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Children of the Mist
by Eden Phillpotts
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CHILDREN OF THE MIST

BY

EDEN PHILLPOTTS

Author of "Down Dartmoor Way," "Some Everyday Folks," "My Laughing Philosopher," "Lying Prophets," etc.

1898



BOOK I—THE BOY'S ROMANCE

I THE PIXIES' PARLOUR II A CLEAR UNDERSTANDING III EXIT WILL IV BY THE RIVER V THE INCIDENT OF MR. JOEL FORD VI AN UNHAPPY POET VII LIBATION TO POMONA VIII A BROTHERS' QUARREL IX OUTSIDE EXETER GAOL X THE BRINGING OF THE NEWS XI LOVE AND GREY GRANITE XII A STORY-BOOK XIII THE MILLER'S OFFER XIV LOGIC

BOOK II—THE ENTERPRISE

I SPRINGTIME II NEWTAKE FARM III OVER A RIDING-WHIP IV DEFEATED HOPES V THE ZEAL OF SAM BONUS VI A SWARM OF BEES VII AN OFFER OF MARRIAGE VIII MR. BLEE FORGETS HIMSELF IX A DIFFERENCE WITH THE DUCHY X CONNECTING LINKS XI TOGETHER XII THROUGH ONE GREAT DAY XIII THE WILL XIV A HUNDRED POUNDS XV "THE ANGEL OF THE DARKER DRINK" XVI BEFORE THE DAWN XVII MISSING

BOOK III—HIS GRANITE CROSS

I BABY II THE KNIGHT OF FORLORN HOPES III CONCERNING THE GATE-POST IV MARTIN'S RAID V WINTER VI THE CROSS UPREARED VII GREY TWILIGHT

BOOK IV—HIS SECRET

I A WANDERER RETURNS II HOPE RENEWED III ANSWERED IV THE END OF THE FIGHT V TWO MIGHTY SURPRISES VI THE SECRET OUT VII SMALL TIMOTHY VIII FLIGHT IX UNDER COSDON BEACON X BAD NEWS FOR BLANCHARD XI PHOEBE TAKES THOUGHT XII NEW YEAR'S EVE AND NEW YEAR'S DAY XIII MR. LYDDON'S TACTICS XIV ACTION XV A BATTLE XVI A PAIR OF HANDCUFFS XVII SUSPENSE XVIII THE NIGHT OF JUBILEE



CHILDREN OF THE MIST

BOOK I

THE BOY'S ROMANCE

CHAPTER I

THE PIXIES' PARLOUR

Phoebe Lyddon frowned, and, as an instant protest, twin dimples peeped into life at the left corner of her bonny mouth. In regarding that attractive ripple the down-drawn eyebrows were forgotten until they rose again into their natural arches. A sweet, childish contour of face chimed with her expression; her full lips were bright as the bunch of ripe wood-strawberries at the breast of her cotton gown; her eyes as grey as Dartmoor mists; while, for the rest, a little round chin, a small, straight nose, and a high forehead, which Phoebe mourned and kept carefully concealed under masses of curly brown hair, were the sole features to be specially noted about her. She was a trifle below the standard of height proper to a girl of nineteen, but all compact, of soft, rounded lines, plump, fresh of colour, healthy, happy, sweet as a ripe apple.

From a position upon swelling hillsides above the valley of a river, she scanned the scene beneath, made small her eyes to focus the distance, and so pursued a survey of meadow and woodland, yet without seeing what she sought. Beneath and beyond, separated from her standpoint by grasslands and a hedge of hazel, tangled thickets of blackthorn, of bracken, and of briar sank to the valley bottom. Therein wound tinkling Teign through the gorges of Fingle to the sea; and above it, where the land climbed upward on the other side, spread the Park of Whiddou, with expanses of sweet, stone-scattered herbage, with tracts of deep fern, coverts of oak, and occasional habitations for the deer.

This spectacle, through a grey veil of fine rain, Phoebe noted at mid-afternoon of a day in early August; and, as she watched, there widened a rift under the sun's hidden throne, and a mighty, fan-shaped pencil of brightness straggled downwards, proceeded in solemn sweep across the valley, and lighted the depths of the gorge beyond with a radiance of misty silver. The music of jackdaws welcomed this first indication of improved weather; then Phoebe's sharp eyes beheld a phenomenon afar off through the momentary cessation of the rain. Three parts of a mile away, on a distant hillside, like the successive discharges of a dozen fowling-pieces, little blotches of smoke or mist suddenly appeared. Rapidly they followed each other, and sometimes the puffs of vapour were exploded together, sometimes separately. For a moment the girl felt puzzled; then she comprehended and laughed.

"'Tis the silly auld sheep!" she said to herself. "They 'm shakin 'theer fleeces 'cause they knaw the rain's over-past. Bellwether did begin, I warrant, then all the rest done the same."

Each remote member of the flock thus freed its coat from the accumulated moisture of a long rainfall; then the huddled heap, in which they had combined to withstand the weather and show tail to the western storm, began to scatter. With coughs and sneezes the beasts wandered forward again, and pursued their business of grazing.

Steadily the promises of the sky multiplied and Phoebe's impatience increased. Her position did not, however, depend for comfort upon the return of sunshine, for she stood out of the weather, where sundry giant rocks to the number of five arose in a fantastic pile. Nature's primal architects were responsible for the Pixies' Parlour, and upon the awful morning of Dartmoor's creation these enormous masses had first been hurled to their present position—outposts of the eternal granite, though themselves widely removed from the central waste of the Moor. This particular and gigantic monument of the past stands with its feet in land long cultivated. Plough and harrow yearly skirt the Pixies' Parlour; it rises to-day above yellow corn, to-morrow amid ripening roots; it crowns the succeeding generations of man's industry, and watches a ceaseless cycle of human toil. The rocks of which it is composed form a sort of rude chamber, sacred to fairy folk since a time before the memory of the living; briars and ivy-tods conceal a part of the fabric; a blackthorn, brushed at this season with purple fruit, rises above it; one shadowed ledge reveals the nightly roosting place of hawk or raven; and marks of steel on the stone show clearly where some great or small fragment of granite has been blasted from the parent pile for the need of man. Multi-coloured, massive, and picturesque, the Parlour, upon Phoebe Lyddon's visit to it, stood forth against the red bosom of naked land; for a fierce summer had early ripened the vanished harvest, and now its place was already ploughed again, while ashes of dead fire scattered upon the earth showed where weed and waste had been consumed after ingathering of the grain.

Patches of August blue now lightened the aerial grey; then sunshine set a million gems twinkling on the great bejewelled bosom of the valley. Under this magic heat an almost instantaneous shadowy ghost of fresh vapour rose upon the riparian meadows, and out of it, swinging along with the energy of youth and high spirits, came a lad. Phoebe smiled and twinkled a white handkerchief to him, and he waved his hat and bettered his pace for answer.

Soon Will Blanchard reached his sweetheart, and showed himself a brown, straight youngster, with curly hair, pugnacious nose, good shoulders, and a figure so well put together that his height was not apparent until he stood alongside another man. Will's eyes were grey as Phoebe's, but of a different expression; soft and unsettled, cloudy as the recent weather, full of the alternate mist and flash of a precious stone, one moment all a-dreaming, the next aglow. His natural look was at first sight a little stern until a man came to know it, then this impression waned and left a critic puzzled. The square cut of his face and abrupt angle of his jaw did not indeed belie Will Blanchard, but the man's smile magically dissipated this austerity of aspect, and no sudden sunshine ever brightened a dark day quicker than pleasure made bright his features. It was a sulky, sleepy, sweet, changeable face—very fascinating in the eyes of women. His musical laugh once fluttered sundry young bosoms, brightened many pretty eyes and cheeks, but Will's heart was Phoebe Lyddon's now—had been for six full months—and albeit a mere country boy in knowledge of the world, younger far than his one-and-twenty years of life, and wholly unskilled in those arts whose practice enables men to dwell together with friendship and harmony, yet Will Blanchard was quite old enough and wise enough and rich enough to wed, and make a husband of more than common quality at that—in his own opinion.

Fortified by this conviction, and determined to wait no longer, he now came to see Phoebe. Within the sheltering arms of the Pixies' Parlour he kissed her, pressed her against his wet velveteen jacket, then sat down under the rocks beside her.

"You 'm comed wi' the sun, dear Will."

"Ay—the weather breaks. I hope theer'll be a drop more water down the river bimebye. You got my letter all right?"

"Ess fay, else I shouldn't be here. And this tremendous matter in hand?"

"I thought you'd guess what 't was. I be weary o' waitin' for 'e. An' as I comed of age last month, I'm a man in law so well as larnin', and I'm gwaine to speak to Miller Lyddon this very night."

Phoebe looked blank. There was a moment's silence while Will picked and ate the wood-strawberries in his sweetheart's dress.

"Caan't 'e think o' nothin' wiser than to see faither?" she said at last.

"Theer ban't nothin' wiser. He knaws we 'm tokened, and it's no manner o' use him gwaine on pretendin' to himself 't isn't so. You 'm wife-old, and you've made choice o' me; and I'm a ripe man, as have thought a lot in my time, and be earnin' gude money and all. Besides, 't is a dead-sure fact I'll have auld Morgan's place as head waterkeeper, an' the cottage along with it, in fair time."

"Ban't for me to lift up no hindrances, but you knaw faither."

"Ess, I do—for a very stiff-necked man."

"Maybe 't is so; but a gude faither to me."

"An' a gude friend to me, for that matter. He aint got nothing 'gainst me, anyway—no more 's any man living."

"Awnly the youth and fieriness of 'e."

"Me fiery! I lay you wouldn't find a cooler chap in Chagford."

"You 'm a dinky bit comical-tempered now and again, dear heart."

He flushed, and the corners of his jaw thickened.

"If a man was to say that, I'd knock his words down his throat."

"I knaw you would, my awn Will; an' that's bein' comical-tempered, ban't it?"

"Then perhaps I'd best not to see your faither arter all, if you 'm that way o' thinkin'," he answered shortly.

Then Phoebe purred to him and rubbed her cheek against his chin, whereon the glint vanished from his eyes, and they were soft again.

"Mother's the awnly livin' sawl what understands me," he said slowly.

"And I—I too, Will!" cried Phoebe. "Ess fay. I'll call you a holy angel if you please, an' God knaws theer 's not an angel in heaven I'd have stead of 'e."

"I ban't no angel," said Will gravely, "and never set up for no such thing; but I've thought a lot 'bout the world in general, and I'm purty wise for a home-stayin' chap, come to think on it; and it's borne in 'pon me of late days that the married state 's a gude wan, and the sooner the better."

"But a leap in the dark even for the wisest, Will?"

"So's every other step us takes for that matter. Look at them grasshoppers. Off they goes to glory and doan't knaw no more 'n the dead wheer they'll fetch up. I've seed 'em by the river jump slap in the water, almost on to a trout's back. So us hops along and caan't say what's comin' next. We 'm built to see just beyond our awn nose-ends and no further. That's philosophy."

"Ban't comfortin' if 't is," said Phoebe.

"Whether or no, I'll see your faither 'fore night and have a plain answer. I'm a straight, square man, so's the miller."

"You'll speed poorly, I'm fearin', but 't is a honest thing; and I'll tell faither you 'm all the world to me. He doan't seem to knaw what it is for a gal to be nineteen year old somehow."

Solemnly Will rose, almost overweighted with the consciousness of what lay before him.

"We'll go home-along now. Doan't 'e tell him I'm coming. I'll take him unbeknawnst. And you keep out the way till I be gone again."

"Does your mother knaw, Will?"

"Ess, she an' Chris both knaw I be gwaine to have it out this night. Mother sez I be right, but that Miller will send me packing wi' a flea in my ear; Chris sez I be wrong to ax yet awhile."

"You can see why that is; 'she 's got to wait herself," said Phoebe, rather spitefully.

"Waitin' 's well enough when it caan't be helped. But in my case, as a man of assured work and position in the plaace, I doan't hold it needful no more."

Together the young couple marched down over the meadows, gained the side of the river, and followed its windings to the west. Through a dip in the woods presently peeped the ancient stannary town of Chagford, from the summit of its own little eminence on the eastern confines of Dartmoor. Both Will and Phoebe dwelt within the parish, but some distance from the place itself. She lived at Monks Barton, a farm and mill beside the stream; he shared an adjacent cottage with his mother and sister. Only a bend of the river separated the dwellings of the lovers—where Rushford Bridge spanned the Teign and beech and fir rose above it.

In a great glory of clearness after rain, boy and girl moved along together under the trees. The fisherman's path which they followed wound where wet granite shone and ivy glimmered beneath the forest; and the leaves still dripped briskly, making a patter of sound through the underwood, and marking a thousand circles and splashes in the smooth water beneath the banks of the stream. Against a purple-grey background of past rain the green of high summer shone bright and fresh, and each moss-clad rock and fern-fringed branch of the forest oaks sent forth its own incense of slender steam where the sunlight sparkled and sucked up the moisture. Scarce half a mile from Phoebe's home a shining yellow twig bent and flashed against the green, and a broad back appeared through a screen of alder by the water's edge.

"'T is a rod," said Will. "Bide a moment, and I'll take the number of his ticket. He 'm the first fisherman I've seen to-day."

As under-keeper or water-bailiff to the Fishing Association, young Blanchard's work consisted in endless perambulation of the river's bank, in sharp outlook for poacher and trespasser, and in the survey of fishermen's bridges, and other contrivances for anglers that occurred along the winding course of the waters. His also was the duty of noting the license numbers, and of surprising those immoral anglers who sought to kill fish illegally on distant reaches of the river. His keen eyes, great activity, and approved pluck well fitted Will for such duties. He often walked twenty miles a day, and fishermen said that he knew every big trout in the Teign from Fingle Bridge to the dark pools and rippling steps under Sittaford Tor, near the river's twin birthplaces. He also knew where the great peel rested, on their annual migration from sea to moor; where the kingfisher's nest of fish-bones lay hidden; where the otter had her home beneath the bank, and its inland vent-hole behind a silver birch.

Will bid the angler "good afternoon," and made a few general remarks on sport and the present unfavourable condition of the water, shrunk to mere ribbons of silver by a long summer drought. The fisherman was a stranger to Will—a handsome, stalwart man, with a heavy amber moustache, hard blue eyes, and a skin tanned red by hotter suns than English Augusts know. His disposition, also, as it seemed, reflected years of a tropic or subtropic existence, for this trivial meeting and momentary intrusion upon his solitude resulted in an explosion as sudden as unreasonable and unexpected.

"Keep back, can't you?" he exclaimed, while the young keeper approached his side; "who 's going to catch fish with your lanky shadow across the water?"

Will was up in arms instantly.

"Do 'e think I doan't knaw my business? Theer 's my shadder 'pon the bank a mile behind you; an' I didn't ope my mouth till you'd fished the stickle to the bottom and missed two rises."

This criticism angered the elder man, and he freed his tailfly fiercely from the rush-head that held it.

"Mind your own affairs and get out of my sight, whoever you are. This river's not what it used to be by a good deal. Over-fished and poached, and not looked after, I'll swear."

Thus, in ignorance, the sportsman uttered words of all most like to set Will Blanchard's temper loose—a task sufficiently easy at the best of times.

"What the hell d' you knaw 'bout the river?" he flamed out. "And as to 'my affairs,' 't is my affairs, an' I be water-bailiff, an' I'll thank you for the number of your ticket—so now then!"

"What's become of Morgan?" asked the other.

"He 'm fust, I be second; and 't is my job to take the license numbers."

"Pity you're such an uncivil young cub, then."

"Gimme your ticket directly minute!"

"I'm not going to."

The keeper looked wicked enough by this time, but he made a great effort to hold himself in.

"Why for not?"

"Because I didn't take one."

"That ban't gwaine to do for me."

"Ban't it? Then you'll have to go without any reason. Now run away and don't bleat so loud."

"Look here," retorted Will, going straight up to the fisherman, and taking his measure with a flashing eye, "You gimme your ticket number or your name an' address, else I'll make 'e."

They counted nearly the same inches, but the angler was the elder, and a man of more powerful build and massive frame than his younger opponent. His blue eyes and full, broad face spoke a pugnacity not less pronounced than the keeper's own finer features indicated; and thus these two, destined for long years to bulk largely each upon the life of the other, stood eye to eye for the first time. Will's temper was nearly gone, and now another sneer set it loose with sudden and startling result.

"Make me, my young moorcock? Two more words and I'll throw you across the river!"

The two words were not forthcoming, but Will dropped his stick and shot forward straight and strong as an angry dog. He closed before the stranger could dispose of his rod, gripped him with a strong wrestling hold, and cross-buttocked him heavily in the twinkling of an eye. The big man happily fell without hurt upon soft sand at the river's brink; but the indignity of this defeat roused his temper effectually. He grinned nevertheless as he rose again, shook the sand off his face, and licked his hands.

"Good Devon, sure enough, my son; now I'll teach you something you never heard tell of, and break your damned fool's neck for you into the bargain!"

But Phoebe, who had wandered slowly on, returned quickly at the sound of the scuffle and high words. Now she fluttered between the combatants and rendered any further encounter for the time impossible. They could not close again with the girl between them, and the stranger, his anger holding its breath, glanced at her with sudden interest, stayed his angry growl, suffered rage to wane out of his eyes and frank admiration to appear in them.

"Doan't be fighting!" cried Phoebe. "Whatever's the mischief, Will? Do bate your speed of hand! You've thrawed the gentleman down, seemin'ly."

"Wheer 's his ticket to then?"

"Why, it isn't Miller Lyddon's young maid, surely!" burst out the fisherman; "not Phoebe grown to woman!"

A Devon accent marked the speech, suddenly dragged from him by surprise.

"Ess, I be Phoebe Lyddon; but don't 'e fall 'pon each other again, for the Lard's sake," she said.

"The boy 's as tetchy in temper as a broody hen. I was only joking all the time, and see how he made me pay for my joke. But to think I should remember you! Grown from bud to pretty blossom, by God! And I danced you on my knee last time I saw you!"

"Then you 'm wan of they two Grimbal brothers as was to be home again in Chagford to-day!" exclaimed Will.

"That's so; Martin and I landed at Plymouth yesterday. We got to Chagford early this morning."

Will laughed.

"I never!" he said. "Why, you be lodging with my awn mother at the cottage above Rushford Bridge! You was expected this marnin', but I couldn't wait for 'e. You 'm Jan Grimbal—eh?"

"Right! And you're a nice host, to be sure!"

"'T is solemn truth, you 'm biding under our roof, the 'Three Crowns' bein' full just now. And I'm sorry I thrawed 'e; but you was that glumpy, and of course I didn't know 'e from Adam. I'm Will Blanchard."

"Never mind, Will, we'll try again some day. I could wrestle a bit once, and learned a new trick or two from a Yankee in Africa."

"You've come back 'mazin' rich they say, Jan Grimbal?"

"So, so. Not millionaires, but all right—both of us, though I'm the snug man of the two. We got to Africa at the right moment, before 1867, you know, the year that O'Reilly saw a nigger-child playing with the first Kimberley diamond ever found. Up we went, the pair of us. Things have hummed since then, and claims and half-claims and quarter-claims are coming to be worth a Jew's eye. We're all right, anyway, and I've got a stake out there yet."

"You 'm well pleased to come back to dear li'l Chagford after so many years of foreign paarts, I should think, Mr. Grimbal?" said Phoebe.

"Ay, that I am. There's no place like Devon, in all the earth, and no spot like Chagford in Devon. I'm too hard grit to wink an eyelid at sight of the old scenes again myself; but Martin, when he caught first sight of great rolling Cosdon crowning the land—why, his eyes were wetted, if you'll believe it."

"And you comed right off to fish the river fust thing," said Will admiringly.

"Ay, couldn't help it. When I heard the water calling, it was more than my power to keep away. But you're cruel short of rain, seemingly, and of course the season 's nearly over."

"I'll shaw you dark hovers, wheer braave feesh be lying yet," promised Will; and the angler thanked him, foretelling a great friendship. Yet his eyes rarely roamed from Phoebe, and anon, as all three proceeded, John Grimbal stopped at the gate of Monks Barton and held the girl in conversation awhile. But first he despatched Will homewards with a message for his mother. "Let Mrs. Blanchard know we'll feed at seven o'clock off the best that she can get," he said; "and tell her not to bother about the liquor. I'll see to that myself."



CHAPTER II

A CLEAR UNDERSTANDING

Monks Barton, or Barton Monachorum, as the farm was called in a Tudor perambulation of Chagford, owed its name to traditions that holy men aforetime dwelt there, performed saintly deeds, and blessed a spring in the adjacent woods, whose waters from that date ever proved a magical medicament for "striking" of sore eyes. That the lands of the valley had once been in monastic possession was, however, probable enough; and some portions of the old farm did in truth rise upon the ruins of a still more ancient habitation long vanished. Monks Barton stood, a picturesque agglomeration of buildings, beside the river. The mill-wheel, fed by a stream taken from the Teign some distance up the valley and here returned again to the parent water, thundered on its solemn round in an eternal twinkling twilight of dripping ferns and green mosses; while hard by the dwelling-house stood and offered small diamond panes and one dormer-window to the south. Upon its whitewashed face three fruit-trees grew—a black plum, a cherry, a winter pear; and before the farmhouse stretched a yard sloping to the river ford, where a line of massive stepping-stones for foot-passengers crossed the water. On either side of this space, walled up from the edge of the stream, little gardens of raspberry and gooseberry bushes spread; and here, too, appeared a few apple-trees, a bed of herbs, a patch of onions, purple cabbages, and a giant hollyhock with sulphur-coloured blossoms that thrust his proud head upwards, a gentleman at large, and the practical countrymen of the kitchen-garden. The mill and outbuildings, the homestead and wood-stacks embraced a whole gamut of fine colour, ranging from the tawny and crimson of fretted brick and tile to varied greys of drying timber; from the cushions and pillows of moss and embroidery of houseleeks and valerian, that had flourished for fifty years on a ruined shippen, to the silver gleam of old thatches and the shining gold of new. Nor was the white face of the dwelling-house amiss. Only one cold, crude eye stared out from this time-tinctured scene; only one raw pentroof of corrugated iron blotted it, made poets sigh, artists swear, and Miller Lyddon contemplate more of the same upon his land.

A clucking and grunting concourse of fowls and pigs shared the farmyard; blue pigeons claimed the roof; and now, in the westering light, with slow foot, sweet breath, and swelling udder, many kine, red as the ripe horse-chestnut, followed each other across the ford, assembled themselves together and lowed musically to the milkers. Phoebe Lyddon and John Grimbal still stood at the farm-gate, and they watched, as a boy and an aged man came forward with buckets and stools. Then, to the muffled thud of the water-wheel and the drone and murmur of the river, was added a purr of milk, foaming into tin pails, and sharp, thin monitions from the ancient, as he called the cows by their names and bid them be still.

In John Grimbal, newly come from South Africa, this scene awakened a lively satisfaction and delight. It told him that he was home again; and so did the girl, though it seemed absurd to think that Phoebe had ever sat upon his knee and heard his big stories, when as yet he himself was a boy and the world still spread before him unconquered. He mused at the change and looked forward to bringing himself and his success in life before those who had known him in the past. He very well remembered who had encouraged his ambitions and spoken words of kindness and of hope; who also had sneered, criticised his designs unfavourably, and thrown cold water upon his projects. John Grimbal meant to make certain souls smart as he had smarted; but he feared his brother a little in this connection, and suspected that Martin would not assert himself among the friends of his youth, would not assume a position his riches warranted, would be content with too humble a manner of life.

As a matter of fact, the ambition of neither extended much beyond a life of peace among the scenes of his childhood; but while the younger traveller returned with unuttered thanksgivings in his heart that he was privileged again to see the land he loved and henceforth dwell amid its cherished scenes, the greater energy and wider ambition of his brother planned a position of some prominence if not power. John was above all else a sportsman, and his programme embraced land, a stout new dwelling-house, preserves of game in a small way, some fishing, and the formation of a new rifle-corps at Chagford. This last enterprise he intended to be the serious business of life; but his mind was open to any new, agreeable impressions and, indeed, it received them at every turn. Phoebe Lyddon awoke a very vital train of thoughts, and when he left her, promising to come with his brother on the following day to see the miller, John Grimbal's impressionable heart was stamped with her pretty image, his ear still held the melody of her voice.

He crossed the stepping-stones, sat down upon the bank to change his flies, and looked at the home of Phoebe without sentiment, yet not without pleasure. It lay all cuddled on the bosom of a green hill; to the west stretched meadows and orchard along the winding valley of the river; to the east extended more grass-land that emerged into ferny coombs and glades and river dells, all alive with the light of wild flowers and the music of birds, with the play of dusky sunshine in the still water, and of shadows on the shore.

A little procession of white ducks sailed slowly up the river, and each as it passed twisted its head to peer up at the spectator. Presently the drake who led them touched bottom, and his red-gold webs appeared. Then he paddled ashore, lifted up his voice, waggled his tail, and with a crescendo of quacking conducted his harem into the farmyard. One lone Muscovy duck, perchance emulating the holy men of old in their self-communion, or else constrained by circumstance to a solitary life, appeared apart on a little island under the alders. A stranger in a strange land, he sat with bent head and red-rimmed, philosophic eyes, regarding his own breast while sunset lights fired the metallic lustre of his motley. Quite close to him a dead branch thrust upwards from the water, and the river swirled in oily play of wrinkles and dimples beyond it. Here, with some approach to his old skill, the angler presently cast a small brown moth. It fell lightly and neatly, cocked for a second, then turned helplessly over, wrecked in the sudden eddy as a natural insect had been. A fearless rise followed, and in less than half a minute a small trout was in the angler's net. John Grimbal landed this little fish carefully and regarded it with huge satisfaction before returning it to the river. Then, having accomplished the task set by sudden desire,—to catch a Teign trout again, feel it, smell it, see the ebony and crimson, the silver belly warming to gold on its sides and darkening to brown and olive above,—having by this act renewed sensations that had slept for fifteen years, he put up his rod and returned to his temporary quarters at the dwelling of Mrs. Blanchard.

His brother was waiting in the little garden to welcome him. Martin walked up and down, smelled the flowers, and gazed with sober delight upon the surrounding scene. Already sunset fires had waned; but the high top of the fir that crowned Rushford Bridge still glowed with a great light on its red bark; an uprising Whiddon, where it lay afar off under the crown of Cranbrook, likewise shone out above the shadowed valley.

Martin Grimbal approached his brother and laid his hand upon the fisherman's arm. He stood the smaller in stature, though of strong build. His clean-shaved face had burned much darker than John's; he was indeed coffee-brown and might have been mistaken for an Indian but for his eyes of ordinary slate-grey. Without any pretension to good looks, Martin Grimbal displayed what was better—an expression of such frank benignity and goodness that his kind trusted him and relied upon him by intuition. Honest and true to the verge of quixotism was this man in all dealings with his fellows, yet he proved a faulty student of character. First he was in a measure blinded by his own amiable qualities to acute knowledge of human nature; secondly, he was drawn away from humanity rather than not, for no cynic reason, but by the character of his personal predilections and pursuits.

"I've seen father's grave, John," were his first words to his brother. "It's beside the mother's, but that old stone he put up to her must be moved and—"

"All right, all right, old chap. Stones are in your line, not mine. Where's dinner? I want bread, not a stone, eh?"

Martin did not laugh, but shrugged his shoulders in good-tempered fashion. His face had a measure of distinction his brother's lacked, and indeed, while wanting John's tremendous physical energy and robust determination, he possessed a finer intellect and instinct less animal. Even abroad, during their earlier enterprises, Martin had first provided brains sufficient for himself and John; but an accident of fortune suddenly favoured the elder; and while John took full care that Martin should benefit with himself, he was pleased henceforth to read into his superior luck a revelation of superior intelligence, and from that moment followed his own inclinations and judgment. He liked Martin no less, but never turned to him for counsel again after his own accidental good fortune; and henceforward assumed an elder brother's manner and a show of superior wisdom. In matters of the world and in knowledge of such human character as shall be found to congregate in civilisation's van, or where precious metals and precious stones have been discovered to abound, John Grimbal was undoubtedly the shrewder, more experienced man; and Martin felt very well content that his elder brother should take the lead. Since the advent of their prosperity a lively gratitude had animated his mind. The twain shared nothing save bonds of blood, love of their native land, and parity of ambition, first manifested in early desires to become independent. Together they had gone abroad, together they returned; and now each according to his genius designed to seek happiness where he expected to find it. John still held interests in South Africa, but Martin, content with less fortune, and mighty anxious to be free of all further business, realised his wealth and now knew the limits of his income.

The brothers supped in good spirits and Will Blanchard's sister waited upon them. Chris was her "brother in petticoats," people said, and indeed she resembled him greatly in face and disposition. But her eyes were brown, like her dead father's, and a gypsy splendour of black hair crowned her head. She was a year younger than Will, wholly wrapped up in him and one other.

A familiarity, shy on Martin's side and patronising in John, obtained between the brothers and their pretty attendant, for she knew all about them and the very cottage in which their parents had dwelt and died. The girl came and went, answered John Grimbal's jests readily, and ministered to them as one not inferior to those she served. The elder man's blue eyes were full of earthy admiration. He picked his teeth between the courses and admired aloud, while Chris was from the room.

"'Tis wonderful how pretty all the women look, coming back to them after ten years of nigger girls. Roses and cream isn't in it with their skins, though this one's dark as a clear night—Spanish fashion."

"Miss Blanchard seems very beautiful to me certainly," admitted Martin.

"I've seen only two maids—since setting foot in Chagford," continued his brother, "and it would puzzle the devil to say which was best to look at."

"Your heart will soon be lost, I'll wager—to a Chagford girl, I hope. I know you talked about flying high, but you might be happier to take a mate from—well, you understand."

"It's all very well to build theories on board ship about bettering myself socially and all that, but it's rot; I'll be knocked over by one of the country witches, I know I shall,—I feel it. I love the sound of the Devon on their lips, and the clear eyes of them, and the bright skin. 'Tis all I can do to keep from hugging the women, and that's a fact. But you, you cold-blooded beggar, your heart's still for the grey granite and the old ghostly stones, and creepy, lonely places on the Moor! We're that different, you and me."

Martin nodded thoughtfully, and, the meal being now ended, both men strolled out of doors, then wandered down to smoke a pipe on Rushford Bridge and listen to the nightly murmur of the river. Darkness moved on the face of land and water; twilight had sucked all the colour away from the valley; and through the deepening monochrome of the murk there passed white mists with shadowy hands, and peeped blind pale eyes along the winding water, where its surface reflected the faded west. Nocturnal magic conjured the least meadow into an unmeasured sea of vapour; awoke naiads in the waters and dryads in the woods; transformed the solemn organ music of great beetles into songs of a roaming spirit; set unseen shapes stirring in the starlight; whispered of invisible, enchanted things, happy and unhappy, behind the silence.

A man moved from the bridge as the brothers reached it. Then Will Blanchard, knocking out his pipe and taking a big inspiration, set his face steadily toward Monks Barton and that vital interview with Miller Lyddon now standing in the pathway of his life.

He rapped at the farm door and a step came slowly down the stone-paved passage. Then Billy Blee, the miller's right-hand man, opened to him. Bent he was from the small of the back, with a highly coloured, much wrinkled visage, and ginger hair, bleached by time to a paler shade. His poll was bald and shining, and thick yellow whiskers met beneath a clean-shorn chin. Billy's shaggy eyebrows, little bright eyes, and long upper lip, taken with the tawny fringe under his chops, gave him the look of an ancient and gigantic lion-monkey; and indeed there was not lacking in him an ape-like twist, as shall appear.

"Hullo! boy Blanchard! An' what might you want?" he asked.

"To see Miller."

"Come in then; we'm all alone in kitchen, him and me, awver our grog and game. What's the matter now?"

"A private word for Miller's ear," said Will cautiously.

"Come you in then. Us'll do what we may for 'e. Auld heads be the best stepping-stones young folks can have, understood right; awnly the likes of you mostly chooses to splash through life on your awn damn silly roads."

Mr. Blee, whose friendship and familiarity with his master was of the closest, led on, and Will soon stood before Mr. Lyddon.

The man who owned Monks Barton, and who there prosperously combined the callings of farmer and miller, had long enjoyed the esteem of the neighbourhood in which he dwelt, as had his ancestors before him, through many generations. He had won reputation for a sort of silent wisdom. He never advised any man ill, never hesitated to do a kindly action, and himself contrived to prosper year in, year out, no matter what period of depression might be passing over Chagford. Vincent Lyddon was a widower of sixty-five—a grey, thin, tall man, slow of speech and sleepy of eye. A weak mouth, and a high, round forehead, far smoother than his age had promised, were distinguishing physical features of him. His wife had been dead eighteen years, and of his two children one only survived. The elder, a boy toddling in early childhood at the water's edge, was unmissed until too late, and found drowned next day after a terrible night of agony for both parents. Indeed, Mrs. Lyddon never recovered from the shock, and Phoebe was but a year old when her mother died. Further, it need only be mentioned that the miller had heard of Will's courting more than once, but absolutely refused to allow the matter serious consideration. The romance was no more than philandering of children in his eyes.

"Will—eh? Well, my son, and how can I serve you?" asked the master of Monks Barton, kindly enough. He recrossed his legs, settled in his leather chair, and continued the smoking of a long clay pipe.

"Just this, Mr. Lyddon," began Will abruptly. "You calls me your 'son' as a manner o' speech, but I wants to be no less in fact."

"You ban't here on that fool's errand, bwoy, surely? I thought I'd made my mind clear enough to Phoebe six months ago."

"Look you here now. I be earnin' eighteen shillings a week an' a bit awver; an' I be sure of Morgan's berth as head-keeper presently; an' I'm a man as thinks."

"That's brave talk, but what have 'e saved, lad?" inquired Mr. Blee.

The lover looked round at him sharply.

"I thought you was out the room," he said. "I be come to talk to Miller, not you."

"Nay, nay, Billy can stay and see I'm not tu hard 'pon 'e," declared Mr. Lyddon. "He axed a proper question. What's put by to goody in the savings' bank, Will?"

"Well—five pounds; and 't will be rose to ten by Christmas, I assure 'e."

"Fi' puns! an' how far 's that gwaine?"

"So far as us can make it, in coourse."

"Doan't you see, sonny, this ban't a fair bargain? I'm not a hard man—"

"By gor! not hard enough by a powerful deal," said Billy.

"Not hard on youth; but this match, so to call it, looks like mere moonshine. Theer 's nought to it I can see—both childer, and neither with as much sense as might sink a floatin' straw."

"We love each other wi' all our hearts and have done more 'n half a year. Ban't that nothing?"

"I married when I was forty-two," remarked the miller, reflectively, looking down at his fox-head slippers, the work of Phoebe's fingers.

"An' a purty marryin' time tu!" declared Mr. Blee. "Look at me," he continued, "parlous near seventy, and a bacherlor-man yet."

"Not but Widow Comstock will have 'e if you ax her a bit oftener. Us all knows that," said the young lover, with great stratagem.

Billy chuckled, and rubbed his wrinkles.

"Time enough, time enough," he answered, "but you—scarce out o' clouts—why, 't is playin' at a holy thing, that's what 't is—same as Miss Phoebe, when she was a li'l wee cheel, played at bein' parson in her night-gownd, and got welted for it, tu, by her gude faither."

"We 'm both in earnest anyway—me and Phoebe."

"So am I," replied the miller, sitting up and putting down his pipe; "so am I in earnest, and wan word 's gude as a hunderd in a pass like this. You must hear the truth, an' that never broke no bones. You 'm no more fitted to have a wife than that tobacco-jar—a hot-headed, wild-fire of a bwoy—"

"A right Jack-o'-Lantern, as everybody knaws," suggested Mr. Blee.

"Ess fay, 'tis truth. Shifting and oncertain as the marsh gallopers on the moor bogs of a summer night. Awnly a youth's faults, you mind; but still faults. No, no, my lad, you've got to fight your life's battle and win it, 'fore you'm a mate for any gal; an' you've got to begin by fightin' yourself, an' breaking an' taming yourself, an' getting yourself well in hand. That's a matter of more than months for the best of us."

"And then?" said Will, "after 'tis done? though I'm not allowin' I'm anything but a ripe man as I stand here afore you now."

"Then I'd say, 'I'm glad to see you grawed into a credit to us all, Will Blanchard, and worth your place in the order o' things; but you doan't marry Phoebe Lyddon—never, never, never, not while I'm above ground.'"

His slow eyes looked calmly and kindly at Will, and he smiled into the hot, young, furious face.

"That's your last word then?"

"It is, my lad."

"And you won't give a reason?"

"The reason is, 'what's bred in the bone comes out in the flesh.' I knawed your faither. You'm as volatile as him wi'out his better paarts."

"Leave him wheer he lies—underground. If he'd lived 'stead of bein' cut off from life, you'd 'a' bin proud to knaw him."

"A gypsy-man and no better, Will," said Mr. Blee. "Not but what he made a gude end, I allow."

"Then I'll be up and away. I've spoke 'e fair, Miller—fair an' straight—an' so you to me. You won't allow this match. Then we'll wed wi'out your blessin', an' sorry I shall be."

"If that's your tune, my young rascal, I'll speak again! Phoebe's under age, remember that, and so sure as you dare take her a yard from her awn door you'll suffer for it. 'Tis a clink job, you mind—a prison business; and what's more, you 'm pleased to speak so plain that I will tu, and tell 'e this. If you dare to lift up your eyes to my child again, or stop her in the way, or have speech with her, I'll set p'liceman 'pon 'e! For a year and more she 'm not her awn mistress; and, at the end of that time, if she doan't get better sense than to tinker arter a harum-scarum young jackanapes like you, she ban't a true Lyddon. Now be off with 'e an' doan't dare to look same way Phoebe 's walkin', no more, else theer'll be trouble for 'e."

"Wonnerful language, an' in a nutshell," commented Billy, as, blowing rather hard, the miller made an end of his warning.

"Us'll leave it theer, then, Mr. Lyddon; and you'll live to be sorry ever you said them words to me. Ess fay, you'll live to sing different; for when two 's set 'pon a matter o' marryin', ban't fathers nor mothers, nor yet angels, be gwaine to part 'em. Phoebe an' me will be man an' wife some day, sure 's the sun 's brighter 'n the mune. So now you knaw. Gude night to 'e."

He took up his hat and departed; Billy held up his hands in mute amazement; but the miller showed no emotion and relighted his pipe.

"The rising generation do take my breath away twenty times a day," said Mr. Blee. "To think o' that bwoy, in li'l frocks awnly yesterday, standin' theer frontin' two aged men wi' such bouldacious language!"

"What would you do, Billy, if the gal was yourn?"

"Same as you, to a hair. Bid her drop the chap for gude 'n all. But theer 's devil's pepper in that Blanchard. He ain't done with yet."

"Well, well, he won't shorten my sleep, I promise you. Near two years is a long time to the young. Lord knaws wheer a light thing like him will be blawed to, come two years. Time 's on my side for certain. And Phoebe 's like to change also."

"Why, a woman's mind 's no more 'n a feather in a gale of wind at her time o' life; though to tell her so 's the sure way to make her steadfast."

A moment later Phoebe herself entered. She had heard Will depart and now, in a fever of impatience, crept with bright, questioning eyes to her father's chair. Whereupon Mr. Blee withdrew in a violent hurry. No one audibly desired him to do so, but a side-look from the girl was enough.



CHAPTER III

EXIT WILL

Phoebe's conversation with her father occupied a space of time extending over just two minutes. He met her eager eyes with a smile, patted her head, pinched her ear, and by his manner awakened a delicious flutter of hope in the girl before he spoke. When, therefore, Phoebe learned that Will was sent about his business for ever, and must henceforth be wholly dismissed from her mind, the shock and disappointment of such intelligence came as a cruel blow. She stood silent and thunderstruck before Miller Lyddon, a world of reproaches in her frightened eyes; then mutely the corners of her little mouth sank as she turned away and departed with her first great sorrow.

Phoebe's earliest frantic thought had been to fly to Will, but she knew such a thing was impossible. There would surely be a letter from him on the following morning hidden within their secret pillar-box between two bricks of the mill wall. For that she must wait, and even in her misery she was glad that with Will, not herself, lay decision as to future action. She had expected some delay; she had believed that her father would impose stern restrictions of time and make a variety of conditions with her sweetheart; she had even hoped that Miller Lyddon might command lengthened patience for the sake of her headstrong, erratic Will's temper and character; but that he was to be banished in this crushing and summary fashion overwhelmed Phoebe, and that utterly. Her nature, however, was not one nourished from any very deep wells of character. She belonged to a class who suffer bitterly enough under sorrow, but the storm of it while tearing like a tropical tornado over heart and soul, leaves no traces that lapse of time cannot wholly and speedily obliterate. On them it may be said that fortune's sharpest strokes inflict no lasting scars; their dispositions are happily powerless to harbour the sustained agony that burrows and gnaws, poisons man's estimate of all human affairs, wrecks the stores of his experience, and stamps the cicatrix of a live, burning grief on brow and brain for ever. They find their own misery sufficiently exalted; but their temperament is unable to sustain a lifelong tribulation or elevate sorrow into tragedy. And their state is the more blessed. So Phoebe watered her couch with tears, prayed to God to hear her solemn promises of eternal fidelity, then slept and passed into a brief dreamland beyond sorrow's reach.

Meantime young Blanchard took his stormy heart into a night of stars. The moon had risen; the sky was clear; the silvery silence remained unbroken save for the sound of the river, where it flowed under the shadows of great trees and beneath aerial bridges and banners of the meadow mists. Will strode through this scene, past his mother's cottage, and up a hill behind it, into the village. His mind presented in turn a dozen courses of action, and each was built upon the abiding foundation of Phoebe's sure faithfulness. That she would cling to him for ever the young man knew right well; no thought of a rival, therefore, entered into his calculations. The sole problem was how quickest to make Mr. Lyddon change his mind; how best to order his future that the miller should regard him as a responsible person, and one of weight in affairs. Not that Will held himself a slight man by any means; but he felt that he must straightway assert his individuality and convince the world in general and Miller Lyddon in particular of faulty judgment. He was very angry still as he retraced the recent conversation. Then, among those various fancies and projects in his mind, the wildest and most foolish stood out before him as both expedient and to be desired. His purpose in Chagford was to get advice from another man; but before he reached the village his own mind was established.

Slated and thatched roofs glimmered under moonlight, and already the hamlet slept. A few cats crept like shadows through the deserted streets, from darkness into light, from light back to darkness; and one cottage window, before which Will Blanchard stood, still showed a candle behind a white blind. Most quaint and ancient was this habitation—of picturesque build, with tiny granite porch, small entrance, and venerable thatches that hung low above the upper windows. A few tall balsams quite served to fill the garden; indeed so small was it that from the roadway young Blanchard, by bending over the wooden fence, could easily reach the cottage window. This he did, tapped lightly, and then waited for the door to be opened.

A man presently appeared and showed some surprise at the sight of his late visitor.

"Let me in, Clem," said Will. "I knawed you'd be up, sitting readin' and dreamin'. 'T is no dreamin' time for me though, by God! I be corned straight from seeing Miller 'bout Phoebe."

"Then I can very well guess what was last in your ears."

Clement Hicks spoke in an educated voice. He was smaller than Will but evidently older. Somewhat narrow of build and thin, he looked delicate, though in reality wiry and sound. He was dark of complexion, wore his hair long for a cottager, and kept both moustache and beard, though the latter was very scant and showed the outline of his small chin through it. A forehead remarkably lofty but not broad, mounted almost perpendicularly above the man's eyes; and these were large and dark and full of fire, though marred by a discontented expression. His mouth was full-lipped, his other features huddled rather meanly together under the high brow: but his face, while admittedly plain even to ugliness, was not commonplace; for its eyes were remarkable, and the cast of thought ennobled it as a whole.

Will entered the cottage kitchen and began instantly to unfold his experiences.

"You knaw me—a man with a level head, as leaps after looking, not afore. I put nothing but plain reason to him and he flouted me like you might a cheel. An' I be gwaine to make him eat his words—such hard words as they was tu! Think of it! Me an' Phoebe never to meet no more! The folly of sayin' such a thing! Wouldn't 'e reckon that grey hairs knawed better than to fancy words can keep lovers apart?"

"Grey hairs cover old brains; and old brains forget what it feels like to have a body full o' young blood. The best memory can't keep the feeling of youth fresh in a man."

"Well, I ban't the hot-headed twoad Miller Lyddon thinks, or pretends he thinks, anyway. I'll shaw un! I can wait, an' Phoebe can wait, an' now she'll have to. I'm gwaine away."

"Going away. Why?"

"To shaw what 's in me. I ban't sorry for this for some things. Now no man shall say that I'm a home-stayin' gaby, tramping up an' down Teign Vale for a living. I'll step out into the wide world, same as them Grimbals done. They 'm back again made of money, the pair of 'em."

"It took them fifteen years and more, and they were marvellously lucky."

"What then? I'm as like to fare well as they. I've worked out a far-reaching plan, but the first step I've thought on 's terrible coorious, an' I reckon nobody but you'd see how it led to better things. But you 'm book-larned and wise in your way, though I wish your wisdom had done more for yourself than it has. Anyway, you 'm tokened to Chris and will be one of the family some day perhaps when Mother Coomstock dies, so I'll leave my secret with you. But not a soul else—not mother even. So you must swear you'll never tell to man or woman or cheel what I've done and wheer I be gone."

"I'll swear if you like."

"By the livin' God."

"By any God you believe is alive."

"Say it, then."

"By the living God, I, Clement Hicks, bee-master of Chagford, Devon, swear to keep the secret of my friend and neighbour, William Blanchard, whatever it is."

"And may He tear the life out of you if you so much as think to tell."

Hicks laughed and shook his hair from his forehead.

"You're suspicious of the best friend you've got in the world."

"Not a spark. But I want you to see what an awful solemn thing I reckon it."

"Then may God rot me, and plague me, and let me roast in hell-fire with the rogues for ever and a day, if I so much as whisper your news to man or mouse! There, will that do?"

"No call to drag in hell fire, 'cause I knaw you doan't set no count on it. More doan't I. Hell's cold ashes now if all what you ve said is true. But you've sworn all right and now I'll tell 'e."

He bent forward and whispered in the other's ear, whereon Hicks started in evident amazement and showed himself much concerned.

"Good Heavens! Man alive, are you mad?"

"You doan't 'zactly look on ahead enough, Clem," said Will loftily. "Ban't the thing itself's gwaine to make a fortune, but what comes of it. 'Tis a tidy stepping-stone lead-in' to gert matters very often, as your books tell, I dare say."

"It can't lead to anything whatever in your case but wasted years."

"I'm best judge of that. I've planned the road, and if I ban't home again inside ten year as good a man as Grimbal or any other I'll say I was wrong."

"You're a bigger fool than even I thought, Blanchard."

Will's eye flashed.

"You 'm a tidy judge of a fule, I grant," he said angrily, "or should be. But you 'm awnly wan more against me. You'll see you 'm wrong like the rest. Anyway, you've got to mind what you've sweared. An' when mother an' Chris ax 'e wheer I be, I'll thank you to say I'm out in the world doin' braave, an' no more."

"As you like. It 's idle, I know, trying to make you change your mind."

A thin voice from an upper chamber of the cottage here interrupted their colloquy, and the mother of the bee-keeper reminded him that he was due early on the following day at Okehampton with honey, and that he ought long since to be asleep.

"If that's Will Blanchard," she concluded, "tell un to be off home to bed. What 's the wisdom o' turning night hours into day like this here?"

"All right, mother," shouted Will. "Gude-night to 'e. I be off this moment."

Then bidding his friend farewell, he departed.

"Doan't think twice o' what I said a minute since. I was hot 'cause you couldn't see no wisdom in my plan. But that's the way of folks. They belittle a chap's best thoughts and acts till the time comes for luck to turn an' bring the fruit; then them as scoffed be the first to turn round smilin' an' handshaking and sayin', 'What did us say? Didn't us tell 'e so from the very beginning?'"

Away went the youthful water-keeper, inspired with the prospect of his contemplated flight. He strode home at a rapid pace, to find all lights out and the household in bed. Then he drank half a pint of cider, ate some bread and cheese, and set about a letter to Phoebe.

A little desk on a side-table, the common property of himself, his mother, and sister, was soon opened, and materials found. Then, in his own uncial characters, that always tended hopefully upward, and thus left a triangle of untouched paper at the bottom of every sheet, Will wrote a letter of two folios, or eight complete pages. In this he repeated the points of his conversation with Phoebe's father, told her to be patient, and announced that, satisfied of her unfailing love and steadfastness through all, he was about to pass into the wider world, and carve his way to prosperity and fortune. He hid particulars from her, but mentioned that Clement Hicks would forward any communications. Finally he bid her keep a stout heart and live contented in the certainty of ultimate happiness. He also advised Phoebe to forgive her father. "I have already done it, honor bright," he wrote; "'t is a wise man's part to bear no malice, especially against an old grey body whose judgment 'pears to be gone bad for some reason." He also assured Phoebe that he was hers until death should separate them; in a postscript he desired her to break his departure softly to his mother if opportunity to do so occurred; and, finally, he was not ashamed to fill the empty triangles on each page with kisses, represented by triangles closely packed. Bearing this important communication, Will walked out again into the night, and soon his letter awaited Phoebe in the usual receptacle. He felt therein himself, half suspecting a note might await him, but there was nothing. He hesitated for a moment, then climbed the gate into Monks Barton farmyard, went softly and stood in the dark shadow of the mill-house. The moon shone full upon the face of the dwelling, and its three fruit-trees looked as though painted in profound black against the pale whitewash; while Phoebe's dormer-window framed the splendour of the reflected sky, and shone very brightly. The blind was down, and the maiden behind it had been asleep an hour or two; but Will pictured her as sobbing her heart out still. Perhaps he would never see her again. The path he had chosen to follow might take him over seas and through vast perils; indeed, it must do so if the success he desired was to be won. He felt something almost like a catch in his throat as he turned away and crossed the sleeping river. He glanced down through dreaming glades and saw one motionless silver spot on the dark waters beneath the alders. Sentiment was at its flood just then, and he spoke a few words under his breath. "'Tis thicky auld Muscovy duck, roostin' on his li'l island; poor lone devil wi' never a mate to fight for nor friend to swim along with. Worse case than mine, come to think on it!" Then an emotion, rare enough with him, vanished, and he sniffed the night air and felt his heart beat high at thoughts of what lay ahead.

Will returned home, made fast the outer door, took off his boots, and went softly up a creaking stair. Loud and steady music came from the room where John Grimbal lay, and Blanchard smiled when he heard it. "'Tis the snore of a happy man with money in his purse," he thought. Then he stood by his mother's door, which she always kept ajar at night, and peeped in upon her. Damaris Blanchard slumbered with one arm on the coverlet, the other behind her head. She was a handsome woman still, and looked younger than her eight-and-forty years in the soft ambient light. "Muneshine do make dear mother so purty as a queen," said Will to himself. And he would never wish her "good-by," perhaps never see her again. He hastened with light, impulsive step into the room, thinking just to kiss the hand on the bed, but his mother stirred instantly and cried, "Who's theer?" with sleepy voice. Then she sat up and listened—a fair, grey-eyed woman in an old-fashioned night-cap. Her son had vanished before her eyes were opened, and now she turned and yawned and slept again.

Will entered his own chamber near at hand, doffed for ever the velveteen uniform of water-keeper, and brought from a drawer an old suit of corduroy. Next he counted his slight store of money, set his 'alarum' for four o'clock, and, fifteen minutes later, was in bed and asleep, the time then being a little after midnight.



CHAPTER IV

BY THE RIVER

Clement Hicks paid an early visit to Will's home upon the following morning. He had already set out to Okehampton with ten pounds of honey in the comb, and at Mrs. Blanchard's cottage he stopped the little public vehicle which ran on market-days to the distant town. That the son of the house was up and away at dawn told his family nothing, for his movements were at all times erratic, and part of his duty consisted in appearing on the river at uncertain times and in unexpected localities. Clement Hicks often called for a moment upon his way to market, and Chris, who now greeted her lover, felt puzzled at the unusual gravity of his face. She turned pale when she heard his tremendous news; but the mother was of more Spartan temperament and received intelligence of Will's achievement without changing colour or ceasing from her occupation.

Between Damaris Blanchard and her boy had always existed a perfect harmony of understanding, rare even in their beautiful relationship. The thoughts of son and mother chimed; not seldom they anticipated each other's words. The woman saw much of her dead husband reflected in Will and felt a moral conviction that through the storms of youth, high temper, and inexperience, he would surely pass to good things, by reason of the strenuous honesty and singleness of purpose that actuated him; he, on his side, admired the great calmness and self-possession of his mother. She was so steadfast, so strong, and wiser than any woman he had ever seen. With a fierce, volcanic affection Will Blanchard loved her. She and Phoebe alike shared his whole heart.

"It is a manly way of life he has chosen, and that is all I may say. He is ambitious and strong, and I should be the last to think he has not done well to go into the world for a while," said Clement.

"When is he coming back again?" asked Chris.

"He spoke of ten years or so."

"Then 'twill be more or less," declared Mrs. Blanchard, calmly. "Maybe a month, maybe five years, or fifteen, not ten, if he said ten. He'll shaw the gude gold he's made of, whether or no. I'm happy in this and not surprised. 'Twas very like to come arter last night, if things went crooked."

"'Tis much as faither might have done," said Chris.

"'Tis much what he did do. Thank you for calling, Clem Hicks. Now best be away, else they'll drive off to Okehampton without 'e."

Clement departed, Chris wept as the full extent of her loss was impressed upon her, and Mrs. Blanchard went up to her son's room. There she discovered the velveteen suit with a card upon them: "Hand over to Mr. Morgan, Head Water-keeper, Sandypark." She looked through his things, and found that he had taken nothing but his money, one suit of working clothes, and a red tie—her present to him on his birthday during the previous month. All his other possessions remained in their usual places. With none to see, the woman's eye moistened; then she sat down on Will's bed and her heart grew weak for one brief moment as she pictured him fighting the battle. It hurt her a little that he had told Clement Hicks his intention and hid it from his mother. Yet as a son, at least, he had never failed. However, all affairs of life were a matter of waiting, more or less, she told herself; and patience was easier to Damaris Blanchard than to most people. Under her highest uneasiness, maternal pride throbbed at thought of the manly independence indicated by her son's action. She returned to the duties of the day, but found herself restless, while continually admonishing Chris not to be so. Her thoughts drifted to Monks Barton and Will's meeting with his sweetheart's father. Presently, when her daughter went up to the village, Mrs. Blanchard put off her apron, donned the cotton sunbonnet that she always wore from choice, and walked over to see Mr. Lyddon. They were old friends, and presently Damaris listened sedately to the miller without taking offence at his directness of speech. He told the story of his decision and Will's final reply, while she nodded and even smiled once or twice in the course of the narrative.

"You was both right, I reckon," she said placidly, looking into Mr. Lyddon's face. "You was wise to mistrust, not knawin' what's at the root of him; and he, being as he is, was in the right to tell 'e the race goes to the young. Wheer two hearts is bent on joining, 'tis join they will—if both keeps of a mind long enough."

"That's it, Damaris Blanchard; who's gwaine to b'lieve that a bwoy an' gal, like Will an' Phoebe, do knaw theer minds? Mark me, they'll both chaange sweethearts a score of times yet 'fore they come to mate."

"Caan't speak for your darter, Lyddon; but I knaw my son. A masterful bwoy, like his faither before him, wild sometimes an' wayward tu, but not with women-folk. His faither loved in wan plaace awnly. He'll be true to your cheel whatever betides, or I'm a fule."

"What's the use of that if he ban't true to himself? No, no, I caan't see a happy ending to the tale however you look at it. Wish I could. I fear't was a ugly star twinkled awver his birthplace, ma'am."

"'Twas all the stars of heaven, Miller," said the mother, frankly, "for he was born in my husband's caravan in the auld days. We was camped up on the Moor, drawn into one of them roundy-poundies o' grey granite stones set up by Phoenicians at the beginning of the world. Ess fay, a braave shiny night, wi' the li'l windows thrawed open to give me air. An' 'pon Will's come-of-age birthday, last month, if us didn't all drive up theer an' light a fire an' drink a dish of tea in the identical spot! 'Tis out Newtake' way."

"Like a story-book."

"'Twas Clem Hicks, his thought, being a fanciful man. But I'll bid you gude-marnin' now. Awnly mind this, as between friends and without a spark of malice: Will Blanchard means to marry your maid, sure as you'm born, if awnly she keeps strong for him. It rests with her, Miller, not you."

"Much what your son said in sharper words. Well, you'm out o' reckoning for once, wise though you be most times; for if a maiden's happiness doan't rest with her faither, blamed if I see wheer it should. And to think such a man as me doan't knaw wiser 'n two childern who caan't number forty year between 'em is flat fulishness, surely?"

"I knaw Will," said Mrs. Blanchard, slowly and emphatically; "I knaw un to the core, and that's to say more than you or anybody else can. A mother may read her son like print, but no faither can see to the bottom of a wife-old daughter—not if he was Solomon's self. So us'll wait an' watch wi'out being worse friends."

She went home again the happier for her conversation; but any thought that Mr. Lyddon might have been disposed to devote to her prophecy was for the time banished by the advent of John Grimbal and his brother.

Like boys home from school, they dwelt in the present delight of their return, and postponed the varied duties awaiting them, to revel again in the old sights, sounds, and scents. To-day they were about an angling excursion, and the fishers' road to Fingle lying through Monks Barton, both brothers stopped a while and waited upon their old friend of the mill, according to John's promise of the previous afternoon. Martin carried the creel and the ample luncheon it contained; John smoked a strong cigar and was only encumbered with his light fly-rod; the younger designed to accompany his brother through Fingle Valley; then leave him there, about his sport, and proceed alone to various places of natural and antiquarian interest. But John meant fishing and nothing else. To him great woods were no more than cover for fur and feathers; rivers and streams meant a vehicle for the display of a fly to trout, and only attracted him or the reverse, according to the fish they harboured. When the moorland waters spouted and churned, cherry red from their springs in the peat, he deemed them a noble spectacle; when, as at present, Teign herself had shrunk to a mere silver thread, and the fingerling trout splashed and wriggled half out of water in the shallows, he freely criticised its scanty volume and meagre depths.

Miller Lyddon welcomed the men very heartily. He had been amongst those who dismissed them with hope to their battle against the world, and now he reminded them of his sanguine predictions. Will Blanchard's disappearance amused John Grimbal and he laughed when Billy Blee appeared red-hot with the news. Mr. Lyddon made no secret of his personal opinion of Blanchard, and all debated the probable design of the wanderer.

"Maybe he's 'listed," said John, "an' a good thing too if he has. It makes a man of a young fellow. I'm for conscription myself—always have been."

"I be minded to think he've joined the riders," declared Billy. "Theer comed a circus here last month, with braave doin's in the way of horsemanship and Merry Andrews, and such like devilries. Us all goes to see it from miles round every year; an' Will was theer. Circus folk do see the world in a way denied to most, and theer manner of life takes 'em even as far as Russia and the Indies I've heard."

"Then there's the gypsy blood in him—" declared Mr. Lyddon, "that might send him roaming oversea, if nothing else did."

"Or my great doings are like to have fired him," said John. "How's Phoebe?" he continued, dismissing Will. "I saw her yesterday—a bowerly maiden she's grown—a prize for a better man that this wild youngster, now bolted God knaws where."

"So I think," agreed the miller, "an' I hope she'll soon forget the searching grey eyes of un and his high-handed way o' speech. Gals like such things. Dear, dear! though he made me so darned angry last night, I could have laughed in his faace more 'n wance."

"Missy's under the weather this marnin'," declared Billy. "Who tawld her I ban't able to say, but she knawed he'd gone just arter feedin' the fowls, and she went down valley alone, so slow, wi' her purty head that bent it looked as if her sunbonnet might be hiding an auld gran'mother's poll."

"She'll come round," said Martin; "she's only a young girl yet."

"And there 's fish as good in the sea as ever came out, and better," declared his brother. "She must wait for a man who is a man,—somebody of good sense and good standing, with property to his name."

Miller Lyddon noted with surprise and satisfaction John Grimbal's warmth of manner upon this question; he observed also the stout, hearty body of him, and the handsome face that crowned it. Then the brothers proceeded down-stream, and the master of Monks Barton looked after them and caught himself hoping that they might meet Phoebe.

At a point where the river runs between a giant shoulder of heather-clad hill on one side and the ragged expanses of Whiddon Park upon the other, John clambered down to the streamside and began to fish, while Martin dawdled at hand and watched the sport. A pearly clearness, caught from the clouds, characterised earth as well as air, and proved that every world-picture depends for atmosphere and colour upon the sky-picture extended above it. Again there was movement and some music, for the magic of the wind in a landscape's nearer planes is responsible for both. The wooded valley lay under a grey and breezy forenoon; swaying alders marked each intermittent gust with a silver ripple of upturned foliage, and still reaches of the river similarly answered the wind with hurrying flickers and furrows of dimpled light. Through its transparent flood, where the waters ran in shadow and escaped reflections, the river revealed a bed of ruddy brown and rich amber. This harmonious colouring proceeded from the pebbly bottom, where a medley of warm agate tones spread and shimmered, like some far-reaching mosaic beneath the crystal. Above Teign's shrunken current extended oak and ash, while her banks bore splendid concourse of the wild water-loving dwellers in that happy valley. Meadowsweet nodded creamy crests; hemlock and fool's parsley and seeding willow-herb crowded together beneath far-scattered filigree of honeysuckles and brambles with berries, some ripe, some red; while the scarlet corals of briar and white bryony gemmed every riotous trailing thicket, dene, and dingle along the river's brink; and in the grassy spaces between rose little chrysoprase steeples of wood sage all set in shining fern. Upon the boulders in midstream subaqueous mosses, now revealed and starved by the drought, died hard, and the seeds of grasses, figworts, and persicarias thrust up flower and foliage, flourishing in unwonted spots from which the next freshet would rudely tear them. Insect life did not abundantly manifest itself, for the day was sunless; but now and again, with crisp rattle of his gauze wings, a dragon-fly flashed along the river. Through these scenes the Teign rolled drowsily and with feeble pulses. Upon one bank rose the confines of Whiddon; on the other, abrupt and interspersed with gulleys of shattered shale, ascended huge slopes whereon a whole summer of sunshine had scorched the heather to dry death. But fading purple still gleamed here and there in points and splashes, and the lesser furze, mingling therewith, scattered gold upon the tremendous acclivities even to the crown of fir-trees that towered remote and very blue upon the uplifted sky-line. Swallows, with white breasts flashing, circled over the river, and while their elevation above the water appeared at times tremendous, the abrupt steepness of the gorge was such that the birds almost brushed the hillside with their wings. A sledge, laden with the timber of barked sapling oaks, creaked and jingled over the rough road beside the stream; a man called to his horses and a dog barked beside him; then they disappeared and the spacious scene was again empty, save for its manifold wild life and music.

John Grimbal fished, failed, and cursed the poor water and the lush wealth of the riverside that caught his fly at every critical moment. A few small trout he captured and returned; then, flinging down rod and net, he called to his brother for the luncheon-basket. Together they sat in the fern beside the river and ate heartily of the fare that Mrs. Blanchard had provided; then, as John was about to light a pipe, his brother, with a smile, produced a little wicker globe and handed it to him. This unexpected sight awoke sudden and keen appetite on the elder's face. He smacked his lips, swore a hearty oath of rejoicing, and held out an eager hand for the thing.

"My God! to think I'll suck the smoke of that again,—the best baccy in the wide world!"

The little receptacle contained a rough sort of sun-dried Kaffir tobacco, such as John and Martin had both smoked for the past fifteen years.

"I thought it would be a treat. I brought home a few pounds," said the younger, smiling again at his brother's hungry delight. John cut into the case, loaded his pipe, and lighted it with a contented sign. Then he handed the rest back to its owner.

"No, no," said Martin. "I'll just have one fill, that's all. I brought this for you. 'T will atone for the poor sport. The creel I shall leave with you now, for I'm away to Fingle Bridge and Prestonbury. We'll meet at nightfall."

Thereupon he set off down the valley, his mind full of early British encampments, while John sat and smoked and pondered upon his future. He built no castles in the air, but a solid country house of red brick, destined to stand in its own grounds near Chagford, and to have a snug game-cover or two about it, with a few good acres of arable land bordering on forest. Roots meant cover for partridges in John Grimbal's mind; beech and oak in autumn represented desirable food for pheasants; and corn, once garnered and out of the way, left stubble for all manner of game.

Meantime, whilst he reviewed his future with his eyes on a blue cloud of tobacco smoke, Martin passed Phoebe Lyddon farther down the valley. Him she recognised as a stranger; but he, with his eyes engaged in no more than unconscious guarding of his footsteps, his mind buried in the fascinating problems of early British castramentation, did not look at her or mark a sorrowful young face still stained with tears.

Into the gorge Phoebe had wandered after reading her sweetheart's letter. There, to the secret ear of the great Mother, instinct had drawn her and her grief; and now the earliest shock was over; a dull, numb pain of mind followed the first sorrow; unwonted exercise had made her weary; and physical hunger, not to be stayed by mental suffering, forced her to turn homewards. Red-eyed and unhappy she passed beside the river, a very picture of a woful lover.

The sound of Phoebe's steps fell on John Grimbal's ear as he lay upon his back with crossed knees and his hands behind his head. He partly rose therefore, thrust his face above the fern, saw the wayfarer, and then sprang to his feet. The cause of her tearful expression and listless demeanour was known to him, but he ignored them and greeted her cheerily.

"Can't catch anything big enough to keep, and sha'n't until the rain comes," he said; "so I'll walk along with you, if you're going home."

He offered his hand; then, after Phoebe had shaken it, moved beside her and put up his rod as he went.

"Saw your father this morning, and mighty glad I was to find him so blooming. To my eye he looks younger than my memory picture of him. But that's because I've grown from boy to man, as you have from child to woman."

"So I have, and 't is a pity my faither doan't knaw it," answered Phoebe, smarting under her wrongs, and willing to chronicle them in a friendly ear. "If I ban't full woman, who is? Yet I'm treated like a baaby, as if I'd got no 'pinions an' feelings, and wasn't—wasn't auld enough to knaw what love meant."

Grimbal's eyes glowed at the picture of the girl's indignation, and he longed to put his arms round her and comfort her.

"You must be wise and dutiful, Phoebe," he said. "Will Blauchard's a plucky fellow to go off and face the world. And perhaps he'll be one of the lucky ones, like I was."

"He will be, for certain, and so you'd say if you knawed him same as I do. But the cruel waitin'—years and years and years—'t is enough to break a body's heart."

Her voice fluttered like bells in a wild wind; she trembled on the brink of tears; and he saw by little convulsive movements and the lump in her round throat that she could not yet regard her lot with patience. She brought out her pocket-handkerchief again, and the man noticed it was all wet and rolled into a ball.

"Life's a blank thing at lovers' parting," he said; "but time rubs the rough edges off matters that fret our minds the worst. Days and nights, and plenty of 'em, are the best cure for all ills."

"An' the best cure for life tu! The awnly cure. Think of years an' years without him. Yesterday us met up in Pixies' Parlour yonder, an' I was peart an' proud as need be; to-day he's gone, and I feel auld and wisht and all full of weary wonder how I'm gwaine to fare and if I'llever see him again. 'T is cruel—bitter cruel for me."

That she could thus pity herself so soon argued a mind incapable of harbouring great sorrow for many years; and the man at her side, without appreciating this fact, yet, by a sort of intuition, suspected that Phoebe's grief, perhaps even her steadfastness of purpose, would suffer diminution before very great lapse of time. Without knowing why, he hoped it might be so. Her voice fell melodiously upon an ear long tuned to the whine of native women. It came from the lungs, was full and sweet, with a shy suddenness about it, like the cooing of wood doves. She half slipped at a stile, and he put out his hand and touched her waist and felt his heart throb. But Phoebe's eyes rarely met her new friend's. The girl looked with troubled brows ahead into the future, while she walked beside him; and he, upon her left hand, saw only the soft cheek, the pouting lips, and the dimples that came and went. Sometimes she looked up, however, and Grimbal noted how the flutter of past tears shook her round young breast, marked the spring of her step, the freedom of her gait, and the trim turn of her feet and ankles. After the flat-footed Kaffir girls, Phoebe's instep had a right noble arch in his estimation.

"To think that I, as never wronged faither in thought or deed, should be treated so hard! I've been all the world to him since mother died, for he's said as much to many; yet he's risen up an' done this, contrary to justice and right and Scripture, tu."

"You must be patient, Phoebe, and respect his age, and let the matter rest till the time grows ripe. I can't advise you better than that."

"'Patient!' My life's empty, I tell 'e—empty, hollow, tasteless wi'out my Will."

"Well, well, we'll see. I'm going to build a big red-brick house presently, and buy land, and make a bit of a stir in my small way. You've a pretty fancy in such things, I'll bet a dollar. You shall give me a helping hand—eh? You must tell me best way of setting up house. And you might help me as to furniture and suchlike if you had time for it. Will you, for an old friend?"

Phoebe was slightly interested. She promised to do anything in her power that might cause Mr. Grimbal satisfaction; and he, very wisely, assured her that there was no salve for sorrow like unselfish labours on behalf of other people. He left her at the farm-gate, and tramped back to the Blanchard cottage with his mind busy enough. Presently he changed his clothes, and set a diamond in his necktie. Then he strolled away into the village, to see the well-remembered names above the little shop windows; to note curiously how Chagford market-place had shrunk and the houses dwindled since last he saw them; to call with hearty voice and rough greeting at this habitation and that; to introduce himself again among men and women who had known him of yore, and who, for the most part, quite failed to recognise in their bluff and burly visitor the lad who set forth from his father's cottage by the church so many years before.



CHAPTER V

THE INCIDENT OF MR. JOEL FORD

Of Blanchard family history a little more must be said. Timothy Blanchard, the husband of Damaris and father of Will and Chris, was in truth of the nomads, though not a right gypsy. As a lad, and at a time when the Romany folk enjoyed somewhat more importance and prosperity than of late years, he joined them, and by sheer force of character and mother wit succeeded in rising to power amongst the wanderers. The community with which he was connected for the most part confined its peregrinations to the West; and time saw Timothy Blanchard achieve success in his native country, acquire two caravans, develop trade on a regular "circuit," and steadily save money in a small way; while his camp of some five-and-twenty souls—men, women, and numerous children—shared in their leader's prosperity. These earlier stages of the man's career embraced some strange circumstances, chief amongst them being his marriage. Damaris Ford was the daughter of a Moor farmer. Her girlhood had been spent in the dreary little homestead of "Newtake," above Chagford, within the fringe of the great primeval wastes; and here, on his repeated journeys across the Moor, Tim Blanchard came to know her and love her well.

Farmer Ford swore round oaths, and sent Blanchard and his caravans packing when the man approached him for his daughter's hand; but the girl herself was already won, and week after her lover's repulse Damaris vanished. She journeyed with her future husband to Exeter, wedded him, and became mistress of his house on wheels; then, for the space of four years, she lived the gypsy life, brought a son and daughter into the world, and tried without avail to obtain her father's forgiveness. That, however, she never had, though her mother communicated with her in fear and trembling; and when, by strange chance, on Will's advent, Damaris Blanchard was brought to bed near her old home, and became a mother in one of the venerable hut circles which plentifully scatter that lonely region, Mrs. Ford, apprised of the fact in secret, actually stole to her daughter's side by night and wept over her grandchild. Now the farmer and his wife were dead; Newtake at present stood without a tenant; and Mrs. Blanchard possessed no near relations save her children and one elder brother, Joel, to whom had passed their parent's small savings.

Timothy Blanchard continued a wandering existence for the space of five years after his marriage; then he sold his caravans, settled in Chagford, bought the cottage by the river, rented some market-garden land, and pursued his busy and industrious way. Thus he prospered through ten more years, saving money, developing a variety of schemes, letting out on hire a steam thresher, and in various other ways adding to his store. The man was on the high road to genuine prosperity when death overtook him and put a period to his ambitions. He was snatched from mundane affairs leaving numerous schemes half developed and most of his money embarked in various enterprises. Unhappily Will was too young to continue his father's work, and though Mrs. Blanchard's brother, Joel Ford, administered the little estate to the best of his power, much had to be sacrificed. In the sequel Damaris found herself with a cottage, a garden, and an annual income of about fifty pounds a year. Her son was then twelve years of age, her daughter eighteen months younger. So she lived quietly and not without happiness, after the first sorrow of her husband's loss was in a measure softened by time.

Of Mr. Joel Ford it now becomes necessary to speak. Combining the duties of attorney, house-agent, registrar of deaths, births, and marriages, and receiver of taxes and debts, the man lived a dingy life at Newton Abbot. Acid, cynical, and bald he was, very dry of mind and body, and but ten years older than Mrs. Blanchard, though he looked nearer seventy than sixty. To the Newton mind Mr. Ford was associated only with Quarter Day—that black, recurrent cloud on the horizon of every poor man's life. He dwelt with an elderly housekeeper—a widow of genial disposition; and indeed the attorney himself was not lacking in some urbanity of character, though few guessed it, for he kept all that was best in himself hidden under an unlovely crust. His better instincts took the shape of family affection. Damaris Blanchard and he were the last branches of one of the innumerable families of Ford to be found in Devon, and he had no small regard for his only living sister. His annual holiday from business—a period of a fortnight, sometimes extended to three weeks if the weather was more than commonly fair—he spent habitually at Chagford; and Will on these occasions devoted his leisure to his uncle, drove him on the Moor, and made him welcome. Will, indeed, was a favourite with Mr. Ford, and the lad's high spirits, real ignorance of the world, and eternal grave assumption of wisdom even tickled the man of business into a sort of dry cricket laughter upon occasions. When, therefore, a fortnight after young Blanchard's mysterious disappearance, Joel Ford arrived at his sister's cottage for the annual visit, he was as much concerned as his nature had power to make him at the news.

For three weeks he stayed, missing the company of his nephew not a little; and his residence in Chagford had needed no special comment save for an important incident resulting therefrom.

Phoebe Lyddon it was who in all innocence and ignorance set rolling a pebble that finally fell in thundering avalanches; and her chance word was uttered at her father's table on an occasion when John and Martin Grimbal were supping at Monks Barton.

The returned natives, and more especially the elder, had been much at the mill since their reappearance. John, indeed, upon one pretext or another, scarcely spent a day without calling. His rough kindness appealed to Phoebe, who at first suspected no danger from it, while Mr. Lyddon encouraged the man and made him and his brother welcome at all times.

John Grimbal, upon the morning that preceded the present supper party, had at last found a property to his taste. It might, indeed, have been designed for him. Near Whiddon it lay, in the valley of the Moreton Road, and consisted of a farm and the ruin of a Tudor mansion. The latter had been tenanted until the dawn of this century, but was since then fallen into decay. The farm lands stretched beneath the crown of Cranbrook, hard by the historic "Bloody Meadow," a spot assigned to that skirmish between Royalist and Parliamentary forces during 1642 which cost brilliant young Sidney Godolphin his life. Here, or near at hand, the young man probably fell, with a musket-bullet in his leg, and subsequently expired at Chagford[1] leaving the "misfortune of his death upon a place which could never otherwise have had a mention to the world," according to caustic Chancellor Clarendon.

[1] At Chagford. The place of the poet's passing is believed to have been an ancient dwelling-house adjacent to St. Michael's Church. At that date it was a private residence of the Whiddon family; but during later times it became known as the "Black Swan Inn," or tavern (a black swan being the crest of Sir John Whiddon, Judge of Queen's Bench in the first Mary's reign); while to-day this restored Mansion appears as the hostelry of the "Three Crowns."

Upon the aforesaid ruins, fashioned after the form of a great E, out of compliment to the sovereign who occupied the throne at the period of the decayed fabric's erection, John Grimbal proposed to build his habitation of red brick and tile. The pertaining farm already had a tenant, and represented four hundred acres of arable land, with possibilities of development; snug woods wound along the boundaries of the estate and mingled their branches with others not more stately though sprung from the nobler domain of Whiddon; and Chagford was distant but a mile, or five minutes' ride.

Tongues wagged that evening concerning the Red House, as the ruin was called, and a question arose as to whom John Grimbal must apply for information respecting the property.

"I noted on the board two names—one in London, one handy at Newton Abbot—a Mr. Joel Ford, of Wolborough Street."

Phoebe blushed where she sat and very nearly said, "My Will's uncle!" but thought better of it and kept silent. Meanwhile her father answered.

"Ford's an attorney, Mrs. Blanchard's brother, a maker of agreements between man and man, and a dusty, dry sort of chip, from all I've heard tell. His father and mine were friends forty years and more agone. Old Ford had Newtake Farm on the Moor, and wore his fingers to the bone that his son might have good schooling and a learned profession."

"He's in Chagford this very minute," said Phoebe.

Then Mr. Blee spoke. On the occasion of any entertainment at Monks Barton he waited at table instead of eating with the family as usual. Now he addressed the company from his station behind Mr. Lyddon's chair.

"Joel Ford's biding with his sister. A wonderful deep man, to my certain knowledge, an' wears a merchant-like coat an' shiny hat working days an' Sabbaths alike. A snug man, I'll wager, if 't is awnly by the token of broadcloth on week-days."

"He looks for all the world like a yellow, shrivelled parchment himself. Regular gimlet eyes, too, and a very fitch for sharpness, though younger than his appearance might make you fancy," said the miller.

"Then I'll pay him a visit and see how things stand," declared John. "Not that I'd employ any but my own London lawyer, of course," he added, "but this old chap can give me the information I require; no doubt."

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