From Dene a mighty hill climbs southward to Cornworthy village. “The
Corkscrew” it is called, and men merciful to their beasts choose a
longer and more gradual ascent. But not a few of the workers engaged
at the paper mill tramped this zig-zag steep six days out of every
seven, and among these Lydia Trivett, the mother of Medora, could boast
twenty years of regular perambulation. Only on rare occasions, when
“Corkscrew” was coated with ice, did she take the long detour by the
little lake above the works.
She had lived at Ashprington until her husband died; then she and her
daughter came to live with her brother, Thomas Dolbear, of Priory Farm.
He was a bachelor then; but at forty he wedded; and now Medora had her
own home, while her mother still dwelt with Mr. Dolbear, his wife,
Mary, and their increasing family.
Lydia was a little brisk woman of fifty—the mistress of the rag house
at the mills. She was still comely and trim, for hard work agreed with
her. A very feminine air marked her, and Medora had won her good looks
from her mother, though not her affectation, for Mrs. Trivett was a
straightforward and unassuming soul. She had much to pride herself
upon, but never claimed credit in any direction.
Priory Farm stood under a great slope of orchard and meadow, upon the
crown of which the priory ruins ascended. The farm was at the bottom
of a hill, and immediately opposite climbed the solitary street of
Cornworthy village capped by the church. The church and the old
Cistercean ruin looked across the dip in the land at each other.
Now, on Sunday afternoon, Lydia, at the garden gate of her brother’s
house, started off six children to Sunday school. Five were girls and
one was a boy. They ranged from twelve years old to three; while at
home a two year old baby—another girl—remained with her mother. Mary
Dolbear expected her tenth child during the coming spring. Two had died
in infancy. She was an inert, genial mass of a woman, who lived only
for her children and the business of maternity. Her husband worshipped
her and they increased and multiplied proudly. Their house, but for
Lydia’s sleepless ministrations, would have been a pigstye. They were
indifferent to dirt and chose to make all things subservient to the
demands of their children.
“The cradle rules the world, so enough said,” was Tom Dolbear’s
argument when people protested at the chaos in which he lived. He was
a stout man with a fat, boyish face, scanty, sandy hair and a narrow
forehead, always wrinkled by reason of the weakness of his eyes. He had
a smile like a baby and was indeed a very childish man; but he knew his
business and made his farm suffice for his family needs.
In this house Lydia’s own room was an oasis in a wilderness. There one
found calm, order, cleanliness, distinction. She trusted nobody in it
but herself and always locked the door when she left for work.
It was regarded as a sacred room, for both Mary and her husband
reverenced Lydia and blessed the Providence that had sent her to them.
They treated her with the greatest respect, always gave way to her and
recognised very acutely the vital force she represented in the inert
and sprawling domesticity of their establishment. Once, when an idea
was whispered that Tom’s sister might leave him, Mary fell absolutely
ill and refused to eat and drink until she changed her mind and
promised to stay.
To do them justice they never took Lydia for granted. Their gratitude
flowed in a steady stream. They gave her all credit and all admiration,
and went their philoprogenitive way with light hearts.
Now Mrs. Trivett watched her nieces and nephew march together in their
Sunday best along the way to Sunday school. Then she was about to shut
the wicket and return up the garden path, when a man appeared on the
high road and a fellow worker at the Mill accosted her.
Nicholas Pinhey was a finisher; that is to say the paper passed
through his hands last before it left the works. With the multifarious
processes of its creation he had nothing to do; but every finished
sheet and stack of sheets touched his fingers before it entered the
world, and he was well skilled in the exacting duties of his own
He was a thin, prim bachelor of sixty—a man of nice habits and
finicking mind. There was much of the old maid in him, too, and he
gossiped inordinately, but never unkindly. He knew the life history,
family interests and private ambitions of everybody in the Mill. He
smelt mystery where none existed and much feared the modern movements
and threats of labour. Especially was he doubtful of Jordan Kellock and
regarded him as a dangerous and too progressive spirit.
His interest in other people’s affairs now appeared; for he had come
to see Lydia; he had climbed “The Corkscrew” on Sunday from most
“The better the day the better the deed,” he said. “I’ve walked over
for a cup of tea and a talk, because a little bird’s told me something
I don’t much like, Mrs. Trivett, and it concerns you in a manner of
“You always keep to the point, Mr. Pinhey; and I dare say I know what
the point is for that matter. Come in. We can talk very well, because
we shall be alone in a minute.”
Nicholas followed her into the parlour, a room of good size on the left
hand side of the entrance. They surprised Mrs. Dolbear nodding beside
the fire. She liked Mr. Pinhey, but she was glad of the excuse to leave
them and retire to her own room.
She shook hands with the visitor, who hoped she found herself as well
as could be expected.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “I take these things from whence they come. I feel
no fear except in one particular.”
“I won’t believe it,” he declared. “You’ve got the courage to fight
lions and the faith to move mountains. We all know that. If the women
in general would come to the business of the next generation with
your fearless nature, we might hear less about the decrease of the
“It’s not my part I trouble about; it’s the Lord’s,” explained Mrs.
Dolbear. “If I have another girl, it’ll break Tom’s heart. Six maids
and one boy is the record so far, though of the two we’ve buried, one
was a boy. And such is my perfect trust in myself, if I could choose
what I want from the Almighty at this moment, it would be two men
“Magnificent!” said Mr. Pinhey.
“I take Lydia to witness I speak no more than the truth,” replied the
matron. “But these things are out of our keeping, though Tom read in a
paper some time since a remarkable verdict, that if a woman with child
ate enough green stuff, she might count on a boy.”
“That’s a painful subject,” said Lydia, “and you’d better not talk
about it, Polly.”
“It was painful at the time,” admitted Mrs. Dolbear, “because Tom’s one
of they hopeful men, who will always jump at a new thing like a trout
jumps at a fly. And what was the result? From the moment he hit on that
cussed paper, he fed me more like a cow than a creature with a soul.
’Twas green stuff morning, noon and night—lettuce and spinach—which
I hate any time—and broccoli and turnip tops and spring onions and
cauliflower and Lord knows what mess till I rebelled and defied the
man. I didn’t lose my temper; but I said, calm and slow, ‘Tom,’ I said,
‘if you don’t want me to be brought to a bed of cabbage next September,
stop it. God’s my judge,’ I said, ‘I won’t let down another herb of the
field. I want red meat,’ I told him, ‘or else I won’t be responsible.’
He argued for it, but I had my way and Lydia upheld me.”
“And what was the result in the family line if I may venture to ask?”
inquired Mr. Pinhey.
“The result in the family line was Jane Ethel,” answered Mrs. Dolbear;
“and where is Jane Ethel now, Lydia?”
“In her little grave,” answered Mrs. Trivett.
Her sister-in-law immediately began to weep.
“Don’t you cry, my dear, it wasn’t your fault. The poor baby was born
with death in her eyes, as I always said.”
Mrs. Dolbear sighed and moved ponderously across the room. She was
short and broad with a touzled head of golden hair and a colourless
face. But her smile was beautiful and her teeth perfect.
“I dare say you’ll want to talk before tea,” she suggested; “and I’ll
go and have a bit of a sleep. I always say, ‘where there’s sleep,
there’s hope.’ And I want more than most people, and I can take it any
time in the twenty-four hours of the clock.”
She waddled away and Mrs. Trivett explained.
“Polly’s a proper wonder for sleep. It’s grown into a habit. She’ll
call out for a nap at the most unseasonable moments. She’ll curl up
anywhere and go off. We shan’t see her again till supper I shouldn’t
wonder. Sit you down and tell me what you come for.”
“The work you must do in this house!” said Mr. Pinhey.
“I like work and this is my home.”
“A home I suppose, but not what I should call an abiding place,”
hazarded the man.
“I don’t want no abiding place, because we know, if we’re Christians,
that there’s no abiding place this side of the grave.”
“You take it in your usual high spirit. And now—you’ll forgive me if
I’m personal, Mrs. Trivett. You know the man that speaks.”
“You want to better something I’m sure, else you wouldn’t be here.”
“It is just as you say: I want to better something. We bachelors look
out on life from our lonely towers, so to say, and we get a bird’s eye
view of the people; and if we see a thing not all it might be, ’tis our
duty in my opinion to try and set it right. And to be quite frank and
in all friendship, I’m very much afraid your Medora and her husband
ain’t heart and soul together as they should be. If I’m wrong, then
thank God and enough said. But am I wrong?”
Mrs. Trivett considered some moments before answering. Then she replied:
“No, Nicholas Pinhey, you’re not wrong, and I wish I could say you
were. You have seen what’s true; but I wouldn’t say the mischief was
deep yet. It may be in our power to nip it in the bud.”
“You grant it’s true, and that excuses me for touching it. I know my
manners I hope, and to anybody else I wouldn’t have come; but you’re
different, and if I can prevail upon you to handle Medora, I shall feel
I have done all I can do, or have a right to do. In these delicate
cases, the thing is to know where the fault lies. And most times it’s
with the man, no doubt.”
“I don’t know about that. It isn’t this time anyway.”
Mr. Pinhey was astonished.
“Would you mean to say you see your own daughter unfavourable?” he
“You must know the right of a thing if you want to do any good,”
declared Lydia. “Half the failure to right wrong so far as I can see,
is owing to a muddled view of what the wrong is. I’ve hung back about
this till I could see it clear, and I won’t say I do see it clear yet.”
“I speak as a bachelor,” repeated Mr. Pinhey, “and therefore
with reserve and caution. And if you—the mother of one of the
parties—don’t feel you can safely take a hand, it certainly isn’t for
anybody else to try.”
“As a matter of fact, I was going to do something this very day. My
daughter’s coming to tea and I mean to ask her what the matter is.
She’s not prone to be exactly straight, is Medora, but seeing I want
nothing but her good, I hope she’ll be frank with me.”
The man felt mildly surprised to hear a mother criticise her daughter
“I thought a child could do no wrong in its parents’ eyes,” he said.
“Depends on the parent, Mr. Pinhey. If you want to help your child,
’tis no use beginning by taking that line. If we can do wrong, as God
knows we can, so can our children, and it’s a vain sort of love to
suppose they’re perfect. Medora’s got a great many good qualities, but,
like other pretty girls, she’s handicapped here and there. A right
down pretty girl don’t know she’s born most times, because everybody
in trousers bows down before her and helps to shut reality out of her
“It’s the same with money,” surmised Nicholas. “Let a young person
have money and they look at the world through tinted glasses. The
truth’s hidden from them, and some such go to their graves and never
know truth, while others, owing to chance, lose the stuff that stands
between them and reality and have a very painful wakening. But as to
beauty—you was a woman to the full as fair as your girl—yet look how
you weathered the storm.”
“No,” answered Lydia, “I never had Medora’s looks. In her case life’s
been too smooth and easy if anything. She had a comfortable home with
Tom here after her father died; and then came along a choice of two
good men to wed her and the admiration of a dozen others. She was in
two minds between Kellock and Dingle for a while; but her luck held and
she took the right one.”
“Are you sure of that?”
“Yes—for Medora. That’s not to say that Jordan Kellock isn’t a
cleverer chap than my son-in-law. Of course he is. He’s got more
mind and more sight. He has ideas about labour and a great gift of
determination; and he’s ambitious. He’ll go a long way further than
Ned. But against that you can set Ned’s unshakable good temper and
light heart. It’s grander for a man to have a heavy heart than a light,
when he looks out at the world; but they heavy-hearted, earnest men,
who want to help to set life right, call for a different fashion of
wife from Medora. If such men wed, they should seek women in their
own pattern—the earnest—deadly earnest sort—who don’t think of
themselves, or their clothes, or their looks, or their comforts. They
should find their helpmates in a kind of female that’s rare still,
though they grow commoner. And Medora ain’t that sort, and if she’d
took Kellock she’d have been no great use to him and he’d have been no
lasting use to her.”
“Dear me!” murmured Mr. Pinhey, “how you look into things.”
“Ned’s all right,” continued Mrs. Trivett. “He’s all right, for Medora;
and she ought to be all right for him. He loves her with all his heart
and, in a word, she doesn’t know her luck. That’s what I must try and
show her if I can. It’s just a sort of general discontent about nothing
in particular. You can’t have it both ways. Ned’s easy and likes a bit
of fun. He’s a good workman—in fact above the average, or he wouldn’t
be where he is. As a beaterman you won’t find his better in any paper
mill; but it ends there. He does his work and he’s reached his limit.
And away from work, he’s just a schoolboy from his task. He’s light
hearted and ought to be happy; and if she is not, he’ll worry a great
deal. But he won’t know what’s the matter, any more than Medora
Mr. Pinhey’s conventional mind proceeded in its natural groove.
“To say it delicately, perhaps if a child was to come along it would
smooth out the crumpled rose-leaves,” he suggested.
“You might think so; but it isn’t that. They both agree there. They
don’t like children and don’t want them.”
“Well, I should be the last to blame them, I’m sure. It may not be true
to nature, but it’s true to truth, that the young married couples ain’t
so keen about families as they used to be.”
“Nature’s at odds with a good deal we do,” answered Lydia. “Time
was when a quiver full of young ones seemed good to the people. But
education has changed all that. There’s selfishness in shirking a
family no doubt; but there’s also sense. And the better the education
grows, the shorter the families will.”
They talked on until Medora herself arrived and the children came back
from Sunday school. Then Mrs. Trivett and a maid prepared the tea and
Mr. Pinhey, against his inclination, shared the meal. He noticed that
Medora was kind to the little ones, but not enthusiastic about them.
His own instincts made him shrink before so much happy and hungry youth
feeding heartily. The children scattered crumbs and seemed to create an
atmosphere of jam and a general stickiness around them. They also made
a great deal of noise.
Their mother did not appear and when Nicholas asked for their father,
the eldest daughter told him that Mr. Dolbear was gone out for the day
with his dogs and a ferret.
He whispered under his breath, “Ferreting on the Sabbath!”
After tea he took leave and returned home. Then Medora and her mother
went into the orchard with the children, and Mrs. Trivett, wasting no
words, asked her daughter what was vexing her.
“Say as much or as little as you please, my dear—nothing if I can’t
help you. But perhaps I can. It looks as though everybody but Ned sees
there’s something on your mind. Can’t you tell me what it is—or better
still, tell him?”
“There’s nothing the matter that can be helped,” she said. “Ned can’t
help being himself, I suppose, and if anybody’s talking, they ought to
be ashamed. It’s a cowardly, mean thing.”
“It’s not cowardly, or mean to want to put a wrong right and make
people better content. But nobody wants to interfere between husband
and wife, and the people are very fond of you both as you well know.
You say ‘Ned can’t help being himself.’ Begin there, then. You’ve been
married a year now and you didn’t marry in haste either. He was what he
is before you took him. He hasn’t changed.”
“I didn’t think he was such a fool, if you must know,” said Medora.
“What d’you mean by a fool?”
“Simple—like a dog. There’s nothing to Ned. Other men have character
and secrets and a bit up their sleeve. They count, and people know
they ain’t seeing the inside of them. Ned’s got no inside. He’s a boy.
I thought I’d married a man and I’ve married a great boy. I’m only
telling you this, mind. I’m a good wife enough; but I’m not a brainless
one and I can’t help comparing my husband to other men.”
“You always compare everything you’ve got to what others have got,”
answered Lydia. “When you was a tiny child, you’d love your toys till
you saw the toys of other children. Then you’d grow discontent. At
school, if you took a prize, it was poisoned, because some other girl
had got a prettier book than you; and everybody else’s garden was
nicer than ours; and everybody else had better furniture in their
houses and better pictures on their walls and better clothes on their
backs. And now it’s your husband that isn’t in it with other people’s
husbands. Perhaps you’ll tell me, Medora, what husbands round about
can beat Ned for sense and cheerfulness and an easy mind and the other
things that go to make a home comfortable.”
“Everybody isn’t married,” answered Medora. “I don’t look round and
compare Ned to other husbands. I’ve got something better to do. But I
can’t help seeing with all his good nature and the rest of it that he’s
a slight man—not a sort for woman to repose upon as something with
quicker wits—stronger, more masterful than herself.”
“Like who?” asked Mrs. Trivett.
“Well—I’m only speaking to you, mother—take yesterday. Jordan Kellock
asked us to go for a row in the gamekeeper’s boat and see the river—me
and Ned. And we went; and how could I help seeing that Jordan had the
brains? Nothing he said, for he’s a good friend and above smallness;
but while Ned chattered and laughed and made a noise, there was Jordan,
pleasant and all that; but you felt behind was strength of character
and a mind working and thinking more than it said; while my husband was
saying more than he thinks. And I hate to hear him chatter and then,
when he’s challenged, climb down and say he sees he was wrong.”
“You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth in human nature, Medora.
And it’s a bit staggering to hear you mention Kellock, of all men,
seeing the circumstances. If you feel like that, why didn’t you take
Kellock when you could?”
Medora’s reply caused her mother consternation.
“God knows why I didn’t,” she said.
The elder gave a little gasp and did not answer.
“It’s wrong when you have to correct your husband in front of another
man,” continued Medora; “but I’ve got my self respect I believe—so
far—and I won’t let Ned say foolish things before people and let
others think I’m agreeing with him. And if I’ve spoken sharp when
men or women at the works heard me, Ned’s got himself to thank for
it. Anyway Jordan knows I’m not without brains, and I’m not going to
pretend I am. I laughed at Ned in the boat yesterday, and he said after
that he didn’t mind my laughing at him, but he wouldn’t have it before
Mrs. Trivett left the main issue as a subject too big for the moment.
“You ought not to laugh at him before Mr. Kellock,” she said; “because
he’s one of them serious-minded men who don’t understand laughter. I’ve
seen a man say things in a light mood that had no sting in them really,
yet one of the humourless sort, listening, didn’t see it was said for
fun, and reported it after and made trouble. Kellock’s a solemn man and
would misread it if you scored off Ned, or said some flashy thing that
meant nought in truth. You know what I mean.”
They had strolled to the top of the orchard now, where the children
were playing in the Priory ruin. And here at dusk they parted.
“We’ll leave it till we can have another talk,” said Lydia; “seemingly
there’s more to talk about than I thought. Be patient as well as proud,
Medora. And don’t feel so troubled about Ned that you haven’t got no
spare time to look into your own heart and see if you’re satisfied
with yourself. Because very often in my experience, when we’re seeing
misfortune and blaming other people, if we look at home, we’ll find the
source of the trouble lies with ourselves and not them.”