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this case personal interest prompted him the more strongly to that
opinion. Common sense the world over was on his side, and no man with
the facts before him had been likely to criticise Miller Lyddon on the
course of action he thought proper to pursue for his daughter's ultimate
happiness. That he reckoned without his host naturally escaped the
father's thought at this juncture. Will Blanchard had dwindled in his
mind to the mere memory of a headstrong youngster, now far removed from
the scene of his stupidity and without further power to trouble. That he
could advise John to wait a while until Will's shadow grew less in
Phoebe's thought, argued kindness and delicacy of mind in Mr. Lyddon.
Will he only saw and gauged as the rest of the world. He did not fathom
all of him, as Mrs. Blanchard had said; while concerning Phoebe's inner
heart and the possibilities of her character, at a pinch, he could speak
with still less certainty. She was a virgin page, unturned, unscanned.
No man knew her strength or weakness; she did not know it herself.

Time progressed; the leaf fell and the long drought was followed by a
mild autumn of heavy rains. John Grimbal's days were spent between the
Red House and Monks Barton. His rod was put up; but he had already made
friends and now shot many partridges. He spent long evenings in the
society of Phoebe and her father at the farm; and the miller not seldom
contrived to be called away on these occasions. Billy proved ever ready
to assist, and thus the two old men did the best in their power to aid
Grimbal's suit. In the great, comfortable kitchen, generally at some
distance from each other, Phoebe and the squire of the new Red House
would sit. She, now suspecting, was shy and uneasy; he, his wits
quickened by love, displayed a tact and deftness of words not to have
been anticipated from him. At first Phoebe took fire when Grimbal
criticised Will in anything but a spirit of utmost friendliness; but it
was vital to his own hopes that he should cloud the picture painted on
her heart if he could; so, by degrees and with all the cleverness at his
command, he dropped gall into poor Phoebe's cup in minute doses. He
mourned the extreme improbability of Blanchard's success, grounding his
doubt on Will's uneven character; he pictured Blanchard's fight with the
world and showed how probable it was that he would make it a losing
battle by his own peculiarities of temper. He declared the remoteness of
happiness for Miss Lyddon in that direction to be extreme; he deplored
the unstable nature of a young man's affection all the world over; and
he made solid capital out of the fact that not once since his departure
had her lover communicated with Phoebe. She argued against this that her
father had forbidden it; but Mr. Grimbal overrode the objection, and
asked what man in love would allow himself to be bound by such a
command. As a matter of fact, Will had sent two messages at different
times to his sweetheart. These came through Clement Hicks, and only
conveyed the intelligence that the wanderer was well.

So Phoebe suffered persistent courting and her soft mould of mind sank a
little under the storm. Now, weary and weak, she hesitated; now a wave
of strength fortified her spirit. That John Grimbal should be dogged and
importunate she took as mere masculine characteristics, and the fact did
not anger her against him; but what roused her secret indignation almost
as often as they met was his half-hidden air of sanguine confidence. He
was humble in a way, always the patient lover, but in his manner she
detected an indefinable, irritating self-confidence - the demeanour of
one who already knows himself a conqueror before the battle is fought.

Thus the position gradually developed. As yet her father had not spoken
to Phoebe or pretended to any knowledge of what was doing; but there
came a night, at the end of November, when John Grimbal, the miller, and
Billy sat and smoked at Monks Barton after Phoebe's departure to bed.
Mr. Blee, very well knowing what matter moved the minds of his
companions, spoke first.

"Missy have put on a temperate way of late days it do seem. I most begin
to think that cat-a-mountain of a bwoy 's less in her thoughts than he
was. She 'm larnin' wisdom, as well she may wi' sich a faither."

"I doan't knaw what to think," answered Mr. Lyddon, somewhat gloomily.
"I ban't so much in her confidence as of auld days. Damaris Blanchard's
right, like enough. A maid 's tu deep even for the faither that got her,
most times. A sweet, dear gal as ever was, for all that. How fares it,
John? She never names 'e to me, though I do to her."

"I'm biding my time, neighbour. I reckon 't will be right one day. It
only makes me feel a bit mean now and again to have to say hard things
about young Blanchard. Still, while she 's wrapped up there, I may
whistle for her."

"You 'm in the right," declared Billy. "'T is an auld sayin' that all
manner of dealings be fair in love, an' true no doubt, though I'm a
bachelor myself an' no prophet in such matters."

"All's fair for certain," admitted John, as though he had not before
considered the position from this standpoint.

"Ay, an' a darter's welfare lies in her faither's hand. Thank God, I'm
not a parent to my knowledge; but 'tis a difficult calling in life, an'
a young maiden gal, purty as a picksher, be a heavy load to a honest
mind."

"So I find it," said the miller.

"You've forbid Will - lock, stock, and barrel - therefore, of coourse,
she 's no right to think more of him, to begin with," continued the old
man. It was a new idea.

"Come to think of it, she hasn't - eh?" asked John.

"No, that's true enough," admitted Mr. Lyddon.

"I speak, though of low position, but well thought of an' at Miller's
right hand, so to say," continued Mr. Blee; "so theer 't is: Missy's in
a dangerous pass. Eve's flesh be Eve's flesh, whether hid under flannel
or silk, or shawed mother-naked to the sun after the manner of furrin
cannibals. A gal 's a gal; an' if I was faither of such as your darter,
I'd count it my solemn duty to see her out of the dangers of life an'
tidily mated to a gude man. I'd say to myself, 'Her'll graw to bless me
for what I've done, come a few years.'"

So Billy Blee, according to his golden rule, advised men upon the road
they already desired to follow, and thus increased his reputation for
sound sense and far-reaching wisdom.

"It's true, every word he says," declared John Grimbal.

"I believe it," answered the miller; "though God forbid any word or act
of mine should bring wan tear to Phoebe's cheek. Yet, somehow, I doan't
knaw but you 'm right."

"I am, believe me. It's the truth. You want Phoebe's real happiness
considered, and that now depends on - well, I'll say it out - on me. We
have reached the point now when you must speak, as you promised to
speak, and throw the weight of your influence on my side. Then, after
you've had your say, I'll have mine and put the great question."

Mr. Lyddon nodded his head and relapsed into taciturnity.




CHAPTER VI

AN UNHAPPY POET


That a man of many nerves, uncertain in temper and with no physical or
temporal qualifications, should have won for himself the handsomest girl
in Chagford caused the unreflective to marvel whenever they considered
the point. But a better knowledge of Chris Blauchard had served in some
measure to explain the wonder. Of all women, she was the least likely to
do the thing predicted by experience. She had tremendous force of
character for one scarce twenty years of age; indeed, she lived a
superlative life, and the man, woman, child, or dog that came within
radius of her existence presently formed a definite part of it, and was
loved or detested according to circumstances. Neutrality she could not
understand. If her interests were wide, her prejudices were strong. A
certain unconscious high-handedness of manner made the circle of her
friends small, but those who did love her were enthusiastic. Upon the
whole, the number of those who liked her increased with years, and
avowed enemies had no very definite reasons for aversion. Of her
physical perfections none pretended two opinions; but the boys had
always gone rather in fear of Chris, and the few men who had courted her
during the past few years were all considerably her seniors. No real
romance entered into this young woman's practical and bustling life
until the advent of Clement Hicks, though she herself was the flame of
hearts not a few before his coming.

Neurotic, sensual, as was Chris herself in a healthy fashion, a man of
varying moods, and perhaps the richer for faint glimmerings of the real
fire, Hicks yet found himself no better than an aimless, helpless child
before the demands of reality. Since boyhood he had lived out of touch
with his environment. As bee-keeper and sign-writer he made a naked
living for himself and his mother, and achieved success sufficient to
keep a cottage roof over their heads, but that was all. Books were his
only friends; the old stones of the Moor, the lonely wastes, the
plaintive music of a solitary bird were the companions of his happiest
days. He had wit enough to torture half his waking hours with
self-analysis, and to grit his teeth at his own impotence. But there was
no strength, no virile grip to take his fate in his own hands and mould
it like a man. He only mourned his disadvantages, and sometimes blamed
destiny, sometimes a congenital infirmity of purpose, for the dreary
course of his life. Nature alone could charm his sullen moods, and that
not always. Now and again she spread over the face of his existence a
transitory contentment and a larger hope; but the first contact with
facts swept it away again. His higher aspirations were neither deep nor
enduring, and yet the man's love of nature was lofty and just, and
represented all the religion he had. No moral principles guided him,
conscience never pricked. Nevertheless, thus far he had been a clean
liver and an honest man. Vice, because it affronted his sense of the
beautiful and usually led towards death, did not attract him. He lived
too deep in the lap of Nature to be deceived by the pseudo-realism then
making its appearance in literature, and he laughed without mirth at
these pictures from city-bred pens at that time paraded as the whole
truth of the countryman's life. The later school was not then above the
horizon; the brief and filthy spectacle of those who dragged their
necrosis, marasmus, and gangrene of body and mind across the stage of
art and literature, and shrieked Decay, had not as yet appeared to make
men sicken; the plague-spot, now near healed, had scarce showed the
faintest angry symptom of coming ill. Hicks might under no circumstances
have been drawn in that direction, for his morbidity was of a different
description. Art to this man appeared only in what was wholesome; it
even embraced a guide to conduct, for it led him directly to Nature, and
Nature emphatically taught him the value of obedience, the punishment of
weakness, the reward for excess and every form of self-indulgence. But a
softness in him shrank from these aspects of the Mother. He tried vainly
and feebly to dig some rule of life from her smiles alone, to read a
sermon into her happy hours of high summer sunshine. Beauty was his
dream; he possessed natural taste, and had cultivated the same without
judgment. His intricate disposition and extreme sensitiveness frightened
him away from much effort at self-expression; yet not a few trifling
scraps and shreds of lyric poetry had fallen from his pen in high
moments. These, when the mood changed, he read again, and found dead,
and usually destroyed. He was more easily discouraged than a child who
sets out to tell its parent a story, and is all silence and shamefaced
blushes at the first whisper of laughter or semblance of a smile. The
works of poets dazed him, disheartened him, and secret ambitions toward
performance grew dimmer with every book he laid his hands on. Ambition
to create began to die; the dream scenery of his ill-controlled mental
life more and more seldom took shape of words on paper; and there came a
time when thought grew wholly wordless for him; a mere personal
pleasure, selfish, useless, unsubstantial as the glimmer of mirage over
desert sands.

Into this futile life came Chris, like a breath of sweet air from off
the deep sea. She lifted him clean out of his subjective existence,
awoke a healthy, natural love, built on the ordinary emotions of
humanity, galvanised self-respect and ambition into some activity, and
presently inspired a pluck strong enough to propose marriage. That was
two years ago; and the girl still loved this weakly soul with all her
heart, found his language unlike that of any other man she had seen or
heard, and even took some slight softening edge of culture into herself
from him. Her common sense was absolutely powerless to probe even the
crust of Clement's nature; but she was satisfied that his poetry must be
a thing as marketable as that in printed books. Indeed, in an elated
moment he had assured her that it was so. During the earlier stages of
their attachment, she pestered him to write and sell his verses and make
money, that their happiness might be hastened; while he, on the first
budding of his love, and with the splendid assurance of its return, had
promised all manner of things, and indeed undertaken to make poems that
should be sent by post to the far-away place where they printed unknown
poets, and paid them. Chris believed in Clement as a matter of course.
His honey must at least be worth more to the world than that of his
bees. Over her future husband she began at once to exercise the control
of mistress and mother; and she loved him more dearly after they had
been engaged a year than at the beginning of the contract. By that time
she knew his disposition, and instead of displaying frantic impatience
at it, as might have been predicted, her tolerance was extreme. She bore
with Clem because she loved him with the full love proper to such a
nature as her own; and, though she presently found herself powerless to
modify his character in any practical degree, his gloomy and uneven mind
never lessened the sturdy optimism of Chris herself, or her sure
confidence that the future would unite them. Through her protracted
engagement Mrs. Blanchard's daughter maintained a lively and sanguine
cheerfulness. But seldom was it that she lost patience with the dreamer.
Then her rare, indignant outbursts of commonplace and common sense, like
a thunderstorm, sweetened the stagnant air of Clement's thoughts and
awoke new, wholesome currents in his mind.

As a rule, on the occasion of their frequent country walks, Clem and
Chris found personal problems and private interests sufficient for all
conversation, but it happened that upon a Sunday in mid-December, as
they passed through the valley of the Teign, where the two main streams
of that river mingle at the foothills of the Moor, the subject of Will
and Phoebe for a time at least filled their thoughts. The hour was clear
and bright, yet somewhat cheerless. The sun had already set, from the
standpoint of all life in the valley, and darkness, hastening out of the
east, merged the traceries of a million naked boughs into a thickening
network of misty grey. The river beneath these woods churned in winter
flood, while clear against its raving one robin sang little tinkling
litanies from the branch of an alder.

Chris stood upon Lee Bridge at the waters' meeting and threw scraps of
wood into the river; Clem sat upon the parapet, smoked his pipe, and
noted with a lingering delight the play of his sweetheart's lips as her
fingers strained to snap a tough twig. Then the girl spoke, continuing a
conversation already entered upon.

"Phoebe Lyddon's that weak in will. How far's such as her gwaine in life
without some person else to lean upon?"

"If the ivy cannot find a tree it creeps along the ground, Chrissy."

"Ess, it do; or else falls headlong awver the first bank it comes to.
Phoebe's so helpless a maiden as ever made a picksher. I mind her at
school in the days when we was childer together. Purty as them china
figures you might buy off Cheap Jack, an' just so tender. She'd come up
to dinky gals no bigger 'n herself an' pull out her li'l handkercher an'
ax 'em to be so kind as to blaw her nose for her! Now Will's gone, Lard
knaws wheer she'll drift to."

"To John Grimbal. Any man could see that. Her father's set on it."

"Why don't Will write to her and keep her heart up and give her a little
news? 'Twould be meat an' drink to her. Doan't matter 'bout mother an'
me. We'll take your word for it that Will wants to keep his ways secret.
But a sweetheart - 'tis so differ'nt. I wouldn't stand it!"

"I know right well you wouldn't. Will has his own way. We won't
criticise him. But there's a masterful man in the running - a prosperous,
loud-voiced, bull-necked bully of a man, and one not accustomed to take
'no' for his answer. I'm afraid of John Grimbal in this matter. I've
gone so far as to warn Will, but he writes back that he knows Phoebe."

"Jan Grimbal's a very differ'nt fashion of man to his brother; that I
saw in a moment when they bided with us for a week, till the 'Three
Crowns' could take 'em in. I hate Jan - hate him cruel; but I like
Martin. He puts me in mind o' you, Clem, wi' his nice way of speech and
tender quickness for women. But it's Phoebe we'm speaking of. I think
you should write stern to Will an' frighten him. It ban't fair fightin',
that poor, dear Phoebe 'gainst the will o' two strong men."

"Well, she's had paltry food for a lover since he went away. He's got
certain ideas, and she'll hear direct when - but there, I must shut my
mouth, for I swore by fantastic oaths to say nothing."

"He ought to write, whether or no. You tell Will that Jan Grimbal be
about building a braave plaace up under Whiddon, and is looking for a
wife at Monks Barton morning, noon, an' evening. That's like to waken
him. An' tell him the miller's on t'other side, and clacking Jan Grimbal
into Phoebe's ear steadier than the noise of his awn water-wheel."

"And she will grow weak, mark me. She sees that red-brick place rising
out of the bare boughs, higher and higher, and knows that from floor to
attics all may be hers if she likes to say the word. She hears great
talk of drawing-rooms, and pictures, and pianos, and greenhouses full of
rare flowers, and all the rest - why, just think of it!"

"Ban't many gals as could stand 'gainst a piano, I daresay."

"I only know one - mine."

Chris looked at him curiously.

"You 'm right. An' that, for some queer reason, puts me in mind of the
other wan, Martin Grimbal. He was very pleasant to me."

"He's too late, thank God!"

"Ess, fay! An' if he'd comed afore 'e, Clem, he'd been tu early. Theer's
awnly wan man in the gert world for me."

"My gypsy!"

"But I didn't mean that. He wouldn't look at me, not even if I was a
free woman. 'T was of you I thought when I talked to Mr. Grimbal. He'm
well-to-do, and be seekin' a house in the higher quarter under
Middledown. You an' him have the same fancy for the auld stones. So you
might grow into friends - eh, Clem? Couldn't it so fall out? He might
serve to help - eh? You 'm two-and-thirty year auld next February, an' it
do look as though they silly bees ban't gwaine to put money enough in
the bank to spell a weddin' for us this thirty year to come. Theer's
awnly your aunt, Widow Coomstock, as you can look to for a penny, and
that tu doubtful to count on."

"Don't name her, Chris. Good Lord! poor drunken old thing, with that
crowd of hungry relations waiting like vultures round a dying camel!
Never think of her. Money she has, but I sha'n't see the colour of it,
and I don't want to."

"Well, let that bide. Martin Grimbal's the man in my thought."

"What can I do there?"

"Doan't knaw, 'zactly; but things might fall out if he got to like you,
being a bookish sort of man. Anyway, he's very willing to be friends,
for that he told me. Doan't bear yourself like Lucifer afore him; but
take the first chance to let him knaw your fortune's in need of
mendin'."

"You say that! D' you think self-respect is dead in me?" he asked, half
angry.

There was no visible life about them, so she put her arms round him.

"I ax for love of 'e, dearie, an' for want of 'e. Do 'e think waitin' 's
sweeter for me than for you?"

Then he calmed down again, sighed, returned the caress, touched her, and
stroked her breast and shoulder with sudden earthly light in his great
eyes.

"It 's hard to wait."

"That's why I say doan't lose chances that may mean a weddin' for us,
Clem. Theer 's so much hid in 'e, if awnly the way to bring it out could
be found."

"A mine that won't pay working," he said bitterly, the passion fading
out of eyes and voice. "I know there 's something hidden; I feel there
's a twist of brain that ought to rise above keeping bees and take me
higher than honey-combs. Yet look at hard truth. The clods round me get
enough by their sweat to keep wives and feed children. I'm only a
penniless, backboneless, hand-to-mouth wretch, living on the work of
laborious insects."

"If it ban't your awn fault, then whose be it, Clem?"

"The fault of Chance - to pack my build of brains into the skull of a
pauper. This poor, unfinished abortion of a head-piece of mine only
dreams dreams that it cannot even set on paper for others to see."

"You've given up trying whether it can or not, seemin'ly. I never hear
tell of no verses now."

"What 's the good? But only last night, so it happens, I had a sort of a
wild feeling to get something out of myself, and I scribbled for hours
and hours and found a little morsel of a rhyme."

"Will 'e read it to me?"

He showed reluctance, but presently dragged a scrap of paper out of his,
pocket. Not a small source of trouble was his sweetheart's criticism of
his verses.

"It was the common sight of a pair of lovers walking tongue-tied, you
know. I call it 'A Devon Courting.'"

He read the trifle slowly, with that grand, rolling sea-beat of an
accent that Elizabeth once loved to hear on the lips of Raleigh and
Drake.

"Birds gived awver singin',
Flittermice was wingin',
Mists lay on the meadows -
A purty sight to see.
Down-long in the dimpsy, the dimpsy, the dimpsy,
Down-long in the dimpsy
Theer went a maid wi' me.

"Five gude mile o' walkin',
Not wan word o' talkin',
Then I axed a question
And put the same to she.
Up-long in the owl-light, the owl-light, the owl-light,
Up-long in the owl-light,
Theer corned my maid wi' me.

"But I wonder you write the common words, Clem - you who be so much tu
clever to use 'em."

"The words are well enough. They were not common once."

"Well, you knaw best. Could 'e sell such a li'l auld funny thing as that
for money?"

He shook his head.

"No; it was only the toil of making it seemed good. It is worthless."

"An' to think how long it took 'e! If you'd awnly put the time into
big-fashioned verses full of the high words you've got. But you knaw
best. Did 'e hear anything of them rhymes 'bout the auld days you sent
to Lunnon?"

"They sent them back again. I told you 't was wasting three stamps. It
's not for me, I know it. The world is full of dumb singers. Maybe I
haven't got even a pinch of the fire that _must_ break through and show
its flame, no matter what mountains the earth tumbles on it. God knows I
burn hot enough sometimes with great thoughts and wild longings for love
and for sweeter life and for you; but my fires - whether they are
soul-fires or body-fires - only burn my heart out."

She sighed and squeezed his hand, understanding little enough of what he
said.

"We must be patient. 'T is a solid thing, patience. I'm puttin' by
pence; but it 's so plaguy little a gal can earn, best o' times and with
the best will."

"If I could only write the things I think! But they vanish before pen
and paper and the need of words, as the mists of the night vanish before
the hard, searching sun. I am ignorant of how to use words; and those in
the world who might help me will never know of me. As for those around
about, they reckon me three parts fool, with just a little gift of
re-writing names over their dirty shop-fronts."

"Yet it 's money. What did 'e get for that butivul fox wi' the goose in
his mouth you painted 'pon Mr. Lamacraft's sign to Sticklepath?"

"Ten shillings."

"That's solid money."

"It isn't now. I bought a book with it - a book of lies."



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