on her palms gazed steadily over the duckpond.
Joscelyn: Why seven?
Martin: Is it not as good a number as another?
Jennifer: What is the jewel like in the toad's head, Master Pippin?
Martin: How can I say, Mistress Jennifer? There's but one way of
knowing, according to the song, and like a fool I refused it.
Jennifer: I wish I knew.
Martin: The way lies open to all.
Joscelyn: These are silly legends, Jennifer. It is as little likely
that there are jewels in toads' heads as that toads spin flax. But
Master Pippin pins his faith to any nonsense.
Martin: True, Mistress Joscelyn. My faith cries for elbow-room, and
he who pins his faith to common-sense is like to get a cramp in it.
Therefore since women, as I hear tell, have ceased to spin brides'
shifts, I am obliged to believe that these things are spun by toads.
Because brides there must be though the wells should run dry.
Joscelyn: I do not see the connection. However, it is obvious that
the bad logic of your song has aroused even Gillian's attention, so
for mercy's sake make short work of your tale before it flags again.
Martin: I will follow your advice. And do you follow me with your
best attention while I turn the wheel of The Mill of Dreams.
THE MILL OF DREAMS
There was once, dear maidens, a girl who lived in a mill on the
Sidlesham marshes. But in those days the marshlands were
meadowlands, with streams running in from the coast, so that their
water was brackish and salt. And sometimes the girl dipped her
finger in the water and sucked it and tasted the sea. And the taste
made storms rise in her heart. Her name was Helen.
The mill-house was a gaunt and gloomy building of stone, as gray as
sleep, weatherstained with dreams. It had fine proportions, and
looked like a noble prison. And in fact, if a prison is the
lockhouse of secrets, it was one. The great millstones ground day
and night, and what the world sent in as corn it got back as flour.
And as to the secrets of the grinding it asked no questions, because
to the world results are everything. It understands death better
than sorrow, marriage better than love, and birth better than
creation. And the millstones of joy and pain, grinding dreams into
bread, it seldom hears. But Helen heard them, and they were all the
knowledge she had of life; for if the mill was a prison of dreams it
was her prison too.
Her father the miller was a harsh man and dark; he was dark within
and without. Her mother was dead; she did not remember her. As she
grew up she did little by little the work of the big place. She was
her father's servant, and he kept her as close to her work as he
kept his millstones to theirs. He was morose, and welcomed no
company. Gayety he hated. Helen knew no songs, for she had heard
none. From morning till night she worked for her father. When she
had done all her other work she spun flax into linen for shirts and
gowns, and wool for stockings and vests. If she went outside the
mill-house, it was only for a few steps for a few moments. She
wasn't two miles from the sea, but she had never seen it. But she
tasted the salt water and smelt the salt wind.
Like all things that grow up away from the light, she was pale. Her
oval face was like ivory, and her lips, instead of being scarlet,
had the tender red of apple-blossom, after the unfolding of the
bright bud. Her hair was black and smooth and heavy, and lay on
either side of her face like a starling's wings. Her eyes too were
as black as midnight, and sometimes like midnight they were deep and
sightless. But when she was neither working nor spinning she would
steal away to the millstones, and stand there watching and
listening. And then there were two stars in the midnight. She came
away from those stolen times powdered with flour. Her black hair and
her brows and lashes, her old blue gown, her rough hands and fair
neck, and her white face--all that was dark and pale in her was
merged in a mist, and seen only through the clinging dust of the
millstones. She would try to wipe off all the evidences of her
secret occasions, but her father generally knew. Had he known by
nothing else, he need only have looked at her eyes before they lost
One day when she was seventeen years old there was a knock at the
mill-house door. Nobody ever knocked. Her father was the only man
who came in and went out. The mill stood solitary in those days. The
face of the country has since been changed by man and God, but at
that time there were no habitations in sight. At regular times the
peasants brought their grain and fetched their meal; but the miller
kept his daughter away from his custom. He never said why. Doubtless
at the back of his mind was the thought of losing what was useful to
him. Most parents have their ways of trying to keep their children;
in some it is this way, in others that; not many learn to keep them
by letting them go.
So when the knock came at the door, it was the strangest thing that
had ever happened in Helen's life. She ran to the door and stood
with her hand on the heavy wooden bar that fell across it into a
great socket. Her heart beat fast. Before we know a thing it is a
thousand things. Only one thing would be there when she lifted the
bar. But as she stood with her hand upon it, a host of presences
hovered on the other side. A knight in armor, a king in his gold
crown, a god in the guise of a beggar, an angel with a sword; a
dragon even; a woman to be her friend; her mother...a child...
"Would it be better not to open?" thought Helen. For then she would
never know. Yes, then she could run to her millstones and fling them
her thoughts in the husk, and listen, listen while they ground them
into dreams. What knowledge would be better than that? What would
she lose by opening the door?
But she had to open the door.
Outside on the stones stood a common lad. He might have been three
years older than she. He had a cap with a hole in it in his hand,
and a shabby jersey that left his brown neck bare. He was whistling
when she lifted the bar, but he stopped as the door fell back, and
gave Helen a quick and careless look.
"Can I have a bit of bread?" he asked.
Helen stared at him without answering. She was so unused to people
that her mind had to be summoned from a world of ghosts before she
could hear and utter real words. The boy waited for her to speak,
but, as she did not, shrugged his shoulders and turned away
whistling his tune.
Then she understood that he was going, and she ran after him quickly
and touched his sleeve. He turned again, expecting her to speak; but
she was still dumb.
"Thought better of it?" he said.
Helen said slowly, "Why did you ask me for bread?"
"Why?" He looked her up and down. "To mend my boots with, of
She looked at his boots.
"You silly thing," grinned the boy.
A faint color came under her skin. "I'm sorry for being stupid. I
suppose you're hungry."
"As a hunter. But there's no call to trouble you. I'll be where I
can get bread, and meat too, in forty minutes. Good-by, child."
"No," said Helen. "Please don't go. I'd like to give you some
"Oh, all right," said the boy. "What frightened you? Did you think I
was a scamp?"
"I wasn't frightened," said Helen.
"Don't tell me," mocked the boy. "You couldn't get a word out."
"I wasn't frightened."
"You thought I was a bad lot. You don't know I'm not one now."
Helen's eyes filled with tears. She turned away quickly. "I'll get
you your bread," she said.
"You are a silly, aren't you?" said the boy as she disappeared.
Before long she came back with half a loaf in one hand, and
something in the other which she kept behind her back.
"Thanks," said the boy, taking the bit of loaf. "What else have you
"It's something better than bread," said Helen slowly.
"Well, let's have a look at it."
She took her hand from behind her, and offered him seven ears of
wheat. They were heavy with grain, and bowed on their ripe stems.
"Is this what you call better than bread?" he asked.
"It is better."
"Oh, all right. I sha'n't eat it though--not all at once."
"No," said Helen, "keep it till you're hungry. The grains go quite a
long way when you're hungry."
"I'll eat one a year," said the boy, "and then they'll go so far
they'll outlast me my lifetime."
"Yes," said Helen, "but the bread will be gone in forty minutes. And
then you'll be where you can get meat."
"You funny thing," said the boy, puzzled because she never smiled.
"Where can you get meat?" she asked.
"In a boat, fishing for rabbits."
But she took no notice of the rabbits. She said eagerly, "A boat?
are you going in a boat?"
"Are you a sailor?"
"You've hit it."
"You've seen the sea! you've been on the sea!--sailors do that..."
"Oh, dear no," said the boy, "we sail three times round the duckpond
and come home for tea."
Helen hung her head. The boy put his hand up to his mouth and
watched her over it.
"Well," he said presently, "I must get along to Pagham." He stuck
the little sheaf of wheat through the hole in his cap, and it bobbed
like a ruddy-gold plume over his ear. Then he felt in his pocket and
after some fumbling got hold of what he wanted and pulled it out.
"Here you are, child," he said, "and thank you again."
He put his present into her hand and swung off whistling. He turned
once to wave to her, and the corn in his cap nodded with its weight
and his light gait. She stood gazing till he was out of sight, and
then she looked at what he had given her. It was a shell.
She had heard of shells, of course, but she had never seen one. Yet
she knew this was no English shell. It was as large as the top of a
teacup, but more oval than round. Over its surface, like pearl,
rippled waves of sea-green and sea-blue, under a luster that was
like golden moonlight on the ocean. She could not define or trace
the waves of color; they flowed in and out of each other with
interchangeable movement. One half of the outer rim, which was
transparently thin and curled like the fantastic edge of a surf
wave, was flecked with a faint play of rose and cream and silver,
that melted imperceptibly into the moonlit sea. When she turned the
shell over she found that she could not see its heart. The blue-green
side of the shell curled under like a smooth billow, and then
broke into a world of caves, and caves within caves, whose final
secret she could not discover. But within and within the color grew
deeper and deeper, bottomless blues and unfathomable greens, shot
with such gleams of light as made her heart throb, for they were
like the gleams that shoot through our dreams, the light that just
eludes us when we wake.
She went into the mill, trembling from head to foot. She was not
conscious of moving, but she found herself presently standing by the
grinding stones, with sound rushing through her and white dust
whirling round her. She gazed and gazed into the labyrinth of the
shell as though she must see to its very core; but she could not. So
she unfastened her blue gown and laid the shell against her young
heart. It was for the first time of so many times that I know not
whether when, twenty years later, she did it for the last time, they
outnumbered the silver hairs among her black ones. And the silver by
then were uncountable. Yet on the day when Helen began her twenty
years of lonely listening--
(But having said this, Martin Pippin grasped the rope just above
Jennifer's hand, and pulled it with such force that the swing,
instead of swinging back and forth, as a swing should, reeled
sideways so that the swinger had much ado to keep her seat.
Jennifer: Heaven help me!
Martin: Heaven help ME! I need its help more sorely than you do.
Jennifer: Oh, you should be punished, not helped!
Martin: I have been punished, and the punished require help more
than censure, or scorn, or anger, or any other form of
Jennifer: Who has punished you? And for what?
Martin: You, Mistress Jennifer. For my bad story.
Jennifer: I do not remember doing so. The story is only begun. I am
sure it will be a very good story.
Martin: Now you are compassionate, because I need comfort. But the
truth is that, good or bad, you care no more for my story. For I saw
a tear of vexation come into your eye.
Jennifer: It was not vexation. Not exactly vexation. And doubtless
Helen will have experiences which we shall all be glad to hear. But
all the same I wish--
Martin: You wish?
Jennifer: That she was not going to grow old in her loneliness.
Because all lovers are young.
Martin: You have spoken the most beautiful of all truths. Does the
grass grow high enough by the swing for you to pluck me two blades?
Jennifer: I think so. Yes. What do you want with them?
Martin: I want but one of them now. You shall only give me the other
if, at the end of my tale, you agree that its lovers are as green as
this blade and that.)
On the day (resumed Martin) when Helen began her lonely listening of
heart and ears betwixt the seashell and the millstones of her
dreams, there was not, dear Mistress Jennifer, a silver thread in
her black locks to vex you with. For a girl of seventeen is but a
child. Yet old enough to begin spinning the stuff of the spirit...
"Oh, how strange it was, your coming like that, so suddenly. Before
I opened the door I stood there guessing...And how could I have
guessed this? Did you guess too on the other side?"
"No, not much. I thought it might be a cross old woman. What did YOU
"Oh, such stupid things. Kings and knights and even women. And it
"And it was you!"
"Suppose I'd been a cross old woman?"
"Suppose I'd been a king?"
"And you were just my boy."
"And you--my sulky girl."
"Oh, I wasn't sulky. Oh, didn't you understand? How could I speak to
you? I couldn't hear you, I couldn't see you, even!"
"Can you see me now?"
She was lying with her cheek against his heart, and she turned her
face suddenly inwards, because she saw him bend his head, and the
sweetness of his first kiss was going to be more than she could
"Why don't you look up, you silly child? Why don't you look at me,
"How can I yet? Can I ever? It's so hard looking in a person's eyes.
But I am looking at you, I AM, though you can't see me."
"Then tell me what color my eyes are."
"They're gray-green, and your hair is dark red, a sort of chestnut
but a little redder and rough over your forehead, and your nose is
all over freckles with very very snub--"
(Martin: Heaven help you, Mistress Jennifer!
Jennifer: W-w-w-w-why, Master Pippin?
Martin: Were you not about to fall again?
Jennifer: N-n-n-n-no. I-I-I-I-I--
Martin: I see you are as firm as a rock. How could I have been so
He shook her a little in his arms, saying: "How rude you are to my
nose. I wish you'd look up."
"No, not yet...presently. But you, did you look at me?"
"Didn't you see me look?"
"As soon as you opened the door."
"What did you see?"
"The loveliest thing I'd ever seen."
"I'm not really--am I?"
"I used to dream about you at night on my watches. I made you up out
of bits of the night--white moonlight, black clouds, and stars.
Sometimes I would take the last cloud of sunset for your lips. And
the wind, when it was gentle, for your voice. And the movements of
the sea for your movements, and the rise and fall of it for your
breathing, and the lap of it against the boat for your kisses. Oh,
child, look up!..."
She looked up....
"What's your name?"
"I can't hear you."
"Helen. Say it."
"I'm trying to."
"I can't hear YOU now. And I want to hear your voice say my name.
Oh, my boy, do say it, so that I can remember it when you're away."
"I can't say it, child. Why didn't you tell me your name?"
"What is yours?"
"I'm trying to tell you."
"I'm trying with all my might. Listen with all yours."
"I am listening. I can't hear anything. Yet I'm listening so hard
that it hurts. I want to say your name over and over and over to
myself when you're away. CAN'T you say it louder?"
"No, it's no good."
"Oh, why didn't you tell me, boy?"
"Oh, child, why didn't you tell me?"
"Is my bread sweet to you?"
"The sweetest I ever ate. I ate it slowly, and took each bit from
your hand. I kept one crust."
"And my corn."
"Oh, your corn! that is everlasting. You have sown your seed. I have
eaten a grain, and it bore its harvest. One by one I shall eat them,
and every grain will bear its full harvest. You have replenished the
unknown earth with fields of golden corn, and set me walking there
"And you have thrown golden light upon strange waters, and set me
floating there for ever. Oh, you on my earth and I on your ocean,
how shall we meet?"
"Your corn is my waters, my waters are your corn. They move on one
wave. Oh, child, we are borne on it together, for ever."
"But how you teased me!"
"I couldn't help it."
"You and your boats and your duckponds."
"It was such fun. You were so serious. It was so easy to tease you."
"Why did you put your hand over your mouth?"
"To keep myself from--"
"Laughing at me?"
"Kissing you. You looked so sorry because sailors only sail round
duckponds, when you thought they always sailed out by the West and
home by the East. You believed the duckponds."
"I didn't really."
"For a moment!"
"I felt so stupid."
"Oh, did I?"
"A very little. Like the inside of a shell. I'd always tease you to
make you blush like that. Don't you ever smile or laugh, child?"
"You might teach me to. I haven't had the sort of life that makes
one smile and laugh. Oh, but I could. I could smile and laugh for
you if you wished. I could do anything you wanted. I could be
anything you wanted."
"Shall I make something of you? What shall it be?"
"I don't care, so long as it is yours. Oh, make something of me.
I've been lonely always. I don't want to be any more. I want to be
able to come to you when I please, not only because I need so much
to come, but because you need me to come. Can you make me sure that
you need me? When no one has ever needed you, how can you
believe...? Oh, no, no! don't look sorry. I do believe it. And will
you always stand with me here in the loneliness that has been so
dark? Then it won't be dark any more. Why do two people make light?
One alone only wanders and holds out her hand and finds no one--
nothing. Sometimes not even herself. Will you be with me always?"
"Because I love you."
"No," said Helen, "but because I love you."
"Tell me--WERE you frightened?"
"Of you? when I saw you at the door?"
"Yes. Were you?"
"Oh, my boy."
"But didn't you think I might be a scamp?"
"I didn't think about it at all. It wouldn't have made any
"Then why were you as mum as a fish?"
"Oh, my boy."
"Why? why? why?--if you weren't frightened? Of course you were
"No, no, I wasn't. I told you I wasn't. Why don't you believe me?--
Oh, you're laughing at me again."
"You're blushing again."
"It's so easy to make me ashamed when I've been silly. Of course you
know now why I couldn't speak. You know what took my words away.
Didn't you know then?"
"How could I know? How could I dream it would be as quick for you as
"One can dream anything...oh!"
"What is it, child?" For she had caught at her heart.
"Dreams...and not truth. Oh, are you here? Am I? Where are you--
where are you? Hold me, hold me fast. Don't let it be just empty
"Hush, hush, my dear. Dreams aren't empty. Dreams are as near the
truth as we can come. What greater truth can you ever have than
this? For as men and women dream, they drop one by one the veils
between them and the mystery. But when they meet they are shrouded
in the veils again, and though they long to strip them off, they
cannot. And each sees of each but dimly the truth which in their
dreams was as clear as light. Oh, child, it's not our dreams that
are our illusions."
"No," she whispered. "But still it is not enough. Not quite enough
for the beloved that they shall dream apart and find their truths
apart. In life too they must touch, and find the mystery together.
Though it be only for one eternal instant. Touch me not only in my
dreams, but in life. Turn life itself into the dream at last. Oh,
hold me fast, my boy, my boy..."
"Hush, hush, child, I'm holding you..."
"Oh, did you see? I turned my head away."
"Why did you weep?"
"Because you thought I had misjudged you."
"Then I misjudged you."
"But I did not weep for that."
"Would you, if I misjudged you?"
"It would not be so hard to bear."
"And you went away with tears and brought me the corn of your mill."
"And you took it with smiles, and gave me the shell of your seas."
"Your corn rustled through my head."
"Your shell whispers at my heart."
"You shall always hear it whispering there. It will tell you what I
can never tell you, or only tell you in other ways."
"Of your life on the sea? Of the countries over the water? Of storms
and islands and flashing birds, and strange bright flowers? Of all
the lands and life I've never seen, and dream of all wrong? Will it
tell me those things?--of your life that I don't know."
"Yes, perhaps. But I could tell you of that life."
"Of what other life will it tell me?"
"Of my life that you do know."
"Is there one?"
"Look in your own heart."
"I am looking."
"What do you hear?"
"Oh, boy, the whispering of your shell!"
"Oh, child, the rustling of your corn!"
Oh, maids! the grinding of the millstones.
This is only a little part of what she heard. But if I told you the
whole we should rise from the story gray-headed. For every day she
carried her boy's shell to the grinding stones, and stood there
while it spoke against her heart. And at other times of the day it
lay in her pocket, while she swept and cooked and spun, and she saw
shadows of her mill-dreams in the cobwebs and the rising steam, and
heard echos of them in her singing kettle and her singing wheel. And
at night it lay on her pillow against her ear, and the voice of the
waters went through her sleep.
So the years slipped one by one, and she grew from a girl into a
young woman; and presently passed out of her youth. But her eyes and
her heart were still those of a girl, for life had touched them with
nothing but a girl's dream. And it is not time that leaves its
traces on the spirit, whatever it may do to the body. Her father
meanwhile grew harder and more tyrannical with years. There was
little for him to fear now that any man would come to take her from
him; but the habit of the oppressor was on him, and of the oppressed
on her. And when this has been many years established, it is hard
for either to realize that, to escape, the oppressed has only to
open the door and go.
Yet Helen, if she had ever thought of escape into another world and
life, would not have desired it. For in leaving her millstones she
would have lost a world whose boundaries she had never touched, and
a life whose sweetness she had never exhausted. And she would have
lost her clue to knowledge of him who was to her always the boy in
the old jersey who had knocked at her door so many years ago.
Once he was shipwrecked...
...The waters had sucked her under twice already, when her helpless
hands hit against some floating substance on the waves. She could
not have grasped it by herself, for her strength was gone; but a
hand gripped her in the darkness, and dragged her, almost
insensible, to safety. For a long while she lay inert across the
knees of her rescuer. Consciousness was at its very boundary. She
knew that in some dim distance strong hands were chafing a wet and
frozen body...but whose hands?...whose body?...Presently it was
lifted to the shelter of strong arms; and now she was conscious of
her own heart-beats, but it was like a heart beating in air, not in
a body. Then warmth and breath began to fall like garments about
this bodiless heart, and they were indeed not her own warmth and
breath, but these things given to her by another--the warmth was
that of his own body where he had laid her cold hands and breast to
take what heat there was in him, and the breath was of his own
lungs, putting life into hers through their two mouths....She opened
her eyes. It was dark. The darkness she had come out of was bright
beside this pitchy night, and her struggle back to life less painful
than the fierce labor of the wind and waves. Their frail precarious
craft was in ceaseless peril. His left arm held her like a vice, but
for greater safety he had bound a rope round their two bodies and
the small mast of their craft. With his right arm he clasped the
mast low down, and his right hand came round to grip her shaking
knees. In this close hold she lay a long while without speaking.
Then she said faintly:
"Is it my boy?"
"Yes, child. Didn't you know?"
"I wanted to hear you say it. How long have you been in danger?"
"I don't know. Some hours. I thought you would never come to
"I tried to come to you. I can't swim."
"The sea brought you to me. You were nearly drowned. You slipped me
once. If you had again--!"
"What would you have done?"
"Jumped in. I couldn't have stayed on here without you."
"Ah, but you mustn't ever do that--promise, promise! For then you'd
lose me for ever. Promise."
"I promise. But there's no for ever of that sort. There's no losing
each other, whatever happens. You know that, don't you?"
"Yes, I do know. When people love, they find each other for ever.
But I don't want you to die, and I don't want to die--yet. But if it
is to-night it will be together. Will it be to-night, do you think?"
"I don't know, dear. The storm's breaking up over there, but that's
not the only danger."
"But nothing matters, nothing matters at all while I'm with you."
She lay heavily against him; her eyes closed, and she shook
"Child, you're shuddering, you're as cold as ice." He put his hand
upon her chilly bosom, and hugged her more fiercely to his own. With
a sudden movement of despair and anger at the little he could do, he
slipped his arms from his jacket, and stripping open his shirt
pulled her to him, re-fastening his jacket around them both, tying
it tightly about their bodies by the empty sleeves. She felt his
lips on her hair and heard him whisper, "You're not frightened of
me, are you, child? You never will be, will you?"
She shook her head and whispered, "I never have been."
"Sleep, if you can, dear."
So closely was she held by his coat and his arms, so near she lay to
his beloved heart, that she knew no longer what part of that union
was herself; they were one body, and one spirit. Her shivering grew
less, and with her lips pressed to his neck she fell asleep.
It was noon.
The hemisphere of the sky was an unbroken blue washed with a silver
glare. She could not look up. The sea was no longer wild, but it was
not smooth; it was a dancing sea, and every small wave rippled with
crested rainbows. A flight of gulls wheeled and screamed over their
heads; their movements were so swift that the mid-air seemed to be
filled with visible lines described by their flight, silver lines
that gleamed and melted on transparent space like curved lightnings.
"Oh, look! oh, look!" cried Helen.
He smiled, but he was not watching the gulls. "Yes, you've never
seen that, have you, child?" His eyes searched the distance.
"But you aren't looking. What are you looking at?"
"Nothing. I can't see what I'm looking for. But the gulls might mean
land, or icebergs, or a ship."
"I don't want land or a ship, or even icebergs," said Helen
He looked at her with the fleeting look that had been her first
impression of him.
"Why not? Why don't you?"
"I'm so happy where I am."
"That's all very well," said her boy, with his eyes on the distance.
For awhile she lay enjoying the warmth of the sun, watching the
gulls sliding down the unseen slopes of the air. Presently high up
she saw one hover and pause, settling on nothingness by the swift,
almost imperceptible beat of its wings. And suddenly it dropped like
a stone upon a wave, and darted up again so quickly that she could
not follow what had happened.
"What is it doing?" she asked.
"Fishing," said the boy. "It wanted its dinner."
"So do I," said Helen.
He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a packet wrapped in
oilskin. There was biscuit in it. He gave some to her, bit by bit;
though it was soft and dull, she was glad of it. But soon she drew
away from the hand that fed her.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"You must have some too."
"That's all right. I'm not greedy like you birds."
"I'm not a bird. And I'm not greedy. Being hungry's not being
greedy. I'd be greedy if I ate while you're hungry."
"I'm not hungry."
"Then neither am I."
To satisfy her he ate a biscuit. Soon after she began to feel
thirst, but she dared not ask for water. She knew he had none. He
looked at her lying pale in his arms, and said with a smile that was
not like a real smile, "It's a pity about the icebergs." She smiled
and nodded, and lay still in the heat, watching the gulls, and
thinking of ice. Some of the birds settled on the raft. One sat on
the mast; another hovered at her knee, picking at crumbs. They
played in the sun, rising and falling, and turned in her vision into
a whirl of snowflakes, enormous snowflakes....She began to dream of
snow, and her lips parted in the hope that some might fall upon her
tongue. Presently she ceased to dream of snow....The boy looked down
at her closed lids, and at her cheeks, as white as the breasts of
the gulls. He could not bear to look long, and returned to his
It was night again.
The circle of the sea was as smooth as silk. Pale light played over
it like dreams and ghosts. The sky was a crowded arc of stars,
millions of stars, she had never seen or imagined so many. They
glittered, glittered restlessly, in an ecstasy that caught her
spirit. She too was filled with millions of stars, through her
senses they flashed and glittered--a delirium of stars in heaven and
"Do you see the stars?"
"Do you feel them?"
"Oh, can't we die now?"
She felt him move stiffly. "There's a ship! I'm certain of it now--
I'm certain! Oh, if it were day!"
The stars went on dazzling. She did not understand about the ship.
Time moved forward, or stood still. For her the night was timeless.
It was eternity.
But things were happening outside in time and space. By what means
they had been seen or had attracted attention she did not know. But
the floating dreamlight and the shivering starlight on the sea were
broken by a dark movement on the waveless waters. A boat was coming.
For some time there had been shouting and calling in strange voices,
one of them her boy's. But once again she hovered on the dim verge
of consciousness. She had flown from the body he was painfully
unbinding from his own. What he had suffered in holding it there so
long she never knew. From leagues away she heard him whispering,
"Child, can you help yourself a little?" And now for an instant her
soul re-approached her body, and looked at him through the soft
midnight of her eyes, and he saw in them such starlight as never was
in sky or on sea.
"Kiss me," said Helen.
He kissed her.
With a great effort she lifted herself and stood upright on the
raft, swaying a little and holding by the mast. The boat was still a
"Good-by, my boy."
"Don't jump. You promised not to. You promised. But I can't come
with you now. You must let me go."
He looked at her, and saw she was in a fever. He made a desperate
clutch at her blue gown. But he was not quick enough. "Keep your
promise!" she cried, and disappeared in the dreamlit waters; she
disappeared like a dream, without a sound. As she sank, she heard
him calling her by the only name he knew....
When she was thirty-five her father died. Now she was free to go
where she pleased. But she did not go anywhere.
Ever since, as a child, she had first tasted salt water, she had
longed to travel and see other lands. What held her now? Was it that
her longing had been satisfied? that she had a host of memories of
great mountains and golden shores, of jungles and strange cities of
the coast, of islands lost in seas of sapphire and emerald? of
caravans and towers of ivory? of haunted caverns and deserted
temples? where, a child always, with her darling boy, she had had
such adventures as would have filled a hundred earthly lives. They
had built huts in uninhabited places, or made a twisted bower of
strong green creepers, and lived their primitive paradisal life
wanting nothing but each other; sometimes, through accidents and
illness, they had nursed each other, with such unwearied tenderness
that death himself had to withdraw, defeated by love. Once on a ship
there had been mutiny, and she alone stood by him against a throng;
once savages had captured her, and he, outwitting them, had rescued
her, riding through leagues of prairie-land and forest, holding her
before him on the saddle. In nearly all these adventures it was as
though they had met for the first time, and were struck anew with
the dumb wonder of first love, and the strange shy sweetness of
wooing and confession. Yet they were but playing above truth. For
the knowledge was always between them that they were bound
immortally by a love which, having no end, seemed also to have had
no beginning. They quarreled sometimes--this was playing too. She
put, now herself, now him, in the wrong. And either reconciliation
was sweet. But it was she who was oftenest at fault, his forgiveness
was so dear to her. And still, this was but playing at it. When all
these adventures and pretenses were done, they stood heart to heart,
and out of their only meeting in life built up eternal truth and
told each other. They told it inexhaustibly.
And so, when her father left her free to go, Helen lived on still in
the mill of dreams, and kept her millstones grinding. Two years went
by. And her hard gray lonely life laid its hand on her hair and her
countenance. Her father had worn her out before her time.
It was only invisible grain in the mill now. The peasants came no
longer with their corn. She had enough to live on, and her long
seclusion unfitted her for strange men in the mill, and people she
must talk to. And so long was the habit of the recluse on her, that
though her soul flew leagues her body never wandered more than a few
hundred yards from her home. Some who had heard of her, and had
glimpses of her, spoke to her when they met; but they could make no
headway with this sweet, shy, silent woman. Yet children and boys
and girls felt drawn to her. It was the dream in her eyes that
stirred the love in their hearts; though they knew it no more than
the soup in the pipkin knows why it bubbles and boils. For it cannot
see the fire. But to them she did not seem old; her strength and
eagerness were still upon her, and that silver needlework with which
time broiders all men had in her its special beauty, setting her
aloof in the unabandoned dream which the young so often desert as
their youth deserts them. Those of her age, seeing that unyouthful
gleam of her hair combined with the still-youthful dream of her
eyes, felt as though they could not touch her; for no man can break
another's web, he can only break his own, and these had torn their
films to tatters long ago, and shouldered their way through the
smudgy rents, and no more walked where she walked. But very young
people knew the places she walked in, and saw her clearly, for they
walked there too, though they were growing up and she was growing
At the end of the second year there was a storm. It lasted three
days without stopping. Such fury of rain and thunder she had never
heard. The gaunt rooms of the mill were steeped in gloom, except
when lightning stared through the flat windows or split into fierce
cracks on the dingy glass. Those three days she spent by candle-light.
Outside the world seemed to lie under a dark doom.
On the third morning she woke early. She had had restless nights,
but now and then slept heavily; and out of one dull slumber she
awakened to the certainty that something strange had happened. The
storm had lulled at last. Through her window, set high in the wall,
she could see the dead light of a blank gray dawn. She had seen
other eyeless mornings on her windowpane; but this was different,
the air in her room was different. Something unknown had been taken
from or added to it. As she lay there wondering, but not yet willing
to discover, the flat light at the window was blocked out. A seagull
beat against it with its wings and settled on the sill.
The flutter and the settling of the bird overcame her. It was as
though reality were more than she could bear. The birds of memory
and pain flew through her heart.
She got up and went to the window. The gull did not move. It was
broken and exhausted by the storm. And beyond it she looked down
upon the sea.
Yes, it was true. The sea itself washed at the walls of the mill.
She did not understand these gray-green waters. She knew them in
vision, not in reality. She cried out sharply and threw the window
up. The draggled bird fluttered in and sank on the floor. A sea-wind
blew in with it. The bird's wings shivered on her feet, and the wind
on her bosom. She stared over the land, swallowed up in the sea.
Wreckage of all sorts tossed and floated on it. Fences and broken
gates and branches of trees; and fragments of boats and nets and
bits of cork; and grass and flowers and seaweed--She thought--what
did she think? She thought she must be dreaming.
She felt like one drowning. Where could she find a shore?
She hurried to the bed and got her shell; its touch on her heart was
her first safety. In her nightgown as she was she ran with her naked
feet through the dim passages until she stood beside the grinding
"Child! child! child!"
"Where are you, my boy, where are you?"
"Aren't you coming? Must I lose you after all this?--Oh, come!"
"But tell me where you are!"
"In a few hours I should have been with you--a few hours after many
"Oh, boy, for pity, tell me where to find you!"
"You are there waiting for me, aren't you, child? I know you are--
I've always known you were. What would you have said to me when you
opened the door in your blue gown?--"
"Oh, but say only where you are, my boy!"
"Do you know what I should have said? I shouldn't have said
anything. I should have kissed you--"
"Oh, let me come to you and you shall kiss me...."
But she listened in vain.
She went back to her room. The gull was still on the floor. Its wing
was broken. Her actions from this moment were mechanical; she did
what she did without will. First she bound the broken wing, and
fetched bread and water for the wounded bird. Then she dressed
herself and went out of the mill. She had a rope in her hands.
The water was not all around the mill. Strips and stretches of land
were still unflooded, or only thinly covered. But the face of the
earth had been altered by one of those great inland swoops of the
sea that have for centuries changed and re-changed the point of
Sussex, advancing, receding, shifting the coast-line, making new
shores, restoring old fields, wedding the soil with the sand.
Helen walked where she could. She had no choice of ways. She kept by
the edge of the water and went into no-man's land. A bank of rotting
grasses and dry reeds, which the waves had left uncovered, rose from
the marshes. She mounted it, and beheld the unnatural sea on either
hand. Here and there in the desolate water mounds of gray-green
grass lifted themselves like drifting islands. Trees stricken or
still in leaf reared from the unfamiliar element. Many of those
which were leafless had put on a strange greenness, for their boughs
dripped with seaweed. Over the floods, which were littered with such
flotsam as she had seen from her window, flew sea-birds and
land-birds, crying and cheeping. There was no other presence in that
desolation except her own.
And then at last her commanded feet stood still, and her will came
back to her. For she saw what she had come to find.
He was hanging, as though it had caught him in a snare, in a tree
standing solitary in the middle of a wide waste of water. He was
hanging there like a dead man. She could distinguish his dark red
hair and his blue jersey.
She paused to think what to do. She couldn't swim. She would not
have hesitated to try; but she wanted to save him. She looked about,
and saw among the bits of stuff washing against the foot of the bank
a large dismembered tree-trunk. It bobbed back and forth among the
hollow reeds. She thought it would serve her if she had an oar. She
went in search of one, and found a broken plank cast up among the
tangled growth of the bank. When she had secured it she fastened one
end of her rope around the stump of an old pollard squatting on the
bank like a sturdy gnome, and the other end she knotted around
herself. Then, gathering all the middle of the rope into a coil, and
using her plank as a prop, she let herself down the bank and slid
shuddering into the water. But she had her tree-trunk now; with some
difficulty she scrambled on to it, and paddled her way into the open
It was not really a great distance to his tree, but to her it seemed
immeasurable. She was unskillful, and her awkwardness often put her
into danger. But her will made her do what she otherwise might not
have done; presently she was under the branches of the tree.
She pulled herself up to a limb beside him and looked at him. And it
was not he.
It was not her boy. It was a man, middle-aged, rough and
weatherbeaten, but pallid under his red-and-tan. His hair was
grizzled. And his face was rough with a growth of grizzled hair. His
whole body lurched heavily and helplessly in a fork of the tree, and
one arm hung limp. His eyes were half-shut.
But they were not quite shut. He was not unconscious. And under the
drooping lids he was watching her.
For a few minutes they sat gazing at each other in silence. She had
her breath to get. She thought it would never come back.
The man spoke first.
"Well, you made a job of it," he said.
She didn't answer.
"But you don't know much about the water, do you?"
"I've never seen the sea till to-day," said Helen slowly.
He laughed a little. "I expect you've seen enough of it to-day. But
where do you live, then, that you've never seen the sea? In the
middle of the earth?"
"No," said Helen, "I live in a mill."
His eyelids flickered. "Do you? Yes, of course you do. I might have
"How should you guess it?"
"By your blue dress," said the man. Then he fainted.
She sat there miserably, waiting, ready to prop him if he fell. She
did not know what else to do. Before very long he opened his eyes.
"Did I go off again?" he asked.
"Yes. Well, it's time to be making a move. I dare say I can now
you're here. What's your name?"
"Well, Helen, we'd better put that rope to some use. Will that tree
at the other end hold?"