- prologue: THIS WAY OUT PROLOGUE
|chapter 01 >||chapter 13 >>|
THIS WAY OUT
A MAN came out from a stone Rectory which stood back from the high road that leads from St. Ives to Zennor. Behind the house was blazing sea and jagged rocks. When the Revd. John Trewhella opened his door he heard the waves dashing below Clodgy Point. It was a summer morning, colour-patched and tender; happy little insects buzzed in a maze before his eyes: but the sea, down there by Clodgy, was always grim.
Trewhella walked out into the high road. He was smiling in a quietly succulent way and every movement of his lithe, small body expressed extreme content. He was amiable this morning. Rebecca had accepted him last night—and then there was that other circumstance; the something that mattered more than Rebecca. Oh yes, it was certainly beyond Rebecca in value: he was a frigid young man.
He dismissed Rebecca and pondered upon the | | 2 ecstatic something else. His hand went up with a mechanical adoration and tapped his breast pocket Papers were hidden there; those notes of his, those designs and measurements which meant so much. It | was a lover's gesture when he tapped his pocket and a lover's look upon his lean brown face.
Ambition was more than a woman, and he saw the way to gratify his.
Only last night he had asked Rebecca to marry him; Rebecca with her fiery, odd heart and her odd appearance. She was of a type uncommon, yet not unknown, in Cornwall.
She had red hair, dull, deep and plentiful. She ha a yellow skin and small black eyes set close together Her hands and feet were extraordinarily delicate, an so was the entrancing curl of her little ears. Her mouth was red and large, with an upward twist to the corners. Her long black eyelashes also curled, an this double twirling made her piquant or made he sinister—according to her mood.
When he had asked her to marry him, when he had, correctly, held her in his arms and kissed her, she had displayed a candid joy that alienated him. It had made him shy and made him afraid. Rebecca was all-possessive: she was new wine—to an abstemious man.Would she ask too much? Would she engulf him in desire and drive out other things?
He felt that suspicion of women which the early | | 3 Fathers felt. But they were afraid for their hopes of heaven; John Trewhella trembled for his chances upon earth. No wife should cut across or curtail his great ambition.
Since last night he had been asking himself—was it a mistake? Perhaps he ought not to have made love to Rebecca. Probably he could get on better without a wife. Would the coming mating gall and devitalise him?
He walked down the high road towards St. Ives, thinking odd thoughts for a betrothed man.
Yes, he must marry. He had a great rambling Rectory, stone-floored, cold and stern. It wanted a wife and children to warm it, to fill it and furnish it. However rich he grew, he would not relinquish his living.
Again, there was a lot of dissent in Cornwall, and if the clergyman remained single he would be called Popish.
Rebecca would warm the house and make the garden bloom. At present nothing consented to blow in it but the graceful great fuchsia bushes that grew like weeds and blocked the light from his study window. He had fuchsia bushes and green euonymus, very little else, for he was not a gardening man.
Then again, she was more suitable than any other girl, for she was the late Rector's daughter. It was convenient that she should return as a bride to the house where she had been born.| | 4
This was early June and 1854. In those days the Stennack, which is the steep street leading down to the town of St. Ives, was verdant and beautiful. Trees arched overhead, the stream at the side of the street was silver-clear; quite free of tin washings. There were no mines near the Stennack in those days.
The colours of early summer lay strong upon the Cornish landscape. In little lanes that turned off from this main street, in fields that stretched away on either side was a rose-hued wantonness—of foxgloves, ragged robin, wild geranium and all the rest.
Trewhella walked on vaguely, meditating upon Rebecca, shrinking modestly from the memory of last night. She had been a plump, warm rhapsody when she lay in his arms through their pause of betrothal. She had laughed, she had stretched her long throat—yellow it was, as all her skin. It had seemed to say—that throat of ancient ivory—'kiss me too; don't leave me out in the cold. Let me keep company with her mouth.'
Trewhella could imagine all this and be supremely shocked by it. He was going to marry her. She was a well-born girl, and he liked her mother, who was an excellent housekeeper and would live with them. He was going to marry her: yet, significantly, he had told her nothing of his secret. Although those scribbled notes on bits of paper in his pocket would change their future! He could not tell her; it was an affair | | 5 to discuss with men, it was also something to keep sacred. To-night he would go and see Botallack. He had discovered and perfected an idea which would revolutionise the mining industry, not only here in Cornwall but in other mining districts. To-night he would lay the scheme before Botallack, who was their magnate in the mining world down here in St. Ives.
This invention would make his fortune; much more, it would make enduring fame. He would lift himself clean out from the groove of common men: and this he had desired; it had been his prevailing fever. The name of Trewhella would re-echo long after he was dead
At the bottom of the hill, at the corner where the town begins, on the exact spot where the Post Office now stands, a man came out from an imposing stone house.
It had a handsome door in the middle and, on each side, heavily framed, narrow windows set in great wooden shutters painted green. A garden, grey-walled, flowed round the house, and over the top of the wall were prolific hints of figs, medlars, myrtles and all the gracious things that grow in a soft climate.
It was the doctor's house, and the doctor, Andrew Curnow, coming out. He was a bachelor, and an elder sister lived with him.
He came out, a big, downcast, slovenly young man; from the placid house that seemed to smile upon the | | 6 deviating nervous streets with their noisy traffic and cobbled ways. He stumbled on the three steps, shallow and curved, that led to the pavement from his door.
Trewhella, passing, seized his arm. "Hallo!" he said. "Caught your foot in something, Curnow?"
"Very likely," said Curnow, looking up. "Thanks, Trewhella; you've probably saved me from a cut face."
They walked on together, each man wearing the sober clothing of his profession. But Trewhella was fastidiously precise and brushed, while Curnow looked tumbled, as he always did. He was an inherent sloven.
Trewhella was small and black, moving and glancing quickly; Curnow was large and blonde and slow. A golden stubble was on his fat cheeks, his blue eyes—kind and sleepy, yet certainly clever—seemed dull to-day. He displayed his general air of not having been long out of bed. He always looked like that, even if he had been up all night with a patient. This very often happened; for he had a big practice, and possessed skill beyond the average.
There was a new slovenliness—emotional—about Curnow this morning. Something had happened to him or was going to happen. Trewhella speculated upon his neighbour as they walked together. He speculated and his small fidgety body became goose- | | 7 flesh all over. Had Curnow decided to take a wife? Or had he—invented something? The very idea of another man forestalling him made Trewhella's head ready to burst. While he thought these thoughts concerning Curnow, the narrow street and the moving sea, on to which so many alleys opened, spun together. There was neither land nor water; there was one confusion.
He was jealous about his invention and frenzied. He would not be happy until it was placed upon the market, until it was made safe, until his name was associated with it. He wished to God that he was a mining expert and not a clergyman. Then he would do the whole thing himself. And he could not. He would have to trust Botallack—and Botallack would trust someone else.
Oh, certainly it meant more to him than Rebecca. Could you compare a red-headed, candid woman, to a thing like that which would give you Fame?
He smiled superbly. Curnow caught that smile.
"You seem happy, Trewhella."
"I am." Trewhella's answer was prompt. "You, on the contrary, are not. Anything happened?"
"Yes," said Curnow, "something has happened." He said no more but walked on, his big head, covered with sandy hair, tilted dejectedly.
They walked together along the streets. It was market day and they returned many greetings. Carts | | 8 clattered over the cobble stones, men shouted, women shrilled, little groups of gossips blocked the corners and bunched in the doorways. The shops, bow-fronted and little-paned, were crowded. Carriers' carts and gaily painted omnibuses came in from adjacent districts. They stopped outside the pastrycook's near the Town Hall, and country women with ample market baskets and multitudinous petticoats came carefully down the steps of the vehicles and went into the pastry-cook's for a glass of port and a pasty before they started shopping.
From all the narrow ways that led out to the quay, came suck of the waves, bustle of the fishing life and smell of fish curing. There was a jostle of tawny sails and a movement of brown-faced men. They wore linen jumpers that were in any shade from rose to mahogany; garments that were as the sails of the smacks and had been in the same brew with the nets.
"You seem happy, Trewhella," Curnow repeated.
He put his mouth close to his friend's ear, shouting. You had to shout to make yourself heard above the clatter of the market.
"I am happy," returned the clergyman coldly.
"And you've been drinking, Curnow."
"Port, just British port; the drink—comforting and safe—of all these old women," the young doctor waved his plump hand towards the pastry-cook's. "I need it. I was up this morning and out by six."| | 9
"No. A caprice."
"Unlike you—to be pulled out of bed. And you didn't shave."
"No," Curnow thoughtfully fondled his cheek with an indolent finger, "I ought to have done but I didn't. It did not matter as things turned out; yet it might have made all the difference. Well now, Trewhella, I repeat, you seem happy!"
"I don't deny it. Rebecca Hamlyn accepted me last night."
"Did she? So that's it."
"Yes, that's it," said Trewhella curtly.
He wished that Curnow, a man for whom he did not care, would go away. Personal carelessness revolted him more than any graver fault. He could not forgive the doctor his dirty cheeks and chin. He stopped, holding out his hand.
"I won't hinder you, Curnow."
"You're not hindering me." Curnow looked at him oddly. "I haven't any sick beds—that won't wait. Which way are you going? Clodgy? I'll walk with you."
"I was thinking of Clodgy," admitted Trewhella grudgingly.
For he so wished to be alone. He was in that rapt state when we demand to be alone. Most men and women feel this demand with Love—then is the | | 10 isolate, heavenly time: Trewhella felt it with Ambition. He wanted to sit on the edge of the rocks and think-of Rebecca? Most certainly not—but of his true darling, his invention.
"I'll go with you," said Curnow.
He had barely said this when an old woman stopped him. She was ancient; there was a sternness about her glazed eyes and afforested wrinkles. She chilled the day with her austerity. She said to Curnow, speaking in pronounced Cornish dialect and—in the Cornish way—letting her voice rise to a sing-song at the end of a sentence,
"You come along home with me, Dr. Curnow, and take a look at Richard-John. He's got a chill in his innards through changing his underclothes. He will change and he will swill. He says,' I can't get on without washing my face, mother.' But he don't belong to make the kitchen clammy, passing through and rubbing his chin with a wet clout, nigh every morning."
"I'll come in half an hour, Mrs. Henry Ivery."
"You'll come now, else what does we pay you for." She caught at the lapel of his black coat with her long, dirty claws. "Richard-John's groaning fit to pull the place down. You could hear him from Court Cocking to Street-an-Carrow."
"I told you, Curnow," Trewhella's smile was grim, "that a sick bed would claim you."
"Lordy, Lordy, he ain't took to his bed, parson," | | 11 screamed Mrs. Henry Ivery. "He's by the fire hollowing for a bucket of hot water to shove his legs in. But I ain't washed my feet and legs for forty"——
"I'll come, I'll come," said Curnow, with a look at his friend's disgusted face.
"God Almighty never reckoned with so much washing and changing," grumbled the old woman.
"Colic, that's the punishment He do give."
"If your son gets worse, send for me," said Trewhella, moving away.
"Send for you! He ain't on his death-bed, parson."
She shuffled towards the Digey, where she lived. Curnow followed her.
Trewhella went on by himself; raising his hand gravely to his hat repeatedly, saluting his neighbours. Everybody had seen him part from Curnow. Everybody had seen Curnow go away with Mrs. Henry Ivery towards the Digey. He recalled this later on. It became an important factor.
He walked away, seeing things—with a glance that was keen yet haphazard.
He saw a fisherman talking to the town crier and swinging a bunch of fresh-caught fish in one hand. They looked like flowers.
He saw women with shawls over their heads leaning over the railings of those mean houses in Back Road East; making balconies of them, becoming, with their pale faces and dark eyes, almost Spanish. He saw | | 12 other women shaking out the gay rugs which they wove and often washed.
He walked without method, twisting up and down and in and out of the narrow streets; bound for the sea and the rocks; yet in no hurry to get there. He had shaken off Curnow and that was enough. He now had all day for his dreamings and after tea he would go and see Botallack, who lived in a big house near the Malakoff.
He saw a crippled fisherman sitting in a chair by an open door and looking towards the sea, with savage pathos. Life was over for this man.
When he got to the shore he stood staring at some washing spread upon the grey beach: it looked like a Roman pavement.
He walked on and was at last alone. On his right was the sea, from which rose up the craggy broken headlands, with deep water thundering at their feet.
He said to himself that he would sit on the edge of the rocks and watch the deep water, violet and green, with its ribbons and masses of seaweed. He would sit alone and stare and would hug his darling; the darling in his pocket, his invention.
He was picking his way across the ledges of slippery rock, when he heard steps behind him and, turning, saw Curnow, with uneasy face and pleading eyes.
"I got Richard-John to bed," he shouted, "with a | | 13 poultice on his stomach. You heard what the old girl said about washing?"
"Horrible!" interpolated Trewhella fastidiously and scowling—for he wished Curnow anywhere else!
"Yet," the doctor continued, "her house is clean as a new pin, although she's close on ninety. Richard-John's bed, white—like the top of that wave!"
He pointed to the sea and walked along beside Trewhella, who was making for the highest point. The line of tooth-like rocks curved away in distance towards Land's End. And, if you looked the other way, there was the gay town; the faces of the crooked, jostling old houses delicately colour-washed in green or pink or yellow.
"I've got a devil of a headache," said Curnow. "The sea breeze will do it good. Getting up so early did it."
"Why did you get up so early?"
Curnow did not answer until they were at the edge. Then he flung himself down, letting his big body go prone. Trewhella, neat, tense and bolt upright, sat beside him.
"I went to see Rebecca Hamlyn," said Curnow, "your Rebecca, isn't she? I meant to ask her to marry me. I thought I would ask her in her garden where she works early every morning. I met her mother instead and she sent me away. She gave me to understand that——!"| | 14
"Yes?" asked Trewhella.
"That Rebecca didn't want me and never would. I learn now from your lips that she wants you. I guessed it long ago and yet I wouldn't own it to myself."
"Yes," Trewhella laughed, "she wants me."
The doctor looked at his sharp jaw and sardonic mouth.
"She wants you," he said, "yet I want her more than any of the three of us wants anything. She's the only thing I'm alive for."
The sea was talking far beneath their feet as they sat up high in the bright sun: broken waters boiled upon the narrow beach; they flung themselves in a mighty petulance against the immovable rock. These two men looked out to sea; blindly, at the brilliant ocean.
Curnow's flabby body quivered and his eyes woke up.
"By God, I want her more than you do," he said fervently. "She is all I want. I've felt it for years, before she was grown up—and she's not twenty yet. Her red head! I was looking for it through the red and yellow flowers this morning—and then her mother came. Her mother sent me away."
Trewhella never answered; he appeared to be thinking of something else.
"Those eyes of hers! Slantwise sort of eyes," | | 15 rhapsodised Curnow. "And her long red mouth that kisses!"
"Kisses!" repeated Trewhella, looking round.
"Not my mouth. Don't be afraid. But she can kiss. And she has kissed you, Trewhella."
"Last night," admitted Trewhella, flushing deeply. "This isn't seemly, Curnow."
"Don't suppose it is." Curnow sat up. "I'm not in a nice mood for nice speeches. I say this morning what comes uppermost. You must forgive me and rest assured that I'll not trespass so deeply on your courtesy again. When are you going to be married?"
He spoke in a sheer hotch-potch of intonation; confusing his melancholy mood with the stilted diction of his period.
"August," Trewhella told him. "They will both live—she and her mother—with me in the Rectory. We settled that last night after supper. I proposed and was accepted before supper."
"Comfortable routine! Better than my unseemly, hungry wooing; six o'clock in the morning!" said Curnow.
Trewhella looked into his blue eyes. They were savage and wretched and amused.
"Do you mean to say," Curnow continued, "that you want them both under your roof—from the first? You don't want Rebecca to cuddle up, to hide from the world; in a cave as it were—for six months or more?"| | 16
"No. I don't demand that," said Trewhella coldly.
He was repelled. He was as he had been last night when in a polished sentence he asked Rebecca to be his wife, and she, for sole answer, had let her lip, thick and red, hold fast to his.
Curnow repeated, his loose face grown yellow, to match the stubble of his new beard:
"I want her more than you do and I can't have her. But she will never be yours."
"Not mine! I don't apprehend——"
"Oh you will marry her. You will call her Becky, as her mother calls her. She will bear your children. But you will go to the grave and you will have missed. There's a rare joy for men and for women. The world holds it. You won't have it. Lordy—as Mrs. Henry Ivery said just now—what I could give Rebecca, were she my bride! But she doesn't want me. It is you she will have. Let her think she's got you, poor fool."
"Am I the poor fool?"
Trewhella, asking this, was looking at his neighbour with amazement, with prudery, with distrust. Curnow had taken too much port. This was disgraceful in a professional man; so early in the day.
"You will both be fools," said Curnow contemptuously, and looking straight out to sea he sent his wretchedness in one compressed glance towards an unseen shore.
"That's the way of it," he added. "There is the | | 17 big bliss; very few taste it. Some are never hungry, some are hungry all their lives. Some get a bite and then the cupboard is locked."
"Locks can be picked," Trewhella carelessly humoured him. "I'd undertake to stay any hunger I felt."
He spoke indifferently but his face became darkly crimson: for he was reflecting that there was one hunger in the world that he did feel and that was the hunger for Fame. The craving to lift himself out from the ruck of men had been born with him. To satisfy it, he would certainly stop at nothing.
"I'm not a locksmith," Curnow said. 'Too idle by constitution to take up a new trade. Don't fear that I shall contest Rebecca with you."
"Exactly. The very thing—that inertia—which keeps you from shaving"—Trewhella glanced at the sandy cheeks which so revolted him—"would keep you from learning how to pick locks."
"Very likely." Curnow looked dull. "Meanwhile, you'll have Rebecca and Rebecca will believe she's got you. I must try for another consolation."
He put his hand up to his breast pocket. Trewhella alertly watched him.
"What do you make of all this?" Curnow brought out a careless fat bundle of paper tied round with tape. "I've been amusing myself for months—trying to forget Rebecca; knowing in my heart that I | | 18 should never get her. I've been essaying to forget a woman in an invention."
He untied the pink tape and spread his stray bits of paper out upon his fat legs. Trewhella, bending hotly over, saw pencil scribbles and measurements and plans and sketches and rough marginal notes.
This is what his soul most piteously said. His lips remained rigid; they grew dry and cruel.
He comprehended; just looking at those notes of Curnow's. He had been forestalled. Curnow had stumbled upon the same idea; he had developed it more.
"There they are, Trewhella," he took the sheets of paper and spread them out more. "It ought to revolutionise mining; unless I've overlooked something. Men do very often; when they are inventing something radical or when they plot a crime. There may be some flaw. Let's discuss it. See if you can find a flaw. It ought to make a fortune for me and send the name of Curnow sounding down the ages. Not that I care; I went to see Botallack last night. While you," his lazy voice and heavy eyelids lifted, "were kissing Rebecca Hamlyn I was propounding this idea to Botallack. It inflamed him. His enthusiasm amused me. For what do I care? Wouldn't I rather have Rebecca in my arms—in my arms and all mine, if only for an hour—than all of it? What is | | 19 fortune and what is making a bit of noise in the news sheet and what is having your name repeated by new lips when you are dead? What is it compared to love and a woman? Botallack declares I shall get it all and more. Yet I swear to you, Trewhella, and you haven't married Rebecca yet; when you have I will keep silence—I swear to you, then, that I would rather have her alone for a day and a night on our bracken-covered hills than any of it. Dear God! To have her alone for a day upon Rosewall!"
He looked passionately backward; inland, towards the great hills. He was transformed.
"And a night," added Trewhella, with fatal intonation.
Yet he was not jealous, not he! Not a bit.
"And a night—yes," confessed Curnow—and he whispered it.
"Men have said that so often—dead men. Living men are saying it now, or said it last year," Trewhella told him. "Men say it. Then they get the woman. They esteem her lightly; they may even let her go. This love! What a bubble it is! What a ball of foam! That for your day and night rapture upon Rosewall."
Trewhella was snapping his fingers.
"Well! She's going to be yours." Curnow looked down at his papers.
His voice sounded so stubbornly desolate; it | | 20 sounded—Trewhella fantastically thought, so cold and greasy.
Trewhella sat still. In this great moment—after shock and before action—he sat still; calmly dissecting the essential differences between him and Curnow.
Curnow could flame—for a woman. He was carelessly sardonic when it came to his invention.
Now he, Trewhella, would barter Rebecca without one pang, he would forswear women altogether if he could be sure now for a tenth of that Fame which he had counted so fully upon only half an hour back.
"Allow me to look at those papers." He spoke politely and stretched out his hand.
"Certainly. I ask you to." Curnow handed them over. "Only copies. Botallack has the originals."
Trewhella took those notes, his high pulses dying. He studied them. Yes, it was his idea but it was better in detail, it was fuller and more brilliant in conception. It was altogether more bold and marketable. He could not find a flaw. There was nothing; no little thing to give him the advantage over Curnow.
"Very interesting, very clever," he said mechanically, turning the sheets over faster and faster, bending to them, gluing his eyes upon them.
"You didn't expect anything so original from me, did you?" The doctor's voice was indolent. "From | | 21 me! With my fatal lapse—of sometimes not troubling to shave!"
Trewhella said, sidling close to him and holding the papers fast,
"No. I didn't expect it of you. How did it occur to your mind?"
"Inspiration, magic; one of those things you can't do twice," explained Curnow. "Born of my sickness for Rebecca, without doubt. Love had to force a way through and it took the odd form of an improvement in the mining of tin!"
He laughed wretchedly.
"Mining, just digging in the earth for metal," Trewhella told him didactically, "will last longer than love. There is eternal glamour to it. I can imagine a world, ages hence, when men will not be drawn towards women, nor women sicken for men; when children won't be born and the world will be waning. Life will be more chill, more wholesome, more large. And men will dig for metal just as they do now. Science will long outlive Romance."
"Men will dig for metal, love will be dead and the name of Curnow will be upon all those prudent lips that are left. Is that it, Trewhella?"
"The name of Curnow! By Heaven, it won't be Curnow," shouted Trewhella—for control left him.
He leapt to his feet. Curnow remained seated.| | 22
"Why won't it be Curnow, my dear fellow?" he asked indifferently. "Botallack can't steal it, for I've secured myself. Botallack is a local authority but I have laid my scheme before a man in London also—a bigger man in the mining world even than Botallack. A Scotchman, Ferguson by name. And I have his acknowledgment."
"In your pocket?"
Trewhella, asking this, sat down. He composed himself.
"No. In my desk at home. Two copies of the plans; one in London, one in the keeping of Botallack; also the rough copies which you hold."
"You've been active," Trewhella said.
"I didn't care about it much," confessed Curnow. "But it was born of my pain over Rebecca; so I wished to father it myself. As to the money! I consider it half hers. Let me be," he swallowed fast, "godfather to your first-born. I undertake to provide for him handsomely."
"My first-born," cried Trewhella, and his nervous laugh ran along the rocks. "Look here! You take her."
"Yes. You want her. I can wed as conveniently elsewhere. There is the Rector of Towednack's sister. I'll ask her. It shall be arranged between us, sitting here as we do now, Curnow. Take her, take Rebecca: | | 23 red head, slantwise eyes, red mouth. Lead her to the top of Rosewall and stay there if you choose."
He laughed again. His hands, small and strong and dark-skinned, held Curnow's papers tight.
Curnow grew colourless. He could not speak. Rebecca! Yet he would never take her. The woman he loved should give herself. She should even come and ask.
When Trewhella spoke again it was with an actual sob.
"Look here," he said brokenly, "look here. I want to tell you something, I must show you something, Curnow."
Yet his hands never moved to his breast pocket where the darling of his brain lay. For he felt, throughout, the haughtiness of the creator. His scheme, inferior as it was to Curnow's, yet remained sacred and, proudly, he would not show it. By God! But he would not.
"Look here," he said again, "look here": he sobbed and he spoke together, and he showed nothing.
The noises he made were horrible, and horrible was the look upon his face. Curnow beheld molten emotion pouring from a dry man. Then he saw Trewhella jump up and go to the edge of the rock. He went so near the edge that, had he not been a Cornishman, he might have gone over—and he would have gone to a certain death in those deep waters, in that strong, outflowing tide.| | 24
He came back.
"Can anybody hear us?" he asked wildly. "This is confidential, mind."
"The rocks are honeycombed with pockets and scored by ledges," said Curnow, "but your only eavesdropper would be a mountain goat—unless it was Rebecca! I've seen her climb inaccessible places; yes, with all those petticoats!"
Passion sounded through his voice again; coming in a quick laugh, running fast away!
"The water makes such a noise," Trewhella spoke. "Nobody could hear us. Look here, Curnow, look here!"
His face was mad.
"What's the matter with you?" Curnow got up on his feet and faced him and shook his arm.
Trewhella struggled dangerously.
"You shan't push me over, Curnow, although you are the bigger man. I've thought of that."
"I want to keep you from falling over. Give me back those papers and let us go back," Curnow said quietly. "Come away from the sea and as we walk towards your house tell me why you wished to barter Rebecca."
"Yes, take her," besought Trewhella, standing fast where he was. "Only give me these."
With passion—knowing passion now, for the first time—he pressed those papers of Curnow's to his mouth. | | 25 Then he drew them down, remarking calmly,
"I am beside myself. Can't you compose me? You—a doctor!"
He was ashamed. He seemed to be some conscientious man emerging from excess.
"Not till I learn your malady. Come now, come. Give me those papers and let us go away."
Curnow held his wrists; noting them as burning and lean and strong. He tried to pull him inland, without impression. These little men, how muscular they were!
''You can have Rebecca.'' Trewhella stood firm and looked him full in the eyes. "Think what that means to a man of your blood! Only give me the right to these. Come with me to Botallack to-night. We'll explain to him that you chose—by caprice, through arrangement with me; anything we settle on between us, Curnow,—to pretend that this invention was yours—when it was mine; solely mine."
"So that's it?" Curnow was amazed: his voice and his face seemed to say, 'Is that all?'
"Yes, that's all." Trewhella looked at him in frenzied eagerness. "You can have Rebecca. Any other female image will do for me to set up in my Rectory."
"Rebecca!" Something marvellous stole into Curnow's sleepy eyes. "Her superb red hair!"
"All yours—every hair. All yours—every kiss, Curnow."| | 26
Trewhella came nearer to him and as they both moved so they both, unperceiving, got nearer the edge of the rock again.
"If you were to preach like that, if you were to look like that when you preach," said Curnow, trying to calm him, trying to calm himself—for through each 01 them rushed a fever—" you'd fill your church and empty the chapels. You'd rout the shades of Calvin and John Wesley. Why don't you preach like that, Trewhella?"
"Preach! I never wanted to be a clergyman; my family urged it on me. By Heaven! Had I been miner, did I stand in Botallack's shoes, and so understand all mining operations, you never would have forestalled me."
The light rushed in upon Curnow.
"So you got the idea also?" he asked. "Astonishing!"
"In my breast pocket." Trewhella, whimpering yet glowing, touched it. "I was going to Botallack to-night."
"Let me look," said Curnow simply and holding out his hand.
"No." Trewhella's own hand flattened and tightened at his breast. "You shan't look."
For to him those poor notes were very sacred. He said so.| | 27
"They are sacred to me—as Rebecca is to you. Understand?"
He spoke with a wild uplifting. Curnow—wild also—met his look. They were no ordinary men, standing there through those last moments.
"I understand. Rebecca is a key to my understanding," Curnow said.
"You'll come with me to Botallack to-night," Trewhella pleaded. "You'll say that the idea is mine? I beseech you. I will give you the money but let the credit be mine. I've dreamed upon it, dwelt upon it; the thing is in my veins. Take Rebecca and be——"
"Damned," concluded Curnow. "That wasn't the word you meant, yet it would express us. No. I won't take Rebecca even if she would have me. And she might, were the whole position put to her: women have done more than that for the man they love—and she loves you. But a woman isn't a bale of wool to be bartered. She's flesh and blood; fair flesh and hot blood—when it comes to Rebecca. She'd make any sacrifice, go to any excess, triumph over all trials. There is strong life in her and glory and—perhaps—a touch of madness too: enough—just that pinch—to make her wholly entrancing."
His voice sounded strange; it was active, heated and alive—unlike Curnow!
"What are you talking about?" Trewhella | | 28 was distant, perplexed and weary. "You'll take her?"
"No, then, I won't. What do I want with a woman who doesn't want me? I love her too well love my love for her too well. Do you comprehend?"
"Not a bit—nor do I care. Women! Women! They distract and weaken a man. Your face is silly with softness now, Curnow."
"Do I want a wife," demanded Curnow, not heeding him, "who is sick through my every caress; sick in her inmost heart for another man? I might stand that if I didn't love her. But when I do! Give me back the papers."
Again he put his hand out—for his own notes and not Trewhella's—again not perceiving they went nearer the edge.
"You!" said Trewhella, measuring him with a mad eye—small, dark and twinkling—"are a bigger man than I. But! Oh go! There!"
He flung out his arms, with hands doubled, suddenly against Curnow's breast, he pushed the inert man over, with barely an effort. He felt the softness, the surprise, the swift terror, the unawareness of that big body—and then it was gone! He stood looking at the blank spot where, lately, Curnow had been.
It was over, the thing was done and so easily. | | 29 Curnow's notes were still in his hand. He would, he was thinking fast, copy them out in his own writing, he would take them to Botallack, he would compose a story. He would do it all with extreme care and as if he composed his Sunday sermon. The doctrine of it should be indisputable; he would take to Botallack to-night a narrative that was invulnerable. The theology of his immense lie should be perfect. He would convince both Botallack down here and the Scotchman in London. If they refused to be convinced he would push them into the sea. For it was uncommonly easy to rid yourself of people.
Curnow was gone into the sea. Trewhella stared at the blank spot where he had stood. It had been so sudden and so easy. Curnow, slow to think, sluggish to move, had been taken unawares. He was down there at the bottom; dashed to pieces on the rocks in all probability and certainly by now sucked out to sea by the strong Atlantic rollers.
No need to look for him, although Trewhella would not have shrunk from looking. He knew neither horror nor fear; he experienced only relief. And his brain was working in a clear mechanical frenzy while he settled what he must do.
He remembered the many people who had seen him part from Curnow near the Digey. When, later, Curnow overtook him it had been upon the lonely path along the coast with not a soul to see.| | 30
Trewhella stood still with the sound of the sea in his ears, with the prevalent colour of the blossoming land and the many hues of the town burning into his eyes.
The little town! It seemed to sit upon the water like a gay-plumaged sea fowl. The little town with its softly swaying circle of fishing smacks, with its irregular houses washed green or pink or yellow; Along the crooked streets and funny alleys, in all the houses; in boats—as men mended their nets or hurried alone the quay in the autumn evenings, lighting their lamps before the herring fleet went out—in the places where old men stood to catch the sun, or where women spread their washing;—in all these places they would very soon be talking of him and his invention. And not only this generation but those to follow. Men and women not yet born, fishing smacks not built, nor nets made, nor washing stuffs woven—it would all hear of him. The name of Trewhella! What a name it would be! And not only in Cornwall, but in every place where men mined. The glamour of digging in the earth for metal was it not everlasting? To have his name go down, to lift himself out from the seething mass of common men, who merely laboured, lived, died, and were forgotten—this is what he had wanted ever since he had strength to think and contrive. Just pushing Curnow over the edge just now what a bagatelle it was by comparison!| | 31
He must go home; yes he would go home quietly across the fields and up the lane. He would shut himself into his study and make Curnow's notes afresh. After tea he would go to Botallack. When he returned from Botallack he would go and court Rebecca.
He turned his face towards the lane and as he did so he was thinking that all the way along the lane he would see the Rosewall hill in front; with its flowers and its juicy-fronded bracken. That was the hill where Curnow had prayed to be with Rebecca alone. Trewhella felt no jealousy: not now when Curnow was drawn out to sea, not ten minutes back when Curnow had said it.
Rebecca was fractional in his calculations.
Rebecca! He could hear her feet behind him. He stood still, he turned round and he saw her.
She was dressed, although he would never be the lover to notice this, with delicious coquetry. Anyone skilled in this affair of love would have divined that when she dressed that morning there had been passion and joy to the tying of all her bows. Yes: she had been rapt when she arose and rapt when she left home at her mother's bidding to shop in the town.
Trewhella stood staring. Over her coquetry was spread an abiding horror. She was changed and new; he marked that. He was impressed chiefly by the | | 32 terrible repose of her face and the prevalent yellow. Her skin looked as if the sun fell strong on it. She gazed at Trewhella with her small dark eyes and they froze him. He put his hands together, holding Curnow's notes in a prayer-like clasp.
"I saw," she said. "John! I saw what you did."
Their two pairs of eyes, small, set close, and very bright, held each other. Their eyes were alike; the same Cornish blood mixed with some foreign flavour was in them both.
Trewhella was thinking of what Curnow had said, 'Her eyes—slantwise!' Curnow would never speak again.
Against the yellow of Rebecca's skin, against the compressed brilliance of her dark eyes, how dull her red hair seemed! Masses of it, heavy and flat, looping round her delicate ears, falling away in a great bunch beneath the curtain of her bonnet.
Her veil was flung back and the fine blond lace softly blew; her stiff petticoats spread round her; her shawl was fastened with a brooch of Cornish serpentine stone, set in a filigree of silver.
"I saw," she repeated. "You pushed him over. I looked down. The waves took him out to sea."
"Where were you?" asked Trewhella dryly.
"Sitting, before you came, quite close; yet you couldn't see me."| | 33
"You heard what we said?"
"Not a word. I waited for him to go away; I never liked him and I wanted you. I wanted you to——"
"Hold me as you did last night," she confessed in grim tumult.
"Yes! Well! Continue."
"You seemed to quarrel. I looked round the bit of rock that hid me. You pushed him. He went over."
"What are you going to do, Rebecca?"
She looked at him. All her love—strong, amazing, irresponsible—struggled on her face. All her horror stamped upon the love and tried, quite in vain, to destroy it.
"I ought to have you hanged. I could. It would be the pious and the just thing to do."
"Well, and what will you do?"
He put his questions coldly.
"No woman," she said, "has loved as I love you, has wanted as I want you. It isn't maidenly, but it is my way; Spanish blood in both of us, John, making us violent; this way or that way."
She waited for him to speak but he said nothing.
"Yet I chilled you last night—for your way isn't love. What it is, I don't know and I never shall. I cared for nothing except to have you for my husband. | | 34 When I was a little girl and sat beside my mother in the pew and looked at you and heard you preach I used to think, 'He shall be my husband when I grow up.' I made things come that way, for a woman can. And yet I know that there is nothing in you that II love. You are the vessel into which I pour—that's all."
Her head fell. Trewhella noted the great length of her black lashes and the arrogant curling. He looked from her lashes to her mouth; astonishing passion was dying hard upon it. She looked up at last.
"There was a woman living in the town," she said more quietly, "an old woman; she died not long ago. She gave up her only son to the hangman; although it was a murder he committed for her sake."
"Joanna Berriman. I presided at her death-bed," said Trewhella. "An old story."
"But the same agonies come round again, John. If we'd been married and had children I could never have loved them as I love you. No! Not to the gibbet. I can't send you there."
"You can't send me there?"
He spoke with a certain jubilation and he looked more animated. Sweat that had gathered on his forehead ran a little way, then stood upon his cheeks and made them shine.
"You'll let me go quietly home, Rebecca," he moved inland looking relieved. "You'll say nothing?"| | 35
She followed him mutely.
"You'll marry me." He turned round to look at her. "You'll marry me, Rebecca?"
"Marry you! A murderer breathing beside me all the night. No, I'll never marry you. I'll never see you or touch you any more. Leave St. Ives, get out of England, never come back. However old we live to be, don't let me see your face again. Go to-night or I will deliver you to justice."
Trewhella went up close; he touched her shawl, he put one hand—the other held Curnow's papers—upon the brooch at her breast, his clammy dark face besought her. With all the cunning he could muster, with all the warmth he could express, his eyes tried to woo her as they had wooed last night.
Rebecca started from him, violently trembling.
"Don't touch me, don't touch me," she said loudly.
"If you put your face near mine I go straight to the town for a constable. You might madden me—yes—just for a minute—if you kissed me as you kissed last night, but when you let me go I would run into the town. They would hang you upon my witness. If you value life, keep your hands off me. Not one touch more between us in this world. You must go."
"Over the edge—as he went! Or in a ship—to some foreign port. Choose your own way," she told | | 36 him recklessly. "To-morrow morning I shall come round to your house, I shall look through your study window. If you haven't gone, I shall give you up. I swear I will and yet I do love you. Nothing, no crime you can commit, kills that."
Her voice moaned more than the sea.
They had walked on to the opening of the winding lane, with the pink and white thorn trees and the radiant hedgerows; with a big hill, green and high, at the end; with a stone house and a quiet study tucked away behind the graceful fuchsia bushes.
"I'll go," Trewhella was sounding sick, "I'll go."He moved along towards the mouth of the lane. Rebecca stood still.
He turned round and looked at her; their last look and they knew it. More often, men and women do not know.
"You are not coming?" he asked her nervously.
Her lip twisted, with a broken, tender scorn of him, as she marked that furtive look.
"Don't you be afraid. Trust me—until to-morrow morning. I'm going into the town. Mother sent me, for saffron cakes."
She rounded off these words with an ironic laugh and she brusquely turned away.
Trewhella did not watch her go, he did not mark her looking back nor her standing still.
He went off, feeling feebly glad to be rid of her; | | 37 since, just as last night, her superb candour estranged him.
They walked from each other through the dissolute colour of the summer day. He returned frenzied and stunned to his Rectory. Before he got to the end of the lane he had half forgotten Rebecca, with her dull red hair and her volcanic admissions. He began to think and plot and plan, he touched his breast pocket. And he quickened his step, for he was terribly afraid of the hangman's rope and he knew that she would keep her word.
She watched him out of sight. He was only a little black blot crawling across the drunken colour of the day. And yet how much those blots meant! One more than another.
When he was gone, when she knew that she would never see him again, famine shook her. Never would she see him any more. He was her betrothed, he had wooed her last night.
She stood perfectly still for a long, long time, and perfectly alone. Trewhella was moving fast in his orderly study, Curnow was sailing out to sea. Not a living soul was in sight. She looked at the blue water, she looked at the grim rocks.
She thought of the hundreds of days when she would come down here—for of two things she felt certain: that she would live to be old, that she would not leave this coast and live elsewhere. She settled her life for | | 38 herself; as women, strong and imaginative, love to do. Mostly, they are wrong in the estimate: life gives more or charges less.
There would be days when she would come down here alone; and think of him and call across the sea to him, saying, 'John.'
Summer days, as this day; pink-blossomed and warm. Or winter days of mist and storm; with the wild wind and the great waves; with the doleful sound of the fog-horn, with the blowing steaming cattle and the dripping thorn bushes and the moaning sea.
"I shall come," she said, moving at last, going to the town for cake, "yes, married or single, I shall come."
She could say coolly that 'married or single.' Great pain gave her great illumination and she divined the twists and changes that a woman's heart may take; she cynically admitted the claims that might come—and the partial consolations. Yet the one clear fact of true love was changeless; not to be diverted or consoled. She loved John; and complete happiness was never—any more.
|chapter 01 >||chapter 13 >>|