Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

A singer from the sea online

. (page 1 of 21)
Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrA singer from the sea → online text (page 1 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook






&: ' T3 ft ,

A Singer
From the Sea



New York
Dodd, Mead and Company



A II rights reserved.






THE COTTAGE BY THE SEA, . . . . . .41












A VISIT TO ST. PENFER ........ 181


A COWARDLY LOVE, ....... 22 5

DEATH is DAWN ......... 2 5i


ONLY FRIENDS, ......... 2 95

THE " DARLING DENAS," . . . . . 3*4

DENAS, . . ...... 33




1 Teil me, my old friend, tell me why
You sit and softly laugh by yourself.'
' It is because I am repeating to myself,

Write ! write
Of the valiant strength,
The calm, brave bearing
Of the sons of the sea.' "


"And that is why I have written this book
Of the things that live in your noole hearts.
You are really the authors of it.
I have only put into words
The frank simplicity of your sailor life."


FROM Padstow Point to Lundy Race is one of
the wildest and grandest portions of the
Cornish coast, and on it there is always somewhere
a tossing sea, a stiff breeze above, and a sucking
tide below. Great cliffs hundreds of feet high
guard it, and from the top of them the land rolls


away in long ridges, brown and bare. These wild
and rocky moors, full of pagan altars, stone crosses,
and memorials of the Jew, the Phoenician, and the
Cornu-British, are the land of our childhood's fairy-
folk the home of Blunderbore and of Jack the Giant
Killer, and the far grander

"Fable of Bellerus old,
And the great vision of the Guarded Mount."

But it is the Undercliff which has the perennial
charm for humanity, for all along its sloping face
there are bewildering hummocks and hollows,
checkered with purple rocks and elder-trees. Nar
row footpaths curve in and out and up and down
among the fields and farms, the orchards and the
glimmering glades, and there the foxgloves grow
so tall that they lift their dappled bells level with
the eyes.

I urther down are queer, quiet towns, hundreds of
years old, squeezed into the mouths of deep valleys
valleys full of delicate ferns and small wild roses
and the white heath, a flower peculiar to the locality.
And still lower on the very shingle are the am
phibious-looking cottages of the fishermen. They
are surrounded by nets and boats and lobster-pots.
Noisy children paddle in the flowing tide, and large,
brown, handsome women sit on the door-steps knit
ting the blue guernsey shirts and stockings which
their husbands wear.

Such a lonely, lovely spot is the little village of
St. Penfer. It is so hidden in the clefts of the
rocks that unless one had its secret and knew the


way of its labyrinth down the cliff-breast it would
be hard to find it from the landward side. But the
fishermen see its white houses and terraced gardens
and hear the sweet-voiced bells of its old church
calling to them when they are far off upon the
ocean. And well they know their cottages clustered
on the shingle below, and all day they may be seen
among them, mending their boats, or painting their
boats, or standing with their hands in their pockets
looking at their boats, fingering the while the bit of
mountain ash which they carry there to keep away

John Penelles was occupied on the afternoon of
that Saturday which comes between Good Friday
and Resurrection Sunday. His boat was rocking on
the tide-top and he seemed to be looking at her.
But his bright blue eyes saw nothing seaward; he
was mentally watching the flowery winding way up
the cliff to St. Penfer. If his daughter Denas was
coming down it he would hear her footsteps in his
heart. And why did she not come? She had been
away four hours, and who knew what evil might
happen to a girl in four hours ? When too late to
forbid her visit to St. Penfer, it had suddenly struck
him that Roland Tresham might be home for the
Easter holidays, and he disliked the young man.
He had an intuitive dislike for him, founded upon
that kind of " I know " which is beyond reasoning
with, and he had told Denas that Roland Tresham
was not for her to listen to and not for her to
trust to.

" But there, then, 'tis dreadful! dreadful! What


foolishness a little maid will believe in!" he mut
tered. " I have never known but one woman who can
understand reason, and it isn't often she will listen
to it. Women! women! women! God bless them!"

He was restless with his thoughts by the time they
arrived at this point, but it still took him a few
minutes to decide upon some action and then put
his great bulk into motion. For he was a large
man, even among Cornish fishermen, and his feet
were in his heavy fishing-boots, and his nature was
slow and irresolute until his mind was fully made
up. Then nothing could move him or turn him, and
he acted with that irresistible celerity which springs
from an invincible determination.

His cottage was not far off, and he went there.
As he approached, a woman rose from the steps
and, with her knitting in her hand, went inside.
She was putting the kettle on the fire as he entered,
and she turned her head to smile upon him. It
was a delightful smile, full of love and pleasure,
and she accompanied it with a little nod of her
head that meant any good thing he liked to ask of

"Aw, my dear," he said, "I do think the little
maid is a sight too long away."

" She do have a long walk, John dear. St. Penfer
isn't at the door-step, I'm sure."

"You see, Joan, it is like this: Denas she be
what she is, thank God! but Roland Tresham, he
be near to the quality, and they do say a great
scholar, and can speak langwidges; and aw, my
dear, if rich and poor do ride together the poor


must ride behind, and a wayless way they take
through and over. I have seen that often and

"We mustn't be quick to think evil, John, must
we? I'm sure Denas do know her place and her
right, and she isn't one to be put down below it.
You do take a sight of trouble you aren't asked to
take, father."

"Do I, my dear?"

" To be sure you do. And they that go seeking
trouble are very like to find it. Is Roland Tresham
home again?"

"Not as I know by certain. I haven't heard
tell so."

" There, now ! How people do go thinking wrong
of others instead of themselves! That isn't the
Bible way, is it, father?"

"To be sure it isn't, Joan. But we aren't living
among Bible people, my dear, are we now?"

"Well, I don't know that, father. Fisher-folk
feature one another all the world over as much as
their lines and boats do. I think we could find
all those Galilean fishers among the fishers of
Penfer. I do, really plenty of Peters and sons of
Zebedee, I'll warrant. Are not John and Jacob
Tenager always looking to be high up in the chapel ?
And poor Cruffs and Kestal, how they do deny all
the week through what they say on Sunday! And
I know one quiet, modest Andrew who never grum
bles, but is alway content and happy when his
brothers are favoured above him." And she looked
and smiled at her husband with such loving admira-


tion that the big fisherman felt the glow of the look
and smile warm his heart and flush his cheeks, and
he hastened to the tea-table, and was glad to be
silent and enjoy the compliment his dear Joan had
given him.

For Joan Penelles was not only a good wife, she
was a pious, truthful, sensible, patient woman. The
days of her youthful beauty were over, but her fine
face left the heart satisfied with her. There was
room in her eyes, light upon her face, strength and
mature grace in her tall figure the grace of a
woman who has grown up like a forest tree in fresh
air and winds and liberty the physical grace that
never comes by the dancing-master. And her print
dress and white kerchief and neatly braided hair
seemed as much a part of her charm as the thatched
roof, the yellow stone-wort, and the dainty little
mother of millions creeping over the roof and walls
were a part of the picturesque cottage. The beauty
of Joan Penelles was the beauty of fitness in every
part, of health, of good temper, of a certain spiritual
perception. Penelles loved her with a sure affec
tion; he trusted in her. In every strait of his life
he went to her for comfort or advice. He could not
have imagined a single day without Joan to direct it.

For his daughter Denas he had a love perhaps
not stronger, but quite different in kind. Denas
was his only living child. Denas loved the sea.
Penelles could remember her small pink feet in the
tide, when they were baby feet scarce able to stand
alone. As she grew older she often begged to go
to sea with the fishers, and on warm summer nights


she had lain in the boat, and talked to him and his
mates, and sung them such wild, sweet songs that
the men vowed she charmed the fish into the nets.
For they had always wondrous takes when Denas
leaned over the gunwale, and in sweet, piercing
notes sang the old fishing-call:

"Come, gray fish ! gray fish !
Come from the gray cold sea !
Fathoms, fathoms deep is the wall of net.
Haddock ! haddock ! herring ! herring !
Halibut ! bass ! whatever you be,
Fish ! fish ! fish ! come pay your debt. "

And while the men listened to the shrill, impera
tive voice mingling with the wash of the waves, and
watched the child's long yellow hair catching the
glory of the moonlight, they let her lead them as
she would. She did not fear storms. It was her
father who feared them for her, though never after
one night when she was twelve years old.

"You cannot go to-night, Denas," he said; "the
tide is late and the wind is contrary."

"Well, then," the little maid answered with deci
sion, "the contrary wind be God's wind. 'Twas
whist poor speed the fishers were once making toil
ing and rowing and the wind contrary, when He
came walking on the water and into the boat, and
then, to be sure, all was quiet enough."

There were no words to dispute this position, and
Denas went with the fishers, and sat singing like a
spirit while the boat kissed the wind in her teeth.
And anon the tide turned, and the wind changed,
and there was a lull, and so the nets were well shot,


and they came back to harbour before the breeze
just at cock-light that is, when the cocks begin to
crow for the dawning.

Thus petted and loved, the pretty girl made her
way into all hearts, and when she said one day that
she wanted to go to the school at St. Penfer and
learn all about the strange seas and the strange
lands that were in the world, her father and mother
were quite thrilled by her great ambition. But she
had her desire, and for three years she went to the
private school at St. Penfer, and among the girls
gathered there made many friends. Chief among
these was Elizabeth Tresham, the daughter of a gen
tleman who had bought, with the salvage of a large
fortune, the small Cornish estate on which he lived,
or rather fretted away life in vain regrets over an
irrevocable past. Elizabeth was his only daughter,
but he had a son who was much older than Eliza
beth a handsome, gay young man about whom little
was known in St. Penfer.

That little was not altogether favourable. It
was understood that he painted pictures and played
very finely on the piano, and every one could see
that he dressed in the most fashionable manner and
that he was handsome and light-hearted. But it
could not be hid that he often came for money, which
old Mr. Tresham had sometimes to borrow in St.
Penfer for him. And business men noted the fact
that his visits were so erratic and frequently so
long in duration that it was hardly likely he had
regular employment. And if a man had no private
steady income, then for him to be without steady


daily labour was considered in St. Penfer suspicious
and not at all respectable. So in general Roland
Tresham was treated with a shy courtesy, which at
first he resented, but finally laughed at.

" Squire Peverall is afraid of his daughter and
barely returns my bow, and the rector has sent his
pretty Phyllis to St. Ives while I am here, Eliza
beth," he said one night to his sister. "Phyllis is
well enough, but she has not a shilling, and pray
who would marry Clara Peverall with only a paltry
twenty thousand?"

" Clara is a nice girl, Roland, and if you only
would marry and settle down to a reasonable life,
how happy I should be."

"Could I lead a more reasonable life, Elizabeth?
I manage to get more pleasure out of a hundred
pounds than some men get out of their thousands."

" And father and I carry the care of it."

"You are very foolish. Why carry care? I do
not. I let the men to whom I owe money carry
the care."

" But father cannot do that nor can I. And to
be in debt, in St. Penfer, is disreputable."

"Well, Elizabeth, is it reasonable that I should
suffer for father's and your inability to be happy,
or for the antiquated notions of such an antiquated
town as St. Penfer? I am only twenty-nine, and the
pleasures of life are necessities to me."

" I am only nineteen, Roland."

" But then you are a girl that is such a different

"Yes, it is a different thing," and Elizabeth laid


down the piece of linen she was stitching and
looked up at the handsome fellow who was leaning
against the open window and puffing his cigar
smoke out of it. She had the English girl's adora
tion of the eldest son, and likewise her natural sub
mission to the masculine element. Besides which,
she loved Roland with all her simple faith and
affection. She loved him for his handsome self
and his charming ways. She loved him because
he had been her mother's idol, and she had prom
ised her mother never to desert Roland. She loved
him because he loved her in his own perfectly self
ish way. She was just as willing to bear his trou
bles, and plan for their relief, and deny herself for
his pleasure, as Roland was willing to accept the"
sacrifice. Of course she was foolish, perhaps sin
fully foolish, and it is no excuse for her folly to
admit that there are thousands of women in the same

In one of his visits to St. Penfer, about two years
previous to this Easter Eve, Roland Tresham had
met Denas Penelles. At that time he had been
much interested in her. The little fisher-girl with
her piquant face, her strange haunting voice, and
her singular self-possession was a charming study.
He made several sketches of her, he set her wild,
sweet fisher-songs to music, he lent her books to
read, he talked to her and Elizabeth of the wonder
ful London life which Elizabeth could partly re
member, but which was like a fairy-tale to Denas.

Fortunately Elizabeth was jealous of her brother
and jealous of her friend, and she never gave them


any opportunity for private conversation. If Roland
proposed to see Denas down the cliff-breast, Eliza
beth was always delighted to go also. If Roland
asked Denas to go into the garden to gather fruit
or flowers, or into the drawing-room to sing her
songs to his accompaniments, Elizabeth was faith
fully at the side of Denas. She was actuated by a
variety of motives. She wished her brother to
make a prudent marriage. There were at least
three young girls in the vicinity eligible, and Eliza
beth believed that Roland had only to woo in
order to win. Any entanglement with Denas, there
fore, would be apt to delay such a settlement.

She liked Denas, and she did not wish to be the
means of giving her a heartache or a disappoint
ment. But she liked her as a friend and com
panion, not as a probable sister. Mr. Tresham in
the days of his commercial glory had once been
Lord Mayor of London. Mrs. Tresham had been
"presented," and the grand house and magnificent
entertainments of the Treshams were chronicled in
newspapers, which Elizabeth highly valued and
carefully treasured. She had also her full share of
that all-pervading spirit of caste which divides
English society into innumerable circles, and though
she did not dislike the tacit offence she gave to the
St. Penfer young ladies by selecting a companion
not in their ranks, she was always ready to defend
her friendship for Denas by an exaggerated descrip
tion of her many fine qualities. On this subject
she could air the extreme social views which she
heard from Roland, and which she always passion-


ately opposed when Roland advocated them ; but she
was not any more ready to put her ideas of an
equality based on personal desert into practice
than was the most bigoted aristocrat of her acquaint

There was also another motive for her care of
Denas, a strong one, though Elizabeth's mind barely
recognised its existence. John Penelles, though
only a fisher, was a man who had influence and who
had saved money. Once when Mr. Tresham had
been in a great strait for cash, Penelles, remember
ing Denas, had cheerfully loaned him a hundred
pounds. Elizabeth recollected her father's anxiety
and his relief and gratitude, and a friend who will
open, not his heart or his house, but his purse, is a
rare good friend, one not to be lightly wronged or
lost. Besides these reasons, there were many smaller
ones, arising out of petty social likes and dislikes
and jealousies, which made Miss Tresham deter
mined to keep Denas Penelles precisely in the posi
tion to which she had at first admitted her that of
a friend and companion.

To visitors she often used the adjective" humble"
before the noun "friend," glossing it with a some
what exaggerated account of Denas and their rela
tionship, but with Denas herself she never thought
of such qualification. Denas had all the native
independence of her class the fisher class, who
neither sow nor reap, but take their living direct
from the hand of God. She was proud of her
father, and proud of his boats, and proud of his skill
in managing them. She said, whenever she spoke


of him : " My father is an upright man. He is a fine
sailor and a lucky fisher. Every one trusts my
father. Every one honours him."

Of course Denas recognised the differences in her
friend's life and her own. Mr. Tresham's old stone
mansion was large and lofty. It had fine gardens,
and it had been well furnished from the wreck of
the London house. Elizabeth played on the harp
and piano in a pretty, fashionable way, and she had
jewelry, and silk dresses, and many adornments
quite outside of the power of Denas to obtain. But
Denas never envied her these things. She looked
on them as the accidentals of a certain station, and
God had not put her in that station. In her own
she had the very best of all that belonged to it.
And as far as personal adornment went, she was
neither vain nor envious. Her dark-blue merino
dress and her wide straw hat satisfied her ideas of
propriety and beauty. A shell comb in her fair
hair and a few white hyacinths at her throat were
all the ornaments she desired. So dressed that Eas
ter Eve, she had stood a moment with her hat in her
hand before her mother, and asked, with a merry
little movement of her eyes and head, " what she
thought of her?" and Joan Penelles had told her
child promptly:

"You be sweet as blossoms, Denas."
There was an engagement between her and Eliza
beth to adorn the altar for the Resurrection Service,
and it was mainly this duty which had delayed her
until John Penelles began to worry about her long
absence. He did not ask himself why he had all in


a moment thought of Roland Tresham and felt a
shiver of apprehension. He was not accustomed to
reason about his feelings, it was so much easier to
go to Joan with them. But this evening Joan did
not quite satisfy him. He drank his tea and ate
plentifully of his favourite pie, of fresh fish and
cream and young parsley, and then said:

"Joan, my dear, I have an over-mind to light my
pipe and saunter up the cliff-breast. I may meet
Denas. "

"I wish you wouldn't go, father. It do look as
if you had lost trust in Denas misdoubting one's
own is a whist poor business and not worth the fol
lowing. "

"Aw, my dear, I just want to talk a few words to
her quiet-like. If Denas is company ing with Roland
Tresham she oughtn't to do it, and I must tell her
so, that I must. My dear girl, right is right in the
devil's teeth."

He said the words so sternly that they seemed to
make a gloom in the cottage, but Joan's cheerful
laugh cleared it away. " You be such a dear, good,
careful father, John," she said, as she tucked in with
a caressing movement the long ends of his kerchief.
"I was only thinking that if it be good to watch,
it is far better to trust there then, isn't it, father?"

"Why, my dear, I'll watch first and I'll trust
after that's right enough, isn't it, Joan?"

Joan sighed and smiled, and Penelles, with his
pipe in his mouth, turned his face landward. Joan
thought a moment and then called to him:

"Father! Paul Tynton is very bad to-day. He


was taken ill when the moon was three days old;
men die who sicken on that day. Hadn't you bet
ter call and speak a word with him? He is in your
class, you know."

" He was taken when the moon was four days old ;
he'll have a hard little time, but he'll get up again."

There was nothing else she could think of, and
she knit her brows and turned in to her house duties.
Joan did not want any meeting between her husband
and Roland Tresham. She did not want anything
to occur which would interfere with Denas visiting
Miss Tresham, for these visits were a source of great
pleasure to Denas and great pride to herself. And
Joan could not believe that there was any danger to
be feared from Roland; Denas had known him for
two years and nothing evil had yet happened. If
Roland had said one wrong word to Denas, Joan
was sure her child would have told her.

While she was thinking of these things, John
Penelles went slowly up the winding path that led
to the top of the cliff. It was sweet and bright on
either hand with the fragile, delicate flowers of early
spring. He stopped frequently to look at them,
and he longed to touch them, to hold them in his
palm, to put them against his lips. But he looked
at his big, hard hands, and then at the flowers, and
so, shaking his head, walked on. The blackbird
was piping and the missel-thrush singing in one or
two of her seven languages, and John felt the spring
joy stirring in his own heart to melody. He sat in
the singing-pew at St. Penfer Chapel, and he had a
noble voice, so he shook the ashes out of his pipe,


and clasping his hands behind his back was just
going to give the blackbirds and thrushes his even
ing song, when he heard the rippling laugh of
Denas a little ahead of him.

He told himself in a moment that it was not her
usual laugh. He could not for his life have defined
the difference, but there it was. Before he saw her
he knew that Roland Tresham was with her, and in
a moment or two they came suddenly within his
vision. Denas was walking a little straighter than
usual, and Roland was bending toward her. He
was gay, laughing, finely dressed; he was doing his
best to attract the girl who walked so proudly, so
apart, and yet so happily beside him. Penelles
went forward to meet them. As they approached
Denas smiled, and the young man called out:

" Hello, Penelles! How do you do? Anclwhat's
the news? And how is the fishing? I was just
bringing Denas home and hoping to see you."

" Aw, then, sir, you can see for yourself how I be,
and the news be none, and the fishing be plenty."

" St. Penfer harbour is not much of a place,
Penelles. I was just telling Denas about London."

"St. Penfer be a hard little place, but it do give
us a living, sir ; a honest living, thank God ! Come,
Denas, my dear."

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrA singer from the sea → online text (page 1 of 21)