Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon, Eric Casteleijn and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
BY EDEN PHILLPOTTS
_Author of “Down Dartmoor Way,” “Some Everyday Folks” “The End of a Life,” etc.
“‘Tis like this: your man did take plain Nature for God, an’ he did talk fulishness ’bout finding Him in the scent o’ flowers, the hum o’ bees an’ sichlike. Mayhap Nature’s a gude working God for a selfish man but she ed’n wan for a maid, as you knaws by now. Then your faither–his God do sit everlastingly alongside hell-mouth, an’ do laugh an’ girn to see all the world a walkin’ in, same as the beasts walked in the Ark. Theer’s another picksher of a God for ‘e; but mark this, gal, they be lying prophets–lying prophets both!”–Book II., Chapter XI._
Away beyond the village stands a white cottage with the sea lapping at low cliffs beneath it. Plum and apple orchards slope upward behind this building, and already, upon the former trees, there trembles a snowy gauze where blossom buds are breaking. Higher yet, dark plowed fields, with hedges whereon grow straight elms, cover the undulations of a great hill even to its windy crest, and below, at the water line, lies Newlyn–a village of gray stone and blue, with slate roofs now shining silver-bright under morning sunlight and easterly wind. Smoke softens every outline; red-brick walls and tanned sails bring warmth and color through the blue vapor of many chimneys; a sun-flash glitters at this point and that, denoting here a conservatory, there a studio. Enter this hive and you shall find a network of narrow stone streets; a flutter of flannel underwear, or blue stockings, and tawny garments drying upon lines; little windows, some with rows of oranges and ginger-beer bottles in them; little shops; little doors, at which cluster little children and many cats, the latter mostly tortoise-shell and white. Infants watch their elders playing marbles in the roadway, and the cats stretch lazy bodies on the mats, made of old fishing-net, which lie at every cottage door. Newlyn stands on slight elevations above the sea level, and at one point the road bends downward, breaks and fringes the tide, leading among broken iron, rusty anchors, and dismantled fishing-boats, past an ancient buoy whose sides now serve the purposes of advertisement and tell of prayer-meetings, cheap tea, and so forth. Hard by, the mighty blocks of the old breakwater stand, their fabric dating from the reign of James I., and taking the place of one still older. But the old breakwater is no more than a rialto for ancient gossips now; and far beyond it new piers stretch encircling arms of granite round a new harbor, southward of which the lighthouse stands and winks his sleepless golden eye from dusk to dawn. Within this harbor, when the fishing fleet is at home, lie jungles of stout masts, row upon row, with here and there a sail, carrying on the color of the plowed fields above the village, and elsewhere, scraps of flaming bunting flashing like flowers in a reed bed. Behind the masts, along the barbican, the cottages stand close and thick, then clamber and straggle up the acclivities behind, decreasing in their numbers as they ascend. Smoke trails inland on the wind–black as a thin crepe veil, from the funnel of a coal “tramp” about to leave the harbor, blue from the dry wood burning on a hundred cottage hearths. A smell of fish–where great split pollocks hang drying in the sun–of tar and tan and twine–where nets and cordage lie spread upon low walls and open spaces–gives to Newlyn an odor all its own; but aloft, above the village air, spring is dancing, sweet-scented, light-footed in the hedgerows, through the woods and on the wild moors which stretch inland away. There the gold of the gorse flames in many a sudden sheet and splash over the wastes whereon last year’s ling-bloom, all sere and gray, makes a sad-colored world. But the season’s change is coming fast. Celandines twinkle everywhere, and primroses, more tardy and more coy, already open wondering eyes. The sea lies smooth with a surface just wind-kissed and strewed with a glory of sun-stars. Away to the east, at a point from which brown hills, dotted with white dwellings, tend in long undulations to the cliffs of the Lizard, under fair clouds all banked and sunny white against the blue, rises St. Michael’s Mount, with a man’s little castle capping Nature’s gaunt escarpments and rugged walls. Between Marazion and Newlyn stretches Mount’s Bay; while a mile or two of flat sea-front, over which, like a string of pearls, roll steam clouds, from a train, bring us to Penzance. Then–noting centers of industry where freezing works rise and smelting of ore occupies many men (for Newlyn labors at the two extremes of fire and ice)–we are back in the fishing village again and upon the winding road which leads therefrom, first to Penlee Point and the blue-stone quarry, anon to the little hamlet of Mousehole beyond.
Beside this road lay our white cottage, with the sunshine lighting up a piece of new golden thatch let into the old gray, and the plum-trees behind it bursting into new-born foam of flowers. Just outside it, above the low cliff, stood two men looking down into the water, seen dark green below through a tangle of brier and blackthorn and emerald foliage of budding elder. The sea served base uses here, for the dust and dirt of many a cottage was daily cast into the lap of the great scavenger who carried all away. The low cliffs were indeed spattered with filth, and the coltsfoot, already opening yellow blossoms below, found itself rudely saluted with cinders and potato-peelings, fishes’ entrails, and suchlike unlovely matter.
The men were watching a white fleet of bird boats paddling on the sea, hurrying this way and that, struggling–with many a plunge and flutter and plaintive cry–for the food a retreating tide was bearing from the shore.
“‘White spirits and gray,’ I call them,” said the younger of the two spectators. “The gulls fascinate me always. They are beautiful to see and hear and paint. Swimming there, and wheeling between the seas in rough weather, or hanging almost motionless in midair with their heads turning first this way, then that, and their breasts pressed against the wind– why, they are perfect always, the little winged gods of the sea.”
“Gods kissing carrion,” sneered the other. “Beautiful enough, no doubt, but their music holds no charm for me. Nothing is quite beautiful which has for its cause something ugly. Those echoing cries down there are the expression of a greedy struggle, no more. I hate your Newlyn gulls. They are ruined, like a thousand other wild things, by civilization. I see them scouring the fields and hopping after the plowman like upland crows. A Cornish seabird should fight its battle with the sea and find its home in the heart of the dizzy cliffs, sharing them with the samphire. But your ‘white spirits and gray’ behave like gutter-fed ducks.”
The first speaker laughed and both strolled upon their way. They were artists, but while Edmund Murdoch dwelt at Newlyn and lived by his profession, the older man, John Barron, was merely on a visit to the place. He had come down for change and with no particular intention to work. Barron was wealthy and wasted rare talents. He did not paint much, and the few who knew his pictures deplored the fact that no temporal inducement called upon him to handle his brush oftener. A few excused him on the plea of his health, which was at all times indifferent, but he never excused himself. It needed something far from the beaten track to inspire him, and inspiration was rare. But let a subject once grip him and the artist’s life centered and fastened upon it until his work was done. He sacrificed everything at such a time; he slaved; labor was to him as a debauch to the drunkard, and he wearied body and mind and counted his health nothing while the frenzy held him. Then, his picture finished, at the cost of the man’s whole store of nervous energy and skill, he would probably paint no more for many months. His subject was always some transcript from nature, wrought out with almost brutal vigor and disregard of everything but truth. His looks belied his work curiously. A small, slight man he was, with sloping shoulders and the consumptive build. But the breadth of his head above the ears showed brain, and his gray eyes spoke a strength of purpose upon which a hard, finely-modeled mouth set the seal. Once he had painted in the West Indies: a picture of two negresses bathing at Tobago. Behind them hung low tangles of cactus, melo-cactus and white-blossomed orchid; while on the tawny rocks glimmered snowy cotton splashed with a crimson turban; but the marvel of the work lay in the figures and the refraction of their brown limbs seen through crystal-clear water. The picture brought reputation to a man who cared nothing for it; and Barron’s “Bathing Negresses” are only quoted here because they illustrate his method of work. He had painted from the sea in a boat moored fore and aft; he had kept the two women shivering and whining in the water for two hours at a time. They could not indeed refuse the gold he offered for their services, but one never lived to enjoy the money, for her prolonged ablutions in the cause of art killed her a week after her work was done.
John Barren was a lonely sybarite with a real love for Nature and absolutely primitive instincts with regard to his fellow-creatures. The Land’s End had disappointed him; he had found Nature neither grand nor terrific there, but sleepy and tame as a cat after a full meal. Nor did he derive any pleasure from the society of his craft at Newlyn. He hated the clatter of art jargon, he flouted all schools, and pointed out what nobody doubts now: that the artists of the Cornish village in reality represented nothing but a community of fellow-workers, all actuated indeed by love of art, but each developing his own bent without thought for his neighbor’s theory. Barron indeed made some enemies before he had been in the place a week, and the greater lights liked him none the better for vehemently disclaiming the honor when they told him he was one of themselves. “The shape of a brush does not make men paint alike,” he said, “else we were all equal and should only differ in color. Some of you can no more paint with a square brush than you can with a knife. Some of you could not paint though your palettes were set with Nature’s own sunset colors. And others of you, if you had a rabbit’s scut at the end of a hop-pole and the gray mud from a rain puddle, would produce work worth considering. You are a community of painters–some clever, some hopeless–but you are not a school, and you may thank God for it.”
John Barron was rough tonic, but the fearless little man generally found an audience at the end of the day in this studio or that. The truth of much that he said appealed to the lofty-minded and serious; his dry cynicism, savage dislike of civilization, and frank affection for Nature, attracted others. He hit hard, but he never resented rough knocks in return, and no man had seen him out of temper with anything but mysticism and the art bred therefrom. Upon the whole, however, his materialism annoyed more than his wit amused.
Upon the evening which followed his insult to the Newlyn gulls, Barron, with Edmund Murdoch and some other men, was talking in the studio of one Brady, known to fame as the “Wrecker,” from his love for the artistic representation of maritime disaster. Barron liked this man, for he was outspoken and held vigorous views, but the two quarreled freely.
“Fate was a fool when she chucked her presents into the lap of a lazy beggar like you,” said Brady, addressing the visitor. “And thrice a fool,” he added, “to assort her gifts so ill.”
“Fate is a knave, a mad thing playing at cat’s cradle with the threads of our wretched little lives,” answered John Barron, “she is a coward–a bully. She hits the hungry below the belt; she heaps gold into the lap of the old man, but not till he has already dug his own grave to come at it; she gives health to those who must needs waste all their splendid strength on work; and wealth to worthless beings like myself who are always ailing and who never spend a pound with wisdom. Make no dark cryptic mystery of Fate when you paint her. She looks to me like a mischievous monkey poking sticks into an ant-hill.”
“She’s a woman,” said Murdoch.
“She’s three,” corrected Brady; “what can you expect from three women rolled into one?”
“Away with her! Waste no incense at her shrine. She’ll cut the thread no sooner because you turn your back on her.” Fling overboard your mythologies, dead and alive, and kneel to Nature. A budding spike of wild hyacinth is worth all the gods put together. Go hand in hand with Nature, I say. Ask nothing from her; walk humbly; be well content if she lets you but turn the corner of one page none else have read. That’s how I live. My life is not a prayer exactly–“
“I should say not,” interrupted Brady.
“But a hymn of praise–a purely impersonal existence, lived all alone, like a man at a prison window. This carcass, with its shaky machinery and defective breathing apparatus, is the prison. I look out of the window till the walls crumble away–“
“And then?” asked one Paul Tarrant, a painter who prided himself on being a Christian as well.
“Then, the spark which I call myself, goes back to Nature, as the cloud gives the raindrop back to the sea from whence the sun drew it.”
“A lie, man!” answered the other hotly.
“Perhaps. It matters nothing. God–if there be a God–will not blame me for making a mistake. Meantime I live like the rook and the thrush. They never pray, they praise, they sing ‘grace before meat’ and after it, as Nature taught them.”
“A simple child of Nature–beautiful spectacle,” said Brady. “But I’m sorry all the same,” he continued, “that you’ve found nothing in Cornwall to keep you here and make you do some work. You talk an awful deal of rot, but we want to see you paint. Isn’t there anything or anybody worthy of you here?”
“As a matter of face, I’ve found a girl,” said Barron.
There was a clamor of excitement at this news, above which Brady’s bull voice roared approval.
“Proud girl, proud parents, proud Newlyn!” he bellowed.
“The mood ripens too,” continued Barren quietly. “‘Sacrifice all the world to mood’ is my motto. So I shall stop and paint.”
A moment later derisive laughter greeted Barron’s decision, for Murdoch, in answer to a hail of questions, announced the subject of his friend’s inspiration.
“We strolled round this morning and saw Joan Tregenza in an iron hoop with a pail of water slung at either hand.”
“So your picture begins and ends where it is, Barron, my friend; in your imagination. Did it strike you when you first saw that vision of loveliness in dirty drab that she was hardly the girl to have gone unpainted till now?” asked Brady.
“The possibility of previous pictures is hardly likely to weigh with me. Why, I would paint a drowned sailor if the subject attracted me, and that though you have done it,” answered the other, nodding toward a big canvas in the corner, where Brady’s picture for the year approached completion.
“My dear chap, we all worship Joan–at a distance. She is not to be painted. Tears and prayers are useless. She has a flinty father–a fisherman, who looks upon painting as a snare of the devil and sees every artist already wriggling on the trident in his mind’s eye. Joan has also a lover, who would rather behold her dead than on canvas.”
“In fact these Methodist folk take us to be what you really are,” said Brady bluntly. “Old Tregenza tars us every one with the same brush. We are lost sinners all.”
“Well, why trouble him? A fisherman would have his business on the sea. Candidly, I must paint her. The wish grows upon me.”
“Even money you don’t get as much as a, sketch,” said Murdoch.
“Have any of you tried approaching her directly, instead of her relations?”
“She’s as shy as a hawk, man.”
“That makes me the more hopeful. You fellows, with your Tam o’ Shanters and aggressive neckties and knickerbockers and calves, would frighten the devil. I’m shy myself. If she’s natural, then we shall possibly understand each other.”
“I’ll bet you ten to one in pounds you won’t have your wish,” said Brady.
“No, shan’t bet. You’re all so certain. Probably I shall find myself beaten like the rest of you. But it’s worth trying. She’s a pretty thing.”
“How will you paint her if you get the chance?”
“Don’t know yet. I should like to paint her in a wolf-skin with a thread of wolf’s teeth round her neck and a celt-headed spear in her hand.”
“Art will be a loser by the pending repulse,” declared Brady. “And now, as my whisky-bottle’s empty and my lamp going out, you chaps can follow its example whenever you please.”
So the men scattered into a starry night, and went, each his way, through the streets of the sleeping village.
IN A HALO OF GOLD
Edmund Murdoch’s studio stood high on Newlyn hill, and Barron had taken comfortable rooms in a little lodging-house close beside it. The men often enjoyed breakfast in each other’s company, but on the following morning, when Murdoch strolled over to see his friend, he found that his rooms were empty.
Barron, in fact, was already nearly a mile from Newlyn, and, at the moment when the younger artist sought him, he stood upon a footpath which ran through plowed fields to the village of Paul. In the bottom of his mind ran a current of thought occupied with the problem of Joan Tregenza, but, superficially, he was concerned with the spring world in which he walked. He stood where Nature, like Artemis, appeared as a mother of many breasts. Brown and solemn in their undulations, they rose about and around him to the sky-line, where the land cut sharply against a pale blue heaven from which tinkled the music of larks. He watched a bird wind upward in a spiral to its song throne; he noted the young wheat brushing the earth with a veil of green; he dawdled where elms stood, their high tops thick with blossom; and he delayed for full fifteen minutes to see the felling of one giant tree. A wedge-shaped cut had been made upon the side where the great elm was to fall, and, upon the other side, two men were sawing through the trunk. There was no sound but the steady hiss of steel teeth gnawing inch by inch to the wine-red heart of the tree. Sunshine glimmered on its leafy crown, and as yet distant branch and bough knew nothing of the midgets and Death below.
Barron took pleasure in seeing the great god Change at work, but he mourned in that a masterpiece, on which Nature had bestowed half a century and more of love, must now vanish.
“A pity,” he said, while the executioners rested a few moments from their labors, “a pity to cut down such a noble tree.”
One woodman laughed, and the other–an old rustic, brown and bent–made answer:
“I sez ‘dang the tree!’ Us doan’t take no joy in thrawin’ en, mister. I be bedoled wi’ pain, an’ this ‘ere sawin’s just food for rheumatiz. My back’s that bad. But Squire must ‘ave money, an’ theer’s five hundred pounds’ value o’ ellum comin’ down ‘fore us done wi’ it.”
The saw won its way; and between each spell of labor, the ancient man held his back and grumbled.
“Er’s Billy Jago,” confided the second laborer to Barron, when his companion had turned aside to get some steel wedges and a sledge-hammer. “Er’s well-knawn in these paarts–a reg’lar cure. Er used tu work up Drift wi’ Mister Chirgwin.”
Billy added two wedges to those already hammered into the saw-cut, then, with the sledge, he drove them home and finished his task. The sorrowful strokes rang hollow and mournful over the land, sadder to Barron’s ear than fall of earth-clod on coffin-lid. And, upon the sound, a responsive shiver and uneasy tremor ran through trunk and bough to topmost twig of the elm–a sudden sense, as it seemed, of awful evil and ruin undreamed of, but now imminent. Then the monster staggered and the midget struck his last blow and removed himself and his rheumatism. Whereupon began that magnificent descent. Slowly, with infinitely solemn sweep, the elm’s vast height swung away from its place, described a wide aerial arc, and so, with the jolting crash and rattle of close thunder, roared headlong to the earth, casting up a cloud of dust, plowing the grass with splintered limbs, then lying very still. From glorious tree to battered log it sank. No man ever saw more instant wreck and ruin fall lightning-like on a fair thing. The mass was crushed flat and shapeless by its own vast weight, and the larger boughs, which did not touch the earth, were snapped short off by the concussion of their fall.
Billy Jago held his back and whined while Barron spoke, as much to himself as the woodman.
“Dear God!” he said, “to think that this glory of the hedge-row–this kingdom of song birds–should come to the making of pauper coffins and lodging-house furniture!”
“Squire must have money; an’ folks must have coffins,” said Billy. “You can sleep your last sleep so sound in ellum as you can in oak, for that matter.”
Feeling the truth of the assertion, Barron admitted it, then turned his back on the fallen king and pursued his way with thoughts reverting to the proposed picture. There was nothing to alarm Joan Tregenza about him; which seemed well, as he meant to approach the girl herself at the first opportunity, and not her parents. Barron did not carry “artist” stamped upon him. He was plainly attired in a thick tweed suit and wore a cap of the same material. The man appeared insignificantly small. He was clean-shaved and looked younger than his five-and-thirty years seen a short distance off, but older when you stood beside him. He strolled now onward toward the sea, and his cheeks took some color from the fine air. He walked with a stick and carried a pair of field-glasses in a case slung over his shoulder. The field-glasses had become a habit with him, but he rarely used them, for his small slate-colored eyes were keen.
Once and again John Barron turned to look at St. Michael’s Mount, seen afar across the bay. The magic of morning made it beautiful and the great pile towered grandly through a sunny haze. No detail disturbed the eye under this effect of light, and the mount stood vast, dim, golden, magnified and glorified into a fairy palace of romance built by immortal things in a night. Seen thus, it even challenged the beholder’s admiration, of which he was at all times sparing. Until that hour, he had found nothing but laughter for this same mount, likening the spectacle of it, with its castle and cottages, now to a senile monarch with moth-eaten ermine about his toes and a lop-sided crown on his head, now to a monstrous sea-snail creeping shoreward.
Barron, having walked down the hill to Mouse-hole, breasted slowly the steep acclivity which leads therefrom toward the west. Presently he turned, where a plateau of grass sloped above the cliffs into a little theater of banks ablaze with gorse. And here his thoughts and the image they were concerned with perished before reality. Framed in a halo of golden furze, her hands making a little penthouse above her brow, and in her blue eyes the mingled hue of sea and sky, stood a girl looking out at the horizon. The bud of a wondrous fair woman she was, and Barron saw her slim yet vigorous figure accentuated under its drab-brown draperies by a kindly breeze. He noted the sweet, childish freshness of her face, her plump arms filling the sleeves of rusty black, and her feet in shoes too big for them. Her hair was hidden under a linen sun-bonnet, but one lock had escaped, and he noted that it was the color of wheat ripe for the reaping. He regretted it had not been darker, but observed that it chimed well enough with the flaming flowers behind it. And then he frankly praised Nature in his heart for sending her servant such a splendid harmony in gold and brown. There stood his picture in front of him. He gazed a brief second only, and then his quick mind worked to find what human interest had brought Joan Tregenza to this place and turned her eyes to the sea. It might be that herein existed the possibility of the introduction he desired. He felt that victory probably depended on the events of the next two or three minutes. He owed a supreme effort of skill and tact to Fate, which had thus befriended him, and he rose to the occasion.
The girl looked up as he came suddenly upon her, but his eyes were already away and fixed upon the horizon before she turned. Observing that he was not regarding her, she put up her hands again and continued to scan the remote sea-line where a thin trail of dark smoke told of a steamer, itself apparently invisible. Barron took his glasses from their case, and seeing that the girl made no movement of departure, acted deliberately, and presently began to watch a fleet of brown sails and black hulls putting forth from the little harbor below. Then, without looking at her or taking his eyes from the glasses, he spoke.
“Would you kindly tell me what those small vessels are below there just setting out to sea?” he asked.
The girl started, looked round, and, realizing that he had addressed her, made answer:
“They’m Mouzle [Footnote: _Mouzle_–Mousehole.] luggers, sir.”
“Luggers, are they? Thank you. And where are they sailing to? Do you know?”
“Away down-long, south’ard o’ the Scillies mostly, arter mackerl. Theer’s a power o’ mackerl bein’ catched just now–thousands an’ thousands–but some o’ they booats be laskin’–that’s just fishin’ off shore.”
“Ah, a busy time for the fishermen.”
“Thank you. Good-morning.”
He started as though to continue his walk along the cliffs beyond the plateau and the gorse; then he stopped suddenly, actuated, as it seemed, by a chance thought, and turned back to the girl. She was looking out to sea again.
“By the way,” he said, unconcernedly, and with no suggestion that anything in particular was responsible for his politeness. “I see you are on the lookout there for something. You may have my glass a moment, if you like, before I go on. They bring the ships very close.”
The girl flushed with shy pleasure and seemed a little uncertain what to answer. Barron, meanwhile, showed no trace of a smile, but looked bored if anything, and, with a serious face, handed her the glass, then walked a little way off. He was grave and courteous, but made no attempt at friendship. He had noticed when Joan smiled that her teeth were fine, and that her full face, though sweet enough, was a shade too plump.
“Thank ‘e kindly, sir,” she said, taking the glass. “You see theer’s a gert ship passin’ down Channel, an’–an’ my Joe’s aboard ‘er, an’ they’m bound for furrin’ paarts, an’ I promised as I’d come to this here horny-winky [Footnote: _Horny-winky_–Lonely. Fit place for horny-winks.] plaace to get a last sight o’ the vessel if I could.” He made no answer, and, after a pause, she spoke again.
“I caan’t see naught, but that’s my fault, p’raps, not bein’ used to sich things.”
“Let me try and find the ship,” he said, taking the glass, which he had put out of focus purposely. Then, while scanning the horizon where he had noted the smoke-trail, he spoke, his head turned from her.
“Who’s Joe, if I may ask? Your brother, I daresay?”
“No, sir; Joe’m my sweetheart.”
“There’s a big three-masted ship being taken down the Channel by a small steamer.”
“Ah! then I reckon that’s the ‘Anna,’ ’cause Joe said ’twas tolerable certain they’d be in tow of a tug.”
“You can see the smoke on the edge of the sea. Look below it.”
He handed the glasses to her again and heard a little laugh of delight break from her lips. The surprise of the suddenly-magnified spectacle, visible only as a shadow to the naked eye, brought laughter; and Barron, now that the girl’s attention was occupied, had leisure to look at her. She was more than a pretty cottage maid, and possessed some distinction and charm. There was a delicacy about her too–a sweet turn of lip, a purity of skin, a set of limb–which gave the lie to her rough speech. She was all Saxon to look at, with nothing of the Celt about her excepting her name and the old Cornish words upon her lips. Those he rejoiced in, for they showed that she still remained a free thing, primitive, innocent of School Boards, or like frost-biting influences.
Barron took mental notes. Joan Tregenza was a careless young woman, it seemed. Her dress had a button or two missing in front, and a safety-pin had taken their place. Her drab skirt was frayed a little and patched in one corner with a square of another material. But the colors were well enough, from the artist’s point of view. He noted also that the girl’s stockings were darned and badly needed further attention, for above her right shoe-heel a white scrap of Joan was visible. Her hands were a little large, but well shaped; her pose was free and fine, though the field-glasses spoiled the picture and the sun-bonnet hid the contour of her head.
“So you walked out from Mouzle to see the last of Joe’s ship?” he asked, quite seriously and with no light note in his voice.
“From Newlyn. I ed’n a Mouzle maid,” she answered.
“Is the ‘Anna’ coming home again soon?”
“No, sir. Her’s bound for the Gulf of Californy, round t’other side the world, Joe sez. He reckons to be back agin’ come winter.”
“That’s a long time.”
But there was no sentiment about the answer. Joan gazed without a shadow of emotion at the vanishing ship, and alluded to the duration of her sweetheart’s absence in a voice that never trembled. Then she gave the glass back to Barron with many thanks, and evidently wanted to be gone, but stopped awkwardly, not quite knowing how to depart.
Meanwhile, showing no further cognizance of her, Barron took the glasses himself and looked at the distant ship.
“A splendid vessel,” he said. “I expect you have a picture of her, haven’t you?”
“No,” she answered, “but I’ve got a lil ship Joe cut out o’ wood an’ painted butivul. Awnly that’s another vessel what Joe sailed in afore.”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said, “because you were good enough to explain all about the fishing-boats. I’ll make a tiny picture of the ‘Anna’ and paint it and give it to you.”
But the girl took fright instantly.
“You’m a artist, then?” she said, with alarm in her face and voice.
He shook his head.
“No, no. Do I look like an artist? I’m only a stranger down here for a day or two. I paint things sometimes for my own amusement, that’s all.”
“They are not worth calling pictures. Just scraps of the sea and trees and cliffs and sky, to while away the time and remind me of beautiful things after I have left them.”
“You ban’t a artist ezacally, then?”
“Certainly not. Don’t you like artists?”
“Faither don’t. He’m a fisherman an’ caan’t abear many things as happens in the world. An’ not artists. Genlemen have arsked him to let ’em take my picksher, ’cause they’ve painted a good few maidens to Newlyn; an’ some of ’em wanted to paint faither as well; but he up an’ sez ‘No!’ short. Paintin’s vanity ‘cordin’ to faither, same as they flags an’ cannels an’ moosic to Newlyn church is vanity. Most purty things is vanity, faither reckons.”
“I’m sure he’s a wise man. And I think he’s right, especially about the candles and flags in church. And now I must go on my walk. Let me see, shall I bring you the little picture of Joe’s ship here? I often walk out this way.”
He assumed she would take the picture, and now she feared to object. Moreover, such a sketch would be precious in her eyes.
“Maybe ’tis troublin’ of ‘e, sir?”
“I’ve promised you. I always keep my word. I shall be here to-morrow about mid-afternoon, because it is lonely and quiet and beautiful. I’m going to try and paint the gorse, all blazing so brightly against the sky.”
“Them prickly fuzz-bushes?”
“Yes; because they are very beautiful.”
“But they’m everywheres. You might so well paint the bannel [Footnote: _Bannel_–Broom.] or the yether on the moors, mightn’t ‘e?”
“They are beautiful, too. Remember, I shall have Joe’s ship for you to-morrow.”
He nodded without smiling, and turned away until a point of the gorse had hidden her from sight. Then he sat down, loaded his pipe, and reflected.
“‘Joe’s ship,'” he said to himself, “a happy title enough.”
And meantime the girl had looked after him with wonder and some amusement in her eyes, had rubbed her chin reflectively–a habit caught from her father–and had then scampered off smiling to herself.
“What a funny gent,” she thought, “never laughs nor nothin’. An’ I judged he was a artist! But wonnerful kind, an’ wonnerful queer, wi’ it, sure ‘nough.”
Joan Tregenza lived in a white cottage already mentioned: that standing just beyond Newlyn upon a road above the sea. The cot was larger than it appeared from the road and extended backward into an orchard of plum and apple-trees. The kitchen which opened into this garden was stone-paved, cool, comfortable, sweet at all times with the scent of wood smoke, and frequently not innocent of varied fishy odors. But Newlyn folk suck in a smell of fish with their mothers’ milk. ‘Tis part of the atmosphere of home.
When Joan returned from her visit to Gorse Point, she found a hard-faced woman, thin of figure, with untidy hair, wrinkled brow and sharp features, engaged about a pile of washing in the garden at the kitchen-door. Mrs. Tregenza heard the girl arrive, and spoke without lifting her little gray eyes from the clothes. Her voice was hard and high and discontented, like that of one who has long bawled into a deaf man’s ear and is weary of it.
“Drabbit you! Wheer you bin? Allus trapsing out when you’m wanted; allus caddlin’ round doin’ nothin’ when you ban’t. I s’pose you think breakfus’ can be kep’ on the table till dinner, washing-day or no?”
“I don’t want no breakfus’, then. I tuke some bread an’ drippin’ long with me. Wheer’s Tom to?”
“Gone to schule this half-hour. ‘Tis nine o’clock an’ past. Wheer you bin, I sez? ‘Tain’t much in your way to rise afore me of a marnin’.”
“Out through Mouzle to Gorse P’int to see Joe’s ship pass by; an’ I seen en butivul.”
“Thank the Lard he’s gone. Now, I s’pose, theer’ll be a bit peace in the house, an’ you’ll bide home an’ work. My fingers is to the bone day an’ night.”
“He’ll be gone a year purty nigh.”
“Well, the harder you works, the quicker the time’ll pass by. Theer’s nuthin’ to grizzle at. Sea-farin’ fellers must be away most times. But he’m a good, straight man, an’ you’m tokened to en, an’ that’s enough. Bide cheerful an’ get the water for washin’. If they things of faither’s bant dry come to-morrer, he’ll knaw the reason why.”
Joan accepted Mrs. Tregenza’s comfort philosophically, though her sweetheart’s departure had not really caused her any emotion. She visited the larder, drank a cup of milk, and then, fetching an iron hoop and buckets, went to a sunken barrel outside the cottage door, into which, from a pipe through the road-bank, tumbled a silver thread of spring water.
Of the Tregenza household a word must needs be spoken. Joan’s own mother had died twelve years ago, and the anxious-natured woman who took her place proved herself a good step-parent enough. Despite a disposition prone to worry and to dwell upon the small tribulations of life, Thomasin Tregenza was not unhappy, for her husband enjoyed prosperity and a reputation for godliness unequaled in Newlyn. A great, weather-worn, gray, hairy man was he, with a big head and a furrowed cliff of a forehead that looked as though it had been carved by its Creator from Cornish granite. Tregenza indeed might have stood for a typical Cornish fisher–or a Breton. Like enough, indeed, he had old Armorican blood in his veins, for many hundreds of Britons betook themselves to ancient Brittany when the Saxon invasion swept the West, and many afterward returned, with foreign wives, to the homes of their fathers. Michael Tregenza had found religion, of a sort fiery and unlovely enough, but his convictions were definite, with iron-hard limitations, and he looked coldly and without pity on a damned world, himself saved. Gray Michael had no sympathy with sin and less with sinners. He found the devil in most unexpected quarters and was always dragging him out of surprising hiding-places and exhibiting him triumphantly, as a boy might show a bird’s egg or butterfly. His devil dwelt at penny readings, at fairs and festivals, in the brushes of the artists, in a walk on a Sunday afternoon undertaken without a definite object, sometimes in a primrose given by a boy to a girl. Of all these bitter, self-righteous, censorious little sects which raise each its own ladder to the Throne of Grace at Newlyn, the Luke Gospelers was the most bitter, most self-righteous, most censorious. And of all those burning lights which reflected the primitive savagery of the Pentateuch from that fold, Gray Michael’s beacon flamed the fiercest and most bloody red. There was not a Gospeler, including the pastor of the flock, but feared the austere fisherman while admiring him.
Concerning his creed, at the risk of wearying you, it must be permitted to speak here; for only by grasping its leading features and its vast unlikeness to the parent tree can a just estimate of Michael Tregenza be arrived at. Luke Gospeldom had mighty little to do with the Gospel of Luke. The sect numbered one hundred and thirty-four just persons, at war with principalities and powers. They were saturated with the spirit of Israel in the Wilderness, of Esau, when every man’s hand was against him. At their chapel one heard much of Jehovah, the jealous God, of the burning lakes and the damnation reserved for mankind, as a whole. Every Luke Gospeler was a Jehovah in his own right. They walked hand in hand with God; they realized the dismay and indignation Newlyn must occasion in His breast; they sympathized heartily with the Everlasting and would have called down fire from Heaven themselves if they could. Many openly wondered that He delayed so long, for, from a Luke Gospeler’s point of view, the place with its dozen other chapels–each held in error by the rest, and all at deadly war among themselves–its most vile ritualistic church of St. Peter, its public-houses, scandals, and strifes, was riper for destruction than Sodom. However, the hundred and thirty-four served to stave off celestial brimstone, as it seemed.
It is pitiable, in the face of the majestic work of John Wesley in Cornwall, to see the shattered ruins of it which remain. When the Wesleys achieved their notable revival and swept off the dust of a dead Anglicanism which covered religious Cornwall like a pall in the days of the Georges, the old Celtic spirit, though these heroes found it hard enough to rekindle, burst from its banked-up furnaces at last and blazed abroad once more. That spirit had been bred by the saint bishops of Brito-Celtic days, and Wesley’s ultimate success was a grand repetition of history, as extant records of the ancient use of the Church in Cornwall prove. Its principle was that he who filled a bishop’s office should, before all things, conduct and develop missionary enterprise; and the moral and physical courage of the Brito-Celtic bishops, having long slumbered, awoke again in John Wesley. He built on the old foundations, he gave to the laymen a power at that time blindly denied them by the Church–the power which Irish and Welsh and Breton missionary saints of old had vested in them. Wesley–himself a giant–made wise use of the strong where he found them, and if a man–tinker or tinner, fisher or jowster–could preach and grip an audience, that man might do so. Thus had the founders of the new creed developed it; thus does the Church to-day; but when John Wesley filled his empty belly with blackberries at St. Hilary, in 1743; when he thundered what he deemed eternal truth through Cornwall, year after year for half a century; when he faced a thousand perils by sea and land and spent his arduous days “in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness”; when, in fine, this stupendous man achieved the foundations of Methodism, the harvest was overripe, at any rate, in Cornwall. No Nonconformist was he, though few enough of his followers to-day remember that, if they ever knew it. He worked for his church; he was a link between it and his party; his last prayer was for church and king–a fact which might have greatly shocked the Luke Gospelers had such come to their ears. For John Wesley was their only saint, and they honestly believed that they alone of all Methodist communities were following in his footsteps. Poor souls! they lived as far from what Wesley taught as it is easily possible to conceive. As for Gray Michael, he was under the impression that he and his sect worthily held aloft the true light which Wesley brought in person to Newlyn, and he talked with authority upon the subject of his master and his master’s doings. But he knew little about the founder of Methodism in reality, and still less about the history of the Methodist movement. Had he learned that John Wesley himself was once accused of Popish practices; had he known that not until some years after the great preacher’s death did his party, in conference assembled, separate itself from the Church of England, he had doubtless been much amazed. Though saturated with religious feeling, the man was wholly ignorant of religious history in so far as it affected his own country. To him all saints not mentioned in Scripture were an abomination and invention of Rome. Had he been informed that the venerable missionary saints of his mother land were in no case Romish, another vast surprise must have awaited him.
Let it not for an instant be supposed that the Luke Gospelers represented right Methodism. But they fairly exemplified a sorry side of it; those little offshoots of which dozens have separated from the parent tree; and they exhibited most abundantly in themselves that canker-worm of Pharisaism which gnaws at the root of all Nonconformity. This offense, combined with such intolerance and profound ignorance as was to be found amid the Luke Gospelers, produced a community merely sad or comic to consider according to the point of view.
An instance of Michael Tregenza’s attitude to the Church will illustrate better than analysis the lines of thought on which he served his Creator.
Once, when she was thirteen, Joan had gone to an evening service at St. Peter’s, because a friend had dared her to do so. Her father was at sea and she believed the delinquency could by no possibility reach his ears. But a Luke Gospeler heard the dread tidings and Michael Tregenza was quickly informed of his daughter’s lapse. He accused Joan quietly enough, and she confessed.
“Then you’m a damned maiden,” he said, “’cause you sinned open-eyed.”
He thought the matter over for a week, and finally an idea occurred to him.
“‘Tis wi’in the power o’ God to reach even you back,” he declared to Joan, “an’ He’s put in my mind that chastenin’ might do it. A sore body’s saved many sowls ‘fore now.”
Whereupon he took his daughter into the little parlor, shut the door, and then flogged her as he would have flogged a boy–only using his hard hand instead of a stick. “Get thee behind her, Satan! Get thee behind her, Satan! Get thee behind her, Satan!” he groaned with every blow, while Joan grit her teeth and bore it as long as she could, then screamed and fainted. That was how the truth about heaven and hell came to her. She had never felt physical pain before, and eternal torment was merely an idea. From that day, however, she was frightened and listened to her father gladly and wept tears of thankfulness when, a month after her flogging, he explained that he had wrestled with the Lord for her soul and how it had been borne in upon him that she was saved alive. She had reached the age of seventeen now, and felt quite confident upon the subject of eternity as became a right Luke Gospeler. Unlike other women of the sect, however, and despite extreme ignorance on all subjects, the girl had a seed of humor in her nature only waiting circumstances to ripen. She felt pity, too, for the great damned world, and though religion turned life sad-colored, her own simple, healthy, animal nature and high spirits brought ample share of sunshine and delight. She was, in fact, her mother’s child rather than her father’s. His ancestors before him had fought the devil and lived honest lives under a cloud of fear; Michael’s own brother had gone religious mad, when still a young man, and died in a lunatic asylum; indeed the awful difficulty of saving his soul had been in the blood of every true Tregenza for generations. But Joan’s mother came of different stock. The Chirgwins were upland people. They dwelt at Drift and elsewhere, went to the nearest church, held simple views, and were content with orthodox religion. Mr. Tregenza said of them that they always wanted and expected God to do more than His share. But he married Joan Chirgwin, nevertheless; and now he saw her again, fair, trustful, light-hearted, in his daughter. The girl indeed had more of her mother in her than Gray Michael liked. She was superstitious, not after the manner of the Tregenzas, but in a direction that must have brought her father’s loudest thunders upon her head if the matter had come to his ears. She loved the old stories of the saints and spirits, she gloried secretly in the splendid wealth of folklore and tradition her mother’s people and those like them possessed at command. Her dead parent had whispered and sung these matters into Joan’s baby ears until her father stopped it. She remembered how black he looked when she lisped about the piskeys; and though to-day she half believed in demon and fairy, goblin and giant, and quite believed in the saints and their miracles, she kept this side of her intelligence close locked when at home, and only nodded very gravely when her father roared against the blighting credulity of men’s minds and the follies for which fishers and miners, and indeed the bulk of the human family in Cornwall, must some day burn.
People outside the fold said that the Luke Gospelers killed Tregenza’s first wife. She, of course, accepted her husband’s convictions, but it had never been in her tender heart to catch the true Luke Gospel spirit. She was too full of the milk of human kindness, too prone to forgive and forget, too tolerant and ready to see good in all men. The fiery sustenance of the new tenets withered her away like a scorched flower, and she died five years after her child was born. For a space of two years the widower remained one; then he married again, being at that time a hale man of forty, the owner of his own fishing-boat, and at once the strongest personality and handsomest person in Newlyn. Thomasin Strick, his second wife, was already a Luke Gospeler and needed no conversion. People laughed in secret at their wooing, and likened it to the rubbing of granite rocks or a miner’s pick striking fire from tin ore. A boy presently came to them; and now he was ten and his mother forty. She passed rightly for a careful, money-loving soul, and a good wife, with the wit to be also a good Luke Gospeler. But her tongue was harder than her heart. Father and mother alike thought the wide world of their boy, though the child was brought up under an iron rod. Joan, too, loved her half-brother, Tom, very dearly, and took a pride only second to her stepmother’s in the lad’s progress and achievements. More than once, though only Joan and he knew it, she had saved his skin from punishment, and she worshiped him with a frank admiration which was bound to win Mrs. Tregenza’s regard. Joan quite understood the careful and troubled matron, never attached undue importance to her sharp words, and was usually at her elbow with an ear for all grievances and even a sympathetic word if the same seemed called for. Mrs. Tregenza had to grumble to live, and Joan was the safety-valve, for when her husband came off the sea he would have none of it.
Life moved uniformly for these people, being varied only by the seasons of the year and the different harvests from the sea which each brought with it. Pollock, mackerel, pilchards, herrings–all had their appointed time, and the years rolled on, marked by events connected with the secular business of life on one hand and that greater matter of eternity upon the other. Thus mighty catches of fish held the memory with mighty catches of men. One year the take of mackerel had been beyond all previous recollection; on another occasion three entire families had joined the Luke Gospelers, and so promised to increase the scanty numbers of the chosen. There were black memories, too, and black years, casting gloomy shadows. Widows and orphans knew what it was to watch for brown sails that came into the harbor’s sheltering arms no more; and spiritual death had overtaken more than one Luke Gospeler. Such turned their backs upon the light and exchanged Truth for the benighted parody of religion displayed by Bible Christians, by Plymouth Brethren or by the Church of England.
Six months before the day on which she saw his ship through Barron’s glasses, Joan had been formally affianced to Joe Noy, with her father’s permission and approval. The circumstances of the event demand a word, for Joe had already been engaged once before: to Mary Chirgwin, a young woman who was first cousin to Joan and a good deal older. She was an orphan and dwelt at Drift with Thomas Chirgwin, her uncle. The sailor had thereby brightened an unutterably lonely life and brought earthly joy to one who had never known it. Then Gray Michael got hold of the lad, who was naturally of a solid and religious temperament, and up to that time of the order of the Rechabites. As a result, Joe Noy joined the Luke Gospelers and called upon his sweetheart to do likewise. But she recollected her aunt, Joan’s mother, and being made of stern stuff, stuck to the Church of England as she knew it, counting salvation a greater thing than even a home of her own. The struggle was sharp between them; neither would give way; their engagement was therefore broken, and the girl’s solitary golden glimpse of happiness in this world shattered. She found it hard to forgive the Tregenzas, and when, six months afterward, the sleepy farm life at Drift was startled by news of Joan’s love affair, Mary, in the first flush of her reawakened agony, spoke bitterly enough; and even that most mild-mannered of men, her uncle, said that Michael Tregenza had done an ugly act.
But the fisherman was at no time concerned with Mary or with Joan. The opportunity to get a soul into the fold had offered and been accepted. Any matter of earthly love-making counted little beside this. When Joe broke with Mary, his mentor declared the action inevitable, as the girl would not alter her opinions, and when, presently, young Noy fell in love with Joan, her father saw no objection, for the sailor was honest, already a stanch Luke Gospeler and a clean liver.
Perhaps at that moment there was hardly another eligible youth in Newlyn from Tregenza’s point of view. He held Joan a girl to be put under stern marital rule as soon as possible, and Joe promised to make a godly husband with a strong will, while his convictions and view of life were altogether satisfactory, being modeled on Michael’s own. The arrangement suited Joan. She believed she loved Joe very dearly, and she looked forward with satisfaction to marrying him in about a year’s time, when he should have won a ship-master’s certificate. But she viewed his departure without suffering and would not have willingly foregone her remaining year of freedom. She respected Joe very much and knew he would make a good partner and give her a position above the everyday wives of Newlyn; moreover, he was a fine figure of a man. But he lacked mental breadth, and that fact sometimes tickled her dormant sense of humor. He copied her father so exactly, and she, who lived with the real thunder, never could show sufficient gravity or conviction in the presence of the youthful and narrow-minded Noy’s second-hand echoes. Mary Chirgwin was naturally a thousand times more religious-minded than Joan, and sometimes Joe wished the sober mind of his first love could be transported to the beautiful body of his second; but he kept this notion to himself, studied to please his future father-in-law, which he succeeded in doing handsomely, and contented himself, in so far as his lady was concerned, by reflecting that the necessary control over her somewhat light mind would be his in due season.
To return from this tedious but necessary glimpse at the position and belief of these people to Joan and the washing, it is to be noted that she quickly made up for lost time, and, without further mentioning the incidents of her morning’s excursion, began to work. She pulled up her sleeves, dragged her dress about her waist, then started to cleanse the thick flannels her father wore at sea, his long-tailed shirts and woolen stockings. The Tregenzas were well-to-do folk, and did not need to use the open spaces of the village for drying of clothes. Joan presently set up a line among the plum-trees, and dawdled over the hanging out of wet garments, for it was now noon, sunny, mild, and fresh, with a cool salt breeze off the sea. The winter repose of the bee-butts had been broken at last, and the insects were busy with the plum-blossom and among the little green flowerets on the gooseberry bushes. Beyond, sun-streaked and bright, extended apple-trees with whitewashed stems and a twinkle of crimson on their boughs, where buds grew ripe for the blowing.
Joan yawned and blinked up at the sun to see if it was dinner time. Then she watched a kitten hunting the bees in the gooseberry bushes. Presently the little creature knocked one to the ground and began to pat it and pounce upon it. Then the bee, using Nature’s weapon to preserve precious life, stung the kitten; and the kitten hopped into the air much amazed. It shook its paw, licked it, shook it again. Joan laughed, and two pigs at the bottom of the garden heard her and grunted and squealed as they thrust expectant noses through the palings of their sty. They connected the laugh with their dinner, but Joan’s thoughts were all upon her own.
A few minutes later Thomasin Tregenza called her, and, as they sat down, Tom arrived from school. He was a brown-faced, dark-eyed, black-haired youngster, good-looking enough, but not at that moment.
“Aw! Jimmery! fightin’ agin,” said his mother, viewing two swollen lips, a bulged ear, and an eye half closed.
“I’ve downed Matthew Bent, Joan! Ten fair rounds, then he gived up.”
“Fight, fight, fight–’tis all you think of,” said his parent, while Joan poured congratulations on the conqueror.
“‘Tweer bound to come arter the football, when he played foul, an’ I tawld en so. Now, we’m friends.”
“Be he bruised same as you?”
“A sight worse; he’s a braave picksher, I tell ‘e! I doubt he won’t come to schule this arternoon. That’ll shaw. I be gwaine, if I got to crawl theer.”
“An’ him a year older than what you be!” said Joan.
“Iss, Mat’s ‘leben year old. I’ll have some vinegar an’ brown paper to this here eye, mother.”
“Ait your mayte, ait your mayte fust,” she answered. “Plague ‘pon your fightin’!”
“But that Bent bwoy’s bin at en for months; an’ a year older too,” said Joan.
“Iss, the bwoy’s got no more’n what ‘e desarved. For that matter, they Bents be all puffed up, though they’m so poor as rats, an’ wi’out ‘nough religion to save the sawl of a new-born babe ‘mongst the lot of ’em.”
Tom, with his mouth full of fish and potato pie, told the story of his victory, and the women made a big, hearty meal and listened.
“He cockled up to me, an’ us beginned fightin’ right away, an’ in the third round I scat en on the mouth an’ knocked wan ‘is teeth out. An’ in the fifth round he dropped me a whister-cuff ‘pon the eye as made me blink proper.”
“Us doan’t want to knaw no more ’bout it,” declared his mother after dinner was over. “You’ve laced en an’ that’s enough. You knaw what faither’ll say. You did ought to fight no battle but the Lard’s. Now clap this here over your eye for a bit, then be off with ‘e.”
Tom marched away to school earlier than usual that afternoon, while the women went to the door and watched him trudge off, both mightily proud of his performance and his battered brown face.
“He be a reg’lar lil apty-cock, [Footnote: _Apty-cock_–Brave, plucky youngster.] sure ‘nough!” said Joan.
Mrs. Tregenza answered with a nod and looked along the road after her son. There was a softer expression in her eyes as she watched him. Besides, she had eaten well and was comfortable. Now she picked her teeth with a pin, and snuffed the sea air, and gave a passing neighbor “good-afternoon” with greater warmth of manner than usual. Presently her mood changed; she noisily rated herself and her stepdaughter for standing idling; then both went back to their work.
BARRON BEGINS TO LEARN THE GORSE
Between four and five o’clock in the morning of the following day the master of the white cottage came home. His wife expected him and was getting breakfast when Michael tramped in–a very tall, square-built man, clad to the eye in tanned oilskin overalls, sou’wester, and jackboots. The fisherman returned to his family in high good temper; for the sea had yielded silvery thousands to his drift-nets, and the catch had already been sold in the harbor for a handsome figure. The brown sails of Tregenza’s lugger flapped in the bay among a crowd of others, and every man was in a hurry to be off again at the earliest opportunity. Already the first boats home were putting to sea once more, making a wide tack across the mouth of the bay until nearly abreast of St. Michael’s Mount, then tearing away like race horses with foam flying as they sailed before the eastern wind for the Scilly Islands and the mackerel.
Michael kissed his wife and Joan also, as she came to the kitchen sleepy-eyed in the soft light to welcome him. Then, while Mrs. Tregenza was busied with breakfast and the girl cleaned some fish, he went to his own small room off the kitchen and changed his clothes–all silvery, scale-spotted and blood-smeared–for the clean garments which were spread and waiting. First the man indulged in luxuries. He poured out a large tub of fresh water and washed himself; he even cleaned his nails and teeth–hyberbolic refinements that made the baser sort laugh at him behind his back.
At the meal which followed his toilet Tregenza talked to his wife and daughter upon various subjects. He spoke slowly and from the lungs with the deep echoing voice of one used to vocal exercise in the open air.
“I seed the ‘Anna’ yesterday, Joan,” he said, “a proud ship, full-rigged wi’ butivul lines. Her passed wi’in three mile of us or less off the islands.”
Joan did not hint at her visit to Gorse Point of the previous day, but her stepmother mentioned it, and her father felt called upon to reprimand his daughter, though not very seriously.
“‘Twas a empty, vain thing to do,” he said.
“I promised Joe, faither.”
“Why, then you was right to go, though a fulish thing to promise en. Wheer’s Tom to?”
Tom came down a minute later. The swelling of his lips was lessened, but his ear had not returned to a normal size and his eye was black.
“Fighting again?” Michael began, looking up from his saucer and fixing his eyes on his son.
“Please, faither, I–“
“Doan’t say naught. You’m so fond of it that I judges you’d best begin fightin’ the battle o’ life right on end. ‘Tain’t no use keepin’ you to schule no more. ‘Tis time you comed aboard.”
Tom crowed with satisfaction, and Mrs. Tregenza sighed and stopped eating. This event had been hanging over her head for many a long day now; but she had put the thing away, and secretly hoped that after all Tregenza would change his mind and apprentice the boy to a shore trade. However, Tom had made his choice, and his father meant him to abide by it. No other life appealed to the boy; heredity marked him for the sea, and he longed for the hard business to begin.
“I’ll larn you something besides fisticuffs, my beauty. ‘Tis all well-a-fine, this batterin’ an’ bruisin’, but it awnly breeds the savage in ‘e, same as raw meat do in a dog. No more fightin’ ‘cept wi’ dirty weather an’ high seas an’ contrary winds, an’ the world, the flaish an’ the devil. I went to sea as a lugger-bwoy when I was eight year old, an’ ain’t bin off the water more’n a month to wance ever since. This day two week you come along wi’ me. That’ll give mother full time to see ’bout your kit.”
Joan wept, Thomasin Tregenza whined, and Tom danced a break-down and rolled away to see some fisher-boy friends in the harbor before school began. Then Michael, calling his daughter to him, walked with her among his plum-trees, talked of God with some quotations, and looked at his pigs. Presently he busied himself and made ready for sea in a little outhouse where paint and ship’s chandlery were stored; and finally, the hour then being half past seven, he returned to his labors. Joan walked with him to the harbor and listened while he talked of the goodness of God to the Luke Gospelers at sea; how the mackerel had been delivered to them in thousands, and how the Bible Christians and Primitive Methodists had fared by no means so happily. The tide was high, and Gray Michael’s skiff waited for him at the pierhead beside the lighthouse. He soon climbed down into it, and the little boat, rowed by two strong pairs of hands, danced away to the fleet. Already the luggers were stretching off in a long line across the bay; and among them appeared a number of visitors: Lowestoft yawls come down to the West after the early mackerel. They were big, stout vessels, and many had steam-power aboard. Joan watched her father’s lugger start and saw it overhaul not a few smaller ships before she turned from the busy harbor homeward. That morning she designed to work with a will, for the afternoon was to be spent on Gorse Point if all went well, and she already looked forward somewhat curiously to her next meeting with the singular man who had lent her his field-glass.
Mrs. Tregenza was in sorry, snappy case all day. The blow had fallen, and within a fort-night Tom would go to sea. This dismal fact depressed her not a little, and she snuffled over her ironing, and her voice grated worse than usual upon the ear.
“He’s such a hot-headed twoad of a bwoy. I knaw he’ll never get on ‘pon the water. I doubt us’ll hear he’s bin knocked overboard or some sich thing some day; an’ them two brothers, they Pritchards, as allus sails ‘long wi’ Tregenza, they’m that comical-tempered every one knaws. Oh, my God, why couldn’ he let the bwoy larn a land trade–carpenterin’ or sich like?”
“But, you see, faither’s a rich man, an’ some time Tom’ll fill his shoes. Faither do awn his bwoat an’ the nets tu, which is more’n most Newlyn men does.”
“Iss, I should think ’twas,” said Mrs. Tregenza, forgetting her present sorrow in the memory of such splendid circumstances. “Theer ban’t wan feller as awns all like what faither do. The Lard helps His chosen, not but what Tregenza allus helped hisself an’ set the example to Newlyn from his boyhood.”
Mrs. Tregenza always licked her lips when she talked about money or religion, and she did so now.
Among Cornish drifters Gray Michael’s position was undoubtedly unique, for under the rules of the Cornish fishery he enjoyed exceptional advantages owing to his personal possession both of boat and nets. The owner of a drift-boat takes one-eighth part of the gross proceeds of a catch, and the remaining seven-eighths are divided into two equal parts of which one part is subdivided among the crew of the boat, while the other goes to the owner or owners of the nets used on board. The number of nets to a boat is about fifty as a rule, and a man to possess his own boat and outfit must be unusually well-to-do.
But it was partly for this reason that Mrs. Tregenza refused to be comforted. She grudged every farthing spent on anything, and much disliked the notion of tramping to Penzance to expend the greater part of a five-pound note on Tom’s sea outfit. In a better cause she would not have thought it ill to expend money upon him. His position pointed to something higher than a fisherman’s life. He might have aspired to a shop in the future together with a measure of worldly prosperity and importance not to be expected for any mere seafarer. But Tom had settled the matter by deciding for himself, and his father had approved the ambition, so there the matter ended, save for grumbling and sighing. Joan, too, felt sore enough at heart when she heard that the long-dreaded event lay but a fortnight in the future. But she knew her father, and felt sure that the certainty of Tom’s going to sea at the appointed time would now only be defeated by death or the Judgment Day. So she did not worry or fret. Nothing served to soothe her stepmother, however, and the girl was glad to slip off after dinner, leaving Thomasin with her troubles.
Joan made brisk way through Mousehole and in less than an hour stood out among the furzes in the little lonely theater above the cliffs. For a moment she saw nothing of John Barron, then she found him sitting on a camp-stool before a light easel which looked all legs with a mere little square patch of a picture perched upon them. Joan walked to within a few yards of the artist and waited for him to speak. But eye, hand, brain were all working together on the sketch before him, and if he saw the visitor at all, which was doubtful, he took no notice of her. Joan came a little closer, and still John Barron ignored her presence. Then she grew uncomfortable, and, feeling she must break the silence, spoke.
“I be come, sir, ‘cordin’ to what you said.”
He added a touch and looked up with no recognition in his eyes. His forehead frowned with doubt apparently, then he seemed to remember. “Ah, the young woman who told me about the luggers.” Suddenly he smiled at her, the first time she had seen him do so.
“You never mentioned your name, I think?”
“Joan Tregenza, sir.”
“I promised you a little picture of that big ship, didn’t I?”
“You was that kind, sir.”
“Well, I haven’t forgotten it. I finished the picture this morning and I think you may like it, but I had to leave it until to-morrow, because the paints take so long to dry.”
“I’m sure I thank you kindly, sir.”
“No need. To-morrow it will be quite ready for you, with a frame and all complete. You see I’ve begun to try and paint the gorse.” He invited her by a gesture to view his work. She came closer, and as she bent he glanced up at her with his face for a moment close to hers. Then she drew back quickly, blushing.
“‘Tis butivul–just like them fuzzes.”
He had been working for two hours before she came, painting a small patch of the gorse. Old gnarled stems wound upward crookedly, and beneath them lay a dead carpet of gorse needles with a blade or two of grass shooting through. From the roots and bases of the main stems sprouted many a shoot of young gorse, their prickles tender as the claws of a new-born kitten, their shape, color, and foliage of thorns quite different to the mature plant above. There, in the main masses of the shrub, mossy brown buds in clumps foretold future splendor. But already much gold had burst the sheath and was ablaze, scenting the pure air, murmured over by many bees.
“You could a’most pick thicky theer flowers,” declared Joan of the picture.
“Perhaps presently, when they are painted as I hope to paint them. This is only a rough bit of work to occupy my hand and eye while I am learning the gorse. Men who paint seriously have to learn trees and blossoms just as they have to learn faces. And we are never satisfied. When I have painted this gorse, with its thorns and buds, I shall sigh for more truth. I cannot paint the soul of each little yellow flower that opens to the sun; I cannot paint the sunny smell that is sweet in our nostrils now. God’s gorse scents the air; mine will only smell of fat oil. What shall I do?”
“No more does anybody. It can’t be helped. But I must try my best and make it real–each spike, as I see it–the dead gray ones on the ground and the live green ones on the tree, and the baby ones and the old gray-pointed ones, which have seen their best days and will presently die and fall–I must paint them all, Joan.”
“Don’t laugh,” he said, very seriously. “Only an artist would laugh at me, not you who love Nature. There lives a great painter, Joan, who paints pictures that nobody else in the wide world can paint. He is growing old, but he is not too old to take trouble still. Once, when he was a young man, he drew a lemon-tree far away in Italy. It was only a little lemon-tree, but the artist rose morning after morning and drew it leaf by leaf, twig by twig, until every leaf and bud and lemon and bough had appeared. It was not labored and false; it was grand because it was true: a joy forever; work Old Masters had loved; full of distinction and power and patience almost Oriental. A thing, Joan Tregenza, worth a wilderness of ‘harmonies’ and ‘impressions,’ ‘nocturnes’ and ‘notes,’ smudges and audacities. But I suppose that is all gibberish to you?”
“Iss, so it be,” she admitted.
“Learn to love everything that is beautiful, my good child. But I think you do, unconsciously perhaps.”
“I don’t take much ‘count of things.” “Yes, unconsciously. You have a cowslip there stuck in your frock, though where you got it from I can’t imagine. The flower is a month too early.”
“Iss, ’tis, I found en in a lew, sunshiny plaace. Us have got a frame for growin’ things under glass, an’ it had bin put down ‘pon top this cowslip an’ drawed ‘en up.”
“Will you give it to me?”
She did so, and he smelled it.
“D’you know that the green of the cowslip is the most beautiful green in all Nature, Joan? Here, I have a flower, too; we will exchange if you like.”
He took a scrap of blackthorn bloom from his coat and held it out to her, but she shrank backward and he learned something.
“Please not that–truly ’tis the dreadfulest wicked flower. Doan’t ‘e arsk I to take en.”
“Iss fay! Him or her as first brings blackthorn in the house dies afore it blows again. Truth–solemn–us all knaws it down in these paarts. ‘Tis a bewitched thing–a wicked plant, an’ you can see it grawin’ all humpetty-backed an’ bent an’ crooked. Wance, when a man killed hisself, they did use to bury en wheer roads met an’ put a blackthorn stake through en; an’ it all us grawed arter; an’ that’s the worstest sort o’ all.”
“Dear, dear, I’m glad you told me, Joan; I will not wear it, nor shall you,” he said, and flung it down and stamped on it very seriously.
The girl was gratified.
“I judge you’m a furriner, else you’d knawn ’bout the wickedness o’ blackthorn.”
“I am. Thank you very much. But for you I should have gone home wearing it. That puts me in your debt, Joan.”
“‘Tain’t nothin’, awnly there’s a many coorious Carnish things like that. An’ coorious customs what some doan’t hold with an’ some does.”
She sat down near the cliff edge with her back to him, and he smiled to himself to find how quickly his mild manners and reserve had put the girl at her ease. She looked perfect that afternoon and he yearned to begin painting her; but his scheme of action demanded time for its perfect fulfillment and ultimate success. He let the little timorous chatterbox talk. Her voice was soft and musical as the cooing of a wood-dove, and the sweet full notes chimed in striking contrast to her uncouth speech. But Joan’s diction gave pleasure to the listener. It had freedom and wildness, and was almost wholly innocent of any petrifying educational influences.
Joan, for her part, felt at ease. The man was so polite and so humble. He thanked her for her information so gratefully. Moreover, he evidently cared so little about her or her looks. She felt perfectly safe, for it was easy to see that he thought more of the gorse than anything.
“My faither’s agin such things an’ sayin’s,” she babbled on, “but I dunnaw. They seems truth to me, an’ to many as is wiser than what I be. My mother b’lieved in ’em, an’ Joe did, till faither turned en away from ’em. But when us plighted troth, I made en jine hands wi’ me under a livin’ spring o’ water, though he said ’twas heathenish. Awnly, somehow, I knawed ’twas a proper thing to do.”
“I should like to hear more about these old customs some day,” he said, as though Joan and he were to meet often in the future, “and I should be obliged to you for telling me about them, because I always delight in such matters.”
She was quicker of mind than he thought, and rose, taking his last remark as a hint that he wished to be alone.
“Don’t go, Joan, unless you must. I’m a very lonely man, and it is a great pleasure to me to hear you talk. Look here.”
She approached him, and he showed her a pencil sketch now perched on the easel–a drawing considerably larger than that upon which he had been working when she arrived.
“This is a rough idea of my picture. It is going to be much larger though, and I have sent all the way to London for a canvas on which to paint it.”
‘”Twill be a gert big picksher then?”
“So big that I think I must try and get something into it besides the gorse. I want something or other in the middle, just for a change. What could I paint there?”
“No more do I. I wonder how that little white pony tethered yonder would do?”
“You’d never get the likes o’ him to bide still for ‘e.”
“No, I’m afraid not; and I doubt if I’m clever enough to paint him either. You see, I’m only a beginner–not like these clever artists who can draw anything. Well, I must think: to-morrow is Sunday. I shall begin my big picture on Monday if the weather keeps kind. I shall paint here, in the open air. And I will bring your ship, too, if you care to take the trouble to come for it.”
“Yes, an’ thank ‘e, sir.”
“Not at all. I owe you thanks. Just think if I had gone home with that horrid blackthorn.”
He turned to his work as though she were no longer present and the girl prepared to depart.
“I’ll bid you good-arternoon now, sir,” she said timidly.
He looked up with surprise.
“Haven’t you gone, Joan? I thought you had started. Good-by until Monday. Remember, if it is cold or rainy I shall not be here.”
The girl trotted off; and when she had gone Barren drew her from memory in the center of his sketch. The golden glories of the gorse were destined to be no more than a frame for something fairer.
John Barron made other preparations for his picture besides those detailed to Joan Tregenza. He designed a large canvas and proposed to paint it in the open air according to his custom. His health had improved, and the sustained splendor of the spring weather flattered hopes that, his model once won, the work he proposed would grow into an accomplished fact. There was no cottage where he might house his picture and materials within half a mile of Gorse Point, but a granite cow-byre rose considerably nearer, at a corner of an upland field. Wind-worn and lichen-stained it stood, situated not more than two hundred yards from the spot on which Barron’s picture was to be painted. A pathway to outlying farms cut the fields hard by the byre, and about it lay implements of husbandry–a chain harrow and a rusty plow. Black, tar-pitched double doors gave entrance to the shed, and light entered from a solitary window now roughly nailed up from the outside with boards. A padlock fastened the door, but, by wrenching down the covering of the window, Barron got sight of the interior. A smell of vermin and decay rose from the inner darkness; then, as his eyes focused the gloom, he noted a dry, spacious chamber likely enough to answer his purpose. Brown litter of last year’s fern filled one corner, and in it was marked a lair as of some medium-sized beast; elsewhere a few sacks with spades and picks and a small pile of potatoes appeared: the roots were all sprouting feebly from white eyes, as though they knew spring held the world, though neither sunshine warmed them nor soft earth aided their struggle for life. Here the man might well keep his canvas and other matters. Assuming that temporary possession of the shed was possible, his property would certainly be safe enough there; for artists are respected in and about Newlyn, and their needs considered when possible. A farm, known as Middle Hemyll, showed gray chimneys above the fields, half a mile distant, and, after finding the shed, Barron proceeded thither to learn its ownership. The master of Middle Hemyll speedily enlightened him, and the visitor learned that not only did he speak to the possessor of the cow-byre, but that Farmer Ford was a keen supporter of art, and would be happy to rent his outhouse for a moderate consideration.
“The land ban’t under pasture now, an’ the plaace ed’n much used just this minute, so you’m welcome if you mind to. My auld goat did live theer wance, but er’s dead this long time. Maybe you seed the carcass of en, outside? I’ll have the byre cleared come to-morrer; an’ if so be you wants winders in the roof, same as other paintin’ gents, you’ll have to put ’em theer wi’ your awn money.”
Barron explained that he only needed the shed as a storehouse for his picture and tools.
“Just so, just so. Then you’ll find a bwoy wi’ the key theer to-morrer, an’ all vitty; an’ you can pay in advancement or arter, as you please to. Us’ll say half-a-crown a week, if that’ll soot ‘e.”
The listener produced half-a-sovereign, much to Farmer Ford’s gratification, and asked that a lad or man might be found to return with him there and then to the shed.
“I am anxious to see the place and have it in order before I go back to Newlyn,” he explained. “I will pay you extra for the necessary labor, and it should not take above an hour.”
“No more ’twill, an’ I’ll come ‘long with ‘e myself this minute,” answered the other.
Getting a key to the padlock, and a big birch broom, he returned with Barron, and soon had the doors of the disused byre thrown open to the air.
“I shut en up when the auld goat went dead. Theer a used to lie in the corner, but now he’m outside, an’ I doubt the piskeys, what they talks ’bout, be mighty savage wi’ me for not buryin’ the beast, ’cause all fairies is ‘dicted to goats, they do say, an’ mighty fond o’ the milk of ’em.”
Farmer Ford soon cleared the place of potatoes, sacks, and tools. Then, taking his broom, he made a clean sweep of dust and dirt.
“Theer’s a many more rats here than I knawed seemin’ly,” he said, as he examined a sink in the stones of the floor, used for draining the stalls; “they come up here for sartain, an’ runs out ‘long the heydge to the mangel-wurzel mound, I lay.”
Without, evidences of the vermin were clear enough. Long hardened tracks, patted down by many paws, ran this way and that; and the main rat thoroughfare extended, as the farmer foretold, to a great mound where, stowed snugly in straw under earth, lay packed the remains of a mangel-wurzel crop. At one end the store had been opened and drawn upon for winter use; but a goodly pile of the great tawny globes still remained, small lemon-colored leaves sprouting from them. Farmer Ford, however, viewed the treasure without satisfaction.
“Us killed a power o’ sheep wi’ they blarsted roots last winter,” he said. “You’d never think now as the frost could touch ’em, but it did though, awin’ to the wicked long winter. It got to ’em, sure ‘nough, an’ theer was frost in ’em when us gived ’em to the sheep, an’ it rotted theer innards, poor twoads, an’ they died, more’n a score.”
Barron listened thoughtfully to these details, then pointed to an ugly sight beyond the wurzel mound.
“I should like that removed,” he said.
It was the dead goat, withered to a mummy almost, with horns and hide intact, and a rat-way bored through the body of the beast under a tunnel of its ribs.
“Jimmery! to see what them varmints have done to ‘en! But I’ll bury what’s left right on en; an’ I’ll stop the sink in the house, then you’ll be free of ’em.”
These things the farmer did, and presently departed, promising to revisit the spot ere long with some dogs and a ferret or two. So Barron was left master of the place. He found it dry, weather-proof and well suited to his requirements in every respect. The concerns which he had ordered from London would be with him by Saturday night if all went well, and he decided that they should be conveyed to the byre at an early hour on Monday morning.
The next day was Sunday, and half a dozen men, with Barron and Murdoch among them, strolled into Brady’s great whitewashed studio to see and criticise his academy picture which was finished. Everybody declared that the artist had excelled himself in “The End of the Voyage.” It represented a sweep of the rocky coast by the Lizard, a wide gray sand, left naked by the tide, with the fringe of a heavy sea churning on it, and sea-fowl strutting here and there. In the foreground, half buried under tangles of brown weed torn from the rocks by past storms, lay a dead sailor, and a big herring-gull, with its head on one side and a world of inquiry in its yellow eyes, was looking at him. Tremendous vigor marked the work, and only a Brady could have come safely through the difficulties which had been surmounted in its creation. Everybody sang praises, and Barron nodded warm approval, but said nothing until challenged.
“Now, find the faults, then tell me what’s good,” said the gigantic painter. He stood there, burly, hearty, physically splendid–the man of all others in that throng who might have been pointed to as the creator of the solemn gray picture before them.
“Leave fault-finding to Fleet Street,” said Barron; “let the press people tell you where you are wrong. I am no critic and I know what a mountain of hard work went to this.”
“That’s all right, old man; never mind the work–or me. Be impartial.”
“Why should I? To be impartial, as this world wags, is to be friendless.”
“Good Lord! d’you think I mind mauling? There’s something wrong or you wouldn’t be so deucedly evasive. Out with it!”
“Well, your sailor’s not dead.”
Brady roared with laughter.
“Man! the poor devil’s been in the water a week!”
“Not he. ‘Tis a mistake in nine painted corpses out of ten. If you want to paint a drowned man, wait till you’ve seen one close. That sailor in the seaweed’s asleep. Sleep is graceful, remember; death by drowning is generally ugly–stiff, stark, hideous, eyeless, fish-gnawed a week after the event. But what does it matter? You’ve painted a great picture. That sea, with the circular swirl, as each wave goes back into the belly of the next, is well done; and those lumps of spume fluttering above watermark–that was finely noted. Easy to write down in print, but difficult as the fiend to paint. And the picture is full of wind too. Your troubles are amply repaid and I congratulate you. A man who could paint that will go as far as he likes.”
The simple Brady forgot the powder in swallowing the jam. Barron had touched those things in his work which were precious to him. His impulsive nature took fire, and there was almost a quiver of emotion in his big voice as he answered:
“Damn it, you’re a brick! I’d sooner hear you praise those lumps of sea-spume, racing over the sand there, than see my picture on the line.”
But sentiment was strange to John Barron’s impersonal nature, and he froze.
“Another fault exists which probably nobody will tell you but me. Your seaweed’s great, and you knew it by heart before you painted it–that I’ll swear to, but your sleeper there would never lie in the line of it as you have him. Reflect: the sea must float the light weed after it could move him no more. He should be stogged in the sand nearer the sea.”
Brady, however, contested this criticism, and so the talk wore on until the men separated. But the Irishman called on Barron after midday dinner and together they strolled through Newlyn toward the neighboring village. Chance brought them face to face with two persons more vital to the narrative than themselves, and, pausing to chronicle the event of the meeting, we may leave the artists and follow those whom they encountered.
Gray Michael kept ashore on Sundays, and today, having come off the sea at dawn, was not again putting forth until next morning. He had attended meeting with his wife, his daughter and his son; he had dined also, and was now walking over to Mousehole that he might bring some religious comfort to a sorely stricken Luke Gospeler–a young sheep but lately won to the fold and who now lay at the point of death. Joan accompanied him, and upon the way they met John Barron and his companion. The girl blushed hotly and then chilled with a great disappointment, for Barron’s eyes were on the sea; he was talking as he passed by, and he apparently saw neither her nor her Sunday gown; which circumstance was a sorrow to Joan. But in reality Barron missed nothing. He had shivered at her green dress and poor finery long before she reached him. Her garb ruffled his senses and left him wounded.
“There goes your beauty,” laughed Brady; “how would you like to paint her in that frock with those sinful blue flowers in her hat?”
“Nature must weep to see the bizarre carnival these people enjoy on the Seventh Day,” answered the other. “Their duns and drabs, their russets and tawny tones of red and orange, are of their environment, the proper skins for their bodies; but to think of that girl brightening the eyes of a hundred louts by virtue of those fine feathers! Dream of her in the Stone Age, clad in a petticoat torn from a wolf, with her straw-colored hair to her waist and a necklace of shells or wild beasts’ teeth between her breasts! And the man–her father, I suppose–what a picture his cursed broadcloth and soft black hat make of him–like the head of a patriarch stuck on a tailor’s dummy.”
Meanwhile, ignorant of these startling criticisms, Mr. Tregenza and his daughter pursued their road, and presently stopped before a cottage in one of the cobble-paved alley-ways of Mousehole. A worn old woman opened the door and courtesied to Gray Michael. He wished her good-afternoon, then entered the cottage, first bidding Joan return in an hour. She had friends near at hand, and hurried off, glad to escape the sight of sickness and the prayers she knew that her father would presently deliver.
“How be en?” inquired the fisherman, and the widowed mother of the patient answered:
“Better, I do pray. Er was in the doldrums issterday an’ bad by night also, a dwaling an’ moaning gashly, but, the Lard be praised, he’m better in mind by now, an’ I do think ’tis more along of Bible-readin’ than all the doctor’s traade [Footnote: _Traade_–Physic.] he’ve took. I read to en ’bout that theer bwoy, the awnly son o’ his mother, an’ her a widder-wumman, an’ how as the Lard brought en round arter he’d gone dead.”
Gray Michael sniffed and made no comment.
“I’ll see en an’ put up a prayer or so,” he said.
“An’ the Lard’ll reward it, Mr. Tregenza.”
Young Albert Vallack greeted the visitor with even greater reverence than his mother had done. He and the old woman were Falmouth folks and had drifted Westerly upon the father’s death, until chance anchored them in Newlyn. Now the lad–a dissolute youth enough, until sudden illness had frightened him to religion–was dying of consumption, and dying fast, though as yet he knew it not.
“‘Tis handsome in you, a comin’ to see the likes o’ me,” said the patient, flushing with satisfaction. “You’m like the stickler at a wras’lin’ match, Mister Tregenza, sir; you sees fair play betwixt God an’ man.”
“So you’m better, Albert, your mother sez.”
“Iss, a bit. Theer’s more kick an’ sprawl [Footnote: _Kick an’ sprawl_–Strength, vitality.] in me than theer ‘ave bin; an’ I feels more hopeful like ’bout the future.”
Self-righteousness in a new-fledged Luke Gospeler, who had been of the fold but three months and whose previous record was extremely unsatisfactory, irritated Gray Michael not a little.
“Bwoy!” he said loudly, “doan’t ‘e be deceived that way. ‘Gird ‘e wi’ sackcloth, lament and howl; for the fierce anger o’ the Lard is _not_ turned back from us.’ Three months o’ righteousness is a purty bad set off ‘gainst twenty years o’ sin, an’ it doan’t become ‘e to feel hopeful, I ‘sure ye.”
The sick man’s color paled, and a certain note as of triumph in his voice died out of it. His mother had left them, feeling that her presence might hinder conversation and lessen the comfort which Mr. Tregenza had brought.
“I did ought to be chap-fall’n, I s’pose.”
“Iss, you did, my son, nobody more’n you. Maybe you’ll live; maybe you’ll die; but keep humble. I doan’t wish to deceive ‘e. Us ain’t had time to make no certainty ’bout things. You’m in the Lard’s hand, an’ it becomes ‘e to sing small, an’ remember what your life’s bin.”
The other grew uneasy and his voice faltered while he still fought for a happy eternity.
“I’d felt like ’twas all right arter what mother read.”
“Not so. God’s a just God ‘fore everything. Theer ed’n no favorin’ wi’ Him. I hopes you’ll live this many a day, Vallack; an’ then, when your hour comes, you’ll have piled up a tidy record an’ can go wi’ a certainty faacin’ you. Seems you’m better, an’ us at chapel’s prayed hot an’ strong to the Throne that you might be left to work out your salvation now your foot’s ‘pon the right road.”
“But if I dies, mister?”
“‘The prayer of the righteous man availeth much,'” answered Gray Michael evasively. “I be come,” he added, “to read the Scriptures to ‘e.”
“You all prayed for me, sir?”
“Iss, every man, but theer was no mincin’ matters, Albert. Us was arskin’ for a miserable sinner, a lost sheep awnly just strayed back, an’ we put it plain as that was so.”
“‘Tweer mighty kind o’ the Luke Gosp’lers, sir.”
“‘Twas their dooty. Now I be gwaine to read the Book.”
“I feels that uneasy now,” whined the sufferer, in a voice where fear spoke instead of hope, “but I s’pose ’tis a sign o’ graace I should be?”
“Iss, ’tis. I’ve comed to tell ‘e the truth, for ’tis ill as a man should be blind to facts on what may be his last bed ‘bove the airth. Listen to this, my son, an’ if theer’s anything you doan’t onderstand, arsk me an’ I’ll thraw light ‘pon it.”
He read, with loud, slow voice, the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah, and that glorious clarion of great promise gave Michael the lie and drowned his own religious opinions as thunder drowns the croaking of marsh frogs; but he knew it not. The brighter burned his own shining light, the blacker the shadows it threw upon the future of all sinners.
As Tregenza finished and put down his Bible, the other spoke and quoted eagerly:
“‘Incline your ear an’ come unto Me; fear, an’ your sawl shall live!’ Theer do seem a hope in that if it ed’n awver-bold me thinkin’ so?” he asked.
“That’s like them Church o’ Englanders, a tearin’ wan text away from t’others an’ readin’ it accordin’ as they pleases. I’ll expound it all to wance, as a God-fearin’ man did ought to treat the Scriptures.”
Gray Michael’s exposition illustrated nothing beyond his own narrow intellectual limitations. His cold cloud of words obscured the prophet’s sunshine, and the light went out of the dying man’s eyes, leaving only alarm. He trembled on the brink of the horrid truth; he heard it thinly veiled in the other’s stern utterance, saw it looking from his hard blue eyes. After the sermon, silence followed, broken by Vallack, who coughed once and again, then raised himself and braced his heart to the tremendous question that demanded answering.
“I wants your awn feelin’ like, mister. I must have it. I caan’t sleep no more wi’out knawin’ the best or worst. You be the justest man ever I seed or heard tell on out the Scriptures. An’ I wants ‘e to gimme your opinion like. S’pose you was the Judge an’ I comed afore ‘e an’ the Books was theer and you’d read ’em an’ had to conclude ‘pon ’em–?”
The fisherman reflected. Vallack’s proposition did not strike him as particularly grotesque. He felt it was a natural question, and he only regretted that it had been put, because, though he had driven more than one young man to righteousness along the path of terror, in this present case the truth came too late save to add another horror to death. He believed in all sincerity that as surely as the young man before him presently died, so surely would he be damned, but he saw no particular object in stating the fact. Such intelligence might tell upon Vallack’s physical condition–a thing of all others to be avoided, for Gray Michael held that the sufferer’s only chance of a happy eternity was increased and lengthened opportunity in time.
“It ed’n for me to sit in the Judgment Seat, Albert. ‘Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lard.’ You must allus hold in mind that theer’s mighty few saved alive, best o’ times. Many be called, but few chosen. Men go down to the graave every second o’ the day an’ night, but if you could see the sawls a streamin’ away, thicker’n a cloud of starlings, you’d find a mass, black as a storm, went down long, an’ awnly just a summer cloud like o’ the blessed riz up. Hell’s bigger’n Heaven; an’ er’s need to be, for Heaven’s like to be a lonely plaace, when all’s said. I won’t speak no more ’bout that subjec’. ‘Tis good fashion weather for ‘e just now, an us’ll hope as you ban’t gwaine to die for many a day.”
“Say it out, mister, say it out. I knaws what you means. You reckons if I gaws I’m lost.”
“My poor sawl, justice is justice; an’ the Lard’s all for justice an’ no less. Theer’s no favorin’ wi’ Him, Albert.”
“But mightn’t He favor the whole bilin’ of us–good’n bad–cause He made us?”
“Surely not. Wheer’s the justice o’ that? If He done that, how’d the godly get their fair dues–eh? Be the righteous man to share God’s Heaven wi’ publicans an’ sinners? That ed’n justice anyhow. Don’t fret, lad; tears won’t mend bad years. Bide quiet an’ listen to me whiles I pray for ‘e.”
The man in the bed had grown very white, his eyes burned wildly out of a shrunken face, and he gripped the sheets and shivered in pure physical terror.
“I caan’t die, I caan’t die, not yet,” he groaned, “pray to the Lard to keep me from dyin’ yet a while, mister. Arsk en to give me just a lil time, ’cause I’m that sorry for my scarlet sins.”
Thereupon Michael knelt, clasped his hands so close that the bent finger-joints grew white, raised his massive head upward and prayed with his eyes closed. The intercession for life ended, he rose up, shook Vallack by the hand, and so departed.
“Allus, when you’ve got the chance, bear the balm o’ Gilead to a sinner’s couch,” he said to his daughter as they walked home. “‘Tis the duty of man an’ maid to spread the truth an’ bring peace to the troubled, an’ strength to the weak-hearted, an’ rise up them that fall.”
A week later Mr. Tregenza heard how Albert Vallack had burst a blood-vessel and died, fighting horribly with awful invisible terrors.
“Another sawl gone down into the Pit,” he said. “I reckon fewer an’ fewer be chosen every year as the world do grow older an’ riper for the last fires.”
Joan found her sketch waiting for her the next day when she reached Gorse Point about eleven o’clock; and she also discovered John Barron with a large canvas before him. He had constructed his picture and already made many drawings for it. Now he knew exactly what he wanted, and he designed to paint Joan standing looking out at a distant sea which would be far behind the spectator of the picture. When she arrived, on a fine morning and mild, Barron rose from his camp-stool, lifted up a little canvas which stood framed at his side and presented it to her. The sketch in oils of the “Anna” was cleverer than Joan could possibly know, but she took no small delight in it and in the setting of rough deal brightly gilded.
“Sure ’tis truly good of ‘e, sir!”
“You are more than welcome. Only let me say one word, Joan. Keep your picture hidden away until Joe comes back from sea and marries you. From what you tell me, your father might not like you to have this trifle, and I should be very sorry to annoy him.”
“I waddun’ gwaine to show en,” she confessed. “I shall store the picksher away as you sez.”
“You are wise. Now look here, doesn’t this promise to be a big affair? The gorse will be nearly as large as life, and I’ve been wondering ever so long what I shall put in the middle; and whatever do you think I’ve thought of?”
“I dunnaw. That white pony us saw, p’raps?”
“No; something much prettier. How would it do, d’you think, if _you_ stood here in front of the gorse, just to fill up the middle piece of the picture?”
“Oh, no, no! My faither–“
“You misunderstand, Joan. I don’t want a picture of _you_, you know; I’m going to paint the gorse. But if you just stood here, you’d make a sort of contrast with your brown frock. Not a portrait at all, only just a figure to help the color. Besides, you mustn’t think I’m an artist, I shouldn’t go selling the picture or hanging it up for everybody to stare at it. I’m certain your father wouldn’t mind, and I’ll tell him all about it afterward, if you like.”
She hesitated and reflected with trouble in her eyes, while Barron quietly took the picture he had brought her and wrapped it up in a piece of paper. His object was to remind her without appearing to do so of her obligation to him, and Joan was clever enough to take the hint, though not clever enough to see that it was an intentional one.
“Would it be a long job, sir?” she asked at length.
“Yes, it would; because I’m a slow painter and rather stupid. But I should think it very, very kind of you. I’m not strong, you know, and I daresay this is the last picture I shall ever paint.”
“You ed’n strong, sir?”
“Not at all.”
She was silent, and a great sympathy rose in her girl’s heart, for frail health always made her sad.
“You don’t judge ’tis wrong then for a maiden to be painted in a picksher?”
“Certainly not, Joan. I should never suggest such a thing to you if I thought it was in the least wrong. I _know_ it isn’t wrong.”
“I seed you issterday,” she said, changing the subject suddenly, “but you dedn see me, did ‘e?”
“Yes, I did, and your father. He is a grand-looking man. By the way, Joan, I think I never told you my name. I’m called John; that’s short and simple, isn’t it?”
“Mister Jan,” she said.
“No, not ‘mister’–just ‘Jan,'” he answered, adopting her pronunciation. “I don’t call you ‘Miss’ Joan.”
She looked at once uncomfortable and pleased.
“We must be friends,” the man continued calmly, “now you have promised to let me put you here among the gorse bushes.”
“Sure, I dunnaw ’bout the picksher, Mister Jan.”
“Well, you would be doing me a great service. I want to paint you very much and I think you will be kind.”
He looked into her eyes with a steady, inquiring glance, and Joan experienced a new emotion. Joe had never looked like that; nor yet her father. She felt a will stronger than her own was busy with her inclinations. Volition remained free, and yet she doubted whether under any circumstances could she refuse his petition. As it happened, however, she already liked the man. He was so respectful and polite. Moreover, she felt sad to hear that he suffered in health. He would not ask her to do wrong and she felt certain that she might trust him. A trembling wish and a longing to comply with his request already mastered her mind.
“You’m sure–gospel truth–theer ed’n no harm in it?”
In five minutes he had posed her as he wished and was drawing, while every word he spoke put Joan more at her ease. The spice of adventure and secrecy fired her and she felt the spirit of romance in her blood, though she knew no name for it. Here was a secret delight knocking at the gray threshold of every-day life–an adventure which might last for many days.
Barron, to touch the woman in her if he could, harped upon her gown and the color of it, on her shoes and sun-bonnet–on everything but herself. Presently he reaped his reward.
“Ban’t you gwaine to paint my faace as well, Mister Jan.”
“Yes, if I can. But your eyes are blue, and blue eyes are hard to paint well. Yours are so very blue, Joan. Didn’t Joe ever tell you that?”
“No–that’s all fulishness.”
“Nothing that’s true is foolish. Now I’m going to make some little sketches of you, so as to get each fold and shadow in your dress right.”
Barron drew rapidly, and Joan–ever ready to talk to a willing listener when her confidence was won–prattled on, turning the conversation as usual to the matters she loved. Upon her favorite subjects she dared not open her mouth at home, and even her lover refused to listen to the legends of the land, but they were part of the girl’s life notwithstanding, drawn into her blood from her mother, a thousand times more real and precious than even the promised heaven of Luke Gospeldom, not to be wholly smothered at any time. Occasionally, indeed, uneasy fears that discussion of such concerns was absolutely sinful kept her dumb for a week, then the religious wave swept on, and Cornish folk-lore, with its splendor and romance, again filled her heart and bubbled from her lips. Her little stories pleased Barron mightily. Excitement heightened Joan’s beauty. Her absolute innocence at the age of seventeen struck him as remarkable. It seemed curious that a child born in a cottage, where realities and facts are apt to roughly front boy and girl alike, should know so little. She was a beautiful, primitive creature, with strange store of fairy fable in her mind; a treasury which brought color and joy into life. So she prattled, and the man painted.
Pure artistic interest filled Barron’s brain at this season; not a shadow of passion made his pencil shaky or his eye dim; he began to learn the girl with as little emotion as he had learned the gorse. He asked her to unfasten the top button of her dress that he might see the lines of her plump throat, and she complied without hesitation or ceasing from her chatter. He noted where the tan on her neck faded to white under her dress, and occupied himself with all the artistic problems she unconsciously spread before him; while she merely talked, garnered in his questions and comments on all she said, and found delight in the apparent interest and entertainment her conversation afforded him.