Part 3 out of 4
But Bob was weak as water. Love had given him one brief glimpse of the
real world: then his father and mother began to talk, and the covers
of the Family Bible closed like gates upon his prospect. At the end
of a week he wrote--"Nothing shall shake me, dear Ethel. Still, some
consideration is due to them; for I am their only son."
To this Ethel Ormiston sent no answer; but reflected "And what
consideration is due to me? for you are my only lover."
For a while Bob thought of enlisting, and then of earning an honest
wage as a farm-labourer; but rejected both notions, because his
training had not taught him that independence is better than
respectability--yea, than much broadcloth. It was not that he hankered
after the fleshpots, but that he had no conception of a world without
fleshpots. In the end his father came to him and said--
"Will you give up this girl?"
And Bob answered--
"I'm sorry, father, but I can't."
"Very well. Rather than see this shame brought on the family, I will
send you out to Australia. I have written to my friend Morris, at
Ballawag, New South Wales, three hundred miles from Sydney, and he is
ready to take you into his office. You have broken my heart and your
mother's, and you must go."
And Bob--this man of twenty-one or more--obeyed his father in this,
and went. I can almost forgive him, knowing how the filial habit
blinds a man. But I cannot forgive the letter he wrote to Miss
Ormiston--whom he wished to make his wife, please remember.
Nevertheless she forgave him. She had found another situation, and was
working on. Her parents were dead.
Five years passed, and Bob's mother died--twelve years, and his father
died also, leaving him the lion's share of the money. During this time
Bob had worked away at Ballawag and earned enough to set up as lawyer
on his own account. But because a man cannot play fast and loose with
the self-will that God gave him and afterwards expect to do much
in the world, he was a moderately unsuccessful man still when the
inheritance dropped in. It gave him a fair income for life. When the
letter containing the news reached him, he left the office, walked
back to his house, and began to think. Then he unlocked his safe and
took out Ethel Ormiston's letters. They made no great heap; for of
late their correspondence had dwindled to an annual exchange of
good wishes at Christmas. She was still earning her livelihood as a
Bob thought for a week, and then wrote. He asked Ethel Ormiston to
come out and be his wife. You will observe that the old curse still
lay on him. A man--even a poor one--that was worth kicking would have
gone and fetched her; and Bob had plenty of money. But he asked her to
come out and begged her to cable "Yes" or "No."
She cabled "Yes." She would start within the month from Plymouth, in
the sailing-ship _Grimaldi_. She chose a sailing-ship because it was
So Bob travelled down to Sydney to welcome his bride. He stepped on
the _Grimaldi's_ deck within five minutes of her arrival, and asked
if a Miss Ormiston were on board. There advanced a middle-aged woman,
gaunt, wrinkled and unlovely--not the woman he had chosen, but the
woman he had made.
"Ethel?" was all he found to say.
"Yes, Bob; I am Ethel. And God forgive you."
Of the change in him she said nothing; but held out her hand with a
"Marry me, Bob, or send me back: I give you leave to do either, and
advise you to send me back. Twelve years ago you might have been proud
of me, and so I might have helped you. As it is, I have travelled far,
and am tired. I can never help you now."
And though he married her, she never did.
"Bill Penberthy's come back, I hear."
The tin-smith was sharpening his pocket-knife on the parapet of the
bridge, and, without troubling to lift his eyes, threw just enough
interrogation into the remark to show that he meant it to lead to
conversation. Every one of the dozen men around him held a knife, so
that a stranger, crossing the bridge, might have suspected a popular
rising in the village. But, as a matter of fact, they were merely
waiting for their turn. There is in the parapet one stone upon which
knives may be sharpened to an incomparable edge; and, for longer
than I can remember, this has supplied the men of Gantick with the
necessary excuse for putting their heads together on fine evenings and
discussing the news.
"Ay, he's back."
"Losh, Uncle, I'd no idea you was there," said the tin-smith, wheeling
round. "And how's your lad looking?"
"Tolerable--tolerable. 'A's got a black suit, my sonnies, and a white
tie, and a soft hat that looks large on the head, but can be folded
and stowed in your tail pocket." Complacency shone over the speaker's
shrivelled cheeks, and beamed from his horn-spectacles. "You can tell
'en at a glance for a Circuit-man and no common Rounder."
"'A's fully knowledgeable by all accounts; learnt out, they tell me."
"You shall hear 'en for yourselves at meeting to-morrow. He conducts
both services. Now don't tempt me any more, that's good souls: for
when he'd no sooner set foot in th' house and kissed his mother than
he had us all down on our knees giving hearty thanks in the most
beautiful language, I said to myself, 'many's the time I've had two
minds about the money spent in making ye a better man than your
father;' but fare thee well, doubt! I don't begrudge it, an' there's
A small girl came running down the street to the bridge-end.
"Uncle Penberthy," she panted, "your tall son--Mr. William--said I
was to run down and fetch 'ee home at once."
"Nothin' wrong with 'en, I hope?"
"I think he's going to hold a prayer."
The little man looked at the blade of his knife for a moment, half
regretfully: then briskly clasped it, slipped it into his pocket, and
hobbled away after the messenger.
The whitewashed front of the Meeting House was bathed, next evening,
with soft sunset yellow when Mr. Penberthy the elder stole down
the stairs between the exhortations, as his custom was, and stood
bareheaded in the doorway respiring the cool air. As a deacon he
temperately used the privileges of his office, and one of these was
a seat next the door. The Meeting House was really no more than a
room--a long upper chamber over a store; and its stairway descended
into the street so sharply that it was possible, even for a
short-armed man, to sit on the lowest step and shake hands with a
friend in the street.
The roadway was deserted for a while. Across the atmosphere there
reigned that hush which people wonder at on Sundays, forgetting that
nature is always still and that nine-tenths of the week's hubbub is
made by man. Down the pale sky came a swallow, with another in chase:
their wings were motionless as they swept past the doorway, but the
air whizzed with the speed of their flight, and in a moment was silent
again. Then from the upper room a man's voice began to roar out upon
the stillness. It roared, it broke out in thick sobs that shook the
closed windows in their fastenings, it wrestled with emotion for
utterance, and, overcoming it, rose into a bellow again; but, whether
soaring or depressed, the strain upon it was never relaxed. Uncle
Penberthy, listening to his son, felt an oppression of his own chest
and drew his breath uneasily.
The tin-smith came round the corner and halted by the door.
"That son o' yours is a boundless man," he observed with an upward
"How did he strike ye this morning?"
"I don't remember to have been so powerfully moved in my life. Perhaps
you and me being cronies for thirty year, and he your very son, may
have helped to the more effectual working; but be that as it may, I
couldn't master my dinner afterwards, and that's the trewth. Ah, he's
a man, Uncle; and there's no denying we wanted one of that sort to
awaken us to a fit sense. What a dido he do kick up, to be sure!"
The tin-smith shifted his footing uneasily as if he had something to
"I hope you won't think it onneighbourly or disrespectful that I didn'
come agen this evenin'," he begun, after a pause.
"Not at all, Jem, not at all."
"Because, you see--"
"Yes, yes, I quite see."
"I wouldn' have ye think--but there, I'm powerful glad you see." His
face cleared. "Good evenin' to ye, Uncle!"
He went on with a brisker step, while Uncle Penberthy drew a few more
lingering breaths and climbed the stairs again to the close air of the
"I'm afraid, father, that something in my second exhortation
displeased you," said the Rev. William Penberthy as he walked home
from service between his parents. He was a tall fellow with a
hatchet-shaped face and eyes set rather closely together.
"Not at all, my son. What makes ye deem it?" The little man tilted
back his bronzed top-hat and looked up nervously.
"Because you went out in the middle of service."
"'Tis but father's habit, William," old Mrs. Penberthy made haste to
explain, laying a hand on his arm. She was somewhat stouter of build
and louder of voice than her husband, but stood in just the same awe
of her son. "He's done it regular since he was appointed deacon."
"Why?" asked William, stonily.
Uncle Penberthy pulled off his hat to extract a red handkerchief from
its crown, removed his spectacles, and wiped them hurriedly.
"Them varmints of boys," he stammered, "be so troublesome round the
door--occasion'lly, that is."
"Was that so to-night?"
"But you were absent at least twenty minutes--all through the silent
prayer and half way through the third exhortation." He gazed sternly
at the amiable old man. "You didn't hear me treat that difficulty
in Colossians, two, twenty to twenty-three? If you have time, we'll
discuss it after private worship to-night. If I can make you see it
in what I am sure is the right light, it will lead you to think more
seriously of that glass of beer you have fallen into the habit of
taking with your supper."
It is but a fortnight since the Rev. William Penberthy came home; but
in that fortnight his father and mother have aged ten years. The
old man, when I took him my watch to regulate the other day--for on
week-days he is a watch-maker--began to ask questions, as eagerly as a
child, about the village news. It turned out that, for a whole week,
he had not been down to sharpen his knife upon the bridge. He has
given up his glass of beer, too, and altogether the zeal of his house
is eating him up.
This morning the new minister climbed into the van with his
carpet-bag. He is off to some Conference or other, and will be back
again the day after to-morrow. Ten minutes after he had gone his
father and mother shut up the shop and went out together. They mean
to take a whole holiday and hear all the news. It was pitiful to
see their fumbling haste as they helped one another to put up the
shutters; and almost more pitiful to mark, as they hurried down the
street arm in arm, their conscientious but feeble endeavour to look
something more staid than a couple of children just out of school.
MY DEAR YOUNG LADY,--
Our postman here does not deliver parcels until the afternoon--which
nobody grumbles at, because of his infirmity and his long and useful
career. The manuscript, therefore, of your novel, _Sunshine and
Shadow_, has not yet reached me. But your letter--in which, you beg me
to send an opinion upon the work, with some advice upon your chances
of success in literature--I found on my breakfast-table, as well
as the photograph which you desire (perhaps wisely) to face the
title-page. I trust you will forgive the slight stain in the lower
left-hand corner of the portrait, which I return: for it is the
strawberry-season here, and in course of my reflections I had the
misfortune to let the cardboard slip between my fingers and fall
across the edge of the plate.
I have taken the resolution to send my advice before it can be
shaken by a perusal of _Sunshine and Shadow_. But it is difficult
nevertheless. I might say bluntly that, unless the camera lies, your
face is not one to stake against Fame over a game of hazard. You
remember John Lyly's "Cupid and my Campaspe"?--and how Cupid losing,
"_down he throws
The coral of his lip, the rose
Growing on's cheek (but none lenows how)_ ..."
--and so on, with the rest of his charms, one by one? I might assure
you that when maidens play against Fame they risk all these treasures
and more, without hope of leniency from their opponent, who (you will
note) is the same sex. But you will answer by return of post, that
this is no business of mine, and that I exhibit the usual impertinence
of man when asked to consider woman's serious aspiration. You will
protest that you are ready to stake all this. Very well, then: listen,
if you have patience, to a little story that I came upon, a week
since, about a man who spent his days at this game of hazard. It was
called _The Two Monuments_.
When the Headmaster of the Grammar-School came to add up the marks
for the term's work and examination--which he always did without a
mistake--it was discovered that in the Upper Fourth (the top form)
Thompson had beaten Jenkins _major_ by sixteen. So Thompson received
a copy of the _Memoirs of Eminent Etonians_, bound in tree-calf, and
took it home under his arm, wondering what "Etonians" were, but too
proud to ask. And Jenkins _major_ received nothing; and being too weak
to punch Thompson's head (as he desired) waylaid him opposite the
cemetery gate on his way home, and said--
--which was doubly insulting; for, in the first place, French was
Thompson's weakest subject, and secondly, his father was a haberdasher
in a small way, who spoke with awe of the Jenkinses as a family that
had practised law in the town for six generations. Thompson himself
was aware of the glamour such a lineage conferred. It was wholly due
to his ignorance of French that he retorted--
Young Jenkins explained the term, with a wave of his hand towards the
"You'll find my family in there, and inside a rail of their own. And
you needn't think I wanted that prize. _I_'ve got a grandfather."
So, no doubt, had Thompson; but, to find him, he must have consulted
the parish books and searched among the graves at the northern end of
the burial-ground for one decorated with a tin label and the number
2054. He gazed in at the sacred acre of the Jenkinses and the
monuments emblazoned with "J.P.," "Recorder of this Borough," "Clerk
of the Peace for the County," and other proud appendices in gilt
lettering: and, in the heat of his heart, turned upon Jenkins _major_.
"You just wait till we die, and see which of us two has the finer
Thereupon he stalked home and read the _Memoirs of Eminent Etonians_,
and learnt from their perusal that it was indeed possible to earn
a finer tombstone than any Jenkins possessed. At the end of the
Christmas term, too, he acquired a copy of Dr. Smiles's famous work on
_Self-Help_, and this really set his feet in the path to his desire.
He determined, after weighing the matter carefully, to be a poet: for
it seemed to him that of all the noble professions this was the only
one the initial expense of which could be covered by his patrimony.
The paper, ink, and pens came cheaply enough (though the waste was
excessive); and for his outfit of high thoughts and emotions he pawned
not merely the possessions that you, my dear young lady, are
so willing to cast on the table--charms of face and graces of
person--for, as a man, he valued these lightly; but the strength in
his arms, the taste of meat and wine, the cunning of horsemanship, of
boat-sailing, of mountain-climbing, the breathless joy of the diver,
the languid joy of the dancer, the feel of the canoe-paddle shaken
in the rapid, the delicious lassitude of sleep in wayside-inns, and
lastly the ecstasy of love and fatherhood--all these he relinquished
for a tombstone that should be handsomer than Jenkins's. Jenkins,
meanwhile, was articled to his father, and, having passed the
necessary examinations with credit, became a solicitor and married
into a county family.
Thompson, I need hardly tell you, was by this time settled in London
and naturally spent a good deal of his leisure time in Westminster
Abbey. The monuments there profoundly affected his imagination, and
gave him quite new ambitions with regard to the tombstone that towered
at the back of all his day-dreams. When first he trod the Embankment,
in thin boots with a few pence in his pocket, it had appeared to him
in slate with a terrific inscription in gilt letters--inscriptions in
which "Benefactor of His Species," "Take him for All in All We shall
not Look upon his Like Again" took the place of the pettifogging
"Clerk of the Peace" or "J.P." tagged on to the names of the
Jenkinses. By degrees, however, he abated a little of the inscription
and made up for it by trebling the costliness of the stone.
From slate it grew to granite--to marble--to alabaster, with painted
cherubs and a coat of arms. At one time he brooded, for a whole week,
over a flamboyant design with bosses of lapis lazuli at the four
corners; and only gave it up for a life-size recumbent figure in
alabaster with four gryphons supporting the sarcophagus. As the soles
of his boots thickened with prosperity, so did his stone grow in
solidity. Finally an epic of his--_Adrastus_--took the town by
storm, and three editions were exhausted in a single week. When this
happened, he sat down with a gigantic sheet of cartridge paper before
him and spent a whole year in setting out the elaborated design. By
his will he left all his money to pay for the structure: for his
father and mother were dead and he had neither wife nor child.
When all was finished he rubbed his hands, packed up his bag and took
a third-class ticket down to his native town, to have a contemptuous
look at the Jenkins monuments and see how Jenkins _major_ was getting
Jenkins _major_ was up in the cemetery, among his fathers. And on top
of Jenkins rested a granite cross--sufficiently handsome, to be sure,
for a solicitor, but nothing out of the way. "J.P." was carved upon
it; though, as Jenkins had an absurdly long Christian name (Marmaduke
Augustus St. John), these letters were squeezed a bit in the right arm
of the cross. Underneath was engraved--
"_ERECTED BY HIS DISCONSOLATE
WIFE AND CHILDREN.
A Father kind, a Husband dear,
A faithful Friend, lies buried here_."
Thompson perused the doggerel once, twice, and a third time; and
chuckled contemptuously. "So Jenkins has come to this. God bless me,
how life in a provincial town does narrow a man!"
"_A Father kind, a Husband dear_..."
--and he went away chuckling, but with no malice at all in his breast.
Jenkins slept forgiven beneath his twopenny-halfpenny tombstone, and
Thompson, reflecting that not only was his own monument designed (with
a canopy of Carrara marble), but the cost of it invested in the three
per cents., walked contentedly back to the station, repeating on his
way with gentle scorn--
"_A Father kind, a Husband dear,
A faithful Friend, lies buried here_."
The jingle lulled him asleep in his railway carriage, and he awoke in
London. Driving home, he paid the cabby, rushed up to his room three
stairs at a bound, unlocked his safe and pulled out the great design.
In one corner he had even drawn up a list of the eminent men who
should be his pall-bearers. Certainly such a tomb would make Jenkins
turn in his grave.
He spread the plan on the table, with a paper-weight on each corner,
and sat down before it. After considering it for an hour, he arose
"Jenkins had a heap of flowers over him--common flowers, to be sure,
but fresh enough. I dare say I could arrange for a supply, though.
It's that confounded doggerel--
'_A Father kind, a Husband dear_.'
"That's Mrs. Jenkins's taste, I suppose. Still--of course I could
better the verse; but one can't stick up a lie over one's remains. I
wish to God I had a disconsolate wife, or a child, if only to spite
And I believe, my dear young lady, that underneath his tomb (whereon
there now stands a marble figure of Fame and blows a gilt trumpet) he
is still wishing it.
It wanted less than an hour to high water when Miss Marty Lear heard
her brother's boat take ground on the narrow beach below the garden,
and set the knives and glasses straight while she listened for the
click of the garden-latch.
A line of stunted hazels ran along the foot of the garden and hid the
landing-place from Miss Lear as she stood at the kitchen window gazing
down steep alleys of scarlet runners. But above the hazels she could
look across to the fruit-growing village of St. Kits, and catch a
glimpse at high tide of the intervening river, or towards low water of
the mud-banks shining in the sun.
It was Miss Lear's custom to look much on this landscape from this
window: had, in fact, been her habit for close upon forty years. And
this evening, when the latch clicked at length, and her brother in
his market-suit come slouching up the path between the parallels of
garden-stuff, her eyes rested all the while upon the line of grey
water above and beyond his respectable hat.
Nor, when he entered the kitchen, hitched this hat upon a peg in the
wall--where its brim accurately fitted a sort of dull halo in the
whitewash--did he appear to want any welcome from her. He was a
long-jawed man of sixty-five, she a long-jawed woman of sixty-one; and
they understood each other's ways, having kept this small and desolate
farm together for thirty years--that is, since their father's death.
A cold turnip-pasty stood on the table, with the cider-jug that Job
Lear regularly emptied at supper. These suggested no small-talk, and
the pair sat down to eat in silence.
It was only while holding out his plate for a second helping of the
pasty that Job spoke with a full mouth.
"Who d'ee reckon I ran across to-day, down in Troy?"
Miss Marty cut the slice without troubling to say that she had not a
"Why, that fellow Amos Trudgeon," he went on.
"'Pears to me you must be failin' if you disremembers 'en: son of old
Sal Trudgeon, that used to keep the jumble-shop 'cross the water: him
that stole our eggs back-along, when father was livin'."
"I thought you must. Why, you gave evidence, to be sure. Be dashed!
now I come to mind, if you wasn' the first to wake the house an' say
you heard a man hollerin' out down 'pon the mud."
"Iss, I was."
"An' saved his life, though you did get 'en two months in Bodmin Gaol
by it. Up to the arm-pits he was, an' not five minutes to live, when
we hauled 'en out, an' wonderin' what he could be doin' there, found
he'd been stealin' our eggs. He inquired after you to-day."
"Iss. 'How's Miss Marty?' says he. 'Agein' rapidly,' says I. The nerve
that some folks have! Comes up to me as cool as my lord and holds
out a hand. He've a-grown into a sort of commercial; stomach like a
bow-window, with a watch-guard looped across. I'd a mind to say 'Eggs'
to 'en, it so annoyed me."
"I hope you didn't."
"No. 'Twould have seemed like bearin' malice. 'Tis an old tale, after
all, that feat of his."
"Nine an' thirty year, come seventeenth o' September next. Did he say
"Said the weather-glass was risin', but too fast to put faith in."
"I mean, did he ask any more about me?"
"Iss: wanted to know if you was married. I reckon he meant that for a
bit o' pleasantness."
"Not that! Ah, not that!"
Job laid down knife and fork with their points resting on the rim
of his plate, and, with a lump of pasty in one cheek, looked at his
sister. She had pushed back her chair a bit, and her fingers were
plucking the edge of the table-cloth.
"Not that!" she repeated once more, and hardly above a whisper. She
did not lift her eyes. Before Job could speak--
"He was my lover," she said, and shivered.
She looked up now, hardened her ugly, twitching face, forced her eyes
to meet her brother's, and went on breathlessly--
"I swear to you, Job--here, across this table--he was my lover; and
I ruined 'en. He was the only man, 'cept you and father, that ever
kissed me; and I betrayed 'en. As the Lord liveth, I stood up in the
box and swore away his name to save mine. An' what's more, he made
"Don't hinder me, Job. It's God's truth I'm tellin' 'ee. His folks
were a low lot, an' father'd have broken every bone o' me. But we used
to meet in the orchard 'most every night. Don't look so, brother. I'm
past sixty, an' nothin' known; an' now evil an' good's the same to
"Well, the last night he came over 'twas spring tides, an' past the
flood. I was waitin' for 'en in the orchard, down in the corner by the
Adam's Pearmain. We could see the white front o' the house from there,
and us in the dark shadow: and there was the gap handy, that Amos
could snip through at a pinch--you fenced it up yoursel' the very
summer that father died in the fall. That night, Amos was late an' the
dew heavy, an' no doubt I lost my temper waitin' out there in the long
grass. We had words, I know; an' I reckon the tide ran far out while
we quarrelled. Anyway, he left me in wrath, an' I stood there under
the appletree, longin' for 'en to come back an' make friends again.
But the time went on, an' I didn' hear his footstep--no, nor his oars
pullin' away--though hearkenin' with all my ears.
"An' then I heard a terrible sound." Miss Marty paused and drew the
back of her hand across her dry lips before proceeding.
"--a terrible sound--a sort of low breathin', but fierce; an'
something worse, a suck-suckin' of the mud below; an' I ran down. I
suppose, in his anger, he took no care how he walked round the point
(for he al'ays moored his boat round the point, out o' sight), an'
went wide an' was taken. There he was, above his knees in it, and
far out it seemed to me, in the light o' the young moon. For all his
fightin', he heard me, and whispers out o' the dark--
"'Little girl, it's got me. Hush! don't shout, or they'll catch you.'
"'Can't you get out?' I whispered back.
"'No,' says he, 'I'm afraid I can't, unless you run up to the linhay
an' fetch a rope.'
"It was no more I stayed to hear, but ran up hot-foot to the linhay
and back inside the minute, with the waggon rope.
"'Hold the end,' he panted, 'and throw with all your strength.' And I
threw, but the rope fell short. Twice again I threw, but missed each
cast by a yard and more. He wouldn't let me come near the mud.
"Then I fell to runnin' to an' fro on the edge o' the firm ground, an'
sobbin' between my teeth because I could devise nothin'. And all the
while he was fightin' hard.
"'I'll run an' call father an' Job,' says I.
"'Hush'ee now! Be you crazed? Do you want to let 'em know all?'
"'But it'll kill you, dear, won't it?'
"'Likely it will,' said he. Then, after a while of battlin', he
whispers again, 'Little girl, I don't want to die. Death is a cold
end. But I reckon you shall save me an' your name as well. Take the
rope, coil it as you run, and hang it back in the linhay, quick! Then
run you to the hen-house an' bring me all the eggs you can find. Be
quick and ax no questions, for it's little longer I can hold up. It's
above my waist,' he says.
"I didn' know what he meant, but ran for my life to the linhay, and
hung up the rope, an' then to the hen-house. I could tell prety well
where to find a dozen eggs or more in the dark, an' in three minutes
I'd groped about an' gathered 'em in the lap o' my dress. Then back I
ran. I could just spy 'en--a dark spot out there in the mud.
"'How many?' he axed, an' his voice was like a rook's.
"'A dozen, or near.'
"'Toss 'em here. Don't come too nigh, an' shy careful, so's I can
"I stepped down pretty nigh to the brim o' the mud an' tossed 'em out
to him. Three fell short in my hurry, but the rest he got hold of
"'That's right,' he calls, hoarse and low, 'they'll think
egg-stealin' nateral to a low family like our'n. Now back to your
room--undress--an' cry out, sayin', there's a man shoutin' for help
down 'pon the mud; and, dear, be quick! When you wave your candle
twice at the window, I'll shout like a Trojan.'
"An' I did it, Job; for the cruelty in a fearful woman passes
knowledge. An' you rescued 'en an' he went to gaol. For he said 'twas
the only way. An' his mother took it as quite reasonable that her
husband's son should take to the bad--'twas the way of all them
Trudgeons. Father to son, they was of no account. Egg-stealin' was
just the little hole-an'-corner wickedness that 'd come nateral to
"I rec'lect now," said Job Lear very slowly, "that the wain-rope was
wet i' my hands when I unhitched 'en that night from the hook, an' I
wondered, it bein' the end of a week's dryth. But in the dark an' the
confusion o' savin' the wastrel's life it slipped my thoughts, else--"
"Else you'd ha' wetted it wi' the blood o' my back, Job. But the
rope's been frayed to powder this many year. An' you needn't look at
me like that. I'm past sixty, an' I've done my share of repentin'. He
didn't say if he was married, did he?"
The old fish-market at Troy was just a sagged lean-to roof on the
northern side of the Town Quay, resting against the dead wall of the
harbour-master's house, and propped in front by four squat granite
columns. This roof often let in rain enough to fill the pits worn in
the paving-stones by the feet of gossiping generations; and the whole
was wisely demolished a few years back to make place for a Working
Men's Institute--a red building, where they take in all the chief
London newspapers. Nevertheless I have, in some moods, caught myself
hankering after the old shelter, where the talk was unchartered
always, and where no notices were suspended against smoking; and I
know it used to be worth visiting on dirty evenings about the time of
the Equinox, when the town-folk assembled to watch the high tide and
the chances of its flooding the streets about the quay.
Early one September afternoon, about two years before its destruction,
a small group of watermen, a woman or two, and a fringe of small
children were gathered in the fish-market around a painter and his
easel. The painter--locally known as Seven-an'-Six--was a white-haired
little man, with a clean-shaven face, a complexion of cream and
roses, a high unwrinkled brow, and blue eyes that beamed an engaging
trustfulness on his fellow-creatures, of whom he stood ready to paint
any number at seven shillings and sixpence a head. As this method
of earning a livelihood did not allow him to sojourn long in one
place--which, indeed, was far from his desire--he spent a great part
of his time upon the cheaper seats of obscure country vehicles. He
delighted in this life of perennial transience, and enjoyed painting
the portraits which justified it; and was, on the whole, one of the
happiest of men.
Just now he was enjoying himself amazingly, being keenly alive not
merely to the crowd's admiration, but to the rare charm of that which
he was trying to paint. Some six paces before him there leant against
one of the granite pillars a woman of exceeding beauty: her figure
tall, supple, full of strength, in every line, her face brown and
broad-browed, with a heavy chin that gave character to the rest of her
features, and large eyes, black as sloes, that regarded the artist and
the group at his elbow with a sombre disdain. The afternoon sunshine
slanted down the pillar, was broken by the mass of dark hair she
rested against it, and ran down again along her firm and rounded arm
to the sun-bonnet she dangled by its strings. Behind her, the quay's
edge shone bright against the green water of the harbour, where, half
a cable's length from shore, a small three-masted schooner lay at
anchor, with her Blue Peter fluttering at the fore.
"He's gettin' her to-rights," observed one of the crowd.
A woman said, "I wish I'd a-been took in my young days, when I was
"Then, whyever wasn't 'ee, Mrs. Slade?"
"Well-a-well, my dear, I'm sure I dunno. Three ha'af-crowns is a
lot o' money to see piled in your palm, an' say 'Fare thee well;
increase!' Store 's no sore, as my old mother used to say."
"But," argued a man, "when once you've made up your mind to the
gallant speckilation, you never regret it--danged if you do!"
"Then why hasn't 'ee been took, Thomas, in all these years?"
"Because that little emmet o' doubt gets the better o' me every time.
'Tis like holdin' back from the Fifteen Balls: you feel sure in your
own mind you'll be better wi'out the drink, but for your life you
durstn't risk the disapp'intment. Over this matter I'll grant ye
that I preaches what I can't practise. But my preachin' is sound.
Therefore, I bid ye all follow the example o' Cap'n Hosken here,
who, bein' possessed wi' true love for 'Liza Saunders, is havin' her
portrait took for to hang up in his narrow cabin out to sea, an'
remind hissel' o' the charms that bide at home a-languishin'."
"That's not my reason, though," said Captain Hosken, a sunburnt and
serious man, at the painter's elbow.
"Then what may it be, makin' so bold?"
"I'll tell ye when the painting's done."
"A couple of strokes, and it's finished," said the artist, cocking his
head on one side and screwing up his blue eyes. "There, I'll tell you
plainly, friend, that my skill is but a seven-and-sixpenny matter, or
a trifle beyond. It does well enough what it pretends to do; but this
is a subject I never ought to have touched. I know my limits. You'll
see, sir," he went on, in a more business-like tone, "I've indicated
your ship here in the middle distance. I thought it would give the
portrait just that touch of sentiment you would desire."
The faces gathered closer to stare. 'Liza left the pillar, stretched
herself to her full height, and came forward, tying the strings of her
"'Tis the very daps of her!" was Captain Hosken's comment as he pulled
out his three half-crowns. "As for the _Rare Plant_, what you've put
in might be took for a vessel; and if a man took it for a vessel, he
might go on to take it for a schooner; but I'd be tolerable sorry if
he took it for a schooner o' which I was master. Hows'ever, you've put
in all 'Liza's good looks an' enticingness. 'Tis a picture I'm glad to
own, an' be dashed to the sentiment you talked about!"
He took the portrait carefully from the easel, and held it before him,
between his open palms.
"Neighbours all," he began, his rather stupid face overspread with an
expression of satisfied cunning, "I promised to tell 'ee my reasons
for havin' 'Liza's portrait took. They're rather out o' the common,
an' 'Liza hersel' don't guess what they be, no more than the biggest
fool here present amongst us."
He looked from the man Thomas, from whose countenance this last
innuendo glanced off as from a stone wall, to 'Liza, who answered
him with a puzzled scowl. Her foot began to tap the paving-stone
"When I gazes 'pon 'Liza," he pursued, "my eyes be fairly dazzled wi'
the looks o' her. I allow that. She's got that build, an' them lines
about the neck an' waist, an' them red-ripe lips, that I feels no
care to look 'pon any other woman. That's why I took up wi' her, an'
offered her my true heart. But strike me if I'd counted 'pon her
temper; an' she's got the temper of Old Nick! Why, only last
evenin'--the very evenin' before I sailed, mark ye--she slapped my
ear. She did, though! Says I, down under my breath, 'Right you are my
lady! we'll be quits for that.' But, you see, I couldn' bear to break
it off wi' her, because I didn' want to miss her beautiful looks."
The women began to titter, and 'Liza's face to flame, but her lover
proceeded with great complacency:
"Well, I was beset in my mind till an hour agone, when--as I walked
down here with 'Liza, half mad to take leave of her, and sail for Rio
Grande, and likewise sick of her temper--I sees this gentleman a-doin'
pictures at seven-an'-six; and thinks I, 'If I can get 'en to make a
copy of 'Liza's good looks, then I shall take off to sea as much as I
want of her, an' the rest, temper included, can bide at home till I
calls for it. That's all I've got to say. 'Liza's a beauty beyond
compare, an' her beauty I worships, an' means to worship. But if any
young man wants to take her, I tell him he's welcome. So long t' ye
Still holding the canvas carefully a foot from his waistcoat, to avoid
smearing it, he sauntered off to the quay-steps, and hailed his boat
to carry him aboard the _Rare Plant_. As he passed the girl he had
thus publicly jilted, her fingers contracted for a second like a
hawk's talons; but she stood still, and watched him from under
her brows as he descended the steps. Then with a look that, as it
travelled in a semi-circle, obliterated the sympathy which most of the
men put into their faces, and the sneaking delight which all the women
wore on theirs, she strode out of the fish-market and up the street.
Seven-an'-Six squeezed the paint out of his brushes, packed up his
easel and japanned box, wished the company good-day, and strolled back
to his inn. He was sincerely distressed, and regretted a hundred times
in the course of that evening that he had parted with the portrait
and received its price before Captain Hosken had made that speech. He
would (he told himself) have run his knife through the canvas, and
gladly forfeited the money. As it was, he lingered long over the
supper it procured, and ate heartily.
A mile beyond the town, next morning, Boutigo's van, in which he was
the only passenger, pulled up in front of a roadside cottage. A bundle
and a tin box were hoisted up by Boutigo, and a girl climbed in. It
"Oh, good morning!" stammered the little painter.
"I'm going to stay with my aunt in Truro, and seek service," the girl
announced, keeping her eye upon him, and her colour down with an
effort. "Where are you bound?"
"I? Oh, I travel about, now in one place, next day in another--always
moving. It's the breath of life to me, moving around."
"That must be nice! I often wonder why men tie themselves up to a wife
when they might be free to move about like you, and see the world.
What does a man want to tack a wife on to him when he can always carry
her image about?" She laughed, without much bitterness.
"But--" began the amiable painter, and checked himself. He had been
about to confess that he himself owned a wife and four healthy
children. He saw this family about once in two months, and it existed
by letting out lodgings in a small unpaintable town. He was sincerely
fond of his wife, who made every allowance for his mercurial nature;
but it suddenly struck him that her portrait hung in the parlour at
home, and had never accompanied him on his travels.
He was silent for a minute or two, and then began to converse on
THE REGENT'S WAGER.
Boutigo's van--officially styled _The Vivid_--had just issued from
the Packhorse Yard, Tregarrick, a leisurely three-quarters of an hour
behind its advertised time, and was scaling the acclivity of St.
Fimbar's Street in a series of short tacks. Now and then it halted
to take up a passenger or a parcel; and on these occasions Boutigo
produced a couple of big stones from his hip-pockets and slipped them
under the hind-wheels, while we, his patrons within the van, tilted
at an angle of 15 deg. upon cushions of American cloth, sought for new
centres of gravity, and earnestly desired the summit.
It was on the summit, where the considerate Boutigo gave us a minute's
pause to rearrange ourselves and our belongings, that we slipped into
easy and general talk. An old countryman, with an empty poultry-basket
on his knees, and a battered top-hat on the back of his head, gave us
"When Boutigo's father had the accident--that was back in 'fifty-six,'
and it broke his leg an' two ribs--the van started from close 'pon the
knap o' the hill here, and scat itself to bits against the bridge at
the foot just two and a half minutes after."
I suggested that this was not very fast for a runaway horse.
"I dessay not," he answered; "but 'twas pretty spry for a van slippin'
_backwards_, and the old mare diggin' her toes in all the way to hold
One or two of the passengers grinned at my expense, and the old man
"But if you want to know how fast a hoss _can_ get down St. Fimbar's
hill, I reckon you've lost your chance by not axin' Dan'l Best, that
died up to the 'Sylum twelve years since; though, poor soul, he'd but
one answer for every question from his seven-an'-twentieth year to his
end, an' that was 'One, two, three, four, five, sis, seven."
"Ah, the poor body! his was a wisht case," a woman observed from the
corner furthest from the door.
"Ay, Selina, and fast forgotten, like all the doin's and sufferin's of
the men of old time." He reached a hand round his basket, and touching
me on the knee, pointed back on Tregarrick. "There's a wall," he said,
and I saw by the direction of his finger that he meant the wall of the
county prison, "and beneath that wall's a road, and across that road's
a dismal pool, and beyond that pool's a green hillside, with a road
athurt it that comes down and crosses by the pool's head. Standin'
'pon that hillside you can see a door in the wall, twenty feet above
the ground, an' openin' on nothing. Leastways, you could see it once;
an' even now, if ye've good eyesight, ye can see where they've bricked
I could, in fact, even at our distance, detect the patch of recent
stone-work; and knew something of its history.
"Now," the old man continued, "turn your looks to the right and mark
the face of Tregarrick town-clock. You see it, hey?"--and I had time
to read the hour on its dial before Boutigo jolted us over the ridge
and out of sight of it--"Well, carry them two things in your mind: for
they mazed Dan'l Best an' murdered his brother Hughie."
And, much as I shall repeat it, he told me this tale, pausing now and
again to be corroborated by the woman in the corner. The history, my
dear reader, is accurate enough--for Boutigo's van.
There lived a young man in Tregarrick in the time of the French War.
His name was Dan'l Best, and he had an only brother Hughie, just three
years younger than himself. Their father and mother had died of the
small-pox and left them, when quite young children, upon the parish:
but old Walters of the Packhorse--he was great-grandfather of the
Walters that keeps it now--took a liking to them and employed them,
first about his stables and in course of time as post-boys. Very good
post-boys they were, too, till Hughie took to drinking and wenching
and cards and other devil's tricks. Dan'l was always a steady sort:
walked with a nice young woman that was under-housemaid up to the old
Lord Bellarmine's at Castle Cannick, and was saving up to be married,
when Hughie robbed the mail.
Hughie robbed the mail out of doubt. He did it up by Tippet's Barrow,
just beyond the cross-roads where the scarlet gig used to meet the
coach and take the mails for Castle Cannick and beyond to Tolquite.
Billy Phillips, that drove the gig, was found in the ditch with his
mouth gagged, and swore to Hughie's being the man. The Lord Chief
Justice, too, summed up dead against him, and the jury didn't even
leave the box. And the moral was, "Hughie Best, you're to be taken to
the place whence you come from, ancetera, and may the Lord have mercy
upon your soul!"
You may fancy what a blow this was to Dan'l; for though fine and vexed
with Hughie's evil courses, he'd never guessed the worst, nor anything
like it. Not a doubt had he, nor could have, that Hughie was guilty;
but he went straight from the court to his young woman and said, "I've
saved money for us to be married on. There's little chance that I can
win Hughie a reprieve; and, whether or no, it will eat up all, or
nearly all, my savings. Only he's my one brother. Shall I go?" And she
said, "Go, my dear, if I wait ten years for you." So he borrowed a
horse for a stage or two, and then hired, and so got to London, on a
fool's chase, as it seemed.
The fellow's purpose, of course, was to see King George. But King
George, as it happened, was daft just then; and George his son reigned
in his stead, being called the Prince Regent. Weary days did Dan'l air
his heels with one Minister of the Crown after another before he could
get to see this same Regent, and 'tis to be supposed that the great
city, being new to him, weighed heavy on his spirits. And all the
time he had but one plea, that his brother was no more than a boy and
hadn't an ounce of vice in his nature--which was well enough beknown
to all in Tregarrick, but didn't go down with His Majesty's advisers:
while as for the Prince Regent, Dan'l couldn't get to see him till the
Wednesday evening that Hughie was to be hanged on the Friday, and then
his Royal Highness spoke him neither soft nor hopeful.
"The case was clear as God's daylight," said he: "the Lord Chief
Justice tells me that the jury didn't even quit the box."
"Your Royal Highness must excuse me," said Dan'l, "but I never shall
be able to respect that judge. My opinion of a judge is, he should
be like a stickler and see fair play; but this here chap took sides
against Hughie from the first. If I was you," he said, "I wouldn't
trust him with a Petty Sessions."
"Well, you may think how likely this kind of speech was to please the
Prince Regent. And I've heard that Dan'l; was in the very article of
being pitched out, neck and crop, when he heard a regular caprouse
start up in the antechamber behind him, and a lord-in-waiting, or
whatever he's called, comes in and speaks a word very low to the
"Show him in at once," says he, dropping poor Dan'l's petition upon
the table beside him; and in there walks a young officer with his
boots soiled with riding and the sea-salt in his hair, like as if he'd
just come off a ship; and hands the Prince a big letter. The Prince
hardly cast his eye over what was written before he outs with a lusty
hurrah, as well he might, for this was the first news of the taking of
"Here's news," said he, "to fill the country with bonfires this
"Begging your Royal Highness's pardon," answers the officer,
pulling out his watch; "but the mail coaches have left St. Martin's
Lane"--that's where they started from, as I've heard tell--"these
"Damn it!" says Dan'l Best and the Prince Regent, both in one breath.
"Hulloa! Be you here still?" says the Prince, turning sharp round at
the sound of Dan'l's voice. "And what be you waiting for?"
"For my brother Hughie's reprieve," says Dan'l.
"Well, but 'tis too late now, anyway," says the Prince.
"I'll bet 'tis not," says Dan'l, "if you'll look slippy and make out
"You can't do it. 'Tis over two hundred and fifty miles, and you can't
travel ten miles an hour all the way like the coach."
"It'll reach Tregarrick to-morrow night," says Dan'l, "an' they won't
hang Hughie till seven in the morning. So I've an hour or two to
spare, and being a post-boy myself, I know the ropes."
"Well," says his Royal Highness, "I'm in a very good temper because
of this here glorious storming of St. Sebastian. So I'll wager your
brother's life you don't get there in time to stop the execution."
"Done with you, O King!" says Dan'l, and the reprieve was made out,
quick as lightning.
Well, sir, Dan'l knew the ropes, as he said; and moreover, I reckon
there was a kind of freemasonry among post-boys; and the two together,
taken with his knowledge o' horseflesh, helped him down the road as
never a man was helped before or since. 'Twas striking nine at night
when he started out of London with the reprieve in his pocket, and by
half-past five in the morning he spied Salisbury spire lifting out of
the morning light. There was some hitch here--the first he met--in
getting a relay; but by six he was off again, and passed through
Exeter early in the afternoon. Down came a heavy rain as the evening
drew in, and before he reached Okehampton the roads were like a bog.
Here it was that the anguish began, and of course to Dan'l, who found
himself for the first time in his life sitting in the chaise instead
of in the saddle, 'twas the deuce's own torment to hold himself still,
feel the time slipping away, and not be riding and getting every ounce
out of the beasts: though, even to _his_ eye, the rider in front
was no fool. But at Launceston soon after daybreak he met with a
misfortune indeed. A lot of folks had driven down overnight to
Tregarrick to witness the day's sad doings, and there wasn't a chaise
to be had in the town for love or money.
"What do I want with a chaise?" said Dan'l, for of course he was in
his own country now, and everybody knew him. "For the love of God,
give me a horse that'll take me into Tregarrick before seven and save
Hughie's life! Man, I've got a reprieve!"
"Dear lad, is that so?" said the landlord, who had come down, and was
standing by the hotel door in nightcap and bedgown. "I thought, maybe,
you was hurrying to see the last of your brother. Well, there's but
one horse left in stable, and that's the grey your master sold me two
months back; and he's a screw, as you must know. But here's the stable
key. Run and take him out yourself, and God go with 'ee!"
None knew better than Dan'l that the grey was a screw. But he ran down
to the stable, fetched the beast out, and didn't even wait to shift
his halter for a bridle, but caught up the half of a broken mop-handle
that lay by the stable door, and with no better riding whip galloped
off bare-back towards Tregarrick.
Aye, sir, and he almost won his race in spite of all. The hands o' the
town clock were close upon seven as he came galloping over the knap
of the hill and saw the booths below him and sweet-stalls and
standings--for on such days 'twas as good as a fair in Tregarrick--and
the crowd under the prison wall. And there, above them, he could see
the little open doorway in the wall, and one or two black figures
there, and the beam. Just as he saw this the clock struck its first
note, and Dan'l, still riding like a madman, let out a scream, and
waved the paper over his head; but the distance was too great. Seven
times the clapper struck, and with each stroke Dan'l screamed, still
riding and keeping his eyes upon that little doorway. But a second or
two after the last stroke he dropped his arm suddenly as if a bullet
had gone through it, and screamed no more. Less than a minute after,
sir, he pulled up by the bridge on the skirt of the crowd, and looked
round him with a silly smile.
"Neighbours," says he, "I've a-got great news for ye. We've a-taken
St. Sebastian, and by all acounts the Frenchies'll be drove out of
Spain in less'n a week."
There was silence in Boutigo's van for a full minute; and then the old
woman spoke from the corner:
"Well, go on, Sam, and tell the finish to the company."
"Is there more to tell?" I asked.
"Yes, sir," said Sam, leaning forward again, and tapping my knee very
gently, "there were _two men_ condemned at Tregarrick, that Assize;
and two men put to death that morning. The first to go was a
sheep-stealer. Ten minutes after, Dan'l saw Hughie his brother led
forth; and stood there and watched, with the reprieve in his hand.
His wits were gone, and he chit-chattered all the time about St.
LOVE OF NAOMI.
The house known as Vellan's Rents stands in the Chy-pons over the
waterside, a stone's throw beyond the ferry and the archway where
the toll-keeper used to live. You may know it by its exceeding
dilapidation and by the clouds of steam that issue on the street from
one of its windows. The sill of this window stands a bare foot above
the causeway, and glancing down into the room as you pass, you will
see the shoulders of a woman stooping over a wash-tub. When first I
used to pass this window the woman was called Naomi Bricknell; later
it was Sarah Ann Polgrain; and now it is (euphemistically) Pretty
Alice. One goes and makes way for another, but the wash-tub is always
there and the rheumatic fever; and while these remain they will never
lack, as they have never lacked yet, for a woman to do battle for dear
life between them.
But my story concerns the first of these only, Naomi Bricknell. She
and her mother occupied two rooms in Vellan's Rents as far back as I
can remember, and were twisted with the fever about once in every six
months. For this they paid one shilling a week rent. If you lift the
latch and push the front door open, you seem at first to be looking
down a well; for a flight of thirty-two steps plunges straight from
the threshold to the quay door and a square of green water there. And
when the sun is on the water at the bottom of this funnel, the effect
is pretty. But taking note of the cold wind that rushes up this
stairway and into the steaming room where the wash-tub stands, you
will understand how it comes that each new tenant takes over the
rheumatic fever as one of the fixtures.
In a room to the right of the stairway, and facing Naomi's, lived a
middle-aged man who was always known as Long Oliver. This man was a
native of the port, and it was understood that he and Naomi had been
well acquainted, years ago, before he started on his first voyage and
some time before Naomi married. Tiring of the sea in time, he had
found work on the jetties and rented this room for sixpence a week. In
these days he and Naomi rarely spoke to each other beyond exchanging
a "Good-morning" when they met on the stairway, nor did he show any
friendliness beyond tapping at her mother's door and inquiring about
her once a day whenever she happened to be down with the fever. I have
made researches and find that the rest of the house was tenanted at
that time by a working block-maker, with his wife and four children;
a widow and her son just returned from sea with an injured spine; a
young couple without children. But these do not come into the tale.
Now the history of Naomi was this. She was married at three-and-twenty
to Abe Bricknell, a young sailor of the port, and as steady as a woman
could wish. In the third year of their married life, and a week
after obtaining his certificate, he sailed out of Troy as mate of a
fruit-ship, a barque, that never came back, nor was sighted again
after passing the Lizard lights.
Naomi--a tall up-standing woman with deep, gentle eyes, like a cow's,
and a firm mouth that seldom spoke--took her affliction oddly. She
neither wailed nor put on mourning. She looked upon it as a matter
between herself and her Maker, and said:
"God has done this thing to me; therefore I have finished with Him. I
am no man to go and revenge myself by breaking all the Commandments.
But I am a woman and can suffer. Let Him do His worst: I defy Him."
So she never set foot inside church again, nor offered any worship.
The week long she worked as a laundress, and sat through the Sundays
with her arms folded, gloomily fighting her duel. When the fever
wrenched her arms and lips as she stood by the wash-tub, she set her
teeth and said, "I can stand it. I can match all this with contempt.
He can kill, but that's not beating me."
Her mother, a large and pale-faced woman of sixty, with an apparently
thoughtful contraction of the lips, in reality due to a habit of
carrying pins in her mouth, watched Naomi anxiously during this period
of her life. And Long Oliver watched her too, though secretly, with
eyes screwed up after the fashion of men who have followed the sea.
One day he stopped her on the stairs and asked, abruptly:
"When be you thinkin' to marry again?"
"Never," she answered, straight and at once, halting with a hand on
her hip and eyeing him.
"Dear me; but you will, I hope."
"Not to you, anyway."
"Laws me, no! I don't want 'ee; haven't wanted 'ee these ten years.
But I'd a reason for askin'."
"Then I'm sure I don't know what it can be."
"True--true. Look'ee here, my dear; 'tis ordained for you to marry
"Aw? Who by?"
Naomi had treated Long Oliver badly in days gone by, but could still
talk to him with more freedom than to other men. Still standing with
a hand on her hip, she let fall a horrible sentence about the
Almighty--all the more horrible in that it came deliberately, without
emphasis, and from quiet lips.
"Woman!" cried a voice above them.
They turned, looked up, and saw the bent figure of a man framed in the
street doorway. This was William Geake, who walked in from Gantick
every Saturday to collect the sixpences and shillings of Vellan's
Rents for its landlord, a well-to-do wine and spirit merchant at
Tregarrick. As a man of indisputable probity and an unwearying walker,
Geake was entrusted with many odd jobs of this kind in the country
round, filling in with them such idle corners as his trade of
carpenter and undertaker to Gantick village might leave in the six
working days. On Sundays he put on a long black coat, and became a
Rounder, or Methodist local-preacher, walking sometimes twenty miles
there and back to terrify the inhabitants of outlying hamlets about
their future state.
"Woman!" cried William Geake, "Down 'pon your knees an' pray God the
roof don't fall on 'ee for your vile words."
"I reckon," retorted Naomi quietly, with a glance up at the
worm-riddled rafters, "you'd do more good by speakin' to the
William Geake had a high brow and bright, nervous eyes, betokening
enthusiasm; but he had also a long and square jaw that meant
stubbornness. This jaw now began to protrude and his lips to
"Down 'pon your knees!" he repeated.
Naomi turned her eyes from him to Long Oliver, who leant against the
staircase wall with his arms crossed and a veiled amusement in his
face. With a slightly heightened colour, but no flutter of the voice,
she repeated her blasphemy; and then, pulling a shilling from her worn
purse, tendered it to Geake. This, of course, meant "Mind your own
business"; but he waved her hand aside.
"Down 'pon your knees, woman!" he shouted thunderously. Then, as she
showed no disposition to obey, he added, grimly, "Eh? but somebody
shall intercede for thee afore thou'rt a minute older."
And pulling off his hat there and then, he knelt down on the doorstep,
with the soles of his hob-nailed boots showing to the street.
"Get up, an' don't make yoursel' a may-game," said Naomi hurriedly, as
one or two children stopped their play, and drew around to stare.
"Father in heaven," began William Geake, in a voice that fetched the
women-folk, all up and down the Chy-pons, to their doors, "Thou, whose
property is ever to have mercy, forgive this blaspheming woman! Suffer
one who is Thy servant, though a grievous sinner, to intercede for her
afore she commits the sin that cannot be forgiven; to pluck her as a
brand from the burning--"
By this, the women and a loafing man or two had clustered round, and
Colliver's coal-cart had rattled up and come to a standstill. The
Chy-pons is the narrowest street in Troy, and Colliver's driver could
hardly pass now, except over William Geake's legs.
"Draw in your feet, brother Geake," he called out, "or else pray
One or two women giggled at this. But Geake did not seem to hear.
For five good minutes he prayed vociferously, as was his custom in
meeting-house; then rose, replaced his hat, dusted his knees, held out
his hand for Naomi's shilling, and wrote her the customary voucher in
his most business-like manner, and without another word. But there was
a triumphant look in his eyes that dared Naomi to repeat her offence,
and she very nearly wept as she felt that the words would not come.
This and the shame of publicity drove her back into her room as Geake
passed down the stairs to collect the other rents. A few women still
hung about the doorway as he emerged, some twenty minutes later. But
he marched down Chy-pons with head erect and eyes fixed straight
On the following Saturday, when Geake called, Naomi was standing at
her wash-tub. She had seen him pass the window, and, hurriedly wiping
her hands, and pulling out her shilling, placed it ostentatiously in
the very centre of the deal table by the door; then had just time to
plunge her hands in the soap-suds again before he knocked. Try as she
would, she could not keep back a blush at the remembrance of last
week's scene, and half looked for him to make some allusion to it.
His extremely business-like air reassured her. She nodded towards
the shilling without removing her hands from the tub. He took it,
including in a polite good-morning both Naomi and her mother, who was
huddled in an arm-chair before the fire and recovering from an attack
of the fever, wrote out his voucher solemnly, set it in the exact spot
where the shilling had stood, took up his hat, hesitated for less than
a second, replaced his hat on the table, and, pulling a chair towards
him, dropped on his knees, and began to pray aloud.
The old woman by the fire slewed her head painfully round and stared
at him, then at Naomi. But Naomi was standing with her back to them
both, and her hands soaping the linen in the tub--gently, however, and
without any splashing. She therefore let her head sink back on the
cushion, and assumed that peculiarly dejected air, commonly reserved
by her for the consolations of religion.
On this occasion William Geake prayed in a low and level tone, and
very briefly. He made no allusion to last Saturday, but put up an
earnest petition for blessings upon "our two sisters here," and that
they might learn to accept their appointed portion with resignation,
yea, even with a holy joy. At the end of two minutes he rose, and
was about to dust his knees, after his usual custom, but, becoming
suddenly aware of the difference in cleanliness between Naomi's
lime-ash and the floors of the various meeting-houses of his
acquaintance, refrained. This little piece of delicacy did not escape
Naomi, though her shoulders were still bent over the tub, to all
seeming as resolutely as ever.
"Well, I swow that was very friendly of Mister Geake!" the old woman
ejaculated, as the door closed behind him. "'Tisn't everybody'd ha'
thought what a comfort a little scrap o' religion can be to an old
woman in my state."
"He took a great liberty," said Naomi snappishly.
"Well, he might ha' said as much as 'By your leave,' to be sure;
an' now you say so, 'twas makin' a bit free to talk about our
dependence--an' in my own kitchen too."
"He meant our dependence on th' Almighty," Naomi corrected, still more
snappishly. "William Geake's an odd-fangled man, but you might give
'en credit for good-feelin'. An', what's more, though I don't hold
wi' Christian talk, if a man have a got beliefs, I respect 'en for
standin' to 'em without shame."
"But I thought, a moment ago--" her mother began, and then subsided.
She was accustomed to small tangles in her own processes of thought,
and quite incapable, after years of blind acceptance, of correcting
No more was said on the matter. The next Saturday, after receiving his
shilling, Mr. Geake knelt down without any hesitation. It was clear he
wished this prayer to be a weekly institution, and an institution it
The women never knelt. Naomi, indeed, had never sanctioned the
innovation, unless by her silence, and her mother assisted only with a
very lugubrious "Amen," being too weak to stir from her chair. As the
months passed, it became evident to Geake that her strength would
never come back. The fever had left her, apparently for good; but the
rheumatism remained, and closed slowly upon the heart. The machine was
When the end came, Naomi had been doing the work single-handed for
close upon twelve months. She could always get a plenty of work, and
now took in a deal too much for her strength, to settle the doctor's
and undertaker's bills, and buy herself a black gown, cape, and
bonnet. The funeral, of course, took place on a Sunday. Geake, on the
Saturday afternoon, knocked gently at Naomi's door. His single
intent was to speak a word or two of sympathy, if she would listen.
Remembering her constant attitude under the Divine scourge, he felt a
But there lay the shilling in the centre of the table, and there stood
Naomi in a cloud of steam, hard at work on an immoderate pile of
washing--even a man's miscalculating eye could see that it was
"I didn't call--" he began, with a glance towards the shilling.
"No; I know you didn't. But you may so well take it all the same."
Geake had rehearsed a small speech, but found himself making out and
signing the voucher as usual; and, as usual, when it was signed, he
drew over a chair, and dropped on his knees. In prayer-meeting he was
a great hand at "improving" an occasion of bereavement; but here again
his will to speak impressively suddenly failed him. His words were:
"Lord, there were two women grinding at a mill; the one was taken, and
t'other left. She that you took, you've a-carr'd beyond our prayers;
but O, be gentle, be gentle, to her that's left!"
He arose, and looked shyly, almost shamefacedly, at Naomi. She had not
turned. But her head was bowed; and, drawing near, he saw that the
scalding tears were falling fast into the wash-tub. She had not wept
when her husband was lost, nor since.
"Go away!" she commanded, before he could speak, turning her shoulders
resolutely towards him.
He took up his hat, and went out softly, closing the door softly
His eye, which was growing quick to read Naomi's face, saw at once,
as he entered the room a week later, that she deprecated even the
slightest reference to her weakness. It also told him--he had not
guessed it before--that her emotional breakdown had probably more to
do with physical exhaustion than with any eloquence of his. The pile
of washing had grown, and the woman's face was grey with fatigue.
Geake, as he made out the voucher, cast about for a polite mode of
hinting that this kind of thing must not go on. Nevertheless it was
Naomi who began.
"Look here," she said, as he put down the voucher; "there ain't goin'
to be no more prayin', eh?"
"Why, to be sure there is," he answered with a show of great
cheerfulness; and reached for a chair.
"I'd liefer you didn't. I don't want it. I don't hold by any o't.
You'm very kind," she went on, her voice trembling for an instant and
then recovering its firmness, "and I reckon it soothed mother. But I
reckon it don't soothe me. I reckon it rubs me the wrong way. There's
times, when I hears a body prayin', that I wishes we was Papists again
and worshipped images, that I might throw stones at 'em!"
She paused, looked up into Geake's devouring eyes, and added, with a
poor attempt at a laugh:
"So you see, I'm wicked, an' don't want to be saved."
Then the man broke forth:
"Saved? No, I reckon you don't! Wicked? Iss, I reckon you be! But
saved you shall be--ay, if you was twice so wicked. Who'll do it? I'll
do it--I alone. I don't want your help. I want to do it in spite of
'ee: an' I'll lay that I do! Be your wickedness deep as hell, an' I'll
reach down a hand to the roots and pluck it up: be your salvation
stubborn as Death, I'll wrestle wi' the Lord for it. If I sell my own
soul for't, yours shall be redeemed!"
He slammed down his fist on the rickety deal table, which promptly
collapsed flat on the floor, with its four legs splayed under the
"Bein' a carpenter--" Geake began to stammer apologetically, and in a
totally different tone.
For a second--two seconds--the issue hung between tears and laughter.
An hysterical merriment twinkled in Naomi's eyes.
But the strength of Geake's passion saved the situation. He stepped up
to Naomi, laid a hand on each shoulder, and shook her gently to and
"Listen to me! As I hold 'ee now, so I take your fate in my hands.
Naomi Bricknell, you've got to be my wife, so make up your mind to
She cowered a little under his grasp; put out a hand to push him off;
drew it back; and broke into helpless sobbing. But this time she did
not command him to go away.
Fifteen minutes later William Geake left Vellan's Rents with joy on
his face and a broken table under his arm.
And two days later Naomi's face wore a look of demure happiness when
Long Oliver stopped her on the staircase and asked,
"Is it true, what I hear?"
"It is true," she answered.
"An' when be the banns called?"
"There ain't goin' to be no banns."
"There ain't goin' to be no banns; leastways, there ain't goin' to be
none called. We'm goin' to the Registry Office. You look all struck of
a heap. Was you hopin' to be best man?"
"Well, I reckoned I'd take a hand in the responses," he answered; and
seemed about to say more, but turned on his heel and went back to his
room, shutting the door behind him.
We pass to a Saturday morning, two years later, and to William Geake's
cottage at the western end of Gantick village.
Naomi had plucked three fowls and trussed them, and wrapping each in a
white napkin, had packed them in her basket with a dozen and a half of
eggs, a few pats of butter, and a nosegay or two of
garden-flowers--Sweet Williams, marigolds, and heart's-ease: for it was
market-day at Tregarrick. Then she put on boots and shawl, tied her
bonnet, and slung a second pair of boots across her arm: for the roads
were heavy and she would leave the muddy pair with a friend who lived at
the entrance of the town, not choosing to appear untidy as she walked up
the Fore Street. These arrangements made, she went to seek her husband,
who was busy planing a coffin-lid in the workshop behind the cottage,
and ruminating upon to-morrow's sermon.
"You'll be about startin'," he said, lifting his head and pushing his
spectacles up over his eye-brows.
Naomi set her basket down on his work-table, and drew her breath back
between her teeth--which is the Cornish mode of saying "Yes." "I want
you to make me a couple of skivers," she said. "Aun' Hambly sent over
word she'd a brace o' chicken for me to sell, an' I was to call for
'em: an' I'd be ashamed to sell a fowl the way she skivers it."
William set down his plane, picked up an odd scrap of wood and cut out
the skewers with his pocket-knife; while Naomi watched with a smile
on her face. Whether or no William had recovered her soul, as he
promised, she had certainly given her heart into his keeping. The love
of such a widow, he found, is as the surrender of a maid, with wisdom
The skewers finished, he walked out through the house with her and
down the garden-path, carrying the basket as far as the gate. The
scent of pine-shavings came with him. Half-way down the path Naomi
turned aside and picking a sprig of Boy's Love, held it up for him
to smell. The action was trivial, but as he took the sprig they both
laughed, looking in each other's eyes. Then they kissed; and the staid
woman went her way down the road, while the staid man loitered for a
moment by the gate and watched her as she went.
Now as he took his eyes away and glanced for an instant in the other
direction, he was aware of a man who had just come round the angle of
the garden hedge and, standing in the middle of the road, not a dozen
yards off, was also staring after his wife.
This stranger was a broad-shouldered fellow in a suit of blue seaman's
cloth, the trousers of which were tucked inside a pair of Wellington
boots. His complexion was brown as a nut, and he wore rings in his
ears: but the features were British enough. A perplexed, ingratiating
and rather silly smile overspread them.
The two men regarded each other for a bit, and then the stranger drew
"I do believe that was Na'mi," he said, nodding his head after the
woman's figure, that had not yet passed out of sight.
William Geake opened his eyes wide and answered curtly, "Yes: that's
my wife--Naomi Geake. What then?"
The man scratched his head, contemplating William as he might some
illegible sign-post set up at an unusually bothersome cross-road.
"She keeps very han'some, I will say." His smile grew still more
"Was you wishin' to speak wi' her?"
"Well, there! I was an' yet I wasn't. 'Tis terrible puzzlin'. You
don't know me, I dessay."
"No, I don't."
"I be called Abe Bricknell--A-bra-ham Bricknell. I used to be
Na'mi's husband, one time. There now"--with an accent of genuine
contrition--"I felt sure 'twould put you out."
The tongue grew dry in William Geake's mouth, and the sunlight died
off the road before him. He stared at a blister in the green paint of
the garden-gate and began to peel it away slowly with his thumb-nail:
then, pulling out his handkerchief, picked away at the paint that had
lodged under the nail, very carefully, while he fought for speech.
"I be altered a brave bit," said Naomi's first husband, still with his
"Come into th' house," William managed to say at last; and turning,
led the way to the door. On his way he caught himself wondering why
the hum of the bees had never sounded so loudly in the garden before:
and this was all he could think about till he reached the doorstep.
Then he turned.
"Th' Lord's ways be past findin' out," he said, passing a hand over
"That's so: that's what _I_ say mysel'," the other assented
cheerfully, as if glad to find their wits jumping together.
"Man!" William rounded on him fiercely. "What's kept 'ee, all these
years? Aw, man, man! do 'ee know what you've done?"
"I'd a sun-stroke," said the wanderer, tapping his head and still
wearing his deprecatory smile; "a very bad sun-stroke. I sailed in the
_John S. Hancock_. I dessay Na'mi told you about that, eh?"
"Get on wi' your tale."
"Pete Hancock was cap'n. The vessel was called after his uncle, you
know, an' the Hancocks had a-bought up most o' the shares in her.
That's how Pete came to be cap'n. We sailed on a Friday--unlucky, I've
heard that is. But Pete said them that laid th' Atlantic cable had
started that day an' broke the spell. Pete had a lot o' tales, but he
made a poor cap'n; no head."
"Look here," put in "William with desperate calm," I don't want to
know about Peter Hancock."
"There's not much to know if you did. He made a very poor cap'n,
though it don't become one to say so, now he's gone. An affectionate
man, though, for all his short-comin's. The last time he brought his
vessel home from New Orleans he was in that pore to get back to his
wife an' childer, he ripped along the Gulf Stream and pretty well
ribbed the keelson out of her. Thought, I reckon, that since all the
shareholders belonged to his family th' expense wouldn' be grudged.
But I guess it made her tender. That's how she came to go down so
"I'm comin' to that. We'd just run our nose into the tropics an' was
headin' down for Kingston Harbour--slippin' along at five knots easy
an' steady, an' not a sign of trouble. The time, so far as I can tell,
was somewhere near five bells in the middle watch. I'd turned in,
leavin' Pete on deck, an' was fast asleep; when all of a suddent a
great jolt sent me flyin' out o' the berth. As soon as I got my legs
an' wits again I was up on deck, and already the barque was settlin'
by the head like a burst crock. She'd crushed her breastbone in on a
sunken tramp of a derelict--a dismasted water-logged lump, that maybe
had been washin' about the Atlantic for twenty year' an' more before
her app'inted time came to drift across our fair-way an' settle the
hash o' the _John S. Hancock_. Sir, I reckon she went down inside o'
five minutes. We'd but bare time to get out one boat and push clear
o' the whirl of her. All hands jumped in; she was but a sixteen foot
boat, an' we loaded her down to the gun'l a'most. There was a brave
star-shine, but no moon. Cruel things happen 'pon the sea."
He passed a hand over his eyes, as if to brush off the film his
sufferings had drawn across them. Then he pursued:
"Cruel things happen 'pon the sea. We'd no food nor drink but a tin o'
preserved pears; Lord knows how that got there; but 'twas soon done.
Pete had a small compass, a gimcrack affair hangin' to his watch-chain,
an' we pulled by it west-sou'-west towards the nighest land, which we
made out must be some one or another o' the Leeward Islands; but 'twas
more to keep ourselves busy than for aught else: the boat was so low in
the water that even with the Trade to help us, we made but a mile an
hour, an' had to be balin' all day and all night. The third day, as the
sun grew hot, two o' the men went mad. We had to pitch 'em overboard an'
beat 'em off wi' the oars till they drowned: else they'd ha' sunk the
boat. This seemed to hang on Pete's mind, in a way. All the next night
he talked light-headed; said he could hear the dead men hailin' their
names. About midnight he jumped after 'em--to fetch 'em, he said--an'
was drowned. He took his compass with him, but that didn't make much
odds. The boat was lighter now, an' we hadn' to bale. Pretty soon I got
too weak to notice how the men went. I was lyin' wi' my head under the
stern sheets an' only pulled mysel' up, now an' then, to peer out over
the gun'l. I s'pose 'twas the splashes as the men went over that made me
do this. I don't know for certain. There was sharks about: cruel things
happen 'pon the sea. The boat was in a gashly cauch of blood too. One
chap--Jeff Tresawna it was: his mother lived over to Looe--had tried to
open a vein, to drink, an' had made a mess o't an' bled to death. Far as
I know there was no fightin' to eat one another, same as one hears tell
of now an' then. The men just went mad and jumped like sheep: 'twas a
reg'lar disease. Two would go quick, one atop of t'other; an' then
there'd be a long stillness, an' then a yellin' again an' two more
splashes, maybe three. All through it I was dozin', off an' on; an' I
reckon these things got mixed up an' repeated in my head: for our crew
was only sixteen all told, an' it seemed to me I'd heard scores go over.
Anyway I opened my eyes at last--night it was, an' all the stars
blazin'--an' the boat was empty all except me an' Jeff Tresawna, him
that had bled to death. He was lying up high in the bows, wi' his legs
stretched Out towards me along the bottom-boards. There was a twinkle o'
dew 'pon the thwarts an' gun'l, an' I managed to suck my shirt-sleeve,
that was wringin' wet, an' dropped off dozin' again belike. The nex'
thing I minded was a sort o' dream that I was home to Carne again, over
Pendower beach--that's where my father an' mother lived. I heard the
breakers quite plain. The sound of 'em woke me up. This was a little
after daybreak. The sound kept on after I'd opened my eyes, though not
so loud. I took another suck at my shirt-sleeve an' pulled myself up to
my knees by the thwart an' looked over. 'Twas the sound o' broken water,
sure enough, that I'd been hearing; an' 'twas breakin' round half a
dozen small islands, to leeward, between me an' the horizon. I call 'em
islands; but they was just rocks stickin' up from the sea, and birds on
'em in plenty; but otherwise, if you'll excuse the liberty, as bare as
the top o' your head."
Geake nodded gravely, with set face.
"I've heard since," went on the seaman, "that these were bits, so to
say, belongin' to the Leeward Islands, about eighty miles sou'west o'
St. Kitt's. Our boat must ha' driven past St. Kitt's, but just out o'
sight; or perhaps we'd passed a peep of it in the night-time. Well, as
you'll be guessin' the boat was pretty nigh to one o' these islands,
or I shouldn' ha' heard the wash. Half a mile off it was, I dessay,
an' a pretty big wash. This was caused by the current, no doubt, for
the wind was nex' to nothin', an' no swell around the boat. What's
more, the current was takin' us, broadside on, pretty well straight
for the rocks. There was no rudder an' only one oar left i' the boat;
an' that was broke off short at the blade. But I managed to slip it
over the starn an' made shift to keep her head straight. Her nose went
bump on the shore, an' then she swung round an' went drivin' past: me
not havin' strength left to put out a hand, much less to catch hold
an' stop the way on us. We might ha' driven past an' off to sea again,
if it hadn' been for a spit o' rock that reached out ahead. This
brought us up short, an' there we lay an' bump'd for a bit. I dessay
it took me half an hour to get out over the side: an' all the time I
kept hold o' the broken oar. I dunno why I did this: but it saved my
life afterwards. Hav'ee got such a thing as a drop o' cider in the
"We go upon temperance principles here," said Geake. He rose and
brought a jug of water and a glass.
"That'll do," said the wanderer, and helped himself. "Na'mi used to
take a glass o' beer wi' her meals, I remember. Well, as I was agoin'
to tell you, havin' got out o' the boat, I'd just sense enough left to
clamber up above high-water mark, an' there I sat starin' stupid-like
an' wonderin' how I'd done it. Down below, the boat was heavin' i' the
wash an' joltin' 'pon the rocks, an' I watched her--bump, bump, up an'
down, up an' down--wi' Jeff jamm'd by the shoulders i' the bows, and
glazin' up at me wi' a silly blank face, like as if he couldn' make it
all out. As the tide rose him up nearer, I crawled away further up.
Seemed to me he an' the boat was after me like a sick dream, an' I
grinned every time the timbers gave an extry loud crack. At last her
bottom was stove, an' she filled very quiet an' went down. The wind
was fresher by this an' some heavy clouds comin' up. Then it rained.
I don't rightly know if this was the same day or no: can't fit in the
days an' nights. But it rained heavy. There was a quill-feather lyin'
close by my hand--the rock was strewed wi' feathers an' the birds'
droppin's--an' with it I tried to get at the rain-water that was
caught in the crannies o' the rocks. While I was searchin' about I
came across an egg. It was stinkin', but I ate it. After that, feelin'
a bit stronger, I'd a mind to fix up the oar for a mark, in case any
vessel passed near an' me asleep or too weak to make a signal. I found
a handy chink i' the rock to plant it in, an' a rovin' pain I had in
my stomach while I was fixin' it. That was the egg, I dessay. An' my
head in a maze, too: but I'd sense enough to think now what a fool
I was not to have took Jeff's shirt off'n, to serve me for a flag.
Hows'ever, my own bein' wringin' wet, an' the sun pretty strong just
then, I slipped it off an' hitched it atop o' the oar to dry an' be a
flag at the same time, till I could rig up some kind o' streamer, out
o' the seaweed. An' then I was forced to vomit. And that's about the
last thing, Mister Geake, I can mind doin'. 'Tis all foolishness after
that. They tell me that a 'Merican schooner, the _Shawanee_, sighted
my shirt flappin', an' sent a boat an' took me off an' landed me at
New Orleens. My head was bad--oh, very bad--an' they put me in a
'sylum an' cured me. But they took eight year' over it, an' I doubt if
'tis much of a job after all. I wasn' bad all the time, I must tell
you, sir; but 'tis only lately my mem'ry would work any further back
'n the wreck o' the barque. Everything seemed to begin an' end wi'
that. 'Tis about a year back that some visitors came to the 'sylum.
There was a lady in the party, an' something in her face, when she
spoke to me, put me in mind o' Na'mi, an' I remembered I was a married
man. Inside of a fortnight, part by thinkin'--'tis hard work still
for me to think--part by dreamin', I'd a-worried it all out. I was
betterin' fast by that. Soon as I was well enough to be discharged, I
worked my passage home in a grain ship, the _Druid_, o' Liverpool. I
was reckonin' all the way back that Na'mi'd be main glad to see me
agen. But now I s'pose she won't."
"It'll come nigh to killin' her."
"I dessay, now, you two have got to be very fond? She used to be a
partic'lar lovin' sort o' woman."
"I love her more 'n heaven!" William broke out; and then cowered as if
he half expected to be struck with lightning for the words.
"I heard of her havin' married, down at the Fifteen Balls, at Troy. I
dropped in there to pick up the news."
"What! You've been tellin' folks who you be!"
"Not a word. First of all I was minded to play off a little surprise
'pon old Toms, the landlord, who didn' know me from Adam. But hearin'
this, just as I was a-leadin' up to my little joke, I thought maybe
'twould annoy Na'mi. She used to be very strict in some of her
William Geake took two hasty turns up and down the little parlour. His
Bible, in which before breakfast he had been searching for a text,
lay open on the side table. Behind its place on the shelf was a
small skivet he had let into the wall; and in that drawer was stored
something over twenty-five pounds, the third of his savings. Geake
kept a bank-account, and the balance lay at interest with Messrs.
Climo and Hodges, of St. Austell. But he had the true countryman's
aversion to putting all his eggs in one basket; and although Messrs.
Climo and Hodges were safe as the Bank of England, preferred to keep
this portion of his wealth in his own stocking. He closed the Bible
hastily; rammed it back, upside down, in its place; then took it out
again, and stood holding it in his two hands and trembling. He was
living in sin: he was minded to sin yet deeper. And yet what had he
done to deserve Naomi in comparison with the unspeakable tribulations
this simple mariner had suffered? Sure, God must have preserved the
fellow with especial care, and of wise purpose brought him through
shipwreck, famine, and madness home to his lawful wife. The man had
made Naomi a good husband. Had William Geake made her a better?
(Husband?)--here he dropped the Bible down on the table again as if it
burned his fingers. Whatever had to be done must be done quickly. Here
was the innocent wrecker of so much happiness hanging on his lips for
the next word, watching wistfully for his orders, like any spaniel
dog. And Naomi would be back before nightfall. God was giving him no
time: it was unfair to hustle a man in this way. In the whirl of his
thoughts he seemed to hear Naomi's footfall drawing nearer and nearer
home. He could almost upbraid the Almighty here for leaving him and
Naomi childless. A child would have made the temptation irresistible.
"I wish a'most that I'd never called, if it puts you out so terrible,"
was the wanderer's plaintive remark after two minutes of silent
This sentence settled it. The temptation _was_ irresistible. Geake
unlocked the skivet, plunged a hand in and banged down a fistful of
notes on the table.
"Here," said he; "here's five-an'-twenty pound'. You shall have it all
if you'll go straight out o' this door an' back to America."
Half-an-hour later, William Geake was standing by his garden-gate
again. Every now and then he glanced down the road towards St.
Austell, and after each glance resumed his nervous picking at the
blister of green paint that had troubled him earlier in the day. He
was face to face with a new and smaller, but sufficiently vexing,
difficulty. Abe Bricknell had gone, taking with him the five
five-pound notes. So far so good, and cheap at the price. But the
skivet was empty: and the day was Saturday: and every Saturday
evening, as regularly as he wound up the big eight-day clock in the
kitchen, Naomi and he would sit down and count over the money. True he
had only to go to St. Austell and Messrs. Climo and Hodges would let
him draw five new notes. The numbers would be different, and Naomi
(prudent woman) always took note of the numbers: but some explanation
might be invented. The problem was: How to get to St. Austell and back
before Naomi's return? The distance was too great to be walked in
the time; and besides, the coffin must be ready by nightfall. He had
promised it; he was known for a man of his word; and owing to the
morning's interruption it would be a tough job to finish, at the
best. There was no help for it; and--so easy is the descent of
Avernus--Geake's unaccustomed wits were already wandering in a
wilderness of improbable falsehoods, when he heard the sound of wheels
up the road, and Long Oliver came along in Farmer Lear's red-wheeled
trap and behind Farmer Lear's dun-coloured mare. As he drew near at a
trot he eyed Geake curiously, and for a moment seemed inclined to pull
up, but thought better of it, and was passing with no more than a nod
of the head and "good-day."
It was unusual, though, to see Long Oliver driving a horse and trap;
and Geake, moreover, had a sudden notion.
"Good-mornin'," he answered; "whither bound?"
"St. Austell. I've a bit of business to do, so I'm takin' a holiday;
in style, as you see."
"I wonder now," Geake suggested, forgetting all about the coffin, "if
you'd give me a lift. I was just thinkin' this moment that I'd a bit
o' business there that had clean slipped my mind this week."
This was transparently false to any one acquainted with Geake's
methodical habits. Long Oliver screwed up his eyes.
"Can't, I'm afraid. I'm engaged to take up old Missus Oke an' her
niece at Tippet's corner; an' the niece's box. The gal's goin' in to
St. Austell, into service. So there's no room. But if there's any
little message I can take--"
"When'll you be back?"
"Somewhere's about five I'll be passin'."
"Would 'ee mind waitin' a moment? I've a cheque I want cashed at Climo
and Hodges for a biggish sum: but you'm a man I can trust to bring
back the money safe."
"Sutt'nly," said Long Oliver.
Geake went into the house and wrote a short letter to the bankers.
He asked them to send back by messenger, and in return for cheque
enclosed, the sum of twenty-five pounds, in five new five-pound notes.
He was aware (he said) that the balance of his running account was but
a pound or two: but as they held something over fifty pounds of his on
deposit, he felt sure they would oblige him and enable him to meet a
"Twenty-five pounds is the sum," he explained; "an' you must be sure
to get it in five-pound notes--_new five-pound notes_. You'll not
forget that?" He closed the envelope and handed it up to Long Oliver,
who buttoned it in his breast-pocket.
"You shall have it, Mr. Geake, by five o'clock this evenin'," said he,
giving the reins a shake on the mare's back; "so 'long!" and he rattled
A mile, and a trifle more, beyond Geake's cottage, he came in sight
of a man clad in blue sailor's cloth, trudging briskly ahead. Long
Oliver's lips shaped themselves as if to whistle; but he made no sound
until he overtook the pedestrian, when he pulled up, looked round in
the man's face, and said--
The sailor came to a sudden halt, and went very white in the face.
"How do you know my name?" he asked, uneasily.
"'Recognised 'ee back in Troy, an' borrowed this here trap to drive
after 'ee. Get up alongside. I've summat to say to 'ee."
Bricknell climbed up without a word, and they drove along together.
"Where was you goin'?" Long Oliver asked, after a bit.
"To look for a ship?"
"Goin' back to America?"
"You've been callin' on William Geake: an' you didn' find Naomi at
"Geake don't want it known."
"That's likely enough. You've got twenty-five pound' o' his in your
Abe Bricknell involuntarily put up a hand to his breast.
"Ay, it's there," said Long Oliver, nodding. "It's odd now, but I've
got twenty-five pound in gold in _my_ pocket; an' I want you to swop."
"I don't take ye, Mister--"
"Long Oliver, I'm called in common. Maybe you remembers me?"
"Why, to be sure! I thought I minded your face. But still I don't take
your meanin' azactly."
"I didn' suppose you would. So I'm goin' to tell 'ee. Fourteen year'
back I courted Naomi, an' she used me worse 'n a dog. Twelve year'
back she married you. Nine year' back you went to sea in the _John S.
Hancock_, an' was wrecked off the Leeward Isles an' cast up on a spit
o' rock. I'd been hangin' about New Orleens, just then, at a loose
end, an' bein' in want o' cash, took a scamper in the _Shawanee_, a
dirty tramp of a schooner knockin' in an' out and peddlin' notions
among the West Indy Islanders. As you know we caught sight o' your
signal an' took you off, an' you went to a mad-house. You was clean
off your head an' didn' know me from Adam; an' I never let on that I
knew you or the ship you'd sailed in. 'Seemed to me the hand o' God
was in it, an' I saw my way to cry quits wi' Naomi."
"I don't see."
"I don't suppose you do. But 'twas this way:--Naomi (thinks I) 'll be
givin' this man up afore long. She's a takeable woman, an' by-'n-bye,
some new man'll set eyes on her. Then, thinks I, her banns'll be
called in Church, an' I'll be there an' forbid 'em. Do 'ee see now?"
"That was very clever o' you," replied the simple seaman, and added
with obvious sincerity, "I'm sure I should never ha' thought 'pon
anything so clever as that. But why didn' you carry it out?"
"Because God Almighty was cleverer. Times an' times I'd pictured it up
in my head how 'twould all work out; an' the parson in his surplice
stuck all of a heap; an' the heads turnin' to look; an' the women
faintin'. An' when the moment came for a man to claim her, what d'ye
think she did? But there, a head like yours 'd never guess--_why she
went to a Registry Office, an' there weren't no banns at all_. That
overcame me. I seed the wisdom o' Providence from that hour. I be a
converted man. An' I'm damned if I'll let you come along an' upset the
apple-cart after all these years. Can 'ee write?"
"Tolerable, though I'm no hand at spellin'."
"Very well. We'll have a drink together at St. Austell, an' while
we're there you shall do up Geake's notes in an envelope with a note
sayin' your compliments, but on second thoughts you couldn't think o'
takin' his money."
Bricknell's face fell somewhat.
"You gowk! You'll have twenty-five pound' o' mine in exchange: solid
money, an' my own earnin's. I've more 'n that in my pocket here."
"But I don't see why _you_ should want to give me money."
"An' you'm too mad to see if I explained. 'Tis a matter o' conscience,
an' you may take it at that. When the letter's wrote--best not sign
it, by the way, for fear of accidents--you give it to me an' I'll see
Geake gets it to-night. After that's written I'll pay your fare to
Liverpool, an' then you'll get a vessel easy. Now I see your mouth
openin' and makin' ready to argue--"
"I was goin' to say, Long Oliver, that you seem to be actin' very
noble, now: but 'twas a bit hard on _me_, your holdin' your tongue as
"So 'twas, so 'twas. I reckon some folks is by nature easy forgotten,
an' you'm one. If that's your character, I hope to gracious you'm
goin' to keep it up. An' twenty-five pound' is a heap o' money for
such a man as you."
"It is," the wanderer asserted. "Ay, I feel that."
At twenty minutes to five that evening, Long Oliver pulled up again by
the green garden-gate. William Geake from his workshop had caught the
sound of the mare's hoofs three minutes before, and awaited him.