FIRE BEACON HILL

Free horizons stretched about the grassy summit of Fire Beacon, a
culminating ridge above Dart.

It ascended from a glorious ambit of hill and valley, moor and sea;
and on this silvery noon of early summer, light rained out of the
zenith and echoed in the scattered cloud argosies that sailed from
the north to seaward. Under them spread a mosaic of multicoloured
fields netted with hedges and knotted with copses or spinneys, grey
hamlets and little thorpes. The million breasts of Artemis Devonia
undulated beneath the shining patchwork and faded into distance over
many leagues of sunkissed weald and wold, until they rippled dimly
to the foothills and forest edges of Dartmoor, where the high lands
were flung hugely out from east to west. To-day the Moor shone full of
delicate colour under the sun. It rose and fell in a lustrous opaline
sky line of gentle salients; it melted at the magic of the universal
light and seemed no more than a delicate veil of grey and azure
imposed transparently upon the brighter blue above it. From Hey Tor to
Rippon it rolled, to Buckland and Holne Moor, with shadowy glimpses of
Hameldon and remote Cosdon; to Dean Moor and Harford, by Eastern Beacon
and Western Beacon, Lee Moor and Shell Top and far border heights that
brooded through the milky hazes of the west.

Beneath Fire Beacon lay the clustered dwellings of East Cornworthy,
and beyond them, deep in the heart of the land, shone Dart where there
bent away Bow Creek above Stoke Gabriel. The river wound argent through
a dimple of the bending hills, while easterly, by broad passages of
woodland and fallow, opened the ways to the sea. Tor Bay stretched
there with white Torquay glittering pearly under her triple hills;
and far beyond them, touched through the haze by a falling sunshaft,
glimmered the headlands eastward, cliff beyond cliff, where the red
sandstone of Devon gave to the golden oolites of Dorset. Then ranged
the sea-line and rolled wide waters soaked with light, whereon the
clouds not only flung down their shadows, but poured their reflections
also, so that the sea was radiant as the land.

Fire Beacon bore hay, and as the wind rippled the distant waters, so
here, through ripening grass, over sparkling white daisies and russet
sorrel, it ran and swept and sent a lustre, that danced upon the hill
and stroked the herbage with fitful waves of light. A cuckoo called
from an elm top and overhead wheeled the gulls to link earth and sea
together.

Hither climbed a party of four holiday makers, of whom two were
middle-aged and two were young. The more youthful pair walked some
hundred yards ahead and bore between them a hamper; their elders
breasted the great hill more leisurely and stopped sometimes upon the
way. Once, where a grassy dip in the hedge bank invited them to do so,
they sat down to rest for a while.

Ned and Medora reached the crown of Fire Beacon and sought a place for
their picnic under the nearest hedge. They found it presently, but
waited until Lydia and Philander should arrive and approve.

Perfect understanding appeared to obtain between the husband and wife.
Medora was attired in a pre-Kellock gown, which Mr. Dingle had always
admired. Indeed she had given the garments that came from London
to Daisy Finch. She had been highly ingenious in returning to the
old régime at every minute particular, and in banishing to the void
any evidence of the inter-regnum. She came back to Ned sufficiently
contrite and sufficiently grateful and thankful. Her tact had been
sharpened by tribulation, and remembering very well what was good
to her husband, she wasted not much time on tears of repentance or
promises of future well doing. She let her luck take the form of
joyousness—which suited Dingle best. Her gratitude assumed the most
agreeable shape from his point of view, for she exhibited such delight
in her home and such radiant happiness in his company that he found
himself content. Nor, for once, was there any simulation on Medora’s
part. She felt the satisfaction she expressed. She appreciated the
extent of her remarkable good fortune and desired nothing more than a
return to the life she had under-valued. They were for the moment not
talking of themselves, but Medora’s mother.

“Poor dear! You may say that Aunt Mary and Uncle Tom pretty well
cast her out,” said Mrs. Dingle. “A proper shame I call it, and a
proper lesson not to work your fingers to the bone for other people’s
children. You’d think mother was a traitor to ’em, instead of the best
friend they ever had, or will have—selfish creatures.”

“Well, you’ve done her a very good turn by getting her out of that
house. Knox will know how to value such a fine woman, though it’s
contrary to nature that two old blades like them should feel all
younger people feel, I suppose.”

“He feels enough not to let mother work in the Mill any more,” said
Medora.

“And you know you need not, if you don’t want.”

“I do, you dear. But I’m only too jolly thankful to be back there
and that’s the truth. I’d sooner be there than anywhere, because I’m
nearer to you all day, and we can eat our dinner together. But mother’s
different and Mr. Knox has very dignified ideas how she should live at
her age.”

“You say ‘at her age,’ but be blessed if this racket hasn’t knocked
years off her,” said Ned. “I can quite imagine a man of half a century
old might think her good-looking.”

By a curious coincidence Philander was stating the same opinion half
a mile down the hill. Indeed Lydia’s face seemed a palimpsest to Mr.
Knox, and through more recent writings, to her countenance there
would still come a twinkle from the past and a flash and flush, that
penetrated thirty years of Time’s caligraphy and seemed to recreate her
features, even to a little curl at the corner of her under-lip, that
belonged to youth and had been delicious then.

Mr. Knox perceived these things.

“Dammy, you’re growing younger under my very eyes, Lydia,” he said.

She laughed.

“Tom didn’t think so,” she answered. “He said that for an aged woman—”

“Get him out of your mind,” said Mr. Knox. “The forties are often very
unmerciful to the fifties—a trick of human nature I can’t explain.”

“I know I’m younger; and it’s largely along of you, Philander, but not
all. You can understand how the thought of them two up there have made
me younger. I never dreamed they could come together again—not in my
most hopeful moments.”

“That’s because you didn’t know how short a distance they’d really
fallen apart.”

“’Tis too good to be true. I’m frightened of it.”

“Not you,” he said. “You never was frightened of anything and never
will be.”

“For that matter there is a dark side,” explained Lydia, “and I’m
almost glad there is in a way, because if there wasn’t, the whole story
would be contrary to nature and would tumble down like a pack of cards.”

“There’s no dark side, and I won’t have you say there is, Lyddy. Why
shouldn’t the Lord hatch a piece of happiness for four humans once in
a way, if He’s got a mind to do it?”

“It ain’t the Almighty; it’s my people at Priory Farm. I heard some
bitter things there I do assure you.”

“I’ll bet you did,” said Mr. Knox. “I can see ’em at you. And I can
also very well guess what they said about me.”

“Especially Mary. I never heard her use such language, and I never
saw her so properly awake before. But I was glad after, because when
she called you a crafty old limb of the Dowl, that got my fighting
spirit up and they heard a home truth or two. I thought they were very
different stuff.”

“If you take people as you find ’em, you’ll make friends,” answered
Mr. Knox; “but if you take people as you fancy ’em, you will not. No
doubt folk are very flattered at first to find our opinion of ’em is as
high as their opinion of themselves. But that don’t last. We can’t for
long think of any fellow creature as highly as he thinks of himself.
The strain’s too great, and so, presently, we come down to the truth
about our friend; and he sees we know it and can’t forgive us. So the
friendship fades out, because it was built on fancy and not on reality.
That’s what happens to most friendships in the long run.”

“I suppose I never got quite a true picture of my brother’s wife,”
admitted Lydia.

“You did not. And what’s hurting her so sharp for the minute and making
her so beastly rude is—not so much your going, as your knowing the
truth about her. But don’t you fret. They’ll cringe presently. I dare
say they’ll be at our wedding yet.”

“I wish I could think so,” she answered. “But it ought to come right,
for, after all, I’m a mother too, and what choice had I when Ned got me
in a corner like that?”

“Not an earthly,” declared Mr. Knox.

They joined Ned and Medora presently. The view was nothing to any
of them, but the elders welcomed the breeze at hill top. Their talk
concerned the wedding.

“A very Christian spirit in the air,” Philander asserted. “Even
Nicholas Pinhey has forgiven me, thanks to your mother, Medora. He
dropped in on Saturday, and he said, ‘You called me a caterpillar, not
so very many weeks ago, Mr. Knox,’ and I answered, ‘I’m afraid you’re
right.’ And he said, ‘Yes; and when you done so, I thought it was a
case of “Father, forgive him, for he knows not what he sayeth.”— And I
wish you to understand that I forgive it and forget it also, out of
respect for Mrs. Trivett. The man that Mrs. Trivett thinks good enough
to marry must have some virtues hidden from common eyes,’ said Nicholas
to me.”

“And Mercy Life’s forgiven me,” said Medora. “I wouldn’t let her have
any peace till she did. And Alice Barefoot passes the time of day even!
That’s thanks to mother of course.”

“They’re getting up a fine wedding present for mother in the rag
house,” announced Ned. “It’s a secret, but Henry Barefoot told me. It’s
going to take the shape of a tea service, I believe.”

“I can’t see myself away from the rag house,” murmured Mrs. Trivett.

“You couldn’t see yourself away from Priory Farm, mother,” said Medora.

“’Tis a want of imagination in you, Lydia,” declared Mr. Knox. “You’ll
say you can’t see yourself married to me next. But that you certainly
will see inside a month from Sunday.”

They spoke of various matters that interested them; then Mr. Knox
mentioned Kellock.

“Strange that a man born and bred under the apple trees of Ashprington
should show these gifts. A great paper maker; and as if that was not
enough, a power of talk and a talent for politics. Not that he’ll ever
be half as good in his new line as he was in his old. A man can’t rise
to be first class at two crafts.”

“The Labour Party will swallow him up, and we shan’t hear no more about
him, I expect,” said Lydia.

“That’s it. He hadn’t the very highest gifts to deal with his fellow
men—not the touch of genius—too deadly serious and narrow. You feel
about that sort a very proper respect; but you’d a long sight sooner
live with their statues than themselves. ’Tis always uncomfortable
living with heroes—even little tin ones—but when time has took ’em
and just kneaded what good they’ve done into the common wealth of human
progress—then we can feel kindly to their memories.”

“Ope the hamper, Ned,” said Lydia.

Continue Reading

THE BARGAIN

Through bright moonlight, that made the young leaves diaphanous and
melted on the grass lands in grey mist, men and women were walking home
to Ashprington from Totnes. Not less than five-and-twenty had gone from
the Mill to hear Jordan Kellock’s lecture on socialism; and as they
trudged homeward they discussed it.

He had surprised all his listeners and many were full of enthusiasm
before the future he indicated; but some were angry; some went in
doubt. The younger men were with him and the older could not deny that
there was reason and pitiless justice behind his demands. The women who
heard him wondered at the ease with which he had spoken and held his
audience. They were impressed with the applause that had greeted his
sentiments and judged that he must have right on his side to have won a
reception so enthusiastic.

Henry Barefoot, the boilerman, walked by Ernest Trood, while Harold
Spry and Daisy Finch listened to them.

“It’s got to come,” declared Barefoot. “We used to talk of these
problems in the merchant marine twenty-five years ago, and we knew then
that things weren’t right; but our generation was dumb, because our
brains weren’t educated to pull together. We ate our mouldy biscuits
and rancid salt pork and shivered in a gale of wind, because we knew
the ship’s bottom was rotten; and we cussed the owners out of their
snug beds ashore to hell; but we was driven cattle, you may say—had to
go on with it—because there was nothing else for sailor men to do. But
our children have gone to school. That’s the difference.”

“And the rich men sent ’em there, Henry,” said Mr. Trood.

“They did, because they hadn’t any choice, Ernest. If they’d known what
would come of it, they’d have kept ’em out of school and left the poor
man’s children to fill the rich men’s pockets, instead of giving them
their birthright of education. ’Twasn’t squire and parson sent ’em to
school, but those who had a fairer sense of justice; and long-headed
chaps like Kellock are the result.”

“He’s got a lot to learn, however. There’s no such things as equality
and never can be. Because men ain’t born equal, Henry.”

“He don’t argue that, Mr. Trood,” explained Spry. “He argues that we
are handicapped out of the hunt from the start. He says, ‘let all start
fair’; he don’t say all can win.”

“Yes, he does,” returned Trood. “He says all should win. He tells us
that a man’s intellect is an accident, and that, in justice, them
with big brains should give their superfluity to the fools, so as all
should share and share alike. And that’s not human nature. Am I, that
have worked like a slave to win my position and put all my heart and
soul into paper-making from my youth up, to go and seek that lazy dog
I sacked last week and say: ‘You’re a damned, worthless waster, but
here’s half my wages’?”

“I grant he was out there,” admitted Barefoot. “‘The race is to the
strong,’ but socialism don’t seem to see that. Given a fair start for
all and food and clothes and education, then the good boy gets his
chance; but even if that was so, as things are he’d never be allowed to
compete with the gentleman’s son.”

“Yes, he would,” answered Trood. “There’s nothing in the world, even as
it’s run now, to stop brains. There’s boys who were charity school boys
thirty years ago that the world listens to very respectfully to-day.
But Kellock’s let a lot of class hatred come into his talk, and hatred
breeds hatred. Never a man wanted power more than him, but his sort
go the wrong way to work with their bluster and threats. They don’t
help: they’re out for blood. We’re a very fair country at heart and
under our constitution we’ve grown to be the finest people on earth.
So, naturally, as a whole, the nation don’t want the Constitution swept
away till we can get a better. The socialists have no traditions, and
don’t agree among themselves yet, and I for one wouldn’t trust people
that scoff at tradition and want to be a law to themselves. They would
be a great danger, Henry, and if we got all to pieces like that and in
sight of civil wars and revolution, we should throw ourselves open to
attack from our enemies. Then, while we were wrangling how to govern
ourselves, we’d damn soon find England was going to be governed by
somebody else.”

“There’s plenty of hungry eyes on the British Empire no doubt,” allowed
Mr. Barefoot.

“Plenty; and if our army and navy got bitten with this stuff, it would
be good-bye to everything. And that wouldn’t suit Kellock’s friends.”

“And be it as it will,” said Daisy Finch, “a paper mill isn’t a
charity. Those that run the Mill have got to live, I suppose.”

“Yes, Daisy,” admitted Trood; “but we must be fair to this Kellock,
though I’m far from supporting what he says. The ills are as he
stated them; the remedies are not as he stated ’em. He argues that
the workman’s work should no more be his whole life than work is his
master’s whole life. Because Capital buys a man’s working hours, it
doesn’t buy his life and liberties. Outside his work, he’s as much
right to enjoy being alive as his employer. A machine looks very
different from the owner’s point of view and the worker’s. The owner’s
the master of the machine; the worker is its slave; and it’s on the
worker the machine puts the strain, not on the owner. So we have got
to consider our working hours in relation to our lives as a whole,
and balance work against life, and consider how our labour affects our
existence. A six hour day at a machine may be a far greater tax on a
man or woman than an eight hour day at the desk, or the plough. You’ve
got to think of the nervous energy, which ain’t unlimited.”

“That’s so,” admitted Barefoot. “Life’s the only adventure we can
hope for, and I grant you there ought to be more to it. ’Tis all this
here speeding up, I mistrust. The masters see the result of ‘speeding
up,’ and think it’s all to the good according; but it’s we feel the
result, and I can tell you I’m never more cranky and bad-tempered and
foul-mouthed than after one of them rushes. The strain is only pounds,
shillings and pence to the masters; but it’s flesh and blood and nerves
to us; because it’s us have got to fight the machines, not them.”

“A very true word, Henry. Kellock’s out for security, and whether
you’re a socialist or whether you’re not, you can’t deny security is
the due of every human creature. Until the highest and lowest alike are
born into security, there’s something wrong with the order of things.”

“Yet the greater number of the nation have no more security than a
bird in a bush. Let us but lose our health, and where are we?” asked
Barefoot.

“And if a machine is going to make us lose our health,” argued Spry,
“then to hell with the machine.”

“We want shorter hours and better money,” explained Ernest Trood, “and
that can only be won if the masters also get better money. And for such
a result we must look to machines.”

Then Daisy Finch asked a question.

“Who were those stern-looking men in black ties listening to the
lecture?” she inquired.

“From Plymouth, I believe,” answered her sweetheart. “They meant
business, and they applauded Kellock at the finish.”

“They see a likely tool to help their plots,” said Mr. Trood. “I hope
he’ll get his stroke back and drop this Jack-o’-lantern job. There’s
quite enough at it without him.”

“He don’t think so,” answered Barefoot. “He wants to be in the
movement, and may rise to be a leader some day. They socialists are as
ambitious as anybody at heart.”

Harold and Miss Finch, weary of the subject, slowed their gait, fell
back, and presently turned to their own affairs. Then a trap passed,
driven by Mr. Tom Dolbear, from Priory Farm. He had brought his sister
and Medora to the lecture, and was now taking them home again. With
them travelled Mr. Knox.

The farmer alone found no good word for the things they had listened to.

“Just the gift of the gab,” he said. “If you can talk easy, you’re
tempted to do so, at the expense of work.”

“Talking is working when you’re out for a cause,” explained Knox.
“Kellock’s not a talker in the way we are. In fact, a very silent man,
and thinks a great deal more than he talks; but with practice and a
bit of exercise to strengthen his voice, he’d be as good as any of the
talking brigade; and though you may not agree with him, you can’t deny
he’s got the faith to move mountains. He’s preaching a gospel that
Labour’s perfectly ready and willing to hear, and he’ll be an easy
winner presently, because it’s half the battle won to tell people the
things they’ll welcome. Everybody was with him from the start, and the
harder he hit, the better they liked it.”

“I didn’t think Totnes had gone so radical now-a-days,” said Mrs.
Trivett.

“More it has,” declared Mr. Dolbear. “That wasn’t Totnes. ’Twas no more
than a handful of discontented people, who don’t know what they want.”

“Make no mistake as to that,” answered Knox. “The brains of Totnes
was there—the thinking ones that ain’t satisfied; and they do know
what they want very well indeed; and Kellock’s talk only said what
the others feel. He’s got a gift in my opinion, and I’m with him more
than half the way. If you allow for ignorance and impatience of youth,
and so on—if you grant all that, there’s still enough left to make a
reputation. He’ll never be a happy man, but he’ll make his mark and
have the satisfaction of being somebody in the labour world. He’s got
the touch.”

Medora considered curiously with herself under the night. Her own
changed attitude surprised her most. She had heard the applause and
riot that greeted Jordan’s speech. She had seen him stand there,
self-contained and strong and successful, before three hundred people.
She had marked his power to impress them, and awaken enthusiasm. She
had seen older men than himself lifted to excitement by his speech. She
had noted how many men and women pressed forward to shake hands with
him when he had finished. She remembered the chairman’s praise. All
these things had actually filled her dreams of old. She had prophesied
to him that such events would some day happen, and that his power
must become known, given the opportunity. And now, far sooner than
either had expected such a thing, it had come and justified Medora’s
prophecies. She wondered whether Kellock was remembering all she had
foretold. As for herself, she looked at him now as at a picture that
hung in somebody else’s parlour. She witnessed the sunrise of his first
triumph, but found herself perfectly indifferent and not desirous of
one ray of reflected light. Her mind had passed from Kellock to other
interests, and if she were ever to be a contented woman, it would not
be Kellock who achieved that consummation.

“Jordan was to attend a meeting of his branch after the lecture,” she
said to Knox. “I expect after such a success as that, they’ll want him
to give the lecture somewhere else.”

“I’m thinking of the effect on his nature,” answered Knox. “And I
believe all that applause will be a better tonic than Dartmoor, and
make the man well.”

“You think it will fetch his stroke back again?” asked Mrs. Trivett.

“That’s just what I do think, Lydia. He’ll be walking on air after such
a triumph as that. He’ll fear nothing when he comes back to the vat,
and all will go right.”

Then, Mr. Knox, for private ends, and suspecting he had praised Kellock
enough, turned on the lecture, and began to display its fallacies and
errors. For Medora’s benefit he examined the young man, and declared
that his address revealed the defects of his qualities. But he need not
have been at the trouble to occupy himself thus; Medora knew a great
deal more about the real Jordan than it was possible for Mr. Knox to
know.

She listened, but took no more part in the conversation. They proceeded
down the steep lane into Ashprington presently, and at Ned Dingle’s
home, Knox, to their surprise, bade Mr. Dolbear draw up.

“I’m going in here,” he said. “So I’ll wish you all ‘good night.’”

Dingle, who knew the party was to pass, stood at his outer gate
smoking. Only Lydia addressed him.

“Good night, Ned,” she said, and he answered:

“Good night, mother.”

Then the trap proceeded and Mr. Dolbear permitted himself to speak
rather spitefully of Philander Knox.

“He ain’t sound, that man,” he declared. “He wants to run with the hare
and hunt with the hounds. You don’t know where to have him in argument,
the truth being he ain’t much in earnest about anything in my opinion.”

But Tom Dolbear modified this view before many days were passed.
Indeed, had he listened to the conversation then proceeding between
Philander and Mr. Dingle, he must have found himself confronted sharply
and painfully with mistaken judgment; and Mr. Knox himself did not
guess at the important events destined to fall out before he slept
that night. That certain things were presently to happen; that he would
pluck his own occasions out of them and win a reward worthy of all his
pains, he believed; but he did not know how near these things might
be. Nor did he imagine how swiftly his own particular problems were
destined to be solved. Now Medora’s husband played into his hand with
unexpected perception.

They spoke first concerning the lecture, and Ned heard without
enthusiasm of its success.

“No doubt the only thing that concerns you is why your wife went,” said
Knox, “and I may tell you she went because she’d promised to go. It
bored her stiff, same as it did Mrs. Trivett. They’ve got no use for
the new paths, and Medora’s just as much of a Tory at heart as you or
her mother, though she wouldn’t own to it. That’s all over, any way.
They’ve parted in a dignified fashion, and I’ve done the best day’s
work I ever have done in helping you to see the peculiar circumstances
and putting the truth before you. Not that even my great efforts would
have saved the situation if you hadn’t believed me; but that was your
stronghold: you knew I was telling truth. In fact, it’s one of those
cases where knowledge of the truth has helped the parties through the
storm, and I’ll be thankful to my dying day you was large-minded enough
to receive and accept it. It was a great compliment to me that you
could trust me, and a great advertisement to your brain power.”

“It’s all your work and I don’t deny you the praise,” answered Ned.
“Of course, if things had been otherwise from what they are, nothing
would have come of it; but as the facts are what we understand, then
I’m half in a mind to take Medora back. I dare say the people will
think I’m a silly, knock-kneed fool to do so; but those who know the
truth would not. There’s only one thing will prevent me, and that’s the
woman herself. I’ll see her presently, and if she comes out of it in a
decent spirit, then what I say may happen. But if there’s a shadow of
doubt about it in her mind, then we’ll stop as we are. It pretty much
depends upon her now.”

“In that case I congratulate you, because her spirit is contrite to the
dust, and never, if she lives to be a hundred, will she fail of her
duty again. She’ll be a pattern to every married woman on earth for the
rest of her life, no doubt. The highest and best she prays for is to be
forgiven by you; but she don’t dare to hope even that; and if she found
she was more than forgiven, then her gratitude would rise to amazing
heights, no doubt.”

“Well it might,” declared Dingle, and the other spoke again.

“Yes; and none better pleased than me; but though I hadn’t thought
we’d got nearly so far as this yet awhile, now I see that we have, I
must speak a word more, Ned. What I’m going to say now is a terrible
delicate thing; and yet, late though the hour is, this is the appointed
time. Give me a spot of whiskey and switch off from yourself to me for
five minutes.”

“I was coming to you. I’m not blind, and I see very clearly what I owe
you in this matter. You’ve took a deal of trouble, and I’m grateful,
Knox, and so will everybody else be when they understand.”

“I’m very glad you feel it so,” answered Philander, “because it’s true.
I have took a lot of trouble, Ned, and I’ve spared no pains to bring
this about, because well I knew from my experience of life that it
was the best that could possibly happen for all concerned. And once
convinced them two were innocent as babes, I set myself to save the
situation, as they say. And I’ve helped you to do so; and it ain’t a
figure of speech to say I’m well paid by results. But that’s not all
there is to it. There was something up my sleeve too. I had another
iron in the fire for myself. In a word, you can pay me handsome for all
my trouble if you’ll recognise that and lend me a hand in a certain
quarter. Need I say what quarter? As you know, Mrs. Trivett’s very much
addicted to me, and she’d marry me to-morrow if a mistaken call of
duty didn’t keep her in that breeding pen known as Priory Farm. Well, I
put it to you whether you won’t help me same as I helped you. One good
turn deserves another—eh?”

“I’d go to the end of the world to help you, Knox. But what can I do?”

“You don’t see? I’ll tell you then. It sounds a bit strong, but it’s
safe enough and it’ll do the trick. Above all you needn’t feel a speck
of fear, because your mother-in-law has a very fine affection for me,
and to marry me will really be a great delight to her—that I assure
you.”

“What must I do then?”

“Merely tell Medora you don’t look at her again unless Mrs. Trivett
changes her name to Mrs. Knox. I’m not asking a difficult or
troublesome thing. In fact, you needn’t lift a finger in the matter.
You can safely leave it to Medora. She’ll praise God on her knees for a
month of Sundays when she hears the grand ideas in your mind, and when
you state the condition—there you are: she’ll be on to her mother like
a flame of fire, and Lydia will mighty soon see her duty.”

Ned Dingle laughed.

“Lord, you’re a deep one!” he said.

“Not me. Far from it. Just ordinary common sense, and a great natural
regard for Medora’s mother. Mind, I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t a dead
cert.”

“It shall be done,” answered the younger man. “You’re a double chap,
Knox, though you do claim to be so simple, and I’d rather have you for
a friend than an enemy.”

“I’ll be your friend as long as I live, I promise you—and your wife
also. A very good father-in-law you’ll find me.”

They went to the door together and as Knox was about to depart, there
came a swift foot down the lane. It was Jordan Kellock on his homeward
way.

He stopped, seeing the men at the gate.

“I was going to call first thing to-morrow, Mr. Dingle,” he said, “but
since you’re here I can speak now.”

“And give me an arm afterwards,” declared Knox. For the moon had set
and it was very dark.

“Only this: the leaders liked what I said to-night, and they liked
how I said it. In a word they have offered me propaganda work. I’m to
travel about and have my headquarters in London. My life’s begun in
fact. I tell you this, because now you’re free to go back to the Mill,
for I shall not.”

“Giving up paper-making?” asked Philander.

“Yes, Knox. I shall never touch a mould again.”

“Then you’ll never know if you’ve lost your stroke, or get it back.”

“All’s one now. There’s only Mrs. Dingle to consider. Have you been
able to make up your mind in that matter yet, Mr. Dingle?”

“I have,” said Ned; “but she don’t know it and I’ll thank you not to
tell her. That’s my job.”

“Thank God,” said Kellock.

“And Knox,” added Ned. “But for him there’s no shadow of doubt things
would have happened differently. But as luck would have it you confided
in him, and so did I; and being what he is, he puts his intellects into
the thing and saved us.”

“I shan’t forget it,” said Kellock.

“And we shan’t forget you,” declared Knox. “You’re all three mighty
well out of this, and though you’ve been an amazing ass, yet there was
a fine quality in your foolishness that saved the situation. You’ve all
got peace with honour in fact; and may you profit by your lesson and
your luck.”

Then Knox and Kellock set off down the hill together.

Continue Reading

THE CONFESSION

In the evening of Kellock’s catastrophe, Philander Knox saw Ned Dingle,
who was working in his garden at the time.

“Heard the latest?” he asked.

“The latest for me is that Mr. Trenchard will take me back if I like to
come.”

“No, the latest for you is that Jordan Kellock’s lost his stroke.”

Ned dropped a packet of seeds.

“Has he, by God! That’s the best news I’ve heard for a good bit.”

“You’re glad, but you won’t be glad if you think over it.”

Knox explained the circumstances, and told the tale of Jordan’s failure.

“Poor devil,” said Ned. “I can’t say I’m sorry all the same. It won’t
last. He’ll get it back, no doubt, and perhaps he’ll see now he can’t
go playing fast and loose with people, same as he did, and not get a
facer himself sometimes. I told him I wasn’t going to divorce my wife,
and no doubt that’s bowled him over.”

“You’ve done very well so far, in my opinion,” declared Mr. Knox.
“You’ve conducted the affair in a high-class way, and you and me know
where we stand; but he don’t, and more does she.”

“I’m in your hands,” answered Ned. “I begin to find better every day
you’re right, Knox. And what did she do when she heard he was down and
out?”

“Took a very proper line,” answered Philander. “Some, feeling what
she feels and knowing that she’d done with him, for evermore, whatever
happened, would have left him to stew in his own juice; but Medora,
having a very fine pride, would have despised herself for any such
littleness as that. I see as clear as day what was in her mind. She
said to herself, ‘I’ve been a silly fool, and so has he. We were lost
to sense and reality, and acted in a mad and improper manner. In
fact, we’ve been everything we could be, except wicked, and silliness
is often punished worse than wickedness. But, though Kellock richly
deserved to lose his stroke, it’s as much my fault as his own that he
has done so, and I’m too sporting to turn my back on him at such a
moment. If he’s ruined, then it’s my hard duty to share his trouble,
and I won’t be a rat and quit a sinking ship. That’s not the sort of
woman Ned Dingle married.’ So Medora argued, no doubt—not knowing, of
course, what you’ve said to Kellock. So she went to him, and they’ve
gone to Totnes this evening along with Ernest Trood to see a doctor.
Thus you see, for her proper and womanly behaviour, Medora will be
rewarded—as we sometimes are if we do rightly—sooner or later.”

“How rewarded?” asked Ned.

“Why, by hearing presently from the man that you’re not going to
divorce her. She plays her part to him and cheers him up and takes
a hopeful view of the disaster, and so on; and then she hears what
brought it all about—your strong line. Of course, to her ear—she
being now a contrite creature with the scales fallen from her eyes—the
fact that you wouldn’t set her free to marry him was the best music she
could hear. She’ll know with you taking that line, she’ll be free of
Kellock for evermore, and able to set about her own salvation in fear
and trembling. And that, no doubt, is what she’ll do, for having paid
for girlish faults, she’ll now cultivate her womanly virtues and become
as fine a creature in mind as she is in body, and rise to be worthy of
our admiration again.”

Ned listened to this long speech while he sowed carrots.

“These things don’t happen by chance,” concluded Knox. “A man like you
bends fate to his own purpose; and fate, being a female, does a lot
more for them that drive her than them that spoil her. You stand in a
very strong position now, and the lucky thing is that the strong can be
merciful to the weak without losing their self-respect.”

“I’ll see Kellock,” promised Ned. “I’ll see him to-morrow and hear what
he’s got to say about it.”

“A very good thought, but let your mind dwell on Medora a bit before
you do. You think so clear and see so straight that you won’t make
any mistake in that quarter. You’ve got to remember how it looks to
Kellock so far, and whether it looks right to him, or whether it do
not. Now Kellock only knows as yet that you don’t put away Medora; and
that means he can’t marry her, so this brother and sister racket must
end. As for Mrs. Dingle, she’s done with the masculine gender, and, of
course, she may have told Kellock so—I can’t say as to that. But you
see him by all means.”

They talked till dusk fell, then Mr. Knox departed and Ned considered
all he had said, with the imputations proper to Philander’s words.
He had trusted largely to the vatman of late, and found himself in
agreement with his sentiments on all occasions, for Knox was treating
Ned with rare diplomacy.

Next morning, Jordan himself anticipated his visitor, and as Ned set
out to see him, he appeared at Ashprington. He wore holiday attire,
looked pale, and was somewhat nervous.

They met at the gate of Dingle’s house, and Ned spoke.

“Come in the house, and you can speak first—no, I will.”

They entered the little parlour and sat down opposite each other.

“I hear you’ve lost your stroke. I suppose to find what I meant to do
was a bit too shattering. No doubt you’ll get it back. I’ve no wish to
come between you and your livelihood; but when you and my wife hatched
this bit of wickedness, you didn’t stop to think whether it would play
hell with my nerves; and if you’d known it would, that wouldn’t have
changed you.”

“That’s quite true,” admitted Kellock, “and, I may tell you, it’s come
home to me pretty sharp before you said it. As for me, I may get my
stroke again, or I may not; and if I don’t, I shall never blame you—I
shall blame myself. Those that think they stand, often get a fall, and
I’m not too proud to confess to you that that’s what has happened to
me.”

“Serve you right.”

“I don’t matter any more. What matters is Medora, and I shall be
greatly obliged if you’ll allow me to speak a few words on that
subject.”

“The fewer the better.”

“I come from myself, understand. She knows nothing about it. I didn’t
ask her, because if she’d said ‘no,’ I couldn’t have come. And she
might have forbid.”

“Well, get on with it.”

“It’s very difficult, and I beg you’ll make allowances for a man who
has done wrong and done you wrong, too. You’ll probably say that I’m
only changed since you told me you weren’t going to divorce Medora.
That’s true in a way, but not all true. I’ve learned a great deal I
didn’t know from Medora, but I’ve only come now to talk about her. The
question is how you feel about her.”

“That’s my business, not yours.”

“I don’t know that, because as you feel, so I must do. I recognise my
obligations sharp enough, and she is the first of them if you ordain
she is to be. I’ve thought a lot about it you may be sure, and I’ve
recognised one thing fairly clearly—I did before you struck this blow.
I’m not a marrying man, Mr. Dingle.”

“Nobody ever thought you were but that fool.”

“It wasn’t her fault. We were both wrong—that’s all. And I want to say
this. I wouldn’t marry Medora now if I could, because I’ve been brought
to see I shouldn’t make her happy. A brother I’m prepared to be; but
for her own sake, and for her future, I wouldn’t marry her if I could
now, because I should be doing her a wrong. Of course, you’ll say I’m
putting this on because you won’t let me marry her; but I swear to you
that I’d begun to feel it before.”

“That lets you out then—with your tail between your legs. And what
price her?”

“That’s why I’ve called this morning. I can’t say anything to Medora
until I’ve spoken to you, because it’s clear that what I must do
depends upon you. If you’ve done with her, then I shall support her and
be as good a brother as I know how to be.”

“Have you ever seen the man who would take a woman back after these
games? Would you, if you was me?”

“I’d think a lot before I refused, if I was you. Knox tells me that
it’s a very uncommon case, but quite in keeping with my character. You
understand, I’ve said nothing to Medora. Of course, she knows what the
price is she’s got to pay. The appearance of evil is as bad in this
case as evil itself; so she’s doomed if you doom her, but saved if you
save her. Would it be asking too much to ask you to see her?”

“I have seen her.”

“Not since she knew the situation. We often learn a lesson when it’s
too late to profit by the knowledge, and it’s for you to judge if that
will be the case with Medora. I’m only raising the question, and I
don’t want to fill her head with false hopes. She’s been too much of a
lady to say anything out; but she’s shown her feelings on the subject
in a good many ways.”

“She’s fed up with you, in fact?”

“Yes; I believe that is so. In a way, to use a homely sort of
illustration, what we did was to keep company—no more than that; and
that showed her very clear I’m not the right company; and it’s shown
me, as I say, I’m not a marrying man. So there it is. I can promise you
your wife will want for nothing, and I shall regard her destiny as in
my hands in future, if you’re off her for good. And if you change your
mind and divorce her, I’ll swear it won’t be me that marries her. That
you can take on oath. I’ll tell her so to-day.”

Kellock rose to go, and Ned remained silent and seated.

“Remember, if you do see her, you’ll see a wiser and sadder woman,” the
vatman ventured to add.

“No doubt. You’d make anybody sadder and wiser. When are you going to
try for your stroke again?”

“I don’t know.”

“Nobody will pity you when they hear how you lost it.”

“You’ll find Mrs. Dingle along with her people at Priory Farm if you
want her. She means to come to my lecture next week; but not if you’ve
any objection, of course. And I beg you to understand that I’m heartily
sorry for what I’ve done, and I’m punished a lot worse than you could
punish me. To lose my stroke is nought; to lose my self-respect is
everything.”

“You’ll get ’em both back—such an amazing creature as you,” said
Dingle dourly.

Then Kellock went away, and the man who had listened to him little
guessed at his soreness of spirit. Jordan indeed had the satisfaction
of clearing his soul and confessing his weakness and failure; but he
suffered ample degradation and discomfort under his right-doing. Nor
did he believe that his end was likely to be gained. Doubting, he had
taken his proposal to Ashprington; still doubting, he returned. Indeed,
he felt sure from Ned’s attitude, both to him and Medora, that the girl
would remain on his hands. A subtler man had felt every reason to hope
from Dingle’s blunt comments, but he read nothing behind them. He only
believed that he had eaten dirt for nought; yet he did not regret his
confession of wrong; for his bent of mind was such that he knew he
must have made it sooner or later.

The future looked dark and sad enough. He was confused, downcast. Even
the thought of the lecture had no present power to cheer him. But he
told himself that he had done his duty to Medora, and suspected that,
had she heard his appeal to her husband, she might have thanked him.

And elsewhere Dingle pondered the problem. Curiously enough, only a
point, which had seemed unimportant to anybody else, held his mind.
Kellock had said Medora was changed, and such is human inconsistency,
that whereas Ned had told himself for six months he was well rid of
a bad woman, now the thought that he might receive back into his
house a reformed character annoyed him. If he wanted anybody, it was
the old Medora—not the plague, who left him for Kellock, but the
laughter-loving, illusive help-mate he had married. He did not desire
a humbled and repentant creature, ready to lick his boots. He was very
doubtful if he really wanted anybody. Once the mistress of any man,
he would never have thought of her again except to curse her; but she
never had been that. She had doubtless shared Jordan’s exalted ideals.
That was to her credit, and showed she honoured her first husband and
the stock she sprang from.

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