Uncertainties of Love and Hope Chapter 11.

 

Orion

He has left Mary to walk home alone in the last of the light that fades, with the year, earlier each afternoon.

This time last year he would have worked while the light lasted and then set out to meet her. Not because she was afraid – there was nothing and no-one for her to fear – but for the pleasure of her company. The pleasure of walking with her in the twilight. Of hearing the drowsy squeaks and squawks of nesting birds, the idle, overhead calls of soaring gulls, the scufflings of animals setting out to hunt or settling for the night. Sounds overlaid by the background noises of the sea, the folding-over of waves against the shingle, the splash of surf against the rocks, the gurgle of movements in the gullies or, on wilder nights, the crash and roar that drowned out those other sounds and drove the pair of them towards the warmth and shelter of their cottage.

This year is different. This year Mary walks home, every day, on her own, no matter how late, or dark or wet it might be and Orion does not, it seems, notice whether she is there or not.

Orion, who retreats instead as the light fades into his upstairs room where he lights his candles and draws, as Henry has instructed him, what he sees around him.

Draws… the edge of the table, scratched and stained but with the grain of the wood still visible, with the roughly-sharpened point of a pencil laid across it. The web of a spider, decorated with minute flies, caught by the candlelight in the corner of the room as it shifts in the draught from the window. The hooded iron fireplace with its pattern of twisted leaves …

And now the child is not there.

Perhaps, because Henry has promised to paint him and will do so far better than Orion can ever do, he has retreated back into the shadows and Orion is, for the moment at least, free.

 

“Supper’s done.”

Immersed in his work he has not heard Mary return until she calls. Nor has he realised how much time has passed, although, apart from a last remaining streak of gold above the western hillside, it is almost completely dark outside and one of his two candles, burnt to a stump, gives out more smoke than light.

The smell of Mary’s stew, however, catches at his nostrils as he opens the door at the foot of the stairs and reminds him that he is hungry.

“Tha’ smells proper.”

He speaks to her back as she stands stirring the pan and she doesn’t answer.

It is the same stew as last night’s – swede and potato with a few grains of barley and made with a boiled knuckle of bacon from Mrs Roscrow, who has realised without being told that they are in difficulties, and they eat in a silence broken only by the hiss and spitting of logs in the hearth.

When they have finished she brings in a rolled suet pudding, stuffed with slices of the small green apples from the tree in the lane and too sour to be enjoyed. It is, however, filling and, although Mary eats little, Orion eats with what enthusiasm he can manage.

He has had, throughout the meal, a feeling inside him that he is unable at first to recognise. A tension that starts in his chest and works itself down to settle in his stomach where it remains, along with the weight of the swede, the potato and the suet crust.

It is not until he breaks the silence by thanking Mary for the meal that he remembers where and when he has felt it before.

It was at home, in Quarry Place, when his mother was in one of her black moods.

Ida was always noisy, he remembers, when she was angry, slamming the kettle onto the range, thumping at pastry as if it had insulted her, crashing pans with loud exclamations so that the house was filled with her violence. Mary, however, is not one to clatter pans or raise her voice, but something about her this evening disturbs him; something about which, as with his mother, he dare not ask.

Moving to his chair beside the fire, which burns sullenly from the damp wood scavenged from the shore and which has not had time to dry out, he wishes, all the same, that he might dare – or might find some way of making things better.

Mary, scouring dirty dishes and putting them to drain, stares into the darkness of the yard and the stars rising over the darker shapes of the outhouses and remembers her work with Mrs Roscrow this morning, picking over bowls of currants and raisins and putting them to soak in a mix of tea and brandy, ready for tomorrow’s making of the puddings. Not for this Christmas – those have been stacked for months in the outside pantry – but for Christmas of next year. Also in the pantry is the fine goose, slaughtered yesterday, in addition to which Mrs Roscrow has spoken of a raised pie, a ham and a brace of woodcock…

While she and Orion, Mary wonders, will eat what? Yet more swede and potato stew or a couple of pasties made from potato and herbs?

Or should they kill one of the chickens who have almost, with the cold weather, stopped laying? In which case there will be fewer eggs than ever next year.

This time last year, she thinks, wringing her cloth into the sink, Orion sold leeks and winter cabbages at market and brought home a leg of pork and dried fruit and nuts for a cake. This time last year they had a cosy Christmas, just the two of them, which was the way they wanted it.

This year she has no idea what either of them wants.

 

Ida.

“Awright are ‘ee midear?”

There he was again. Mr Drage. Standing in the back doorway, a large pollack laid out on a cloth in the basket over his arm. “My, tha’ smells proper,” he added before she had time to reply. “Lucky souls. ‘Avin’ you cook for them.”

“They pays me.” Ida, busy preparing the vegetables to go with her beef pudding, had no time to chat. Nor any need of pollock. “I din’ order no fish,” she added.

He seemed unmoved by her lack of friendliness.

“I d’know that. I thought ‘ee might like it to take ‘ome. I went out with the boat las’ night. “Tha’ll do Ida Goss,” I thought when we landed this beauty. “‘E’ll cook up lovely and she’s just the one to do it.”

Ida bowed to the inevitable and stepped aside to allow him into the kitchen. Just the one, he meant, to cook it for him to share. For it was a good-sized fish. Too much for one person and who else would she share it with? Lifting the big teapot she filled him a mug, added milk and watched as he put out an arm for the sugar bowl.

“Piece o’ cake?” She reached with resignation for the tin.

This was happening too often she thought, pulling irritably at the leaves of the cabbage she was inspecting for snails as he sucked loudly at his tea. Twice last week and now again, arriving late in the afternoon and generally with an offering of some kind. Generally, of course, fish but last Thursday it had been two lamb cutlets, swapped, she imagined, with Mr Dunning the butcher who was partial, apparently, to a nice, fresh mackerel.

Thrusting the cabbage leaves into a pan of salted water with a bit of bicarbonate of soda to keep their green, she started to peel the carrots. It was gone half past five and Mr Polmear and the Jenkins men would be back from the station any minute. The soup was ready, the stew was simmering, the potatoes boiling and the carrots peeled. Afterwards there was milk pudding and stewed apple but once the meat course was served Ida would be free to go home.

With Mr Drage and his pollock, she supposed, in the little cart that would be waiting outside.

“I’m all be’ind with supper,” she lied, as an excuse for not joining him at the table and, having chopped the carrots into much smaller rings than usual, carried the bowl into the scullery, where Annie Richards grinned and muttered to herself as she scrubbed unnecessarily at the wooden draining board.

If only Annie were less half-witted, she thought, as she drained the carrots into the sink, she could have stayed and talked to her but Annie‘s communications with other people never amounted to more than a long drawn-out ‘Ai-is’ – a fact of which Mr Drage was quite well aware – and there was no avoiding him.

Back in the kitchen he was starting on his third slice of cake. He would dearly like, he remarked, another cup of tea if she could spare one.

“Then you must go.” Ida poured tea inattentively, slopping it onto her pan of cabbage. “Mrs Opie could be down any minute. She d’like to keep an eye on things.”

Mr Drage gave something approaching a giggle. An unlikely sound, coming from so prominent a belly.

“Don’ she like ‘ee to ‘ave followers then?”  He smirked across the top of his tea cup. “I’ll give ‘ee a ride down ‘ome,” he added, stuffing the last of the cake into his mouth and heaving himself to his feet. “Trap’s outside. I’ll go keep Jacky company ‘till you’re ready.”

Jacky was his pony, an elderly, obedient beast and used to waiting, untethered, on his rounds. Ida, saying nothing, put the carrots on to boil and resigned herself to the inevitable.

 

“Don’ your Edith mind you missing supper?”

The pollock – it was her favourite fish, as she had once told him – had been delicious, she had to admit. Mr Drage – she was supposed to call him Arnold but the word caught in her throat – had eaten almost three quarters but it was a big fish and plenty left for her. He was now, after several slices of saffron cake embarking on his fourth cup of tea. His round face was scarlet with repletion and every so often he placed his hand below his overhanging stomach and let out a loud belch.

“Pardon me,” he said each time and it was after one of these explosions that Ida asked about his sister.

“Oh she’s only too glad for me to eat out.” He beamed as if he were doing the absent Edith a favour. “She don’ eat more’n enough to keep a bird alive ‘erself. Besides she’s too taken up with chapel work.”

Ida thought of Edith Drage, a tall, pale, bony woman, as different in looks from her corpulent brother as it was possible to get and a stalwart of the chapel, always at bible classes or prayer meetings, leading the plain sewing classes for young girls or visiting the sick or those who had fallen away in their attendance.

“She was asking after you.” Mr Drage mind was also on his sister. “She asked if you was coming to the bazaar Saturday.”

“I may do, later on. I d’still ‘ave to go work.”

Ida had, in fact, every intention of going to the chapel bazaar, which was one of the big events of the year, for which every working party since Easter had been engaged on embroidering tablecloths, sewing aprons or nightgowns, fabricating needle-cases and spill-holders, knitting bed socks, scarfs and bed jackets… For which every woman had, since the autumn, been making jams and bottling fruits and, for the past week, baking cakes and pies.

Ida, who had promised a fruit cake and a batch of scones, wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

“I’ll come and fetch ‘ee home then. Save ‘ee walking all that way.”

She considered the offer. Which was a tempting one.

Mrs Jenkins, who for all her objections to religious fol-de-rollery, was not an unsympathetic woman, had already said she should leave early that day. The family had their main meal at midday on a Saturday and there was no reason why Mrs Opie shouldn’t manage the family’s tea as she had so often done when ‘the boys’ were young. (Mrs Opie often spoke of these teas and Ida suspected the family would be treated to something she referred to as ‘eggie toasts’ or bowls of bread and milk laced with honey. Which perhaps the Jenkins men would not mind, although Mr Polmear, who had a hearty appetite, would probably prefer Ida’s ham and egg pie.)

No matter. Ida’s duties would be finished around midday, which left plenty of time to get to the chapel for the bazaar – but, after a morning’s cooking and the walk home, she would be tired. Whereas if she rode in Mr Drage’s trap…

“Thank ‘ee kindly.” She stood up to refill the kettle. “I’d be glad of that.”

Standing beside the sink, she stared out into the back yard. It was dark out there – of course it was, at this time of night and this time of the year – and yet there seemed, tonight, to be something especially dense and depressing about the darkness.

 

Henry.

He collected Mrs Graves in a hansom, having decided, after some thought, that she might prefer the theatre to an exhibition.

Her sons, Archie and  Francis, home from Marlborough, joined him in the  drawing room while he waited for their mother. Archie had spent the preceding term cultivating his moustache, although on such a fair boy it was quite hard to distinguish, and his brother obviously derived great pleasure from mocking him. Otherwise they reminisced cheerfully about their stay in Falmouth and seemed already to be looking forward to the next summer.

 

“They talk of little else,” Mrs Graves spreads her skirt to her satisfaction as they settle into the cab, “but their trips in the Flamingo. And their friendship with you. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not. They are charming boys – it was a pleasure to take them out.”

And in spite of the circumstances – the stuffy interior of the cab on this close-to-freezing evening, where the smell of old leather, the damp flanks of the horse and the body odours of past passengers is not completely masked by the musky tones of his companion’s scent, the noises of the surrounding omnibuses, cabs and cars mingling with the yells of street vendors, the scrape of hooves and sudden neighing of a startled horse, the sideways lurching, an abrupt halt in the press of traffic around the Marble Arch and an equally abrupt thrust forwards as their driver sees a gap in the road ahead… In spite of all this Henry is rounding Pendennis Point at the helm of Flamingo, tacking into a salt-tasting wind which tears against his face and sends up sprays of drenching foam. Bright sunlight glances off the waves and lights the white tower of St Anthony lighthouse to port. To starboard are the woody slopes of Pendennis topped by its rounded castle and ahead of him is the sunlit expanse of Falmouth bay…

What is it Mrs Graves is saying, her words obscured by the sounds around him and the sounds inside his head? Something about her gratitude. Something about dear Archie. How good it has been for him to be in the company of a man like Henry. Archie, who has suffered particularly from the lack of a father’s influence…

Henry, to whom words, in normal circumstances, come easily, is not sure what he should – or what he can – say, being not entirely sure what he has heard. On their left is Burlington House, he hears himself remark, after what may have been an inappropriately lengthy silence. Several of his paintings have been exhibited there, he adds.

Mrs Graves accepts the change of subject and asks, although she knows perfectly well, what play they are to see.

“Harry! How delightful! I heard you were in town but you have been hiding yourself from society.” Lizzie Carnoustie, resplendent in gold satin, hair piled so high that Henry felt sorry for anyone seated behind her and with an extremely valuable-looking gold clasp around her elegant neck, called out as he and Mrs Graves left their box during the first interval. Her escort – not Harry Carnoustie, who was probably playing bezique or some equally dreary game at his dreary club, but an elegant young man unknown to Henry – paused in the act of pouring her champagne.

“Walter Robartes,” Lizzie announced casually. “And this, dear Walt, is my dearest friend Harry Tuke, the famous artist, of whom…” Suddenly aware that Mrs Graves was not simply a passing member of the audience, she came to an abrupt halt.

“May I introduce my friend Mrs Pamela Graves.” Henry had to smile at her confusion. “Lady Elizabeth Carnoustie.”

Lizzie was never embarrassed for long. She was also thrilled to find Henry with, as she put it later to her uninterested husband, ‘the most delightful woman in the world. Perfect for darling Harry.’

“Greatly doubt it.” Carnoustie glanced up from his newspaper long enough to pronounce judgement. “Fellow bats for the other side, don’t ‘e?”

“Don’t be disgusting darling.” Lizzie tapped irritatingly against his paper with her fan.“In any case I’ve invited them both to dine on the twenty fourth. It will make the party up to a dozen, which is such a comfortable number, don’t you think?”

Her husband, who considered a comfortable number for any social gathering to be, at the most, two, made no further comment.

 

Faith.

When Elsie wrote that her health was so much improved that she and William would come to Redruth for Christmas Faith went straight to the guest bedroom and placed fresh hot water jars in the bed to air it. Looking around, she wondered how she might cheer what was, inevitably, a gloomy room.

The walls, once white, had taken on a yellow tinge. The great, dark wardrobe which stood beside the window cut out almost a quarter of the daylight, whilst the dressing table, its high mirrors flanked by the wooden candle-holders that had never, to Faith’s knowledge, actually held candles, effectively cut out most of the rest. A vast, mahogany chest of drawers loomed, tomb-like, at the far end of the room and the bed, with its tall, iron rails dominated the central area.

Pictures, she thought, might make a difference; a rug or two on the floor would make the room look – and sound – more comfortable and some pretty curtains, such as her mother had in her bedroom, would be an improvement on the dark green drapes that had faded along the folds to an unpleasant shade of gingerish-brown.

“I was wondering,” she asked her father as they chewed their way through the leek and potato pie Mrs Badcock had offered for their supper, “if we might get some new curtains made for the guest bedroom. Before Elsie and William arrive,” she added, as he looked up in surprise. “The old ones seem very shabby.”

Her father wiped his moustache with his napkin.

“Those curtains went up in Ninety Four,” he commented. (For a man who appeared to take little interest in his home he had a remarkable ability to remember such facts.) “They can hardly be said to need replacing. Besides the room is rarely used.”

“But now that Elsie and William are expected…” Eagerness made her bolder. “And later… when the child…” But now her courage deserted her. Her father was not an unkind man, she was well aware of that, but when he looked across at her from under his heavy white eyebrows it was hard not to be afraid. And perhaps she should not have spoken of the coming child. It was not, after all, a subject he had ever mentioned. Just as he had made no mention of John’s marriage.

“Neither Elsie nor William will expect luxuries.” He pressed his fork into an unyielding piece of pastry crust and Faith knew the conversation was at an end.

And she need not have worried, she thought eight days later, as she read Elsie’s latest letter. William felt that the journey would be too much for her. Parts of the road from Falmouth were still very poor and the uneven surface might be dangerous in her condition. He was also concerned that the sulfurous fumes around Redruth might be harmful, both to her and the child.

Sometime next year you must visit us, her letter concluded. Our house is small but you will be welcome.’

Squeezing the letter into a ball, as she tried to hold back her tears, she wondered that Elsie should have so quickly forgotten how impossible this would be.

Visiting Falmouth was one more lost dream.

 

Ida.

The bazaar was held in the Polytechnic Hall, decorated for the festive season with swags of red ribbon, bunches of fir and hanging clusters of silver-painted cones. The stalls, laden with food and fancy goods, were surrounded by eager customers and on the stage the Falmouth Silver Band played well-loved tunes.

It felt strange to arrive with what she supposed might be described as an escort and Ida was conscious that she and Mr Drage, whom she must remember to call Arnold, were objects of interest, particularly to the women.

The minister’s wife, for example, glanced casually in their direction and then looked again – head thrust forward, squinting her eyes to get a better view. Others whispered behind raised hands and Ida saw one sister tug at her husband’s arm to attract his attention as they passed.

Self-conscious – she was a shy woman in spite of her appearance – she found herself turning towards a stall selling embroidered sachets of lavender and examining them as if she had never seen such things before. It was not until Mr Drage – Arnold – suggested that they should find a cup of tea, that she dared turn away and allowed him to pilot her towards the side of the hall where small tables were set out with refreshments. Here, with a cup of tea and a fancy cake decorated in an alarming shade of pink icing, she did her best to regain control. Her cheeks must be, she thought, as brightly coloured as the icing and she could feel her chest struggling against her stays. Which was, she told herself, ridiculous. She was a respectable woman – a widow. Why should she not sit down to tea in a public place with a respectable man?

But this, she realised, was not the problem. She was not blushing because she was afraid of people’s disapproval but because they would, almost certainly, thoroughly approve. They might even, although Wesleyan Methodists were not given to such enthusiasm, be delighted at such an obviously suitable match.   

Arnold Drage was known as a warm man, a decent man and a reasonably regular chapel-goer. And Ida was, she was well aware, pitied for her unfortunate marriage and admired for her diligence. The chapel might well anticipate with interest the prospect of a union between two people who would be a comfort to each other in their declining years.

“Proper job!” Arnold slurped greedily at his tea then licked his lips. “Not so good at yours mind,” he added quickly, misinterpreting the expression on Ida’s face. “Oh no. Nowhere near as good.” He licked his lips again and turned his attention to his cake.

On the stage the band struck up Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah.

“Pilgrim through this barren land,” Arnold murmured through the crumbs.”I am weak but Thou art …” His cake, as he drew breath, went the wrong way and he collapsed into a fit of coughing and spluttering, mostly drowned out by the crescendo of trumpets.

“Bread of heaven, bread of he-e-ven, feed me till I want no more…”

Almost everyone in the hall was singing now. As if, Ida thought, they were at a rugby match.

“Feed me till I-I want no more…” they roared as Arnold, red-faced, continued coughing and she reached across to thump him, not very sympathetically, on the back. The buttons on his waistcoat, she noticed, were strained across his large chest as though they might fly off across the room and never be found. His heavy jowls, reddened from the razor and now bright scarlet from coughing, shook above the confines of his collar and he beat his great hands with their swollen fingers against the tight-packed thighs of his dark trousers.

Ida wondered, as the fit subsided and he reached for his tea cup, what it would be like to have charge of that waistcoat, that collar, those trousers…. that man. Who might – judging from his high colour and shortness of breath – not last that long, in which case she would be, once again, a respectable widow – but widow this time of the owner of a thriving and profitable business…

Which was no way, she told herself – almost speaking aloud from the strength of her feelings – to be thinking. If she was intending to venture again into matrimony, it must be because she loved the man and not because he might leave her well-provided on his death.

And she did not, she thought, watching him take a large handkerchief from his pocket and wipe it across his face and forehead, love Arnold Drage.

Which she must tell him before matters went any further.

 

Orion

It was late, close on midnight, with a newly-waning moon laying a silver path across the bay. A calm night, with just one Helford fishing boat a mile or so offshore showing up dark and still on water where ripples shimmered like small fish in the moonglow. A few thin clouds trailed like gauze across a sky littered with stars and Orion, who knew only the obvious constellations – the Plough, the Great Bear and his namesake, the Hunter – wished, as he stared up at them, that he knew more.

He must ask Henry, he thought, who knew so much, but meanwhile he was not out here to star-gaze and, huddling himself into his heavy oilskin, he started off down the lane, dark between the hedgerows, in the direction of the big field further down the coast.

There were rabbits in that field; dozens of them and before now he had thought little about them other than the need to keep them off his crops. Town boy that he was, he had never considered catching them for food and it was only a passing comment from one of Farmer Roscrow’s farmhands that had brought the idea into his head. His wife preferred rabbit meat to any other, he’d said, and he regularly set traps for them.

Orion wasn’t setting any traps, disliking the thought of the suffering they must cause, even though Thomas had pointed out that dead was dead and it made no difference how the creature got there. Instead he had armed himself with a stout stick, chosen from several he had found propped against the wall in one of his outhouses, as though they might have been intended for just this purpose, which he grasped in his hand as he strode down the lane and used to brush out of his way the overhanging brambles and the spiders’ webs strung between them.

As he neared the stile into the field – stone slabs projecting at intervals up the side of the hedge – he moved more slowly and quietly and saw, as he reached the top, the field spread out before him in the moonlight and the dark, hunched shapes of several dozen rabbits cropping the grass.

Crouching, he watched as they moved from one tussock to another. Occasionally some sound – a rustling in the undergrowth, a bird call from the wooded area inland and, once, the splashing of a larger than usual wave against the rocks below the cliffs – caused them to pause in their nibbling, raise heads to listen, even, in the case of a few younger animals, to scuttle into a burrow but mostly they ate, unsuspecting and undisturbed.

He was not going to enjoy this. For some reason it seemed worse to kill these peaceful, fur-covered creatures than it did to smash the head of a fresh-caught fish against the rocks – in spite of the fact that these same peaceful, fur-covered creatures had eaten much of his last winter’s cabbage crop. On the other hand, he must somehow get some meat for Mary to cook for their Christmas meal.

Stealthily he clambered down the slab steps and into the field. As he brushed against an outcrop of nettles one of the nearer rabbits twitched its ears, briefly, nose raised, stopped chewing but then continued. Orion, hardly daring to breathe, crouched, felt the stings of last summer’s nettles against his face and prepared to wait.

It was a long wait. Clouds gathered themselves into dark mounds behind which the moon hid for minutes at a time before sailing back out into the silver grey wastes of sky to light the field and the cropping rabbits. Each time it disappeared Orion strained his eyes to make out the greater darkness of their small, humped bodies against the lesser darkness of the field, worrying that they might finish feeding and return to their burrows.

It was also cold. There was little breeze but the damp was settling into the grass and the hedgerow and he felt his face start to ache as if from a bad tooth whilst his toes and fingers retained so little feeling that it seemed doubtful he would be able to move at all, let alone quickly. An insect scrambled through his hair and across his face and he dared not move his hand to brush it away and it was almost a pleasure to taste against his chilled lips the warm snot from his dripping nose.

Another period of darkness and now he heard and felt the wind blowing in off the sea, shaking the dry leaves in the hedge and finding its way in through the cuffs and neck of his coat. How long, as it got colder, would the rabbits stay? And would any of them, before this happened, venture close enough for him to capture one?

He was shivering now, from the chill but also from fear of his intentions, and then, as he attempted to hunch himself soundlessly but more firmly into his coat, he saw a rabbit, one of the larger ones, moving closer to his part of the hedge.

Raising its head and seeing a thicker patch of weeds just inches in front of Orion, it took a few huddled hops towards him and settled back to feed, well within his reach, as, mouth wide with terror and excitement, he clenched one numbed hand around his club, pressed the other against the ground and, arching his aching back, flung himself violently forward, smashing the club wildly and randomly in the direction of the little animal.

He was not prepared for the shriek that tore into the silence. Nor for the stampede of a hundred rabbits dashing for the safety of their burrows. Nor for his own sense of horror as he sprawled on the soaking grass, gasping and breathless as if he had been running for his own life.

 

“Whatever’ve you got there?”

Mary had been asleep when he got home and hung his rabbit in the outhouse, hoping that by the morning it would have stopped dripping blood. Next day, Christmas Eve, while Mary was up at the farm, he took it out into the yard to inspect it.

It was a mess, he could see that, its fur matted with dried blood, caught up with scraps of twig and grass, eyes bulging outwards and horribly glazed, mouth set in a ghastly grin to show the large, vicious-looking, blood-stained teeth.

He couldn’t present it to Mary like this but it was hard, as he turned the stiff and heavy body in his hands, to work out what he should do with it. Boning and skinning a fish was one thing – something he had done so often that it required no thought – but this creature, with its fouled fur and milky eyes, was a different matter.

Which was when Mary, back earlier than he expected, came into the yard.

“‘S a rabbit.” Although that much is, perhaps, obvious. “I caught it last night. I thought we could eat it Christmas day.”

“You caught it? You mean you set a trap…?”

Mary sets down her basket and stares at the bloody carcass.

“No. I went up the big field along the path. It’s full of ‘em at night. I waited ‘til one came close an’…” He stops, uncertain how to describe the actual killing.

‘I fell on it,’ would be nearest to the truth but sounds too clumsy. “I hit’n with that stick,” he says instead and points to the club which leans where he left it last night against the outhouse wall, stained, he notices, dark brown with dried blood. “It was ‘orrible,” he says, giving up on pretence. “I shan’t never do nothin’ like that again.”

They stand facing each other, as he holds the battered little corpse between them. The more he looks at it; the more he feels its stiff, cold fur against his skin; the more sick he feels; the more he wants to fling it away from him and forget all about it.

They can eat swede and potato again tomorrow and the next day and he won’t care.

“Oh Ori.”

It is the first time she has called him this for weeks – months even. Since before…

For all this time they have spoken – when they have spoken – as if they are strangers. For all this time they have hardly touched each other – sometimes it has seemed that they hardly look at one another – and now Mary is reaching out her hand, calling him by the pet name he hasn’t heard for so long that his throat starts to close.

“‘E’s a mess.” He stares at the little corpse, still dangling from his hands. “I ‘an’t never… I’m sorry,” he says, without knowing what he is sorry for as Mary takes the rabbit and holds it up as if she might be considering buying it in a butcher’s shop.

“‘E ought’ve been skinned before ‘e went stiff.” She speaks calmly, as a matter of fact, and when he hears the sob he thinks at first it must have come from himself. Then, looking across, he sees Mary’s reddened eyes and the tears running down her cheeks and, as she grabs the hem of her apron and drags it to her face, dropping the blood-stained rabbit into the mud, he puts out his arms and draws her against him.

He feels her body heave and shudder against his and then they are weeping together – but not just, he realises with a jolt of pain that is almost joyful, for the dead animal that lies on the ground between them but for the dead child who lies buried beneath it.

Henry.

Lizzie Carnoustie’s dinner for a select few, followed by a dance and supper for, as her husband sourly observed, ‘half of London’, was one of the season’s most coveted invitations – an occasion to which Henry was no stranger but always as a suitable bachelor escort for one of Lizzie’s unattached female friends. This time his invitation included a card for Mrs Pamela Graves and he would have been quite relieved not to attend. This was not, however, possible, without grave discourtesy to both ladies and he was not a discourteous man.

He could, of course, have feigned illness but lying – apart from the inconvenience of keeping up the pretence – was an indulgence his Quaker upbringing would not allow him. He might no longer believe in God but he still believed in decent behaviour towards his fellow men – and women – and so, on December 24th, he dressed with gloomy resignation and, concerned as ever about his appearance, more than usual care.

He must be cautious, he told himself, fixing, with some difficulty, a stud into a new collar. He must be polite and considerate but careful not to arouse expectations in either his hostess or Mrs Graves, whom he valued as a vibrant, thoughtful and interesting friend with whose ideas he had much in common and for whom he wished nothing but good – but with whom he had no intention of entering into any more serious relationship.

And so,

“You look charming,” he told her as they descended to the cab, but refrained from commenting on her splendidly-dressed hair, sapphire ear-rings or the coat of deep blue velvet over a lace and satin gown that was almost certainly new for the occasion. On the short drive to Park Lane he kept the discussion to general matters – the king’s delight in wearing uniforms, the increasing number of motor cars on the streets, the prospect of a freeze in the new year…  More personal matters, including their respective plans for the Christmas period, were best avoided.

The dinner was enjoyable – more so than he had allowed himself, in his anxiety, to expect – and Mrs Graves acquitted herself well, showing an informed interest in the issues du jour – Mr Chamberlain’s views on tariff reform and the eternal problem of ‘what might be done about the poor’ – and taking to task her neighbour, the solid conservative William Craigforth, when he suggested that educating girls beyond the age of fourteen was a waste of money and might even cause them physical harm,

Knowing her views on the subject Henry, sitting opposite her at the table, waited with some trepidation for her tirade but was relieved – and amused – when she listened politely until Craigforth had finished and then asked, with an air of innocent interest, what evidence he had for his assertions.

“Because it has always seemed to me…” She spoke clearly but without raising her voice, “that it might actually cause more harm to a young lady to be confined to her home with little opportunity to improve her mind and extend her interests.”

“Her interests, my dear, should be her home and her family – especially her children, when she has them.” Craigforth’s cheeks, naturally florid, reddened still further. His wife, a  mouse-like soul, never disagreed with him and he was not used to having to justify his beliefs. “That is the first duty of any woman.”

“ A duty she would surely perform more satisfactorily if she were well educated and able to pass on her knowledge to her family?” Mrs Graves spoke mildly but Henry saw a tightening of her lips which suggested irritation. “And what about those women forced by circumstances to earn their own living? Surely it is better for them to have other opportunities than the hard – even degrading – ones they have at present?”

“Absolutely! You speak my thoughts entirely, Mrs Graves!” Lizzie Carnoustie,

at the head of the table, had been listening to her words rather than her neighbour’s. “Do you wish our brains to shrivel away and die from lack of use, my dear William? Or less fortunate women to be forced to become factory workers – or ladies of the night – when, with more education, they might work in an office or even teach in school? Surely,” she asked, when the howls of delighted laughter had died down, “you would not deny them this?”

Craigforth’s face darkened to an unbecoming shade of purple and he attacked his braised veal with some venom as Mrs Graves turned to her other neighbour with a remark about the charm of the decorations in Messrs. Fortnum and Mason’s windows.

 

“You have made a friend.”

Gentlemen, at Lizzie’s dinners, rarely lingered over their port and Henry and others joined the ladies in the drawing room after about twenty minutes, although Lord Carnoustie and William Craigforth remained at the dining table, perhaps to complain about women who appeared not to know their place. Pamela Graves, as Henry entered the room, was deep in conversation with Lizzie Carnoustie, who moved away, as he approached, to consult with her butler.

“Oh Lady Carnoustie is delightful.” She turned to him, her cheeks flushed with pleasure. Becomingly flushed, he noted. She would make a pleasing subject for a portrait. “Did you know she spent two years at Somerville College in Oxford? She only left in order to marry Lord Carnoustie.”

“A strange decision.” Henry had heard Lizzie speak of her time at Oxford – the cocoa parties, river parties, cycling parties… Had she never done any work? he had once asked and was assured that the work was the best part of Oxford life. She had never felt so alive and so stimulated in her life, before or since. “But perhaps he was more exciting in those days.”

Lord Carnoustie chose this moment to enter the room, his round face with its sagging jowls above a short neck, swamped almost entirely by his stiff collar, as dull-looking and lacking in life as ever. Pamela, glancing at him, put up her fan to conceal her smile, and then looked back at Henry, her eyes – very deep blue, against the blue of her gown, he could not help noticing – alight with amusement.

“I am sure,” she said eventually, looking demurely downwards, “he has many admirable qualities.” As she gurgled with barely suppressed laughter Henry let out one of his loudest guffaws, causing the man behind him to choke into his coffee.

“Thank you for a wonderful evening.” The cab stops outside Mrs Graves’ house where a light glows over the doorway, and in the window of her upstairs drawing room. “Janet will be waiting with cocoa and biscuits but I have whisky or brandy if you would prefer.”

“You are very kind but…” But he would, he realises, be glad to come inside for a glass of whisky or brandy. It has been a delightful evening and he has greatly enjoyed her company. He has even danced with her and – Lizzie’s parties being famous for their country dances as well as the more formal ones –  derived some amusement from watching her dancing the Gay Gordons with Hamish Jamieson in his flying kilt.

And it is Christmas morning – they have passed late revellers in the streets, together with more soberly-dressed church-goers making their staid way home from some watch-night service – and thoughts of Lizzie Carnoustie’s exploits at Somerville have awakened in him memories of his own student days at the Slade. Suddenly it seems depressingly sober and middle-aged simply to return to his mother’s house in Hanwell and retire to bed.

“That would be delightful.” He pays off the cab driver with a handsome, Christmas tip. “But I must not stay long.”

 

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Uncertainties of Love and Hope Chapter 7.

Faith

“You will not be returning to school. You will stay and help me at home.”

Taken so completely by surprise, Faith could only stare at her mother, who seemed as little concerned as if she had said it looked as if it might rain. She was not even conscious, until Maud told her, that her mouth had dropped unbecomingly open.

“But…”

But what, in the face of such news, was there to be said? That all she had looked forward to for the past eight weeks had been returning to school? That if she were not to see Amy and Magel and her other friends she might as well die? That she hated this house and Redruth and – or so she felt at this moment – everyone who lived here?

Hysteria, Mama would call it. Or, worse, a childish tantrum.

“But why?”

Somehow she managed not to burst into tears. Or scream or kick the furniture or do any of the things her body longed to do.

Why can’t I go back to school?”

Her mother looked up from her embroidery. Her health had continued to improve and at this moment, Thursday being one of her ‘days’, she was sitting, nicely dressed, in the parlour, waiting for visitors.

“It is not for you to question our decision,” she said, her voice hard, with an edge of impatience. “Your education has been costly enough and there seems little point in continuing it.”

“But why not?” Impossible not to ask. “I love school. And I want to be a teacher. Like Miss…”

The front door bell rang. The sound echoed down the hallway, followed by Agnes‘s footsteps, the muted sounds of a greeting, an enquiry as to whether her mistress was at home, followed by the opening of the parlour door…

“Mrs Truscott, Ma-am.”

“Enid dearest! How lovely!”

Her mother laid aside her embroidery and stood up. Her visitor hurried across the room, arms outstretched, and Faith, ignored and forgotten, slipped from the room and up the stairs. Behind her the door bell rang again…

 

“I’m sorry my dear. This is all my fault.”

After her first outburst of tears, she had gone to find Elsie in her bedroom. How could she go on living, she demanded, if she was to be imprisoned here for ever? How could she bear never to see Amy or Magel or any of her other friends again? Why could she not stay on to work for her School Certificate?

“Miss Parkinson says I have a way with the smaller girls,” she wept. “She says I would make an excellent teacher.”

Which was when Elsie said it was all her fault.

“I don’t see why.”

Elsie was a kind, older sister – even if she was, in Faith’s view, too dull and too concerned not to upset her parents – and would never have suggested that she should leave school. And Elsie enjoyed overseeing Cook and Agnes and doing all those dull, tedious household chores so why should Faith be needed at home any more than she was now?

Elsie was sitting on the edge of her bed. Like Faith’s, her room was sparsely furnished – a dressing table with a mirror and a few pots of combs and brushes, a chest of drawers, her small bedside table with her bible and her copy of Christian Faith and Practice – and there was nowhere else to sit. She patted the counterpane next to her and put her arm around her sister’s shoulders.

“I wanted to tell you, dear, but I thought Mama or Papa…” she paused and Faith, glancing up, saw than her cheeks were more than usually pink. “You see there is a young man,” she continued in a determined sort of voice.  “You have met him. When we stayed in Falmouth with Esther Thom. He was introduced when we went to Falmouth Meeting, you must remember.” Amy, remembering no young man of any interest, shook her head. “And that afternoon he came to tea; you surely remember that?”

“That was when I visited Amy’s family.”

“Of course. I was forgetting. Well…” Elsie looked down at the floor as if there were something of great interest on its bare boards. “I met him again at the prayer group the following day and last week he called to see Papa at the works…”

“My gracious!” Faith felt her own tragedy pushed, for the moment at least, from her mind. She could not remember Elsie ever showing an interest in any young man, although as they met so few this was not, she supposed, surprising. “Is he… nice?” she asked. “Is he very handsome?”

The pink cheeks darkened to a dull red colour and Elsie, whose face was pleasant but would never have been called beautiful or even pretty, looked for the first time that Faith could remember, becomingly excited.

“Oh yes,” she said. “He is very nice.” She paused for a moment. “And he has asked if I will be his wife.”

“I see.” And Faith, of course, did see. “And you’ve agreed?”

“Of course. He is a good man. And now Mama is so much recovered….”

She had made no comment, Faith noted, on whether or not he was handsome and she assumed he was not.

“Papa and Mama are pleased.” Elsie returned to practicalities. “William” – it was the first time she had mentioned his name – “has a small house in Falmouth and we will marry in early November.” (Quakers, by special dispensation, were able – unlike other non-conformist groups – to marry in their own Meeting Houses and according to their own simple ceremonies and there would be no need for extensive preparations.) “This will give me time to teach you all you need to know. You will find it easy enough.”

 

But horrible, Faith thought, back in her own room and trying her hardest not to cry again. It would be horrible and dreary – and more than ever like being in prison. And she would never see Amy or Magel or Miss Parkinson again.

Why, she thought savagely, kicking her foot against the side of her bed, did Elsie want to go off and marry this William? Who would be dull and boring and, almost certainly, ugly. Why could she not stay here and everything be as it had always been? Or why, at the very least, could not Mama see to the housekeeping herself, now that she was apparently so much better?

 

Ida

I will be hiring in extra staff, of course.” Mrs Trembath smiled complacently across the kitchen table where Ida was about to begin rolling pastry. “Mrs Henry speaks highly of the bureau in Church Street. I shall go down this afternoon and enquire after hiring a butler and a footman. We will dine a la russe and they will be needed for the carving and serving – as well as the wines.”

“Yes M’m.”

Ida was familiar with the concept of serving ‘a la russe’, one of the customs the wretched Henrys had brought with them from Salisbury and, according to them, the only acceptable way of dining in smart circles. It involved the guests being served from the sideboard, rather than helping themselves from the dishes laid out on the table. And it would make little difference, Ida decided, to her in the kitchen, apart from having to put up with the snobbish behaviour of a butler and footman who would be accustomed, no doubt, to working in far grander establishments than Mrs Trembath’s. She picked up the dredger and prepared to flour her pastry board.

“A clear soup and a thick one…” Her employer, unfortunately, had not finished. “Fillet of sole for the fish course and then, I think, a fricasee of lamb, veal cutlets, sweetbreads and a roast of beef with suitable vegetables. For dessert, I thought trifle, fruit jellies and a Charlotte Russe. Mr Forbes is particularly fond of Charlotte Russe…”

“My gor!” Ida did not approve of profanity but sometimes Mrs Trembath tried her too far.

“I can’t  never manage all that on my own.”

“You have Clarice.” (Much good she would be, Ida thought, especially as Mrs Trembath would no doubt be needing more help than usual with her dressing and her hair.) “And Mrs Teague can come in for some extra time.”

“Edie Teague’s only good for the veg and the washing up.” And wasn’t to be trusted, even so, with the best tableware. “I can’t do all they other things.”

“You’ll manage marvellously Ida dear. You always do,” Which was more than she normally told her. “There will be ten of us dining. We will just fit around the table.”

 

Mrs Trembath’s visit to the staff bureau produced a butler and a footman, both of whom came in on the Friday afternoon, the day before the dinner party was to take place. The butler, a Mr Morris, who had worked at the Greenbank Hotel, although not, Ida suspected, for some years, seemed a pleasant man – in his sixties and with a dignified look about him, with his grey hair and slightly protuberant stomach. To the footman she took an immediate dislike. He was a tall, supercilious-looking young man and when Ida suggested he should go up with Clarice to the dining room to check the linen and cutlery they could be heard giggling on the staircase before she had closed the door behind them.

Ida was already exhausted. She had been in since just after six making stock for the soups, baking the sponge for the trifle and sponge fingers for the Charlotte Russe and preparing the fruits for the jellies as well as overseeing Clarice as she unpacked and washed the best dinner service and ironed the napkins, runners for the sideboard and the best tablecloth.

Mr Morris watched as she started to cut the shin of beef for the broth and then unfolded an apron from his bag.

“I’ll see to that midear. You make yourself a nice cup of tea and have a sit down,” he said, smiling, and Ida, unused to such consideration, did as she was told. Then, as the beef sizzled in the pan, he sat opposite her, took the cup and slice of cake she offered him and watched as she started to chop the carrots.

“I can see Mrs Trembath has a treasure in you,” he said.. “I don’t know when I last tasted cake this fine.”

Afterwards he too went up to inspect the dining room and came back with Ralph, the footman, and a list of deficiencies that he and Clarice had missed. The cutlery, which had been polished earlier in the day, had been left on the table and not wrapped in its baize cloth, the glasses had been imperfectly washed and the silver cruets appeared, he said, not to have been cleaned at all.

“First thing tomorrow, while this young lady polishes the hearth and the furniture, you can bring everything down here and set to work,” he told Ralph who smirked in Clarice’s direction, raising his eyebrows towards the heavens.

“If either of you expect to get work in an establishment like the Greenbank you’ll do well to learn proper ways,” Mr Morris told him. “Now fetch down the decanters so I can start to get them clean.”

While Clarice flounced about the scullery with flower vases and the supercilious Ralph rubbed listlessly at the silver plate, he set about cutting brown paper into tiny pieces, shaving soap into fine shreds and putting it all into the decanters with warm water, to be moved about with a sponge attached the end of a piece of cane, which he took from his bag. It was an old fashioned method, he told Ida, who was the only person taking an interest, but it cleaned a decanter like nothing else.

She went home that night, feeling that the dinner party she had been dreading so much, might not be such an ordeal after all.

 

Orion

“I shan’t go market this week. There’s only a few eggs an’ I’ve things to do upstairs.”

‘Upstairs’ meant in the room Mr Tuke called the ‘studio’. The room Orion had hardly entered for months but which he now – or so it seemed to Mary – hardly left. Every morning he was shut away in there, not coming out most days until supper time and even then he had this look in his eyes, as if his body might be sitting across the table but his mind was elsewhere and needed to be dragged back from a great distance.

Like when she asked, as she had just now, what he planned to take to market in the morning.

“There’s still plenty of parsley,” she’d said. “I c’n get up early and bunch it if you want. An’ there’s….”

Which was where she stopped because there wasn’t… The currants were long finished. As were the peas and the beans. The cabbages weren’t ready and the few potatoes and swedes they had left would be needed to see them through winter. She would have gone blackberrying again if Orion had asked her but Mrs Roscrow had wanted her for the wash and Orion had shown no interest. And now he wasn’t going to market, which meant no flour, no sugar, no tea…

“We’ve no flour or sugar left,” she reminded him. “An’ barely enough tea…”

There were plenty of other things as well – candles, for a start, now the evenings were drawing in – but Mary wasn’t one to make a fuss.

“I’ll go next week, p’raps.” He went on with his meal – a stew mainly of potato and carrots with bread made with the last of the cornmeal.

“Don’ you need to be planting winter greens?” Mary might not be one to fuss but she was approaching the end of her tether, “You said weeks back you needed to buy in seedlings. An’ what about the leeks?”

“I said, I got stuff to do upstairs.”

“So what are we to eat then? In the winter? An’ next year if you don’t get your crops in?” Mary’s spoon clattered against the table and then onto the flagstones. “Whatever you’ve got upstairs, we can’t eat it, can we now?”

Angry tears flooded her eyes and she could not have seen to eat her stew if she had wanted to.

It was their first quarrel. She had shouted at Orion. She had flung down her spoon and could easily have flung her stew after it. And Orion, instead of coming to put his arms around her and comforting her… instead of saying he was sorry for speaking in such a cold, hard, hurtful way, seemed hardly to have noticed.

 

“What is it Ori?” She is crying properly now, the tears hot and wet on her face. “What you doing up there that matters more than us ‘aving food to eat?”

“Just drawings. Tha’s all. I’m sorry Mary,” for, pushing away her bowl, she has given in and sits sobbing helplessly, head on her arms. “I… I din’ know ‘ow to tell you… I thought…”

But he has no idea what he thought and sits, a lump of bread still clenched in his hand, staring across the table at his weeping love. Outside, across the low wall which separates the back yard from Farmer Roscrow’s bottom field, cows low contently as they tear at the rich grass. Inside Mary goes on sobbing and Orion remains silent.

“I’ll show ‘ee,” he says eventually and his chair shrieks against the flagstones as he stands.

It will not, he is certain, comfort her but he can think of nothing that will.

 

The studio faces due west and, even this late in the evening, is full of light as he nudges Mary inside before him. The light is golden and filled with drifting specks of dust and reveals the white, salt residue on the window panes, which is, at first, all she sees. Then she turns to the tall easel, with several sheets of paper clamped onto it…

Paper, she cannot help but think. Costly drawing paper and unusual for Orion, who normally uses whatever comes to hand – cardboard or even wood from old boxes – which he can get for nothing.

Perhaps she speaks the word aloud or perhaps he just knows what she is thinking because,

“‘Enry give it me,” he says, behind her. “When ‘e come out with Ma that time.”

And now he draws her towards the easel, tightening his grip as she looks more closely….

“Oh my gor!” She gapes, hands to her mouth, at the first drawing.

It is unlike anything he has done before – his sketches of the yard, his vegetables, the cottage, of Mary herself… This is something quite different. Something wild; even frightening and now she remembers what she had barely noticed at the time; the look on Mr Tuke’s face when he came downstairs that day he brought Ida Goss to visit.

He looked, she remembers, the way she feels now. Stunned.

The picture is of darkness – dark swirls of cloud above dark rocks and a dark and violent sea and amongst it all, caught, as if drowning, amongst the surging waves, are the half-formed features of a baby’s face…

She stands, speechless, and Orion, letting go of her arm, crosses to the table where other sheets of paper are piled, lifts them, but clumsily so that some slip sideways and slide in the way of sheets of paper across the floor, and stands staring downwards. Mary picks up the nearest one and sees her own back doorstep, the shapes of a chair and part of the kitchen table visible inside, and, in a patch of light beside the door, the little cart she last saw when her father lifted it down from his trap three months before.

“‘E’s inside.” Orion’s voice, harsh with emotion, is hardly recognizable. “Tha’s ‘ow I drew ‘im first off. Just the bedding and ‘is shape – see there…” He points a finger towards the tucked-in blanket. “Then I did these.” He reaches down, pulls at a drawing, discards it, then finds another. “Of ‘is little grave,” he says. “I waited till you was up Roscrows’ cos I knew you woun’ like it.”

No, Mary thinks, staring at the picture of the little mound of earth, in front of its prickled hawthorn hedge. She does not like it. Nor does she know what she can possibly say.

She looks at the drawings on the floor around her. All are dark. Dark trees like sentinels, dark cliffs, dark walls and, somewhere within each one, the baby’s face, its eyes closed fast in death.

“Why?” she says at last. “I don’ understand.”

Orion follows her gaze and then, as she turns to him, looks away.

“I coun’ ‘elp it,” he says eventually and his voice is so quiet that she can hardly hear him. “Each time I started to draw, ‘is face just came.”

 

Ida.

She was in before seven next morning wearing her Sunday dress in case – although she sincerely hoped not – she should be needed to appear before the guests. Mr Morris arrived soon after and the fishmonger’s boy and an assistant from Dunnings butchers were at the back door by eight.

First she prepared the dough for the splits to go with the soups and for the lunchtime loaves and while that was rising, she started the fricasee of lamb, which would benefit from long, slow cooking. Well before nine the heat from the range filled the kitchen whose windows opened onto the area below street level and she could feel the sweat on her forehead and under her arms as she moved into the cooler scullery to fillet and trim the sole. As she was checking that Edie Teague had set the prepared carrots and parsnips in salted water Mr Morris came down from the dining room with a scowling Clarice.

“I’m afraid this young woman has no idea how to clean a brass fender,” he told her – although there was no need since this was something she had been attempting, unsuccessfully, to teach Clarice ever since she had arrived. “However, I think its appearance will not shame Mrs Trembath now. You can start to lay the table, I think,” he told the maid. “Your mistress will have other duties for you later and it seems that young Ralph has not yet put in an appearance.”

While Clarice stamped back up the stairs he picked the kettle off the range.

“I think some of us at least deserve a brew,” he said.

 

The day Ida had anticipated with horror passed pleasantly enough and by tea time the soups were prepared, the fish, meats and vegetables were ready for cooking and the desserts, apart from the Charlotte Russe, set out on the marble slab in the larder. Mr Morris had pronounced the dining room ‘good enough’, Clarice was upstairs with Mrs Trembath and her toilette and Ralph, arriving at around midday, had been despatched to the dairy for more cream.

As Edie crashed about the scullery, washing pans, Ida sat at the kitchen table, arranging her sponge fingers around the inside of Mrs Trembath’s largest mould. Mr Morris, in baize apron and shirt sleeves, sat opposite with yet another cup of tea and read out items of interest from the Falmouth Packet. She felt comfortable with him, she thought; he was her sort of person. He cared about doing things properly in a way that Clarice and Ralph so obviously did not and treated her in an almost courtly manner, which was not something she was used to.

Having arranged the sponge fingers in their palisade around the bowl, she filled it carefully with the cooled mix of sugar, cream, whisked eggs and vanilla and set it aside.

“That’ll make a fine centrepiece,” Mr Morris said admiringly. “A shame the guests are bound to finish it. I’d dearly like to have a taste.”

Perhaps I could make you one sometime, Ida stopped herself from saying.

 

The evening was truly exhausting. Ida, the range fully stoked to cook the meats and fish, felt her face to be a deep and unbecoming scarlet as she handed the soup tureen to Ralph, who, in his dress shirt and tail coat and with his dark hair sleeked back with water, looked elegant if no less supercilious, before turning back to her great frying pan with its spitting cargo of sole. Then, once the fish was safely aloft, she turned her attention to the sweetbreads, which could be cooked only briefly and at the last minute, the other meats, resting in the ‘cool’ oven, with the vegetables on the top of the stove.

Not until they, with the clumsy assistance of Edie Teague, had been placed in their serving dishes and taken upstairs, was there any respite and even then there were the desserts to worry about – particularly the Charlotte Russe which she had not yet dared turn out of its mould.

She would leave it, she decided, until the last minute, at which point she heard footsteps on the stairs and Mr Morris appeared with an empty decanter. He too was quite red-faced, probably, she thought, from the stress of his responsibilities.

“We need more claret,” he told her. “Your delicious beef appears to be increasing their thirst,” and he went into the pantry where he had stored the extra bottles of wine. Before he decanted one of the bottles of red wine he took a glass and poured a generous measure.

“Important to make sure it isn’t corked,” he told Ida, seeing her watching. And then, after filling the decanter, he poured a half glassful for her. “You deserve it,” he smiled, and started back up the stairs.

Ida took a small sip, for politeness sake, even though he wasn’t there to see, before pouring the rest down the sink. She was, as a good Methodist, a teetotaller and the unfamiliar wine stung her tongue, in no way quenched her thirst and gave her no pleasure. She wished Mr Morris had not offered it to her.

“Ready with the desserts?” Ralph, also red-faced, no doubt from unaccustomed exercise, appeared in the doorway with an armful of plates. Half an hour had passed, during which she had dared upend the mould containing the precious Charlotte Russe onto Mrs Trembath’s most elegant, bone china platter and had decorated the surface with flowers of angelica and glace cherries. It would indeed make, as Mr Morris had said, a magnificent centrepiece and she sent it up after the tray of fruit jellies, the trifle and the bowl of damsons Mr Cyril had brought in this morning. She would have liked, she thought a little wistfully, to have seen what sort of reception it received, especially from Mr Forbes, whose favourite dessert it was supposed to be.

Removing her apron – Mr Morris and Ralph would deal with the tea and coffee and the sweetmeats in the lounge and Edie Teague was clattering loudly in the scullery – she stood for a moment in front of the small mirror next to the back door. Her face was crimson from heat and activity, her hair had come loose from its pins and she spent a few moments tidying it. Then she would have a drink of water and stand outside in the cool air…

Ralph had left open the door at the top of the stairs and she could hear, even from this distance, the discrete clatter of cutlery and the murmur of dinner table conversations, broken by a louder, masculine boom or the carrying soprano of one of the ladies. Then a pause in the general chatter as one male voice dominated, paused and gave way before a burst of laughter and a shrill but indistinct comment from Mrs Trembath as conversations resumed around the table.

And then, with appalling suddenness, came something else. A cry. A sound of shattering glass, of chair legs shrieking against the floor, of feminine screams and masculine exclamations and then – for a brief moment – an appalled silence…

It would be Ralph, she thought, gathering her skirt and hastening up the narrow stairs. Casual, arrogant Ralph, showing off his prowess and dropping a pile of plates. Or silly, inattentive Clarice, who should handing, at this stage, the sugar and cream. But, as she arrived panting at the dining room door, it was Mr Morris who stood, hands raised in horror, his trousers, shoes and the dress of the lady he must have been serving, covered in shards of china and the almost unrecognisable remains of Ida’s Charlotte Russe.

And it was Ralph who had taken control.

“Fetch cloths and a pan,” he was telling Clarice, “and a small brush to take up the china. Perhaps, Madam,” he turned to Mrs Trembath whose mouth, wide with shock, was about to open still wider and let out heaven knew what sort of exclamation, “you would take the lady to your room and Clarice will bring materials to clean her gown. Do you have some glycerine?” He noticed Ida in the doorway. “And a bowl of warm water. I’m sure we can prevent any stains from setting in,” he added in the direction of the poor woman who was twisting sideways in an effort to see the full extent of the damage inflicted on her dress.

Mr Morris, Ida noticed, had still not moved but as she turned away he gave out a sort of cry which seemed to be about to turn into an explanation and then became nothing.

“You come with me,” she said, reaching out her hand and leading him, as if he were a child in disgrace, from the room.

“It was the rug,” he was saying, as they went down the stairs. “It was the rug. I must have caught my foot. Oh my God! What a terrible thing!” But his breath smelled, she couldn’t help but notice, of alcohol. More strongly, she was sure, than if the small glass of wine she had observed him drinking in the pantry were all he had imbibed that night and she wondered that she had not noticed it before.

Down in the kitchen, while Ida filled a bowl with hot water and found the bottle of glycerine and clean cloths for Clarice to carry upstairs, he sat slumped at the table, head in his hands, trousers and shoes still smeared with cream, stuck with shards of broken china and crumbs of sponge. The rugs in the hall and dining room would need the spillages wiped from them before they did too much damage, one part of Ida’s brain was thinking. The other part was filled with a mix of shame and sympathy for the pathetic figure hunched in front of her – and fear for the reprisals that were bound to follow..

 

“I have never been so humiliated!” By Monday morning, Ida had hoped, Mrs Trembath’s temper would have calmed but it appeared not. “My dinner party – completely ruined by that dreadful old man.”

The meal on which she had spent so much time and energy completely ruined as well, Ida thought but did not say. By the man – she could not think of him as ‘dreadful’ or ‘old’ – that Mrs Trembath herself had chosen.

“I ‘ope the lady’s gown weren’t spoilt,” she said instead.

“Of course it was! Completely ruined. Like my party.”

Ida said nothing. There was nothing, it seemed, to be said.

“I expected better of you, Ida. I really did.”

The words hit her like a physical blow. What in the world could she mean? That the meal over which, according to Mr Morris, although he was not, perhaps, the reliable source she had assumed him to be, her guests had enthused, had not been good enough? Or had she fallen short in some other unimagined and unimaginable way?

“Beg pardon Ma’am.”

“I expected better of you. The man was obviously inebriated. How could you have allowed him into my dining room in that condition?”

“I di’n know ‘e was. I don’ know about drink. I’m Methodist, Ma’am, you d’know that.”

“Which does not, surely, prevent you from recognising a drunk when you see one?”

The look her employer gave her was not a pleasant one. Did she know, Ida wondered, about her late – and long estranged – husband, the drunkard Percy Goss?

“‘E…Mr Morris, seemed a nice man,” she said. Helplessly. “‘E knew ‘is job.”

And it was Mrs Trembath, she thought with a rush of indignation, who had employed him.

“Well you are a poor judge of character. That’s all I can say.”

“But I’m a good cook Ma’am. Which is what you pay me for.”

Never had she dared to say such a thing before but the anger inside her had built to such a pitch that it seemed suddenly that there was nothing she would not say. As if all the resentment she had stored inside her was forcing itself to the surface.

Mrs Goss!” It was a long time since she had called her that. Mrs Trembath’s face had turned from pink to a livid red and the ridiculous ringlets she still allowed Clarice to roll into her hair, shook with emotion. “How dare you! Apologise at once.”

  “I apologise, Ma’am.” Both women recognised the dignity and determination in Ida’s voice. “But I wish to give my notice. I think you’d be better suited to another cook.”

Back in her kitchen, still shaking, she could not believe what she had done.

But she had no idea of reversing her decision. No matter what was to happen to her she could not possibly go on working for that woman.

 

Henry.

He had returned to his Genoa sketches and was working on one very different from his usual style – a background forest of masts before a rising vista of terraces of pastel-coloured waterside buildings – vaguer and less detailed than the Cornish rocks and boats of his other paintings. He wished to capture the shimmering heat of the Mediterranean and was, perhaps, also influenced by the work of Claude Monet, the one Impressionist painter he truly admired.

Or perhaps he was simply distancing himself from his own past.

Sometimes he wondered about this. There seemed, at the moment, to be many thoughts and feelings from which he was trying to escape…

Meanwhile he had almost finished his portrait of little Peggy Hatch and was on his way from what would almost certainly be her final sitting when he met Hetty Pearce and her sister.

The two women were on the path above the beach and Mrs Graves, arm outstretched, was indicating something in the bay to her sister who peered from below a large and most becoming hat, whose veil must be obscuring her view.

“Henry!” Hetty gave up her efforts and turned, smiling, towards him. “What a pleasure! Are you on your way to visit us?”

“I’m afraid not.” Henry raised his cap in their direction. “I have almost finished my portrait of Miss Peggy Hatch at Kevor and after two hours she is exhausted and I am cramped. I thought a walk into town would loosen my limbs.”

“You could come and eat luncheon with us instead.” Hetty glanced towards her sister, who continued to stare out to sea. “The children would be delighted and this is almost certainly your last chance to see Pamela’s boys. They leave us in two days’ time.”

It seemed churlish to refuse, although he was conscious that Mrs Graves had made no effort to second her sister’s invitation. It was not, on the other hand, her house or her luncheon and perhaps she did not think it appropriate. He couldn’t help but feel, however, that the atmosphere, as they walked towards the Pearces’ home, was a little strained.

This was dispelled, however, when they arrived, by young Amy.

“I do hope you’ll come again,” she said as her mother bade him help himself from the generous collation of meats and cheeses. “I shall be so bored when everyone goes away!”

“So bored,” he asked mockingly, “that you will want the company of an old man like me?”

“And in any case, my dear, you will  soon be back at school,” her mother reminded her.

“Where I will be utterly miserable!” Amy tossed her pretty curls and assumed an equally becoming pout of the lips, directed, Henry suspected, not at him but at her cousin Archie who sat opposite. “I shall hate every minute of every day,”

“Don’t be ridiculous, darling.” Hetty turned towards Henry. “Amy’s friend Faith will not be returning to school. Amy had a letter from her yesterday.”

“She’s not just my friend. She is my best friend in the entire world. We tell each other all our secrets. I hate everyone else at school and I shall be so lonely it will be unbearable.”

“Until you make another best friend in the entire world.” Archie pushed back the blond forelock that overhung his forehead and reached for the ham. “Which will take several days at the very least.”

“You are hateful, Archibald Graves!” Amy flung down her fork and pushed back her chair which scraped loudly on the polished boards. “None of you understand! Faith and I are like sisters. I shall never make another friend like her!”

“Oh dear.” Hetty spoke into the silence that followed the slamming of the dining room door. “I’m so sorry Henry. Poor Amy is very attached to dear Faith. And you boys,” she turned to the sniggering younger children, “could be more thoughtful.”

“I’m sorry Aunt,” Archie, although not included in her reproof, looked embarrassed. “I should not have teased her. Shall I go after her?”

“No, Leave her for now. She’ll calm later. It is a shame.” She turned to Henry who was observing the scene with some amusement. “Faith is a sweet girl. We are all so fond of her.”

“Of course. The Quaker girl.” Henry remembered his sketch of pretty Amy and her solemn-eyed friend. “From Redruth? The girl whose Papa is an ogre.”

Archie looked amused. William, Amy’s young brother, gave a snort of amusement.

“I must admit,” Hetty helped herself to potato salad, “I feel very sad about the whole business. According to Faith’s letter she had no idea until this week that she would not be returning to school. And she is, by all accounts, a bright girl. She was hoping, Amy says,to become a teacher.”

“Poor little soul,” Mrs Graves had not spoken until now. “I am all for young women having a proper education. Certainly better than we had. It makes them less dependent on men. Less… vulnerable,” she continued, thoughtfully.

“Never mind Mama. I shall protect you.” Young Archie put a hand on his mother’s shoulder. “When I’m set up in the law like Uncle you can live comfortably with me.”

“Which is exactly what I do not want!” His mother’s eyes flashed dark blue and angry. “For myself or for younger women, like this Faith. We should be able to support ourselves and not have to go from depending on our fathers to depending on our husbands or sons. It’s simply humiliating!”

Archie, for the second time in half an hour, looked discomposed. Mrs Graves, on the other hand, Henry could not help but notice, looked very handsome. Her complexion, tanned in the summer sun, was tinged with an angry but becoming crimson and she held her head proudly, displaying her fine and slender neck.  

“Pamela.”

Hetty held out her hand towards her sister and then, not knowing, apparently, what she should do with it, withdrew it.

“It’s also the reason so many women marry men they do not love,” Mrs Graves went on, ignoring her. “Men they cannot stand, even. Simply to get an establishment. I’ve often seen it happen and…”

“Pamela!” This time Hetty spoke more firmly. “You forget the children. William, eat your tomato or there will be no cake for tea,” she went on, turning her attention to her son. “Drink your milk and get ready for your rest.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

The two older boys had gone into the garden where, from the sounds of bat against ball, Henry concluded they were practising their strokes at cricket; something in which he would have been happy to join. Hetty had ushered her protesting sons towards their bedroom and he and Mrs Graves had moved into the conservatory.

“Hetty is rightly angry with me. Please accept my apologies. My outburst was inexcusable.”

“Not at all. You are right to be angry. And nothing will change, I fear, until more people are bold enough to say it must.”

“But not in front of the children.”

Mrs Graves, in act the of brushing a crease from the front of her skirt, looked up at him, her blue eyes amused rather than contrite.

“Not in front of the children,” Henry agreed and they both laughed.

“Would you mind if we went out for a walk?” she asked suddenly. “Hetty will be busy with the boys for some time and it would do me good to get some air before we meet again and I have to apologise.”

“Of course not. I’d be delighted to accompany you.”

 

Henry is always ready for exercise – never more so than after a meal – and the day is warm with a gentle breeze. Mrs Graves fetches her jacket and, with the help of several pins, fixes her hat onto her thickly piled-up hair before the hall mirror as Henry collects his cap from the stand.

For some reason – perhaps because they have told no-one they are going out – they have a conspiratorial feeling and as they pause for a trap to pass before crossing Cliff Road it seems natural for Henry to take her arm. They turn left along the broad pavement, recently completed following the council’s purchase of this coastal strip from Mr Horniman, the owner of the Gyllyndune estate and bordered by hydrangeas, whose great heads glow deep blue in the sunshine. Below the cliff the rocks are exposed, the sun glinting off the pools and lighting bright green or glistening brown the weed that surrounds them. A group of turnstones forage along the seaward edge and further out a cormorant slides below the water. Henry pauses, watching for it to re-surface.

“I would not like you to think…” For a moment he has forgotten his companion. “That my marriage was an unhappy one,” she says as he turns, “when I spoke of women marrying men they cannot stand. I was devoted to Robert and miss him greatly.”

Henry says nothing. Being unsure what there is to be said.

“My boys are a great comfort of course, and I have many friends. And I am fortunate that he left me well provided but I would so love to have some proper occupation. I see young girls doing useful jobs –  teaching or nursing, or working in offices as shorthand typists… I even read of a lady reporter on one of our newspapers! How much more exciting than sitting at home, planning meals and paying visits and worrying about our clothes!”

“I imagine teaching and typewriting can be dull at times.”

“Of course. But not all the time!” She stops walking and lets go of his arm. She is almost his height, he notices and her eyes, alight with enthusiasm, are very fine. “And I would have liked to have the chance to find out. We lived in Hertfordshire when I was a girl – there was much talk of the new colleges for women in Cambridge and I hoped my father might allow me to take my Higher Locals and go on to one of them but he said it was not worth the expenditure – for a girl.”

They have reached the point where a path slopes down towards the beach. It seems the moment to turn and they walk back towards the house, both of them lost in thought.

“I should have tried harder, of course, to persuade him.” Mrs Graves speaks into the silence. “But I was a quiet girl, with a habit of obedience. I shall miss all this so much!”  She changes the subject with an abruptness that takes Henry by surprise. “These glorious views and such clean, health-giving air. When I am back in the soot and grime of Bayswater it will be hard to realise that this is all still here.”

“But not always. There are days – weeks even – when it does nothing but rain, or at least drizzle, or the winds are so strong you can hardly keep upright. I am often glad to be back in London where there are other distractions.”

The weather seems a safer topic than the disappointments of his companion’s youth.

“And, now we are friends, you must come and distract me! You will do that, will you not?”

She turns towards him, cheeks glowing, tendrils of hair escaping from below her hat and Henry agrees that he will, of course, visit her in London.

 

Faith.

The first day of term and the girls would be gathering in the hallway of the boarding house. There would be much chattering and the usual confusion. Lilian would, as always, have forgotten her handkerchief and have to rush back to the dorm. Girls would be telling their holiday adventures – those they hadn’t managed to relay in whispers last night, after lights out. There would be new girls to be looked over and, for the most part, looked after. There would be new clothes to compare. There would be new pens and pencils and satchels for the new term…

“Papa’s egg should take no more than three minutes and remember the napkin to cover the egg cup. Is the butter on the table? Is the toast made? Did you set the teapot to warm?”

It was her first morning preparing breakfast on her own – although with Elsie hovering at her elbow – and the routine was simple enough, compared to the breakfasts she had seen during her stay with the Pearces. Mr Pearce, she remembered, had lamb or veal cutlets every morning, as well as boiled or poached eggs, a great deal of toast and marmalade and almost an entire pot of coffee. Papa’s tastes were a great deal plainer.

They would have reached school by now – Amy and Lilian and Magel… They would be sitting on the wooden forms below the coat pegs in the cloakroom, replacing their outdoor boots with their  indoor slippers. They would be meeting up with the day girls, exchanging their news, noticing who had changed their hairstyle, speculating about the new teacher who would replace Miss Debenham who had left to get married.

And they would be talking about her – Faith. Who was also not coming back.

They would go to their new classroom – up two flights of stairs in the tower at the front of the building, its windows looking out over Truro and its recently completed cathedral. They had been taken there on the last day of last term to store their hymn and prayer books, bibles and atlases and she remembered how she and Amy had raced up the twisting stairs to ‘bag’ the most coveted desks in the furthest corner. Where her hymn and prayer books, her bible and her atlas might still be waiting for her.

Hers was an old desk, she remembered. Its lid was comfortingly curved and there were ink stains that no scrubbing had been able to remove and, inside, in one of the least accessible corners, were carved the initials FCG.

Freda Carston Grant, whose name, in gold lettering, was high in the list of Old Girls who had gone on to university, which hung on one wall of the assembly hall. She had gone to Bedford College, University of London, to read History and when Faith had seen those initials inside the desk that would be hers for the next year it had seemed like an omen. Perhaps one day, she had thought, she too might go to Bedford College, University of London.

She had already planned to carve her initials next to Freda’s inside the desk.

“Hurry Faith. It’s laundry day, remember,” and she dragged her mind back from Bedford College to soiled linen, to prepare the list for the laundry book before the lad appeared at the back door for the box. Two double sheets and eight singles, she wrote, conscious that her handwriting was nothing like as neat as Elsie’s on the previous page. Twelve pillow cases, three tablecloths, six napkins, twelve towels, four glass cloths, two tray cloths (embroidered), four antimacassars…

They would be in the assembly hall by now – fifty girls, the youngest sitting cross-legged at the front, the rest standing in rows, rising in age and height until they reached the great girls of seventeen below the stained glass windows with the pictures of the three Graces at the very back. And when everyone was still the head girl – this year it was to be Tamsin Rich of the glorious, red hair – would knock on Miss Robartes‘s door and they would hear the sound of her firm tread along the short passageway from her study, down the side of the hall and up the six steps to the platform.

“Good morning girls,” she would say with one of her cool, appraising looks across the assembly before giving out the number of the first hymn. Which would be, as it was on the first day of every term, number Three Hundred and Thirty Three, Part One.

Lord behold us with thy blessing,

Once again assembled here;

Onward be our footsteps pressing,

In thy love and faith and fear.

Faith loved singing – they did none, of course, in Meetings for Worship – and this hymn was a favourite, partly for its rousing tune but mostly because it was at this moment that she really knew she was safely back for another term.

The red cotton marking on the tablecloth she was attempting to fold blurred and faded and Elsie was speaking; something about Papa’s shirts… but these didn’t go to the laundry and she tried to make sense of the words… They must be put to soak with Reckitt‘s Blue – to keep the whiteness, Elsie was saying and there were, she realised, several shirts amongst the towels and undergarments. Picking them out, she carried them through to the scullery, where, surreptitiously, she blew her nose on a dangling sleeve.

The entire morning, it seemed, was taken up with the washing. Agnes had lit the fire under the boiler and the flannels and tea cloths, together with the aprons and cotton petticoats were put in there. Papa’s shirts were set to soak, the lighter garments – Mama and Elsie’s blouses and stockings – were put aside for handwashing, and Faith was set to unpicking the collar from Mama’s best dress. The scullery was stifling with steam and the smell of soap shavings wafted through into the kitchen to wind its way around her nostrils along with the sharp reek of the ammonia Agnes used to remove stains from the tea towels.

At school the classrooms would smell of new paper, from the exercise books they would be given to label with their name and form – green for English, pink for Mathematics, blue for History, yellow for Geography… The walls would smell of distemper where they had been painted during the holidays and the floors of polish from their annual cleaning. When the monitors came round with the big bottles of ink and wads of blotting paper against the inevitable spills, the sour aroma of the ink would rise up and overwhelm the rest…

And Elsie was giving her more instructions…

“Stop day-dreaming Faith dear. I’ve had the milk ready for Mama’s collar for the past ten minutes.”

It would have been a joke once – a saucer of milk for Mama’s collar, as if it would lap at it like a cat – but today she was too miserable even to attempt a smile. Pulling, none too gently, at the last few stitches, Faith placed the collar in its saucer and waited to be told what to do next.

It would be like this, she thought, wielding, under Agnes‘ instructions, the wooden tongs with which she could pull out the hot cloths from the boiler and place them in the deep sink of cold water, next Monday and the Monday after and every Monday of every week from now until…

Until when? Until she got married? Like Elsie? The possibility seemed too unlikely to consider since she had never met anyone she would want to marry – and in any case what had Elsie said, only last night?

“William and I will have just the one maid.”

And she had appeared quite happy at the prospect.

 

Orion

After seeing his pictures Mary had turned and walked out of the room, along the passage and downstairs, banging the door behind her. When he followed her she was nowhere to be seen.

Perhaps, he thought, she had gone to the farm to talk to Mrs Roscrow, although that was not like Mary. But then it was not like Mary to sit weeping at the table – or to walk out of a room without speaking…

Confused, he fetched his fork and started to lift the last row of potatoes. Which they really needed to see them through the winter but Mary had said they were short of flour and sugar and tea and he must have something to sell. Not that they would fetch much; many of them had wormholes and there was scab on others. He should have lifted them before this, Mr Cyril would have told him, and once again he felt he was letting down his old employer by ignoring his instructions.

Setting aside his fork, he took the basket and started to hunt for eggs. The hens clustered around him, clucking in irritation at having to scratch for their own food and he went back to the kitchen for the scrap bucket under the sink. Which contained, he realised with another qualm of guilt, almost nothing – the thin half-crust of a stale loaf, a couple of cabbage stalks, too tough, he suspected, even for soup – and another well-holed potato. Well at least they could pick out the worms, he thought, tossing it with the rest about the yard. They would need more grain, he realised, if the hens were to lay properly… If they were to get enough eggs for market next week…

 

Gone six o’clock and Mary still wasn’t home. It had been a poor day and the evening clouds were drawing in, low-hung and stone-grey below a moody sky with an angry smear of orange  towards the west. Mary never stayed this late at the farm and, worried, he went round to the front of the cottage towards the coast path, darkening between the overhanging hedgerows.

He must change his ways, he thinks as he makes haste, disturbing a mistle thrush foraging for hawthorn berries and setting the wild rose briars swinging, their dark outlines menacing against the drabness of the sky. He must get back to work on his patch, preparing the ground for next year’s crops, digging and manuring the soil with seaweed off the beach. Early tomorrow he must hunt for mushrooms in the upper field so he has something else to take to market. He must ask if any local farmers need an extra hand. He must tell Mary how very sorry he is…

But when he sees her pale dress, visible some way off in the increasing darkness, he can say nothing. His tongue seems to have grown too large for his mouth and he can only wait and, when she comes close enough, take the basket of blackberries in silence.

Even in this light he sees that the devil has got into them. Tiny white worms emerge from the fruits and wriggle their way across the dark globules. Soaked in water, the berries will be good enough for them to eat but not for selling and his resolutions disintegrate into anger that Mary should have wasted her time.

Which changes to anger that she does not understand how he feels. That she seems not to care enough to mourn for their dead child. That she seems, already, to have forgotten him and does not wish to be reminded. And so they walk back towards the cottage in silence.

The blackbird who nests in their hedgerow sends out, unseen, a string of glorious notes but neither of them can think of any words that will make things better between them.

Nor, it seems, does either of them wish to.

Uncertainties of Love and Hope. Chapter 6.

Ida.

Sunday morning and a preacher whose sermons Ida normally enjoyed but today she gained little comfort from his injunctions that they should continue to toil in the vineyard, no matter how weary they might feel, secure in the knowledge that they would be rewarded in the glory of heaven.

For perhaps toiling in a vineyard might not be so bad. She had no real idea what a vineyard was like but picking grapes would not, surely, be much different from picking currants, which she had often done as a child in her uncle’s small-holding down at Illogan? The little fruit had been sharp and sticky, she remembered, making her hands black with juice, but she still remembered the sour, musty scent of the blackcurrant leaves, the gentle buzz of insects in the heat and the brightness of the wild flowers growing around the edges of the plot.

And in a vineyard there would be other workers. People to talk and complain with and to share the work. Better, surely, than spending her days in Mrs Trembath’s kitchen, with only pert Clarice and dull-brained Edie Teague for company?.

Aggrieved by the preacher’s failure to understand her resentment and reach out to her situation, she did not linger after the service and, with a sense of defiance, although she had no idea what command she might be defying, she turned, not left towards her home and her solitary dinner, but right towards Market Strand and the Prince of Wales Pier, extended further into the harbour two years before and now a popular walkway for both townsfolk and visitors.

There were no clouds in the sky but a breeze blew in across the harbour and it was pleasant enough to stroll along, looking at the sailing boats at anchor and watching others, sails billowing, as they made out to sea or around Trefusis Point towards the river Fal. A quay punt, rowed energetically by two youths and with six crewmen aboard, probably from a visiting ship moored in the Carrick Roads, made in towards the pier steps above which Ida was standing and she squinted against the sunlight to see if her son Alfred, who sometimes earned money this way, was one of the rowers. Neither of them was, however, and as the punt reached the pier and a sailor reached out to loop a rope through one of the great, iron hoops set into the stonework she turned away, disappointed.

Even seeing Alfred, surly and sour-tempered as he was, would have been something.

 

“Mrs Goss!” A cheery, masculine cry from behind and, turning, she sees the artist, Mr Tuke, striding towards her. “Another glorious day, is it not? And you could not resist the call of the sea!”

Raising his hat – not, for once, his sailing cap but the sort of straw boater with a gaily striped ribbon around the crown that constitutes correct, if informal, gentlemen’s summer wear – he puts out a hand. A rough, sunburnt hand, she cannot help but notice and wonders if, in spite of the boater, the neat blazer and the immaculate white trousers, he is really a gentleman.

“Mr Tuke.” She is poor at social niceties but holds out her hand and the two of them stand linked as ladies with parasols, their gentlemen escorts, small children and the cheerful gang of seamen loping up the stone steps from the punt now safely moored below move around them.

And now, of course, they have nothing to say.They release their hands but stand facing each other in the uncertain manner of those who have little in common but feel it would be rude to simply pass on.

Henry replaces his hat and looks around for inspiration. Ida merely waits.

“Have you heard from Orion lately?” It is the obvious question and Henry needs, in any case, to know what, if anything, she knows about the child. “Or seen him, perhaps?” he hazards when she does not respond.

“I ‘an’t ‘eard nothin’.” A small boy knocks against Ida’s skirt and she moves to avoid him.

And how would she, she wonders, have ‘heard from Orion’? They are, neither of them, letter-writers and she knows no-one who goes in the direction of his new home and might bring news. And as for visiting….

“I would be happy to take you out there one day. I could borrow a pony and trap. It’s a pleasant enough run. Perhaps before the evenings start to draw in?”

Henry smiles. White, even teeth below his dark moustache… Smiling, dark eyes… His handsome face, lit by the sun, warms even Ida’s suspicious heart and she finds herself smiling, reluctantly, back.

“I dunno,” she says, nevertheless. To go all that way – and all that way back again – with a man who, charming as he is – but Ida has always distrusted charm – is still an artist and a painter of pictures which are, so she has heard, deeply suspect… To spend an hour or more alone with such a man… “I don’ think so,” she says. “Thank you all the same sir, ” and she prepares to turn away.

But now Henry is gripped by his idea.  It will be good, he feels, for Orion to see his mother. The boy is unhappy and unhappy children need their families.

Banishing the thought that Ida Goss may not be as comforting as his own mother would be in similar circumstances, he is suddenly determined to see how it might be managed.

“My housekeeper, Elizabeth Fouracre…” He thinks quickly, staring out over the glinting waters of the harbour, forcing himself to ignore the sight of a pretty rater, fully rigged, making past the village of Flushing on the far shore. “She has a cousin living in Mawnan Smith, not far from Orion’s cottage. She is always wanting to visit him.” (This is not true. Or, if it is, it is not a desire Mrs Fouracre has confided to Henry.) “I have been meaning to drive her out there for some time. I could convey the two of you together, Excellent plan!”

He slaps his hands against his blazer pockets as if Ida has already agreed and turns the full force of his smile onto her uncertain face.

“I’ll talk to her this evening and let you know what dates would suit her. Then you can decide which will be the best for you.”

He escorts the still-bemused Ida back towards Market Strand where he bids her farewell and sets off up the High Street towards the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club. Ida walks back across the Moor in the direction of Quarry Place, uncertain of anything except that it appears she will be going, with Mr Tuke and the unknown Mrs Elizabeth Fouracre to visit Orion.

She has no idea how she feels about this either.

Faith

Mama had, as usual, refused to go with them to Meeting for Worship, although Papa had suggested that it would give her comfort, so Cyril was not called to bring round the trap and he and his daughters walked instead down Station Hill and up Church Lane to the Meeting House and then back in the heat of the day.

Papa wore his black suit and broad-brimmed Quaker hat and Elsie and Faith wore their usual First Day clothing – simple, grey dresses with grey shawls and plain bonnets. On weekdays, to please Mama and – as far as Faith was concerned – themselves, they wore lighter, slightly more elaborate clothing but this would have been out of place in the Meeting House, where the women dressed plainly and one, even though this was no longer a part of their discipline, still wore her Quaker bonnet.

They were noticed, Faith knew, as they made their way down Station Hill. Outside the chapel a group of boys made comments she could not hear but could guess at and, if Papa had not been an important, as well as a good, local employer, they would, almost certainly, have laughed. They would quite possibly have followed them shouting insults, perhaps even throwing stones, as had happened to other Friends in the past.

These Friends were proud, according to Papa, to bear public witness to their beliefs but this was not something Faith had ever wanted to do. For once she was at one with Mama and as she tried to ignore the glances of passers by she yearned for the safety of the school crocodile where, even if they were conspicuous, she and her friends were also anonymous. More than ever she longed to be back within its comfortable confines and was, she imagined, the only girl in the world counting the days until term should begin.

Redruth Meeting had been at one time a very large one but in recent years had declined and just eleven Friends were present that morning as they sat, mostly in silence, ‘waiting on God’.

Faith never minded the silence. From outside the building the sound of birdsong in the trees and hedges overlaid the constant thump and hiss from the mines, which worked twenty four hours of every day, the wind rustled the leaves and twice an hour a train passed along the line which ran above them, just outside the garden walls, whilst inside, apart from the occasional cough, the mellow tock of the great clock above the door or the gurgle of a Friend’s stomach, there was peace to settle into her own thoughts.  

She was meant, of course, to think of God. To give thanks for His goodness, to remember the times in the past week that she had fallen short of what was expected of her and to beg His help to do better in the week to come. And sometimes this was what she did but it was hard not to think instead about the pretty straw hat she had seen in Sarah’s Drapery Store. Or of Amy and the fun she was having in Falmouth with the handsome Archie. So that sometimes, far from thanking God for His goodness, it was hard not to resent the fate that had led her to this family in this dreary town.

“I give thanks….”

Silas Thom had risen to minister – at less than five minutes to the hour when Worship might end – although it could go on, Faith knew, far longer. And Silas would certainly go on far longer. Once started he was quite capable of continuing for at least half an hour and Faith listened gloomily to the elderly man with his sparse hair, bony face and a body so thin that it seemed unlikely he should have the strength to stand for so long, or feel any cause to give thanks for anything.

Give thanks, however, he did. For the joy he felt on this beautiful morning. For health and strength and the love of his dear family and friends. For the fact that they had sufficient food and shelter…

And then he turned to the story of a family he and his brother had visited in Bristol, where they had been on Society business. The father had been turned away from his job in the docks for poor time-keeping, his wife was dead and three small children were cared for by an older sister little more than a child herself.

“They were starving.” Silas’s voice shook with anger and he sounded close to tears. “And I cannot get from my mind the grey and haggard faces of those children and the hopelessness in the eyes of their father. Bristol is a city made wealthy by slavery and yet there is no room for such people, even in the workhouse…”

She was a selfish, miserable girl, Faith told herself, as Meeting came, at last, to an end, Friends shook hands and the men retrieved their hats from the hooks behind the elders’ bench. (Friends removed their hats only to God and would even have refused to do so if bidden to meet the king  himself – whom they would, incidentally, in this unlikely event have addressed as Edward Saxe-Coburg Gotha.)

Poor family, she was thinking, to be so completely without hope. It was indeed shocking and – Silas had said that his brother, although not a man of means, was taking responsibility for their welfare – she was glad to see her father approach him and press a bank note into his hand. They must renew their efforts, she heard him say, on behalf of those who were suffering in their own area and Faith couldn’t help but remember Mrs Uren and how lacking in hope she always seemed. She must go visit more regularly she resolved and on the walk home thought more of this resolution than of the delights of Amy’s life in Falmouth

 

Papa would have preferred them never to eat meat but to please Mama they always had a joint of beef or lamb with roast potatoes and vegetables on the First Day. This was followed by a simple dessert, which today was stewed plums, after which Mama went upstairs to rest while Elsie and Faith cleared the dishes as Mrs Davy and Agnes had the afternoon free.

In spite of the heat from the range the kitchen was relatively cool in the afternoons and once the dishes had been stacked in the wooden drainers they sat at the table with cups of tea, Faith turning over the pages of the copy of Home Chat, which Mrs Davy always left for them.

There was no more to be done before tea time and they were unlikely to be interrupted.

“Look at these…” she pointed to pictures of a set of ladies’ corsets, advertised as being ‘available to be fitted in the privacy of one’s own home by a trained corsetiere’. “Imagine being tied into one of those. It might snap you in two…” Elsie, concerned that Papa would disapprove, glanced nervously across just as the front door bell rang loudly, high up on the wall behind them.

“It can’t be visitors!” Elsie stared up at the jangling bell on its curved metal band. “Not at this time!”

It was barely twenty past two and everyone knew Maud Vigo rested until at least half past three. Nor would anyone canvassing for trade call on a Sunday – and would come, in any case, to the back door.

“Perhaps it’s someone from the works?” Elsie stood up, smoothing the still-slightly-damp apron she wore over her dress and looking anxious. The works did not operate today but there might have been some sort of accident and she pulled off her apron.

As she reached the door the bell rang again and as Faith followed her into the hallway she saw Papa coming out of his study. He was pulling on his jacket, impeded by the large volume he still held in one hand.

The only light into the hallway came from the narrow strip of engraved glass above the front door but as Papa opened it the afternoon’s sunshine tumbled inwards, removing the shadows, lighting the patterning of the black and white floor tiles and causing Faith, momentarily, to blink her eyes. And then, opening them, she saw within the light, in a dress the colour of sunshine and with a matching scarf wound round her broad bonnet, her friend Amy, beaming with delight, arms thrust out before her.

“I couldn’t resist!” she cried. “We were driving across to the north coast and when Papa said we would pass through Redruth, I positively forced him to bring me here!”

She stopped, suddenly conscious of Mr Vigo in his dark clothing, his face, with its bristling white moustache and thick white, alarming eyebrows, regarding her with astonishment. Her arms withdrew, as if of their own volition, and she stood, hands against her mouth like a naughty child. Then, turning back towards Faith she seemed to notice for the first time her dull, grey dress – and the dull grey dress of her sister beside her. Her eyes, wide already, widened still further.

“I do apologise.” Amy’s father, unfamiliar at first in a long coat, a white scarf around his neck and a pair of large leather gloves in one hand, took command of the situation. “Edgar Pearce,” he said, extending the other hand to Mr Vigo. “Your daughter did us the honour of staying with us at Easter and Amy was most anxious to see her again. I am sorry to intrude on your Sunday.” He smiled in the easy, friendly way Faith remembered, thrust his hand into his pocket and came out with two calling cards.

“I am glad to meet you,” Mr Vigo took the cards without looking at them. “Faith has spoken happily of her time with you. Please come in.” He gestured towards the hallway but nothing about the expression on his face or in his voice appeared in the slightest way welcoming. “My wife is resting,” he added. “She has been unwell.”

“In that case,” Mr Pearce, already daunted, Faith suspected, by her father’s cold expression, looked uncertain. “We will not intrude further,” he said, making up his mind. “But I do hope Miss Faith may be allowed to visit us again. It would give us all great pleasure.”

“Oh yes, it would.”  Amy stopped staring at Faith’s dress and smiled at Mr Vigo from beneath her eyelashes. “Do allow her to come,” she said, wide-eyed. “Please.”

It was the expression and the tone of voice she used when she wanted a favour from her own father and Faith could have told her it would make no impression on hers.

Mr Vigo gave a sniff, rubbing his thumb and finger across his moustache.

“It was kind of you to call,” was all he said.

As they turned away Faith saw, parked outside their gate, a splendid-looking motor car. Its top was folded down for the fine weather and there were seats for at least four people behind the low windscreen between two huge headlamps. Next to it stood a tall young man, with fair, over-long hair. He wore a chequered pullover and a pair of plus fours and was, she presumed, the famous cousin Archie.

As Mr Pearce and Amy trailed back down the sunlit drive Faith saw Mr Pearce reach out for his daughter’s hand. Her own father, watching, said nothing.

 

Orion.

There was much work to be done. His ripened currants were already falling from the bushes to lie like splatters of dark ink against the earth. The peas were bursting their pods and, where they were not properly secured to their sticks, straggled about the beds, broken down in the summer storm the previous week. The last of the lettuces had bolted and were fit for nothing but slugs and the chickens, who had already attacked most of them since he had not completed the barriers intended to keep them away. Where the cabbages had been harvested – many weeks before – the cut-off stems remained, worm-eaten and mouldering among the weeds, and, apart from the carrots and turnips waiting to be lifted and stored in boxes for the winter, there were no more crops ready so that last week he had taken only eggs and a few boxes of currants to market.

Mr Cyril Rowse, for whom he had worked in his market garden in Falmouth, would have been appalled. No fruit or vegetables should ever be allowed to go to waste, he always said. And no part of the garden should be left bare, except when it was being manured. ‘Always ‘ave a succession,’ he said. ‘Always know what’s coming on, even while the one crop’s still growing.’ Bolted lettuces, broken down pea haulms, burst and fallen currants… Any one of these would have set him in a rage and if he had seen the half-dug patch intended for gooseberry bushes and the weed-clogged area where Orion had intended to sow… Actually he no longer remembered what he had intended to sow but Mr Cyril would have been appalled, there was no doubting that.

Not that it mattered when he would never see it and mostly, in fact, it seemed to Orion that nothing much mattered any more.

It was hard to remember now how eagerly he had risen from his bed in the early mornings. How cheerfully he had worked at clearing his plot of all those slates and stones… At digging into earth that had been hardened down for years… At dragging up load after load of seaweed tossed onto their little beach by storms. How contentedly he had gone upstairs at night, limbs aching but head full of plans for this year, next year and all the years to come…

He was worn out; that was the problem. Sometimes the nights didn’t seem long enough, more often than not disturbed by his dreams so that when he woke to the sound of Mary rising it was so much easier just to turn over and go back to sleep.

 

He is awake now but is still in his bed, which is, after so many hours, hot and uncomfortable. The sun, which is high in the sky, blazes in at the window and with it comes a clumsy bumblebee to fly in confusion around the room, thudding against walls and cupboards, buzzing with increasing anger and, eventually, forcing Orion to get up.

And Mary, when he has ejected the bee and stumbled downstairs, is nowhere to be seen. The floor, he can see, has been washed, since the spaces between the slabs are still dark with water, the cleaning cloths have been hung out to dry and the chickens must have been fed since they wander contentedly clucking about the yard but there is no sign of Mary.

She must, he supposes, have gone up to the farm and now he remembers that she is doing extra work for Mrs Roscrow. Someone, she said last night, must earn more money since they got little enough from sales at market. It was unlike her to sound so critical and he could think of nothing to say in reply.

And now he must get on with his jobs. He must pull the rest of the carrots and turnips if they are to eat them in the winter months. He must tie up his peas and see if any can be salvaged for this week’s market. He must pick the remainder of the currants…

Squatting on the doorstep, he pulls on his boots and sets off for the outhouse where he keeps his tools. Mary is angry with him – he knows this from her silence at meals and in the evenings – and if she sees that he has been working it will, perhaps, make things better between them.

If things can be made better. He is not sure about this.

The outhouse is dark after the sunlight in the yard; it takes some seconds for his eyes to adjust and there is his fork, leaning against some unfamiliar object covered in old sacking…

It takes a while to realise what it is; this unfamiliar object. To remember Jack, Mary’s father, unloading it from his cart. That wheel’s a bit twisted, he told Orion as he hoisted it towards him, but you can see after that…

It was a cold day, one of the few poor days that summer, with a sea mist blowing in so that they heard the cart before they saw it. Mary, stomach bulging outwards beneath her pinafore, watched from the doorway, shawl clutched around her shoulders. Looks proper, she said, and turned back into the house.

Orion expected her, he remembers, to show more interest. But she would, he decided, once it was cleaned and the wheel fixed and he wheeled the perambulator into the outhouse, where he covered it in sacking to protect it from the damp.

Now, mocked by sunlight, he drags it back out into the yard. It is nothing special, he realises as he removes the covering – just a wooden box on wheels with stiff, wooden handles but he would have been proud to walk beside Mary as she pushed it up the lane – the bumping against the stones might have wakened the child but it would have toughened him too – and along the road to the village.

He kneels down to examine the back wheel and sees that the metal rod that holds it has become bent. He can easily repair this, he thinks, and turns back to the outhouse for his tools…

And then a thought occurs to him, he goes back to the cottage, pulls off his boots and scrambles, barefoot and breathless from sudden excitement, up the stairs and into the far bedroom which Henry calls his studio. Here he hunts among the dusty, long-unused implements and pencils on the rough table next to the wall. Finding a blunt 3B, a sharpening knife and, eventually, the sketch pad Henry examined with some disappointment on his last visit, he goes back downstairs and out into the yard.

 

Henry

His friendship with the Pearce family continued and he was invited to dine with them to meet Mrs Pearce’s sister who was making an extended stay.

Mrs Graves was a handsome woman, tall and athletic-looking, in a tailored gown, trimmed with silver braid and obviously London-bought.

“Mr Tuke!” She took his hand with a firmer grasp than most women “The eminent artist and owner of the beautiful gaff-rigged cutter!”

“You’re a sailor?”

Women were not, as a rule, although his friend May Bull was a noble exception – as his new acquaintance might well be.

“Good heavens no!” she smiled. “But my son Archibald is.”

“And is most disappointed in his uncle’s failure to equal his enthusiasm.” Edgar Pearce held out a glass of Amontillado. “The moment your boat appears around Castle Point he’s out with my telescope and waxing lyrical.”

“Well, I have to admit to waxing quite lyrical myself. It’s only her second season and I’m delighted with her.”

Henry was quite prepared to enlarge on the subject of Flamingo’s racing successes but sensed the other man’s lack of interest.

“I’d be happy to take you and your nephew for a sail,” he said instead. “There’s little I enjoy more than showing off her abilities.”

“Not me, I’m afraid. Thanks all the same. I’m a poor sailor. Vomited over the side when the family forced me onto the ferry to St Mawes last summer. Most humiliating! However the others may feel differently.”

They all laughed, Henry suggested that the nephew might like to join him for a sail across the bay the following Sunday and then, realising this might seem impolite, included his mother in the invitation. By the time they sat down to dinner it was agreed that she, both her sons and young Amy Pearce were to join the expedition.

 

It was the first of many during the months of July and August and, in return, Henry found himself lunching or dining most weeks in this somewhat chaotic household.

He greatly enjoyed their company. Amy was a delightful young lady, if over-indulged by her fond father, the two younger boys were like boisterous puppies, Mrs Graves’ sons, eighteen year-old Archibald and sixteen year old Francis, had inherited her charm and the house was a lively place, noisy and throbbing with activity. Henry, always happy to form a ‘back’ for leapfrog, organise a paper chase or take part in a game of cricket, sometimes walked back to Pennance after one of these visits with some slight regrets at having no children of his own.

No children. No home of his own. No wife…

 

“You should marry, Henry. You’d make a wonderful family man.”

He and Hetty Pearce were on familiar enough terms by now for her to say such a thing, as they lay back, laughing and breathless, in the cane chairs of the Pearce’s front verandah, following an energetic game of hide and seek with the younger children.

“I think not!” Henry wiped his handkerchief across his brow then flapped it in front of his face. “No woman would put up with my way of life. And if I spent much more time with young children I should be dead within the month!”

“All the same…” Mrs Graves – Pamela – was, Henry had found to his slight alarm, a widow and a suitable number of years his junior and her sister, he suspected, would not give up easily… “A man of your talents. Wouldn’t you love the opportunity to pass them on?”

“Not at the cost of my freedom.”

Henry thought of his trips to France and Italy. His visits to London and his friends there – friends of whom a wife might well not approve. His boys and his pleasure in their companionship…

He was too decent a man to expect any woman to put up with such neglect. And too selfish a one to be prepared to give up a way of life that suited him so well. Accepting a glass of lemonade, he smiled across at Hetty as he spoke the last words but there was an expression in his eyes that warned her from pursuing the matter further.

“Amy is so disappointed.” She sipped her lemonade and changed the subject. “She was hoping her friend Faith would be allowed to stay with us again but her Papa says it will not possible. They seem a very strict Quaker family – in fact Amy is convinced the man is some sort of ogre and has her imprisoned in their granite fortress of a house.”

Henry remembered the solemn-eyed girl he sketched earlier in the summer with her carefree friend. Almost he regretted giving Amy the picture.

“I don’t suppose he’s an ogre but he may well be strict. I was raised a Quaker,” he admitted and saw Hetty’s eyebrows rise. “They generally have a… sober outlook on life but are never cruel. In my experience at least.”

“Henry the Quaker. I would not have guessed it.” Hetty pushed back her untidy hair from her brow and smiled. “I don’t see you in a dark suit and a shovel hat, sitting in solemn silence.”

“Silence I can cope with. There is much to be said for it. And much to be said for Quakers, who do a great deal of good in the world, but I have long moved away from any sort of Christian belief. I suspect I believe in Man, rather than God.”

And then the conversation, which had threatened to become more weighty, certainly than Hetty would have liked, was interrupted by little Thomas, howling that William had refused to play with him and it was not fair.

“Life,” Henry told him, hoisting him onto his knee, “is not fair. But would it help, do you suppose, if I drew you a portrait of a rabbit?”

The look Hetty gave him suggested that she had by no means given up her ambition to make him into a family man.

 

Faith.

“It simply isn’t fair. I don’t think I can bear it!”

Faith glared across her crumpled sewing to where the sun shone on the granite wall of the back yard. Elsie, with a calmness that did nothing to make her less irritable, smiled back at her.

“Life is not fair, my dear. And others have far worse things to bear. Think of that poor family in Bristol of whom Silas spoke the other day. Or those people in India after the last great famine – with no fresh water, no roads, not even any seeds for planting the next year’s crops. Or what about your poor Urens, in their damp home, dependent on the charity of others.”

“I know all that!” Faith pouted at the steaming kettle at the side of the range. “I know how fortunate I am, compared to them. It’s just…. I don’t feel fortunate, stuck in this gloomy house in this miserable town and never having any fun!

Whilst Amy had nothing but fun. Her last letter had been full of another sailing trip with the nice artist, Mr Tuke, bathing from the beach, even an evening party… And what did she have to describe in return? Meeting for Worship when a weighty Friend from Come To Good meeting had spoken of the conference in Manchester he had attended last year. A dreary afternoon in Victoria Park, when the sole excitement was a small boy grazing his knees on the gravel path?

“I so long for the beginning of term,” she sighed. “And I must be the only girl to do so.”

“Well my dear…” If Faith had been looking at her sister, instead of poking an angry needle into her drawn-thread work, she would have seen the expression of discomfort on her face. “There is something…”

But Mama – unusually, since she rarely came into the kitchen – threw open the door and stood staring towards them.

“I’ve been calling and calling,” she told them, her cheeks flushed a hectic red, “Why does no-one ever answer?”

She had woken with a headache and as Elsie hurried to dissolve her a powder Faith was despatched upstairs to find her slippers. Which surely, she thought resentfully, she could have put on for herself, however bad her headache?

Mama’s bedroom was the nicest room in the house and Faith could understand why she spent so much time there. Its broad bay windows looked out across the roofs of the houses on the opposite side of the road towards Carn Brea hill, topped with its ancient castle and tall memorial tower to a last-century mine-owner. From this window she could see the hill and its grassy, rock-strewn sides, golden with gorse, and far less of the chimneys and buildings of the engine houses, stamps and smelters, many abandoned, massed around its lower slopes. Steam, on this fine, almost windless afternoon, rose straight upwards, white against the blue of the sky and was almost beautiful, and Faith, slippers in hand, sat down on the curved window seat and wondered what it would be like to walk up there on Carn Brea.

From the great boulders at the top of the hill it was possible, they said, to see the sea at Portreath to the north and, if the overhanging murkiness should clear, at Falmouth in the south and even as far as Lands End in the farthest west. One must get such a thrilling sense of freedom to be so high up above the town!

The bedroom was warm – hot even – the windows were shut and perhaps it was the thought of the breeze that might blow through her hair if she were at the top of Carn Brea that caught in her mind – a breeze that would have passed over the broad waters of the Atlantic ocean. It was not surprising, she thought, Mama had a headache in so airless a room. It might look pretty with its pale linen sheets, bed-spread of drawn-thread work, pastel blue wallpaper and embroidered curtains but the air was sour with bodily odours, overlaid by the heavy perfume of Mama’s face powder, and smelt stale and unhealthy. On a relatively clear day like today it would surely be better to give it an airing? Reaching up, she undid the catch and lowered the sash window a few inches. Almost at once the room felt pleasanter.

 

Downstairs, settled by Elsie at the kitchen table, Mama seemed to have forgotten about her slippers and was looking at illustrations of new undergarments in the Sears‘ catalogue. The glass of water with the powder dissolved in it stood beside her, apparently untouched.

It seemed that she had also forgotten about her headache.

 

“Gracious child! Are you trying to make me more ill than ever?”

Her mother stood in front of her bedroom window, which was still open. She clasped her wrap around her shoulders and shuddered dramatically, although Faith could feel no great difference between the temperature of the room and that of the kitchen downstairs. The air, on the other hand, felt so much fresher.

“I thought it would be pleasanter for you if I aired the room.”

Fresh air, they were frequently told at school, was good for them. Tuberculosis was always a danger in this warm, damp area and exposure to healthy breezes was considered beneficial. For this reason Miss Parkinson insisted the girls sleep with their windows open on all but the coldest nights.

“And you know best, as usual.”

Which was unfair, surely? When had she ever said she knew better than Mama?

“I’m sorry. Miss Parkinson says…”

“Oh, Miss Parkinson says! That settles the matter. What Miss Parkinson says must be correct, no matter what harm it might do your poor, sick Mama.”

“I’m sorry.”

Maud Vigo sat down at her dressing table in the rounded alcove at the corner of the room, the inside of the stone turret that decorated the outside of the house, and started discontentedly to remove the pins that held her piled-up hair in place. Faith crossed to the window and latched it shut. Outside noises – the hollow clopping of the horse pulling the bakery cart, the shouts of  boys from the house opposite rolling marbles on the pavement, the wail of a siren from the Carnkye smelter – faded and Carn Brea with its rocks and tower and castle disappeared as she let down the venetian blinds and drew the curtains.

The room, apart from the area where her mother sat, where light from the turret window glinted off the glass table top, was in shadow now. The house, apart from the sound of her mother brushing at her hair, was silent. It was Tuesday, not one of Mama’s ‘days’, so there would be no callers. There were no errands that would make an excuse for her to go into town and nothing to fill the hours between now and supper time and then between supper time and bed.

As her mother took up the padded ring she used to lift her hair from her forehead and began, lips pursed in concentration, the complex operation of dressing her hair, Faith went quietly out of the room and back to the kitchen where Elsie asked her to remind Cyril about carrots for supper. Which was at least a reason to go outside.

She found him at the top of the garden digging potatoes.

“I d’know that,” he muttered when she gave her message – and jabbed his fork through the middle of a Sharpe’s Victor.

The pile of grass mowings beyond the potato bed gave off a sweet, rotting stench and Faith retreated back down the steep-sloping lawn and dropped crossly onto the grass to pick at the short-clipped stalks. The garden, surrounded by granite walls, lined with dark-leaved rhododendrons and speckle-leafed laurels, was a dreary place, shaded for most of the afternoon by next door’s monkey-puzzle tree but at least in little more than two weeks she would be back at school and life would become bearable – even interesting – again.

Apart from that she could think of nothing to look forward to.

 

Ida.

“It won’t be at all convenient dear.”

Her mistress called her ‘dear’, Ida had noticed, when she was being her most unpleasant. Seated in her morning room, the small room where she kept her sewing box, although, to Ida’s knowledge, this was rarely opened, and her writing desk, which was used a great deal, Mrs Trembath pouted her lips in irritation and lowered her forehead to frown at Ida over the top of her spectacles. She had arranged her hair, Ida noticed, in a different manner, with a curled fringe and little ringlets hanging down in front of her ears. It explained why Clarice had spent over an hour in the bedroom with the curling tongues this morning and would have suited a younger woman a great deal better.

“You did say, Ma-am, that as I’ve ‘ad to stay late three… four times lately…” Nervousness made it difficult to explain clearly and Mrs Trembath lowered her forehead, unnervingly, still further. “You did say that I might take an ‘alf day one Saturday…”

Running out of words, she stopped speaking and stood waiting. The fender, she noticed, needed a good clean. The copper was tarnished and she could see smears where Clarice had skimped with the cloth.

“That may be so but I wasn’t expecting you to demand it so soon. As you know, out of respect for your religious beliefs, I already allow you your Sundays, which is more than other employers would do.” (This was true – but only because Mrs Trembath’s Sundays had always been spent at her brother’s home on Western Terrace and it suited her to have to pay only for Clarice’s, admittedly sketchy, attentions on this day.) “This coming Saturday,” she went on, an offended half-smile on her lips, “may not be at all convenient. I may wish to invite some friends.”

Ida said nothing. There being, apparently, nothing to be said. When Mr Tuke had arrived the previous evening, Wednesday, knocking on her front door in a cheery, rhythmic manner with his cane, she had assumed that, since Mrs Trembath had said nothing about needing her this Saturday evening, it would be safe to accept his invitation to drive out to visit Orion.

“I’d come in first thing as usual,” she said. “See after your breakfast and leave things ready for luncheon.”

Mrs Trembath sniffed, pulled at one of her ringlets, and looked back at the letter she had been reading when Ida came in.

“It’s just…” Being ignored fired Ida’s temper and she felt her face grow hot. “I’ve got a chance to go see my boy Orion….”

“I thought he’d emigrated. To the new world?” Mrs Trembath spoke with little interest, eyes still fixed on her letter.

“No Ma’am.” Ida was sure she had told her this. “That were the plan but then ‘e was offered a cottage out by Mawnan Smith. I’ve only been the once and I’d dearly like to go again.”

“Mawnan Smith is some distance. How do you propose to get there?”

“Tha’s why I d’need to go this Saturday. Mr Scott Tuke, ‘e’s driving me over there with ‘is ‘ousekeeper, Mrs Fouracre. She’s got family out that way.”

“Mr Henry Scott Tuke? The artist?” The letter almost slipped from her fingers as Mrs Trembath gaped at her cook. “Why would he be offering to drive you to Mawnan Smith?” And then, “I suppose this housekeeper is a friend of yours.” She pulled again at the ringlet, which was obviously irritating her. She had never met Henry but had heard of his idiosyncrasies – of which this, she assumed, must be one.

“Yes Ma’am.” It was sinful to tell lies and Ida was a good Methodist but the challenge of explaining the relationship between Mr Tuke and her son, which she did not understand herself, was not one she could rise to.

“Well, as I said, it will be most tedious – but I don’t wish to inconvenience Mr Tuke…”

Mrs Trembath sighed and turned back to her letter. The Henrys, she thought, as Ida clumped heavy-footedly from the room, would be wildly amused at the thought of her clumsy, less than articulate cook being driven out for the day by one of Falmouth’s most renowned artists. Which was something to be said for the incident.

 

Orion

He was pleased, he supposed, to see his mother. Certainly it was good of Henry to take so much trouble, cycling out on the Thursday to tell them his plans and then bringing her Saturday afternoon in a hired trap.

And Mary had made a big effort, sending him up to the farm to borrow extra chairs so that they could all sit round the table and getting up very early Saturday morning to cook an apple pudding from her grandmother’s recipe and her own special likky pie. It would have been better, she told Orion, if they’d had their own leeks instead of having to buy them. And if the blackcurrants hadn’t rotted on the bushes, she’d added as Orion went off to make himself busy elsewhere.

 

Ida was flustered when she arrived, following a nerve-wracking hour in the unaccustomed pony trap, which jolted so much on the twisting roads that she was forced to cling to the side, unable to make conversation with either Mr Tuke on the driver’s bench or Mrs Fouracre seated opposite her.

It was not until Mary had settled her with a cup of tea in the tiny parlour that she felt able to do more than gasp.

“Oh midear!” she said then. “Oh my good lord, I feel some shaky. I di’n think we was never going to get ‘ere!”

“You sit and get your breath back.” Mary offered cake, although they would be eating soon, and more tea. Orion had taken Henry, first to look at the chickens, who always amused him, and then, to her annoyance, upstairs to the room he called his studio. He rarely spoke about his mother and she had little idea how he felt about her, but she had expected him to at least stay and talk to her.

“You’ve made it nice enough.” Ida, beginning to recover, looked round the little room. At the new rag rug Mary had made last winter. At the heavy curtains that hung before the door to keep out the draughts, although on a day like today there was no need. At the patchwork cushions on the two armchairs and the neatly-sewn antimacassars that hung over their backs. “You’re good with your needle.”

She was a good cook too, she was forced to admit when the men at last came downstairs – Henry uncharacteristically quiet and thoughtful, although in the confusion of arranging everyone around the table no-one noticed this. Her likky pie was as good as Ida herself could have made, aromatic and tasty with leeks and bacon, and the roasted potatoes were crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy inside. The apple cobbler with which they ended the meal was less successful, being dry with an over-hard crust, although they ate most of it so as not to upset the cook.

“It does better with blackcurrants.” Mary was obviously upset. “But it weren’t possible.”

No-one said anything to this, only Orion understanding what she meant.

 

“I’m glad to see Orion’s started drawing again.”

Henry has not intended mentioning the drawings, some of which have disturbed him more than a little, but is anxious to take the edge off an atmosphere he does not entirely understand.

The reaction is not a good one. Mary, bringing in a pot of fresh tea, thumps it onto the table with unnecessary force, Orion stares down into his lap and it is left to Ida to speak.

“What drawing?” she asks. An ambiguous sort of question and one that not even Henry can answer.

“He has talent,” he says instead. “His work is fresh and free from the restraint of so many art school pupils.” He is uncomfortably aware that he has said something like this to Ida Goss before – and that she was unconvinced on that occasion. “I would like to see his work exhibited. In the Falmouth gallery,” he adds into the silence that follows.

“I don’ think so.” Orion finds his voice. “My stuff in’t nothin’ like good enough.”

“But it is, Orion! It is unusual – exciting even. Your drawings of the yard, the cottages…” There are others but he does not mention these. “They are…” He falls back on the word he has used to so often to describe the work of his reluctant protege.  “Truthful,” he says and drops his tea spoon.

 

“Do you think they are happy?”

Ida was finding the journey home less uncomfortable, perhaps because the visit was over, to the son she hadn’t seen for over a year and the girl she hardly knew. In spite of the fact that she and Mr Tuke were alone, Mrs Fouracre’s cousin having offered to drive her home, she felt more relaxed and almost able to talk to this still-unnerving man.

Although not to answer his question, happiness not being something she had ever really considered. If asked – but who would ever ask Ida Goss such a thing? – she might have said she was happy. She had, after all, a home, more or less sufficient money and the comfort of her beliefs. Did this make for happiness?  It was not something she thought about and Henry’s question was not one she felt qualified to answer.

Except… perhaps there had been something. A lack of…her mind sought around for the word and came up with ‘closeness’. That was it. The last time – the only time – she had been to the cottage and Orion had introduced her to his Mary, she had felt the closeness between them. The way each listened to the other. The way they watched – and so obviously loved – each other.

Ida had never experienced that closeness with Percy Goss, even before he took so enthusiastically to drink and violence. Had never experienced it with anyone…

And then she remembered that Whit Monday afternoon after the Wesleyan service at Gwennap. Walking home across Carn Marth with Ivan Hart. His dark and muscular arm across her shoulders, drawing her head against his chest. Feel my ‘eart-beat, he’d said. It’s beatin’ for you, my beauty. That, she thought, had been closeness, as she had seen it when she looked at Orion and his Mary on her first visit.

But not, she realised, today.

“Whad‘ee mean?”

Their pony must have clopped on half a mile since Henry had asked his question but he, sitting quietly on the driver’s bench, had barely noticed.  Evening sun lit the golden haystacks, the cropped stalks on the bare earth and the yellows and blues of the flowers edging the fields beyond the road. Crimson hips and haws, blackberries and latticed balls of old man’s beard glowed in the hedgerows and honeysuckle, even after so many months in flower, breathed its scent into the evening air. The pony sniffed and snorted, occasionally striking a stone which skidded across the roadway, the trap creaked and rattled and Henry sat, hardly moving the reins and lost in thought.

“I mean…” He paused, not entirely sure what he had meant, and then, “Did you notice a…restraint between our two young people? Perhaps I’m wrong.” (He was not. He knew much more, after all, than Ida did.) “But I sensed something. A feeling that everything might not be… quite right.”

“Nerves, p’raps.” Ida spoke to Henry’s back. She was not entirely sure of the meaning of the word ‘restraint’ but ‘not quite right’ was clear enough. “They’re used to being by theyselves. Mary may ‘ave felt nervous, cooking for we two.”

Henry gave one of his sharp laughs and turned to look back at her.

“I’m sure you’re right. Especially cooking for you. I’ve tasted your delicious pasties.”

When? Ida wondered but dared not ask.

“Did either of them talk to you about… anything in particular?” Henry gave a slight tug on the reins and the pony responded by twitching his ears and shaking his head so that the harness sang.

“Mary talked about ‘er sewing – an’ ‘er gran’s recipes. Ori di’n really say much ‘t’all.”

“No. He’s a quiet boy.” Who has produced, he was thinking, a series of most disturbing drawings, unlike anything he has done before.

The hedges alongside the upward slope ahead of them cast shadows which reached out across the narrow roadway. Henry touched the horse’s flanks gently with his whip.

Neither, it seemed, had said anything to Ida, it seemed, about the baby. His plan had failed.

 

Mary

She’d learned from her mother to make a little go a long way but not, she thought bitterly, something from nothing, which was what seemed to be expected of her these days.

They had eggs, of course, milk from the farm and fish from the cove and, up to now, ample fruit and veg from the garden – as well as the money from Orion’s sales. But this past month there had been little enough of that and the crops were dwindling away before her eyes, together with the prospects of more earnings. And there were things she needed. Yeast, for example, if she was to bake proper bread. Not to mention flour and butter, candles and oil for the lamps, if they weren’t to sit in the dark, soda and lye for washing and cleaning, thread for mending and a dozen other things…

Standing angrily in Mrs Roscrow’s wash house, her arms full of soiled bed linen, she felt a familiar pain at the base of her stomach – a nagging, stretching sort of pain as if someone were tugging at something inside her. Doctor had said she should rest after…. what had happened and she had laughed at the idea and now, with Orion trailing about like a rain-filled cloud, she had to do more than ever.

“What about they mushrooms? ‘Ave you been up to see if there’s any there yet?” she’d asked last night and he’d promised he’d go up to the top field this morning to look. This time last year he’d taken a big box to Helston market three weeks running, with plenty left for themselves, but this morning he’d stayed on in bed. It was too dry, he’d said; there wouldn’t be enough worth bothering with. Which might be true but the old Orion wouldn’t have acted this way. Even if there were only a few, the old Orion would have said, they’d go well with a couple of eggs. Just as the old Orion had been happy to spend whole days blackberrying for her to make pies and jam and to bottle for the winter…

 

Bitterness, with Mary, rarely lasted and, reminded, she stopped at the cottage after she’d finished her work, collected a basket and set off along the coast path. Here the hedgerows closed in on both sides and the warm air was filled with the dry and musty scent of the blackberry leaves as she pulled the briars closer to her with a stick, tearing at the intricate webs the spiders had woven between them. But the thorns caught at her skirt and the sleeves of her blouse, the best berries were too high up and difficult to reach – and without sugar she couldn’t bottle them or make jam she thought resentfully, feeling that tugging pain once more…

She carried on nevertheless. Wild thyme and basil added their scents to that of the leaves, bright red berries of clambering bryony and honeysuckle shone out amongst the leaves and grasses, brown, orange and white butterflies flitted around her on the path and a Painted Lady settled for several seconds, wings quivering, on the sleeve of her blouse.

She could make a pudding, she thought, cheering in spite of herself. She had suet and there were rose hips in the hedge to add sweetness to the blackberries. She had a little bacon, there were a few tomatoes in the yard that would do to fry and there were always eggs…  A chaffinch, her favourite bird, perched on a high bramble that waved against the blue of the late afternoon sky, trilling out its song and ending with a flourish of notes as if expecting her applause.

Things would turn out all right, she thought. They must. Something was wrong with Orion – had been for weeks – but it would not, surely, go on for ever.

It was the baby, she knew that, although it was hard to understand why.

Men didn’t care about babies, did they? Her brother, who had several, spoke of them simply as messy nuisances, who arrived year after year, needed food and clothing he couldn’t afford, got sick and miserable and kept him awake at night.

It was sad about this little one – but she’d known all along it wasn’t going to be right, although she’d never dared share her fears with Orion. ‘S’posing…’ she’d once started to say – it was when he was talking about building a little cart to pull the child in – ‘s’posing…’ But she’d got no further. Orion had looked across at her and there was an expression of such happiness in his eyes that she hadn’t dared go on.

And then the baby had come and in the middle of all the dreadful, clenching, tearing pain she had heard Mrs Laity draw in her breath and say ‘Oh my gor’ and then nothing. In the terrible moments that followed she had hoped and prayed, harder than she had ever hoped or prayed before, that there would be no new-born cry. That the silence would go on and on and on.

She had known then that she’d been right. That there was something wrong with the child and it was for the best that it shouldn’t live. But poor Ori had not known and now it was something neither of them could talk about.

Sometimes it seemed as if there was nothing they could talk about any more.

The chaffinch went on singing but Mary gave up on the blackberries and started back towards the cottage, conscious of a new weight of misery alongside the pain inside her.

 

Outside their front door she saw the heaped up earth where Orion had buried the child. The soil had dried out in the sunshine and the little mound was so much lower now but, even after all these weeks, she could see what it was. I just want to forget, she whispered to herself. I want to forget all about it and go back to how we were, and for a moment she felt the sting of the tears she had hardly been able to shed pressing behind her eyes. Blinking, she forced them away.

 

Henry

The racing season was over but the weather stayed fair and Henry was able to take Hetty Pearce and Pamela Graves and their children on several excursions. On one – the last before Amy Pearce and the two Graves boys were due back at school – they sailed across Falmouth bay to the Helford river and dropped anchor at Helford Point, where they ate the picnic Hetty had provided and the boys bathed off the side of the boat.

He would have loved to sketch them but something held him back. Painting his quay scamps, whom he paid, was a different matter and although he often sketched or painted his friends he felt on this occasion an unusual reticence.

Leaving the boys splashing in the river, he rowed the rest of the party ashore to the small cluster of cottages about the narrow creek, enclosed by the woodlands that reached down on both sides. Hetty announced her intention of resting ‘after all that bobbing about,’ Amy settled down to look pretty beside her and Henry assumed Mrs Graves would do the same.

“That would be delightful!” she said instead, as he announced his intention of following the path along the river bank. “I love to explore and Hetty can watch that the boys don’t drown.”

Impossible to object but Henry felt uncomfortable as they set off together, especially as the pathway passed quickly into a woodland of low coastal oaks mixed with hazel and slender trunks of elder and became so narrow that Mrs Graves’ broad skirt kept catching and Henry, a naturally fast walker, found himself obliged to wait and, once, to help disentangle her.

“I’m sorry,” she laughed on this occasion, “to be such a nuisance. Or rather this ridiculous skirt is. I wish I dared try out the knickerbockers young women wear for bicycling.”

Henry smiled, he hoped, politely.

“Oh dear!” Mrs Graves was a perceptive woman. “I should have stayed with my sister and you could have enjoyed a brisk walk on your own.”

“Not at all.” What more could he say? And as she stood there, an expression of mock

despair on her face, hand raised to the pretty straw boater perched on her head of piled-up

fair hair, she presented a charming picture to which it was impossible not to respond. “It’s

delightful to have your company. And see, we are almost out of the woods.”

 

They emerge onto a grassy headland, studded with gorse bushes thick with flowers. Below them the river sparkles in the sunlight and boats bob at their moorings. Bees hover deliriously about the gorse as it releases its scent in the air, Mrs Graves raises the parasol she has been using to pull aside the tangling foliage and Henry, in spite of his thick head of hair, is glad of his cap’s protection from the sun.

“How glorious!” She puts up a hand to shade her eyes as she looks out to sea. “And see! There’s a square-rigger!”

“You’ve learned well.” An appreciation of sailing craft is a sure way to Henry’s approbation.  “She’s one of the French boats… been moored off Pendennis, waiting for orders,”  and they watch as the white-hulled barque, sails billowing, makes down towards Lizard point and is lost to view.

“It has been easy with such an enthusiastic teacher. And this summer has been a revelation. I would never have imagined how much I would enjoy sailing. My London friends will be amazed – and horrified – when they see my sunburnt face.”

“Not horrified, surely?” Henry is no admirer of pale, indoor complexions and Mrs Graves’ healthily tanned features above her high-necked white blouse appear most attractive. “I would have thought…” But he is not sure what he would have thought and turns away, squinting into the sunshine towards the narrow beach at Helford Passage on the far side of the river, where fishermen are landing oysters from a punt. Mrs Graves waits for him to complete his sentence.

“It will be quite odd…” She gives up with a laugh, “to return to my London life after such a summer. For my boys too. They have not enjoyed themselves so much since their father died.”

“They are fine boys.” Henry thinks of Archibald and Francis in their bathing suits, their strong, young limbs bronzed by a summer in the sun. “They’re a credit to you.” He continues to watch the oystermen.

“I adore them,” she admits. “But it can be difficult. Bringing up boys without a father.”

Henry, for several seconds too long, does not respond. Then,

“It must be.” His eyes remain firmly fixed on the far shore. ”You are fortunate to have your sister and brother in law.”

She has, she recognizes, said too much.

“Very fortunate!” she says, with some emphasis. “Edgar is a splendid uncle and an excellent example to his nephews. I’m so grateful to him.”

“The tide is on the turn.” Henry has been watching this as well as the fishermen, noting the small boats shifting around their moorings. “We should start back.”

As they move back into the shelter of the woodlands, the awkwardness between them is palpable. Mrs Graves ignores the snags against her skirt as she hurries to get back to rest of the party. Henry, aware that something has happened and that he has not coped well with it, follows in silence. And then, anxious to improve the atmosphere,

“Perhaps you should consider moving permanently to Falmouth,” he says. “To have the support of your family.”

Mrs Graves does not answer but as they come out from the woods and start to walk towards the beach, she gives him a smile that he is unable to interpret.

 

Uncertainties of Love and Hope. Chapter 5.

 

Faith   

There was a letter from Amy at last, who was sorry for the delay but so much had happened that she hadn’t been able to find a moment to write, even to her dearest friend. An aunt from London was visiting, with some cousins –  impossible from the scrawled and hastily-written letter to decide how many and of what age – and they had been so busy!

They were being taught to sail, she wrote, by Mr Tuke, the artist Faith had met the day she visited them. Several times he had taken them for trips in his boat, the Flamingo, across the bay to the Helford river or up the coast to the port of Fowey, and he had taught Amy such skills as ‘controlling the jib’, whatever a jib might be, ‘sitting out’ and ‘going about.’ He had once even allowed her to take the helm.

Did Faith remember the sketch Mr Tuke made of the two of them that Sunday afternoon? He had given it to her to keep and she had it on the mantle shelf in her bedroom where it reminded her of her best friend in all the world.

It was obvious, however, that one of the cousins was providing a distraction. He was called Archie and was apparently growing a moustache! He teased her mercilessly, Amy said, but had insisted on going into the town with her one morning when they needed fresh yeast from the bakery and had carried her basket all the way home!

Which couldn’t have been much of a burden, Faith thought, if all it contained was yeast, but she recognised that she was jealous – both of the unknown Archie and of her friend who was having such fun, whilst she, with ample time to write letters, had nothing to write about.

She also thought about the sketch that nice man, the artist Mr Tuke, had made of her and Amy. It had been a strange but not unpleasant sensation as the two of them sat, arms around each other’s waists, on the stool in front of Mrs Pearce’s piano whilst Mr Tuke’s pencil scratched across the surface of the paper. It had been strange to be looked at in the way he looked at them, staring intently with his very dark eyes, looking down at his sketching pad, then up again, frowning in concentration. He had spent some time – so it seemed to Faith – on her face, his tongue caught between his teeth, pencil poised as if he were afraid he might miss something, glancing from her to what must be her likeness and then back to her again.

Was it just her imagination that he spent more time looking at her than at Amy? Who was much prettier and so this couldn’t possibly be true. She had felt herself wanting to move away from his gaze and yet – even more so – she had wanted him to go on drawing her.

When it was time for her to go back to Elspeth Thom’s, she had worried that Mr Tuke would leave her unfinished but he assured her that he would not.

“I think I have caught your likeness and can complete the drawing at home,” he had told her, smiling. “So you are released, with my thanks.”

She had been so relieved that she had not even asked to see the drawing.

Now she wished devoutly she had dared to do so.

 

It was a dull day – cloudy, although this might simply be the hot and steamy air blown across from the ventilation shafts of the Basset Mines at Carnkye – and below the haze the constant heavy thuds of the great, multi-headed stamps, used to crush the rock from which the tin would be extracted, together with the pumping of the beam engines that kept the mines dry enough to work, carried down the valley in an infernal chorus.

But she must not complain, as her father told her, since the wealth of his works depended on these engines, stamps, Frue vanners and shaking tables, used in the extraction and dressing of copper and tin.

“We live in a place blessed with more natural resources than anywhere else in the world – and you, in your comfortable home, with no fears as to where your food or clothing is to come from, should be grateful,” he would say.

But it was hard to feel grateful when she remembered the fresh, salt air of Falmouth, the glistening waters, the swaying palm trees and the exotic plants she had seen in gardens there and, putting Amy’s letter in the pocket of her skirt to re-read later, she went slowly upstairs to the room they still called the nursery.

She had told Mrs Uren she would look out some toys for the children and it was something to do. Elsie had gone to the shops, Mama was resting on her bed and anything was better than staring out at the dull, grey road from the airless shadows of the drawing room.

Not that the nursery was much better since, apart from Mama’s bedroom, the Vigos followed the principle that simplicity of living was more important than displays of wealth. There was a framed map of the world on one wall, with the countries that made up the British Empire coloured in pink, there was a famous Quaker picture of red Indians in fearsome headdresses and carrying tomahawks standing in the entrance of a Meeting House, subdued by the lack of fear of the soberly-clad American Friends inside and there was a picture of the hilly countryside where George Fox had once preached to a great horde of people. Otherwise the walls were bare and darkened by the oak wainscotting that reached halfway up them – the floor being equally bare apart from one small area of dark green carpeting, left from a roll put down in the morning room long before Faith was born. The only furniture was a cupboard in one corner and an old travelling trunk containing a few old clothes in which Faith had once enjoyed dressing up.

But these would be of no use to the Uren children and she opened the cupboard instead. On the shelves were the jigsaws she remembered – including her favourite of a farmyard with the shapes of the cart horse, donkey, pig, goat, duck and hen cut out. The little Urens might enjoy playing with these and, although she would be sad to give them away, this was no reason to deprive these much needier children of the same pleasure.

There were also books, with letters of the alphabet and numbers from one to ten, a battered, wooden engine that had once been red and a wooden dog on wheels, that could be towed on a piece of string. And, on one of the higher shelves, a collection of knitted woolen animals, all missing at least one eye …

She would be sorry to lose them too but they were doing no good here.

“What are you doing?

Somehow she had woken Mama, whose bedroom was directed below and who now stood in the doorway staring at her, that strange, pale, shining look in her eyes that Faith had often noticed – as though someone had smeared grease across the lenses. She wore her black, embroidered, dressing robe and her hair was unpinned and hanging loose about her shoulders.

Faith! I asked what you were doing?”

“I was…” It frightened her when her mother spoke like this, her voice so cold that it sounded as if it might break into icy splinters and yet might equally erupt into a boiling rage. “I promised Mrs Uren – I told you about her, you remember? I promised I’d bring the children some toys. They… they don’t have anything to play with. I thought…”

But, with those glistening eyes fixed on her, she didn’t dare say what she had thought. That the toys were wasted in the nursery… That no-one played with them any more…

“You thought...”

But her mother didn’t go on either. Instead she came further into the room, the robe, loosely fastened at the waist, slipping open to show the white chemise beneath it, her hair frizzing out at the sides so that she looked…  She looked… Faith tried to block out the word that came into her mind. She looked mad, she didn’t want to think. As if she might do something frightful and frightening. Something… unpredictable.

“Put it back!” Her mother advanced towards her, reaching out one hand as if for a support of some kind. “Put it back!” This time the words came out as a scream, as if she had trodden on something sharp and painful. And she was wearing no slippers, Faith noticed, just her light, cotton stockings but she wasn’t screaming because she had stubbed her toe or had a splinter in her foot. She was reaching out towards Faith, who hadn’t realised she was still holding it, for the wooden engine with its faded red body and four wonky wheels.

“It goes back!” she hissed, her breath sour against her daughter’s face, and seizing it from her, she thumped it down onto the shelf so that the jigsaw pieces rattled in their boxes. “It belongs to your brothers. You have no right to move it.”

Turning back, she swung her empty hand at her daughter, the heavy, antique ring she wore on her middle finger caught against Faith’s cheekbone and she heard herself cry out in shock and pain. Her mother, seeming not even to notice, turned away.

“You are not to come in here,” she said – but now she spoke quite calmly, as if nothing very much had happened. “Ever again.”

As she left the room her dark robe slipped further from her shoulders. The Chinese dragon embroidered in coloured silks down its back rippled with the movement as if it might be alive.

 

Henry.

Henry continued to win almost every race he entered in Flamingo, culminating in the Commodore’s Cup in the Falmouth Sailing Club regatta, which was the last of the season.

So much sailing took up a great portion of his time but did not stop him working at Newporth beach, further around Pennance Point, on a painting of two boys on sunlit rocks with a small dog swimming towards them.

His boys, Bert, Johnny, Harry and Charlie, took turns in modeling and Henry was pleased with the progress of the picture. The boys, especially since they were not expected to spend long periods immersed in water, were also happy and not just, he was sure, because of the money he was paying them. Charlie was particularly cheerful. He had been modeling for Henry for several years and was a regular crewman on the Flamingo who could also be relied on to look after his other boats – the amount of rowing he was called on to do developing still further the robust physique of his back, which was such a feature of the current painting. More than this, he was also a good companion – but he was not Orion, whom Henry still desperately missed.

But Orion, he continued to tell himself, was in the past. He had his Mary. Probably their child had been born by now and the awkward lad he had first known, had become a father.

His friendship with Henry had been replaced by something far deeper.

“That young man’s ‘ere to see you.”

He had packed up early and left Charlie to stow the equipment in the small building he used as a store and studio on Customs House Quay while he walked home in the evening sunshine. He was invited to dinner at Grovehill House, home of his friend Howard Fox, and it occurred to him, as he passed the elegant, stuccoed house at the end of Woodlane, that he should have brought his dress suit with him and changed in the studio. In about an hour’s time he would be striding back along this same road.

“Which young man?”

Charlie could not have arrived before him and why, in any case, would he want to see him? And there was something odd in the tone of his housekeeper’s voice.

Mrs Fouracre, a discreet woman, was not given to saying what she was thinking but Henry had known her long enough to recognise when something had surprised – or perhaps worried – her.

“It’s that young Orion,” she said. “I think something’s upset ‘im.”

 

Faith.

The Vigos were comfortably off, William Vigo owning the sprawling engineering works that occupied a wide tract of land to the north of Carn Brea, the ancient hill that dominated the western outskirts of Redruth, where he manufactured metal tools and fitments for pumps and winding gear. Some went straight to the remaining mines whose engine houses spread across the local landscape but these days more were sent overseas to mines in America, South Africa, Australia, even to Chile. Vigo Fabrications, built up from the tiny workshop owned by William’s grandfather, was well-known and well-respected and still did good business, even though, with the falling prices for both tin and copper, mining in this part of the world was still on the decline.

Astute businessman that he was, in common with many Quakers, William recognised the need to take action and last year had made the decision to send his two sons out to the coal mining city of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where he judged they would learn something of modern commercial methods and would make contacts with local mine owners.

He had proved correct in this and the firm’s American business was increasing significantly.

Locally Vigo’s was known as a good firm to work for – Quaker businessmen such as the great, chocolate-making families in the Midlands and North had a reputation for looking after their workers and Vigo’s manufactury, if not a place of beauty, was a deal safer than many. The workers were allowed sufficient breaks and worked in buildings that were reasonably light and not over-hot in summer or too wet and cold in winter and there was a medical room with a trained nurse to deal not only with any minor accidents or ailments of the workers but also their families. They remained, therefore, loyal to their employer and worked hard with the result that William Vigo, like his father, also William Vigo, before him, was known as a ‘warm man’.

But not an ostentatious one. Perhaps living in one of the Clinton Castles might be considered ostentatious and the house was comfortably and sufficiently furnished but that was as far as it went. Furnishings were simple, compared to the majority of middle or upper class houses at the time and the family, apart from Maud Vigo, dressed soberly and without regard to fashion.

And they did not keep a whole troupe of servants. In fact, for a house of this size, especially one where the mistress was in poor health, they could be thought to have too few. There was a cook, of course, and a tweeny, who divided her duties between the bedrooms, living rooms and the kitchen, and a woman who came in three hours most days for the ‘rough’ – the washing, ironing and the heavier sort of cleaning. Otherwise there was only Cyril, who drove William Vigo to and from the works and spent the rest of his time working in the garden.

It was not, Maud frequently said, enough – Faith sometimes wondered if this was one reason why she had withdrawn from this area of responsibility – and Elsie, Faith’s elder sister, could frequently be found marking, folding and putting away the linen, clearing out cupboards or helping in the kitchen.

Which was what she was doing this afternoon, having returned from the shops, when Faith, her face still stinging from her mother’s hand, went to find her.

The kitchen, beyond the heavy door at the far end of the hallway, was possibly the nicest in the house. The walls were white, distempered annually, and there were cheerful blue curtains at the windows, matching the blue and white striped jugs and bowls ranged along the shelves of the long dresser which took up one wall. Opposite this the Cornish range, black-leaded weekly, gleamed in the light from the windows onto the yard and beyond this was the scullery with its large sink and wooden drainers and the great boiler for the washing.

Elsie, at the big, scrubbed table in the middle of the kitchen, was stringing and salting runner beans into earthenware jars. Edna Davy, the cook, sat with her, top and tailing gooseberries. The windows were open, the curtains blowing inwards in the breeze and Faith could hear birds singing in the bushes in the garden, four steps up above the yard.

“My dear! What has happened to your face?”

Elsie set down her knife and got up to look more closely. Her face – it was rounder than Faith’s, with heavy brows that could give her a rather severe expression – puckered in concern.

“You may have quite a bruise tomorrow. Whatever did you do?” she asked and then, seeing her sister’s stricken look, “Would you fetch in some more salt, Edna?” and Cook, understanding, left her gooseberries and went out through the scullery and across the yard to the stone outhouse where they stored their supplementary supplies.

“I was in the nursery.” It was hard to know where to begin. “I went to find some toys for the Uren children – the ones down Penryn Street. Remember? I thought it would be all right. I mean, it’s not as if anyone plays with them any more…” There was the sound of a door closing out in the yard and Elsie, glanced towards the window. “Mama came in. She was very cross, I think she’d just woken…” Faith made haste to finish her story but then saw Edna Davy cross the yard and, grunting with the effort, clamber up the steps to the garden, obviously inventing a further errand to keep her from the kitchen.

“She was very cross,” Faith started again. “She shouted at me that I shouldn’t be in there. That I should put the toys back in the cupboard. And she….”

But it wasn’t possible to speak the words and the tears she had been holding back came pouring down her face and made her poor cheek smart still further,

“This is not easy.”

Elsie had given up on her beans and led Faith into the dining room – a gloomy room at the best of times, its one window, which got little enough light because of the jutting kitchen wall, obscured still further by the dark, speckled leaves of the thick laurel which grew just outside. Closing the door, she gestured to Faith to sit down at the dining table, bare except for the heavy, green cloth that protected the surface from scrapes or spillages.

“It is part of Mama’s illness,” she went on. “At least, I think it must be. Papa has once or twice said things that make me feel this is so. She is…” She took a deep breath and looked down at the white apron she wore over her dark skirt. “She is very unhappy. She has been ever since the boys went away. You must have realised.”  

Faith nodded, She had, she supposed, known this, but, since no-one had spoken of Mama’s illness in this way, it was hard to believe that this could be the cause. People – especially adults – did not, surely, become ill just because they were unhappy? In any case, was not Papa always saying that they must bear cheerfully the burdens that were laid upon them?

But then Mama was not, of course, a Friend.

“So when she saw me with the toys…”

She spoke slowly, trying to make sense of her mother’s intense and sudden anger.

Elsie nodded.

“It must have reminded her of when the boys were little. We must pray for her my dear. This affliction is not her fault.”

Faith nodded, although it was hard to imagine George and John, who were ten and eight years older than her and had seemed like men for as long as she could remember, as little boys playing with the red engine or the woolen animals.

But she must do her best to remember why her mother was so unhappy, although the ache on her cheek, which seemed worse now rather than better, would, she knew, make it difficult.

 

Orion

He felt better after talking to Henry. Riding home that night – Henry had insisted he should take the bicycle he had bought for him two years before – it was as if at least a part of the great lump of sorrow he had been holding inside himself these past two weeks had been removed.

At first it had been terrible. ‘The babby’s dead’, he’d blurted out. ‘’E come out all wrong an’ ‘is li’l arm was… An’ ‘is li’l leg…’ and then, seeing through the tears in his own eyes the shock and sadness in Henry’s, he had given way and blubbed like a babby himself.

He hadn’t cried like that since… but he had no idea, Quarry Place being somewhere that any sort of weakness would be pounced on and made an excuse for violent bullying. With a brother like Alfred, Orion had learned early to hide his feelings, and tears – this was one of the few things he had learned at school – were unmanly. No-one would respect an adult who gave way in so childish a fashion.

Except, it seemed, Henry.

“My poor, dear boy. How terrible for you both. What a dreadful shock for you to bear,” he  heard through the sound of his own sobbing and felt Henry’s hand press against his shoulders as he leaned his head onto the table and let go of his pent up misery.

 

“I’m so glad you came,” Henry said later, as they sat in his studio, Orion with a glass of hot rum and water before him. “When such things happen you need a friend to talk to. You shouldn’t have to bear it on your own.”

Which was when Orion had dared to speak of his other sorrow – that Mary seemed so much less distressed than he was.

“She won’ talk about it. Jus’ says it’s best forgotten – like ‘e were a dead gull, washed up on the beach, to be buried before ‘e starts to stink…”

“We’re all different. And I’m sure she is grieving in her own way. Perhaps she feels…” But Henry, who had no idea how a woman might be feeling, whose baby had been born deformed and dead, had stopped there. “I don’t know,” he said instead. “If it were me, I imagine I might feel as you do but we can never really know what others think or feel.”

“What makes it easier for you?” he had asked after they had sat some minutes in silence. “Is there anything that makes it more bearable?”

“I d’like to sit by ‘im.” Orion knew the answer at once. “Beside where I buried ‘im. I like to sit and talk to ‘im. Tell ‘im what I’ve been doing… Mary don’ like it,” he added, looking up.. “Says it gives ‘er the ‘eeby jeebies.”

Henry said nothing, took a sip of his brandy, gestured to Orion to drink his rum and water and sat, apparently thinking. And as he did so Orion started to see what Mary might be trying to do. She was, after all, a cleaner and tidier. It was one of the things he loved about her; that she saw a mess and set to clearing it away. And the poor babby was a mess. It was horrible to think this way and doing so drew out more tears, even though it seemed as though he had wept himself dry, but it was true.

And if the poor little soul had lived he might have been like the boy he remembered in Falmouth when he was growing up, a twisted creature, towed around the streets on a low cart, tethered to one of his brothers by a piece of cord, watching the other children’s games, helpless to join in or, if they were set on by rough kids with stones, to run away. Ned, he’d been called, Ned the Cripple, and he’d died when he was fifteen or so. ‘Best thing all round’, Ida Goss had said of the news. ‘’Is poor ma couldn’t see after ‘im no longer and what sort of life would ‘e ‘ave?’

What sort of life indeed? And perhaps Mary’s way was the right one. To tidy away the babby’s memory as she had tidied away the clothes she had made for him.

“Don’t blame her.” Henry’s voice came from above him – he must have come around to this side of the table – and he felt his hand stroking the matted mop of his hair. “I’m sure she feels it as much as you do. She just shows it differently.” He paused and Orion felt another, much lighter, touch against his hair. “She felt the child growing inside her all those months… And you must take care of her,” Henry said and moved with a determined-sounding step away across the room.

He must take care of her, he thinks as he pedals through a night which, since it is August and has been a fine day, is barely dark. He must love and care for her – and, when he sits by the grave, he must not speak his thoughts out loud. For the baby, Henry has reminded him, will be able to hear his thoughts. And, if he makes this little bit of garden beautiful with flowers and not looking like a grave, perhaps in time Mary will come and sit there with him…

The hedges show dark silhouettes against the pale night sky – tall latticed heads of alexanders and cow parsley, tangled trails of honeysuckle and wild clematis and fierce spikes of hawthorn. There are already clumps of haws and blackberries and, as he freewheels down a curved hillside, he hears fresh-fallen cob-nuts crunch under his wheels.

Halfway up the other side he gives up and dismounts. Somewhere a nightjar gives its weird, wooden rattle of a call and then a sudden clapping of its wings as it takes off, unseen, across the fields. A weasel races headlong across the road in front of Orion who pauses, breathless, breathes in the scent of honeysuckle and, for the first time for weeks, feels, in spite of everything, the slight dulling of his pain.

 

Back in Pennance Cottage Henry, alone in his studio, pours himself another brandy. Poor, poor lad, he thinks remembering the awkward pride with which he told him, not that long ago, about the coming child. Now he has to cope with its loss and a grief he can barely understand.

Belatedly he thinks of the boy’s mother, Ida Goss, whom he has not seen for many months, their paths, even in a small town like Falmouth, being unlikely to cross. Has Orion, he wonders, told her about the child’s death? Had he even told her of its expected arrival? Henry, who writes regularly to his mother and sister in London, sometimes forgets that families like the Gosses, who read and write with difficulty and little interest, do not communicate in the same way.

Faith

“Buy those kiddies some toys and take them to them. I’ll sit with Mama,” said Elsie next afternoon, handing over a sixpence.

The wind was blowing in off the north coast, muffling the sounds of the Carnkye stamps and carrying away the fumes from the smelters, making her walk more pleasant even though, despite the wind, it was so hot. Gardens in Clinton Road rose up behind granite retaining walls from which the heat seemed to breathe outwards and the trees along the pavement were too young to give more than the narrowest patches of shade so that there was little shelter until she reached the railway arch from which, as always, water dripped gloomily onto the roadway and, often, the passers-by..

Alma Place with its hotel, mining exchange, coffee tavern and post office, was busy, with passengers dismounting, laden with baskets and bundles, from a newly-arrived omnibus and several farm carts, causing a hold-up during which one of the horses had taken the opportunity to deposit its steaming load of manure in the road. Faith hurried past, speeding up by the Coffee Tavern, where unemployed men were wont to congregate, and down Fore street and into Market Strand to the penny bazaar stall she had so loved when she was younger.

Now, with Elsie’s wealth in her pocket, she stood alongside two little boys and examined the toys, choosing eventually two small metal vehicles, two dolls made from clothes pegs wrapped in bright-coloured materials, a couple of colouring books and a box of wax crayons.

 

Penryn Street, even on such a bright day, was dank and gloomy, the acrid smell of smoke and steam from the surrounding mines caught at the bottom of the town where three-storey granite buildings and the railway viaduct cut out most of the sun. A line of men, clothes and faces black with grime, steel-capped boots striking sparks as they hit against stones, dragged along the road from Carnkye, returning from the morning shift, croust bags swinging from their shoulders so that Faith stood in against the wall to let them pass and was glad to reach the Urens’ door where Mrs Uren, pale and exhausted-looking as on her last visit, answered her timid knock and stood back to allow her inside.

It was strange, Faith thought, the way she did this. For the look in the woman’s dull eyes did not suggest that she remembered her and no-one knocking at the Vigos’ front door would have been admitted without recognition. But perhaps Mrs Uren saw her as someone with the right – because she was clean and nicely dressed – to come inside her home, whether she wished her to or not.

The back room was, as she remembered, hot and airless The smoke-darkened walls and ceiling made it seem still smaller than it was and the miserable strips of clothing and bedding hanging from the line above them made her want to crouch to avoid them. And there was a smell that could not be defeated by the smoke and ash from the range – a smell of stale urine that came from the corner nearest to the back doorway, where the little girl had been playing with the piece of wood she seemed to imagine to be a doll.

“You sit down.” Mrs Uren spoke without interest, reaching automatically for the kettle on the range. “Tha’s the best chair.” She gestured towards an old armchair Faith did not remember having seen before – its covers so stained and worn that it was impossible in the gloom to see what colour they might have been, the horsehair filling showing through the gaps like tufts of living growth.

“They brought it down from the relief,” Mrs Uren said, “It’s for Dan’l really but ‘e says

it don’ do ‘im no good. Kiddies d’like to play on it,” she added, brightening a little.

Which explained, Faith imagined, the sprouting horsehair.

“I’m fine here thank you.” She perched on the backless wooden chair at the table. “Are the children here? I’ve brought them a few toys. You remember? I promised I would.”

It seemed important, suddenly, to justify her visit.

“They’re out back.”

Mrs Uren poured mahogany-coloured tea into a chipped mug and pushed it across the table, one half of which was covered with a torn blanket, dark with scorch marks. She picked an iron off the top of the range, spat on it so that hissing globules danced from the metal, pulled a tattered shirt from a basket and went on with the task Faith must have interrupted.

“Perhaps I’ll just…”

It seemed strange that if the children were playing in the yard they were making no noise but as she peered out she saw the two boys on a pile of rubble, throwing stones towards the jutting wall of the house next door, the sound lost against the general background thud and hiss and metallic rattling from the mine buildings up towards Carn Brea. The little girl lay curled on the ground like a small dog beside a home-made wooden seat on which Mr Uren appeared to be asleep.

Ignored, Faith felt foolish. She had imagined, hunting through the treasures on the stall, the excitement her visit would cause. Imagined the children clamouring for the toys – the little boys fighting, perhaps, over the metal vehicles, the little girl fussing over her peg dolls. Imagined – she forced herself to be honest – their gratitude.

“Hello.” She spoke quietly, so as not to wake their sleeping Papa. “I’m Faith, Do you remember me?”

The little boys stopped throwing and turned grimy, dull-featured faces in her direction.

“Naw,” said one of them.

“Well I’ve brought you some toys. Would you like to see them?”

“Yeah!” It was the other boy – the younger from his appearance – who answered, clambering to his feet. “Wor are they then?”

“Here,” She held out the brown paper bag and then, as the boy reached out to snatch it, “Wait a moment. There’s something for all of you,” and she deposited the little vehicles on the compacted earth of the yard. “You can run them along on their wheels, see?”

Their yells of delight woke their sister, who started to grizzle, and Mr Uren, who jerked upright in his chair, then started to cough.

“I brought some toys,” she said helplessly and, as he went on coughing, loudly and violently but not in a way that seemed to bring any relief, she held out the two peg dolls to the little girl, who stopped crying and reached out her hands to take them. Dirty, sad little hands, Faith thought, but the child pulled the dolls towards her, clutching them with an expression on her face that might almost have been one of pleasure…

Uncertainties of Love and Hope. Chapter 4.

Faith

Her visit to the Urens could have been worse. The house, at the bottom of the town and built almost against the arches of the great, stone viaduct that carried the trains across the valley, did smell, even in this hot weather, of damp, of coal dust and decaying vegetables but the four children, including a baby in long and ragged robes, did not cling to her or wipe their noses against her skirt and it was obvious that Mr Uren’s ‘old trouble’ was the usual miners’ complaint, caused by years underground, breathing in dust from the drilling and blasting and breaking of the ore.

The sound of his breathing dominated the small room, in and out like a creaking door that needed a shove to make it move, so that Faith found herself catching her own breath in fear that it might not continue. But it was better, she reminded herself, than when old Mr Endean had pulled up his trouser leg for her to inspect his ulcerated calf – and threatened to pull down the trousers at the waist to show where he had been trapped against the winding gear in Pednandrea Mine…

A train rumbled over the viaduct high above them – seventy-five feet up her brother John had once told her – and she thought enviously of the passengers in their lofty, comfortable seats, looking out over the town, wondering perhaps at the feat of engineering beneath them, or perhaps taking it for granted as they looked forward to the view of Mounts Bay and the magical St Michaels Mount that Faith had seen in only in pictures, that would rise from the gleaming sea at the end of their journey,

How wonderful to be one of those passengers, instead of sitting here, next to a little boy tortuously colouring in – badly, with a broken wax crayon – a picture of a ship in the book Mrs Yelland had sent with the lard, flour and bacon that had weighed down her bag.

Coals fell behind the bars of the range, the falling cinders sparked red and orange and then dropped out of sight into the ash pan and the room resumed its previous gloom. It still, in spite of the fire, smelt of damp and Faith remembered that Penryn Street periodically flooded as the river, once a tin stream but now covered over, reasserted its rights after any period of heavy rain.

“Giv’n ‘ere!”  yelled another small boy, silent until now with some plaything in the shadowy corner between the dresser and the wall. “Tid’n yourn!” and without warning he and the even smaller girl who had been crawling towards him, began to roll around the stone floor, squawking and grabbing at each other’s limbs.

As Mrs Uren started towards them, barely stopping to set the kettle back onto the range, the boy let go of his sister and escaped past his father out into the yard, where he could be heard throwing stones against what sounded like a galvanized iron bathtub. His father sat, still wheezing, all his concentration fixed, it seemed, on keeping himself alive.

The little girl’s squeals changed to sobs and she allowed herself to be clutched against her mother’s pinafore. She clenched in her fist the lump of wood which must be the cause of the dispute and Faith thought of the toys that sat along the shelf in the attic room at home, which they still called the Nursery, although no-one had played there for years.

“I’ll come again,” she heard herself say as Mrs Uren released her, having drunk the inevitable cup of brackish-tasting tea, into the relative sunshine of the street. “I’ll bring some toys for the children.”

That would be kind, the woman said but there was a look in her eyes that Faith could not interpret as she stood on the doorstep, the darkness of the house opening out behind her like some horrid cave.        

 

Orion.

Market days he was out of bed by five to get his lettuces cut and boxed, alongside the carrots and turnips lifted the night before and now there were raspberries to be gathered and placed in straw-filled boxes. Picked the night before, there was always a chance of a few going soft before morning and that was the kind of thing customers remembered.

“Fresh-picked today,” he could tell them. Speaking the truth, which is more than most stallholders did.

When he had finished he wheeled his barrow up the rough path to Roscow’s farm, between hedges loud with the morning songs of birds swooping and fluttering among the branches. Gulls wailed above him in the glimpses of blue sky between the thick growth of leaves and the air was filled with the damp smell of early morning, the rankness of roots and leaf mould and the sudden, strong perfume of late violets.

In years to come, he thought, the child would be with him. Helping to pick the raspberries or pull the lettuces, riding perhaps in the barrow, laughing as he or she bounced with the berries. Above the creak of the barrow’s wheel, the grating of his boots against the stones and the chirpings of the birds it was as if he could already hear the small voice squealing and chattering in anticipation of the day’s outing.

He couldn’t remember doing anything with his father as a child – except scurry to keep clear when he came home the worse for drink, which was mostly, and when Percy Goss had one day failed to come home and had continued to fail to come home until a week and then two and then a month had passed, all he had felt was relief, tinged with a fear that such a happy situation could not be expected to last. And when his mother eventually told him that his father was living with some other woman, down near Fish Strand Quay, he was delighted – making a mental note to avoid Fish Strand as far as possible.

It would not be like this for his child, who would be loved and protected from birth, to whom he would teach everything he knew about plants, about the sea, even perhaps about drawing and painting. Who would never be afraid of him as he had been afraid of Percy Goss.

At the top of the lane the sun caught against clumps of foxgloves, their tall spikes poking up amongst the grasses and fennel, hogweed and wild angelica on the roadside verge. When he was a kid he would poke his fingers into those pink and speckled tubes, which were gloves for foxes, Ida had told him and one day he would tell his child the same…

 

 

It was a long day since he and Farmer Roscrow did not leave market until early evening. Orion’s lettuces and raspberries sold quickly enough but the root veg took longer and Farmer Roscrow had potatoes as well as cheeses, eggs and honey. It was not until the clerks and others had passed through on their way home from their places of business that they set off for home, the old donkey clip-clopping at a good rate after waiting patiently all day.

Wheeling his barrow back down the lane – he had bought flour and sugar on Mary’s instructions, together with a bag of salt for protecting his crops against the slugs and a spool of twine to tie in his peas – Orion strode cheerfully towards the glinting arc of sea. The iodine smell filled his nostrils like a welcome and there was plenty of light left in the day. He might get out his sketchbook, he thought, just for an hour. Sit out on the grassy bank above the beach and sketch the pools left behind in the rocks by the falling tide.

 

“Don’t you come in, Ori. Not yet!”

It was Mrs Roscrow. Who rarely – twice, perhaps, in the past year – came down to the cottage, close neighbours as they were. For Mary still worked at the farmhouse and Mrs Roscrow who had, according to her husband, ‘some funny ideas’, seemed reluctant to visit.

“Is it the child?”

He felt something clutch at his innards that was part fear and part excitement. The child – his and Mary’s child – must be on its way. Tonight – or perhaps tomorrow; he knew these things could take time – he – or she – would be here.

“Is she all right? Mary?”

For Mrs Roscrow, a tall, bony woman for a farmer’s wife, who wore her greying hair bunched up beneath a cap and had a naturally crabbed expression on her face, had nodded when he asked if it was the child, but said nothing more, remaining leant against the jamb of the cottage door and looking past Orion out to sea.

And he could hear no noise from inside the cottage. The bedroom window, above the front door, was wide open only a few feet above him but no sound came out.

Women screamed, he knew from living in Quarry Place, in childbirth. Sometimes for hours. They screamed and howled and shouted obscenities and the noise went on and on until, eventually, it was replaced by the screams and howls of the new-born child.

‘She’s goin’ on all right…  Don’ fret yerself…’ Mrs Roscrow would say. Comforting words to calm the fears in his stomach and inside his head and she would send him up to the farm to be out of the way while the women did their work. There would be supper up there waiting for him, she would say.

Except that she did not. Instead she remained staring out to sea although, apart from a tramp steamer making towards the horizon, there was nothing to look at. Then she turned to look back at him and he saw an expression on her face he found impossible to understand.

Mary?

It didn’t sound like his voice. Not even to himself. It was the voice of some other, much older man. A much older man who had received some terrible news.

“Mary?” The voice said again and this time it shook as if the old man might be about to break into sobs. “W’as ‘appened? Where is she? W’as goin’ on?” And, as Mrs Roscrow started to speak – but he was no longer listening – he pushed past her into the cottage and, seeing no-one, although the new armchair lay on its side and the rag rug Mary had once made for him was ruckled against the hearth, pulled open the door at the bottom of the stairs.

Mary!” he was yelling, as, stumbling on the bend, he plunged upwards and then, following a line of dark marks on the bare boards of the passage, into the bedroom.                           

Maa-ary!

She lay in bed – their bed. The bed from which Orion had clambered in the light of the early morning, dressing as quietly as he could and, when she woke in spite of his caution, kissing her gently and telling her to go back to sleep.

She had looked beautiful then. Her round cheeks – they had filled out these past months – pink with warmth and drowsiness, eyes half-closed, her hair loose against her pillow, dark and shining with health.

Now her face was a dull, yellowish white, apart from two livid points across her cheeks, and looked wet and cold. Her eyes were wide open, unnaturally so, but seemed not to even see him, her hair was tangled into matted clusters and there was a smell – a dank, warm smell which he recognised as the smell of blood.

“She’ll do. The bleeding i’n’t so bad now. S’long as she lies still…”

For a moment he hadn’t known there was another person in the room. Now he recognised Mrs Laity from the village, who acted, when necessary, as midwife.

“What…?”

But what question should he ask?

What had happened while he was gone?

Why was Mrs Roscrow here?

And what, above all, had happened to the baby?

For there was, it seemed, no baby.

The drawers of the dresser, where it was to sleep for its first weeks, were all closed and the pile of linen Mary had spent so much time preparing was undisturbed on its shelf. And there was – more significant than any of this – no noise. No newborn howling, no snufflings, no movements apart from Mrs Laity, officiously rearranging Mary’s bedding, and Mary, lying exhausted against her pillow.

“‘E died, Ory. ‘E weren’t right – an’ ‘e died.”

Mary’s voice didn’t sound like hers either. It reminded him of an old magazine picture he’d found in his shed – a picture of a mountain with fir trees and clouds in the sky but the colours had faded so that there was almost nothing of them left. It must once have been beautiful – someone had nailed it to the wall as if they’d thought so – but now it was dull and pale and had lost whatever life it might once have had.

Mary’s voice was like that. Dull and colourless – and without feeling. As though the terrible thing that had happened was of little interest to her.

“She needs ‘er rest. You go downstairs now and leave ‘er be. Go on!” And Mrs Laity, all beaky nose and bristly, bony chin, her sparse, grey hair pulled tight back under some sort of headdress, put out her hands to shoo him out of the room.

“Go on now,” she repeated in exasperation. “You’re no use ‘ere.”

 

Down in the kitchen Mrs Roscrow is moving things around. Orion hears the clatter as he comes down the stairs – slowly, as if his legs may give way and send him tumbling – and as he comes into the room she holds out a mug of tea, the steam rising from its surface.

“You get that down you,” she says “I’ve put in milk but I can’t find no sugar. They say you should ‘ave sugar for shock.”

“ ‘S’out there.” Orion gestures towards the open door and his wheelbarrow, standing where he left it. “Mary asked me to get some. It’s out there with the flour. She wanted flour too.”

Suddenly it seems important Mrs Roscrow should understand. That she should know how good a housekeeper his Mary is.

“But I don’ want no sugar,” he says, as she gets up to fetch it. “I don’… What ‘appened to the babby? Where’s it to?”

The words burst out when he is not expecting them. Mrs Roscrow pauses, stands for a moment, head bowed, then turns back.

“I’m sorry midear. ‘E… ‘E weren’t right. ‘E come out all wrong and besides…” She pauses, searching for words and gives up the struggle. “It’s for the best, Ori,” she says instead. “‘E couldn’t ‘ave lived long. Not like that.”

Like what? he wants, but doesn’t dare, to ask. Sees his tea is dripping onto the floor, puts down the mug and goes outside.

His yard, shadowed now the sun is at last sinking, is the same as last night and the night before. Raspberries have ripened after their day in the sunshine and he should have been picking some for their tea. The currants are plumping and blackening and, next week, will be ready for selling…

Next week… And the week after and the week after. Which will need to be passed through and be followed by all those other weeks and months. When there will be no baby at Mary’s breast or sleeping in his makeshift cot or out in the sunshine in the old perambulator Mary’s father brought over in the wagon only a few days ago.

His chickens emerge, cross as always, from their shed and run squawking towards him, wanting their evening feed, and he goes towards the grain store. He walks slowly. Like a tired old man for whom every move is an effort.

“Where’s ‘e to? The babby?”

The chickens have been fed and shut away and Orion comes back into the kitchen where Mrs Roscrow and Mrs Laity sit, each with a mug of tea.

“Where is ‘e!” he shouts. Orion, who rarely, if ever, raises his voice. “What‘ve ‘ee done with ‘im?”

“You don’ need worry midear.”

Mrs Laity pushes back a strand of hair that has dared escape from its mooring. As she pushes the hairpin firmly behind it she glances towards Mrs Roscow, who nods in agreement.

“Roscrow’ll be down later,” she says. “I left a message.”

“Why?”

Not why did she leave a message but why should Farmer Roscrow be coming down? And Mrs Roscrow, to her credit, understands.

“‘E’ll take ‘im. ‘Tis best you don’ see,” she says and reaches towards the kettle.

 

It is such a small bundle, wrapped, Orion recognises, in a clean towel from Mary’s cupboard. And Farmer Roscrow does not take it away because Orion will not allow it.

“‘E’s my son,” he says, and again this is not a voice he knows but a voice that will crack down the middle if it speaks many words. “I’ll bury ‘im here.”

And later, when they have all gone, he unwraps the bundle. A blackbird, perched on one of the elms beyond the outhouses tosses joyous notes into the night air as Orion crouches against the earth and weeps over the bloody, twisted body of his dead boy. His head, he sees through his tears, is perfectly formed with a smooth pelt of brown hair the colour of Mary’s. His nose is a tiny, upturned snub and there are thin lashes on the little closed eyelids.But he will never know, he thinks, what colour those eyes would have been.

Tenderly he covers the lower part of the poor little body and bends towards the perfect, peaceful sleeping face. As he touches his lips against it his hot tears fall onto the smooth, cold cheek.

“G’night li’l Orion,” he whispers as the blackbird sings on into the darkness. “God bless.”

The pain inside his chest, where his heart must be, seems unbearable.

 

 

Ida.

Another Friday. Her night, for so many years, for walking across the town, hot pasties wrapped in napkins, to sit with Bea Rogers in the bedroom where she spent the last five or six years of her life. Ida had never really known what was wrong with Bea. There had been talk of Bad Leg, a vague ailment afflicting older, heavy-built, women, but she had never been sure and perhaps Bea had not been sure herself. Perhaps, it had sometimes seemed to Ida, it had just been easier to give up and stay in bed, where her niece Kezia looked after her.

For Bea had been a cheery, almost flighty girl when they had been young together in Redruth and her marriage to Joe Rogers, like Ida’s marriage to Percy Goss, had not turned out as she had expected. Not that Joe was a drunk like Percy, nor violent as Percy also was, but he was dull – almost lifeless, Ida often thought – wanting no more from life than his job in the docks, from which he returned at night to eat his supper and sleep in his chair until it was time to go upstairs and sleep in his bed. Even on Sundays and holidays he did nothing more than down a pint or so of ale in the Kings Head before coming home to sleep, although on these occasions his snoring would be louder than usual.

Remaining in bed, overlooking the road and the railway line, with Kezia‘s gossip from the Falmouth Hotel, where she worked as a chambermaid, and Ida’s weekly visits to keep her entertained, might have seemed to Bea as good a way as any of spending her life.

And Ida missed her now she was gone. Apart from chapel on Sunday, Friday evening had been the highlight of her week. For Bea was her childhood friend, the only person in Falmouth with whom she could recall her life in Redruth, ten miles towards the north Cornwall coast.

Sometimes it seemed as if, now Bea was dead, those times had never really existed. That she had never sat giggling with her friends on the back bench of Wesley Chapel Sunday School. Had never danced in her best white muslin dress with young man after young man at Druids Hall. Had never walked, on a Whit Monday across the moorland to Gwennap Pit where John Wesley had preached no less than eighteen times and which was filled, on this special day each year, with up to two thousand worshippers….

In their memories – Bea’s and Ida’s – those Whit Mondays were always warm and sunny, as they walked, young men and women together, laughing and talking along lanes scented with may blossom, through fields of tiny, blue, ‘devil’s spit’ scabious, buttercups and those little yellow flowers with tubular petals they called ‘boots and shoes’ to join up in Gwennap village with the hordes making their way to the Pit.

There, heads sheltered from the sun by their broad-brimmed hats, they would sit on the grassy tiers up the sides of the great circle formed originally by the falling-in of old mine workings and listen to one of the many great preachers of the Methodist circuit and, among the hordes of the faithful and on such a glorious day, Ida would feel her heart swell with love of God and life and everyone around her.

And afterwards, after the preaching and the prayers and the great surge of the hymn-singing, would be the walk home. When one of the young men – Reg Williams, perhaps, or, more likely, Ivan Hart – would suggest they walked home ‘the other way’. This being the longer way, up the narrow stony lane from the village to the hillside of Carn Marth above the village of Lanner, past the deep, water-filled pools from the walls of an abandoned quarry and across grassland dotted with golden, coconut-scented bushes of gorse, past clay workings and brick works towards Redruth.

They walked more slowly now, without the imperative of the service to urge them on. Some in groups but some, generally with a show of reluctance on the part of the girls, in pairs. From here on a clear day you could see across to Falmouth Bay in the south and up to St Agnes Beacon on the north coast and Ida remembered the year she and Ivan Hart had lagged behind to admire it. The heat was exhausting him, Ivan had said – he who worked down the mighty Dolcoath mine at Tuckingmill, where the temperature was always at least ninety degrees! She hadn’t believed him, dancer and rugby player that he was, but those laughing, dark eyes below thick, almost puzzled-looking, brows were hard to resist and she had allowed him to pull her gently down onto the dry grass and, later, to put his great, dark-haired arm across her shoulders as they walked the last mile back to town.

And that evening, after the Whit Fair, she had allowed him to walk her home and, outside the tiny, stone-walled garden in front of their terraced house, to kiss her, first on the cheek and then, his breath warm against her face, on the lips.

Just to talk with Bea about those days had given some sort of pleasure. Reminding her that she had known happiness once.

Now there was no-one. She had never, since her marriage, been one for making friends and marriage to Percy Goss had changed her, darkened her personality, made her distrustful and reluctant to confide in anyone. She knew people, of course. She knew everyone at chapel, which she had attended for years, but would not have considered any of them to be her friends. Sometimes, indeed, she wondered if she should go back to Redruth, where she had cousins as well as old friends she had grown up with. Not that she had seen any of them for years but there was no reason why she should not go back, at least for a visit.

And yet she never had – not since her father’s funeral, soon after her marriage.

Sometimes she wondered why this should have been. There were trains along the branch line to Truro, where she could have caught a mainline train to Redruth. There were omnibuses, although this was not a form of transport Ida had ever trusted. She could even get a ride in one of the wagons that carried fish or farm produce.

But Ida Goss, big woman that she was and prone as she was to sudden attacks of temper, was easily intimidated by the thought of such a journey. She was also shy and the thought of arriving unannounced – letter-writing was not something she did either – at the house of a relative she had not seen for years was enough to set her trembling.

And so the idea of going back to Redruth lurked in the back of her mind as a sort of dream, to be thought about when she sat on her own after her supper in the evening or before she drifted off to sleep at night, but without having any vestige of reality.

 

Orion.

He buried the baby near the hedgerow at the front of the cottage.

Later he would plant flowers there; it was a sunny spot and he would build a seat, he told Mary, so she could sit near him.

But Mary didn’t answer. Nor did she come out to watch as he dug the hole.

Against her will he had fetched Doctor Curnow, who had said there was no damage done but that she should do no strenuous work for a while.

“Daft man!” she’d exclaimed. “I can’t sit around idling. I just wan’ get back to ‘ow things used to be.”

But they couldn’t, Orion wanted to say, get back to how things used to be. For there had been the child, growing inside her but not quite making it into the world, and things would never be the way they used to be again.

Nor did he want them to be. Something inside his head wanted to cling onto his child and to the way things might have been. It wasn’t possible – nor was it right – just to let him go.

He made the seat from pieces of wood in the outhouse and a lump of driftwood – an old spar from a wreck – thrown ashore the previous winter. At least now he had somewhere he could sit, next to the little mound, and talk to the child.

“That ol’ corm’rant’s there again. Spreadin’ ‘is wings to dry, see. An’ way out there’s a steamer making down t’wards Lands End. Next stop ‘Merica, I reckon.”

Where he had been going. Before Henry brought him here. Before his terrible old dad had dropped dead of a seizure and was no longer a danger. Before Mary…

Who didn’t like him sitting out here. Who didn’t like him talking to the child. It gave her the heebie-jeebies, she said. Talking to a grave.

But he would have talked to him, he wanted to say, when he was too young to see for himself or understand what he meant. These past months he had imagined doing this and now it wasn’t possible not to.  

“I d’like to tell ‘im things. ‘E must…”

He must get lonely underground on his own, he wanted to say, but this would only upset Mary… Who shook her duster and went back inside.

And perhaps it upset him more than her, he thought, watching her go. For it seemed almost as though she might have forgotten what had happened. Sometimes he heard her humming to herself as she swept the floor or rubbed the salt from the window panes. The pile of baby linen she had prepared so carefully had been put away in a closet and now, in the evenings, she worked, as she had before, on mending Orion’s shirts or their bed linen and seemed, as he watched her, to be quite contented.

“You was meant to be getting on with more drawings. Mr Tuke’ll be cross if ‘e comes and finds nothing,” she told him one evening as he sat opposite her – and he didn’t dare say he no longer wanted to draw.

There were a lot of things he didn’t dare say to her these days. It was like a closed door between them, the baby’s death. A closed door he dared not open for fear of what he might find behind it.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Another Finalist for Art Fund Museum of the Year and by far the largest! Five hundred acres, in fact, and totally impossible, in a visit of only a few hours, to do it justice. If I lived nearer I’d come back and back. It would, after all, be different every time – partly because the exhibits are constantly changed but also because the landscape in which they are set constantly changes as well, with the seasons, the weather, even the time of day… The vast, seated, Henry Moore figures that are probably the first thrill of your visit look out over a valley that alters by the minute so that you may want to just sit there with them and enjoy the view.

I have to come clean and admit that our visit here was last October, so already some of the exhibits will have changed. Not the Moores, of course. Nor the Family of Man by that other renowned Yorkshire sculptor, Barbara Hepworth, or many others but this year’s experience will be different from last – and next year’s.

The park is on the old Bretton Hall estate, many features of which remain and can be appreciated – along with daffodils, autumn leaves or bare winter branches – as part of the experience. A beautiful red tile pathway by Richard Long leads to the waters of the upper lake. Trees on the path around it are hung with ‘Bee Library Books’ – wooden tubes under little roofs. You cross a three-arched bridge, pass a decaying boathouse and a Greek temple and as you walk through the woodland you look up and there, high above you, is one of Antony Gormley’s familiar figures.

Sometimes it’s hard to decide what is art and what is nature – if it matters, which I don’t suppose it does. Certainly our guide – an energetic and enthusiastic young man, who exhausted a few of the older members of our party –  waxed as lyrical about Antony Caro’s immense, metal ‘Promenade’, set against a background of the old hall, as about the dragon flies we watched swoop around the lower lake.

And if plodding around lakes or woodlands isn’t your scene, the tidier, more formal areas up by the visitor centre and around the Walled Garden are just as delightful – with the added interest, when we were there, of a fine crop of espaliered pears setting off Yinka Shonibare’s wind sculptures – tall, multi-coloured, sail-like structures.

There were things I didn’t like – the vast-breasted, kneeling hare-woman wasn’t to my taste – but that doesn’t matter. The park has been brilliantly conceived. You could hike around it all day or have coffee, lunch or tea with a view and a gentle stroll around the Bothy garden and the indoor exhibitions.

Having said all this, I am not putting it at the top of my list of short-listed finalists. That honour remains, for me, with Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, which, like the Sculpture Park but in its miniscule way, fits perfectly with its setting and deserves, in my view, wider recognition for the love with which it has been created and maintained.