A SINGER FROM THE SEA
by AMELIA E. BARR
AUTHOR OF "JAN VEDDER'S WIFE," "THE BOW OF ORANGE RIBBON," "FRIEND OLIVIA," ETC., ETC.
NEW YORK DODD, MEAD & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1893, by DODD, MEAD & COMPANY.
All rights reserved.
CHAPTER PAGE I. DENAS PENELLES 1 II. OH, THE PITY OF IT! 22 III. THE COTTAGE BY THE SEA 41 IV. THE SEED OF CHANGE 59 V. WHAT SHALL BE DONE FOR ROLAND? 77 VI. ELIZABETH AND DENAS 95 VII. IS THERE ANY SORROW LIKE LOVING? 115 VIII. A SEA OF SORROW 138 IX. A PIECE OF MONEY AND A SONG 161 X. A VISIT TO ST. PENFER 181 XI. FATHERLY AND MOTHERLY 199 XII. A COWARDLY LOVE 225 XIII. DEATH IS DAWN 251 XIV. SORROW BRINGS US ALL HOME 272 XV. ONLY FRIENDS 295 XVI. THE "DARLING DENAS" 314 XVII. DENAS 331
A SINGER FROM THE SEA.
"'Tell me, my old friend, tell me why You sit and softly laugh by yourself.' 'It is because I am repeating to myself, Write! write Of the valiant strength, The calm, brave bearing Of the sons of the sea.'" —FRENCH ROWING SONG
"And that is why I have written this book Of the things that live in your noble hearts. You are really the authors of it. I have only put into words The frank simplicity of your sailor life." —GUILLAUME DE LA LAUDELLE.
From Padstow Point to Lundy Race is one of the wildest and grandest portions of the Cornish coast, and on it there is always somewhere a tossing sea, a stiff breeze above, and a sucking tide below. Great cliffs hundreds of feet high guard it, and from the top of them the land rolls away in long ridges, brown and bare. These wild and rocky moors, full of pagan altars, stone crosses, and memorials of the Jew, the Phoenician, and the Cornu-British, are the land of our childhood's fairy-folk—the home of Blunderbore and of Jack the Giant Killer, and the far grander
"Fable of Bellerus old, And the great vision of the Guarded Mount."
But it is the Undercliff which has the perennial charm for humanity, for all along its sloping face there are bewildering hummocks and hollows, checkered with purple rocks and elder-trees. Narrow footpaths curve in and out and up and down among the fields and farms, the orchards and the glimmering glades, and there the foxgloves grow so tall that they lift their dappled bells level with the eyes.
Further down are queer, quiet towns, hundreds of years old, squeezed into the mouths of deep valleys—valleys full of delicate ferns and small wild roses and the white heath, a flower peculiar to the locality. And still lower—on the very shingle—are the amphibious-looking cottages of the fishermen. They are surrounded by nets and boats and lobster-pots. Noisy children paddle in the flowing tide, and large, brown, handsome women sit on the door-steps knitting the blue guernsey shirts and stockings which their husbands wear.
Such a lonely, lovely spot is the little village of St. Penfer. It is so hidden in the clefts of the rocks that unless one had its secret and knew the way of its labyrinth down the cliff-breast it would be hard to find it from the landward side. But the fishermen see its white houses and terraced gardens and hear the sweet-voiced bells of its old church calling to them when they are far off upon the ocean. And well they know their cottages clustered on the shingle below, and all day they may be seen among them, mending their boats, or painting their boats, or standing with their hands in their pockets looking at their boats, fingering the while the bit of mountain ash which they carry there to keep away ill-luck.
John Penelles was occupied on the afternoon of that Saturday which comes between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. His boat was rocking on the tide-top and he seemed to be looking at her. But his bright blue eyes saw nothing seaward; he was mentally watching the flowery winding way up the cliff to St. Penfer. If his daughter Denas was coming down it he would hear her footsteps in his heart. And why did she not come? She had been away four hours, and who knew what evil might happen to a girl in four hours? When too late to forbid her visit to St. Penfer, it had suddenly struck him that Roland Tresham might be home for the Easter holidays, and he disliked the young man. He had an intuitive dislike for him, founded upon that kind of "I know" which is beyond reasoning with, and he had told Denas that Roland Tresham was not for her to listen to and not for her to trust to.
"But there, then, 'tis dreadful! dreadful! What foolishness a little maid will believe in!" he muttered. "I have never known but one woman who can understand reason, and it isn't often she will listen to it. Women! women! women! God bless them!"
He was restless with his thoughts by the time they arrived at this point, but it still took him a few minutes to decide upon some action and then put his great bulk into motion. For he was a large man, even among Cornish fishermen, and his feet were in his heavy fishing-boots, and his nature was slow and irresolute until his mind was fully made up. Then nothing could move him or turn him, and he acted with that irresistible celerity which springs from an invincible determination.
His cottage was not far off, and he went there. As he approached, a woman rose from the steps and, with her knitting in her hand, went inside. She was putting the kettle on the fire as he entered, and she turned her head to smile upon him. It was a delightful smile, full of love and pleasure, and she accompanied it with a little nod of her head that meant any good thing he liked to ask of her.
"Aw, my dear," he said, "I do think the little maid is a sight too long away."
"She do have a long walk, John dear. St. Penfer isn't at the door-step, I'm sure."
"You see, Joan, it is like this: Denas she be what she is, thank God! but Roland Tresham, he be near to the quality, and they do say a great scholar, and can speak langwidges; and aw, my dear, if rich and poor do ride together the poor must ride behind, and a wayless way they take through and over. I have seen that often and often."
"We mustn't be quick to think evil, John, must we? I'm sure Denas do know her place and her right, and she isn't one to be put down below it. You do take a sight of trouble you aren't asked to take, father."
"Do I, my dear?"
"To be sure you do. And they that go seeking trouble are very like to find it. Is Roland Tresham home again?"
"Not as I know by certain. I haven't heard tell so."
"There, now! How people do go thinking wrong of others instead of themselves! That isn't the Bible way, is it, father?"
"To be sure it isn't, Joan. But we aren't living among Bible people, my dear, are we now?"
"Well, I don't know that, father. Fisher-folk feature one another all the world over as much as their lines and boats do. I think we could find all those Galilean fishers among the fishers of Penfer. I do, really—plenty of Peters and sons of Zebedee, I'll warrant. Are not John and Jacob Tenager always looking to be high up in the chapel? And poor Cruffs and Kestal, how they do deny all the week through what they say on Sunday! And I know one quiet, modest Andrew who never grumbles, but is alway content and happy when his brothers are favoured above him." And she looked and smiled at her husband with such loving admiration that the big fisherman felt the glow of the look and smile warm his heart and flush his cheeks, and he hastened to the tea-table, and was glad to be silent and enjoy the compliment his dear Joan had given him.
For Joan Penelles was not only a good wife, she was a pious, truthful, sensible, patient woman. The days of her youthful beauty were over, but her fine face left the heart satisfied with her. There was room in her eyes, light upon her face, strength and mature grace in her tall figure—the grace of a woman who has grown up like a forest tree in fresh air and winds and liberty—the physical grace that never comes by the dancing-master. And her print dress and white kerchief and neatly braided hair seemed as much a part of her charm as the thatched roof, the yellow stone-wort, and the dainty little mother of millions creeping over the roof and walls were a part of the picturesque cottage. The beauty of Joan Penelles was the beauty of fitness in every part, of health, of good temper, of a certain spiritual perception. Penelles loved her with a sure affection; he trusted in her. In every strait of his life he went to her for comfort or advice. He could not have imagined a single day without Joan to direct it.
For his daughter Denas he had a love perhaps not stronger, but quite different in kind. Denas was his only living child. Denas loved the sea. Penelles could remember her small pink feet in the tide, when they were baby feet scarce able to stand alone. As she grew older she often begged to go to sea with the fishers, and on warm summer nights she had lain in the boat, and talked to him and his mates, and sung them such wild, sweet songs that the men vowed she charmed the fish into the nets. For they had always wondrous takes when Denas leaned over the gunwale, and in sweet, piercing notes sang the old fishing-call:
"Come, gray fish! gray fish! Come from the gray cold sea! Fathoms, fathoms deep is the wall of net. Haddock! haddock! herring! herring! Halibut! bass! whatever you be, Fish! fish! fish! come pay your debt."
And while the men listened to the shrill, imperative voice mingling with the wash of the waves, and watched the child's long yellow hair catching the glory of the moonlight, they let her lead them as she would. She did not fear storms. It was her father who feared them for her, though never after one night when she was twelve years old.
"You cannot go to-night, Denas," he said; "the tide is late and the wind is contrary."
"Well, then," the little maid answered with decision, "the contrary wind be God's wind. 'Twas whist poor speed the fishers were once making—toiling and rowing—and the wind contrary, when He came walking on the water and into the boat, and then, to be sure, all was quiet enough."
There were no words to dispute this position, and Denas went with the fishers, and sat singing like a spirit while the boat kissed the wind in her teeth. And anon the tide turned, and the wind changed, and there was a lull, and so the nets were well shot, and they came back to harbour before the breeze just at cock-light—that is, when the cocks begin to crow for the dawning.
Thus petted and loved, the pretty girl made her way into all hearts, and when she said one day that she wanted to go to the school at St. Penfer and learn all about the strange seas and the strange lands that were in the world, her father and mother were quite thrilled by her great ambition. But she had her desire, and for three years she went to the private school at St. Penfer, and among the girls gathered there made many friends. Chief among these was Elizabeth Tresham, the daughter of a gentleman who had bought, with the salvage of a large fortune, the small Cornish estate on which he lived, or rather fretted away life in vain regrets over an irrevocable past. Elizabeth was his only daughter, but he had a son who was much older than Elizabeth—a handsome, gay young man about whom little was known in St. Penfer.
That little was not altogether favourable. It was understood that he painted pictures and played very finely on the piano, and every one could see that he dressed in the most fashionable manner and that he was handsome and light-hearted. But it could not be hid that he often came for money, which old Mr. Tresham had sometimes to borrow in St. Penfer for him. And business men noted the fact that his visits were so erratic and frequently so long in duration that it was hardly likely he had regular employment. And if a man had no private steady income, then for him to be without steady daily labour was considered in St. Penfer suspicious and not at all respectable. So in general Roland Tresham was treated with a shy courtesy, which at first he resented, but finally laughed at.
"Squire Peverall is afraid of his daughter and barely returns my bow, and the rector has sent his pretty Phyllis to St. Ives while I am here, Elizabeth," he said one night to his sister. "Phyllis is well enough, but she has not a shilling, and pray who would marry Clara Peverall with only a paltry twenty thousand?"
"Clara is a nice girl, Roland, and if you only would marry and settle down to a reasonable life, how happy I should be."
"Could I lead a more reasonable life, Elizabeth? I manage to get more pleasure out of a hundred pounds than some men get out of their thousands."
"And father and I carry the care of it."
"You are very foolish. Why carry care? I do not. I let the men to whom I owe money carry the care."
"But father cannot do that—nor can I. And to be in debt, in St. Penfer, is disreputable."
"Well, Elizabeth, is it reasonable that I should suffer for father's and your inability to be happy, or for the antiquated notions of such an antiquated town as St. Penfer? I am only twenty-nine, and the pleasures of life are necessities to me."
"I am only nineteen, Roland."
"But then you are a girl—that is such a different thing."
"Yes, it is a different thing," and Elizabeth laid down the piece of linen she was stitching and looked up at the handsome fellow who was leaning against the open window and puffing his cigar smoke out of it. She had the English girl's adoration of the eldest son, and likewise her natural submission to the masculine element. Besides which, she loved Roland with all her simple faith and affection. She loved him for his handsome self and his charming ways. She loved him because he had been her mother's idol, and she had promised her mother never to desert Roland. She loved him because he loved her in his own perfectly selfish way. She was just as willing to bear his troubles, and plan for their relief, and deny herself for his pleasure, as Roland was willing to accept the sacrifice. Of course she was foolish, perhaps sinfully foolish, and it is no excuse for her folly to admit that there are thousands of women in the same transgression.
In one of his visits to St. Penfer, about two years previous to this Easter Eve, Roland Tresham had met Denas Penelles. At that time he had been much interested in her. The little fisher-girl with her piquant face, her strange haunting voice, and her singular self-possession was a charming study. He made several sketches of her, he set her wild, sweet fisher-songs to music, he lent her books to read, he talked to her and Elizabeth of the wonderful London life which Elizabeth could partly remember, but which was like a fairy-tale to Denas.
Fortunately Elizabeth was jealous of her brother and jealous of her friend, and she never gave them any opportunity for private conversation. If Roland proposed to see Denas down the cliff-breast, Elizabeth was always delighted to go also. If Roland asked Denas to go into the garden to gather fruit or flowers, or into the drawing-room to sing her songs to his accompaniments, Elizabeth was faithfully at the side of Denas. She was actuated by a variety of motives. She wished her brother to make a prudent marriage. There were at least three young girls in the vicinity eligible, and Elizabeth believed that Roland had only to woo in order to win. Any entanglement with Denas, therefore, would be apt to delay such a settlement.
She liked Denas, and she did not wish to be the means of giving her a heartache or a disappointment. But she liked her as a friend and companion, not as a probable sister. Mr. Tresham in the days of his commercial glory had once been Lord Mayor of London. Mrs. Tresham had been "presented," and the grand house and magnificent entertainments of the Treshams were chronicled in newspapers, which Elizabeth highly valued and carefully treasured. She had also her full share of that all-pervading spirit of caste which divides English society into innumerable circles, and though she did not dislike the tacit offence she gave to the St. Penfer young ladies by selecting a companion not in their ranks, she was always ready to defend her friendship for Denas by an exaggerated description of her many fine qualities. On this subject she could air the extreme social views which she heard from Roland, and which she always passionately opposed when Roland advocated them; but she was not any more ready to put her ideas of an equality based on personal desert into practice than was the most bigoted aristocrat of her acquaintance.
There was also another motive for her care of Denas, a strong one, though Elizabeth's mind barely recognised its existence. John Penelles, though only a fisher, was a man who had influence and who had saved money. Once when Mr. Tresham had been in a great strait for cash, Penelles, remembering Denas, had cheerfully loaned him a hundred pounds. Elizabeth recollected her father's anxiety and his relief and gratitude, and a friend who will open, not his heart or his house, but his purse, is a rare good friend, one not to be lightly wronged or lost. Besides these reasons, there were many smaller ones, arising out of petty social likes and dislikes and jealousies, which made Miss Tresham determined to keep Denas Penelles precisely in the position to which she had at first admitted her—that of a friend and companion.
To visitors she often used the adjective "humble" before the noun "friend," glossing it with a somewhat exaggerated account of Denas and their relationship, but with Denas herself she never thought of such qualification. Denas had all the native independence of her class—the fisher class, who neither sow nor reap, but take their living direct from the hand of God. She was proud of her father, and proud of his boats, and proud of his skill in managing them. She said, whenever she spoke of him: "My father is an upright man. He is a fine sailor and a lucky fisher. Every one trusts my father. Every one honours him."
Of course Denas recognised the differences in her friend's life and her own. Mr. Tresham's old stone mansion was large and lofty. It had fine gardens, and it had been well furnished from the wreck of the London house. Elizabeth played on the harp and piano in a pretty, fashionable way, and she had jewelry, and silk dresses, and many adornments quite outside of the power of Denas to obtain. But Denas never envied her these things. She looked on them as the accidentals of a certain station, and God had not put her in that station. In her own she had the very best of all that belonged to it. And as far as personal adornment went, she was neither vain nor envious. Her dark-blue merino dress and her wide straw hat satisfied her ideas of propriety and beauty. A shell comb in her fair hair and a few white hyacinths at her throat were all the ornaments she desired. So dressed that Easter Eve, she had stood a moment with her hat in her hand before her mother, and asked, with a merry little movement of her eyes and head, "what she thought of her?" and Joan Penelles had told her child promptly:
"You be sweet as blossoms, Denas."
There was an engagement between her and Elizabeth to adorn the altar for the Resurrection Service, and it was mainly this duty which had delayed her until John Penelles began to worry about her long absence. He did not ask himself why he had all in a moment thought of Roland Tresham and felt a shiver of apprehension. He was not accustomed to reason about his feelings, it was so much easier to go to Joan with them. But this evening Joan did not quite satisfy him. He drank his tea and ate plentifully of his favourite pie, of fresh fish and cream and young parsley, and then said:
"Joan, my dear, I have an over-mind to light my pipe and saunter up the cliff-breast. I may meet Denas."
"I wish you wouldn't go, father. It do look as if you had lost trust in Denas—misdoubting one's own is a whist poor business and not worth the following."
"Aw, my dear, I just want to talk a few words to her quiet-like. If Denas is companying with Roland Tresham she oughtn't to do it, and I must tell her so, that I must. My dear girl, right is right in the devil's teeth."
He said the words so sternly that they seemed to make a gloom in the cottage, but Joan's cheerful laugh cleared it away. "You be such a dear, good, careful father, John," she said, as she tucked in with a caressing movement the long ends of his kerchief. "I was only thinking that if it be good to watch, it is far better to trust—there then, isn't it, father?"
"Why, my dear, I'll watch first and I'll trust after—that's right enough, isn't it, Joan?"
Joan sighed and smiled, and Penelles, with his pipe in his mouth, turned his face landward. Joan thought a moment and then called to him:
"Father! Paul Tynton is very bad to-day. He was taken ill when the moon was three days old; men die who sicken on that day. Hadn't you better call and speak a word with him? He is in your class, you know."
"He was taken when the moon was four days old; he'll have a hard little time, but he'll get up again."
There was nothing else she could think of, and she knit her brows and turned in to her house duties. Joan did not want any meeting between her husband and Roland Tresham. She did not want anything to occur which would interfere with Denas visiting Miss Tresham, for these visits were a source of great pleasure to Denas and great pride to herself. And Joan could not believe that there was any danger to be feared from Roland; Denas had known him for two years and nothing evil had yet happened. If Roland had said one wrong word to Denas, Joan was sure her child would have told her.
While she was thinking of these things, John Penelles went slowly up the winding path that led to the top of the cliff. It was sweet and bright on either hand with the fragile, delicate flowers of early spring. He stopped frequently to look at them, and he longed to touch them, to hold them in his palm, to put them against his lips. But he looked at his big, hard hands, and then at the flowers, and so, shaking his head, walked on. The blackbird was piping and the missel-thrush singing in one or two of her seven languages, and John felt the spring joy stirring in his own heart to melody. He sat in the singing-pew at St. Penfer Chapel, and he had a noble voice, so he shook the ashes out of his pipe, and clasping his hands behind his back was just going to give the blackbirds and thrushes his evening song, when he heard the rippling laugh of Denas a little ahead of him.
He told himself in a moment that it was not her usual laugh. He could not for his life have defined the difference, but there it was. Before he saw her he knew that Roland Tresham was with her, and in a moment or two they came suddenly within his vision. Denas was walking a little straighter than usual, and Roland was bending toward her. He was gay, laughing, finely dressed; he was doing his best to attract the girl who walked so proudly, so apart, and yet so happily beside him. Penelles went forward to meet them. As they approached Denas smiled, and the young man called out:
"Hello, Penelles! How do you do? And what's the news? And how is the fishing? I was just bringing Denas home—and hoping to see you."
"Aw, then, sir, you can see for yourself how I be, and the news be none, and the fishing be plenty."
"St. Penfer harbour is not much of a place, Penelles. I was just telling Denas about London."
"St. Penfer be a hard little place, but it do give us a living, sir; a honest living, thank God! Come, Denas, my dear."
As he spoke he gently took the girl's hand, and with a perfectly civil "Good-evening, sir," turned with her homeward.
"Too fast, Penelles; I am going with you."
"Much obliged; not to-night, sir. It be getting late. Say good-evening, Denas."
There was something so final about the man's manner that Roland was compelled to accept the dismissal, but it deeply offended him, and the unreasonable anger opened the door for evil thoughts; and evil thoughts—having a cursed and powerful vitality—immediately began to take form and to make plans for their active gratification. Denas walked silently down the narrow path before her father. He could see by the way she carried herself and by the swing of the little basket in her hand that she was vexed, and he had a sense of injustice in her attitude which he could not define, but which wounded his great loving heart deeply. At last they reached the shingle, and he strode to her side.
"You be in a great hurry now, Denas," he said.
"I want to speak to my mother."
"What is it, dear? Father will do as well."
"No, he won't. Father is cruel cross to-night, and thinking wrong of his girl and wrong of others who meant no wrong."
"Then I be sorry enough, Denas. Come, my dear, we won't quarrel for a bad man like Roland Tresham."
"He isn't bad, father."
"He is cruel bad—worse than an innocent girl can know. Aw, my dear, you must take father's word for it. How was he walking with you to-night? 'Twas some devil's miracle, I'll warrant."
"No, then, it was not. He came from London on the afternoon train, and Miss Tresham had a bad headache and could not set me home as she always does."
"You should have come home alone. There was nothing to fear you."
"'Tis the first time."
"And, my dear, 'tis the last time. Mind that! 'Twill be a bad hour for Roland Tresham if I see him making love to my girl again."
"He didn't say a word of love to me, father."
"Aw, then, he was looking it—more shame to him, not to give looks words."
"Cannot a man look at a pretty girl? I call that nonsense, father."
"Roland Tresham can't look at you, Denas, any more as I saw him looking at you to-night—bold and free, and sure and laughing to his own heart for the clever he was, and the devil in his eyes and on his tongue. 'Twas all wrong, my dear, or I wouldn't be feeling so hot and angry about it. I wouldn't be feeling as if my heart was cut loose from its moorings and sinking down and down as deep as fear can send it."
"You might trust me, father."
"Aw, my sweet girl, there's times an angel can't be trusted, or so many wouldn't have lost themselves. It takes a man to know men and all the wickedness mixed up in their flesh and blood. There's your mother, Denas—God bless her!"
Joan came strolling forward to meet them, her large, handsome face beaming and shining with love and pride. But she was immediately sensitive to the troubled, angry atmosphere in which her husband and child walked, and she looked into John's face with the inquiry in her eyes.
"Denas is vexed about Roland Tresham, mother."
"There then, I thought Denas had more sense than to trouble herself or you, father, with the like of him. Your new frock is home, Denas, and pretty enough, my dear. Go and look at it before it be too dim to see."
Denas was glad to escape to her room, and Penelles turned suddenly silent and said no more until he had smoked another pipe on his own door-step.
Then he went into the cottage and sat down. Joan was by the fire with her knitting in her hand, and softly humming to herself her favourite hymn:
"When quiet in my house I sit."
Penelles let her finish, and then he told her all that he saw and all that he thought and every word he and Denas had spoken. "And I said what was right, didn't I, Joan?" he asked.
"No words at all are sometimes better than good words, John. When the wicked was before him, even David didn't dare to say good and right words."
"David wasn't a St. Penfer fisherman, Joan, and the wicked men of his day were a different kind of wicked men—they just thought of a bad thing and went and did it. They didn't plot and plan how to make others wicked for them and with them."
"What do you know wrong of Roland Tresham, John?"
"What do I know wrong of Trelawny's little Jersey bull? Nothing. It never hurt me yet. But I see the devil in his eyes and in the lift of his feet and the toss of his horns and the switch of his tail, and I know right well he'd rip me to pieces if I'd only give him the chance. That's the way I know Roland Tresham is a bad one. I see the devil in the glinting of his eyes and the mock of his smile, and I wouldn't have been more sick frightened to-night if I'd seen a tiger purring around Denas than I was when I got the first glimpse of Tresham bending down, coaxing and flattering our little girl. He's a bad man, sent with sorrow and shame wherever he goes, and I know it just as I know the long dead roll of the waves and the white creeping mist—like a dirty thief—which makes me cry out at sea 'All hands to reef! Quick! All hands to reef!'"
"There then, John, if wrong and danger there be, what must be done?"
"Keep the little maid out of it. Don't let her go to Mr. Tresham's. I wouldn't hear tell of it. If Denas would only listen a bit to Tris Penrose, he'd be the man for her—a good man, a good sailor, and he do love the very stones Denas steps on, he do for sure."
"She used to like Tris, but these few months her love has all quailed away."
"'Tis dreadful! dreadful! Why did God Almighty make women so? Here be good love going a-begging to them and getting nothing but a frown and a hard word, while devil's love is fretted for and heart-nursed. Whatever is a woman's love made of, I do wonder?"
As he asked the question he knocked his pipe against the jamb to clean it out, and then quickly turned his head, for an inner door opened and Denas peeped out and then came forward and put her arm around his neck and said:
"Woman's love or man's love, who knows how God makes it, father? And the fisherman's poet—a far wiser man than most men—asks and answers the same troublesome question in his way. What is love? How does it come?
"'Is it sucked with your milk? is it mixed with your flesh? Does it float about everywhere like a mesh, So fine you can't see it? Is it blast? Is it blight? Is it fire? Is it fever? Is it wrong? Is it right? Where is it? What is it? The Lord above, He only knows the strength of love; He only knows, and He only can, The root of love that is in a man.'
For a woman; that's harder still, isn't it, father? But never fret yourself, father, for Denas loves you and mother first of all and best of all." And she slipped on to his knee and stretched out her hand to her mother, and so, kissing the tears off her father's face and the smiles off her mother's lips, she went happily to her sleep.
And a great trust came into the father's and mother's hearts; they spoke long of their hopes and plans for her happiness, and then, stepping softly to her bedside, they blessed her in her sleep. And she was dreaming of Roland Tresham. So mighty is love, and yet so ignorant; so strong, and yet so weak; so wise, and yet so easily deceived.
OH, THE PITY OF IT!
"One love is false, one love is true: Ah, if a maiden only knew!"
"It is dear honey that is licked off a thorn."
The thing Elizabeth Tresham had done her best to prevent had really happened, but she was not much to blame. Circumstances quite unexpectedly had disarranged her plans and made her physically unable to keep her usual guard over her companion. In fact, Elizabeth's own love-affairs that eventful Saturday demanded all her womanly diplomacy and decision.
Miss Tresham had the two lovers supposed to be the lot of most women—the ineligible one, whom she contradictively preferred, and the eligible one, who adored her in spite of all discouragements. The first was the young rector of St. Penfer, a man to whom Elizabeth ascribed every heavenly perfection, but who in the matter of earthly goods had not been well considered by the church he served. The living of St. Penfer was indeed a very poor one, but then the church itself was early Norman and the rectory more than two hundred years old. Elizabeth thought poverty might at least be picturesque under such conditions; and at nineteen years of age poverty has a romantic colouring if only love paint it.
Robert Burrell, the other lover, had nothing romantic about him, not even poverty. He was unpoetically rich—he even trafficked in money. The rector was a very young man; Burrell was thirty-eight years old. The rector wrote poetry, and understood Browning, and recited from Arnold and Morris. Burrell's tastes were for social science and statistics. He was thoughtful, intelligent, well-bred, and reticent; small in figure, with a large head and very fine eyes. The rector, on the contrary, was tall and fair, and so exceedingly handsome that women especially never perceived that the portal to all his senses was small and low and that he was incapable of receiving a great idea.
On that Saturday morning Robert Burrell resolved to test his fate, and he wrote to Miss Tresham. It was a letter full of that passionate adoration he was too timid to personally offer, and his protestations were honourably certified by the offer of his hand and fortune. It was a noble letter; a letter no woman could easily put aside. It meant to Elizabeth a sure love to guard and comfort her and an absolute release from the petty straits and anxieties of genteel poverty. It would make her the mistress of the finest domestic establishment in the neighbourhood—it would give her opportunities for helping Roland to the position in life he ought to occupy; and this thought—though an after one—had a great influence on Elizabeth's mind.
After some consideration she took the letter to her father. He was in one of his most querulous moods, ill-disposed to believe in any good thing coming to him. He read the letter under such influence, and yet he could not but be sensible of its importance.
"It is a piece of unexpected good fortune for you, Elizabeth," he said with a sigh. "Of course it will leave me alone here, but I do not mind that now; all else has gone—why not you? I thought, however, the rector was your choice. I hope you have no entanglement there."
"He has never asked me to be his wife, but he has constantly shown that he wished it. He is poor—I think he felt that."
"He has made love to you, called you the fairest girl on earth, made you believe he lived only in your presence, and so on, and so on?"
"Yes, he has talked in that way for a long time."
"He never intends to ask you to marry him. He asked Dr. Eyre if you had any fortune. Oh, I know his kind and their ways!"
"I think you are mistaken, father. If he knew Mr. Burrell wished to marry me he would venture to——"
"You think he would? I am sure he would not—but here the gentleman comes. I will speak a few words to him and then he will speak to you, and after that you can answer Mr. Burrell's letter. Stay a moment, Elizabeth. It is only fair to tell you that I have no money but my annuity. When I die you will be penniless."
So Elizabeth went out of the room silent and with her head drooping a little. The word "penniless" was a shock to her. She sat down in a large chair with her back to the light and shut her eyes. She wished to set the two men clearly before her. It would be easy to love Robert Burrell if she did not love the other. Did she love the other? She examined her heart pitilessly, and found always some little "if" crouching in a corner. In some way or other it was evident she did not believe "the other" would stand trial.
Mr. Tresham had the same opinion in a more positive form, and he was quite willing to test it. He met the rector with more effusion than was usual with him, and putting on his hat said:
"Walk around the garden with me, sir. I have something to say to you, and as I am a father you must permit me to speak very plainly. I believe you are in love with Elizabeth?"
There was no answer from the young man, and his face was pale and angry.
"Well, sir! Am I right or wrong?"
"Sir, I respect and like Miss Tresham. Everyone must do so, I think."
"Have you asked her to marry you?"
"Oh, dear, no! Nothing of the kind, sir; nothing of the kind!"
"I thought not. Well, you see, sir, your dangling about my house keeps honest men outside, and I would be obliged to you, sir—in fact, sir, I require you at once to make Miss Tresham understand that your protestations are lies—simple and straightforward lies, sir. I insist on your telling her that your love-making is your amusement and girls' hearts the pawns with which you play. You will tell her that you are a scoundrel, sir! And when you have explained yourself to Miss Tresham, you had better give the same information to Miss Trelawny, and to Miss Rose Trefuses, and to that poor little sewing-girl you practise your recitations on. Sir, I have the greatest contempt for you, and when you have spoken to Miss Tresham, you will leave my house and come here no more."
"It will give me pleasure to obey you, sir."
With these words he turned from the contemptuous old man, and in a hurried, angry mood sought Elizabeth in her usual sitting-room.
She opened her eyes as he opened the door and looked at him. Then she rose and went toward him. He waved her away imperatively and said:
"No, Elizabeth! No! I have no caress for you to-day! I do not think I shall ever feel lovingly to you again. Why did you tell your father anything? I thought our love was a secret, sacred affair. When I am brought to catechism about my heart matters, I shut my heart close. I am not to be hectored and frightened into marrying any woman."
"Will you remember whose presence you are in?"
"If you wanted to be my wife——"
"I do not want to be your wife."
"If you loved me in the least——"
"I do not love you in the least."
"I shall come here no more. O Elizabeth! Only to think!"
"I am glad you come here no more. I see that you judge the honour and fulness of my heart by the infidelity and emptiness of your own. Go, sir, and remember, you discard not me—I discard you."
Thus speaking she passed him haughtily, and he put out his hand as if to detain her, but she gathered her drapery close and so left him. Mr. Tresham heard her footsteps and softly opened the door of his library. "Come in here, Elizabeth," he said with some tenderness.
"I have seen him."
"And he brought you the news of his own dishonour. Let him go. He is as weak as a bent flax-stalk, and to be weak is to be wicked. Bury your disappointment in your heart, do not even tell Denas—girls talk to their mothers and mothers talk to all and sundry. Turn your face to Burrell Court now—it is a fair fortune."
"And it may be a good thing for poor Roland."
"It may. A respectable position and a certain income is often salvation for a man. Write to Mr. Burrell at once, and send the letter by the gardener."
That was an easy direction to give, but Elizabeth did not find it easy to carry out. She wrote half-a-dozen letters, and none of them was satisfactory. So she finally asked her lover to call and see her at seven o'clock that evening. And it was very natural that, in the stress of such an important decision, the visit of Denas and their intention of dressing the altar should be forgotten. It was a kind of unpleasant surprise to her when Denas came and she remembered the obligation. Of course she could not now refuse to fulfil it. The offering was surely to God, and no relation between herself and the rector could interfere with it. But it was a great trial. She said she had a headache, and perhaps that complaint as well as any other defined the hurt and shock she had received.
Denas wondered at Elizabeth's want of interest. She did not superintend as usual the cutting of the flowers, so carefully nursed and saved for this occasion; and though she went to the church with Denas and really did her best to make a heart offering with her Easter wreaths, the effort was evident. Her work lacked the joyous enthusiasm which had always distinguished Elizabeth's church duties.
The rector pointedly ignored her, and she felt keenly the curious, and in some cases the not kindly, glances of the other Easter handmaidens. In such celebrations she had always been put first; she was now last—rather, she was nowhere. It would have been hard to bear had she not known what a triumph she held in abeyance. For Mr. Burrell was the patron of St. Penfer's church; he had given its fine chime of bells and renovated its ancient pews of black oak. The new organ had been his last Christmas gift to the parish, and out of his purse mainly had come the new school buildings. The rector might ignore Miss Tresham, but she smiled to herself when she reflected on the salaams he would yet make to Mrs. Robert Burrell.
Now, Denas was not more prudent than young girls usually are. She saw that there was trouble, and she spoke of it. She saw Elizabeth was slighted, and she resented it. It was but natural under such circumstances that the church duty was made as short as possible; and it was just as natural that Elizabeth should endeavour to restore her self-respect by a confidential revelation of the great matrimonial offer she had received. And perhaps she did nothing unwomanly in leaving Denas freedom to suppose the rector's insolent indifference the fruit of his jealousy and disappointment.
In the midst of these pleasant confidences Roland unexpectedly entered. He had written positively that he was not coming. And then here he was. "I thought I could not borrow for the trip, but I managed it," he said with the bland satisfaction of a man who feels that he has accomplished a praiseworthy action. For once Elizabeth was not quite pleased at his visit. She would rather it had not occurred at such an important crisis of her life. She was somewhat afraid of Roland's enthusiasms and rapid friendships, and it was not unlikely that his first conception of Mr. Burrell's alliance would be "a good person to borrow money from."
Also she wished time to dress herself carefully and solitude to get the inner woman under control. After five o'clock Denas and Roland were both in her way. They were at the piano singing as complacently and deliberately as if the coming of her future husband was an event that could slip into and fit into any phase of ordinary life. It was a strange, wonderful thing to her, something so sacred and personal she could not bear to think of discussing it while Roland laughed and Denas sang. It was not an every-day event and she would not have it made one.
She knew her father would not interfere, and she knew one way in which to rid herself of Denas and Roland. Naturally she took it. A little after six she said: "I have a headache, Roland, and shall not walk to-night. Will you take Denas safely down the cliff?"
Roland was delighted, and Denas was no more afraid of the gay fellow than the moth is of the candle. She was pleasantly excited by the idea of a walk all alone with Roland. She wondered what he would say to her: if he would venture to give voice to the inarticulate love-making of the last two years—to all that he had looked when she sang to him—to all that he meant by the soft, prolonged pressure of her hand and by that one sweet stolen kiss which he had claimed for Christmas' sake.
They walked a little apart and very silently until they came into the glades of the cliff-breast. Then, suddenly, without word or warning, Roland took Denas in his arms and kissed her. "Denas! sweet Denas!" he cried, and the wrong was so quickly, so impulsively committed that for a moment Denas was passive under it. Then with flaming cheeks she freed herself from his embrace. "Mr. Tresham, you must go back," she said. "I can walk no further with you. Why were you so rude to me?"
"I am not rude, Denas, and I will not go back. After waiting two years for this opportunity, do you think I will give it up? And I will not let you call me Mr. Tresham. To you I am Roland. Say it here in my arms, dear, lovely Denas! Do not turn away from me. You cannot go back without telling Elizabeth, and I swear you shall not go forward until you forgive me. Come, Denas, sweet, forgive me!" He held her hands, he kissed her hands, and would not release the girl, who, as she listened to his rapid, eager pleading, became more and more disposed to tenderness. He was telling the story no one could better tell than Roland Tresham. His eyes, his lips, his smile, his caressing attitudes, all went with his eager words, his enthusiastic admiration, his passionate assertion of his long-hidden affection.
And everything was in his favour. The lovely spring eve, the mystical twilight, the mellow flutings of the blackbirds and the vesper thrushes piping nothing new or strange, only the sweet old tune of love, the lift of the hills, the soft trinkling of hidden brooks, the scent of violets at their feet and of the fresh leaves above them—all the magic of the young year and of young love made the delicious story Roland had been longing to tell and the innocent heart of Denas fearing and longing to hear very easy to interpret—very easy to understand.
Listening, and then refusing to listen; yielding a little, and then drawing back again, Denas nevertheless heard Roland's whole sweet confession. She was taught to believe that he had loved her from their first meeting; taught to believe and half-made to acknowledge that she had not been indifferent to him. She was under almost irresistible influences, and she did not think of others which might have counteracted them. Even Elizabeth's revelation to her of her own splendid matrimonial hopes was favourable to Roland's arguments; for if it was a thing for congratulating and rejoicing that Elizabeth should marry a man so much richer than herself, where was it wrong for Denas to love one supposed to be socially and financially her superior?
Before they were half-way to the shingle Roland felt that he had won. The conviction gave him a new kind of power—the power all women delight to acknowledge; the sweet dictation, the loving tyranny that claims every thought of the beloved. Roland told Denas she must not dare to remember anyone but him; he would feel it and know it if she did. She promised this readily. She must not tell Elizabeth. Elizabeth was unreasonable, she was even jealous of everything concerning her brother; she would have a hundred objections; she would influence his father unfavourably; she would do all she could to prevent their seeing each other, etc., etc. And where a man pleads, one woman is readily persuaded against another. But Denas was much harder to persuade where the article of secrecy touched her father and mother. Her conscience, uneasy for some time, told her positively at this point that deception was wicked and dangerous. Roland could not win from her a promise in this direction. But he was not afraid—he was sure he could trust to her love and her desire to please him.
One of the cruellest things about a wrong love is that it delights in tangles and hidden ways; that it teaches and practises deceit from its first inception; that its earliest efforts are toward destroying all older and more sacred attachments. Roland was not willing to take the hand of Denas in the face of the world and say: "This is my beloved wife." Yet for the secret pleasure of his secret love, he expected Denas to wrong father-love and mother-love and to deceive day by day the friend and the companion who had been so kind and so fairly loyal to her.
No wonder John Penelles hated him instinctively. John's soul needed but a glimpse of the lovers sauntering down the narrow cliff-path to apprehend the beginning of sorrows. Instantaneous as the glimpse was, it explained to him the restless, angry, fearful feeling that had driven him from his own cottage to the place appointed by destiny for the revelation of his child's danger and of his own admonition.
He was glad that he had obeyed the spiritual order; whatever power had warned him had done him service. It is true the fond assurances of Denas had somewhat pacified his suspicions, but he was not altogether satisfied. When Denas declared that Roland had not made love to her, John felt certain that the girl was in some measure deceiving him—perhaps deceiving herself; for he could not imagine her to be guilty of a deliberate lie. Alas! lying is the vital air of secret love, and a girl must needs lie who hides from her parents the object and the course of her affections. Still, when he thought of her arms around his neck, of her cheek against his cheek, of her assertion that "Denas loved no one better than her father and mother," he felt it a kind of disloyalty to his child to altogether doubt her. He believed that Denas believed in herself. Well, then, he must try and trust her as far and as long as it was possible.
And Joan trusted her daughter—she scouted the idea of Denas doing anything that was outside her mother's approval. She told John that his fear was nothing but the natural conceit of men; they thought a woman could not be with one of their sex and not be ready to sacrifice her own life and the lives of all her kinsfolk for him. "It be such puddling folly to start with," she said indignantly; "talking about Denas being false to her father and mother! 'Tis a doleful, dismal, ghastly bit of cowardice, John. Dreadful! aw, dreadful!"
Then John was silent, but he communed with his own heart. Joan had not seen Roland and Denas as he had seen them; no one had troubled Joan as he had been troubled. For something often gives to a loving heart a kind of prescience, when it may be used for wise and saving ends; and John Penelles divined the angry trend of Roland's thoughts, though it was impossible for him to anticipate the special form that trend would take.
Roland had indeed been made furiously angry at the interference between himself and Denas. "I spoke pleasantly to the old fisher, and he was as rude as could be. Rude to me! Jove! I'll teach him the value of good manners to his betters."
He sat down on a lichen-covered rock, lit a cigar, and began to think. His personal dignity had been deeply wounded; his pride of petty caste trod upon. He, a banker's son, had been snubbed by a common fisherman! "He took Denas from me as if I was going to kill her, body and soul. He deserves all he suspected me of." And as these and similar thoughts passed through Roland's mind he was not at all handsome; his face looked dark and drawn and marked all over with the characters sin writes through long late hours of selfish revelry and riot.
But however his angry thoughts wandered, they always came back to the slight of himself personally—to the failure of Penelles to appreciate the honour he was doing him in wooing his daughter. And if the devil wishes to enter easily a man or a woman, he finds no door so wide and so easy of access as the door of wounded vanity and wounded self-esteem.
Roland's first impulse was to make Denas pay her father's debt. "I will never speak to her again. Common little fisher-girl! I will teach her that gentlemen are to be used like gentlemen. Why did she not speak up to her father? She stood there without a word and let him snub me. The idea!" These exclamations were, however, only the quick, unreasoning passion of the animal; when Roland had calmed himself with tobacco, he felt how primitive and foolish they were. His reflections were then of a different character; they began to flow steadily into a channel they had often wandered in, though hitherto without distinct purpose.
"After all, I like the girl. She has a kind of nixie, tantalising, bewitching charm that would drive a crowd mad. She has a fresh, sympathetic voice, penetrating, too, as a clarion. Her folk-songs and her sea-songs go down to the bottom of a man's heart and into every corner of it. Now, if I could get her to London and have her taught how to manage her voice and face and person, if I had her taught how to dance—Jove! there is a fortune in it! Dressed in a fancy fisher costume, singing the casting songs and the boat songs—the calls and takes she knows so well—why, she would make a gas-lit theatre seem like the great ocean, and men would see the white-sailed ships go marching by, and the fishing cobbles, and the wide nets full of gleaming fish, and—and, by Jove! they would go frantic with delight. They would be at her feet. She would be the idol of London. She would sing full pockets empty. I should have all my desires, and now I have so few of them. What a prospect! But I'll reach it—I'll reach it, and all the fishers in St. Penfer's shall not hinder me!"
He thought his plans over again, and then it was dark and he rose up to return home; but as he shook himself into the proper fit of his clothes and settled his hat at the correct angle, he laughed vauntingly and said:
"I shall be even with you, John Penelles, before next Easter. I was not good enough for Denas, was I not? Well, she is going to work for me and for my pleasure and profit, John Penelles; going to make money for me to spend, John Penelles. My beautiful fisher-maid! I dare be bound she is dreaming of me now. Women! women! women! What dear little fools they are, to be sure!"
He was quite excited and quite good-tempered now. A new plan was like a new fortune to Roland. He never took into consideration the contrariness of circumstances and of opposing human elements. His plans were perfect from his own standpoint; the standpoint of other people was out of his consideration. Never before had he conceived so clever a scheme for getting a livelihood made for him. There was really nobody but Denas to interfere with any of his arrangements, and Denas was under his control and could be made more so. This night he felt positive that he had "hit the very thing at last."
He reached home late, but in exuberant spirits. Elizabeth was waiting for him. She was beautifully dressed, and in a moment he saw upon her hand the flash of large and perfect diamonds. "They were mother's, I suppose, and I have as much right—yes, more right—to them than she has." This was his first thought, but he did not express it. There was an air about Elizabeth that was quite new to him; he was curious and full of expectation as he seated himself beside her. She shook her head in a reproving manner.
"You have been making love to Denas. I see it in your eyes, Roland. And you promised me you never would."
"Upon my honour, Elizabeth. We met the old fisher Penelles a long way up the cliff and he took her from me. Talking of making love—pray, what have you been doing? I thought you had a headache."
"Roland, I am going to be married—June the 11th."
"Is that your engagement ring?"
"It is. Mr. Burrell says it was his mother's engagement ring; but, then, gems are all second-hand—a hundred-hand—a thousand-hand for that."
"Burrell! You take my breath away! Burrell! The man who has a bank in Threadneedle Street?"
"Good gracious, Elizabeth! You have made all our fortunes! You noble girl! I did not know he was thinking of you."
"He was waiting for me. Destiny, Roland. But he is a noble-hearted man, and he loves me and I intend to be a good wife to him. I do indeed. He is going to make a great settlement on me, and I shall have an income of my own from it—all my own, to do what I like with."
"Elizabeth, dear, I always have loved you better than anything else in the world. You will not forget me now, will you, dear?"
"Why, Roland, I thought of you when I accepted Mr. Burrell. When I am married, Roland, I shall manage things for you as you wish them, I daresay. The man loves me so much that I could get not the half, but the whole of his kingdom from him."
"You are the dearest, noblest sister in the world."
"I could not bear to go to sleep without making you as happy as myself. Now, Roland, there is something you must not do, and that is, have any love nonsense with Denas Penelles. At Burrell Court you will meet rich girls and girls of good birth, and your only chance is in a rich marriage—you know it is, Roland."
"Oh, I do not quite think that, Elizabeth."
"Roland, you know it. How many situations have you had and lost? If Mr. Burrell gave you a desk in his bank to-morrow, you would hand back its key before my wedding-day."
"Perhaps; but there are other ways."
"None for you but a rich marriage. Every other way supposes work, and you will not work. You know you will not."
"I have some objections."
"Now, any trouble with a fisherman's daughter would be bad every way. There is the dislike rich girls have for low amours, and, worse still, the dreadfully Cornish habit fishers have of standing together. If you offend John Penelles or wrong him in the least, you offend and wrong every man in St. Penfer fishing quarter. Do not snap your fingers so scornfully, Roland; you would be no match for a banded enmity like that."
"All this about Denas?"
"Yes; all this about Denas. The girl is a vain little thing, but I do not want to see her breaking her heart about your handsome face."
She drew the handsome face down to her lips and kissed it; and Roland used every charm he possessed in order to deepen his influence over his going-to-be-rich sister. He was already making plain and straight his paths for a certain supremacy at Burrell Court. He was already feeling that a good deal of Robert Burrell's money would come, through Elizabeth's hands, into his pocket. That would be a perfectly legitimate course for it to take. Why should not a loving sister help a loving brother?
And oh, the pity of it! While brother and sister talked only of themselves, Robert Burrell sat silent and happy in his study, planning magnificent generosities for his bride; thinking of her youth, of her innocence, her ignorance of fashionable society, of her affection for and her loyalty to her father and brother, and loving her with all his great honest heart for these very things. And Denas lay dreaming of Roland. And Roland, even while he was talking with Elizabeth about Burrell Court, was holding fast to his intention to degrade Denas. For the singing, dancing, fiddling life which he was to lead with her suited his tastes exactly; he felt it would be the absolutely necessary alterative to the wealthy decorum of Burrell Court.
O Love! what cruelties are done in thy name! We think of thee as coming with a rose, and a song, and a smile. Nay, but the Calydonian Maidens were right when they cried bitterly: "Death should have risen with Love, and Grief, and visible Fear; and there should have been heard a voice of lamentation and mourning, as of many in prison."
 T. E. Brown, M.A.
 "Atalanta in Calydon."
THE COTTAGE BY THE SEA.
"O blessed sounds of wiser life Contented with its day, How ye rebuke the inner strife That wears the soul away."
"The Eden we live in is our own heart, And the first thing we do of our free choice Is sure to be sin." —FESTUS.
John Penelles was one of those strong religious characters whose minds no questions disturb, whose spiritual aspirations are never put out of breath. He had not yet been a yoke-fellow with sorrow. Hard work, the cruelty of the elements, the self-denials of poverty, these things he had known; but love had never smitten him across the heart.
When he rose that Easter Sunday he rose singing. He sang as he put on his chapel broadcloth; he was trying over the different metres and the Easter anthem as he walked about the sanded floor of his cottage, and thought over the heads of his sermon. For he was to preach that night in the little chapel of St. Swer, a fishing hamlet four miles to the northward; indeed, John preached very often, being a local preacher in the circuit of St. Penfer, and rather famous for his ready, short sermons, full of the breath of the sea and of the savour of the fisher's life upon it.
Denas had gone to a neighbouring farm for milk. He heard her quick step on the shingle, and he stood still in the middle of the floor to meet her. She had on a short dress of pink calico and a square of blue-and-white-plaided flannel thrown over her head. She came in like the breath of the spring Sabbath. Her face was rosy, her lovely lips slightly apart, her blue eyes dewy and soft and bright and brimming with love. She lifted her face to her father's face, and he forgot in a moment all his fears. He saw only Denas, and not any of her faults; if she had faults, he buried them that moment in his love, and they were all put out of memory.
Roland and the Treshams were not spoken of. John and Joan both had the fisher's dislike to name a person or a thing they considered unlucky or unpleasant. "If you name evil you do call evil" was their simple creed; and it saved many a household worry. They sat down to their breakfast of tea, and fresh fish, and white loaf, and the wide-open door let in the sea wind, and the sea smell, and the soft murmur of the turning tide. John's heart was full of holy joy; he could feel it singing: "Bless the Lord, O my soul!" And though he was only a poor Cornish fisher, he was sure that the world was a very good world and that life was well worth the living.
"Joan, my dear," he said, "the Bible do tell us that there shall be a new earth. Can it be a sweeter one than this is?"
"Aw, John, it may be a sight better, for we be promised 'there shall be no sea there,' thank God! no freezing, drowning men and no weeping wives. I do think of that when you are out in the frost and storm, John, and the thought be heaven itself."
"My dear, the sea be God's own highway. There be wonders by the sea. Was not St. John sent to the sea-side for the Revelations? 'Twas there he heard the angels, whose voices were like the sound of many waters. Heaven will be wonderful! wonderful! if it do make us forget the sea. Aw, my dear Joan, 'twill be something added to this earth, not something taken away, and the good thing added will make both the sea and the 'bounds of the everlasting hills' to be blessed."
"John, who told you that? And if the cruel, hungry, awful sea is not to be taken away, nor yet the 'everlasting hills,' what will make it a new earth?"
"God's tabernacle will be in it. Aw, my dear, that will make everything new—sea and land, men and women; and then there will be no more tears. My dear, when I think of that I love this old world, not only for what it is, but also for what it is going to be."
"Father, you are preaching and not eating your breakfast; and I want to get breakfast over and the cups washed, for I have to dress myself yet, and a new dress to put on, too," and Denas smiled and nodded and touched her father's big hand with her small one, and then John smiled back, and with a mighty purpose began to eat his fish and bread and drink his tea.
The whole day took its colour from this happy beginning. In after-years John often spoke of that Easter Sabbath; of their quiet walk all together up the cliff to St. Penfer Chapel; of the singing, and the sermon, and the Sunday-school in the afternoon for the fisher children; of the walk to St. Swer with Denas by his side and the walk back, singing all the way home; of the nice supper ready for them, and how they had eaten and talked till the late moon made a band of light across the table, and John said hurriedly:
"Well, there now! The tide will be calling me before I do have time to get sleep in my eyes."
Then Joan rose quickly and Denas began to put away the bread and cheese and milk, and though none recognised the fact at the time, the old life passed away for ever when the three rose from that midnight supper.
Yet for several days afterward nothing seemed to be changed. John went to his fishing and had unusual good fortune; and Joan and Denas were busy mending nets and watching the spring bleaching. It was the duty of Denas to take the house linen to some level grassy spot on the cliff-breast and water and watch it whiten in the sunshine. Monday she had gone to this duty with a vague hope that Roland would seek her out. She watched all day for him. She knew that she was looking pretty, and she felt that her employment was picturesque.
As she stood over the breadths of damask, with the water-can making mimic rain upon them, she was well aware that all her surroundings added charm to her charm. The soft winds blowing her hair and her pink skirt; the green leaves whispering above and around her; the rippling of the brook running down the hillside—all these things belonged as much to her as the frame belongs to the picture. Why did not Roland come to see her thus? Was he afraid for the words he had said to her? Were they not true words? Did he intend, by ignoring them, to teach her that he had only been playing with her vanity and her credulity?
Tuesday was too wet and blowy to spread the linen, and Denas felt the morning insufferably long and tedious. Her father, who had been on the sea all night, dozed in his big chair on the hearthstone. Joan was silent, and went about her duties in a tiptoeing way that was very fretful to the impatience of Denas. Denas herself was knitting a guernsey, and as she sat counting the stitches Tristram Penrose came to the door and, after a moment's pause, spoke to her. He was a fine young fellow with an open-air look on his brown face and an open-love look in his brown eyes.
"My dear Denas," he said, "is your father in?"
"Tris, who gave you license to call me dear? and my father is asleep by the fireside."
"Aw, then, the One who gave me license to live gave me the license to love; and dear you be and dear you always will be to Tris Penrose. The word may be shut in my heart or I may say it in your ear, Denas; 'tis all the same; dear you be and dear you always will be."
She shrugged her shoulders petulantly, and yet could not resist the merry up-glance which she knew went straight to the big fellow's heart. Then she began to fold up her knitting. While Tris was talking to her father, she would ask for permission to go and see Elizabeth. While Tris was present, she did not think he would refuse her request, for if he did so she could ask him for reasons and he would not like to give them.
Denas had all the natural diplomacy of a clever woman, and she knew the power of a fond word and a sunny smile. "Father"—is there any fonder word?—"Father, I want to go and see Miss Tresham. She told me a very important secret on Saturday, and I know she was expecting me yesterday to talk it over with her;" then she went close to his side and put her hand on his shoulder and snuggled her cheek in his big beard, and called poor Tris' soul into his face for the very joy of watching her.
John was not insensible to her charming. He hesitated, and Denas felt the hesitation and met it with a bribe: "You could come up the cliff to meet me before you go to the boats—couldn't you, father?"
"Nay, my dear, I'll not need to look for you on the cliff, for you will stay at home, Denas; it rains—it blows."
"Miss Tresham was expecting me all through yesterday, but it was so fine I took the linen to bleach. She will be so disappointed if I do not come to-day. We have a secret, father—a very particular secret."
It was hard to resist the pretty, pleading, coaxing girl, but John had a strength of will which Denas had never before put to the test.
"My dear girl," he answered, "if Miss Tresham be longing to talk her secrets to you, she can come to you. There be nothing in the world to hinder her. Here be a free welcome to her."
"I promised, father."
"'Tis a pity you did."
"I must go, father."
"You must stay at home. 'Twould be like putting my girl through the fire to Baal to send her into the company there be now at Mr. Tresham's."
"I care nothing for the company. I want to see Miss Tresham."
"Now, then, I am in earnest, Denas. You shall not go. Take your knitting and sit down to your own work."
She lifted her knitting, but she did not lift a stitch. Where there is no positive compulsion the hand is only handmaid to the heart, and it does the work only which the heart wishes. At this hour Denas hated her knitting, and there being no necessity on her to perform it, her hands lay idle upon her lap. After a few minutes' conversation John went out with Tris Penrose, and then Denas began to cry with anger and disappointment.
"My father has insulted me before Tris Penrose," she said, "and I will never speak to Tris again. Many a time and oft he has let me go to St. Penfer when it was raining and blowing. He is very cross, cruel cross! Mother, you give me leave—do! I will tell you a secret. Elizabeth is going to be married, and she wants me to help in getting her things ready. Mother, let me go; it is cruel hard to refuse me!"
The news of an approaching marriage can never be heard by any woman with indifference. Joan stayed her needle and looked at Denas with an eager curiosity.
"'Tis to the rector, I'll warrant, Denas," she said.
"No, it is not; but the rector is fine and angry, I can tell you. It was too much for him to speak to Miss Tresham on Saturday afternoon at the church. But won't he be sorry for his disknowledging her when he knows who is to be the bridegroom? He will, and no mistake."
"I don't understand you, Denas. Who is going to marry Miss Tresham? Say the man's name, and be done with it."
"'Tis a great secret, mother; but if you will let me go to St. Penfer I will tell you."
"Aw, my dear, I can live without Miss Tresham's secrets. And I do know she can't be having one I would go against your father to hear tell of, not I."
"Father is unjust and unkind. What have I done, mother?"
"Your father is afraid of that young jackanapes, Roland Tresham, and good reason, too, if all be true that is said to be true."
"Mr. Roland is a gentleman."
"Gentleman and gentleman—there be many kinds, and no kind at all for you. You be a fisher's daughter, and you must choose a husband of your own sort—none better, thank God! The robin would go to the eagle's nest, and a poor sad time it had there. Gentlemen marry gentlemen's daughters, Denas, and if they don't, all sides do be sorry enough."
"Am I to go no more to Miss Tresham's?"
"Not until the young man is back in London."
"Then I wish he would hurry all and be off."
"So do I, my dear. I would be glad to hear that he was far away from St. Penfer."
Joan rose with these words and went out of the room, and Denas knew that for this day also there was no hope of seeing Roland. Her heart was hot with anger, and she began to lay some of the blame upon her lover. He was a man. He could have braved the storm. And there was no open quarrel between her father and himself; it would have been easy enough to make an excuse for calling. Elizabeth might have written a letter to her. Roland might have brought it. Sitting there, she could think of half-a-dozen things which Roland might have accomplished. How long the hours were! How would she ever get the days over? Her mother singing in the curing-shed made her angry. The ticking of the big clock accentuated her nervous irritability, and when John returned silent and with that air about him which indicated the master of the house, Denas felt surely that all was over for the present between her and Roland Tresham.
The night became blustery after John and the men had gone to the fishing, and by midnight there was a storm. Joan's white, anxious face was peering through the windows or out of the open door into the black night continually. And the presence of Denas did not comfort her, as it usually did; the mother felt that her child's thoughts were with strangers, and not with her father out on the stormy sea.
It was ten o'clock next morning before John got home. He had made a little harbour some miles off, and glad to make it, and had been compelled to lay there until daybreak. He was weary and silent. He said it would have gone hard with him had not Tris been at his right hand. Then he looked anxiously at Denas, and when she did not give him a smile or a word, he sat down by the fire much depressed and exhausted. For he saw that his child had a hard, angry heart toward him, and he felt how useless it was to try and explain or justify his dealings with her.
It was now Wednesday, and Denas burned with shame when she thought how readily she had listened to so careless a lover. No word of any kind came from Elizabeth, who indeed was not to blame under the circumstances. Mr. Burrell was much with her; they had a hundred delightful arrangements to make about their marriage and their future housekeeping. And if in these days Elizabeth was a little proud and important and very much interested in her own affairs, she was innocently so. She was only exhibiting the natural parade of a lovely bud spreading itself into a perfect flower.
She had not the slightest intention of being unkind to Denas; indeed, she looked forward to many pleasant hours with her and to her assistance in all the preparations for her marriage. And Roland had introduced the subject quite as frequently as he felt it to be prudent. Finally Elizabeth had plainly told him that she did not intend to have Denas with her until he returned to London. "I see you so seldom, Roland," she said, "and we will not have any stranger intermeddling when you are at home."
"Come, Elizabeth," he answered, "you are putting up your disapprovals in the shape of compliments. My dear, you are afraid I will fall in love with Denas."
"I am afraid you will make love to her, which is a very different thing."
"Do you want Denas here?"
"I shall be glad to have her here. I have a great deal of sewing to do, and she is a perfect and rapid needlewoman."
"Then go to-morrow and ask her to come. I am off to London to-night. In this world no one has pleasure but he who gives himself some. You were my only pleasure at St. Penfer, and I do not care to share your society with Robert Burrell."
"I will go and see Denas. I must ask her parents to let her stay with me until my marriage."
But as Denas did not know of this intention, that weary Wednesday dragged itself away amid rain and storm and household dissatisfaction; but by Thursday morning the elements had blustered their passion away and the world was clear-skied and sunshiny. Not so Denas; she sat in a dark corner of the room, cross and silent, and answering her father and mother only in monosyllables. John's heart was greatly troubled by her attitude. He stood leaning against the lintel of the door, watching his boat rocking upon the tide, for he was thinking that until Denas and he were "in" again he had better stop at home.
"I do leave my heart at home, and then I do lose my head at sea;" and with this unsatisfactory thought John turned to his daughter and said softly: "Denas, my dear, 'tis a bright day. Will you have a walk? But there—here be Miss Tresham, I do know it is her."
Denas rose quickly and looked a moment at the tall, handsome girl picking her way across the pebbly path. Then she threw down her knitting and went to meet her, and Elizabeth was pleased and flattered by her protegee's complaints and welcomes. "I thought you would never send me a message or a letter," almost sobbed Denas. "I never hoped you would come. O Elizabeth, how I have longed to see you! Life is so stupid when I cannot come to your house."
"Why did you not come?"
"Father was afraid of your brother."
"He was right, Denas. Roland is too gay and thoughtless a young man to be about a pretty girl like you. But he has gone to London, and I do not think he will come back here until near the wedding-day."
Then they were at the door, and John Penelles welcomed the lady with all the native grace that springs from a kind heart and from noble instincts which have become principles. "You be right welcome, Miss Tresham," he said. "My little maid has fret more than she should have done for you. I do say that."
"I also missed Denas very much. I have no sister, Mr. Penelles, and Denas has been something like one to me. I am come to ask you if she may stay with me until my marriage in June. No one can sew like Denas, and now I can afford to pay her a good deal of money for her work—for her love I give her love. No gold pays for love, does it, sir?"
John was pleased with her frankness. He knew the value of money, he knew also the moral value of letting Denas earn money. He answered with a candour which brushed away all pretences:
"We be all obliged to you, Miss Tresham. We be all glad that Denas should make money so happily. It will help her own wedding and furnishing, whenever God do send her a good man to love her. It be a great honour to Denas to have your love, but there then! your brother is a fine, handsome young man, and—no offence, miss—it would not be a great honour for my little maid to have his love or the likelihood of it—and out of temptation is out of danger, miss, and if so be I do speak plain and bluff, you will not put it down against me, I'll warrant."
"I think, Mr. Penelles, that you are quite right. I have felt all you say for two years, and have shielded the honour and the happiness of Denas as if she was in very deed my sister. Can you not trust her with me now?"
"'Tis a great charge, miss."
"I am glad to take it. I will keep it for you faithfully."
"'Tis too much to ask, miss; 'twould be a constant charge, for wrong-doing is often a matter of a few moments, though the repentance for it may last a lifetime."
"Roland is in London. He went yesterday. I do not expect him to come to St. Penfer again until the wedding. I assure you of this, Mr. Penelles."
"Then your word for it, Miss Tresham. Take my little maid with you. She be my life, miss. If Denas was hurt any way 'twould be like I got a shot in my backbone; 'twould be as bad for her mother, likewise for poor Tris Penrose."
Elizabeth smiled. "I am glad to hear there is a lover; Denas never told me of him. Is he good and brave, and handsome and young, and well-to-do?"
"He be all these, and more too; for he do love the ground Denas treads on—he do for sure."
Denas was in her room putting on her blue merino and her hat, and while she made her small arrangements and talked to her mother, Elizabeth set herself to win the entire confidence of John Penelles. It was not a hard thing to do. Evil and sin had to be present and palpable for John's honest heart to realize them. And Miss Tresham's open face, her frank assurances, her straightforward understanding of the position were a pledge John never doubted.
Certainly Elizabeth meant all she promised. She was as desirous to prevent any love-making as John Penelles was. And when interest and conscience are in the same mind, people do at least try to keep their promises. Denas went gayly back with her to St. Penfer. It was something to be in Roland's home; she would hear him spoken of, and she would exchange the monotonous common duties of her own home for the happy bustle and the festive preparations of a house where a fine wedding was to be celebrated.
Her expectations in this respect were more than gratified. Every hour of the day brought something to discuss, to exclaim over, to wonder about, to select, to try on. Notes and flowers, and sweetmeats, and presents of all kinds were continually reminding Elizabeth of her lover; and she grew beautiful and generous in the sunshine of such a magnificent love. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday passed like a happy dream. On Saturday evening Denas was to return home until after the Sabbath. For Saturday night and Sunday were John's holiday, and a poor one indeed it would be to him without his daughter. Nor was Denas averse to go home. She looked forward to the pleasure of telling her mother everything she had seen and done; she looked forward to going to chapel with her father, and showing a pretty hat and collar and a pair of kid gloves which Elizabeth had given her.
About five o'clock she started down the cliff. Her heart was light in spite of Roland's silence. Indeed, she had begun to feel a contempt for him and greater contempt for herself because she had for a moment believed in a man so light of love and so false of heart. Elizabeth's affairs were full of interest to her. Elizabeth had been so sisterly and kind. She had paid her well and promised her many things that made life seem full of hope to the ambitious fisher-girl. How the birds did sing! How still the green glades were! In that one week of rain and sunshine, how the leaves had grown!
She went gayly forward, humming softly to herself—none of the songs Roland sang with her, but a little love-song Elizabeth had learned from Robert Burrell. Her foot had that spring to its lift and fall that shows there is a young innocent heart above it. In and out among the glades she went, almost as brightly and musically as the brook whose sparkling and darkling course she followed. When but a few hundred yards down the path, someone called her. She thought it was a fancy and went onward, nevertheless feeling a sudden silence and trouble. Immediately she heard footsteps and the rustling swish of parting leaves and branches.
Then she stood still and looked toward the place of disturbance. A moment afterward Roland Tresham was at her side. He took her hand; he said softly, "This way, darling!" and before she could make the slightest resistance he had drawn her into a little glade shut in by large boulders and lofty trees. Then he had his arms around her, and was laughing and talking a thousand sweet, unreasonable things.
"Oh, Mr. Tresham, let me go! Let me go!" cried Denas.
"Not while you say 'Mr. Tresham.'"
"Yes, love, Roland. Say it a thousand times. Did you think I had forgotten you?"
"You were very cruel."
"Cruel to be kind, Denas. My love! they think I am in London. Everyone thinks so. I did go to London last Wednesday. I left London this morning very early. I got off the train at St. Claire and walked across the cliff, and found out this pretty hiding-place. And I am going to be here every Saturday night—every Saturday night, wet or fine, and if you do not come here to see me, I will go to Australia and never see St. Penfer again."
He would talk nothing but the most extravagant nonsense, and finally Denas believed him. He gave her a ring that looked very like Elizabeth's betrothal ring, and was even larger than Elizabeth's, and he told her to wear it in her breast until she could wear it on her hand. And for this night, and for many other Saturday nights, he never named the plot in his shallow head and selfish heart; he devoted himself to winning completely the girl's absorbing love—not a very difficult thing to do, for the air of romance and mystery, at once so charming and so dangerous, enthralled her fancy; his eager, masterful, caressing wooing made her tremble with a delicious fear and hope; and in the week's silence and dreaming, the folly of every meeting grew marvellously.
Nor was the loving, ignorant girl unaffected by the apparently rich gifts her lover brought her—brooch and locket and bracelet, many bright and sparkling ornaments, which poor Denas hid away with joy and almost childish delight and prideful expectations. And if her conscience troubled her, she assured it that "if it was right for Elizabeth to receive such offerings of affection, it could not be wrong for her to do likewise."
Alas! alas! She did not remember that the element of secrecy made the element of sin. If she had only entertained this thought, it would have made her understand that the meeting which cannot be known and the gift which cannot be shown are wicked in their essence and their influence, and are incapable of bringing forth anything but sorrow and sin.
THE SEED OF CHANGE.
"I love thee! I love thee! 'Tis all that I can say;— It is my vision in the night, My dreaming in the day." —HOOD.
"Ah, if the selfish knew how much they lost, What would they not endeavour, not endure, To imitate as far as in them lay Him who His wisdom and His power employs In making others happy." —COWPER.
All fashionable wedding ceremonies are similar in kind and effect, and Elizabeth would not have been satisfied if hers had varied greatly from the highest normal standard. Her dress was of the most exquisite ivory-white satin and Honiton lace. Her bridesmaids wore the orthodox pink and blue of palest shades. There was the usual elaborate breakfast; the cake and favours, the flowers and music, and the finely dressed company filling the old rooms with subdued laughter and conversation. All things were managed with that consummate taste and order which money without stint can always command; and Elizabeth felt that she had inaugurated a standard of perfection which cast all previous affairs into oblivion, and demanded too much for any future one to easily attain unto.
In the arrangements for this completely satisfactory function, the position which Denas was to occupy caused some discussion. Mr. Tresham had hitherto regarded her with an indifference which sometimes assumed a character of irritability. He was occasionally jealous of his daughter's liking for the girl; he knew men, and he was always suspicious of her influence on his son Roland. Proud and touchy about his own social position, he never forgot that Denas was the child of poor fisher people, and he could not understand the tolerant affection Elizabeth gave to a girl so far beneath her own standing.
When Elizabeth included her in the list of bridesmaids, he disputed the choice with considerable temper. He said that he had long endured a companionship not at all to his taste, because it gave Elizabeth pleasure; but that on no account would he compel his guests to receive Denas as their equal. His opposition was so determined that Elizabeth gave up her intention, though she had to break an oft-repeated promise. But, then, promises must be dependent on circumstances for their redemption, and all the circumstances were against Denas.