THE DELECTABLE DUCHY
PROLOGUE THE SPINSTER'S MAYING DAPHNIS WHEN THE SAP ROSE THE PAUPERS CUCKOO VALLEY RAILWAY THE CONSPIRACY ABOARD THE "MIDAS" LEGENDS OF ST. PIRAN. I St. Piran: the Millstone II St. Piran: the Visitation IN THE TRAIN. I. Punch's Understudy II. A Corrected Contempt WOON GATE FROM A COTTAGE IN GANTICK. I. The Mourner's Horse II. Silhouettes THE DRAWN BLIND A GOLDEN WEDDING SCHOOL FRIENDS PARENTS AND CHILDREN. I. The Family Bible II. Boanerges TWO MONUMENTS EGG-STEALING SEVEN-AN'-SIX THE REGENT'S WAGER LOVE OF NAOMI THE PRINCE OF ABYSSINIA'S POST-BAG. I. An Interruption II. The Great Fire on Freethy's Quay
A week ago, my friend the Journalist wrote to remind me that once upon a time I had offered him a bed in my cottage at Troy and promised to show him the beauties of the place. He was about (he said) to give himself a fortnight's holiday, and had some notion of using that time to learn what Cornwall was like. He could spare but one day for Troy, and hardly looked to exhaust its attractions; nevertheless, if my promise held good.... By anticipation he spoke of my home as a "nook." Its windows look down upon a harbour, wherein, day by day, vessels of every nation and men of large experience are for ever going and coming; and beyond the harbour, upon leagues of open sea, highway of the vastest traffic in the world: whereas from his own far more expensive house my friend sees only a dirty laurel-bush, a high green fence, and the upper half of a suburban lamp post. Yet he is convinced that I dwell in a nook.
I answered his letter, warmly repeating the invitation; and last week he arrived. The change had bronzed his face, and from his talk I learnt that he had already seen half the Duchy, in seven days. Yet he had been unreasonably delayed in at least a dozen places, and used the strongest language about 'bus and coach communication, local trains, misleading sign-posts, and the like. Our scenery enraptured him—every aspect of it. He had travelled up the Tamar to Launceston, crossed the moors, climbing Roughtor and Brown Willy on his way, plunged down towards Camelford, which he appeared to have reached by following two valleys simultaneously, coached to Boscastle, walked to Tintagel, climbed up to Uther's Castle, diverged inland to St. Nectan's Kieve, driven on to Bedruthan Steps, Mawgan, the Vale of Lanherne, Newquay, taken a train thence to Truro, a steamer from Truro to Falmouth, crossed the ferry to St. Mawes, walked up the coast to Mevagissey, driven from Mevagissey to St. Austell, and at St. Austell taken another train for Troy. This brought half his holiday to a close: the remaining half he meant to devote to the Mining District, St. Ives, the Land's End, St. Michael's Mount, the Lizard, and perhaps the Scilly Isles.
Then I began to feel that I lived in a nook, and to wonder how I could spin out its attractions to cover a whole day: for I could not hear to think of his departing with secret regret for his lavished time. In a flash I saw the truth; that my love for this spot is built up of numberless trivialities, of small memories all incommunicable, or ridiculous when communicated; a scrap of local speech heard at this corner, a pleasant native face remembered in that doorway, a battered vessel dropping anchor—she went out in the spring with her crew singing dolefully; and the grey-bearded man waiting in his boat beneath her counter till the custom-house officers have made their survey is the father of one among the crew, and is waiting to take his son's hand again, after months of absence. Would this interest my friend, if I pointed it out to him? Or, if I walk with him by the path above the creek, what will he care to know that on this particular bank the violets always bloom earliest—that one of a line of yews that top the churchyard wall is remarkable because a pair of missel-thrushes have chosen it to build in for three successive years? The violets are gone. The empty nest has almost dissolved under the late heavy rains, and the yew is so like its fellows that I myself have no idea why the birds chose it. The longer I reflected the more certain I felt that my friend could find all he wanted in the guide-books.
None the less, I did my best: rowed him for a mile or two up the river; took him out to sea, and along the coast for half a dozen miles. The water was choppy, as it is under the slightest breeze from the south-east; and the Journalist was sea-sick; but seemed to mind this very little, and recovered sufficiently to ask my boatman two or three hundred questions before we reached the harbour again. Then we landed and explored the Church. This took us some time, owing to several freaks in its construction, for which I blessed the memory of its early-English builders. We went on to the Town Hall, the old Stannary Prison (now in ruins), the dilapidated Block-houses, the Battery. We traversed the town from end to end and studied the barge-boards and punkin-ends of every old house. I had meanly ordered that dinner should he ready half-an-hour earlier than usual, and, as it was, the objects of interest just lasted out.
As we sat and smoked our cigarettes after dinner, the Journalist said—
"If you don't mind, I'll he off in a few minutes and shut myself up in your study. I won't he long turning out the copy; and after that I can talk to you without feeling I've neglected my work. There's an early post here, I suppose?"
"Man alive!" said I, "you don't mean to tell me that you're working, this holiday?"
"Only a letter for the 'Daily ——' three times a week—a column and a half, or so."
"Oh, descriptive stuff about the places I've been visiting. I call it 'An Idler in Lyonesse.'"
"Well, Lyonesse has lain at the bottom of the Atlantic, between Land's End and Scilly, these eight hundred years. The chroniclers relate that it was overwhelmed and lost in 1099, A.D. If your Constant Readers care to ramble there, they're welcome, I'm sure."
"I had thought" said he, "it was just a poet's name for Cornwall. Well, never mind, I'll go in presently and write up this place: it's just as well to do it while one's impressions are still fresh."
He finished his coffee, lit a fresh cigarette, and strolled off to the little library where I usually work. I stepped out upon the verandah and looked down on the harbour at my feet, where already the vessels were hanging out their lamps in the twilight. I had looked down thus, and at this hour, a thousand times; and always the scene had something new to reveal to me, and much more to withhold—small subtleties such as a man finds in his wife, however ordinary she may appear to other people. And here, in the next room, was a man who, in half-a-dozen hours, felt able to describe Troy, to deck her out, at least, in language that should captivate a million or so of breakfasting Britons.
"My country," said I, "if you have given up, in these six hours, a tithe of your heart to this man—if, in fact, his screed be not arrant bosh—then will I hie me to London for good and all, and write political leaders all the days of my life."
In an hour's time the Journalist came sauntering out to me, and announced that his letter was written.
"Have you sealed it up?"
"Well, no. I thought you might give me an additional hint or two; and maybe I might look it over again and add a few lines before turning in."
"Do you mind my seeing it?"
"Not the least in the world, if you care to. I didn't think, though, that it could possibly interest you, who know already every mortal thing that is to be known about the place."
"You're mistaken. I may know all about this place when I die, but not before. Let's hear what you have to say."
We went indoors, and he read it over to me.
It was a surprisingly brilliant piece of description; and accurate, too. He had not called it "a little fishing-town," for instance, as so many visitors have done in my hearing, though hardly a fishing-boat puts out from the harbour. The guide-books call it a fishing-town, but the Journalist was not misled, though he had gone to them for a number of facts. I corrected a date and then sat silent. It amazed me that a man who could see so much, should fail to perceive that what he had seen was of no account in comparison with what he had not: or that, if he did indeed perceive this, he could write such stuff with such gusto. "To be capable of so much and content with so little," I thought; and then broke off to wonder if, after all, he were not right. To-morrow he would be on his way, crowding his mind with quick and brilliant impressions, hurrying, living, telling his fellows a thousand useful and pleasant things, while I pored about to discover one or two for them.
"I thought," said the Journalist, swinging his gold pencil-case between finger and thumb, "you might furnish me with just a hint or so, to give the thing a local colour. Some little characteristic of the natives, for instance. I noticed, this afternoon, when I was most sea-sick, that your fellow took off his hat and pulled something out of the lining. I was too ill to see what it was; but he dropped it overboard the next minute and muttered something."
"Oh, you remarked that, did you?"
"Yes, and meant to ask him about it afterwards; but forgot, somehow."
"Do you remember where we were—what we were passing—when he did this?"
"Not clearly. I was infernally ill just then. Why did he do it?"
I was silent.
"I suppose it had some meaning?" he went on.
"Yes, it had. And excuse me when I say that I'm hanged if either you or your Constant Readers shall know what that meaning was. My dear fellow, you belong to a strong race—a race that has beaten us and taken toll of us, and now carves 'Smith' and 'Thompson' and such names upon our fathers' tombs. But there are some things you have not laid hands on yet; secrets that we all know somehow, but never utter, even among ourselves, nor allude to. If I told you what Billy Tredegar did to-day, and why he did it, I tell you frankly your article would make some thousands of Constant Readers open wide eyes over their breakfast-cups. But you won't know. Why, after all, should I say anything to spoil Cornwall's prospects as a health-resort?"
My friend took this very quietly, merely observing that it was rather late in the day to take sides against Hengist and Horsa. But he was sorry, I could see, to lose his local colour. And as I looked down, for the last time that night, upon Troy, this petition escaped me—
"O my country, if I keep your secrets, keep for me your heart!"
THE SPINSTER'S MAYING.
"The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet, Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit; In every street these tunes our ears do greet— Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-wee, to-witta-woo! Spring, the sweet Spring."
At two o'clock on May morning a fishing-boat, with a small row-boat in tow, stole up the harbour between the lights of the vessels that lay at anchor. She came on a soundless tide, with her sprit-mainsail wide and drawing, and her foresail flapping idle; and although her cuddy-top and gunwale glistened wet with a recent shower, the man who steered her looked over his shoulder at the waning moon, and decided that the dawn would be a fine one. A furlong below the Town Quay he left the tiller and lowered sail: two furlongs above, he dropped anchor: then, having made all ship-shape, he lit a pipe and pulled an enormous watch from his fob. The vessels he had passed since entering the harbour's mouth seemed one and all asleep. But a din of horns, kettles, and tea-trays, and a wild tattoo of door-knockers, sounded along the streets behind the stores and houses that lined the water-side. Already the town-boys were ushering in the month of May.
The man waited until the half-hour chimed over the 'long-shore roofs from the church-tower up the hill; set his watch with care; and sat down to wait for the sun. Upon the wooded cliff that faces the town the birds were waking; and by-and-bye, from the three small quays came the sound of voices laughing, and then a boat or two stealing out of the shadow, each crowded with boys and maids. Before the dawn grew red above the cliff where the birds sang, a dozen boats had gone by him on their way up the river, the chatter and broken laughter returning down its dim reaches long after the rowers had passed out of sight.
For some moments longer he watched the broadening daylight, till the sun, mounting above the cliff, blazed on the watch he had again pulled out and now shut with a brisk snap. His round, shaven face, still boyish in middle age, wore the shadow of a solemn responsibility. He clambered out into the small boat astern, and, casting loose, pulled towards a bright patch of colour in the grey shore wall: a blue quay-door overhung with ivy. The upper windows of the cottage behind it were draped with snowy muslin, and its walls, coated with recent whitewash, shamed its neighbours to right and left.
As the boat dropped under this blue quay-door, its upper flap opened softly, and a voice as softly said—
"Thank you kindly, John. And how d'ye do this May morning?"
"Charming," the man answered frankly. "Handsome weather 'tis, to be sure."
He looked up and smiled at her, like a lover.
"I needn't to ask how you be; for you'm looking sweet as blossom," he went on.
And yet the woman that smiled down on him was fifty years old at least. Her hair, which usually lay in two flat bands, closely drawn over the temples, had for this occasion been worked into waves by curling-papers, and twisted in front of either ear, into that particular ringlet locally called a kiss-me-quick. But it was streaked with grey, and the pinched features wore the tint of pale ivory.
"D'ye think you can clamber down the ladder, Sarah? The tide's fairly high."
"I'm afraid I'll be showing my ankles."
"I was hoping so. Wunnerful ankles you've a-got, Sarah, and a wunnerful cage o' teeth. Such extremities 'd well beseem a king's daughter, all glorious within!"
Sarah Blewitt pulled open the lower flap of the door and set her foot on the ladder. She wore a white print gown beneath her cloak, and a small bonnet of black straw decorated with sham cowslips. The cloak, hitching for a moment on the ladder's side, revealed a beaded reticule that hung from her waist, and clinked as she descended.
"I reckon there's scarce an inch of paint left on my front door," she observed, as the man steadied her with an arm round her waist, and settled her comfortably in the stern-sheets.
He unshipped his oars and began to pull.
"Ay. I heard 'em whackin' the door with a deal o' tow-row. They was going it like billy-O when I came past the Town Quay. But one mustn' complain, May-mornin's."
"I wasn' complaining," said the woman; "I was just remarking. How's Maria?"
"She's nicely, thank you."
"And the children?"
"I've put up sixpennyworth of nicey in four packets—that's one apiece—and I've written the name on each, for you to take home to 'em."
She fumbled in her reticule and produced the packets. The peppermint-drops and brandy-balls were wrapped in clean white paper, and the names written in a thin Italian hand. John thanked her and stowed them in his trousers pockets.
"You'll give my love to Maria? I take it very kindly her letting you come for me like this."
"Oh, as for that—" began John, and broke off; "I don't call to mind that ever I saw a more handsome morning for the time o' year."
They had made this expedition together more than a score of times, and always found the same difficulty in conversing. The boat moved easily past the town, the jetties above it, and the vessels that lay off them awaiting their cargoes; it turned the corner and glided by woods where the larches were green, the sycamores dusted with bronze, the wild cherry-trees white with blossom, and all voluble. Every little bird seemed ready to burst his throat that morning with the deal he had to say. But these two—the man especially—had nothing to say, yet ached for words.
"Nance Treweek's married," the woman managed to tell him at last.
"I was thinking it likely, by the way she carried on last Maying."
"That wasn' the man. She've kept company with two since him, and mated with a fourth man altogether—quite a different sort, in the commercial traveller line."
"Did he wear a seal weskit?"
"Well, he might have; but not to my knowledge. What makes you ask?"
"Because I used to know a Johnny Fortnight that wore one in these parts; and I thought it might be he, belike."
"Jim had a greater gift o' speech than you can make pretence to," said the woman abruptly. "I often wonder that of two twin-brothers one should be so glib and t'other so mum-chance."
"'Tis the Lord's ways," the man answered, resting on his oars. "Will you be dabblin' your feet as usual, Sarah?"
He turned the boat's nose to a small landing-place cut in the solid rock, where a straight pathway dived between hazel-bushes and appeared again twenty feet above, winding inland around the knap of a green hill. Here he helped her to disembark, and waited with his back to the shore. The spinster behind the hazel screen pulled off shoes and stockings, and paddled about for a minute in the dewy grass that fringed the meadow's lower slope. Then, drawing a saucer from her reticule, she wrung some dew into it and bathed her face. Ten minutes later she re-appeared on the river's bank.
"A happy May, John!"
"A happy May to you, Sarah!"
John stepped out beside her, and making his boat fast, followed her up the narrow path and around the shoulder of the steep meadow. They overed a stile, then a second, and were among pink slopes of orchards in bloom. Ahead of them a church tower rose out of soft billows of apple-blossom, and above the tower a lark was singing. A child came along the footpath from the village with two garlands mounted cross-wise on a pole and looped together with strings of painted birds' eggs. John gave him a penny for his show.
"Here's luck to your lass!" said the wise child.
Sarah was pleased, and added a second penny from her reticule. The boy spat on it for luck, slipped it into his breeches pocket, and went on his way skipping.
They stood still and looked after him for some moments, out of pure pleasure in his good humour; then descended among the orchards to the village. Half-way up the street stood the inn, the Flowing Source, with whitewashed front and fuchsia-trees that reached to the first-floor windows; and before it a well enclosed with a round stone wall, over which the toadflax spread in a tangle. Around the well, in the sunshine, were set a dozen or more small tables, covered with white cloths, and two score at least of young people eating bread and cream and laughing. The landlady, a broad woman in a blue print gown, and large apron, came forward.
"Why, Miss Sarah, I'd nigh 'pon given you up. Your table's been spread this hour, an' at last I was forced to ask some o' the young folks if you was dead or no."
"Why should I be dead more than another?"
"Well, well—in the midst o' life, we're told. 'Tisn' only the ripe apples that the wind scatters. He that comes by your side to-day is but twin-brother to him that came wi' you the first time I mind 'ee, seemin' but yesterday. Eh, Miss Sarah, but I envied 'ee then, sittin' wi' hand in hand, an' but one bite taken out o' your bread an' cream; but I was just husband-high myself i' those days, an' couldn't make the men believe it."
"Mary Ann Jacobs," Miss Sarah broke out, "if 'twas not for the quality of your cream, I'd go a-mayin' elsewhere, for I can truly say I hate your way of talkin' from the bottom of my soul."
"Sarah," said John, wiping his mouth as he finished his bread and cream, "I'm a glum man, as you well know; an' why Providence drowned poor Jim, when it might have taken his twin image that hadn' half his mouth—speech, is past findin' out. But 'tis generally allowed that the grip o' my hand is uncommon like what Jim's used to be; an' when I gets home to-night, the first thing my old woman'll be sure to ask is 'Did 'ee give Sarah poor Jim's hand-clasp?'—an' what to say I shan't know, unless you honours me so far."
"'Tis uncommon good of Maria," said the woman simply, and stole her thin hand into his horny palm. She had done so, in answer to the same speech, more than twenty times.
"Not at all," said John.
His fingers closed over hers, and rested so. All but a few of the mayers had risen from the table, and were romping and chasing each other back to the boats, for the majority were shop-girls and apprentices, and must be back in time for business. But Miss Sarah was in no hurry.
"Not yet," she entreated, as John's grasp began to relax. He tightened it again and waited, while she leant back, breathing short, with half-closed eyes.
At length she said he might release her.
"I'm sure 'tis uncommon kind of Maria," she repeated.
"I don't see where the kindness comes in. Maria can have as good any day o' the year, an' don't appear to value it to that extent."
They walked back through the orchards in silence. At Miss Sarah's quay-door they parted, and John hoisted sail for his home around the corner of the coast.
Has olim exuvias mihi perfidus ille reliquit, Pignora cara sui: quae nunc ego limine in ipso, Terra, tibi mando; debent haec pignora Daphnin— Ducite ab urbe domum, mea, carmina, ducite Daphnin.
I knew the superstition lingered along the country-side: and I was sworn to find it. But the labourers and their wives smoothed all intelligence out of their faces as soon as I began to hint at it. Such is the way of them. They were my good friends, but had no mind to help me in this. Nobody who has not lived long with them can divine the number of small incommunicable mysteries and racial secrets chambered in their inner hearts and guarded by their hospitable faces. These alone the Celt withholds from the Saxon, and when he dies they are buried with him.
A chance word or two of my old nurse, by chance caught in some cranny of a child's memory and recovered after many days, told me that the charm was still practised by the woman-folk, or had been practised not long before her death. So I began to hunt for it, and, almost as soon, to believe the search hopeless. The new generation of girls, with their smart frocks, in fashion not more than six months behind London, their Board School notions, and their consuming ambition to "look like a lady"—were these likely to cherish a local custom as rude and primitive as the long-stone circles on the tors above? But they were Cornish; and of that race it is unwise to judge rashly. For years I had never a clue: and then, by Sheba Farm, in a forsaken angle of the coast, surprised the secret.
Sheba Farm stands high above Ruan sands, over which its windows flame at sunset. And I sat in the farm kitchen drinking cider and eating potato-cake, while the farmer's wife, Mrs. Bolverson, obligingly attended to my coat, which had just been soaked by a thunder-shower. It was August, and already the sun beat out again, fierce and strong. The bright drops that gemmed the tamarisk-bushes above the wall of the town-place were already fading under its heat; and I heard the voices of the harvesters up the lane, as they returned to the oat-field whence the storm had routed them. A bright parallelogram stretched from the window across the white kitchen-table, and reached the dim hollow of the open fire-place. Mrs. Bolverson drew the towel-horse, on which my coat was stretched, between it and the wood fire, which (as she held) the sunshine would put out.
"It's uncommonly kind of you, Mrs. Bolverson," said I, as she turned one sleeve of the coat towards the heat. "To be sure, if the women in these parts would speak out, some of them have done more than that for the men with an old coat."
She dropped the sleeve, faced round, and eyed me.
"What do you know of that?" she asked slowly, and as if her chest tightened over the words. She was a woman of fifty and more, of fine figure but a worn face. Her chief surviving beauty was a pile of light golden hair, still lustrous as a girl's. But her blue eyes—though now they narrowed on me suspiciously—must have looked out magnificently in their day.
"I fancy," said I, meeting them frankly enough, "that what you know and I don't on that matter would make a good deal."
She laughed harshly, almost savagely.
"You'd better ask Sarah Gedye, across the coombe. She buried a man's clothes one time, and—it might be worth your while to ask her what came o't."
If you can imagine a glint of moonlight running up the blade of a rapier, you may know the chill flame of spite and despite that flickered in her eyes then as she spoke.
"I take my oath," I muttered to myself, "I'll act on the invitation."
The woman stood straight upright, with her hands clasped behind her, before the deal table. She gazed, under lowered brows, straight out of window; and following that gaze, I saw across the coombe a mean mud hut, with a wall around it, that looked on Sheba Farm with the obtrusive humility of a poor relation.
"Does she—does Sarah Gedye—live down yonder?"
"What is that to you?" she enquired fiercely, and then was silent for a moment, and added, with another short laugh—
"I reckon I'd like the question put to her: but I doubt you've got the pluck."
"You shall see," said I; and taking my coat off the towel-horse, I slipped it on.
She did not turn, did not even move her head, when I thanked her for the shelter and walked out of the house.
I could feel those steel-blue eyes working like gimlets into my back as I strode down the hill and passed the wooden plank that lay across the stream at its foot. A climb of less than a minute brought me to the green gate in the wall of Sarah Gedye's garden patch; and here I took a look backwards and upwards at Sheba. The sun lay warm on its white walls, and the whole building shone against the burnt hillside. It was too far away for me to spy Mrs. Bolverson's blue print gown within the kitchen window, but I knew that she stood there yet.
The sound of a footstep made me turn. A woman was coming round the corner of the cottage, with a bundle of mint in her hand.
She looked at me, shook off a bee that had blundered against her apron, and looked at me again—a brown woman, lean and strongly made, with jet-black eyes set deep and glistening in an ugly face.
"You want to know your way?" she asked.
"No. I came to see you, if your name is Sarah Gedye."
"Sarah Ann Gedye is my name. What 'st want?"
I took a sudden resolution to tell the exact truth.
"Mrs. Gedye, the fact is I am curious about an old charm that was practised in these parts, as I know, till recently. The charm is this—When a woman guesses her lover to be faithless to her, she buries a suit of his old clothes to fetch him back to her. Mrs. Bolverson, up at Sheba yonder—"
The old woman had opened her mouth (as I know now) to curse me. But as Mrs. Bolverson's name escaped me, she turned her back, and walked straight to her door and into the kitchen. Her manner told me that I was expected to follow.
But I was not prepared for the face she turned on me in the shadow of the kitchen. It was grey as wood-ash, and the black eyes shrank into it like hot specks of fire.
"She—she set you on to ask me that?" She caught me by the coat and hissed out: "Come back from the door—don't let her see." Then she lifted up her fist, with the mint tightly clutched in it, and shook it at the warm patch of Sheba buildings across the valley.
"May God burn her bones, as He has smitten her body barren!"
"What do you know of this?" she cried, turning upon me again.
"I know nothing. That I have offered you some insult is clear: but—"
"Nay, you don't know—you don't know. No man would be such a hound. You don't know; but, by the Lord, you shall hear, here where you'm standin', an' shall jedge betwix' me an' that pale 'ooman up yonder. Stand there an' list to me.
"He was my lover more'n five-an'-thirty years agone. Who? That 'ooman's wedded man, Seth Bolverson. We warn't married"—this with a short laugh. "Wife or less than wife, he found me to his mind. She—she that egged you on to come an' flout me—was a pale-haired girl o' seventeen or so i' those times—a church-goin' mincin' strip of a girl—the sort you men-folk bow the knee to for saints. Her father owned Sheba Farm, an' she look'd across on my man, an' had envy on 'en, an' set her eyes to draw 'en. Oh, a saint she was! An' he, the poor shammick, went. 'Twas a good girl, you understand, that wished for to marry an' reform 'en. She had money, too. I? I'd ha' poured out my blood for 'en: that's all I cud do. So he went.
"As the place shines this day, it shone then. Like a moth it drew 'en. Late o' summer evenin's its windeys shone when down below here 'twas chill i' the hill's shadow. An' late at night the candles burned up there as he courted her. Purity and cosiness, you understand, an' down here—he forgot about down here. Before he'd missed to speak to me for a month, I'd hear 'en whistlin' up the hill, so merry as a grig. Well, he married her.
"They was married three months, an' 'twas harvest time come round, an' I in his vield a-gleanin'. For I was suffered near to that extent, seem' that the cottage here had been my fathers', an' was mine, an' out o't they culdn' turn me. One o' the hands, as they was pitchin', passes me an empty keg, an' says, 'Run you to the farm-place an' get it filled.' So with it I went to th' kitchen, and while I waited outside I sees his coat an' wesket 'pon a peg i' the passage. Well I knew the coat; an' a madness takin' me for all my loss, I unhitched it an' flung it behind the door, an', the keg bein' filled, picked it up agen and ran down home-along.
"No thought had I but to win Seth back. 'Twas the charm you spoke about: an' that same midnight I delved a hole by the dreshold an' buried the coat, whisperin', 'Man, come back, come back to me!' as Aun' Lesnewth had a-taught me, times afore.
"But she, the pale woman, had a-seen me, dro' a chink o' the parlour-door, as I tuk the coat down. An' she knowed what I tuk it for. I've a-read it, times and again, in her wifely eyes; an' to-day you yoursel' are witness that she knowed. If Seth knowed—"
She clenched and unclenched her fist, and went on rapidly.
"Early next mornin', and a'most afore I was dressed, two constables came in by the gate, an' she behind 'em treadin' delicately, an' he at her back, wi' his chin dropped. They charged me wi' stealin' that coat—wi' stealin' it—that coat that I'd a-darned an' patched years afore ever she cuddled against its sleeve!"
"What happened?" I asked, as her voice sank and halted.
"What happened? She looked me i' the eyes scornfully; an' her own were full o' knowledge. An' wi' her eyes she coaxed and dared me to abase mysel' an' speak the truth an' win off jail. An' I, that had stole nowt, looked back at her an' said, 'It's true. I stole the coat. Now cart me off to jail; but handle me gently for the sake o' my child unborn.' When I spoke these last two words an' saw her face draw up wi' the bitterness o' their taste, I held out my wrists and clapped the handcuffs together like cymbals and laughed wi' a glad heart."
She caught my hand suddenly, and drawing me to the porch, pointed high above Sheba, to the yellow upland where the harvesters moved.
"Do 'ee see 'en there?—that tall young man by the hedge—there where the slope dips? That's my son, Seth's son, the straightest man among all. Neither spot has he, nor wart, nor blemish 'pon his body; and when she pays 'en his wages, Saturday evenin's, he says 'Thank 'ee, ma'am,' wi' a voice that's the very daps o' his father's. An' she's childless. Ah, childless woman! Childless woman! Go back an' carry word to her o' the prayer I've spoken upon her childlessness."
And "Childless woman!" "Childless woman!" she called twice again, shaking her fist at the windows of Sheba Farm-house, that blazed back angrily against the westering sun.
WHEN THE SAP ROSE.
An old yellow van—the Comet—came jolting along the edge of the downs and shaking its occupants together like peas in a bladder. The bride and bridegroom did not mind this much; but the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, who had bound them in wedlock at the Bible Christian Chapel two hours before, was discomforted by a pair of tight boots, that nipped cruelly whenever he stuck out his feet to keep his equilibrium.
Nevertheless, his mood was genial, for the young people had taken his suggestion and acquired a copy of their certificate. This meant five extra shillings in his pocket. Therefore, when the van drew up at the cross-roads for him to alight, he wished them long life and a multitude of children with quite a fatherly air.
"You can't guess where I'm bound for. It's to pay my old mother a visit. Ah, family life's the pretty life—that ever I should say it!"
They saw no reason why he should be cynical, more than other men. And the bride, in whose eyes this elderly gentleman with the tight boots appeared a rosy winged Cupid, waved her handkerchief until the vehicle had sidled round the hill, resembling in its progress a very infirm crab in a hurry.
As a fact, the Registrar wore a silk hat, a suit of black West-of-England broadcloth, a watch-chain made out of his dead wife's hair, and two large seals that clashed together when he moved. His face was wide and round, with a sanguine complexion, grey side-whiskers, and a cicatrix across the chin. He had shaved in a hurry that morning, for the wedding was early, and took place on the extreme verge of his district. His is a beautiful office—recording day by day the solemnest and most mysterious events in nature. Yet, standing at the cross-roads, between down and woodland, under an April sky full of sun and south-west wind, he threw the ugliest shadow in the landscape.
The road towards the coast dipped—too steeply for tight boots—down a wooded coombe, and he followed it, treading delicately. The hollow of the V ahead, where the hills overlapped against the pale blue, was powdered with a faint brown bloom, soon to be green—an infinity of bursting buds. The larches stretched their arms upwards, as men waking. The yellow was out on the gorse, with a heady scent like a pineapple's, and between the bushes spread the grey film of coming blue-bells. High up, the pines sighed along the ridge, turning paler; and far down, where the brook ran, a mad duet was going on between thrush and chaffinch—"Cheer up, cheer up, Queen!" "Clip clip, clip, and kiss me—Sweet!"—one against the other.
Now, the behaviour of the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages changed as he descended the valley. At first he went from side to side, because the loose stones were sharp and lay unevenly; soon he zig-zagged for another purpose—to peer into the bank for violets, to find a gap between the trees where, by bending down with a hand on each knee and his head tilted back, he could see the primroses stretching in broad sheets to the very edge of the pine-woods. By frequent tilting his collar broke from its stud and his silk hat settled far back on his neck. Next he unbuttoned his waistcoat and loosened his braces; but no, he could not skip—his boots were too tight. He looked at each tree as he passed. "If I could only see"—he muttered. "I'll swear there used to be one on the right, just here."
But he could not find it here—perhaps his memory misgave him—and presently turned with decision, climbed the low fence on his left, between him and the hollow of the coombe, and dropped into the plantation on the other side. Here the ground was white in patches with anemones; and as his feet crushed them, descending, the babel of the birds grew louder and louder.
He issued on a small clearing by the edge of the brook, where the grass was a delicate green, each blade pushing up straight as a spear-point from the crumbled earth. Here were more anemones, between patches of last year's bracken, and on the further slope a mass of daffodils. He pulled out a pocket-knife that had sharpened some hundreds of quill pens, and looking to his right, found what he wanted at once.
It was a sycamore, on which the buds were swelling. He cut a small twig, as big round as his middle finger, and sitting himself down on a barked log, close by, began to measure and cut it to a span's length, avoiding all knots. Then, taking the knife by the blade between finger and thumb, he tapped the bark gently with the tortoise-shell handle. And as he tapped, his face went back to boyhood again, in spite of the side-whiskers, and his mouth was pursed up to a silent tune.
For ten minutes the tapping continued; the birds ceased their contention, and broke out restlessly at intervals. A rabbit across the brook paused and listened at the funnel-shaped mouth of his hole, which caught the sound and redoubled it.
"Confound these boots!" said the Registrar, and pulling them off, tossed them among the primroses. They were "elastic-sides."
The tapping ceased. A breath of the land-ward breeze came up, combing out the tangle that winter had made in the grass, caught the brook on the edge of a tiny fall, and puffed it back six inches in a spray of small diamonds. It quickened the whole copse. The oak-saplings rubbed their old leaves one on another, as folks rub their hands, feeling life and warmth; the chestnut-buds groped like an infant's fingers; and the chorus broke out again, the thrush leading—"Tiurru, tiurru, chippewee; tio-tee, tio-tee; queen, queen, que-een!"
In a moment or two he broke off suddenly, and a honey-bee shot out of an anemone-bell like a shell from a mortar. For a new sound disconcerted them—a sound sharp and piercing. The Registrar had finished his whistle and was blowing like mad, moving his fingers up and down. Having proved his instrument, he dived a hand into his tail-pocket and drew out a roll, tied around with ribbon. It was the folded leather-bound volume in which he kept his blank certificates. And spreading it on his knees, he took his whistle again and blew, reading his music from the blank pages, and piping a strain he had never dreamed of. For he whistled of Births and Marriages.
O, happy Registrar! O, happy, happy Registrar! You will never get into those elastic-sides again. Your feet swell as they tap the swelling earth, and at each tap the flowers push, the sap climbs, the speck of life moves in the hedge-sparrow's egg; while, far away on the downs, with each tap, the yellow van takes bride and groom a foot nearer felicity. It is hard work in worsted socks, for you smite with the vehemence of Pan, and Pan had a hoof of horn.
* * * * *
The Registrar's mother lived in the fishing-village, two miles down the coombe. Her cottage leant back against the cliff so closely, that the boys, as they followed the path above, could toss tabs of turf down her chimney: and this was her chief annoyance.
Now, it was close on the dinner-hour, and she stood in her kitchen beside a pot of stew that simmered over the wreck-wood fire.
Suddenly a great lump of earth and grass came bouncing down the chimney, striking from side to side, and soused into the pot, scattering the hot stew over the hearth-stone and splashing her from head to foot.
Quick as thought, she caught up a besom and rushed out around the corner of the cottage.
"You stinking young adders!" she began.
A big man stood on the slope above her.
"Mother, cuff my head, that's a dear. I couldn' help doin' it."
It was the elderly Registrar. His hat, collar, tie, and waistcoat were awry; his boots were slung on the walking-stick over his shoulder; stuck in his mouth and lit was a twist of root-fibre, such as country boys use for lack of cigars, and he himself had used, forty years before.
The old woman turned to an ash-colour, leant on her besom, and gasped.
"I'm not drunk, mother: been a Band of Hope these dozen years." He stepped down the slope to her and bent his head low. "Box my ears, mother, quick! You used to have a wonderful gift o' cuffin'."
"William Henry, I'm bound to do it or die."
"Then be quick about it."
Half-laughing, half-sobbing, she caught him a feeble cuff, and next instant held him close to her old breast. The Registrar disengaged himself after a minute, brushed his eyes, straightened his hat, picked up the besom, and offered her his arm. They passed into the cottage together.
[Greek: ou men gar tou ge kreisson kai areion, ae hoth homophroneonte noaemasin oikon echaeton anaer aede gunae.]
Round the skirts of the plantation, and half-way down the hill, there runs a thick fringe of wild cherry-trees. Their white blossom makes, for three weeks in the year, a pretty contrast with the larches and Scotch firs that serrate the long ridge above; and close under their branches runs the line of oak rails that marks off the plantation from the meadow.
A labouring man came deliberately round the slope, as if following this line of rails. As a matter of fact, he was treading the little-used footpath that here runs close alongside the fence for fifty yards before diverging down-hill towards the village. So narrow is this path that the man's boots were powdered to a rich gold by the buttercups they had brushed aside.
By-and-bye he came to a standstill, looked over the fence, and listened. Up among the larches a faint chopping sound could just be heard, irregular but persistent. The man put a hand to his mouth, and hailed—
"Hi-i-i! Knock off! Stable clock's gone noo-oon!"
Came back no answer. But the chopping ceased at once; and this apparently satisfied the man, who leaned against the rail and waited, chewing a spear of brome-grass, and staring steadily, but incuriously, at his boots. Two minutes passed without stir or sound in this corner of the land. The human figure was motionless. The birds in the plantation were taking their noonday siesta. A brown butterfly rested, with spread wings, on the rail—so quietly, he might have been pinned there.
A cracked voice was suddenly lifted a dozen yards off, and within the plantation—
"Such a man as I be to work! Never heard a note o' that blessed clock, if you'll believe me. Ab-sorbed, I s'pose."
A thin withered man in a smock-frock emerged from among the cherry-trees with a bill-hook in his hand, and stooped to pass under the rail.
"Ewgh! The pains I suffer in that old back of mine you'll never believe, my son, not till the appointed time when you come to suffer 'em yoursel'. Well-a-well! Says I just now, up among the larches, 'Heigh, my sonny-boys, I can crow over you, anyways; for I was a man grown when Squire planted ye; and here I be, a lusty gaffer, markin' ye down for destruction.' But hullo! where's the dinner?"
"There bain't none."
"There bain't none."
"How's that? Damme! William Henry, dinner's dinner, an' don't you joke about it. Once you begin to make fun o' sacred things like meals and vittles—"
"And don't you flare up like that, at your time o' life. We're fashionists to-day: dining out. 'Quarter after nine this morning I was passing by the Green wi' the straw-cart, when old Jan Trueman calls after me, 'Have 'ee heard the news?'' What news?' says I. 'Why,' says he, 'me an' my missus be going into the House this afternoon—can't manage to pull along by ourselves any more,' he says; 'an' we wants you an' your father to drop in soon after noon an' take a bite wi' us, for old times' sake. 'Tis our last taste o' free life, and we'm going to do the thing fittywise,' he says."
The old man bent a meditative look on the village roofs below.
"We'll pleasure 'en, of course," he said slowly. "So 'tis come round to Jan's turn? But a' was born in the year of Waterloo victory, ten year' afore me, so I s'pose he've kept his doom off longer than most."
The two set off down the footpath. There is a stile at the foot of the meadow, and as he climbed it painfully, the old man spoke again.
"And his doorway, I reckon, 'll be locked for a little while, an' then opened by strangers; an' his nimble youth be forgot like a flower o' the field; an' fare thee well, Jan Trueman! Maria, too—I can mind her well as a nursing mother—a comely woman in her day. I'd no notion they'd got this in their mind."
"Far as I can gather, they've been minded that way ever since their daughter Jane died, last fall."
From the stile where they stood they could look down into the village street. And old Jan Trueman was plain to see, in clean linen and his Sunday suit, standing in the doorway and welcoming his guests.
"Come ye in—come ye in, good friends," he called, as they approached. "There's cold bekkon, an' cold sheep's liver, an' Dutch cheese, besides bread, an' a thimble-full o' gin-an'-water for every soul among ye, to make it a day of note in the parish."
He looked back over his shoulder into the kitchen. A dozen men and women, all elderly, were already gathered there. They had brought their own chairs. Jan's wife wore her bonnet and shawl, ready to start at a moment's notice. Her luggage in a blue handkerchief lay on the table. As she moved about and supplied her guests, her old lips twitched nervously; but when she spoke it was with no unusual tremor of the voice.
"I wish, friends, I could ha' cooked ye a little something hot; but there'd be no time for the washing-up, an' I've ordained to leave the place tidy."
One of the old women answered—
"There's nought to be pardoned, I'm sure. Never do I mind such a gay set-off for the journey. For the gin-an'-water is a little addition beyond experience. The vittles, no doubt, you begged up at the Vicarage, sayin' you'd been a peck o' trouble to the family, but this was going to be the last time."
"I did, I did," assented Mr. Trueman.
"But the gin-an'-water—how on airth you contrived it is a riddle!"
The old man rubbed his hands together and looked around with genuine pride.
"There was old Miss Scantlebury," said another guest, a smock-frocked gaffer of seventy, with a grizzled shock of hair. "You remember Miss Scantlebury?"
"O' course, o' course."
"Well, she did it better 'n anybody I've heard tell of. When she fell into redooced circumstances she sold the eight-day clock that was the only thing o' value she had left. Brown o' Tregarrick made it, with a very curious brass dial, whereon he carved a full-rigged ship that rocked like a cradle, an' went down stern foremost when the hour struck. 'Twas worth walking a mile to see. Brown's grandson bought it off Miss Scantlebury for two guineas, he being proud of his grandfather's skill; an' the old lady drove into Tregarrick Work'us behind a pair o' greys wi' the proceeds. Over and above the carriage hire, she'd enough left to adorn the horse wi' white favours an' give the rider a crown, large as my lord. Aye, an' at the Work'us door she said to the fellow, said she, 'All my life I've longed to ride in a bridal chariot; an' though my only lover died of a decline when I was scarce twenty-two, I've done it at last,' said she; 'an' now heaven an' airth can't undo it!'"
A heavy silence followed this anecdote, and then one or two of the women vented small disapproving coughs. The reason was the speaker's loud mention of the Workhouse. A week, a day, a few-hours before, its name might have been spoken in Mr. and Mrs. Trueman's presence. But now they had entered its shadow; they were "going"—whether to the dim vale of Avilion, or with chariot and horses of fire to heaven, let nobody too curiously ask. If Mr. and Mrs. Trueman chose to speak definitely, it was another matter.
Old Jan bore no malice, however, but answered, "That beats me, I own. Yet we shall drive, though it be upon two wheels an' behind a single horse. For Farmer Lear's driving into Tregarrick in an hour's time, an' he've a-promised us a lift."
"But about that gin-an'-water? For real gin-an'-water it is, to sight an' taste."
"Well, friends, I'll tell ye: for the trick may serve one of ye in the days when you come to follow me, tho' the new relieving officer may have learnt wisdom before then. You must know we've been considering of this step for some while, but hearing that old Jacobs was going to retire soon, I says to Maria, 'We'll bide till the new officer comes, and if he's a green hand, we'll diddle 'en.' Day before yesterday,' as you, was his first round at the work; so I goes up an' draws out my ha'af-crown same as usual, an' walks straight off for the Four Lords for a ha'af-crown's worth o' gin. Then back I goes, an' demands an admission order for me an' the missus. 'Why, where's your ha'af-crown?' says he. 'Gone in drink,' says I. 'Old man,' says he, 'you'm a scandal, an' the sooner you're put out o' the way o' drink, the better for you an' your poor wife.' 'Right you are,' I says; an' I got my order. But there, I'm wasting time; for to be sure you've most of ye got kith and kin in the place where we'm going, and 'll be wanting to send 'em a word by us."
* * * * *
It was less than an hour before Farmer Lear pulled up to the door in his red-wheeled spring-cart.
"Now, friends," said Mrs. Trueman, as her ears caught the rattle of the wheels, "I must trouble ye to step outside while I tidy up the floor."
The women offered their help, but she declined it. Alone she put the small kitchen to rights, while they waited outside around the door. Then she stepped out with her bundle, locked the door after her, and slipped the key under an old flower-pot on the window ledge. Her eyes were dry.
"Come along, Jan."
There was a brief hand-shaking, and the paupers climbed up beside Farmer Lear.
"I've made a sort o' little plan in my head," said old Jan at parting, "of the order in which I shall see ye again, one by one. 'Twill be a great amusement to me, friends, to see how the fact fits in wi' my little plan."
The guests raised three feeble cheers as the cart drove away, and hung about for several minutes after it had passed out of sight, gazing along the road as wistfully as more prosperous men look in through churchyard gates at the acres where their kinsfolk lie buried.
The first building passed by the westerly road as it descends into Tregarrick is a sombre pile of some eminence, having a gateway and lodge before it, and a high encircling wall. The sun lay warm on its long roof, and the slates flashed gaily there, as Farmer Lear came over the knap of the hill and looked down on it. He withdrew his eyes nervously to glance at the old couple beside him. At the same moment he reined up his dun-coloured mare.
"I reckoned," he said timidly, "I reckoned you'd be for stopping hereabouts an' getting down. You'd think it more seemly—that's what I reckoned: an' 'tis down-hill now all the way."
For ten seconds and more neither the man nor the woman gave a sign of having heard him. The spring-cart's oscillatory motion seemed to have entered into their spinal joints; and now that they had come to a halt, their heads continued to wag forward and back as they contemplated the haze of smoke spread, like a blue scarf over the town, and the one long slate roof that rose from it as if to meet them. At length the old woman spoke, and with some viciousness, though her face remained as blank as the Workhouse door.
"The next time I go back up this hill, if ever I do, I'll be carried up feet first."
"Maria," said her husband, feebly reproachful, "you tempt the Lord, that you do."
"Thank 'ee, Farmer Lear," she went on, paying no heed; "you shall help us down, if you've a mind to, an' drive on. We'll make shift to trickly 'way down so far as the gate; for I'd be main vexed if anybody that had known me in life should see us creep in. Come along, Jan."
Farmer Lear alighted, and helped them out carefully. He was a clumsy man, but did his best to handle them gently. When they were set on their feet, side by side on the high road, he climbed back, and fell to arranging the reins, while he cast about for something to say.
"Well, folks, I s'pose I must be wishing 'ee good-bye." He meant to speak cheerfully, but over-acted, and was hilarious instead. Recognising this, he blushed.
"We'll meet in heaven, I daresay," the woman answered. "I put the door-key, as you saw, under the empty geranium-pot 'pon the window-ledge; an' whoever the new tenant's wife may be, she can eat off the floor if she's minded. Now drive along, that's a good soul, and leave us to fend for ourselves."
They watched him out of sight before either stirred. The last decisive step, the step across the Workhouse threshold, must be taken with none to witness. If they could not pass out of their small world by the more reputable mode of dying, they would at least depart with this amount of mystery. They had left the village in Farmer Lear's cart, and Farmer Lear had left them in the high road; and after that, nothing should be known.
"Shall we be moving on?" Jan asked at length. There was a gate beside the road just there, with a small triangle of green before it, and a granite roller half-buried in dock-leaves. Without answering, the woman seated herself on this, and pulling a handful of the leaves, dusted her shoes and skirt.
"Maria, you'll take a chill that'll carry you off, sitting 'pon that cold stone."
"I don't care. 'Twon't carry me off afore I get inside, an' I'm going in decent, or not at all. Come here, an' let me tittivate you."
He sat down beside her, and submitted to be dusted.
"You'd as lief lower me as not in their eyes, I verily believe."
"I always was one to gather dust."
"An' a fresh spot o' bacon-fat 'pon your weskit, that I've kept the moths from since goodness knows when!"
Old Jan looked down over his waistcoat. It was of good "West-of-England broadcloth, and he had worn it on the day when he married the woman at his side.
"I'm thinking—" he began.
"I'm thinking I'll find it hard to make friends in—in there. 'Tis such a pity, to my thinking, that by reggilations we'll be parted so soon as we get inside. You've a-got so used to my little ways an' corners, an' we've a-got so many little secrets together an' old-fash'ned odds an' ends o' knowledge, that you can take my meaning almost afore I start to speak. An' that's a great comfort to a man o' my age. It'll be terrible hard, when I wants to talk, to begin at the beginning every time. There's that old yarn o' mine about Hambly's cow an' the lawn-mowing machine—I doubt that anybody 'll enjoy it so much as you always do; an' I've so got out o' the way o' telling the beginning—which bain't extra funny, though needful to a stranger's understanding the whole joke—that I 'most forgets how it goes."
"We'll see one another now an' then, they tell me. The sexes meet for Chris'mas-trees an' such-like."
"I'm jealous that 'twon't be the same. You can't hold your triflin' confabs with a great Chris'mas-tree blazin' away in your face as important as a town afire."
"Well, I'm going to start along," the old woman decided, getting on her feet; "or else someone 'll be driving by and seeing us."
Jan, too, stood up.
"We may so well make our congees here," she went on, "as under the porter's nose."
An awkward silence fell between them for a minute, and these two old creatures, who for more than fifty years had felt no constraint in each other's presence, now looked into each other's eyes with a fearful diffidence. Jan cleared his throat, much as if he had to make a public speech.
"Maria," he began in an unnatural voice, "we're bound for to part, and I can trewly swear, on leaving ye, that—"
"—that for two-score year and twelve It's never entered your head to consider whether I've made 'ee a good wife or a bad. Kiss me, my old man; for I tell 'ee I wouldn' ha' wished it other. An' thank 'ee for trying to make that speech. What did it feel like?"
"Why, 't rather reminded me o' the time when I offered 'ee marriage."
"It reminded me o' that, too. Com'st along."
They tottered down the hill towards the Workhouse gate. When they were but ten yards from it, however, they heard the sound of wheels on the road behind them, and walked bravely past, pretending to have no business at that portal. They had descended a good thirty yards beyond (such haste was put into them by dread of having their purpose guessed) before the vehicle overtook them—a four-wheeled dog-cart carrying a commercial traveller, who pulled up and offered them a lift into the town.
Then, as soon as he passed out of sight, they turned, and began painfully to climb back towards the gate. Of the two, the woman had shown the less emotion. But all the way her lips were at work, and as she went she was praying a prayer. It was the only one she used night and morning, and she had never changed a word since she learned it as a chit of a child. Down to her seventieth year she had never found it absurd to beseech God to make her "a good girl"; nor did she find it so as the Workhouse gate opened, and she began a new life.
CUCKOO VALLEY RAILWAY
This century was still young and ardent when ruin fell upon Cuckoo Valley. Its head rested on the slope of a high and sombre moorland, scattered with granite and china-clay; and by the small town of Ponteglos, where it widened out into arable and grey pasture-land, the Cuckoo river grew deep enough to float up vessels of small tonnage from the coast at the spring tides. I have seen there the boom of a trading schooner brush the grasses on the river-bank as she came before a southerly wind, and the haymakers stop and almost crick their necks staring up at her top-sails. But between the moors and Ponteglos the valley wound for fourteen miles or so between secular woods, so steeply converging that for the most part no more room was left at the bottom of the V than the river itself filled. The fisherman beside it trampled on pimpernels, sundew, watermint, and asphodels, or pushed between clumps of Osmunda regalis that overtopped him by a couple of feet. If he took to wading, there was much ado to stand against the current. Only here and there it spread into a still black pool, greased with eddies; and beside such a pool, it was odds that he found a diminutive meadow, green and flat as a billiard-table, and edged with clumps of fern. To think of Cuckoo Valley is to call up the smell of that fern as it wrapped at the bottom of the creel the day's catch of salmon-peal and trout.
The town of Tregarrick (which possessed a gaol, a workhouse, and a lunatic asylum, and called itself the centre of the Duchy) stood three miles back from the lip of this happy valley, whither on summer evenings its burghers rambled to eat cream and junket at the Dairy Farm by the river bank, and afterwards sit to watch the fish rise, while the youngsters and maidens played hide-and-seek in the woods. But there came a day when the names of Watt and Stephenson waxed great in the land, and these slow citizens caught the railway frenzy. They took it, however, in their own fashion. They never dreamed of connecting themselves with other towns and a larger world, but of aggrandisement by means of a railway that should run from Tregarrick to nowhere in particular, and bring the intervening wealth to their doors. They planned a railway that should join Tregarrick with Cuckoo Valley, and there divide into two branches, the one bringing ore and clay from the moors, the other fetching up sand and coal from the sea. Surveyors and engineers descended upon the woods; then a cloud of navvies. The days were filled with the crash of falling timber and the rush of emptied trucks. The stream was polluted, the fish died, the fairies were evicted from their rings beneath the oak, the morals of the junketing houses underwent change. The vale knew itself no longer; its smoke went up week by week with the noise of pick-axes and oaths.
On August 13th, 1834, the Mayor of Tregarrick declared the new line open, and a locomotive was run along its rails to Dunford Bridge, at the foot of the moors. The engine was christened The Wonder of the Age; and I have before me a handbill of the festivities of that proud day, which tells me that the mayor himself rode in an open truck, "embellished with Union Jacks, lions and unicorns, and other loyal devices." And then Nature settled down to heal her wounds, and the Cuckoo Yalley Railway to pay no dividend to its promoters.
It is now two years and more since, on an August day, I wound up my line by Dunford Bridge, and sauntered towards the Light Horseman Inn, two gunshots up the road. The time was four o'clock, or thereabouts, and a young couple sat on a bench by the inn-door, drinking cocoa out of one cup. Above their heads and along the house-front a vine-tree straggled, but its foliage was too thin to afford a speck of shade as they sat there in the eye of the westering sun. The man (aged about one-and-twenty) wore the uncomfortable Sunday-best of a mechanic, with a shrivelled, but still enormous, bunch of Sweet-William in his buttonhole. The girl was dressed in a bright green gown and a white bonnet. Both were flushed and perspiring, and I still think they must have ordered hot cocoa in haste, and were repenting it at leisure. They lifted their eyes and blushed with a yet warmer red as I passed into the porch.
Two men were seated in the cool tap-room, each with a pasty and a mug of beer. A composition of sweat and coal-dust had caked their faces, and so deftly smoothed all distinction out of their features that it seemed at the moment natural and proper to take them for twins. Perhaps this was an error: perhaps, too, their appearance of extreme age was produced by the dark grey dust that overlaid so much of them as showed above the table. As twins, however, I remember them, and cannot shake off the impression that they had remained twins for an unusual number of years.
One addressed me. "Parties outside pretty comfortable?" he asked.
"They were drinking out of the same cup," I answered.
He nodded. "Made man and wife this mornin'. I don't fairly know what's best to do. Lord knows I wouldn' hurry their soft looks and dilly-dallyin'; but did 'ee notice how much beverage was left in the cup?"
"They was mated at Tregarrick, half-after-nine this mornin'," observed the other twin, pulling out a great watch, "and we brought 'em down here in a truck for their honeymoon. The agreement was for an afternoon in the woods; but by crum! sir, they've sat there and held one another's hand for up'ards of an hour after the stated time to start. And we ha'nt the heart to tell 'em so."
He walked across to the window and peered over the blind.
"There's a mort of grounds in the cocoa that's sold here," he went on, after a look, "and 'tisn't the sort that does the stomach good, neither. For their own sakes, I'll give the word to start, and chance their thankin' me some day later when they learn what things be made of."
The other twin arose, shook the crumbs off his trousers, and stretched himself. I guessed now that this newly-married pair had delayed traffic at the Dunford terminus of the Cuckoo Valley Railway for almost an hour and a half; and I determined to travel into Tregarrick by the same train.
So we strolled out of the inn towards the line, the lovers following, arm-in-arm, some fifty paces behind.
"How far is it to the station?" I inquired.
The twins stared at me.
Presently we turned down a lane scored with dry ruts, passed an oak plantation, and came on a clearing where the train stood ready. The line did not finish: it ended in a heap of sand. There were eight trucks, seven of them laden with granite, and an engine, with a prodigiously long funnel, bearing the name The Wonder of the Age in brass letters along its boiler.
"Now," said one of the twins, while the other raked up the furnace, "you can ride in the empty truck with the lovers, or on the engine along with us—which you like."
I chose the engine. We climbed on board, gave a loud whistle, and jolted oil. Far down, on our right, the river shone between the trees, and these trees, encroaching on the track, almost joined their branches above us. Ahead, the moss that grew upon the sleepers gave the line the appearance of a green glade, and the grasses, starred with golden-rod and mallow, grew tall to the very edge of the rails. It seemed that in a few more years Nature would cover this scar of 1834, and score the return match against man. Hails, engine, officials, were already no better than ghosts: youth, and progress lay in the pushing trees, the salmon leaping against the dam below, the young man and maid sitting with clasped hands and amatory looks in the hindmost truck.
At the end of three miles or so we gave an alarming whistle, and slowed down a bit. The trees were thinner here, and I saw that a high-road came down the hill, and cut across our track some fifty yards ahead. We prepared to cross it cautiously.
The brake was applied, and as we came to a standstill a party of men and women descended the hill towards us.
"'Tis Susan Warne's seventh goin' to be christen'd, by the look of it," said the engine-driver beside me; "an', by crum! we've got the Kimbly."
The procession advanced. In the midst walked a stout woman, carrying a baby in long clothes, and in front a man bearing in both hands a plate covered with a white cloth. He stepped up beside the train, and, almost before I had time to be astonished, a large yellow cake was thrust into my hands. Engine-driver and stoker were also presented with a cake apiece, and then the newly-married pair, who took and ate with some shyness and giggling.
"Is it a boy or a girl?" asked the stoker, with his mouth full.
"A boy," the man answered; "and I count it good luck that you men of modern ways should be the first we meet on our way to church. The child 'll be a go-ahead if there's truth in omens."
"You're right, naybour. We're the speediest men in this part of the universe, I d' believe. Here's luck to 'ee, Susan Warne!" he piped out, addressing one of the women; "an' if you want a name for your seventh, you may christen 'en after the engine here, the Wonder of the Age."
We waved our hats and jolted off again towards Tregarrick. At the end of the journey the railway officials declined to charge for the pleasure of my company. But after some dispute, they agreed to compromise by adjourning to the Railway Inn, and drinking prosperity to Susan Warne's seventh.
THE CONSPIRACY ABOARD THE MIDAS.
"Are you going home to England? So am I. I'm Johnny; and I've never been to England before, but I know all about it. There's great palaces of gold and ivory—that's for the lords and bishops—and there's Windsor Castle, the biggest of all, carved out of a single diamond—that's for the queen. And she's the most beautiful lady in the whole world, and feeds her peacocks and birds of paradise out of a ruby cup. And there the sun is always shining, so that nobody wants any candles. O, words would fail me if I endeavoured to convey to you one-half of the splendours of that enchanted realm!"
This last sentence tumbled so oddly from the childish lips, that I could not hide a smile as I looked down on my visitor. He stood just outside my cabin-door—a small serious boy of about eight, with long flaxen curls hardly dry from his morning bath. In the pauses of conversation he rubbed his head with a big bath-towel. His legs and feet were bare, and he wore only a little shirt and velveteen breeches, with scarlet ribbons hanging untied at the knees.
I stifled the smile.
"What were you laughing at?"
"Why, you're wrong, little man, on just one or two points," I answered evasively.
"Well, about the sunshine in England. The sun is not always shining there, by any means."
"I'm afraid you know very little about it," said the boy, shaking his head.
"Johnny! Johnny!" a voice called down the companion-ladder at this moment. It was followed by a thin, weary-looking man, dressed in carpet slippers and a suit of seedy black. I guessed his age at fifty, but suspect now that the lines about his somewhat prim mouth were traced there by sorrows rather than by years. He bowed to me shyly, and addressed the boy.
"Johnny, what are you doing here? in bare feet!"
"Father, here is a man who says the sun doesn't always shine in England."
The man gave me a fleeting embarrassed glance, and echoed, as if to shirk answering—
"In bare feet!"
"But it does, doesn't it? Tell him that it does," the child insisted.
Driven thus into a corner, the father turned his profile, avoiding my eyes, and said dully—
"The sun is always shining in England."
"Go on, father; tell him the rest."
"—and the use of candles, except as a luxury, is consequently unknown to the denizens of that favoured clime," he wound up, in the tone of a man who repeats an old, old lecture.
Johnny was turning to me triumphantly, when his father caught him by the hand and led him back to his dressing. The movement was hasty, almost rough. I stood at the cabin-door and looked after them.
We were fellow-passengers aboard the Midas, a merchant barque of near on a thousand tons, homeward bound from Cape Town; and we had lost sight of the Table Mountain but a couple of days before. It was the first week of the new year, and all day long a fiery sun made life below deck insupportable. Nevertheless, though we three were the only passengers on board, and lived constantly in sight of each other, it was many days before I made any further acquaintance with Johnny and his father. The sad-faced man clearly desired to avoid me, answering my nod with a cold embarrassment, and clutching Johnny's hand whenever the child called "Good-morning!" to me cordially. I fancied him ashamed of his foolish falsehood; and I, on my side, was angry because of it. The pair were for ever strolling backwards and forwards on deck, or resting beneath the awning on the poop, and talking—always talking. I fancied the boy was delicate; he certainly had a bad cough during the first few days. But this went away as our voyage proceeded, and his colour was rich and rosy.
One afternoon I caught a fragment of their talk as they passed, Johnny brightly dressed and smiling, his father looking even more shabby and weary than usual. The man was speaking.
"And Queen Victoria rides once a year through the streets of London on her milk-white courser, to hear the nightingales sing in the Tower. For when she came to the throne the Tower was full of prisoners, but with a stroke of her sceptre she changed them all into song-birds. Every year she releases fifty; and that is why they sing so rapturously, because each one hopes his turn has come at last."
I turned away. It was unconscionable to cram the child's mind with these preposterous fables. I pictured the poor little chap's disappointment when the bleak reality came to stare him in the face. To my mind, his father was worse than an idiot, and I could hardly bring myself to greet him next morning, when we met.
My disgust did not seem to trouble him. In a timid way, even, his eyes expressed satisfaction. For a week or two I let him alone, and then was forced to speak.
It happened in this way. We had spun merrily along the tail of the S.E. trades and glided slowly to a standstill on a glassy ocean, and beneath a sun that at noon left us shadowless. A fluke or two of wind had helped us across the line; but now, in 2 deg. 27' north latitude, the Midas slept like a turtle on the greasy sea. The heat of the near African coast seemed to beat like steam against our faces. The pitch bubbled like caviare in the seams of the white deck, and the shrouds and ratlines ran with tears of tar. To touch the brass rail of the poop was to blister the hand, to catch a whiff from the cook's galley was to feel sick for ten minutes. The hens in their coops lay with eyes glazed and gasped for air. If you hung forward over the bulwarks you stared down into your own face. The sailors grumbled and cursed and panted as they huddled forward under a second awning that was rigged up to give them shade rather than coolness; for coolness was not to be had.
On the second afternoon of the calm I happened to pass this awning, and glanced in. Pretty well all the men were there, lounging, with shirts open and chests streaming with sweat; and in their midst on a barrel, sat Johnny, with a flushed face.
The boatswain—Gibbings by name—was speaking. I heard him say—"An' the Lord Mayor 'll be down to meet us, sonny, at the docks, wi' his five-an'-fifty black boys all ablowin' blowin' Hallelujarum on their silver key-bugles. An' we'll be took in tow to the Mansh'n 'Ouse an' fed—" here he broke off and passed the back of his hand across his mouth, with a glance at the ship's cook, who had been driven from his galley by the heat. But the cook had no suggestions to make. His soul was still sick with the reek of the boiled pork and pease pudding he had cooked two hours before under a torrid and vertical sun.
"We'll put it at hokey-pokey, nothin' a lump, if you don't mind, sonny," the boatswain went on; "in a nice airy parlour painted white, with a gilt chandelier an' gilt combings to the wainscot." His picture of the Mansion House as he proceeded was drawn from his reading in the Book of Revelations and his own recollections of Thames-side gin-palaces and the saloons of passenger steamers, and gave the impression of a virtuous gambling-hell. The whole crew listened admiringly, and it seemed they were all in the stupid conspiracy. I resolved, for Johnny's sake, to protest, and that very evening drew Gibbings aside and expostulated with him.
"Why," I asked, "lay up this cruel, this certain disappointment for the little chap? Why yarn to him as if he were bound for the New Jerusalem?"
The boatswain stared at me point-blank, at first incredulously, then with something like pity.
"Why, sir, don't you know? Can't you see for yoursel'? It's because he is bound for the New Jeroosalem; because—bless his tender soul!—that's all the land he'll ever touch."
"Good Lord!" I cried. "Nonsense! His cough's better; and look at his cheeks."
"Ay—we knows that colour on this line. His cough's better, you say; and I say this weather's killing him. You just wait for the nor'-east trades."
I left Gibbings, and after pacing up and down the deck a few times, stepped to the bulwarks, where a dark figure was leaning and gazing out over the black waters. Johnny was in bed; and a great shame swept over me as I noted the appealing wretchedness of this lonely form.
I stepped up and touched him softly on the arm.
"Sir, I am come to beg your forgiveness."
Next morning I joined the conspiracy.
After his father, I became Johnny's most constant companion. "Father disliked you at first," was the child's frank comment; "he said you told fibs, but now he wants us to be friends." And we were excellent friends. I lied from morning to night—lied glibly, grandly. Sometimes, indeed, as I lay awake in my berth, a horror took me lest the springs of my imagination should run dry. But they never did. As a liar, I out-classed every man on board.
But by-and-bye, as we caught the first draught of the trades, the boy began to punctuate my fables with that hateful cough. This went on for a week; and one day, in the midst of our short stroll, his legs gave way under him. As I caught him in my arms, he looked up with a smile.
"I'm very weak, you know. But it'll be all right when I get to England."
But it was not till we had passed well beyond the equatorial belt that Johnny grew visibly worse. In a week he had to lie still on his couch beneath the awning, and the patter of his feet ceased on the deck. The captain, who was a bit of a doctor, said to me one day—
"He will never live to see England."
But he did.
It was a soft spring afternoon when the Midas sighted the Lizard, and Johnny was still with us, lying on his couch, though almost too weak to move a limb. As the day wore on we lifted him once or twice to look.
"Can you see them quite plain?" he asked; "and the precious stones hanging on the trees? And the palaces—and the white elephants?"
I stared through my glass at the serpentine rocks and white-washed lighthouse above them, all powdered with bronze and gold by the sinking sun, and answered—
"Yes, they are all there."
All that afternoon we were beside him, looking out and peopling the shores of home with all manner of vain shows and pageants; and when one man broke down another took his place.
As the sun fell, and twilight drew on, the bright revolving lights on the two towers suddenly flashed out their greeting. We were about to carry the child below, for the air was chilly; but he saw the flash, and held up a feeble hand.
"What is that?"
"Those two lights," I answered, telling my final lie, "are the lanterns of Cormelian and Cormoran, the two Cornish giants. They'll be standing on the shore to welcome us. See—each swings his lantern round, and then for a moment it is dark; now wait a moment, and you'll see the light again."
"Ah!" said the child, with a smile and a little sigh, "it is good to be—home!"
And with that word on his lips, as he waited for the next flash, Johnny stretched himself and died.
LEGENDS OF ST. PIRAN.
I.—SAINT PIRAN AND THE MILLSTONE.
Should you visit the Blackmore tin-streamers on their feast-day, which falls on Friday-in-Lide (that is to say, the first Friday in March), you may note a truly Celtic ceremony. On that day the tinners pick out the sleepiest boy in the neighbourhood and send him up to the highest bound in the works, with instructions to sleep there as long as he can. And by immemorial usage the length of his nap will be the measure of the tinners' afternoon siesta for twelve months to come.
Now, this first week in March is St. Piran's week: and St. Piran is the miners' saint. To him the Cornishmen owe not only their tin, which he discovered on the spot, but also their divine laziness, which he brought across from Ireland and naturalised here. And I learned his story one day from an old miner, as we ate our bread and cheese together on the floor of Wheal Tregobbin, while the Davy lamp between us made wavering giants of our shadows on the walls of the adit, and the sea moaned as it tossed on its bed, two hundred feet above.
* * * * *
St. Piran was a little round man; and in the beginning he dwelt on the north coast of Ireland, in a leafy mill, past which a stream came tumbling down to the sea. After turning the saint's mill-wheel, the stream dived over a fall into the Lough below, and the lul-ul-ur-r-r of the water-wheel and fall was a sleepy music in the saint's ear noon and night.
It must not be imagined that the mill-wheel ground anything. No; it went round merely for the sake of its music. For all St. Piran's business was the study of objects that presented themselves to his notice, or, as he called it, the "Rapture av Contemplation"; and as for his livelihood, he earned it in the simplest way. The waters of the Lough below possessed a peculiar virtue. You had only to sink a log or stick therein, and in fifty years' time that log or stick would be turned to stone. St. Piran was as quick as you are to divine the possibilities of easy competence offered by this spot. He took time by the forelock, and in half a century was fairly started in business. Henceforward he passed all his days among the rocks above the fall, whistling to himself while he whittled bits of cork and wood into quaint shapes, attached them to string, weighted them with pebbles, and lowered them over the fall into the Lough—whence, after fifty years he would draw them forth, and sell them to the simple surrounding peasantry at two hundred and fifty per centum per annum on the initial cost.
It was a tranquil, lucrative employment, and had he stuck to the Rapture of Contemplation, he might have ended his days by the fall. But in an unlucky hour he undertook to feed ten Irish kings and their armies for three weeks anend on three cows. Even so he might have escaped, had he only failed. Alas! As it was, the ten kings had no sooner signed peace and drunk together than they marched up to St. Piran's door, and began to hold an Indignation Meeting.
"What's ailing wid ye, then?" asked the saint, poking his head out at the door; "out wid ut! Did I not stuff ye wid cow-mate galore when the land was as nakud as me tonshure? But 'twas three cows an' a miracle wasted, I'm thinkin'."
"Faith, an' ye've said ut!" answered one of the kings. "Three cows between tin Oirish kings! 'Tis insultin'! Arrah, now, make it foive, St. Piran darlint!"
"Now may they make your stummucks ache for that word, ye marautherin' thieves av the world!"
And St. Piran slammed the door in their faces.
But these kings were Ulstermen, and took things seriously. So they went off and stirred up the people: and the end was that one sunshiny morning a dirty rabble marched up to the mill and laid hands on the saint. On what charge, do you think? Why, for Being without Visible Means of Support!
"There's me pethrifyin' spicimins!" cried the saint: and he tugged at one of the ropes that stretched down into the Lough.
"Indade!" answered one of the ten kings: "Bad luck to your spicimins!" says he.
"Fwhat's that ye're tuggin.' at?" asks a bystander.
"Now the Holy Mother presarve your eyesight, Tim Coolin," answers St. Piran, pulling it in, "if ye can't tell a plain millstone at foive paces! I never asked ye to see through ut," he added, with a twinkle, for Tim had a plentiful lack of brains, and that the company knew.
Sure enough it was a millstone, and a very neat one; and the saint, having raised a bit of a laugh, went on like a cheap-jack:
"Av there's any gintleman prisunt wid an eye for millstones, I'll throuble him to turn ut here. Me own make," says he, "jooled in wan hole, an' dog-chape at fifteen shillin'—"
He was rattling away in this style when somebody called out, "To think av a millstone bein' a visible means av support!" And this time the laugh turned against the saint.
"St. Piran dear, ye've got to die," says the spokesman.
"Musha, musha!"—and the saint set up a wail and wrung his hands. "An' how's it goin' to be?" he asked, breaking off; "an' if 'tis by Shamus O'Neil's blunderbust that he's fumblin' yondther, will I stand afore or ahint ut? for 'tis fatal both ends, I'm thinkin', like Barney Sullivan's mule. Wirra, wirra! May our souls find mercy, Shamus O'Neil, for we'll both, be wantin' ut this day. Better for you, Shamus, that this millstone was hung round your black neck, an' you drownin' in the dept's av the Lough!"
The words were not spoken before they all set up a shout. "The millstone! the millstone!" "Sthrap him to ut!" "He's named his death!"—and inside of three minutes there was the saint, strapped down on his own specimen.
"Wirra, wirra!" he cried, and begged for mercy; but they raised a devastating shindy, and gave the stone a trundle. Down the turf it rolled and rolled, and then whoo! leaped over the edge of the fall into space and down—down—till it smote the waters far below, and knocked a mighty hole in them, and went under—
For three seconds only. The next thing that the rabble saw as they craned over the cliff was St. Piran floating quietly out to sea on the millstone, for all the world as if on a life-belt, and untying his bonds to use for a fishing-line! You see, this millstone had been made of cork originally, and was only half petrified; and the old boy had just beguiled them. When he had finished undoing the cords, he stood up and bowed to them all very politely.
"Visible Manes av Support, me childher—merely Visible Manes av Support!" he called back.
'Twas a sunshiny day, and while St. Piran chuckled the sea twinkled all over with the jest. As for the crowd on the cliff, it looked for five minutes as if the saint had petrified them harder than the millstone. Then, as Tim Coolin told his wife, Mary Dogherty, that same evening, they dispersed promiscuously in groups of one each.
Meanwhile, the tides were bearing St. Piran and his millstone out into the Atlantic, and he whiffed for mackerel all the way. And on the morrow a stiff breeze sprang up and blew him sou'-sou-west until he spied land; and so he stepped ashore on the Cornish coast.
In Cornwall he lived many years till he died: and to this day there are three places named after him—Perranaworthal, Perranuthno and Perranzabuloe. But it was in the last named that he took most delight, because at Perranzabuloe (Perochia Sti. Pirani in Sabulo) there was nothing but sand to distract him from the Study of Objects that Presented Themselves to his Notice: for he had given up miracles. So he sat on the sands and taught the Cornish people how to be idle. Also he discovered tin for them; but that was an accident.
II.—SAINT PIRAN AND THE VISITATION.
A full fifty years had St. Piran dwelt among the sandhills between Perranzabuloe and the sea before any big rush of saints began to pour into Cornwall: for 'twas not till the old man had discovered tin for us that they sprang up thick as blackberries all over the county; so that in a way St. Piran had only himself to blame when his idle ways grew to be a scandal by comparison with the push and bustle of the newcomers.
Never a notion had he that, from Rome to Land's End, all his holy brethren were holding up their hands over his case. He sat in his cottage above the sands at Perranzabuloe and dozed to the hum of the breakers, in charity with all his parishioners, to whom his money was large as the salt wind; for his sleeping partnership in the tin-streaming business brought him a tidy income. And the folk knew that if ever they wanted religion, they had only to knock and ask for it.
But one fine morning, an hour before noon, the whole parish sprang to its feet at the sound of a horn. The blast was twice repeated, and came from the little cottage across the sands.
"'Tis the blessed saint's cow-horn!" they told each other. "Sure the dear man must be in the article of death!" And they hurried off to the cottage, man, woman, and child: for 'twas thirty years at least since the horn had last been sounded.
They pushed open the door, and there sat St. Piran in his arm-chair, looking good for another twenty years, but considerably flustered. His cheeks were red, and his fingers clutched the cow-horn nervously.
"Andrew Penhaligon," said he to the first man that entered, "go you out and ring the church bell."
Off ran Andrew Penhaligon. "But, blessed father of us," said one or two, "we're all here! There's no call to ring the church bell, seem' you're neither dead nor afire, blessamercy!"
"Oh, if you're all here, that alters the case; for 'tis only a proclamation I have to give out at present. To-morrow mornin'—Glory be to God!—I give warnin' that Divine service will take place in the parish church."
"You're sartin you bain't feelin' poorly, St. Piran dear?" asked one of the women.
"Thank you, Tidy Mennear, I'm enjoyin' health. But, as I was sayin', the parish church 'll be needed to-morrow, an' so you'd best set to and clean out the edifice: for I'm thinkin'," he added, "it'll be needin' that."
"To be sure, St. Piran dear, we'll humour ye."
"'Tisn' that at all," the saint answered; "but I've had a vision."
"Don't you often?"
"H'm! but this was a peculiar vision; or maybe a bit of a birdeen whispered it into my ear. Anyway, 'twas revealed to me just now in a dream that I stood on the lawn at Bodmin Priory, and peeped in at the Priory window. An' there in the long hall sat all the saints together at a big table covered with red baize and plotted against us. There was St. Petroc in the chair, with St. Guron by his side, an' St. Neot, St. Udy, St. Teath, St. Keverne, St. Wen, St. Probus, St. Enodar, St. Just, St. Fimbarrus, St. Clether, St. Germoe, St. Veryan, St. Winnock, St. Minver, St. Anthony, with the virgins Grace, and Sinara, and Iva—the whole passel of 'em. An' they were agreein' there was no holiness left in this parish of mine; an' speakin' shame of me, my childer—of me, that have banked your consciences these fifty years, and always been able to pay on demand: the more by token that I kept a big reserve, an' you knew it. Answer me: when was there ever a panic in Perranzabuloe? ''Twas all very well,' said St. Neot, when his turn came to speak, 'but this state o' things ought to be exposed.' He's as big as bull's beef, is St. Neot, ever since he worked that miracle over the fishes, an' reckons he can disparage an old man who was makin' millstones to float when he was suckin' a coral. But the upshot is, they're goin' to pay us a Visitation to-morrow, by surprise. And, if only for the parish credit, we'll be even wid um, by dad!"
St. Piran still lapsed into his native brogue when strongly excited.
But he had hardly done when Andrew Penhaligon came running in—
"St. Piran, honey, I've searched everywhere; an' be hanged to me if I can find the church at all!"
"Fwhat's become av ut?" cried the saint, sitting up sharply.
"How should I know? But devil a trace can I see!"
"Now, look here," St. Piran said; "the church was there, right enough."
"That's a true word," spoke up an old man, "for I mind it well. An elegant tower it had, an' a shingle roof."
"Spake up, now," said the saint, glaring around; "fwich av ye's gone an' misbestowed me parush church? For I won't believe," he said, "that it's any worse than carelussness—at laste, not yet-a-bit."
Some remembered the church, and some did not: but the faces of all were clear of guilt. They trooped out on the sands to search.
Now, the sands by Perranzabuloe are for ever shifting and driving before the northerly and nor'-westerly gales; and in time had heaped themselves up and covered the building out of sight. To guess this took the saint less time than you can wink your eye in; but the bother was that no one remembered exactly where the church, had stood, and as there were two score at least of tall mounds along the shore, and all of pretty equal height, there was no knowing where to dig. To uncover them all was a job to last till doomsday.
"Blur-an'-agurs, but it's ruined I am!" cried St. Piran. "An' the Visitashun no further away than to-morra at tin a.m.!" He wrung his hands, then caught up a spade, and began digging like a madman.
They searched all day, and with lanterns all the night through: they searched from Ligger Point to Porth Towan: but came on never a sign of the missing church.
"If it only had a spire," one said, "there'd be some chance." But as far as could be recollected, the building had a dumpy tower.
"Once caught, twice shy," said another; "let us find it this once, an' next time we'll have landmarks to dig it out by."
It was at sunrise that St. Piran, worn-out and heart-sick, let fall his spade and spoke from one of the tall mounds, where he had been digging for an hour.
"My children," he began, and the men uncovered their heads, "my children, we are going to be disgraced this day, and the best we can do is to pray that we may take it like men. Let us pray."
He knelt down on the great sand-hill, and the men and women around dropped on their knees also. And then St. Piran put up the prayer that has made his name famous all the world over.
_THE PRAYER OF ST. PIRAN.
Harr us, O Lord, and be debonair: for ours is a particular case. We are not like the men of St. Neot or the men of St. Udy, who are for ever importuning Thee upon the least occasion, praying at all hours and every day of the week. Thou knowest it is only with extreme cause that we bring ourselves to trouble Thee. Therefore regard our moderation in time past, and be instant to help us now. Amen_.
There was silence for a full minute as he ceased; and then the kneeling parishioners lifted their eyes towards the top of the mound.
St. Piran was nowhere to be seen!
They stared into each other's faces. For a while not a sound was uttered. Then a woman began to sob—
"We've lost 'en! We've lost 'en!"
"Like Enoch, he's been taken!"
"Taken up in a chariot an' horses o' fire. Did any see 'en go?"
"An' what'll we do without 'en? Holy St. Piran, come back to us!"
"Hullo! hush a bit an' hearken!" cried Andrew Penhaligon, lifting a hand.
They were silent, and listening as he commanded, heard a muffled voice and a faint, calling as it were from the bowels of the earth.
"Fetch a ladder!" it said: "fetch a ladder! It's meself that's found ut, glory be to God! Holy queen av heaven! but me mouth is full av sand, an' it's burstin' I'll be if ye don't fetch a ladder quick!"
They brought a ladder and set it against the mound. Three of the men climbed up. At the top they found a big round hole, from the lip of which they scraped the sand away, discovering a patch of shingle roof, through which St. Piran—whose weight had increased of late—had broken and tumbled heels over head into his own church.