It was cold, even right next to the range, which burned sluggishly in this damp weather and, stoked with coal that was more dust than lumps, gave off acrid fumes of tar that caught in her throat. Certainly it was too cold open the back door for air, although the draught blowing under it was so chilling to the feet that she might as well have.
And the wretched Richards children, still raced about the yard, screeching wildly in the dark while their mother was down the Seven Stars with the ne’er do well she called her husband. Who might be the father of her three youngest but Ida could remember John Richards, father of the four older children, and a pleasant, quiet sort of a man who’d done nothing to deserve such a slut of a wife…
She was worn out; that was the trouble. It had been another long day and the walk home against the wind had finished her off. Now, too tired to do more than sit with her tea and slice of lardy cake, she could think only of her bed, although the young Richardses might well go on screaming until their mother came home, which would make any sort of peace impossible.
Tomorrow, she thought wearily, placing her cup back on the table, was the Weekly Bright Hour, which would keep her on her feet all evening, with Ethel Drage carping virtuously in the background. And this week she must make the batch of scones she had failed to produce before.
Picking up the wad of cotton waste she kept in the hearth, she shut down the range for the night, put her cup and plate in the sink and opened the door for a last trip to the privy. The glow of the oil lamp lit up the figures of three small children scuffling beside what had once been Orion’s flower bed and a cat shooting past in pursuit of a small rat.
“You kiddies did ought to be in your beds,” she called, attempting to sound kinder than she felt. “Yer ma’ll be vexed when she comes ‘ome.”
“She won’ care.” Fred Richards, who was no more than eight to Ida’s reckoning, stopped fighting long enough to answer. “She give me a penny to look after our Ernie”. He directed a kick at the ragged creature crawling towards the light in Ida’s kitchen, then grabbed the hair of a boy Ida didn’t recognise, who let out a bellow as she shut herself into the privy.
Which was wet underfoot, as usual, its wooden box seat soaked and stinking so that she was forced to balance herself well above it, skirts held fastidiously high, before wiping herself with the square of paper she brought out with her. After the cleanliness of the arrangements at Mrs Jenkins’s, it was hard not to feel that she deserved better.
The weather is wet with thick sea mists driving in day after day – and too early, in any case, for any planting. And since talking to Mary on Christmas day he finds he wants to draw again. He needs, in fact to draw – he remembers Henry telling him that the need can be an actual physical pain and, although he didn’t understand at the time, he does now.
He has not been in the room for almost two weeks. It smells of dust and stone, of old floor boards and the mildewed dampness of the patch in the far corner where a slate must again have slipped. His last drawing lies under a coating of dust which, when he blows at it, drifts into the pale ray of light that finds its way – ‘shines’ would be too strong a word – through the window, where it rises and falls in gentle clouds.
Outdoors there is a gap between the banks of mist and as he peers down the coast he can just make out, beyond the dripping darkness of the hedges, the dark shapes of the headlands below the low ceiling of overhanging cloud. He has a stub of candle but decides to manage without for there is little oil left for the downstairs lamps and then they will need their remaining candles. In any case this miserly, winter morning light is what he wants and, opening his sketching book, he starts to draw the murky scene beyond the window.
He works on for several hours, not noticing that the mists have closed in and there is nothing to see outside the window but drawing instead the picture that is inside his head.
“You been drawing?” He finds Mary thumping dough on the kitchen table but she asks the question cheerfully and not as an accusation. Although she may simply be happy to be making bread again, with some yeast from Mrs Roscrow – ‘for all your extra help’ – and now Mary turns her slab of dough, presses into it with the heel of her hands, turns, presses, turns it again, lifts it and thumps it back onto floured table top.
He pauses, uncertain if he should go on, as Mary divides the dough with a knife and goes on kneading.
“Tha’s good.” He does not know at first whether she means her work or his. “I been thinking…” She folds the dough on itself and kneads again. “You should get more pictures ready for when Mr Tuke comes next. Remember what he said.”
And Orion remembers well enough. The old story about exhibiting his pictures at the gallery in Falmouth. “They are different,” Henry had said. “Unusual. People will pay money for them.”
Overnight the mist turns to rain which gusts against the windows, batters the slates and turns to brown and yellow the plaster in the damp corner. The wind rattles the window frame as if it would tear it out, whines and howls between the launder and the outside wall, dragging at the trees and hedgerows as the waves in the little bay smash against the rocks, sending showers of spume high into the air.
For hours next morning Orion sits, perched awkwardly on his chair in the narrow space, peering from the window, setting down on his paper – that costly paper from Henry, which Mary once resented – the dark shapes and altering shadows of the clouds, the bare-branched trees buffeted away from the shore, the wild water tossed into the wind. And in the bottom, right hand corner, the figure of a small boy, head lowered, sheltering against a rock…
His conversation with William Vigo did not go well. Henry, disliking the apparatus, rarely used the telephone and the situation was a particularly delicate one.
There was also the problem of explaining what any of it had to do with him.
His surname, of course, made a difference. All Quakers knew of the Tuke family who were held in high regard for their work at The Retreat in York, and the school in that city that had been founded by his great, great grandfather William. Vigo would also know the Foxes, whom he would have met at the Monthly business meetings of the Society, and was probably aware of Henry’s friendship with Charles Masson Fox. On the other hand he would also probably know of his paintings, of which he would presumably not approve. Also that he did not attend Meeting for Worship…
“I am calling on behalf of Mrs Hettie Pearce of Falmouth – her daughter is a friend of your daughter, Faith.”
The silence at the other end of the wire went on for such a disconcertingly lengthy period that Henry feared he had been cut off. He tried to imagine this William Vigo but got no further than a black coat and a black Quaker hat which surely, even in Redruth, Friends no longer wore? How much easier it would be, he thought, if he could see his face. Speaking, as it were, into darkness, was close to impossible.
“Faith arrived, unexpectedly, at the Pearces’ home this morning – while I was visiting.” He forced himself to go on despite the lack of encouragement. “Mrs Pearce knew you would be anxious to be reassured that she has come to no harm.”
He sounded, he thought, very formal. Like a minister or a magistrate. The thought caused him, in spite of everything, to smile.
“I thank thee, Friend.” Startled by the archaic speech, Henry noted that his name had registered. “I am grateful for your concern. My daughter…” There was a loud crackling on the line and Henry missed his next words. “… driven by her emotions,” he heard. “This is not the first time she has left the house…” The man paused to clear his throat as Henry pressed his ear closer to the receiver, “unexpectedly.”
“Mrs Pearce has asked me to say that she is happy for Faith to stay with them for a few days.” Henry waited to see if there was more to come before filling the silence.
“Please tell her that will not be necessary,” the man said and a painful jarring sound against Henry’s ear told him that the conversation was over
“Did he say she could stay?”
Hetty Pearce had forced herself to remain silent up to now.
“He said it would not be necessary.”
“So what does he intend us to do?”
One of the little boys raced, squealing, along the upper landing. After him, laughing, ran the two girls. Miss Amy, Henry thought, seemed to have forgotten that she was a young lady, just as Faith Vigo had apparently set aside her unhappiness.
“I have not the faintest idea,” he said.
Later that evening, overcoming his distaste for the apparatus once more, he put through a call to the Pearces’ home from his friend Alfred de Pass’s house, where he was dining. Hetty, speaking nervously, as if the receiver might be about to explode in her hand, said she had heard nothing from the Vigos and had sent Faith off to bed.
“If he comes now,” she said with sudden ferocity, “I shall not allow him to remove her. The poor child has gone through enough.”
“You ran away from home? How thrilling!”
Aunt Hetty had instructed Amy that she must not keep her friend awake with ‘silly chatter’ but once Faith was in bed the events of her day came crowding into her head and made sleep impossible. Her rush from home in her house shoes and Agnes’ dreadful old coat, the nervous wait at the station, the rough boys who had followed her up the platform at Truro, the bumpy ride along the branch line to Falmouth and her hopeless attempts to find Elsie’s home in Florence Terrace…
That had been the worst of all, for the directions from the ticket collector at the station had been so complicated and she felt so confused that it was hardly surprising she had got lost and eventually, not daring to ask again and seeing a sign to Gyllyngvase, had gone instead to the Pearces’ house.
Where everyone had been so kind. Mrs Pearce – Aunt Hetty. Amy, who had raced into the sitting room, screaming with delight. And that nice Mr Tuke who had made the drawing of herself and Amy during her last visit and who had phoned Papa at the works.
Mr Pearce was away at the assizes at Bodmin and she had overheard Aunt Hetty and Mr Tuke discussing how they should give the news to her family. ‘Her poor mother’, Aunt Hetty had said, would be beside herself, and although Faith doubted this, her father would certainly be concerned – and, when he discovered the truth, angry. Obviously a message must be got to him and, although the thought was a frightening one, it was a relief to hear Mr Tuke suggest that he should make the telephone call. Aunt Hetty had seemed equally relieved and she and Faith listened, impressed, at Mr Tuke’s firm voice as he asked to be put through to Vigo Fabrications…
“Will he be very angry? He won’t beat you, will he?” Amy in her white lace nightdress, hands clasped with Faith’s as if to protect her, looked quite excited. “Or lock you in the spence with the spiders? Or make you eat gruel for a month?”
Faith shook her head at her friend’s imaginings. Papa would do none of these things. He would be angry but his anger would be the anger of disappointment – at the upset she might have caused her mother, the inconvenience to the household, the trouble she had caused him…
And God would also be disappointed. She would be left in no doubt that she had failed Him too – but then, she had failed Him already.
As Amy chattered on, firstly about punishments but then, forgetting the circumstances, about her plans for her friend’s entertainment, she felt her eyes and throat fill up with tears. For Amy’s life – choosing material for a new gown, a magic lantern show at the Polytechnic Hall, a party given by a family in which there were eighteen-year-old twin sons – was so completely different from hers. And dear Amy, with her innocent pleasures, knew nothing, not only of the dreariness of Faith’s life but of that other, hateful thing that had happened to her, the memory of which had followed her even here, as she lay between soft linen sheets in Amy’s pretty bedroom.
It was like drowning, she thought, as she turned away from her friend, trying in vain to hold back her tears. And instead of praying to God to forgive her for her terrible misdeeds she prayed to Him to help her to stop weeping before her friend should notice.
She had never felt like this before. Woken as usual by the shambling hoof-fall of the milkman’s horse, the creak of wheels and the clang of the churn as Mr Jarvis filled the jug from her doorstep, she did not, as she usually did, sigh, turn over and heave her tired bones out of bed. This morning, for the first time that she could remember since the nightmare that had been her confinement with baby Orion, she lay where she was.
Her tired bones, it seemed, had had enough. Or perhaps it was her tired head.
As the horse – she was called Jessie and must be easily thirty years old, ambled on up the hill, pausing from long habit outside the houses where deliveries were to be made – Ida remained in bed, as if there were a great weight on the quilt, pressing her down. Her thighs, which had ached so long that she barely noticed it, seemed to throb deep inside, like a drum-beat of pain rather than sound. And yet it was not pain that was holding her.
It was a feeling that there was nothing worth getting up for.
Perhaps, she thought, the bedsprings shrieking as she shifted her weight, this was how poor Bea had felt all those years. Perhaps it had not been a physical ailment that had kept her in her bed for so long. Perhaps it had been simply unhappiness…
More carts passed – there was a market on the Moor this morning and stallholders came in early from the countryside. Wheels squeaked and rumbled, men called greetings, hawked and spat and a horse pausing below Ida’s window released a heavy-sounding pile of excrement, causing its driver, or more probably the driver of the cart behind, to let out an oath that was almost as loud…
And she must, no matter how she felt, get up. Mr Polmear and the Jenkins men would need their breakfast and Mrs Opie, for all her claims of still being capable of feeding the entire family, rarely rose before nine.
Sighing, she turned over and heaved her tired bones out of bed. The linoleum struck cold against the soles of her feet and she shuffled across to the comparative warmth of the rag rug next to the chair where she had laid out her clothes last night.
A hot cup of tea, she told herself firmly, would make all the difference.
As, she supposed, it must have done. Certainly she was in Mrs Jenkins’ kitchen by seven after a damp and chilly walk through the early morning darkness and there was, as always, some comfort in the way the flames in this more modern range leapt cheerily upwards as she opened the flue dampers, so that the hotplate heated fast, the kidneys, bacon and hogs pudding hissed and sizzled in the pan and the eggs were ready, yolks soft and golden, whites brown-frilled at the edges, when the men came to the table.
There was something satisfying, she thought, sitting with her second cup of tea at the kitchen table, in preparing food. Especially for an appreciative man like Mr Polmear. She should not allow dark thoughts to get her down. As the minister said often in chapel, to serve one’s fellow men was to serve the Lord and that was, surely, the aim and joy of a truly Christian life?
“Ai’s.” Half-witted Annie, scrubbing at the pans in the scullery, could have been echoing her thoughts. “Tha’s it.”
On the other hand Ida thought, getting up and crossing to the larder for the eggs, milk and butter she would need for a Madeira cake, it would have been nice to have something more than this evening’s Bright Hour to look forward to.
“You’ll come to the ‘ouse Sunday for your dinner?”
Edith Drage issued her invitation in her usual, threatening manner, as Ida stood by the urn. Her scones, still warm, had been grabbed from her basket as she arrived and she could see, even though his back was turned, Daft Jacky stuffing one into his mouth.
“Oh I dunno ‘bout that.”
One of the sisters on duty in the porch approached the table, hand clamped firmly on the arm of a reluctant-looking servant girl whose braids of greasy hair escaped from under her bonnet.
“You ‘ave a nice cuppa tea midear,” Ida told her. “An one of these scones,” she added, snatching the plate out of Jacky’s reach. “Just sit there an’ warm yerself.”
Not that there was a great deal to warm oneself with, other than the tea, which the girl cradled in small, nervous, red-raw hands. As Ethel Drage, momentarily diverted from her invitation, sat down in the pew beside her she looked more terrified than ever – as well she might, Ida thought, with that sour and bony face attempting a smile.
“ ‘Alf twelve for dinner Sunday.” Ethel had not, as she had hoped, forgotten her. “Straight after chapel.”
It was one of those sudden sunny days, rare but not unheard of in a Cornish January, and huddled against a rock, he had ventured outside to paint.
The sea, calm after so many rough days, lay green and glistening in the sunlight and wisps of cloud chased each other across the sky, leaving shadows like shapes of sea creatures across the surface of the water. Henry would have caught the scene perfectly. Would have caught the lift of the ruffling wavelets, the glint of the light, the alterations of shades and colours, even the movement of the currents but this was not something Orion could do.
His paintings, compared to Henry’s, were childlike, he could see that, blocks of colour, broken by lines that might suggest rocks or ships or gulls but without Henry’s wonderful detailing, and this morning’s picture – a great area of greenish blue with strokes of white for foam and brown mounds of rocks below black skeletons of leafless trees – was no good. And yet, setting down as best as he could the scene before him, he felt a feeling he could only describe as contentment, as if, wretched though the painting might be, he had still achieved something. As if something of a past happiness might be returning.
Just one thing was missing, as the day clouded over and what had been narrow shadows grew to cover most of the sea’s surface, and now, very carefully, in the foreground of his painting, where a line of golden brown denoted the narrow beach, he painted in the shape of a small, crouched figure in a blue coat and with a head of black hair. A dark line marked the spade with which he was digging in the sand.
It looked nothing like a child but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that he knew who it was. What was it Henry had called him? A little ghost; that was it, and although he’d always thought of ghosts as frightening, there was nothing frightening about this one. If anything, he was comforting. As if he were telling him he had existed – even if he hadn’t quite made it into life.
Making up for lost time, he spent the afternoon on a second digging of his potato patch. The seaweed he’d brought up in December had broken down nicely and the earth came up dark and crumbling on his spade and he began to think of the beans left from last year’s crop, stored in a tin in one of the outhouses, safe from the mice. It was too early for sowing them yet but he found himself, for the first time in months, looking forward to this year’s planting.
Mary, white pinafore bright against the dusk, comes across the yard with a letter.
“Postman left it up farm. Said ‘e weren’t coming down in this mud.”
“‘Oo’s it from?”
But Mary shrugs and turns away, leaving him staring at the uneven handwriting he does not recognise.
‘My dear Son,’ he reads when he has washed the dirt from his hands at the pump and is sitting at the kitchen table, holding the paper towards the candlelight. ‘I do ope you and your mary are going on alright, I am well in body but ave some trubel I wd dearly like to tell you and wd be glad if you cd cum Falmouth some day soon but not to truble yorself if not.
yor loving mother Ida Goss.
“‘S from me ma. She wants me to go Falmouth. She says she’s…” He peers back at the letter, “got some trouble she wants to talk about,” and he reads the letter through again, as if it might give him some new meaning.
It is the first he has ever received. When Henry was in France and Italy last year he sent three postcards, brown and white views of gardens filled with palm trees and flowering shrubs, with brief messages speaking of the brilliant colours or the clear blue of the sea and sky and signed Your friend HST. These are propped on the mantle in the parlour, where they have creased and faded, and represent the only correspondence of Orion’s life. It had not even occurred to his mother – or to him – to send a note, or perhaps a card, at Christmas, which makes it all the clearer now that her ‘trouble’ must be serious.
“I’ll go Falmouth first thing. Lucky I got that bicycle,” he says.
He had felt obliged to call at the Pearces’ to see what news there was of the girl, Faith, only to find himself pitched into an emotional scene between Hettie, her daughter, Faith and a plain, sickly-looking young woman, clearly, even to a bachelor like Henry and despite her voluminous wrappings, close to her confinement; all of whom appeared to be in tears.
“It’s so cruel!” Miss Amy, pretty in white muslin with apricot bows, her blue eyes awash, rushed up to him as he came in. “Poor darling Faith has to go back to that dreadful house and live as a slave for the rest of her life. You must do something!”
“Be quiet Amy.” Hettie’s eyes, he noticed, were also damp but she held onto her dignity. “If you cannot behave you must…”
“My father is most disturbed!” She was interrupted by a wail from the other woman, whose tears rendered her still less becoming. “And I can’t imagine what my husband will say! I feel so ashamed.”
She broke into violent sobs, clutched Faith against her and shuddered alarmingly.
“ Please! Mrs… “ Hetty appeared not to know her visitor’s name. “Please do not distress yourself. It will do you no good – you or your…” Giving up on words she guided the young woman towards a chair. The girl Faith, drawn along with her, knelt down and hid her face among her skirts.
“I wonder, Henry…” Hetty, also kneeling, turned to look up at him, “ could you ask Sophy to bring some milk. Warmed, with honey,” she added, looking distractedly at the mound of dark clothing that spilled across her chair.
“It’s Miss Faith’s sister. Come to take her home.” The maid was obviously enjoying the drama. “Though she don’t look fit to travel to me.” Obviously remembering that she was talking to a gentleman, she giggled in embarrassment and poured milk into a saucepan.
“Will you take it in Sir?” she asked when bubbles had risen to the surface and she had transferred the milk into a flower-patterned cup but Henry had no desire to return to a scene of such emotional turmoil. Instead he settled himself in a wicker armchair in the hallway from where, between the delicate pink, stained-glass tulips which decorated the panels either side of the front door, he watched the winter sun strike light off the wild white horses out in the bay. From the drawing room the wail of female voices rose in counterpoint to the calls of the gulls whose shapes flickered occasionally past and, picking up the copy of The Times lying, unopened, on the table, he attempted to divert his attention
“It is so unfair! She has done nothing to deserve such a fate!”
Immersed in an account of the gales on the East Coast which had flooded Yarmouth and swept away the pier at Scarborough, Miss Amy’s sudden appearance startled him.
“Surely,” she pleaded, twisting her handkerchief in a melodramatic manner, “you can help. There must be something you can do!”
And what exactly, he wondered, giving up on Scarborough pier and re-folding the newspaper, was she expecting? That he should call out the girl’s ogre of a father? Or, more realistically, telephone him again at his place of work? And say what? The man had a perfect right to demand that his daughter should return home and the whole business was, as he kept telling himself, nothing to do with him.
“If her father wishes her to return home…” The wicker creaked as he turned to face the girl’s petulant expression. “ He is her father,” he tried again. “He has a right to expect…”
“He has no right to expect her to be a slave!” The girl’s eyes flashed and darkened and, if she did not stamp her foot, she gave the impression she might do so at any moment. Or possibly kick Henry in the shins. She would make some man, he thought, a turbulent but possibly thrilling wife. “Did you know, they have this huge house and just one maid, so that poor Faith has to clean floors and dust and wash clothes and when their horrible old cook leaves – which will be very soon – she will have to do all the cooking as well!”
“Is she really horrible?” Henry attempted, unsuccessfully, to divert her.
“They always have horrible cooks and they are always leaving and it is so unfair on poor Faith!”
“I am sure it is.” Henry was beginning to tire of the conversation.
“And it’s no good saying they must get another cook because Faith has tried and tried and there are none to be had. Or none who are willing to cook cabbages and parsnips and lentils all day.”
“Yes, well…” Henry, beginning to have some sympathy for the horrible old cooks, was glad to be interrupted by Hettie Pearce, who came out of the drawing room, closing the door quietly behind her.
“Mrs Earnshaw…” At least she had ascertained the woman’s name, “would like to go home. She will take Faith with her… Please don’t interrupt, Amy. She must have a cab, of course. I wonder, would you mind looking for one, Henry? There are generally several near the Falmouth hotel.”
As he put his hat and mackintosh back on, Henry heard Amy start, once again, to complain. It was with some relief that he went to obey his instructions
It was a hard ride along steep and twisted roads and he turned off at Maenporth and pushed the bike through the cliff-top fields to Pennance Point before cycling down past Henry’s cottage and onto the familiar path into Falmouth… Strange to pass the cottage and the studio building, where he and Henry had once worked together, but no point in stopping since Henry would be, as he always was at this time of year, in London. Stranger still to ride along the road past the swan pool and up the steep hill beside the cemetery. A road he had used so often when he worked in the market garden and lived at home with his mother and brother and in fear of them both and now he had a wife and his own garden to look after and this was the first time he had been back.
It was almost midday when he arrived at the cottage in Quarry Place and, going round to the back yard, he saw that his old flower bed had disappeared under weeds and mounds of abandoned rubbish, the only sign that this had ever been a garden being one brave daffodil whose shrivelled bud appeared unlikely to flower. A filthy child, born, presumably since he had left, crawled about the yard and his mother’s neighbour Mrs Richards came to her back door, flinging her slops over the flagstones and narrowly missing both Orion and the infant.
“Yer Ma’s at work,” she stated flatly, as though she had seen him hours, rather than two years since, and cursing himself for forgetting, he pushed his bike up the road to Mrs Trembath’s.
“Ida Goss don’ work ‘ere no more.” He didn’t recognise the haughty-looking girl with her hair piled high behind a lace cap who opened the back door. “Left some months back.”
And no, she said, with a look Orion did not entirely trust, she had no idea where she worked now.
“Ask the fish man,” she added – and slammed the door.
Which meant what? he wondered as he pushed the bike back to Quarry Place. Was his ma working in a fish shop? Could this be the ‘trouble’ she had mentioned?
Leaving the bike in the empty kitchen, he decided to walk up the town where he might meet someone more informative. He could also look in the fish shops…
But then, before he reached the first of these – Drages in Church Street – he heard his name called from the steps of the Subscription Rooms, a splendid building fronted with iron railings and six tapering pillars and not a place where he would have expected to see anyone he knew.
“Orion? Orion Goss. It is you!” the voice declaimed and Henry – who was in London, who was always in London at this time of the year – came bounding down the steps.
They went into the Pretoria Tea Rooms around the corner in Arwenack Street and up a steep, carpeted staircase. Orion had never been in such a place before and, seeing the elegantly-dressed ladies who sat around small tables chattering like the starlings who sometimes swooped on his garden, he would have turned back but Henry, ignoring the stares through hastily-raised lorgnettes, the sudden drop in the level of conversation and the offended expression on the face of the white-capped waitress, strode across to an empty table.
“Ham and eggs with some of your corn muffins,” he said loudly and without consulting the menu propped against a small vase of snowdrops in the centre. “Nonsense,” he added, as the waitress indicated that it was too late for luncheon, “We’re far too hungry to be satisfied by tiny cakes!” Waving his arm he indicated the tiered display on the table next to theirs. “We will, however, have a pot of tea. Indian, if you please and as strong as you can make it.”
Sitting back, he beamed around him and Orion, awkward as he felt, wanted to laugh as faces turned suddenly away and conversations re-started around the room.
Ham, eggs and muffins arrived, served by the proprietress in person – a severe and dignified lady in black, with a widow’s cap who nevertheless softened into smiles under Henry’s charm – so that Orion, who had not eaten all day, forgot to worry about handling his knife and fork with all those eyes watching him from beneath their intimidating hats and veils and ‘tucked in’ as he was bidden.
“So,” Henry wipes egg from his moustache. “What brings you to Falmouth? Visiting your mother, I suppose? I hope all is well with Mary,” he adds, and then lowers his eyes as he remembers the other matter they have to discuss.
“Yes.” Orion’s reluctance to speak, as so often, makes his reply ambiguous. “Ma wrote a letter…” He stops, his attention taken by the lady in voluminous black clothing whispering to her companion across the next table.
“A letter?” Henry knows Ida well enough to realise how unusual this is and waits as Orion pulls out a creased and grubby envelope. The large lady stares shamelessly as he passes the letter to Henry, who peers closely at it.
“She mentions some trouble.” He struggles with Ida’s scrawl. “So that’s why…” Noticing the woman’s curiosity, he turns towards her. “Would you like a closer view Madam?” he asks. “It is of some interest.”
Orion stares down at his knees as the woman lets out a gasp of horror. His breeches, he realises, are grimy and he hopes they have left no marks on the cushioned seat. And his boots, he suspects but dares not check, will have left muddy patches on the carpet.
Their neighbours toss heads, sniff and make great play of calling for their bill, searching for coins in their reticules and reaching for umbrellas. The words ‘Extraordinary’, ‘Uncouth’, ‘Such rudeness’, hiss like barbs across the room and Orion feels his face flame as Henry, unperturbed, hands back his letter.
“Have you spoken to her?” he asks and for a moment Orion wonders who he means. “Of course she will be at her work.” He pulls out his watch. “Shall we have some more tea then? What time is she likely to be home?”
But Orion, mute with embarrassment, can only shake his head. “I dunno,” he says. “But I’d like to go now, ‘f’you don’ mind.”
Sunday dinner at the Drages’ had been terrible. Worse, in fact, than Christmas day, when at least she had not known what was in Arnold’s mind. Now, having refused his offer of marriage – not that ‘offer’, which suggested that the marriage might be to her benefit, seemed the right word – and having had, so it seemed, her refusal ignored, she was at a loss how she should proceed.
She should not, she realised, have accepted the invitation but given as it was, almost in the form of a command when she was surrounded by chapel brothers and sisters, this was something easier imagined than achieved and when Arnold appeared at Morning Worship, moving across to sit wheezing beside her through the service, it was impossible to escape.
There were two other guests, Mr and Mrs Tompkins, stalwarts of the chapel, who ran a grocery shop in Church Street, and this time last year, Ida might have been proud to be included – over-boiled beef, limp cabbage, nut-hard potatoes and a suet pudding the consistency of lead notwithstanding – in such a gathering. To hear Ethel Drage and Mr Tompkins discussing the merits of different preachers on the circuit and the Tompkins’s account of their visit to Gwennap and the inspiration they had experienced, would have fascinated her had she not been constantly aware of Arnold’s attentions towards herself – and what these obviously suggested to the others.
Mrs Tompkins, a homely woman with strangely high-lifting eyebrows, who wore her hair pinned in a tight roll high above her forehead as if to emphasize this feature, let out an emotional sigh – as if she might have spotted a kitten or a particularly comely child – every time Arnold passed Ida the salt or helped her to vegetables. Mr Tompkins made heavy references to a recently-married, chapel couple and when Ethel announced that she had little interest in ‘kitchen affairs’ and would be ‘only too pleased’ to hand these over to someone else, it was impossible not to notice Mrs Tompkins’ brows rise further towards her hairline as she emitted another of her uncharacteristic sighs.
Worse, however, was to come. There were plans for a Revival at the end of April, with visiting preachers and street processions, and this was a topic of some discussion.
Ordinarily Ida would have enjoyed a Revival. She had always loved the thrill of such great occasions, of being part of an ecstatic throng, engulfed in waves of sound with the swell of the organ or the band or simply the joyous hymn-singing of several hundred folk. Not to mention the public commitments, when new converts or those who had strayed came forward and gave themselves to the Lord. Not that Ida would ever, could ever, do such a thing, wanting only to be a part of the whole and in no way to stand out but there was something frighteningly thrilling in witnessing other, braver, folk do what she did not dare.
But now, it seemed, anonymity was not allowed and, as the last cups of tea were drained and Arnold settled further into his chair in preparation for his post-prandial snooze, Mr Tompkins produced from a brown, leather case a sheaf of papers filled with columns of words and numbers in his tidy, shop-keeper’s script so that for a moment it seemed he must have brought his shop accounts with him.
Until his wife unfolded a separate list of names and put on a pair of wire-framed spectacles…
“I think we should each cover our own areas where possible,” she said, coming, as it were, to business. “Ethel, if you will do Greenbank and help Mrs Tregolls with Harbour Terrace, Mr James will cover Webber Street and High Street and Father and I will do Killigrew Street and Killigrew Road….”
In spite of the two cups of tea she had drunk, Ida felt her mouth grow dry. For Mrs Tompkins was speaking, she realised, of the visits that would be made in these roads in the weeks leading up to the Revival. Visits during which the brothers and sisters would encourage attendance at some of the planned events.
“….. thought you might manage Quarry Place and the lower half of Kimberley Park Road. Mr Ferris isn’t as spry as he was and it will be a god-send,” Mrs Tompkins gave a brief smile as if she had made a joke, “to have you as one of our group.” She looked directly at Ida across the room. “You will be able to manage that, Mrs Goss, will you not?”
But it was not really, Ida realised, a question.
“I don’ know. I’ve not ever… Besides,” Struggling to order her thoughts, she brought out the one argument she felt might hold weight. “I’m not ‘ome till late. I don’ ‘ave no time…”
“Neither do Father and I.” Mrs Tompkins’ eyebrows rose higher than ever, causing deep, horizontal folds to appear on her forehead. “Like you, we will go out in the evenings and on Sunday afternoons.”
“It is God’s work.” Ethel Drage spoke for the first time. “He will not mind us carrying it out on a Sunday.” As if this could be the only objection.
“But I’ve never done nothing like that. I dunno what I should say…” Appalled, Ida imagined herself knocking on Mrs Trembath’s door in Kimberley Park Road. Disturbing some social engagement or, worse, her Sunday afternoon nap. “I can’t possibly,” she said. “Not never.”
Mr Tompkins, who had been re-arranging his sheaves of papers, handed her a list.
“These are the houses we have allotted to you,” he said, as though she hadn’t spoken. “It will be best if you delay your visit until the two weeks before the Revival. The evenings will be lighter by then. The Lord will be with you,” he added, as though He might provide a lantern should the evenings not be quite light enough. “He will give you strength and put words into your mouth.”
A series of grunts from the armchair indicated that Arnold was waking. And perhaps he had not been completely asleep as he heaved himself upwards and announced that Ida need not worry.
“I’ll come with ‘ee,” he wheezed. “Always more pleasant when there’s two.”
‘Pleasant’, Ida thought, staring at the list of thirty three houses Mr Tompkins had given her, was not the word she would have chosen as she imagined herself and Arnold toiling up pathways and steps, knocking on doors, asking for the lady, or gentleman of the house and saying…
What in the world, she wondered, would they say?
The fact that the Lord would also be with them was of very little comfort.
It was on the Monday morning, after tossing in bed all night, that Ida wrote her letter to Orion. She had no idea how he could help her but could think of no-one else.
He has rented for the past two years a small building at the end of Customs House Quay, which he uses as a store and, in poor weather, a viewpoint for painting the harbour.
It will be the best place for the conversation that, following their surprise meeting, he must have with the boy. The little building smells of the tarpaulins Charlie Mitchell stores there, of size and turpentine and general mustiness from lack of air but it is dry and sheltered and they will at least have privacy.
Outside, although it is not yet five o’clock, it is already quite dark. The harbour water is black beneath a grey sky; the few boats still out at this time of year move sluggishly at their moorings; a quay punt pitches against the waves heading round from Trefusis Point, its mast light bobbing wildly; a three-master, lit along the bows, lies moored more quietly in the Carrick Roads.
And Orion waits patiently behind him, saying nothing.
“About the painting.” There is no point in introducing the subject with subtlety. “The painting you requested last time I visited you…” he adds as the boy remains silent. “Of your child… I have given it a great deal of thought and I’m afraid…”
Lost in his attempts to say what he means clearly but with sensitivity, Henry does not notice at first that Orion has spoken. Still staring out, eyes fixed on the punt as it rounds the end of the quay and enters the inner harbour, he attempts to find the right words.
“When I thought about the idea a little more, I felt it was not…”
“I said it’s all right.” Orion raises his voice so that the words emerge as a shout. “It don’ matter,” he says more quietly as Henry turns in surprise and, looking away, he stares, through the dim light of the oil lamp on a wooden crate beside him, towards a heap of tarpaulins topped with a coil of heavy rope.
“I don’ mean,” he plods on as Henry remains uncharacteristically silent. “that ‘e don’ matter. I mean…” He stops, puzzled as to what he does mean, and then, daring to look back at Henry, “I mean it’s all right. I don’ need you to paint no picture. Mary an’ me, we can talk about ‘im now and that…” He pauses again. “That ‘elps,” he says quietly.”
He stares down at the floor as Henry lets out breath he has not realised he has been holding.
“That’s… good,” he says. Hoping that it is. “That’s very good.”
And then, as if this is something they have already discussed.
“So, let us go and see your mother and find out what her trouble is.”
In his relief at losing the burden he has carried for weeks, he feels he can solve anything.
She stayed just one night with Elsie and William and was relieved when Cyril arrived to take her home the following afternoon.
For her sister had changed almost past recognition.
Her face, which had been pleasant, if not pretty, had swollen to an unbecoming plumpness, her fingers stuck out like stubby white parsnips and it was hard for Faith to shift her eyes from the great mass of stomach that, when Elsie flopped into her armchair, bulged outwards under her black dress as if it might meet up with her chin.
Surely one baby could not take up so much room? And she found herself imagining it with William’s pink, flabby face and pink, flabby hands and the reddish hair, so thin as to be almost invisible, that grew across the top of his pink head. It would be her nephew, or niece, she thought, with something close to a shudder and she hoped she would be able to love it.
But it was not just her sister’s body that had changed in the past months. She had always been a quiet, dutiful person – the type of person Faith wished, in her better moments, she could be herself – but she seemed now to be wholly absorbed in concerns for William – and for what he might think.
Faith must not tell him, she insisted, unless asked directly, where the Pearces lived. Certainly she must not mention Elsie’s exhaustion when she had arrived there.
“And on no account mention the… gentleman who was with Mrs Pearce.” Leaning her head against the back of her chair, she held her crossed hands across the disturbing mound of her belly. “That is most important.”
“Not mention Mr Tuke? When he was so kind? He must have walked some distance to find us a cab. And he paid for it.”
“William would not like it.” Elsie spoke with her eyes closed. “He is not someone he would wish me to associate with – especially in my condition.” Her crossed hands lifted slightly as she spoke and Faith, fascinated, wondered if the child had heard the reference to itself. Or perhaps – she remembered an alarming description she had once read in one of her mother’s library books – it was trying to get out…
Oh please not that, she thought. For the novel had mentioned screams of agony tearing the air, the mother’s convulsions, maids running upstairs with basins of boiling water… And it would be her fault. In the novel the mother’s collapse had occurred after she had gone riding on an elderly, gentle-mannered horse. Surely Elsie’s rush from Florence Terrace to Gyllyngvase and their jolting ride back in the cab might have a similar effect?
“You should have given the matter more thought.” Elsie might have been reading her mind. “I can’t imagine what came over you. William will be horrified.”
The thought of William being horrified was less worrying than the prospect of racing upstairs with basins of boiling water – and what would she be expected to do with them when she got them there? – but she assured her sister that she would not mention Mr Tuke, although William, when he returned from business, seemed more irritated than horrified. Elsie should not have gone out, he announced, standing, pink-faced and stocky in the centre of the room and ignoring Faith. She should have left him to deal with her father’s telegram when he came home.
“I could have fetched her then,” he said. “There was no need to fuss.”
But it would have been impolite to Mrs Pearce, Faith expected her sister to say, not to indicate that anyone would be coming. And would William, who had just said that he was exhausted, have really wanted to go straight out again? But,
“Yes William,” Elsie said meekly. “I should have done that. Betty has taken water to your room, if you would like to wash before supper,” she added in a hopeful tone of voice.
Supper was a miserable meal – a thin soup tasting of nothing which, having been brought to the table before the lengthy silent grace, was barely lukewarm by the time they ate it, was followed by a macaroni bake and then an apple tart with dark brown, rock hard pastry.
William preferred her not to work in the kitchen, Elsie said, breaking the silence which had lasted through the meal.
“But your pastry is so light and lovely! ” Faith could not help but exclaim. “Whenever Mrs Badcock makes a pie I remember how much better yours were.” And then, since her sister seemed to have forgotten what this was all about, “You do know she has given her notice? And I’ve tried and tried to find someone to replace her but…”
“Thank you sister. We maintain the silence during meals, except for matters of real importance.” William, cutting, with some effort, into his tart, spoke without looking at her.
But this was of real importance, she wanted to tell him. What, if there was no-one to cook for them, was she supposed to do?
“Be thankful, Faith, for what we have been given.”
Elsie, at the bottom of the table, put up her hand as a bar to further comment and the meal continued. In silence.
“What can I do, if we can find no-one to replace Mrs Badcock? It was hopeless when Edna Davey left us and now the situation is even worse. Alice Pasco says many women prefer to work in offices or shops or even factories these days. And houses like Tolvean and The Elms and Penventon offer better conditions – and better wages – than we do. Besides, cooks do not like preparing the sort of food…”
She stopped speaking, aware that Elsie was not listening to her, although she had waited until William had left for business and they were in the little sitting room where Elsie took up the woolen cap she was knitting for the baby. But she must explain why she had come. And remind Elsie of Mama’s poor health – about which, she realised, neither she nor William had yet enquired.
“Mama is still ill,” she insisted. “She keeps to her room and hardly eats. Doctor Henderson thinks it is a disease of the mind and….”
“William does not wish me to be disturbed.” Her sister spoke as if her thoughts came from some far-away place. “It is not good for a woman in my condition to be upset.”
“But what am I to do?” In her agitation Faith jumped to her feet. “Father says we must pray and I have but it makes no difference and I cannot see how I can cook our meals, when there is only Agnes and I have so many other things to do.
“And I do so want to go back to school!” she ended, failing to hold back her tears. “I don’t want to spend my life cooking and cleaning and doing…”
“We must do the work to which God has called us.” Even through her sobs she could hear that her sister’s voice showed no compassion. “These hysterical outbursts achieve nothing.”
Rubbing her nose on her sleeve, Faith stared through her tears to where Elsie sat within her voluminous clothing, eyes fixed on some complexity in her knitting.
“You should not have come.” She could have been talking to herself. “William is most displeased.”
“Are you quite well Mrs Goss? You seem… out of sorts.”
It was unlike Mrs Opie to notice how anyone else was feeling – other, that was, than ‘her boys’, whose slightest sniffle was greeted with prescriptions of mustard foot baths, flannel bandages to the neck and doses of Dover’s powder to encourage perspiration.
“Is something worrying you?” she continued, so that Ida, so worried that she had hardly slept for three nights, came close to admitting that something was. Except that, had she explained her problems to Mrs Opie – assuming that lady’s concern had lasted long enough for her to do so – she would, almost certainly, have dismissed them. ‘Tell the man to leave you alone,’ she would have said. She might even have said they would change their fishmonger – there were plenty to choose from. And that she should have no more to do with ‘those praying Methodies’. What was wrong, she might have asked, with the Parish Church?
But the thought of not going to chapel of a Sunday… The thought of refusing to do what any true believer would do… That an Elder of the chapel expected of her… Ida’s heart – and legs – quivered at the very idea. And so,
“I’m quite well thank ‘ee Ma’am,” she replied and listened meekly to the suggestion of leek soup, lamb cutlets and cabinet pudding for the evening’s dinner. After which Mrs Opie went to telephone the butcher and Ida sat down to continue to worry.
She reached home just after seven, having seen the cutlets with their attendant vegetables, on their way to the dining room, leaving the pudding and jug of custard to keep warm in the cooling stove for Mrs Opie to collect. She would be in plenty of time, she thought despairingly, for the Chapel Bright Hour – her tin of scones was waiting on the kitchen table…
Pushing open the front door, she was alarmed to see at the end of the passage a glow from the kitchen, to hear the sound of male voices and, as the door banged shut behind her, the scraping of a chair against the flagstones.
“That you Ma?” a voice called, a voice that, hand on her chest to still the panic inside, she recognised…
“Orion? What you doin’ ‘ere?” And, forgetting the letter she had sent him, she hurried forward – to see, in the light of her back kitchen, the tall figure of Mr Tuke the artist rising from her chair.
“I’m afraid we’ve made light work of your delicious scones, Mrs Goss.” His dark eyes smiled with a disturbing friendliness. “I do apologise but they were irresistible.”
It was confusing to find her kitchen so apparently full. Still more confusing to be made to sit down in her own chair, to be given a cup of tea from her own pot and offered one of her two remaining scones. And then,
“You mentioned some trouble you wanted to discuss.” Henry, perched uncomfortably on the only other chair, has waited for Orion to speak but he is prowling in silence about the shadowy room and appears to have lost his tongue. “We met in town, by accident,” he feels compelled to explain, “and Orion showed me your letter. I hope you don’t mind?”
“No.” Ida clutches at her tea cup. “I don’ mind.” Out in the back yard a child lets out a piercing shriek as if it is being murdered. “Take no notice,” she says, as the artist looks startled. “They don’t never stop with their noise.”
And then, as if it has all suddenly become too much – exhaustion, screaming children, the nightmare persistence of the Drages which has turned the sanctuary of her chapel into a place of fear – she lets out such a sigh that her whole body might be deflating and, head drooping forwards onto her bosom, starts, uncontrollably, to weep.
Her cup, still clutched in her hand, spills its tea across the table.
Orion gapes in horror, never having seen his mother give way before. Henry, who has had enough in the past few days of weeping women, leans against the doorpost and glares outwards.
The shadowy figures of the children continue to dart, still screeching, about the yard.
Later they are seated, all three of them, in the front parlour. Ida, face and neck stained crimson from her outburst and her subsequent confession of her ‘trouble’, slumps, exhausted, in the arm chair. Henry and Orion sit, awkwardly, side by side on the couch.
And Henry says much what Ida had imagined Mrs Opie saying some hours earlier.
“You must not allow yourself to be bullied, my dear Mrs Goss,” he tells her. “This is outrageous behaviour. You must tell this man – and his sister and her friends – to leave you alone.”
But this, it is obvious from her expression, is not something she can even contemplate.
“Has it ever occurred to you…” He speaks slowly, a thought forming in the back of his mind but it is impossible to think clearly on this uncomfortable, overstuffed couch and he jumps to his feet. “Has it ever occurred to you,” he begins again, moving to the window, then turning to look back, “to move away from Falmouth? To go back to Redruth, perhaps? Orion says that is where you grew up?”
Orion and Ida gape at him in astonishment.
Papa had barely spoken since her return. Mama, on the other hand, had had a great deal to say. What could she have been thinking of, leaving her to the mercies of Mrs Badcock and that churlish Agnes? As usual, she thought of no-one but herself, her mother ended and, turning her head aside on the pillow, pushed away the smelling salts she had requested just minutes before.
Which was very true, Faith thought, sitting on her bench in Meeting for Worship on Sunday. She found it almost impossible to think of anyone but herself and the unhappiness that was her life, even here, surrounded by silent Friends whose closed eyes and calm expressions suggested an inner peace which she could not come near.
“You haven’t forgotten those poor children?” Alice Pasco had asked her only yesterday. “I visited Mrs Uren and she said she hadn’t seen you for some weeks. I had hoped you would have taken them some comforts.”
And she had no idea how she could answer her. What words she possibly find to explain to someone so good why she could never go to that house again? To explain that she dared not even venture into Penryn Street, for fear of meeting that man?
The sun, as they came out through the double doors of the Meeting House, shone with a bleak, pale light on the winter grass and the grey stone walls surrounding the garden and Faith trailed after her father as he walked with Joseph Truscott, who had recently lost his wife to tuberculosis. Her last days, the old man said in his quavering voice, had been very peaceful, as if she were looking forward to the rest that was to come. She was a faithful Friend, Papa said, and, looking past him, Faith saw another man appear in the gateway. A tall man with dark hair and a dark moustache, who wore a tweed suit, the waistcoat buttoned up to his dark red tie, and a tweed cap on his head. In the sunshine he stood out against the black-clad Quaker men who fell silent at his approach.
Her exclamation was involuntary and her father and Joseph Truscott turned in surprise.
The artist smiled, put his hand to his cap and then, obviously remembering that Quakers removed their hats to no-one but God – let alone a girl of fourteen – took it away again.
Everyone – Father, Joseph Truscott and the small group of Friends also leaving the Meeting House – stood silent.
“Father…” Faith, had no idea how – or, indeed, whether – she should make the introduction but her gesture made it clear which man was her father and the artist moved forward, putting out his hand.
“Henry Tuke,” he announced and Faith was aware of a frisson of interest among
the surrounding Friends. “We spoke on the telephone during the week.”
Papa inclined his head but said nothing and did not take the offered hand. The reminder of the reason for that conversation was not was not, Faith realised, going to endear him to Papa.
“And my great friend Charles Fox has spoken of you as an Elder of this Meeting.”
This was not true – he and Charles never discussed Quaker matters and Charles had never spoken of William Vigo but perhaps the God in whom he did not believe had put into his head the words that might make this cross-looking, little man – the ‘ogre’ of Amy Pearce’s description – unbend at least a little.
“I was hoping I might have a private word with you,” he went on. Friends believed, after all, that there was that of God in everyone. Presumably even a man like himself. “Might I call on you this afternoon?” he asked. “I have driven from Falmouth in the hope of doing so.”
It was a fine house, he thought, as they stopped outside the large, square house above a sloping lawn on one of Redruth’s newest and finest streets. And although the room into which he was shown was not finely furnished it was comfortable enough and there was a fire in the tiled fireplace which removed a little of the chill.
He was still surprised – as obviously was the girl Faith, who had sat silently behind them in the trap – that her father had not only agreed to his calling but suggested they might go with him now. Perhaps, he thought, as the man removed his dark hat and overcoat and stood regarding him, he simply wanted to get this tedious business, whatever it was, out of the way.
“I am sorry to intrude in this way.” It is difficult to get started when the other man gives no encouragement. “But I was hoping you may be able to be of some help to a friend of mine. A woman of mature years,” he adds quickly, “who comes originally from Redruth and, following the death of her husband, would like to return here.”
He pauses. William Vigo continues to regard him with hard, grey eyes but says nothing. The girl, who has slipped into the room behind her father, looks confused.
“She is a good woman – a Wesleyan Methodist, who has not had an easy life but has always worked hard and cheerfully but now finds herself alone…”
“There is a strong, Wesleyan congregation in Redruth. Why does she not apply to them for assistance?”
The obvious point and the one Henry has been afraid of.
“She – her name is Ida Goss – is a quiet… a diffident woman. She is being put under some pressure by members of her chapel to marry one of their number. She is afraid that if word should get around the circuit that she wishes to move there would be some… difficulty.”
William Vigo looks, not surprisingly, unconvinced. He has remained standing, which means that Henry must do the same, although this at least gives him the advantage of height.
“She is anxious to move back here…” He presses on in spite of the discouraging atmosphere. “But, being alone and of limited means, she has no idea where she can go. This is why I hoped you – or other Friends – might be able to help. She will be looking for a situation as a cook-housekeeper and would need, certainly at first, to live in…”
“Papa!” William Vigo frowns, smelling, Henry suspects, a rat, but his daughter leaps forward, beaming, and grasps his arm. “Surely,” she cries, “this is the answer to our prayers!”
Mama was downstairs! Even now, dressed in her deep brown satin skirt and with her best lace collar on her blouse, she was taking tea with five other ladies in the drawing room. Both the blouse and the skirt, admittedly, had needed taking in, she had become so thin in recent months, but Connie was good with her needle and her efforts had encouraged Mama firstly to leave her bed and then to venture downstairs.
“What she needs is something to look forward to. An interest in life,” Connie had said to Faith last week. “Not all these powders and potions. She needs a bit of fun.”
Fun was not readily available in Clinton Road but Connie, hearing about Mama’s Thursday Afternoons, had arranged today’s tea-party for which Ida Goss, had baked three different kinds of cake and some delicious raspberry buns as well as a dish of hot buttered scones. The raspberry buns, Agnes had reported when she went in to refill the tea pot, had been particularly praised.
“That were always a favourite with Mrs Trembath, I used to work for,” Ida had replied. “Until she turned to shop-bought fancies,” she added darkly and went on rolling the pastry for tonight’s supper – a leek and potato pie that bore no resemblance to the solid, tasteless dish of the same name that Mrs Badcock was probably even now serving in her sister-in-law’s cafe.
“That was a delicious tea, Mrs Goss.” More astonishment! Mama, instead of retiring to her room as her guests left, had come into the kitchen. “My friends were most complimentary. Mrs Pollard is already looking forward to next Thursday.”
“I d’love to bake, Ma’am.” Ida, red-faced from her exertions with the rolling pin, blushed more crimson still. “Especially when it’s appreciated. Will ‘ee be staying downstairs for dinner? There’s some nice bottled blackcurrants in the larder. I was thinking of making a tart…”
Last week, Faith remembered, when Connie and Ida had been discussing how they might tempt Mama from her bedroom, they had asked what were her mother’s favourite dishes. A difficult question when it was so long since Mama had taken anything but slops but she had remembered blackcurrant tart…
As Mama paused, considered the matter and then said that perhaps she would stay downstairs, Faith noticed the look of satisfaction on Ida’s face.
“Very well Ma’am,” was all she said.
If Papa was surprised to see three places at the table, he concealed it but when Mama came into the dining room, having changed into the navy satin gown which Connie had also altered for her new shape, his lips turned upwards under his bristling moustache and his eyes had a brightness that Faith had not seen for months. The silent grace, she also noticed, did not last quite as long as it had done recently and, as they drank their onion soup and Mama started to give an account of a concert one of her guests had attended, given by the Redruth Choral Society, Papa seemed to give her his full attention.
“Would you care to attend such a performance on another occasion?” he asked, putting down his soup spoon. “If it would give you pleasure, I can see no harm…”
Faith felt her eyes widen in astonishment.
Perhaps she had been wrong to lose faith in the power of prayer.
Out in the kitchen Ida drew her tart from the oven. The pastry was golden and the blackcurrants gleamed invitingly as she set it aside to cool. After the meal – and the supper she and Agnes would share at the kitchen table – it would be a pleasure to sit here, in the warmth of the kitchen, to look at yesterday’s West Briton and spend time with her recipe book, planning for the next week.
Already she loved this house. Her room on the attic floor was plain but sufficient, with a comfortable bed, an armchair beside the dormer window through which she had a view across to Carn Brea, a chest of drawers, wash stand and a small work table. The kitchen was light and airy during the day and warm and cosy in the evenings, with no draughts and no screaming children in the yard outside. Even the privy in the yard was kept spotless by Cyril.
Above all she no longer needed to worry about Arnold and Edith Drage. The Redruth Wesleyans had welcomed her back four Sundays before and she had already helped at an Old Folks Tea Treat and had met many old friends.
The move about which she had lain awake worrying had turned out, with Mr Tuke’s help, to be so much easier than she had feared and she had not regretted it for one moment.
He was back for the summer, after a brief trip to London to work on two portraits postponed at such short notice back in January. Now, having helped with arrangements for Ida Goss’s few belongings to be carried by haulier to Redruth and spending a day driving Orion and Mary to visit her in her new home, he was free to get on with his work.
He spent several days on studies of Harry Cleave, mostly on Newporth beach, much amused by the fact that, having said he would ‘rather not sit’ after being carried away by the Wesleyan revival the previous week, the boy appeared to have changed his mind and ‘sat’ quite willingly.
He also sold several sketches and was feeling in general quite pleased with himself…
Except that, meeting Hettie Pearson for the first time since the extraordinary events at the beginning of the year as he walked home one afternoon, he was reminded of one other piece of unfinished business.
“I think it is not to me that you need to apologise,” Hetty had been saying when they were interrupted by the arrival of the distraught girl, and her words had returned, usually if the wind woke him in the night, ever since. Should he have written to Pamela – some sort of explanation for his sudden departure? But what explanation could he possibly give? And, perhaps more significantly, why?
It was not as though there was any agreement between them. He had taken her sailing with her sons; he had visited her home, taken her to the theatre and escorted her to the Carnousties’ dinner. He had also attended a party at her house but at no point had he made any sort of declaration or suggestion of any depth of feeling on his part.
Exactly what should he apologise for?
And yet he had to admit, in those dark, waking hours that there had been something…
There had been a friendship between them – a warm friendship such as he had enjoyed for some years with May Bull – but he had been oblivious to – or had, perhaps, ignored – the difficulties of Pamela Graves’ situation. A widow with two adolescent sons in need of a father’s guidance… A woman frustrated by the lack of opportunities open to her in a male-dominated society… He should have recognised that such a woman might well have misinterpreted his intentions.
“Mr Tuke… Henry.” Hetty Pearson obviously remembered the support he had given back in January. She might also know that he had, somewhat surprisingly, solved, at least for the foreseeable future, the problem of little Faith Vigo and her horrible cooks.
On the other hand she must still remember the hurt he had caused her beloved sister.
“Mrs Pearson. Hetty?” Bending over her hand, he is unable to avoid the interrogative. “You are well, I hope? And your family?”
“Very well thank you.” He has left a dark mark, her realises, on her glove – the result of inefficient hand-washing in a bowl of seawater. “Amy is back at school, of course, and the boys are driving me distracted at home.”
Henry remembers the little boys, the games of cricket and the rough and tumbles in the Pearsons’ garden and regrets that he is unlikely to be invited again.
“They are lively boys,” he comments a little aimlessly. “I’m glad they are in good health.”
“My sister, unfortunately, has not been.”
The sun, against which Hetty had raised her pale green, fringed parasol, has disappeared behind a long drift of cloud and she makes something of a performance of re-fastening it. Henry lowers his roll of paper, which has become quite heavy, onto the pavement. His mouth, he notices, is rather dry.
“She suffered a severe attack of influenza back in February. For a while we were afraid for her life but she recovered.”
“I’m so glad to hear it.” Henry moistens his lips and swallows.But influenza, he is thinking, is an infection; not an illness brought on, surely, by grief or disappointment?
“She is staying with us to convalesce.”
She pauses and Henry, uncertain what he can say next, stares up Arwenack Street towards Church Corner where several delivery boys, one with a wicker basket perched, somewhat precariously, on his head, jostle for space with laden carts and the much speedier Royal Mail cart. Ladies do their best to keep their skirt hems from the dust of the roadway. Others chat or look in shop windows. A cab with a bowler-hatted driver adds to the congestion.
“Would it,” Openness, Henry decides, is the best policy, “be a good or a bad thing if I visited?” He moves further onto the pavement to avoid the cab. “I would not wish to further distress a friend.”
Hetty Pearson regards him with appraising eyes, glances upwards as a ray of sunshine finds its way through the drifting cloud and appears to reach a decision.
“You might call one afternoon,” she says. “Tomorrow perhaps. I will tell Pamela you may be expected.”
And Pamela, he thinks, can decide whether or not she is at home. Raising his cap and bowing as an alternative to further soiling Hetty’s glove, he lifts his roll of paper and they wish each other good day.
The next afternoon is bright with a cool but slight breeze. Perfect for painting and a new four-master has come into harbour overnight but will have to wait. As he strides up the pathway to the Pearsons’ front door with an air of confidence he is not actually feeling he sees the two women standing, apparently deep in discussion, at the back of the conservatory. It would be extraordinarily rude if Pamela, knowing he must have seen her, should say she is not at home but perhaps no less than he deserves and he pulls with some energy at the bell.
Rather to his surprise he sees them look up and hurry into the hallway.
“Henry!” It is Hetty who spoke but both women have broad smiles on their faces. “Do come in. We have just had the most wonderful news! Sophy,” to the maid, whom she has beaten to the front door, “fetch tea at once please. With the fresh cherry cake, not the stale madeira!
“This letter has just come. From Faith Vigo; you remember her?”
Henry nods. How could he have forgotten?
“And she is returning to school!” This time it is Pamela Graves who speaks and Henry turns towards her. She looks thinner in the face – perhaps a little older and certainly much paler than when they last met – but she continues to smile and is obviously as thrilled as her sister. “This week, apparently. We are so delighted for her.”
“And we have you to thank, Henry. This is all your doing!”
“My doing?” Henry, who has not seen the girl since his visit to her home four months ago, cannot imagine what they mean. Still gripping his hat and cane – he has dressed with care for his visit – he sits down, uninvited, on the nearest sofa and waits for an explanation.
“It is that lovely woman; Mrs Goss, the cook-housekeeper you recommended to Mr Vigo.” Hetty glances at the letter she still holds in her hand. “She has, according to Faith, worked absolute wonders. She cooks like an angel, runs the house with the greatest efficiency and, with the help of some nurse they have for Mrs Vigo, has persuaded her to leave her bed and resume her household duties…
“Which means that dear, little Faith is able to return to school, which is what she has always wanted.”
“I am delighted.” Tea, including the fresh cherry cake, is over, Henry has read Faith’s excited letter, including its praise of himself, Hetty has gone to the nursery to deal with some crisis and he and Pamela are alone. “But I do not deserve the credit.”
“Perhaps not all of it.” Her eyes, since her illness, seem larger and more blue than ever. He would, her realises, very much like to paint her but this will not be a possibility. “But you took action and this is the result, if an unintended one.”
“Life is full, it seems, of unintended results.” For there are still things he needs to say and the fact that Hetty has left them alone suggests that this is his chance. “I have been guilty, I’m afraid, and unintentionally, of causing you some hurt and I am truly sorry for this.”
The blue eyes remain fixed, a little unnervingly, on his but as he waits they shift their gaze to a painting above the fireplace. (A not particularly well-executed landscape with fir trees, he cannot help but notice, and wonders if he might dare present his friends with a replacement.)
“I was hurt, yes.” She speaks slowly and thoughtfully. “That someone I thought of as a good friend should disappear so suddenly and without a word. It was upsetting and a little humiliating but…” as Henry tries to speak, “I know some of the fault was mine. After last summer and then our increasingly friendship over Christmas I had started to make… certain assumptions and that was wrong of me.” Once again she holds up a hand to stop him from speaking. “And unworthy of me,” she says, “as someone who prides herself on her independence.”
She stops but Henry, moved by her declaration, finds it impossible now to speak.
“I do hope,” she says, realising this, “that we can still remain friends. I know Archie and Frank would want it.”
“As would I,” he manages at last. “I value your friendship very highly.”
There are other things to be said but this, for now, is enough.
“ In pairs now girls. Form your crocodile and no talking.”
Which was simply not possible when it was so exciting to be back; when Amy was already whispering about the two seniors at the boys’ school who always managed to be at the bottom of Lemon Street when they passed in the morning. One of whom had the most beautiful curly black hair…
And last night, her first night back, she had lain in bed in the dormitory, surrounded by the whispers and muffled giggles of her friends, and knew that now, safely back among them, she might even put from her mind that horrible afternoon in the Urens’ kitchen. What had happened had not been her fault, she was sure of this now and she did not need to feel guilty. If she was asked to visit again, she resolved, she would say that Mr Uren had frightened her and no-one would expect her to go. And, with so many new things to think about, it would, surely, be easier to shut out the memory of what had happened.
“You have done your best these past months,” Papa had said at supper, only three days ago. “You have worked hard and without complaint…” Which was not true but she was glad he thought this. “Since your Mama’s health is so much improved and now that we are blessed with Ida Goss, I am content, if it is still your wish, for you to return to school”
He glanced across the table to his wife and Faith had followed his gaze, hoping, she realised, for some acknowledgement of her deserts. But Maud Vigo looked only at the letter they had received that morning. The letter she had hardly let go of since.
George, it announced, was coming home. Pittsburg, he had decided, was not a place where he could settle and although John would be remaining – was building, in fact, a fine house for the family he hoped to have – George would be sailing from New York at the beginning of the next month. Her mother, Faith realised, did not care what happened to her, so long as one of her boys was returning home – but she was to return to school and, for now, this was all that mattered.
Epilogue. March 1906
There was a new grocery and florists opening in what had been called Jenkins Ope when she was a girl. Now it was named Alma Place after one of the battles in the Crimea and was a busy street, containing the Mining Exchange and the Alma Hotel as well as other businesses. This one would be a rival, if only a small one, for Trounson’s huge store on the Fore Street corner and Ida, with an interest in anything new, intended going in once it opened to see if it was worth patronising. The Vigos’ shopping order, now that Mrs Vigo entertained more and with Mr George at home, would be valuable to a new business and Ida could not help but feel some little sense of her own power in this matter.
Passing on Friday morning she saw that work on new counters and display shelves was almost completed, broken downpipes replaced, the carved metal window frames stripped and repainted dark green and Arnold Dungey was about to start work on the sign above the door. By the time she had finished her errands it might be possible to see what name was going there.
“Ida? Ida Roskear?” A deep voice from the darkness inside. “Tha’s surely not you?”
Reminded of her meeting, months before, with Sidney Beith she peered suspiciously through the doorway to make out a big man, broad-shouldered, broad-stomached and brown-overalled, around her age but with a head of curly black hair specked with grey. He was carrying a curtain rod, hung with dark green velour – the backdrop, she supposed, for the flowers or fruit he would be displaying in his window – and for a moment this was all she could think.
“It is you!” he bellowed, dropping the rod so that green material spread over the bare and dusty floorboards. “ After all these years! You don’ know how often I’ve thought about ‘ee.”
So why, she might have asked, had he not written? But writing was hard work and he had been a young man and thousands of miles away. And there would, perhaps, be time later for these questions and all the others…
For now, for Friday morning shoppers in Alma Place, there was just the astonishing sight of William Vigo’s respectable cook-housekeeper clutched in the arms of a man a few might remember as Ivan Hart – not killed, as rumoured, in a fight in South Africa but recently returned, a widower with funds enough to take over a smallholding off Green Lane and this pretty, newly-fitted shop where his produce could be sold.
“You’ll never guess what I saw down town this morning,” several wives told their husbands over the lunch table an hour or so later. And not one of them could.