BOW CREEK

How musical are the place names on the tidal water of Dart. Tuckenhay
and Greenway, Stoke Gabriel and Dittisham, Sharpham and Duncannon—a
chime of bells to the native ear that knows them.

To-day autumn rainbows burnt low on the ferny hills and set their
russet flashing. Then hailstorms churned the river into a flurry
and swept seaward under a grey cowl. They came with a rush of wind,
that brought scarlet leaves from the wild cherry and gold dust from
the larch; but soon the air cleared and the sun returned, while the
silver fret of the river’s face grew calm again to mirror far-off
things. Easterly the red earth arched low on the blue sky; west spread
cobweb-grey orchards, their leaves fallen, their last of apples still
twinkling—topaz and ruby—among the lichens of their ancient boughs.
Then broad, oaken hangers met the beech scrub and the pale oak foliage
was as a flame dancing above the red-hot fire of the beeches. Their
conflagrations blazed along the tideway and their reflected colour
poured down over the woods into the water.

Then elm trees rolled out along the river, and above them, in billows
mightier than they, sailed the light-laden clouds, that seemed to lift
another forest, bossed and rounded as the elm trees, and carry up their
image into the sky. But the cloud glory was pale, its sun touched
summits faint against the ardour of the earthborn elms.

At water’s brink, above Stoke Gabriel’s little pier and gleam of white
and rose-washed cots, black swine were rooting for acorns; while
westerly an arm of Dart extended up Bow Creek through such sunlight as
made the eyes throb and turn to the cool shadows. Another silver loop
and Duncannon cuddled in an elbow of the river; then, higher yet, the
hills heaved along Sharpham’s hanging woods turned from the sun. The
immense curtain of trees faced north in tapestry of temperate tones
painted with purple and grey and the twilight colours of autumn foliage
seen through shadows. The ash was already naked—a clean skeleton
against the dun mass of dying foliage—and other trees were casting
down their garments; but the firs and spruce made rich contrast of blue
and green upon the sere.

Beyond Sharpham, long river flats rolled out, where plover and gulls
sat on tussocks of reed, or rush, and curlew wheeled and mewed
overhead. Then opened a point, where, robbed of colour, all mist-laden,
amid gentle passages of receding banks and trees, there lifted the
church tower of Totnes, with Dartmoor flung in a dim arc beyond.

So Dart came, beside old, fern-clad wharves, through sedge-beds and
reed ronds to the end of her estuary under the glittering apron of a
weir. Then the pulse of the sea ceased to beat; the tide bade farewell,
and the salmon leapt from salt to fresh.

Worthy of worship in all her times and seasons; by her subtleties and
sleights, her sun and shadow; by her laughter and coy approaches;
by her curves and colours; her green hills and delight of woods
and valleys; by her many voices; her changing moods and little
lovelinesses, Dart is all Devon and so incomparably England.

A boat moved on Bow Creek, and in it there sat two men and a young
woman. One man rowed while his wife and the other man watched him.
He pulled a long, powerful stroke, and the little vessel slipped up
the estuary on a tide that was at flood, pondering a moment before the
turn. The banks were a blaze of autumn colour, beneath which shelving
planes of stone sank down to the water. The woman twirled an umbrella
to dry it from the recent storm. She was cold and shivered a little,
for though the sun shone again, the north wind blew.

“I’m fearing we oughtn’t to have come, Medora,” said the man who sat
beside her.

“Take my coat,” advised Medora’s husband. “It’s dry enough inside.”

He stopped rowing, took off his coat and handed it to his wife, who
slipped it over her white blouse, but did not thank him.

Medora Dingle was a dark-faced girl, with black hair and a pair of
deep, brown eyes—lovely, but restless—under clean, arched eye-brows.
Her mouth was red and small, her face fresh and rosy. She seemed
self-conscious, and shivered a little more than was natural; for she
was strong and hearty enough in body, tall and lithe, one who laboured
six days a week and had never known sickness. Two of her fingers were
tied up in cotton rags, and one of the wounds was on her ring finger so
that her wedding ring was not visible.

Presently Edward Dingle put down the oars.

“Now you can take it on, old chap,” he said, and then changed places
with his companion. The men were very unlike, but each comely after
his fashion. Dingle was the bigger—a broad-shouldered, loose-limbed
youth of five-and-twenty, with a head rather small for his bulk,
and a pleasant laughter-loving expression. He was fair and pretty
rather than handsome. His features were regular, his eyes blue, his
hair straw-coloured and curly. A small moustache did not conceal his
good-humoured mouth. His voice was high-pitched, and he chattered
a great deal of nothing. He was a type of the slight, kindly man
taken for granted—a man whose worth is under-valued by reason of his
unimportance to himself. He had a boundless good nature combined with a
modest mind.

Jordan Kellock stood an inch or two shorter than Dingle and was a
year or two older. He shaved clean, and brushed his dark, lustreless
hair off his high forehead without parting it. Of a somewhat sallow
complexion, with grey, deliberate eyes and a clean-cut, thin-lipped
mouth, his brow suggested idealism and enthusiasm; there was a light in
his solemn eyes and a touch of the sensitive about his nose. He spoke
slowly, with a level, monotonous accent, and in this also offered an
abrupt contrast to his companion.

It seemed that he felt the reality of life and was pervious to
impressions. He rowed with less mannerism, and a slower stroke than his
friend; but the boat moved faster than it had with Dingle at the oars,
for Kellock was a very strong man, and his daily work had developed his
breast and arms abnormally.

“A pity now,” said Ned, “that you didn’t let me fetch your thick coat,
Medora, like I wanted to.”

“You ought to have fetched it,” she answered impatiently.

“I offered, and you said you didn’t want it.”

“That’s like you. Throw the blame on me.”

“There’s no blame to it.”

“You ought to have just brought the thing and not bothered me about
it,” she declared.

Then her husband laughed.

“So I ought,” he admitted; “but it takes a man such a hell of a time to
know just what he ought to do where a woman’s concerned.”

“Not where his wife’s concerned, I should think.”

“Hardest of all, I reckon.”

“Yes, because a wife’s truthful most times,” replied Medora. “It’s no
good her pretending—there’s nothing to gain by it. Other women often
pretend that a man’s pleasing them, when he’s not—just for politeness
to the stupid things; but a man’s wife’s a fool to waste time like
that. The sooner she trains her husband up to the truth of her, the
better for him and the better for her.”

They wrangled a little, then Ned laughed again.

“Now Jordan will let on you and me are quarrelling,” he said.

Thus challenged, the rower answered, but he was quite serious in his
reply.

“Last thing I should be likely to do—even if it was true. A man and
his wife can argue a point without any feeling, of course.”

“So they can,” declared Medora. “And a proud woman don’t let even a
friend see her troubles. Not that I’ve got any troubles, I’m sure.”

“And never will have, I hope,” answered Kellock gravely.

The creek began to close, and ahead loomed a wharf and a building
standing upon it. The hills grew higher round about, and the boat
needed steering as her channel became narrower.

“Tide’s turning,” said Ned, and for answer, the rower quickened his
stroke.

They passed the wharf, where a trout stream from a coomb ran into the
estuary, then, ascending to the head of the boatable waters, reached
their destination. Already the tide was falling and revealing weedy
rocks and a high-water mark on either bank of the creek. To the right
a little boathouse opened its dark mouth over the water, and now they
slipped into it and came ashore.

Medora thanked Jordan Kellock warmly.

“Don’t you think I didn’t enjoy it because I got a bit chilly after the
hailstorm,” she said. “I did enjoy it ever so much, and it was very
kind of you to ask me.”

“The last time we’ll go boating this year,” he answered, “and it was a
good day, though cold along of the north wind. But the autumn woods
were very fine, I’m sure.”

“Properly lovely—poetry alive you might call them.”

“So I thought,” he answered as he turned down his sleeves and presently
put on his coat and tie again. The coat was black and the tie a subdued
green.

Ned made the boat ship-shape and turned to his wife.

“A good smart walk up the hill will warm you,” he said.

She hesitated and whispered to him.

“Won’t you ask Jordan to tea?”

“Why, certainly,” he answered aloud. “Medora’s wishful for you to come
to tea, old man. So I hope you will.”

“I should have liked to do it,” replied Kellock; “but I’ve promised to
see Mr. Trenchard. It’s about the moulds for the advertisements.”

“Right. He’ll want me, too, I reckon over that job.”

“He will without a doubt. In fact it’s more up to you than me.
Everything depends on the pulp.”

“So it does with all paper,” declared Ned.

“True enough. The beaterman’s master. For these fancy pictures for
exhibition you’ve got to mix stuff as fine as clear soup—just the
contrary of what you may call real paper.”

“Are you coming, Ned?” asked Medora. “I’ve got to get over to mother
to-morrow and I don’t want to go with a cold.”

“Coming, coming,” he said. “So long, Jordan.”

“Good-bye till Monday,” answered the other. Then he stood still and
watched the young couple tramp off together.

He gazed thoughtfully and when they disappeared up a steep woodland
path, he shook his head. They were gone to Ashprington village, where
they dwelt; but Mr. Kellock lived at Dene where the trout stream
descended from the hills to the river. He crossed from the boat-house
by a row of stepping-stones set athwart the creek; then he turned to
the left and soon found himself at the cottage where he lodged.

This man and Dingle had both loved Medora Trivett, and for some time
she had hesitated between them. But Ned won her and the loser, taking
his defeat in a large and patient spirit, continued to remain good
friends with both.

Mr. Kellock knew, what everybody guessed, that after a year of
marriage, the pair were not happy together, though why this should be
so none could at present determine.

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