Uncertainties of Love and Hope. Chapter 13.

Ida

She dreaded seeing Arnold again. As, of course, she must, since he would still be calling at Mrs Jenkins’ with the twice weekly fish order – although perhaps, she thought hopefully, he might leave this to his lad, since it would be embarrassing, possibly painful, for him to be reminded of what had happened on Christmas night. As two days passed this idea somehow gained strength and it gave her quite a turn to find him at the kitchen door on Friday morning.

“‘Alf a dozen nice mackerel,” he told her, thumping his basket onto the back doorstep and beaming across it. “An’ a couple of extras,” he added, the familiar, secretive smile on his broad, red face.

“Six is plenty.” They were large fish, she saw, only a few hours off the line, stiff bodies still gleaming, their black markings showing up fresh and healthy-looking, against the silver. “They won’t eat no more’n one each.”

“Oh they two is for you midear. I know ‘ow you d’like a nice, fresh mackerel.”

Which left Ida flummoxed. It would be rude to refuse them and yet had she not, only three days before, refused their donor?  Or had she? Had she not made her answer as clear as she thought? Or had he, perhaps, not actually asked the question?

“One’s quite enough.” She attempted to work out what to say for the best, “I’ll be ‘appy to pay for one but I don’ need both.”

It was hard not to sound rude and she didn’t want to give offence.

“I di’n say nothing about paying.” Arnold edged the basket further into the room. “Unless there’s tea going. An’ I’ll be ‘appy enough to ‘elp with the other one.”

“No.” She didn’t want to give offence but this was too much. “I’ll be late in tonight, so I won’t ‘ave none for myself, thankee. And I must be getting upstairs,” she added, suddenly inspired. “Mrs Opie wants to see me.”

Mrs Opie, going through ‘her boys’’ cuffs and collars in the morning room, was surprised but flattered to be asked about the mustard crust she had once mentioned as a favourite method of cooking mackerel and Ida listened with every impression of deference to her detailed description of a perfectly obvious recipe, thus keeping herself away from the kitchen for more than quarter of an hour, by which time all that remained of Arnold were the six gleaming fish laid out on the draining board.

 

He would not, she hoped, be at chapel on Sunday. He had not been a regular worshipper before they had begun what he must have considered to be ‘walking out’ together and perhaps would not now see the necessity to continue.

And in this, it seemed, she was correct. He was not waiting, as he had for the past couple of months, by the chapel doors when she arrived and her furtive glances around the congregation reassured her that he was not inside either. It was a relief to abandon herself to the hymns and prayers and the Reverend Truscott’s sermon, in which he exhorted them to examine their hearts and souls as the year’s end approached and consider what alterations they might make in their lives, seemed to fit her resolution completely.

But in her concern to avoid Arnold she had forgotten his sister, who emerged from among a group of stalwart chapel ladies as the congregation dispersed.

“Mrs Goss.” Edith Drage wore a long brown coat with no adornments and a helmet-like brown hat which she wore pulled down over her brow. Like an upended sausage, Ida thought, and would have smiled, had she not felt intimidated by the sharpness of her greeting.

“Good day, Miss Drage. And thankee kindly for your ‘ospitality Christmas day. It were a kind thought,” she said nervously.

“It was the least I could do.” She tightened her lips to the point where only the moustache of stiff black whiskers showed about her mouth. “Brother being so anxious you should come.”

Miss Peters, a small, round body in brown tweed, inserted herself between them to Ida’s immense relief and by querying the time of some bible study group saved her from having to speak but,

“You never said whether you’d be willing to take one of the children’s classes,” Edith went on before she could move away. “You promised to give it some thought.”

“Did I?” Ida remembered being asked – and her horror at being expected to do something so far outside her experience – but that was all. “I’m sorry.” She attempted to get herself carried along in the tide of chapel-goers moving towards the doors. “I can’t possibly do that sort of thing.” And then, fatally, “I’m no good at nothing but cooking,” so that by the time she had been allowed to emerge into the chilly dampness of the Moor, she had heard herself agree to help serve refreshments at the Eight o’clock Bright Hour on a Thursday evening.

This was a new venture, Edith told her, offering men and women a place where they might enjoy companionship, food and a warm beverage, instead of going to the public houses. There would also be bible readings, hymns and prayers but not enough to put off those who were not of the Methodist persuasion.

Ida, nodding weakly, felt that the sight of Edith Drage might do this more effectively than any hymns, prayers or bible readings but could think of no way of avoiding what seemed inevitable.

Faith.

Alice Pasco might be no help in finding cooks but was able to recommend a trained nurse, the daughter of a widow, living, apparently, ‘in sadly reduced circumstances.’

Constance Freeman had been employed by the District Nursing Association, attending people’s homes to change dressings or care for lying-in mothers or the elderly, but had found the work too arduous. She had also, Faith soon realised from her conversation, disliked most of the homes she was expected to visit. Clinton Road obviously suited her much better.

A thin, middle-aged woman with a pale complexion and pale eyes, who wore her greying hair in two plaits drawn around her ears, she took her midday and evening meals in the dining room with them and pronounced herself content with their simple diet. And she did, Faith supposed, make the meals less solemn since she lived in Rose Row, off Green Lane, on the other side of town and was an interested observer of comings and goings in that busy road, which included The Elms, the fine new house of Mr Tom Trounson the grocer, where there was a deal of entertaining.

Her father, as always, said little but listened to these stories with an expression of polite interest, which surprised Faith, and her mother was, as far as she could tell, responding to Constance Freeman – she liked to be called Connie – more than she ever had to Faith.

“We must let in the fresh air, I told Mrs Vigo,” she reported at lunchtime on her first day. “It’s the best medicine, I told her. We’ll have those windows open at least an hour, morning and afternoon, unless it’s very damp or the fumes are blowing this way.”

The following morning Agnes came down with a basket of her mother’s soiled bed linen and reported that nurse had Missus sitting out in her chair while she changed her sheets. Faith, instructing her to light the boiler, even though it was Tuesday, since she felt too ashamed to send them to the laundry, also felt ashamed that she had failed so miserably in this too but was too worried about finding a replacement for Mrs Badcock to worry too much about it.

The only applicant the employment bureau had sent was a slatternly woman with black and greasy hair escaping from beneath a black and greasy hat, who stared with hostility at the range and said she would have expected ‘at the very least one o’ they gas stoves’. When Faith asked what dishes she might cook for the family’s meals she talked at length about roast meat, rabbit pie and steak puddings and when told that they rarely ate meat gave Faith a fiercer version of the look she had given the range and said she ‘couldn’t be doing with that sort of thing’.

“Well I’m afraid we won’t suit each other then,” Faith dared to say and the woman flounced off, leaving behind her an unpleasant atmosphere and a smell of stale sweat.

“I don’t know what we shall do when Mrs Badcock leaves at the end of the month,” she told her father that evening, to be told, predictably, that she must put her faith in the Lord.

But the Lord, she couldn’t help but feel, must have more important matters on His mind and she began to spend more and more time with her mother’s copy of Everything Within, poring over recipes for egg and macaroni pie, a savoury pie consisting of potatoes, onions, nuts and tapioca and ‘mock goose’ – an unappetizing-sounding recipe for parsnips in white sauce that she decided she was unlikely to attempt.

This, with all her other duties, left her little time for her mother but now she had Connie and had been given a sleeping draught to take immediately after supper, there was less need. Besides, Connie reported that Maud spent most of her waking hours extolling the charms and brilliance of her sons, with no mention, it seemed, of either Elsie or Faith.

“ When will the young men be returning?” Connie asked Faith privately one afternoon. “Your mama seems to place a great deal of hope on this happening soon.”

“That is most unlikely.” Faith was straining soaked oatmeal through muslin, in preparation for her mother’s supper. “They seem settled in Pittsburg and my brother John has recently married an American young lady.”

“I see.” Connie looked puzzled. “Mrs Vigo made no mention of a marriage.”

“He wrote before Christmas. Papa may have decided the news would upset Mama.”

Her father had not commented on the marriage other than saying that it had taken place and Faith had no idea if this was true but felt she must say something.

“I see,” Connie said again and went back upstairs.

That evening, coming into the dining room with the bean and carrot cutlets Mrs Badcock had prepared for their supper, Faith overheard her mention the word ‘melancholia’. It was not a word she recognised but Everything Within described the condition as a ‘disorder accompanied by a feeling of misery not justified by the person’s circumstances and accompanied by physical weakness and loss of energy’. The associated section on Treatment mentioned voluntary submission by the patient to treatment in a mental asylum.

 

Henry

The branch line train drew into Falmouth station and into a morning of overwhelming greyness, clouds of thick drizzle blowing in off the sea and the great bell of the St Antony lighthouse tolling out into the Carrick Roads and across the bay. Peering from the small, misted-up window of his cab, Henry saw the looming shadows of dark and dripping palms, the white stucco walls of houses dulled by dampness and disfigured by dark lines of water from the roofs and trees and shrubs blackened and bent over by the weight of water. In one place the pavement was littered with the spoiled, fallen flowers of a particularly beautiful camelia he had seen in bloom before Christmas and, as the cab descended, with caution, the hill towards Swanpool, water from the cemetery poured through the stones of the retaining wall, sending a brown stream of mud down the roadway to gather in a small and murky lake at the bottom.

 

If Mrs Fouracre, clearing her family’s breakfast dishes in the kitchen, was surprised to see her employer she was also accustomed to his unpredictability, so that Henry found himself tucking into a plate of eggs, bacon and hogs pudding, while she boiled water for fresh hot water jars to air his bed, enquiring politely after the health of his mother and sister but not the reason for his unexpected return.

“You go upstairs and rest now,” she told him, “after that great journey.” (Never having travelled further than Truro to the East or Helston to the West, she was convinced the journey from London must demand at least a week’s recovery time.) But Henry, still fretting about the offence his sudden departure would have caused and the unwary behaviour that had led him to this course of action, felt too restless for bed and, since the drizzle had thickened still further, making it foolish, if not impossible, to venture outside, went into his studio, which continued to feel damp and chilly long after poor Mrs Fouracre had lit the fire.

Huddled into his overcoat in his armchair, he spent some time staring gloomily at his outstretched legs – his trousers greatly crumpled by travel – and eventually fell asleep, to be woken some hours later by Mrs Fouracre with a plate of bread, cheese and cold cuts of beef. He would be out to dinner, he told her, downing the glass of ale she had brought with them, and would not trouble her further.

He would walk up to Marlborough House, he decided, to visit the Bulls, who would certainly invite him to stay the evening. Alternatively he could visit the Hemys, although this would be a longer walk.

Changing into evening dress, although, since thick clouds of drizzle still blew in off the sea, he wore his sailing cap, rather than a topper, he pulled his overcoat back on and set out to walk back towards town and, turning his back on a heaving sea whose huge waves deposited great heaps of curling weed like gleaming crocodiles onto the pebble shore, strode alongside the pool, where any swans were sensibly hiding themselves among the reeds, to the rough roadway that led towards Marlborough House.

Which was easy enough to see as he approached, since the lights from the windows and between the entrance pillars shone cheerfully out through the gloom and the drenched surrounding trees.

If this had not told him that the Bulls were entertaining, the number of gigs, closed against the weather, and the two foul-smelling motor cars that passed him would certainly have done so.

He could easily have joined them and, as he reached the entrance and saw the invitingly-lit interior as passengers alighted, he was tempted to do so. He had probably received an invitation, and, intending to be in London, would have sent his regrets but this would not have mattered since May would undoubtedly be delighted at his change of plan.

His change of plan… Reminded of the reason for this, he moved briskly on up the steep and stony hill towards the town. For it would be impossible to discuss his problem with May in the middle of what would obviously be a lively party – the sort of party he would normally enjoy and where his sociability and high spirits would have made him one of the central attractions.

Which was another reason for keeping out of the way – his sociability and high spirits being the cause of the very problem with which he was struggling.

It was hard not to feel downcast – perhaps even outcast – as he strode up the hill, dripped on by overhanging trees, forced to stand in against the hedgerow as carriages, lights wavering from the rough surface, lurched their way cautiously downwards, horses’ hooves grating and sliding against the stones, regarded, he was certain, with grim suspicion by more than one great-coated, bowler-hatted driver perched on his box. No respectable man without nefarious intent, they would be thinking, would be out on such a night.

 

The Hemys’ house, next to the Catholic church off Killigrew street, showed few lights in comparison with Marlborough House and as he rang the bell Henry worried briefly that his friend might not be at home but Mr Hemy, the parlour maid informed him, was in his studio and, handing her his drenched hat and overcoat, he said he would show himself in.

“Good heavens! Henry. This is a surprise.”

Charles Hemy, dressed for dinner but standing before his easel, brush in hand and apparently about to add more foam to an already turbulent sea, was obviously pleased to see him in spite of his surprise. His grave, slightly intimidating expression softened into a smile and he put down the brush and opened his arms towards his friend.

“I thought you were in London until the end of February. What brings you back early? Nothing wrong, I hope?”

His dark eyes, in spite of the open arms, looked suddenly serious and his thick, white eyebrows knitted together. Henry, he knew better than most, was an impulsive man and unexpected visits were not always good news. If his friend had cut short his visit to family and friends in London, Charles hoped there was no new problem with that wretched boy…

“No, no. Nothing has happened. Well, yes. There is something I would like to discuss with you. And perhaps with Amy.”

“Amy has gone with the girls to Marlborough House.” Charles spoke with some distaste. “There is a great party, apparently, with music and games… and a conjuror…”

“Of course!” And now Henry remembered the invitation he had received and reluctantly refused, before Christmas.

“ So you must stay and dine with me. I shall be glad of your company.”

Although Charles was not entirely sure that this was true. He was very fond of Henry, with whom, apart from painting, he shared an interest in sailing and everything connected with ships and the sea. On the other hand he had been quite happily contemplating an undisturbed meal with the latest copy of the Catholic Herald, which Henry was about to disturb by brooding over whatever problem had brought him from London in such haste. Putting such an unworthy thought to the back of his mind, he touched the bell pull to summon Mary-Anne and give revised instructions regarding dinner.

 

Ida.

She had worried all day about the Eight O’Clock Bright Hour, to the extent that when she got home on Thursday evening she felt too unwell enough to go out again.

But the Lord would know that she was falling by the wayside as, and perhaps more to the point, would the minister, who had preached so eloquently on Sunday on the theme of new challenges in this new year, although it was, in the end, the thought of Miss Drage’s disapproval that dragged her away from her warm chair beside the range and out into the damp chill of the night.

The wind blew in off the harbour and across the bleak open space of the Moor – the civic heart of Falmouth, someone had once called it; overlooked as it was by the town hall, the building containing the Passmore Edwards library, the rates office and the Mayor’s parlour and, opposite them, the chapel, where lights glowed in the entrance lobby and brothers and sisters were gathered to welcome visitors who might be lured in away from one of the nearby hostelries.

Not, as far as Ida could see as she looked nervously around her, that many had been brought in so far. Next to the trestle table, set up just inside the chapel, a couple of decrepit old men clutched tin mugs of steaming tea, one working his toothless gums about a saffron bun, so that a sort of crumb puddle was forming itself around his boots. The bewildered youth, known as Daft Jacky, who normally hovered around the bottom of Jacob’s Ladder, the steep flight of steps leading up from the Moor, leaned against the wall, also chewing at a bun, but Ida recognised everyone else as members of the congregation.

There she was at last!

Ethel Drage, in her usual brown skirt and high-necked blouse, with a manly black tie around her neck, greeted her as if her absence was the cause of the failure of the evening so far.

“You brought the scones?” She stared accusingly at Ida’s handbag.

“No.” Startled, Ida almost shouted her reply. “I don’ know nothin’ about no scones.”

And then she wondered if this was true. For Arnold Drage had called once again at Mrs Jenkins’ with the regular fish order and, in her anxiety to get him out of her kitchen, she might not have paid close enough attention to everything he had said.

“I’ll call in to take you down chapel Thursday…”

She remembered that and, flustered though she was, her determination not to arrive with him at another chapel event. She didn’t know what time she’d be ready, she’d told him, and, when he said he’d be quite willing to wait, had insisted she wasn’t even sure she’d be free to come….

It may have been while this was going on – and while she was listening with half an ear for Mrs Opie, who was due to make her inspection of the larder – that he might have mentioned scones. But then Arnold so often mentioned her baking.

“I’m sorry,” she said now, staring down at the flagstone floor. “I must’ve not understood.”

And what time had she had, she thought, raising her eyes with some slight feeling of defiance, to be making scones for the likes of Daft Jacky?

Oh well, it couldn’t be helped, Ethel sniffed, turning away. Perhaps she would take over the teapot, she added over her shoulder. The brothers and sisters would need tea… standing out in that cold porch.

 

It was a long evening. The Bright Hour extended well past ten o’clock, by which time a straggling group of sailors off ships in dock and a couple of young women who might have had any number of reasons for being on the Moor on such a cold night had allowed themselves to be encouraged inside to sit huddled together in pews with their mugs of tea while chapel elders took turns in reading them accounts of those who had turned away from the Lord, only to realise, at the eleventh hour, the error of their ways. At one point one of the women, who had possibly imbibed more than tea before she arrived, burst into noisy sobs and needed to be comforted but the sailors, most of whom did not, it seemed to Ida, speak English, appeared unmoved.

Ida was kept busy refilling her teapot from the hissing gas urn to warm the chilled hands and stomachs of those who stood in wait in the lobby and was exhausted long before it was decided they should stop for the night.

“I’m certain there will be others next week, when word gets around.” Ethel Drage relaxed her compressed lips enough to give what counted for her as a smile. “Brother’s waiting out front,” she added as she started to gather hymn books.

It was no good protesting; not with so many members of the congregation within earshot. Also she would need to pass the Seven Stars on the far side of the Moor, outside which clusters of men who had certainly not been attracted into the chapel were still gathered, some shouting and guffawing and one younger group scuffling drunkenly with one another.

It was no place for a respectable woman on her own and she was forced to smile gratefully at Arnold and accept his arm.

At least, at this time of night, there was no question of him inviting himself in.

 

Faith.  

“Connie’s mother’s unwell. She won’t be in today but I’ll sit with you when I’ve finished downstairs.”

Although when would that be, she wondered, as she made out the grocery list, collected from the outdoor larder the ingredients for a cheese and licky pie for Mrs Badcock, who was not above removing eggs or portions of cheese or butter for her own family’s use, and gave a cursory dust to the dining room mantel?

Today was the day for changing her mother’s library books, she had intended to make a sponge cake in case of visitors, since Mrs Badcock’s cakes were close to inedible, the sewing pile had reached almost the height of the table and her mother’s bed linen must, Connie had said yesterday, be changed once again.

She removed her mother’s tray, its contents barely touched, and held out her robe.

“There’s blue sky over Carn Brea,” she told her, although this was somewhat obscured by the smoke and steam from the stacks over towards Pool. “If you sit out for a while, I’ll tidy your bed and make it comfy for you.”

Her mother continued to lie back, eyes half shut, against her pillows, picking with one hand at a loose thread on her coverlet.

“Please Mama. Then I can read to you – there’s a new copy of the Women’s Home Journal.”  Of which Father did not approve but Connie said how much her mother enjoyed it. “Please Mama.” Faith put out a hand to tidy her mother’s hair, which lay loose about her pillows.

“Don’t touch me!” The violence of her mother’s anger startled her so that she stepped back, hitting the bedside table, spilling the water flask and knocking over the framed photograph of John and George. “Just go away and leave me alone!”

Out on the landing, Faith stared at the closed bedroom door. Which she must have closed, since there was no-one else. And Mama’s breakfast tray, with the congealing remains of Mama’s breakfast, was somewhere behind it…

She was weeping, although it took her a while, in her confusion, to realise that this was the meaning of the dampness of her cheeks, the tightness in her throat, the heaving of her breasts above the whalebone corset it was, Elsie had told her, only right she should wear now she was grown up…

Except that she was not grown up. She was fourteen. She wanted to be at school, in a desk next to Amy and Magel, listening to Miss Millest reading the poems of John Keats, who was dying of tuberculosis and in love with Miss Fanny Brawne, whom he would never marry. (Miss Millest had told them this story many times over, always with her eyes filled with tears.) Or learning about Christopher Columbus and his journeys of discovery. Or how to divide a circle into halves or quarters and how to measure the diameter or the radius or the circumference….

She was not grown up! She was a schoolgirl, who did not want to be trapped in this house, failing to manage it and failing to care for her mother, who so obviously found her detestable…

Worse than this; she was a filthy, wicked girl who had seen and touched with her lips that warm, sour-smelling thing, about which she was not even meant to know… Who must, in some uncomprehended way, have drawn that man to force her into this vile act… Who was no better than the women who gave themselves to men for money… Who was, in fact worse, since, as Alice Pasco had said in a women’s meeting one afternoon, they had the excuse of poverty and desperation…

She was wearing her pinafore – of course she was wearing her pinafore; every day when she got up she fastened it over her morning dress to save it from dust and stains – and now, without realising what she was doing, she tugged at the strings which fastened it behind her waist. Tugged so that they tightened into a knot and went on tugging until one string broke and the garment fell into a crumpled heap onto the landing as she ran, noisily and with no care for disturbing her mother, down the stairs and out into the back kitchen.

“I’m going out!” she shouted at Mrs Badcock, rolling pastry for one of her indigestible pies. “And I’m never coming back!”

But where, as she hurried up the back path, pulling the same old coat over her shoulders, did she intend to go?

She knew many people in this town but could think of no-one who would truly understand her situation. There was Alice Pasco and yet Alice’s very kindness and goodness prevented her from turning up towards Victoria Park and the road where she lived, for Alice, like Papa, would expect her to shoulder cheerfully the burdens the Lord had seen fit to lay on her, accepting the opportunity of service which she had been given… And would, in any case, almost certainly would be out, engaged in one of her many activities with the poor and needy.

The wind, blowing across from Carn Brea, caught at her as she came out of the back lane and crossed into Sea View Terrace. It was very strong today, bringing with it an acrid, sulfuric tang,  and Faith leaned into it, clutching her coat collar and wishing she had put on something warmer.

But, she realised, she did have money. In the pocket of her dress was the half crown piece Father had given her this morning for her house-keeping needs.

And from here she could see, across the roofs of Treruffe Hill, the great viaduct which carried the railway to and from Penzance.

Not allowing herself to think twice about what she was about to do, she started to walk towards the station.

 

Henry.

Charles had given his opinion in his usual, forthright manner. Henry had been wrong to raise expectations in this lady that he was unwilling to fulfill. He must surely have realised these as their friendship developed over the summer months and he should have recognised that Mrs Graves was, as a widowed mother, in a vulnerable…

He had realised. Henry put down his knife and interrupted his friend. And he had done his best to… He paused, unsure what he had done his best to do, and Charles, his eyebrows knitted into a fierce cluster, stared reprovingly across the table.

“But you visited her, at her home.” He spoke quietly but leaving no doubt as to his feelings. “You invited her to the theatre. You accompanied her to a private dinner and back to her house afterwards… Surely, Henry, you could see where this was likely to lead?”

And Henry, conscious for once of the seventeen-year age gap between them, acknowledged his fault.

“And as for running away in this ridiculous fashion…” Charles cut into a slice of pork with some venom. “That was both foolish and ungentlemanly. I thought better of you Henry. Really I did.”

Confession, according to Charles’s Catholic faith, was supposed to bring peace of mind but was not, Henry reflected, doing so in this case.

“So what should I do?” he asked miserably, giving up on his dinner. “How on earth can I make up for this?”

Some act of contrition, he supposed, and perhaps the same thought had occurred to Charles.

“ Perhaps you should go first of all to see the lady’s sister. Mrs Pearce, did you say her name was? Say to her what you have said to me and ask for her assistance. I assume,” he stared across the table, the very faintest of smiles visible below his thick white moustache, “there is no way you can see yourself marrying Mrs Graves?”

“Of course not! I mean, she is a delightful person. Charming, perceptive, sensible… but she is also a lady, Charles. She could never accept my way of living – Pennance cottage, without running water, electricity, all those…. amenities she is accustomed to. Think of it, Charles.”

Charles thought. Thought also of Henry’s energy – his sailing, cycling, cricket, his love of parties and games, his flying visits to London and other parts of the country and Europe. Not to mention his painting. Not to mention his boys…

Any woman would need to be quite extraordinary to put up with such a life. Or to possess a hold over Henry that this woman obviously did not.

 

Next morning, forcing himself to face what was bound to be an unpleasant encounter, Henry walked across the cliffs to Gyllyngvase. As he rang the Pearces’ doorbell, and although this would only postpone the inevitable, he couldn’t help hoping that Hettie might not be at home.

“Mr Tuke.”

Not only was she at home, it was obvious from the chilliness of her greeting that she had heard from her sister.

“I have come to apologise…” It was early for a visit and Hettie was writing letters in her little morning room.

“I think it is not to me that you need to apologise.” Hetty did not pretend to need an explanation as she indicated a small, upholstered, bucket chair beside the window.

“To attempt to explain then.”

Henry sat in the chair, which was too small and too close to the ground, and almost immediately stood up again.

“I… I am afraid I may have, quite unintentionally…”

But how can he say – to the woman’s sister and without sounding unconscionably arrogant – that he fears he may have raised her hopes of marriage?

“What I am trying to say…” He stares through the window, as if what he is trying to say may be written against the sodden lawn and weeping palms. “Is that…”

At which point they are interrupted by the sound of the front door bell being pulled violently and repeatedly as if there is some dire emergency outside.

Hetty is already in the hallway as the maid hurries down the stairs, a feather duster clutched in her hand, to open the door – to reveal a hatless, dishevelled figure in a shabby brown coat, whom Henry, following in case his help is needed, recognises as the little Quaker girl he met here last summer.

“Good gracious! It’s little Faith,” Hetty cries.“Whatever’s happened? Help her inside Sophy.” And then, “Oh my goodness…” as the child, clinging for support to the bell pull, sways suddenly and disconcertingly sideways.

“I have her.”

Henry thrusts himself between the two women to lift the girl into his arms and carry her, guided by Hetty, into the front drawing room where he places her on a couch. The deep hem of her coat, he notices is drenched and muddy, as if she has walked hurriedly through puddles, and there is blood on the heels of her torn stockings above light, barred shoes which look too frail for walking.

“I didn’t know where else to go.”

Sophy has fetched blankets and has gone to the kitchen for warm milk. Henry, who has retreated discretely to the far end of the room while Hetty removes the girl’s shoes and stockings, is only too glad to be dispatched to fetch a bowl of warm water, boric lotion and clean lint, and, ten minutes later, some sort of calm has returned.

And the question of Henry’s treatment of Mrs Graves has been forgotten – although not, he is certain, for ever – as he and Hetty Pearce stand worriedly over the girl as she sips her milk.

“I’m so glad you came here, my dear, but do explain what has happened? Has there been some accident, or illness, at home?” Hetty asks.

Henry, feeling that his tall figure looming above her may intimidate the child, brings a chair for his hostess and sets another for himself. Settling into it, he tries to remember what he has been told. A Quaker family in Redruth. A father, described as an ogre, but probably merely strict and pious. The girl forced to leave school – the story starts to return – because of a sister’s marriage. Something he cannot quite recall about a sick mother…

“It’s not that.” The girl speaks quietly across the rim of her cup, a moustache of white fringing her lips. “Well, Mama is ill but…” Her dark eyes look unhappily downwards. “Mama is always ill…” Her voice lowers still further and Henry leans forward in his chair, “It’s just that I… cannot manage any more. I’ve tried. I really have tried but I cannot and now Mrs Badcock’s given her notice and there just are no other cooks wanting a place and Papa says we must pray and everything will be all right, but I don’t think it will. I really don’t!

And now she breaks into tears. Mrs Pearce removes the dangerously sloping cup and kneels beside her and the child goes on piteously sobbing.

Quietly – but no-one is noticing him – Henry gets up and leaves the room. Their conversation will obviously have to be postponed and he looks around the hall for his hat and coat.

As he does so, a side door flies open and the two small boys – it is some months since he has seen them and he has forgotten their names – hurtle along the passage, until, seeing Henry, they skid to a halt on the tiled floor. A breathless, young woman, presumably their nanny, follows, calling them to be quiet.

“Good morning Sir.” She comes forward, breaking the spell so that the younger boy, shouting something about a dog, starts towards the drawing room.

“I think,” Henry puts out a restraining arm, “your mother should not be disturbed. She has a visitor,” he adds in the direction of the nanny, who hurries to capture her charges and bundle them, protesting, towards the stairs as the maid, Sophy, appears from the kitchen.

“I should leave,” he tells her. “If you would give Mrs Pearce my apologies and tell her…”

But before he can finish Hetty comes out of the drawing room, closing the door gently behind her.

“Henry!” She holds out her hand. “Please do not go. Edgar is away all week at the assizes and I need your help. Faith,” and now he remembers her name, “appears to have simply run out of her home. Which means that no-one can know where she is. What are we to do?”

‘We’ Henry notes – just as he has already noted that he is, once again, ‘Henry’.

“Of course, I’ll stay,” he says, putting aside his coat as there is another, minor, commotion at the side door and Miss Amy enters, complaining loudly about being left behind….

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Uncertainties of Love and Hope Chapter 12.

Ida

Edith Drage’s invitation to eat Christmas dinner with her and Arnold had taken Ida by surprise.

She had stopped them as they were leaving the Polytechnic Hall on the afternoon of the Bazaar, calling across from her busily decorated stall, crammed with felt objects made by the children of the Sunday School.

“You’re not going?” Her eyes stared so accusingly from her bony face that Ida, already flustered by the realisation that she did not, and was never going to, love Arnold and her determination to make this clear to him, had to stifle the urge to push her way out of the doors and down the steps into the street.

“No,” she said in confusion. “Not at all.”

Which was quite untrue, since she had just agreed to Arnold’s suggestion that they should leave – Arnold having no interest in the Bazaar beyond the tea and having eaten his fill.

“Ida’s been working all morning,” he said now. “She’s wore out.”

Which was not a description Ida cared for.

“You’ve got some lovely things on your stall.” Recovering, she picked up a felt needle case in the shape of a lady’s broad-brimmed hat. “Lovely things,” she repeated, realising that she was going to have to buy at least one of them, and it was while she was examining a felt pot-holder, embroidered with daisies, that Miss Drage issued her invitation.

“Oh I can’t possibly!” It was as well it was a pot-holder and not a pot that she was holding. “I mean t’say, it’s very kind of you – but I can’t. I…”

But it was hard, with Miss Drage’s fierce eyes fixed firmly on her, to think what reason – or excuse – she could give. For the Jenkins family were spending the day at the Falmouth Hotel and she was not expected to work. Her only commitment was to chapel in the morning.

Last Christmas and the Christmas before – since her Orion had left – she had gone to Bea Rogers’ and eaten her dinner with Bea and her husband. This year she would be on her own.

“If you have other plans…” Miss Drage had a sour sort of voice. As if she might have just finished sucking on a lemon. “We wouldn’t want to intrude.”

“Ida an’t got no other plans.” Arnold slapped his hand against the stall, knocking over a tea cosy in the shape of a country cottage decorated with felt flowers. “She’ll be glad to join us, won’ ee midear?”

And Ida could think of no way of refusing.

 

The Drages lived along Greenbank, the terrace of houses at the top of the High Street that overlooked the inner harbour and across to the village of Flushing. They were good houses, three stories high, most of them, built originally for sea captains wanting to keep an eye on their ships, and their crews, in harbour.

“Grandpa Drage built this one,” Arnold explained as he helped Ida down from the trap on Christmas morning. “‘E were a sea-faring man but when Grandma’s father died ‘e took over the shop and ‘is boat. Great Grandpa Simmons din’ ‘ave no sons, see,” he wheezed.

Ida nodded, noted the brown-painted scene of sailing boats on the white encaustic tiles above the plain green ones in the front lobby and clutched her bag, containing two jars of bottled fruit and a potted fern, as if it were a weapon.

“Very nice,” she said and allowed him to show her into the hallway.

From what must be the kitchen at the far end she could smell roasting meat and boiled cabbage and she would much prefer, she thought, as Arnold bellowed to his sister, to be out there preparing the meal for others to eat.

In which case the meal, she thought as they sat round the dining table some time later, would have been a great deal better. Edith Drage was not, as she said herself, ‘one for food’ and the over-cooked beef, pale cabbage, mashed swede, rock-hard roasted potatoes and too little gravy had little taste. The pudding which followed was also strangely pale and lacking in fruit and Ida thought with regret of the one she had taken last year as her Christmas gift to Bea.

The conversation was dominated by chapel affairs. The bazaar, which had raised almost thirty pounds. The impending visit of a preacher from Bristol, who would, Miss Drage insisted, turn many souls towards the Lord. The falling-off in attendance at the Sunday school…

“We don’t see you at Sunday classes, do we, Mrs Goss?”

“Not as a rule,” Ida admitted. “I used to go, as a young woman. In Redruth.”

So long ago, she thought now, as she loaded her spoon with the last of the pallid pudding, remembering the laughing eyes of Ivan Hart on the bench opposite the one where she sat with Bea. He’d learned to read and write at Sunday classes, he’d told her once. He’d left school at twelve to start at Dolcoath without, as he said, ‘anything taking’ but had realised, in his twenties, that he might do better if he could read and write.

But where had it got him in the end? Dead in a brawl a thousand miles from home

A silence around the table caused her to look up. Both Drages were looking at her, obviously expecting a reply to a question.

“I’m sorry. What was you saying?”

The dining room was at the back of the house, facing onto a sheer wall of rock across a narrow back yard so that very little light found its way through the heavy sash windows. The gas lamp above the table lit the bristling hairs on Miss Drage’s upper lip and caused her naturally severe features to look fiercer still.

“I was saying you’d find our classes inspiring,” she said coldly.

“I’m sure I would. It’s just… I don’ ‘ave time. Not really.”

“Ida – Mrs Goss – she d’work ‘ard all week.” Arnold gave a final sweep round his bowl and joined the conversation. “Six days shalt thou labour…” he added, without a great deal of conviction.

“The lord’s work is a joy, not a labour.” His sister glared at him across the table. “I think Mrs Goss might do well – teaching the young girls.”

“I coun’ teach no-one! Never!” Behind Miss Drage loomed a high-backed sideboard, its small shelves laden with photographs on either side of a rectangular mirror. Two candle sconces, one each side of the glass, helped Ida to a flickering reflection of her own, appalled face. “‘Specially children,” she added. “I don’ know nothin’ about children no more. Mine are grown up and gone.”

She felt the sadness of her words. Alfred was no loss but her daughter Maybelle had been a pleasure as a child and now had children of her own but she lived out in Blackwater, too far for a day’s visit. And Orion, her youngest and, perhaps, her favourite, was gone too.

“Ah well, we can talk about it some other time.”

Perhaps even Miss Drage sensed her unhappiness as she gathered in their bowls. The movement of her narrow lips suggested she might even be attempting a smile.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the upstairs parlour with a tray of weak tea and a plate of solid coconut buns. Arnold, sprawled in an armchair on one side of the fire, snored damply as he slept off his dinner. His sister sat opposite, growing less and less visible but apparently seeing no reason to turn up the gas as she worked at her sewing. Ida, wishing she had thought to bring some work with her, sat upright between them on a narrow couch and watched as the light faded across the harbour. Out there the water changed from dark green to an oily black, studded with the moving hulls of small, moored boats and lit, towards the far shore, by the shivering eels of reflected lights flickering in the windows of Flushing’s waterside cottages. Behind these the fields rose up dark to a ridge of bare-branched trees silhouetted against a bleak, grey sky and a pale half moon rose behind the shifting clouds of night.

It would be a chilly walk home, she thought as the wind off the harbour rattled the windows. Arnold had sent his lad to stable the pony and trap and would not be getting it out again – but she supposed the exercise would be welcome after a long afternoon of sitting.

 

“It was a nice day. Thankee very much.”

The walk along Greenbank seemed to wake Arnold and by the bottom of High Street he was more talkative than he had been all day. As they passed the Royal Oak he squeezed Ida’s arm, which he had linked with his own and hoped she had enjoyed herself. Which was when Ida said it had been a nice day, although she wasn’t sure this was entirely true. From behind the warmly-lit-up windows of the public house the sound of Christmas hymns bellowed into the night and it was hard not to feel some slight envy for the customers inside who were enjoying themselves so noisily.

“She’s a good soul, Edith.” Arnold might have been thinking along the same lines as they approached the Moor, where the lanterns strung from building to building danced quite violently in the wind. “Not much of a cook p’raps…” Ida made what she hoped was a polite-sounding protest. “But she does ‘er best. ‘Er cooking’s nothing to yours o’course.” He gave another, harder, squeeze of the arm so that Ida wondered uneasily what was coming next. Overhead the lanterns jerked in a particularly strong gust and she hoped they were firmly fixed. Only last week a fir tree decorating one of the shops in Arwenack Street had blown over, knocking a man to the ground and causing him to break his arm.

“Two women in one ‘ouse don’t always get on.” Arnold cleared his throat as if he were about to say something important. “But I know Edith’d be only too glad not to be bothered with the cooking. What with ‘er chapel work and so on and it would suit me well enough…”

He stopped speaking. As if he had run out of breath – or, perhaps, words.

On the far side of the Moor the door of the Seven Stars opened, letting out a few seconds of festive sound – “Come sailing in, come sailing in. I saw three ships come…” – that was

shut suddenly off to leave only the noise of the wind, the rattling lanterns and the call of a gull, whirling white against the darkness.

A feeling like icy fingers reaching up from her chest into her throat caught at Ida, who found she was breathing faster and more shallowly, clutching at the wrapper around her neck to cut out the chill of the wind off the harbour, although not the chill from within herself.

Arnold Drage was proposing marriage!

At least, she supposed he was.

They would be two women in one house but it would be all right because Edith, who was a good soul, was busy with her chapel work and would be only too glad for Ida to do the cooking.

Which would suit Arnold well enough…

They had paused, perhaps suitably, outside the granite bulk of the Wesleyan Chapel. And it must have been a proposal of marriage because Arnold was obviously waiting for her reply. In the light of the gas lamp attached to the corner of the building his face, flushed from the effects of the wind, from exercise, or perhaps emotion, shone bright orange. Ida, confused and uncertain, still clutching at her wrapper, looked away.

There were rows of flags, she noticed, as if she needed to divert her thoughts, tied about the Packet Memorial, the granite pillar in the centre of the Moor. They fluttered wildly as the wind tugged at them, their colours – red, white and blue from some earlier, patriotic display and now brought into use for the festive season – caught against the night sky. They looked as if they might be trying to escape.

“I can’t… Not possibly… I’m sorry.” It was hard to know how to answer when she was  not entirely sure of the question. “If I’d known that was what you was…”

She turned away again, not daring to see his expression.

“I’m very sorry,” she said again. “ I mean…”

But not knowing what she meant – or, indeed, what Arnold had meant – she stopped.

Over in the Seven Stars they were singing Going up Camborne Hill, Coming Down.

Christmas,  it seemed, was over.

 

Faith

“I so hate to think of Mama up there alone.”

Mrs Badcock and Agnes had Christmas day as a holiday and Mrs Badcock had left a pie for Faith to heat for their lunch. She had cooked roast potatoes, cabbage and carrots to go with it and had managed a jam sponge pudding, of which she felt quite proud.

“Please come down and eat with us,” she had begged her mother when she went up to fetch her breakfast tray. (An untouched egg and a slice of bread and butter from which she had taken hardly any bites.) “I’m sure it would do you good.”

“I shall see how I feel,” her mother had said, turning her head towards the window. “I shall take one of my powders for my head.”

But when Faith went up to help her to dress she was deep asleep and when she dared touch her on the shoulder she did not move.

“Her illness seems to be getting worse, rather than better,” she told her father now. “It is weeks since she left her bed.”

Their lunch had been almost entirely silent. From the silent grace to the point where Faith gathered up the dessert bowls they had not exchanged more than two sentences.

Father was worried, she understood that. Both about the works, where, because of the general decline in the mining industry, there were fewer orders coming in, and about Mama. There was nothing Faith could do to help with the works but she wished he might confide in her about Mama. Was he also worried about the prospect, so often mentioned by Mrs Badcock, of her going ‘up Bodmin’? Did he have any more idea than Faith what was the matter with her?

And was there anything she could do that might help?

“I wish,” she went on, as her father did not answer, “there was more I could do.”

“We must pray,” he said, as she knew he would, raising his head and regarding her across the table. His dark eyes, in contrast to the white of his hair and moustache, looked solemn and rather frightening. “We must lay our sorrows before the Lord and He will help us bear them.”

“But He doesn’t!

It was as if something exploded inside her. Perhaps it was simply that she was tired. She had been working all morning, after all, to prepare their lunch and to make the table look nice with clean linen and a few sprigs of holly from the garden to cheer it – something her father had not even noticed – or possibly not thought worthy of comment. Perhaps it was disappointment at having failed, yet again, to persuade her mother from her bed. Or perhaps it was the weight of the silent house – no George or John or Elsie, Mama asleep upstairs and Papa lost in his own thoughts…

“I do pray! Every day but, if He hears me, He doesn’t answer. I just don’t think He cares!

Slamming down the dessert bowls so hard that one of them smashed – one of those Mama had brought with her when she married, and which they used only on special occasions, which she had hoped this might be – she pulled her apron over her face and stumbled, sobbing, from the room.

The kitchen table was covered in dirty dishes and the sink in the scullery was loaded with dirty pans. Which God was not going to help her to clean, she thought, tears giving way to anger, and, snatching Agnes’ old coat from its hook behind the door, she pulled it over her shoulders and went out, slamming the door behind her.

It was a struggle to shift the heavy bolt on the gate at the top of the garden but she managed to draw it back and, frightened that her father might follow her, hurried out into the back lane. This was rough and stony and it was necessary to watch out for droppings from the donkeys Mr Mitchell kept in the sheds at the far end, but she ran as fast as she dared between the granite walls, not sure where she was going except that she must go somewhere away from her silent, reproachful home.

At the end of the lane she turned onto Heanton Terrace, where the wind hit her, blowing in from the Atlantic coast with such violence that she pulled the coat tighter around her and wished she had thought to bring her shawl. Even walking downhill was difficult against the force of the wind but this was something she was used to and the effort helped dispel some of her anger, if not the feeling of desolation that had been creeping up on her all day.

Even this early in the afternoon it was getting dark and blinds and curtains in many front windows were already closed but some remained open so that she could see into the lighted front parlours. In one a cheerful fire blazed in the grate and a tall man stood before it holding something – a toy or perhaps a sweetmeat – high above a group of children who reached up for it, jumping and laughing. In another two ladies sat talking and, a few houses further on, a young woman held a baby to a Christmas tree lit with candles.

Footsteps behind her and two boys, younger than Faith, came running down the hill, boots scraping angrily against the pavings.

“‘Appy Christmas Miss,” one shouted, almost falling as he skidded round her.

It was the first greeting she had had all day and she watched as they ran on down the road.

“Happy Christmas to you too.” But she spoke too quietly and they were already gone.

Orion

It was Mary who skinned the poor rabbit – something she hadn’t done for a while, she said, and never a creature in such a mess as this one but there was at least enough meat on it for a pie and, watching her, Orion felt the change in the atmosphere. For now Mary was speaking it wasn’t difficult to talk back and when she said she’d promised to go up to the farm first thing Christmas morning, he said he would walk her up there and fetch her back later.

And when he collected her just before midday she appeared with a basket filled with what Mrs Roscrow had called ‘treats for the both of you’ – one of her puddings, wrapped in its cloth, a bowl of her clotted cream and a flagon of cider.

“That’ll make a proper feast with the rabbit pie,” she said and for the first time in months they walked down the field hand in hand.

 

Daylight at this time of year and even this far South West, faded fast and by the time they’d eaten their meal it was quite dark. The fire, with the still-damp wood, burned poorly and sent out spiteful sparks but with the heavy drapes across the door and window and the oil lamp, whose wick he had trimmed with some care, burning brighter than usual, the room was cosy enough as they sat, Mary, in the little chair Orion had brought her back in the summer, hemming an old sheet she had turned sides to middle and Orion watching her.

“I wish…” He stopped, because the day had, so far, gone well and he had no wish to spoil it. And yet Henry had said he must talk to her about the picture of the boy and it was weighing on his mind that he had not yet done so,

“What do you wish?” Mary paused in her sewing, her needle poised at the end of the thread. Then, as he went on staring into the fire, “What do you wish Ori?”

“I wish ‘e could be in ‘ere with us, not out there under the ground.”

He spoke quietly but apart from the damp hissings of the fire there were no other sounds and for a moment the old irritation sparked in Mary’s mind. Why, when everything was, at last, getting better between them, did he have to start on about the child again? Why could he not let the poor, maimed creature rest in peace?

Then she looked across, saw the look of misery on his face and remembered what Mrs Roscrow had said some weeks ago. ‘E might be a man,’ she’d said one morning, aiming her words at Mary’s angry back as she thumped the linen in the washtub after complaining bitterly about Orion’s horrible drawings of their dead child. “‘E might be a man but ‘e feels things deep, you can tell. You can see the poor little soul’s better off where ‘e is but your Ori don’t see it that way and you didn’t ought to be too ’ard on ‘im’.”

Mary hadn’t answered or even indicated that she’d heard but she hadn’t forgotten and now, remembering how he’d worked to get them a Christmas meal, she told herself she must be kinder.

“I know,” she said gently. “I know it ‘urts.” Finishing off her stitching, she cut the thread with her teeth, stuck the needle into her pin cushion and put down the sheet. “But there’ll be others. And you’ve still got me,” and, getting up from her chair, she sat herself on the rag rug in front of the fire and laid her head against his knees. As if encouraged by the action, the largest of the smouldering logs shifted, fell into the embers, broke open and burst into flame.

 

Faith.

She was a wicked girl. She had shouted at her father, she had left her kitchen filled with dirty pots while she walked aimlessly around the town and, worst of all, she had said terrible things about God. If there had been anywhere else but her home to go to, Faith would have gone there.

The house, as she crept in through the scullery door, was its usual silent self and, with the gas on its lowest flame and the furniture looming as darker shadows, very gloomy.

And yet there were no dirty pans or plates in the kitchen or scullery and the dining table had been cleared down to the green baize under-cloth.

“I may have put some things away wrongly.” He stood in the doorway, an expression on his face she did not understand as she tried to imagine her father, who had never, as far as she knew, even entered the kitchen, heating water, plodding between the table and the sink, drying up with the cloths that hung in front of the range, deciding into which cupboard or drawer each item should go… The picture was such a sad one that, forgetting her guilt and her fear of his anger, she flung her arms around him and started to sob.

“I’m so sorry. I should not have gone off like that. I should not have said those things.”

And for the first time that she could remember, she felt him reach out to draw her against his dark, stuff coat.

It was a long time before either of them moved. Outside it had started to rain and she heard the drops hitting the windows and falling onto the leaves of the laurel bush. Inside she heard the dull tick of the clock above the fireplace and the gentle popping from the gas mantle overhead.

“You’re cold, child,” her father said eventually, and she realised that, in spite of the thick coat she still wore, she was shivering. “Go to bed now,” he said quietly. “We will talk tomorrow.”

The light touch she felt against her hair was, she realised, as she turned to leave the room, a kiss.

In bed and still cold in spite of the blankets and her heavy quilt, she huddled into herself and wondered what he might say the next morning – and then, worn out with the passions of the day, fell asleep. For the first night for some time she was not visited by memories of Mr Uren.

 

Strangely her father made no reference to her behaviour and when she carried in his breakfast next morning, he said nothing until after the silent grace. Then, as she stood to go back to the kitchen, he indicated that she should wait.

“I have thought and prayed,” he said, ignoring his boiled egg but sipping at his cup of hot water, “about your dear mother.” He picked up a slice of toast but made no attempt to eat it. “She suffers from an illness of the mind and I had hoped that I – or other Friends – might be able to reach her but it seems…” The  toast broke under the movement of his fingers and the crumbs littered the tablecloth.  He took a breath. “I do not expect you to understand,” he said and then, as if some completely new thought had occurred to him, “although I had hoped you might have had more sympathy for her suffering.”

“ I…” But her father raised his hand to stop her speaking. His eyes, below the

thick, white eyebrows, were very dark.

“I am led to engage a nurse to care for her,” he went on. He seemed to notice the crumbled toast and moved his fingers to dislodge it. “Alice Pasco will find someone suitable and you….” For one wonderful moment Faith thought he might say she could return to school. “You will have more time for your household duties,” he said instead and, picking up his knife, sliced the top from his cold egg.

Agnes could be heard noisily clearing the grate in the front room but Mrs Badcock was hanging her coat on the hook behind the scullery door. Replacing it with her great apron, she paused in the act of tying its strings as Faith hurtled through from the morning room.

“Whatever is it now?” she asked. “Ma all right?”

“Yes. No… I don’t know. It’s….”

But it would be wrong to confide in Mrs Badcock, who was only their cook and besides might spread the story among her friends.

“It’s nothing,” she said. “I’m all behind this morning, that’s all.”

“Tha’s all right then. And by the way,” Mrs Badcock lifted the steaming kettle from the side of the range and prepared to fill the teapot. “I’m going to ‘ave to give notice. Badcock an’ me was talking last night an’ ‘e says it’s too much, me coming up ‘ere all day an’ now ‘is sister’s offered me a job in ‘er cafe down West End. Jus’ lunchtimes it would be and I said I’d start end of January. That’ll give you plenty of time to get suited.”

“Oh. Yes, I suppose it will.”

For the moment her only feeling was of surprise, since Mr Badcock’s sister must surely have experienced her sister-in-law’s cooking – or perhaps people who ate at the cafe down West End weren’t particularly fussy? Then, and much more importantly, she wondered where in the world she was supposed to find a new cook? None of the Friends had been able to suggest anyone last time and the West Briton was full of advertisements for staff to work in the most attractive-sounding homes.

Hearing her father leave the dining room, she picked up the tray and went back to clear his breakfast dishes.

 

Henry

He has let matters get out of hand.

Not that he has behaved with any impropriety towards Pamela – Mrs Graves – although remaining alone with a lady in her sitting room until early Christmas morning might quite reasonably be considered improper behaviour and it seems to him now that he may have inadvertently raised expectations he does not feel capable of fulfilling.

They talked. They drank brandy – on top of the champagne and wines so liberally dispensed at the Carnousties’. They laughed about William Craigforth’s discomfiture and, as he eventually left, he accepted an invitation to join Pamela and her sons and a few close friends for what she described as ‘romps’ one evening later in the week.

Which is what worries him now, when it is too late to withdraw without causing offence.

It was, as he had feared, a select gathering. And yet, having told himself he would not stay late, he found himself hailing a cab to take him back to Hanwell well after midnight – having thoroughly enjoyed his evening.

Having thoroughly enjoyed his evening up to around ten minutes before…

There were twelve in the party – Pamela Graves and her sons, a neighbouring family named Knox, consisting of a mother, father, seventeen-year old daughter and fifteen-year old son, Pamela’s brother in law, Rex, his wife Suzanna and son Edward, a friend of Archie’s from Marlborough and Henry himself – introductions being made by each person being given a name on a slip of paper as they arrived and having to impersonate that person as best they could until their identity had been discovered.

Henry was puzzled to discover that he was to impersonate one Genevieve Knox but having discovered that this was the pretty seventeen-year-old neighbour, derived some amusement from describing the trimmings on his new bonnet and his total despair at not being allowed to visit the Drury Lane pantomime. He was basing his character, he realised, upon Amy Pearce in Falmouth but, knowing nothing of Miss Knox, it was the best he could do and, according to her father, he made an excellent fist of it.

Rowdier games followed, in which both adults and young people threw off their inhibitions and joined in musical chairs and blind man’s buff until Pamela led them into the dining room for a cold collation, wine and lemonade.

It was hard, by this time, not to be friendly with someone on whose knee one had been perched or who had secreted a thimble in one’s waistcoat pocket and there was much light-hearted banter, although he noticed a slight froideur on the part of Rex Graves, the brother in law, when Pamela asked if Henry would carve the ham.

“I’m afraid carving is not one of my skills,” he lied quickly. “I am, in fact, ham-fisted!” and the moment passed in laughter, after which Mr Graves took over the carving knife with the air of one who did this by right.

After supper Henry introduced one of his own favourite games, dividing the party into two teams of six and sending one out of the room.

He then placed his team opposite each other in two rows of chairs, set so that their feet touched in the centre and gave them their instructions. Then he called in the other team and explained that they were to negotiate the lines of legs and skirts, losing points each time they touched someone, before blindfolding them with a selection of Pamela’s scarfs. As the first person started to make their way along the line, Henry’s team, at his signal, quietly withdrew their legs and enjoyed the spectacle of watching the other guests pick their way in turn, high-stepping over barriers that no longer existed.

It was a game, Henry explained, amid gales of laughter, that could be played only once!

“Such fun!” Pamela gripped his arm tightly in delight. “I will have to give another party next week with a totally different set of guests!” Eyes sparkling and hair in disarray, she looked, as he remembered her on the Flamingo the previous summer, particularly attractive.

He was not the only one who noticed.

“Our hostess was on good form tonight,” he overheard Mr Knox comment to her sister in law as they gathered their outdoor clothes in the hallway. “And looking most becoming.”

“Indeed.” The woman glanced round to see if Pamela was within earshot but failed to notice Henry. “I imagine it is her new beau who makes her eyes shine so brightly.”

He had definitely, Henry told himself, in his cab, let matters get out of hand.

 

“I must return to Falmouth,” he tells his startled mother and sister at breakfast next morning. “There are things I must see to urgently.”

There are also things he must see to in London and he spends the day writing his excuses to two patrons whose portraits he is engaged to paint and refusals to several invitations. Then, having packed his necessities, he catches his favourite nine pm train from Paddington and settles into the corner of an empty carriage with the relief of one who has escaped from some sort of pursuit.

A relief which is replaced, as the clatter of train wheels as it races through the darkness lulls him into drowsiness, by a heavy and disconcerting sense of guilt.

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.”

 

Uncertainties of Love and Hope Chapter 10.

Henry

Sunday, with no religious obligations, was a free day for Henry. In the season, of course, he would be either sailing or painting en plein air, this being one of the few days his boys were free to model for him. Now, in November, the weather being unsuitable and the days too short, he generally lunched or dined, or sometimes both, with friends.

On this particular Sunday he was due to dine at Marlborough House, home of his friend May Bull, but had no other engagements and, putting on his mackintosh and a sailing cap, set off for a tramp around the headland where he felt confident of meeting no-one on this damp and breezy morning. He was worried, he admitted to himself, about the promise he had made to Orion and needed to think.

The autumn colour was almost gone. The paths were thick with drenched and fallen leaves; only the most wizened of berries, rejected by mice and birds, remained on bushes overhung with twisted strings of fluffy seeds of Old Man’s Beard and the tall summer grasses had turned brown and fragile. Below the headland the sea crashed, grey and forbidding, against the rocks, throwing up walls of spray to hang, bright white against a dismal sky before falling back into foaming tongues to lick across the shore.

 

Much as he loves the sunlight, Henry enjoys walking in such weather and now, and now, striding out between the threadbare hedgerows, head down against the wind, he considers the portrait he has promised to paint for Orion.

He has seen death masks, of course. He has even undertaken posthumous portraits of his Tuke forebears but what Orion has requested is very different. For it is the boy the baby would have grown into who is haunting him. The plans he made before his birth – how he would teach him about the plants he grows, the sea, the birds and animals that live around them; the toys he would make him; the expeditions they would have together – have not vanished with the child but remain trapped inside his head and force their way into his drawings.

“It’s like ‘e can’t lie still,” he has said but it seems to Henry, although he dares not tell him, that it is Orion who cannot let go of the child.

A stronger gust of wind tears at his head and he clamps his hand against his hat, deciding it is time to turn back. For the first time for many years he wishes he had not lost his faith. It would be a comfort now to do what his schoolmaster exhorted his pupils to do more than thirty years before; to lay their burdens before the Lord and allow Him to shoulder them.

But, since he does not believe, he must bear his own burden and he strides forcefully back against the wind.  

 

Faith

Monday morning and she was checking the laundry. Again. It seemed only yesterday that she was preparing last week’s box and here she was, writing the numbers of sheets and pillow slips, night clothes and tablecloths in the small, buff-coloured laundry book. Meanwhile Papa’s shirt collars were soaking in a borax solution in the scullery sink, ready to be scrubbed after breakfast, his egg was waiting for the water to reach the boil on the stoked-up range and Saturday’s bread, fit for nothing else, had been cut into slices for his toast.

She was managing, she realised, glancing at the clock and putting down the laundry book. Papa would be down in five minutes, the table was laid and his tea was brewing. Taking up a spoon, she lowered his egg into the saucepan of bubbling water and placed two slices of bread against the range. Three minutes later, hearing his deliberate tread on the lower stairs, she pulled out the egg, put it into its cup, placed the toasted bread beside it and picked up the tray….

She was managing. she thought twenty minutes later, as he left the house and she carried the breakfast tray out to the kitchen.  Agnes, who was not, as Mrs Badcock had observed, much good as a maid, had cleared the grate in the drawing room and laid the fire, swept the carpet and dusted the shelves and ornaments. Now she was cleaning and dusting in the dining room, where, even this late in the year, they had no fire, Papa considering it both unnecessary and unhealthy, so that washing dishes in hot water from the kettle was almost a pleasure on such a chilly morning.

Mama’s breakfast, although she rarely touched it, was her next task but Mama must never be roused before ten, which gave her almost two hours to complete the laundry list, decide what horrible meals she should ask Mrs Badcock to prepare for luncheon and dinner, ensure that Agnes had cleaned the hallway and stairs and send her up to clean the bathroom and Papa’s bedroom while Faith made her own bed and tidied her room.

After Mama’s breakfast tray there would be the usual attempt to persuade her to leave her bed for an airing, after which there would be the marketing, followed by preparations for lunch, which would be ready when Papa came home just after half past twelve…

She was managing. And very dull and boring it was too, the only times she left the house being her trips to the shops or, once a week, to the library.

After which she was meant to visit the Urens… Myra Yelland had mentioned only this week that she had clothes for the boys which Faith should take ‘next time you go down,’ but how could she? How, after that terrible afternoon, could she ever go into that house again? How could she face Mrs Uren – or, far worse, her husband – when the very thought caused a great ball of ice to heave about inside her stomach and when she still found it hard to sleep without reliving the horror? Nor could she possibly speak, to Myra Yelland or any Friends at Meeting, of that dreadful event, for which she must, in some incomprehensible way, be to blame.

Now more than ever she missed Elsie, who had visited twice but not for the past two months. There was a child expected, she had written, and William insisted that there was no question of her travelling to Redruth. She realised that she had left Faith with a great burden but prayed she would be given the strength to bear it.

Which meant, Faith had thought, folding the letter into the pocket of her pinafore, not only that she would not see – or be able to consult – Elsie, perhaps for months, but also that she and William must have done those strange, upsetting things about which she had read in the book Susannah Robartes had brought into school.

Elsie had lain in bed beside moon-faced William, with his small, round eyes, his thin, red hair and his flabby pink hands. He would have kissed her – this was, according to the book, an important first stage in the process. He would have touched her in those places the book had kept respectably covered and then he would have put inside her that silly-looking bit of himself that Faith had, at that point, seen only in pictures of chubby cherubs in a bible-story book of which her father had disapproved and which had appeared, from her faint memories of them, to be totally inadequate for the task.

Except that now she knew better. Or worse. That silly bit of apparent flabbiness was capable of transforming itself into something huge and strong and with a terrible life of its own. It was a secret that men carried around with them. Not just pink, fleshy William but all men. Even Papa.

Even since that dreadful afternoon when she had seen – and felt – that warm, hard but strangely silken thing inside Arthur Uren’s shabby trousers, it had been difficult to look at men – any men – without a feeling of sickness in her throat, the tightening in her stomach of the knot of her own guilt.

“Yer Ma’s calling.” Agnes stamped in with her mop and bucket, dusting rags hanging from her apron strings. “ I thought you’d ‘ave ‘eard.”

“What is it Mama? Would you like breakfast?” She arrived, breathless, in the bedroom to find her mother in her usual position, head huddled into her pillows and turned away from the door.

“I couldn’t eat a morsel.” The words were moaned into the pillow but they were so familiar that Faith didn’t need to hear them. “My head aches dreadfully. Just bring me one of my powders.”

“Of course. But first…” Mama was well-wrapped in her bedclothes and it was a mild  day. “Let me open the far window, just a little. I’m sure the air will help your poor…”

“Leave it alone!” Her mother shrieked the words, raising her head from the pillow and glaring across to where Faith had taken hold of the blind-pull, “You are determined to freeze me to my death. For once will you just do as I ask and fetch my powder – and then go away.”

Her eyes, Faith noticed, had that frightening, glistening look that she had seen before but perhaps, she thought, as she hurried downstairs again, it was simply because of her anger.

 

Henry

“I promise to do what you asked.” Henry had made one last visit to Orion and Mary before leaving for Sidmouth, the home of Colonel Grundy, whose portrait he had finished painting, before travelling on to London. “I have packed your drawings and will work on them while I’m away.”

For some reason he felt that the painting of the boy might be easier if he was at a distance. For some reason the unhappiness that was so tangible inside and around the little cottage had transferred itself – he must have brought it with him – to his Pennance studio where he was finding it impossible to concentrate.

Orion, whom he found replacing broken slates on an outhouse roof, stared down at the lichen-encrusted slate in his hand.

“But please, Orion…” He could not leave without saying what was in his mind. “Do not place all your hopes on this picture. You are grieving and that is to be expected…” Orion, on a ladder against the outhouse door was some feet above Henry, which put him at a disadvantage, and he looked helplessly about the yard, searching for inspiration. “My picture – however well I manage to draw it – will not bring back the child. And…” Orion said nothing. Did not even indicate that he was listening. “You must try harder with Mary,” he said wildly. “It’s a terrible thing for a woman to lose the child she’s carried for so many months and you must care for her. Even if you find it hard to understand her behaviour.”

As he trudged back up towards the farm he found himself laughing – if mirthlessly – out loud.

What in the world did he, a childless bachelor, know of women’s feelings for their unborn children? Or, for that matter, of the relations between a man and his woman?

But Orion was accustomed to taking notice of him and had, as Henry turned to leave, at least nodded his head.

 

Now, in London, in a friend’s studio near Regent’s Park, he stares at the blank sheet of paper on his easel and at Orion’s sad little drawings, which he has clipped to the board. And has no idea, he admits to himself, where he should start.

With the living person before him, it is simple. With a few strokes he positions his subject on the paper and his fingers guide his pencil automatically, as it seems, to some feature – usually something about the face – from whence he starts the business of transferring life to paper.

But when there is no life? When he is expected to portray a child who has never lived, at an age he will never reach?

Stepping back, despairingly, from the easel, he plunges one hand into his pocket, encounters the calling card he thrust into it last night, under his mother’s gaze of faint amusement, stares at it and reaches a decision…

Less than an hour later he is standing at the door of a narrow, pretty-looking house in a street off the Bayswater Road.

“Is Mrs Graves at home?” he enquires of the young housemaid who opens the door, doffing his hat and offering his card. “I will wait for a reply.”

The reply comes speedily and in the person of Mrs Graves herself, in a more elegant dress than he has seen her wear in Falmouth and with her blonde hair – a little darker, since she has not been in the sunshine for some months – arranged in a more formal manner.

There is nothing formal, however, about her greeting.

“Mr Tuke! How delightful!” She holds out both hands and indicates to the hovering maid that she should disappear. “My friend Selina Rogers, who lives near your mother in Hanwell, told me you were in town and when I visited her I ventured to leave my card at your mother’s house. She must think me very forward.”

“I doubt it. She is not a particularly formal person.”

And his mother would, no doubt, be delighted at the thought that her son has such a charming, female friend, he imagines, before he realises that she will not have met her and will have no notion whether she is charming or not.

“Well that is a relief. Now come upstairs and tell me the news from Falmouth.”

He follows her upstairs and into a room which allows in as much light as is available on a gloomy December afternoon. Less over-crowded than so many London homes, including his mother’s, it is furnished, he suspects, from Maples or perhaps even Heal’s, with high-backed, upholstered armchairs and the usual array of occasional tables holding framed photographs, potted palms or ornamental bowls and around the walls are rows of white-painted shelving filled with books, more photographs and items of art pottery. A small piano has music on the stand and books lie open on the cushioned window seat. Logs blaze noisily in an open fireplace of deep green tiles and Henry crosses to the fireside chair Mrs Graves has indicated and sits, smiling across, as she perches herself on the piano stool.

And they have, they discover, nothing to say to each other.

 

Ida.

Her visit to Redruth had been a success. So much so that she repeated it two weeks later to join them, at Cousin Ellis’ invitation, for Sunday dinner.

His wife, Annie, she remembered from way back at Wesley chapel – a tall, gaunt woman, quite grey now, her hair pulled stiffly into a knot at the back of her neck as if to emphasize the sharpness of her long, narrow nose and sharp-boned cheeks. But her heart, Ida soon realised, was softer than her appearance and the two women talked comfortably together in the narrow kitchen at the back of the house, as Ida helped baste the potatoes and the suet pudding Annie was serving with their lamb.

Life had not been easy for her and Ellis, she found. Apart from the son who had lost his arm in the accident described by Sidney Beith, another son had died in a blasting accident and their eldest boy, Roger, after the closing of Pednandrea mine, had gone off to try his fortune in the South African diamond mines where he had been killed in a knife fight. The most fortunate of the family was the youngest son, who had work in the smelter over at Carnkye and was married with three small children, and there was a daughter in service at The Elms, Mr Tom Trounson’s fine new house in Green Lane, where conditions were good, if the wages, in the way of such houses, were poor.

Ellis himself was still working but was always tired, according to Annie.

“An’ when the damp weather comes ‘e coughs something dreadful,” she said. “I dunno ‘ow much longer ‘e’ll be able to keep on.”

“You must come again,” she said later, as they sat in the tiny front room where Ellis sprawled, snoring loudly, in his chair. “I dearly love to talk over the old days an’ it’s rare I get a chance of a good gossip.”

Later in the afternoon she and Ida walked together to the station. Ellis had insisted he must come with them but it was already dark, the air was damp and he started to wheeze and cough as soon as the door was opened so that Annie sent him back to the fire.

“Besides,” she said, her sharp features lit yellow in the glow of the electric street lamp – another novelty since Ida’s time – as she clutched her arm. “It’s good to be two girls together. Jus’ like the old days.”

 

Hardly girls, Ida thought, peering out at her reflected face against the embankment as her train pulled out of the station, but Annie was right. It was good to have a friend; someone with whom she could share thoughts and feelings as she had with poor Bea. Another woman whose life hadn’t turned out as well as she had hoped.

And there was something else….

“Why don’ ee come back?” Annie had asked, as they stood together on the draughty station, waiting for the sound and lights of the train over the viaduct. “Back to live,” she said in reply to Ida’s questioning look. “There in’t nothing keeping ‘ee in Falmouth, is there?”

And it was hard to think, as her train rattled out from the embankment across an area of scrub and moorland, hardly visible in the darkness but broken by the stacks and engine houses of old mines, what was keeping her.

There was her job – but she could surely find work, perhaps in a house like the Trounsons’? And there was chapel – but there was the Wesley chapel of her childhood waiting to welcome her.  Nothing, it seemed, was keeping her in Falmouth, except, she admitted to herself, the fear of making a new start at her age and on her own.

And there was something else again. A thought she had thrust to the back of her mind but which, as she waited for her connection at Truro, forced itself to the fore.

“Ever ‘ear anything about Ivan Hart do ee?” she’d asked after dinner as talk had turned to friends of their youth. “Went off to South Africaor somewhere…” she’d added, attempting to sound casual.

“Ivan ‘Art?” Tea cup in mid air, Ellis considered the name. “Ivan ‘Art? I did ‘ear something…” He sucked at his tea, coughed and put down the cup. “ Died, din’ ‘e, Annie? Some years back. Killed in some brawl with an Irishman. Or was it a Finn?”

Annie, intent on refilling the pot, had shrugged and left the room. Ellis coughed again and went on coughing and the subject was dropped.

Now, in the flickering gaslight of Truro station, Ida admitted to herself the loss of one more dream. Ivan Hart of the black curls and wicked eyes was dead. Killed in a brawl with a Finn or an Irishman. Huddled into her coat against the cold wind which whipped in off the tall viaduct that straddled the Truro valley she felt that a tiny, almost forgotten, glow of hope had been wiped out.  

It was one more reason why returning to Redruth was not to be considered.

 

Faith.

It was coming near to Christmas. In Meeting for Worship this morning Silas Thom had exhorted them to consider, ‘especially at this time of the year’, those of their neighbours who were suffering hardship as mines and businesses related to them continued to lay off workers and each week trains left the station, crowded with men looking for work in other parts of the country or overseas, leaving behind women and children who would quickly become destitute if their menfolk did not find work, or were killed or injured – or simply turned their backs on the past.

The women’s working party, Alice Pasco had announced, would meet on two afternoons a week from now on, in order to keep up with the demand for warm clothing, especially for the children. Faith, she suggested, might knit mufflers for the Uren family.

How had they been, she asked with a look that in a less saintly woman might have been described as ‘suspicious’, when Faith last visited them?

Trudging home along Church Lane beside her father, she pushed from her mind her evasive answer, remembering instead and with resentment that while she was knitting mufflers or woolen helmets for the poor, Amy and Magel in their Needlework classes would be learning the intricacies of shell-hemming for petticoats or ruffling with which to decorate blouses.

But she thought less and less, these days, about Amy and Magel, whose lives were receding into a distance from which it was becoming more and more difficult to retrieve them. She still received news of school life from Amy – a late night dorm ‘feast’, a thrilling hockey match or the appearance of a mouse in the middle school cloakroom – but her letters, compared with Faith’s accounts of her dull days, simply emphasized the difference between their lives and the gaps in their correspondence were getting longer.

Besides last week had brought another, more significant letter – in a pale green envelope with an American stamp on, and addressed in John’s careful, italic hand.

About to set it aside for Father, she realised that it was addressed to her and, it being the quiet time of day when Mrs Badcock had gone home and Agnes was sewing – or snoozing – in the kitchen, took it upstairs to her room. There was something ominous in the fact that her brother was writing to her and her throat, as she cut open the envelope, felt very dry.

The letter was dated six weeks before and in the first lines he hoped she would be able to read it out of sight of our dear parents.’

Elsie has written to tell us of her forthcoming happy event,’ he went on,which I imagine will keep her in Falmouth for some time, so I am writing to prepare you for the news I will soon be sending to Papa.’

He was going to be married! She knew this before she read the words. He would marry some American girl and would stay there for ever and very probably George would do the same and they would never see either of them again. And Mama would never leave her bed and would simply allow herself to die, either in her room or ‘up Bodmin’.

She had closed her eyes, perhaps to prevent herself from reading the inevitable, perhaps to hold back the tears, and now she forced them open; forced them to read the letter clenched in her hand…

‘A delightful girl, she read. Graceful. Full of spirit.’ ‘Daughter of  Elwood Watkins, a mining engineer and an Elder of Pittsburg Meeting.’

There was no reason, he wrote, for them to delay the marriage since they were both of age.

He would write to Papa in a few days, so that Faith would have time to prepare him and Mama, although he was sure they would be as delighted as Marianne’s parents at their happiness.

Marianne, she thought, letting the letter drop to the floor. John was to marry Marianne Watkins and everyone would be delighted.

And it was left to her to prepare her parents for the news…

 

Henry.

“Have you heard from Mrs Pearce lately?”

After his enthusiastic welcome, followed by the unwonted silence that had overtaken both him and Mrs Graves, who had perhaps realised that her reception might have seemed somewhat forward, Henry searched his mind for a suitable topic.

“Several times.” She grasped eagerly at the conversational hare. “Dear Hetty is an excellent correspondent.” He had, he realised, chosen well. “Her latest came only this morning. In fact,” she crossed to her bureau and took up an envelope, “this may interest you. She has had a letter from Amy’s friend, the little Quaker girl from Redruth. I don’t suppose you remember her?”

“I remember her well. I drew her picture – with Miss Amy.” He remembered the dark, solemn – almost sad – eyes and the contrast between her sober dress and demeanour and the frivolity of her friend. “Who was in despair, was she not, because the girl’s father had taken her away from school?”

“Exactly. And now the poor child has written to Hetty, also in despair, to say her life has got even worse.”

Henry smiled.

“What a great deal of despair these young girls suffer.” He stretched his legs towards the brass fire surround.

“Well, it does seem as if she has some cause.” Picking up a pair of eye-glasses, Mrs Graves peered at her letter. “Apparently the child’s mother stays in bed with some unspecified nervous ailment, which has been made worse since a son, who is in Pennsylvania, plans to marry there and, the girl’s older sister having also married and being enceinte, the burden of caring rests upon Faith.”

“Oh dear.” Such matters were of little interest to Henry. “Why has she written to your sister about all this?”

“I have no idea. Except that Hetty is a sweet-natured woman. I suppose the girl felt the need to unburden herself to someone.”

Which is a need, Henry realises, that he shares. Except that at least twenty minutes have already passed and a visit, especially to an unchaperoned lady, should last no longer. Reluctantly he starts to extract himself from his chair.

“Oh please stay!” Mrs Graves drops her sister‘s letter onto the carpet. “I haven’t even offered you tea. Or would you prefer a glass of sherry?”

“Tea would be very pleasant.” He relaxes back as far as is possible in a high-backed chair furnished with several cushions and his hostess rings for her maid.

 

“I was hoping you might be able to offer me some advice.”

Tea with delicate sandwiches, a plate of small fancies and a more substantial-looking sponge cake, has been brought in.

“Really?” Mrs Graves smiles, eyebrows raised, over her cup. And then, laughing, “On an artistic matter?”

“No. Well, in a way, yes.” And he embarks on what is necessarily a lengthy explanation. As he attempts to describe his friendship with Orion, his concern for his happiness and the trouble that has overtaken him and Mary, he pulls two of the cushions from behind him and eats his way, without noticing, through most of a plate of salmon paste sandwiches and two slices of sponge cake. Mrs Graves, absorbed, drinks less than half of her cup of tea.

“I see,” she says, when he comes to some sort of pause, although her tone of voice suggests that she does not entirely do so. “So this poor young man wishes you to draw his dead baby son as he might look…”

Putting down her teacup she clasps her hands in front of her face and stares at him across them.

“As he might look as a boy. Yes. He thinks it may help him.”

“And you? What do you think Henry?”

For the moment, concentrating as he is on Orion’s predicament, he fails to notice her use of his christian name.

“I think… It worries me,” he confesses. “To start with, when I draw or paint I use models. I draw from life, not the imagination. But more than this…” He pauses, stretches his legs again, stares at his empty tea cup…. Mrs Graves reaches for it and re-fills it from her pot.

More than this?”

Henry lets go of breath he has not been aware he is holding. One of the logs in the fireplace falls, burnt through, into the ash pan beneath, disintegrating in a shower of sparks.

“I fear it is a bad idea.” He takes a gulp of his tea. “In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think it is a very bad idea. I fear it may encourage him…”

“To hold onto a hope that does not exist?” Her eyes, when she is concentrating, are grey, rather than blue and there is something restful, and very charming, about her attentiveness. “Are you feeling that it might be better if he could be persuaded to stop thinking of what might have been and try instead to accept what has happened – as it seems his wife has done?”

“I think so.” He considers her words. And then, “Yes!” and it is the old decisive Henry who thumps his hand with some vigour against the arm of his chair and leaps to his feet, narrowly avoiding a small table holding an elegant, art pottery vase. “You are quite right! It is what I’ve been feeling all along but could not put into words. I am so grateful to you!”

And he holds out his hand, bending forwards so that, just for a moment, it seems he may be about to kiss hers but instead he takes hold of it and shakes it with some energy.

Almost as if, she thinks afterwards, she were a man.

“When I return to Cornwall I will speak to him as I should have done before now. As a father might do,” he adds, with an expression on his face that she is unable to interpret.

“Yes.” A little overwhelmed by his enthusiasm she pulls the bell as it appears that he is leaving. (And his visit has now lasted an inexcusably long time.) “I think you should do that.”

 

As he strides back towards the Bayswater Road, past houses extravagantly lit, now that darkness has fallen, for Christmas, Henry feels that a load has been lifted from his shoulders. He must talk to Orion – seriously and, probably, painfully – but this is something he feels he can do. His gratitude to Mrs Graves for taking seriously his concern for a young man she has never met and who is far out of her social sphere is immense and he feels immeasurably relieved.

He must invite her to an exhibition, he decides, since she has expressed some interest in art. Perhaps he might take her out to dine afterwards.

Uncertainties of Love and Hope Chapter 9.

 

Faith.

Her mother was worse. Much worse. Now she no longer came downstairs but lay in bed, hardly speaking and eating still less.

“I’m sure a change of air would do you good, Mama.”

Doctor Henderson had been most firm on this point when he had called last week. A change of air and a change of scene, he had told Faith, who accepted his words as criticism of herself. For her mother’s bedroom, in spite of her attempts to mask it by sprinkling eau de Cologne on the pillowslips, had a stale, unpleasant smell; Mama’s body had a stale, unpleasant smell, and there was, it seemed, nothing she could do about it. Since the last letter had arrived from brother John in Pittsburgh, her mother had refused to move further than the commode next to her bed.

‘This is a wonderful country,’ John had written on the flimsy, unfamiliar-looking paper. We have been made so welcome that I feel as if I have always lived here. The work is congenial and we have moved to more suitable lodgings in the upper part of the city on Mount Washington from where we overlook the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers. You would not believe how beautiful they look. The area is dirty, of course, with so many coal mines and so much industry, and the air is often black with smoke and steam but there is such energy here, such a sense of purpose in building an exciting, modern world.

There is also a great deal of wealth. Over on the East Side we have seen some fine homes, set in beautiful gardens and last Sunday we visited the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the gift to the people of Pittsburgh of Henry Phipps, a mill-owner and one of the richest men in the city. It is a wonder of glass and steel, filled with palms and orchids and all sorts of exotic plants. To think that such beauty can come from such an ugly industry!’

It was like reading about another world, Faith had thought, daring to pick the letter off her father’s desk the morning after its arrival. And, towards the end, after sending affectionate greetings to everyone, it was clear that John felt the same. ‘You are all so far away,he had written, ‘and we wish with all our hearts that we could be closer but cannot help but be grateful for the opportunities we are offered in this wonderful country.’

Reading these words Faith realised why her mother was so cast down. For it was obvious that – at least for the foreseeable future – her brothers would not be coming back.

 

It would be useful experience for them, to learn this exciting new country’s business practices, Papa’s contact in Pittsburgh had written last year. Originally from Camborne, he now managed the affairs of one of the larger steel mills and George, who had just finished his book-keeping examinations, and John, who was working as an engineer in the East Pool Mine, were eager for greater opportunities than Redruth could offer, and to make new contacts for Vigo Fabrications.

“It will only be for a year or two,” George had said as he kissed Faith goodbye. “After which, I’m sure, we will want to come home and settle down.”

He had been walking out with May Simmons and had confided in Elsie that he would have asked her to become engaged to him, if he had not felt this to be unfair on her. Which it certainly would have been, since, also according to Elsie, May had received only one letter from George in the fourteen months that he had been away. Obviously Pittsburgh, for all its dirt and smoke, had attractions that Cornwall, and poor May did not have.

 

“Please Mama. At least put on your robe and sit by the window while I change your bed linen.” It was not what she had intended for this morning, when she had hoped to turn out the dining room, but she was going to have to ask Papa to call in Dr Henderson again and there were stains on her mother’s undersheet that she could not bear him to see. “I’m sure you’ll feel more comfortable,” she added despairingly, as her mother turned towards her with the damp-eyed look she had learned to distrust.

“You are sure of that, are you?” Her voice had that tight-stretched quality as if it might change at any second to a howl or a scream. “You, a child, a schoolgirl, know how I will feel if I follow your orders? You can have no idea how I feel – or how I will feel – about anything so just…” Her voice rose to the shriek that Faith had been dreading. “Leave me alone,” she screamed, pummelling her fists against her eiderdown and then, more frighteningly, against her neck and shoulders. “Do you hear me child? Just leave me alone!

 

“Your mother’s illness is a burden we must all bear.”

Luncheon was a terrible meal. Faith, who had fled from her mother’s room, knew that her eyes were still reddened and swollen from her tears and she had no room in her stomach even for Cook’s white soup.

“Mama is very ill,” she had told her father, when he asked what was the matter. “I tried to persuade her to leave her bed, just for a short time while I…, and she… shouted at me.” ‘Shouted’ was, for some reason, easier to say than ‘screamed’. “She told me to leave her alone. I don’t know what I should do, Papa. I am….”

‘I am frightened of her,’ was what she wanted to say but how could she say something so terrible of her own mother?

Which was when her father said her mother’s illness was a burden they must all bear.

“Especially she has to bear it herself,” he said, “and we must pray for the Lord’s help.”

Putting down his spoon, he bowed his head and Faith, feeling her nose start to run, did the same. But it was all so hopeless, she thought, unable to find words to pray with. Her mother called her a child and a schoolgirl and refused to do anything she asked and yet she was expected to keep house – a task in which she was failing more and more every day – as if she were an adult. ‘All I want is to be a schoolgirl,’ she thought, rebelliously, ‘and it’s the one thing I’m not allowed to be.’

And now there was that other, terrible, thing. That dirty, shameful thing that had happened at the Urens’, about which she could tell no-one. That she remembered every night in bed and whenever her thoughts wandered during the day and made her feel more helpless and unworthy than ever…

 

Henry.

It was always a pleasure to visit the Pearces and Henry was happy, meeting Edgar in town one Saturday morning, to accept his invitation for lunch.

“We have Amy with us for the weekend,” he said, as they strode along Bar Road with its view over the harbour, crowded with sheltering ships after a day and a night of storms. “I’m sure she’ll be delighted to see you.”

 

Young Amy was at the age, Henry reflected as she came to meet him, when girls seemed to grow, almost overnight, into young ladies. With her hair dressed in a complicated arrangement around the crown of her head to fall into ringlets around her shoulders, she held her head higher and with more dignity than the girl he had taught to sail last summer and her high-necked white blouse with what he had learnt from Peggy Hatch as he painted her portrait, were called ‘pin tucks’ down the front, emphasized, he couldn’t help noticing, her developing figure.

“It’s delightful to see you,” she said, as they sat down for their meal. “It’s so boring here.”

“Poor Amy is missing her handsome cousin!” Edgar smirked across at his daughter. “Now she has no-one to show off to except her boring family.”

“That is not what I meant!” Amy could produce an excellent pout, Henry noted, as her two younger brothers guffawed raucously. “It would just be pleasant to have better company than those two oiks.”

“How is your friend? The girl from Redruth who had to leave school. Have you heard from her lately?”

Henry’s question followed Amy’s Mama’s reproach at her rudeness and she turned to him eagerly.

“Poor Faith. Yes I had a letter from her this week and she is having the most horrible time. She has to spend her whole life cleaning and laundering and cooking…”

“Surely not cooking dear? I’m sure they have…”

“That’s exactly the thing!” The girl’s eyes flashed dramatically and she waved her fork in a manner that caused her mother to raise her hand in a gesture intended to bring about calm. “That’s exactly the thing!” she went on, undeterred, “Their horrible old cook has given in her notice and left. And now poor Faith…”

Amy.” Mr Pearce rarely raised his voice and when he did even Amy took notice. “That is enough,” he said. “You will embarrass our guest. You are also talking of matters you know little about.”

“But it’s true!” The hand with the fork was lowered, and Amy’s eyes with it. “Faith told me in her letter,” she went on, but in a lower tone of voice. “Their ho… Their cook has said she is sorry but she has to give notice. Her husband is ill or something stupid like that…”

“And so they will have to engage another cook. It’s not an impossibility my dear. I have even done it myself.” Mrs Pearce did her best to lighten the atmosphere. “How long are you staying in Falmouth, Henry?” she asked, changing the subject. “I believe you normally abandon us for London in the winter – and who can blame you, with such weather?”

It was a reasonable comment. Beyond the tall windows of the dining room the grass in the back garden was grey and sodden and the cabbage palms surrounding it shook violently in yet another powerful gust of wind, bringing down a further fall of sword-like leaves to add to the litter on the lawn. Clouds, shredded to fragments by the wind, tore across a pale blue, well-washed sky and tongues of moisture darkened the stone wall bordering the garden.

“I like this weather,” Henry admitted, nevertheless. “Much as I love the warmth and light of the sun, I always enjoy walking against the wind and the rain. However, I will be returning to London at the beginning of December. The place also has its charms and I am eager to see my mother and sister.”

“And this year you must also visit our dear Pamela.” Hetty Pearce smiled affectionately towards him. “She is hoping you may take her to some of the galleries you spoke of during the summer.”

“I will be delighted, of course,” Henry told her.

And perhaps it was because he wanted to turn his thoughts away from commitments about which he was beginning to have misgivings that he thought instead about Faith’s school friend whom he had met only once but whose dark and serious eyes had impressed him so deeply. It was sad to think of her being forced to give up her education – and with it, quite probably, her chances of independence in later life. He had no doubt her father was not the ogre of Amy’s indignant outburst but it had obviously not occurred to him that there was any reason why his fourteen year-old daughter should not be kept at home by her mother’s illness.

 

“You have Quaker friends. Surely you could talk to them about Mr Vigo? Surely they would take notice of you?” Hetty Pearce had gone to the back porch to collect the waterproof he was wearing on this inclement day and Amy took the opportunity to hiss her request at him. “It’s just so cruel to poor Faith!”

Hetty returned with the maid and his still-damp cloak before he could answer but, as he turned to wave from the front gate, she was standing by the door with a bright smile on her face as if he had made her some sort of a promise.

But what could he do, he asked himself, as he walked home along the cliff path between Gyllyngvase and Swanpool, to help a girl about whose circumstances he knew almost nothing?

At least the weather had brightened; the tide was low and the rocks were drying out, apart from those wearing their bright mantles of emerald green weed. The last sunlight of the short winter day glanced off the surface of the rock pools, a cormorant dived from one of the furthest rocks, swam a few feet and then slid beneath it.

Henry paused to enjoy the scene and to attempt to clear his mind of the concerns his visit had raised.

His friends in the Fox family might well encounter Faith Vigo’s father at one of their Quaker Monthly Meetings but what could he possibly say that would not make them ask what business it was of his?

 

Ida

There was something settling about making a pie. Especially on a day like today when the clouds hung low and heavy and the air was thick with damp. In Mrs Jenkins’ kitchen, with the range firing well, which was not always the case in wet weather, Ida dabbed lard onto the rolled-out pastry, folded it, rolled it and dabbed again… Her pastry, Mr Jenkins had said several times, was the best he’d tasted and even Mrs Opie, who insisted she had a delicate stomach, agreed that she could ‘take’ Ida’s pies.

When Mr Drage knocked on the back door with a ‘nice bit o’ hake on the off-chance’ the kitchen was full of the scent of the fried steak and kidney, waiting by the pastry board.

“My favourite,” he announced, rubbing together his heavy-fingered, red hands as he peered around the door frame. “Keep the chill out proper that will.”

Ida did not want any hake, however nice. Nor did she want Mr Drage, who had already called once this week, in her kitchen. Mrs Opie couldn’t be trusted not to come snooping about the place of an afternoon and, although Mrs Jenkins was an easy-going employer, Ida was less convinced about the ex-nanny. So,

“It’s very good of you but I don’ need no fish ‘till next week,” she told him, ignoring his comment about the cold. “An’ I ‘ave to get this in the oven. I don’ ‘ave no time to stop and talk.”

He had said nothing about stopping to talk and she felt she might have sounded discourteous but if she had he seemed not to have noticed.

“I wondered if ‘ee fancied goin’ out, Sunday afternoon.” He leaned his weight against the door frame, letting in the cold air. “Walk round the park, p’raps. Or down Prince o’ Wales if it’s not too blowy.”

And then back to Ida’s for Sunday tea; she supplied the post-script for herself and felt her lips compress of their own accord. For they had walked around the Kimberley Park – two minutes up the road from Ida’s home, although more like ten when accompanied by Mr Drage – last Sunday, and there was little pleasure in that. Nor, in late October, was a turn around the Prince of Wales pier much of a prospect. If he had suggested a bus trip out to the sea at Gyllyngvase, perhaps, where she had not been for two years or more and where she wanted – as she had mentioned to him – to see where it was now possible to walk the full length of the sea front; that would have been a different matter. But Mr Drage would never be able to walk that far and buses, he had told her, made him queasy.

“I’m busy Sunday.” She dabbed more lard onto her pastry and turned it firmly on the floured board. “My Orion might be coming…”

It was not a lie, she told herself, folding the pastry for the final time. Orion had never been to see her since he had moved away but there was always a chance he might. She pulled the enamel pie dish towards her and laid the pastry across it. Mr Drage, disappointed, heaved himself away from the door.

“I’ll be round Tuesday as usual,” he grunted as he turned away. “P’raps next weekend…”

Oh lord! Ida listened to his heavy footsteps on the pathway. Whatever next? And Sunday morning, she realised, as she poured in the steak and kidney with its fragrant-smelling gravy, he would be in chapel, she’d be bound. And would ask if Orion was expected or not…

 

Faith

Dr Henderson had called once again to see her mother and had once again prescribed a tonic. She was suffering, he told Faith in the hallway after his visit, from neurasthenia which made her incapable of sustained exertion, liable to palpitations, irritability and outbursts of emotion.

“The tonic will assist the appetite.” Dr Henderson, a large man with a protruding stomach on which he rested his hands as if on a shelf, held his head high as he spoke, as if he were addressing the wall above her rather than Faith herself. “But it is vital, vital,” he thumped the heel of his boot against the floor, “that she has a well ventilated room and a change of scene. Simply lying in bed will do her no good at all,” he said, as if he had not told her all this before and as if Faith might be deliberately restraining her mother. “A change of air and a change of scene,” he chanted, as if it were the refrain to a song. “That is what we must ensure.”

Well he had better come and ensure it himself, Faith thought, standing helplessly in front of him.

“I have tried but…”

“Accept no buts.” The doctor spoke pompously, this time addressing the coat stand. He picked his hat from the table and took up his bag. “I will speak to Mr Vigo this afternoon in his office,” he added, turning away, “and give him my more detailed diagnosis.”

“‘E’s a fool, that man.” Mrs Badcock had been standing, unnoticed, at the end of the hall. “We’ll ‘ave missus up Bodmin if ‘e don’ do no more’n stand round makin’ speeches.”

Pulling open the door to the morning room, she shuffled inside with her broom. “You go up and see after yer Ma. I’ll make a pot o’tea.”

Faith trailed miserably up the stairs and along the landing to her mother’s room. Knocking gently, she received no response and, opening the door, saw her lying, eyes closed, against her pillow.

And she was too tired to care. Too tired of worrying about Mama – Mrs Badcock‘s ‘up Bodmin’ was a reference to the insane asylum to which she had heard of people being sent, but never of them coming back – and with trying to keep the house clean and tidy, meals served on time, clothing and linen washed and ironed, to do any more than drag herself back downstairs and into the kitchen…

Mrs Badcock made foul-tasting tea. Everything she made, in fact, tasted foul but since Edna Davey had given up working for them to look after her ailing husband, there had been no-one else to do the cooking. He would ‘ask among Friends’ Papa had said, if any could recommend a good, plain cook and perhaps he had done but no-one had been forthcoming. Agnes was even less competent than Faith and they were left with Mrs Badcock who normally came in three mornings a week for ‘the rough’ – scrubbing the kitchen and scullery and the doorsteps, cleaning the bathroom and the windows and – by throwing down damp tea leaves and sweeping them up with a broom – the carpets. She had, however, cooked for her large family, who all apparently survived, although Faith found it hard to imagine how they had contrived this, and had agreed to come in for a few hours extra every day to ‘lend a hand’.

Papa seemed not to notice how dreadful the food was that appeared before him but after three days of a ‘lentil bake’ that had the texture of gravel and tasted little better, Faith had begun to feel that she could do no worse herself. Certainly she had taught herself to do something called a coddled egg, which was supposed to stimulate an invalid’s appetite, for Mama, who had eaten at least a small amount of the two she had prepared so far, and she was learning, by experimentation, that soup could taste of more than water if sufficiently seasoned and allowed to simmer for long enough.

Mrs Badcock was a good soul, however, and, in spite of the dreadfulness of her tea, it was a relief to sit at the kitchen table and talk to her. Or rather, to listen to her talk.

“You should tell yer pa,” she started every sentence and Faith learned that she must tell her father about Mr Badcock’s aunt, who had stayed in bed so long she lost the use of her legs. She must tell him that he should purchase an invalid carriage, in which Cyril might push her mother out of an afternoon to take the air. She must tell him to take her on a holiday – to the sea, for preference, although this, in October, seemed a dubious remedy. She must, above all, warn him of the likelihood that Mrs Vigo would be taken ‘up Bodmin’ and then where would they be?

“Then where would you be?” she demanded a second time, putting down her tea cup with such force that Faith feared for the saucer. “Eh?”

She was a small, vigorous woman, with narrow teeth like a rabbit’s, very black eyes and a moustache of dark and bristling whiskers and it was hard to know how to respond to her question.

“I don’t know,” seemed the safest option and, surprisingly, appeared to satisfy her.

“And no more you should,” she said, taking up her cup and staring into it as if she might be reading the future. “A poor child ‘ardly out of school. You must tell yer Pa ‘e must take on a proper nurse for Missus,” she said, her eyes brightening as if the thought had just occurred to her. “And a cook-’ousekeeper to run this place, ‘cause I can’t keep on coming in like this. I’ve got me own family to see after. And a good tweenie, while ‘e’s at it,” she added. “That Aggie‘s no more use nor a gnat in a thunderstorm.”

Faith swallowed her dank tea and thought. A nurse, a cook-housekeeper, a better tweenie, an invalid carriage and a holiday at the sea. If the prospect of passing on these demands to her father had not been so terrifying, it would have been funny. Except that she would not dare say anything and nothing tomorrow, as far as she could see, would be any different from today.

Henry

His visit to Orion had, he decided, been a success. They had painted together, sitting above the little cove in front of the cottage and Orion’s picture of the twisted evergreen oaks that bordered the east side of the cove and the skirt of rocks above the narrow beach, whilst not as good as those he had produced the year before last, was pleasant enough. More importantly the lad seemed contented as they sat together working. It was almost a return to that older, closer, relationship they had enjoyed before…

Before Mary, he was thinking, and then told himself he must not think this way. A few months ago the two young people had been so happy and he must do his best to help them through this time of trouble. And so, on the following Thursday, he visited again, although the day was damp and overcast and not one on which he wished to risk developing rheumatism by working outside.

Once again he stabled the pony at the farm and, calling in to speak to Mrs Roscrow, found Mary in the scullery amidst a smell of ammonia. There were rust marks, she told him, on the sheets Mrs Truscott had brought with her and she was trying to remove them.

“It sounds as though you’re being kept busy.” Henry had no great evidence for his observation but wanted to keep the conversation going.

“There’s plenty to do,” said Mary, who obviously did not, and turned back to her sheets.

 

He found Orion digging in his well-rotted seaweed. He was getting it ready for the parsnips and swedes, he said, which he would sow in February and Henry prepared himself for one of his lengthy accounts of his planting plans but on this occasion he dug to the end of the row in silence, cleaned off his spade and put it away in the outhouse.

“Right!” Henry assumed an enthusiasm he was beginning to not really feel. “Shall we go to it? I thought we might work on that water colour you started last week. It shows promise.”

“There was summing I wanted to ask.” Orion paused on the back doorstep to scrape the mud from his boots. He kept his head down, concentrating on his task and not looking at Henry.

“Yes?” He knew the boy so well. It was easy to tell when he was nervous.

“Just summin’ I was thinking.” His head stayed low, although it seemed to Henry that the boots no longer had any mud on them. “Upstairs, p’raps.”.

“Of course.” He maintained the appearance of enthusiasm despite the misgivings that began to disturb his mind. “We can work at the same time.”

 

“That picture – portrait, you called it – of the little girl The one you done for ‘er grandad…”

Orion lifts his sketching pad from the table but does not open it,

“Peggy Hatch.” He had mentioned it on his last visit. “What of it?”

“I was wondrin’…. Would you do one of my boy?”

He speaks so quietly, mumbling the words as he reaches across the table, head down, for his colours, that Henry cannot, at first, be certain what he has heard. But Orion’s cheeks are flushed deep crimson and when he glances at last in Henry’s direction there is a furtive, almost guilty, look in his eyes.

“You mean…?”

What can he possibly be asking of him? For a few moments Henry – cheerful, articulate, fearless Henry – is at a loss to understand or know what to say. For at the back of his mind – but threatening to come forward and confront him – is the unnerving thought that Orion may be expecting him to paint the child from life.

Except that the child is dead.

“I thought… ‘F you look at my pictures – the ones with ‘im in them – you might make it proper. A proper portrait, like. Of ‘im as a proper boy”

Like little Peggy Hatch – a ‘proper girl’, he supposes, with her curls and her soulful eyes… But Peggy is alive and dancing about, delighting her grandfather. Whilst Orion’s child is dead and buried under his sad mound in the garden. However,

“Of course. I’d be proud to,” he says and the look of pleasure on Orion’s face is compensation for the fears that continue to crowd his head.

If he could only paint him, he thinks. That handsome, rounded face and those sea green, deep-set eyes, lit, at this moment, with a joy that has been missing, he realises, for months. And then he sees that this could be done. The boy will have Orion’s features combined with Mary’s – how else, in fact, can a likeness possibly be achieved?

There is just one remaining concern.

“Have you talked to Mary about this? She was upset, was she not? About your other drawings. Are you sure she won’t be equally upset by this?”

And it is obvious from his expression that Orion has not. Perhaps he and Mary are not speaking at all; Mary, from Henry’s brief meetings with her, is obviously still full of anger and resentment.

“I thought…” He is mumbling again, his face turned towards the salt-smeared window and the murky sky beyond it. “I jus’ thought ‘f I ‘ad a proper picture – a real portrait like you done – I c’d do my work again. I thought…” He turns back, eyes filled with the familiar misery. “I thought then ‘e might leave me alone,” he said. “I dunno ‘ow I can tell ‘er that.”

 

Ida

Saturday afternoon she made a bold decision.

“What plans do you have for tomorrow?” Mrs Jenkins asked when she took in their tea. She put the question with little interest, intent only on filling the silence as Ida placed the salmon paste sandwiches, thin cut bread and butter, fresh-baked cake and scones and the little dishes of butter and jam on the fireside table and Mrs Opie stood watching for omissions and preparing to pour the tea. The younger men were attending the rugby match between Falmouth and Penryn and Mr Jenkins and Mr Polmear, Mrs Jenkins’ brother, were immersed in their newspapers. Mrs Jenkins was the only person without an occupation.

“I dunno Ma’am. I d’normally go chapel Sunday morning.” Ida saw a shadow of irritation cross her employer’s face. Mrs Jenkins ‘held no truck’, she had once told her, with religious ‘fol-de-rol-ing’ and, although there never seemed to be anything of that at Wesley, Ida generally took care not to mention her chapel connections. “But I was wond’rin’…” The thought of chapel reminded her of Mr Drage, who might be, as it were, lying in wait for her there. “I was thinkin’ of goin’ Redruth. I got cousins there,” she added, as Mrs Jenkins looked up in mild interest. “I’ve not seen them for some time.”

‘Some years’ would have been nearer the truth.

“You will go by train of course?” Mr Polmear folded his newspaper and came across to inspect the tea. “Ah, warm scones! Excellent! They depart at different times on a Sunday but I have a timetable.”

Somewhat confused at the prospect of departing scones, Ida made no reply but later, as she was putting on her coat to go home, the idea returned to her. Why should she not make the excursion? It was not as though anyone would be inconvenienced by her absence.

Mr Polmear, who was, as he expressed it, ‘something of a railway fanatic’, had soon, with the help of his timetable, planned a trip on which she would leave Penmere Halt at ten minutes past ten, by which she could meet the twenty three minutes past eleven main line train from Truro, which would arrive at Redruth just before midday.              .

There would be nothing complicated, he assured her, about the journey; at Truro she would have only to cross to the other side of the platform.

By the time he had written out the train times, with alternatives in case of delays, together with information about fares and advice to sit with her back to the engine and on no account, because of the smoke and the likelihood of smuts, to lean her head out of the window, it seemed ungrateful not to make the journey. He would be sure to ask, after all, how it had turned out.

 

It was an unsettling business nevertheless and she was too nervous next morning to do more than drink a cup of tea before setting out, far too early, to walk up Killigrew Hill, then down Penmere Hill to the little station. She felt some slight worry about missing chapel, which was something she had rarely done, but God would, she sincerely hoped, forgive her.

It was only the second time she had ridden on a train and the sight of the great, iron monster of an engine, hissing out steam from its funnel and from behind its wheels was an alarming one. But an exciting one also, she thought, allowing a tidily-dressed man to hand her into one of the third class coaches and settling herself into a corner seat, and as the train let out a loud hoot and the outside world disappeared in a cloud of white steam as they passed into a cutting she felt herself to be quite an adventurer.

The train from Truro was larger and more crowded so that Ida, squashed between a large man whose great-coat smelt of mould and a sharp-faced woman who talked incessantly about hens, was glad to leave them behind when she reached Redruth, where she emerged into Station Road and looked around her.

Up the hill to her right was the familiar bulk of the Wesley Chapel, which she had attended in her younger days, and, behind it, the tall stack of Pednandrea Mine, although the mine itself was no longer in operation, but looking downhill, everything seemed, unnervingly, to have changed. She had last been back here not long after her marriage, for the funeral of her widowed mother, after which, with little money, an increasing family and an increasingly violent husband, there had been no opportunity. Then, she remembered, the area had been in the process of being built up. Now fine stone buildings housing the mining exchange, a bank and a post office stood proudly in what she had known as a child as Jenkin’s Ope but had been re-named Alma Place and even in Station Road itself were single storey buildings, apparently offices of some kind.

Such change was unexpected and, Ida felt out of place and conspicuous; a visitor in her Sunday best, standing alone outside the station, clutching her bag. She had also, she realised, forgotten the noise. The thud and thump of the stamps and pumps that, Sunday or no Sunday, must never be stopped and the clash and clatter of a loaded mineral tram creaking along the tramway further up the hill was a sharp reminder of the difference between her old home and her new one.

And worshippers, she realised, might at any minute come out of the chapel, among them, perhaps, people she had known when she worshipped here in her youth. Would someone she had known twenty five years before recognise her? Would she recognise them? And, if she did, whatever might she find to say?

A passing lad on a bicycle caused her to step backwards in alarm and then, stirred to action, she hurried down the hill towards the town as if she might be making her escape.

Alma Place was a fine street, she decided, as she turned into it, making towards Trounson’s Store, the high class grocery establishment on the corner of Fore Street, whose elegant stone and brick-work topped with carved pinnacles was reassuringly familiar. As was Fore Street itself, the steep, main street, quiet at this time on a Sunday with only a few people looking in the shop windows. Many of these were familiar to her, with the same family names on their frontages, although most, she thought sadly, might have passed down a generation, and she ambled slowly downhill, enjoying the displays of confectionary, ladies fashions, wools, ironmongery, men’s and boys’ clothing and even, if it was of no interest to her, pipes and tobacco.

Even here there were changes, of course. Tabbs Hotel, whose tall, stone frontage with its porticoed doorway and curved window bays dominated one side of the street, was not the ancient building she remembered, which had burnt down ten years before, but a fine new one that she would dearly love to see inside if she could have afforded it – and if it had been acceptable for a decent woman to enter on her own. Nor did the gutters steam from the hot water running downhill from the old Pednandrea Mine and in West End, at the bottom of the hill, she saw that the old Druid’s Hotel had gone. There was a fine new store, however, named Sarah’s Drapery and, a little further up the road leading to Camborne, a new, brick building that must be the terminus of the famous Camborne-Redruth tramway, the only passenger tramway in Cornwall, opened two years before. A small group of people stood around the building and Ida watched as a tram approached along the metal lines in the roadway, a driver in smart uniform and peaked cap standing at the controls and a number of passengers leaning over the railings on the top deck.   

They were some bold, she thought, watching several children descend the curving staircase, followed at a slower rate by their mother, her broad-brimmed hat tied down with a long scarf. Much bolder than she would ever be, although part of her would dearly love to take such a ride.

“Ida? Ida Roskear?”

She could not, she realised, dawdle around here all day and was turning away, with some reluctance, from the passengers now boarding the tram for the return journey. It was a long walk back to St Day road where she hoped her cousin still lived and there were almost certainly other changes to confuse her on the way…

And then came this voice, calling her by the name she had almost forgotten.

“‘Tis you, in’it, midear?” And she was forced to agree that it was.

A man of about her own age, apparently just alighted from the incoming tram. Thick set, heavy-jowled with signs below his brown bowler of a thick head of dark hair. A decently dressed man – a farmer from the look of the gaiters he wore with a suit of Sunday tweed and holding a thick, knobbled, walking stick. Crossing the road towards her, he held out his hand, his crimson face beaming with pleasure as Ida searched her mind for some sort of recognition.

“Sid! Sid Beith. From Wesley School. You surely remember me?” And, quite suddenly, the memories fell into place…

“Sidney Beith!” For the large ears were familiar, if the red and swollen nose and heavy eyebrows were not. And then, “I could ‘ardly forget ee, could I? The way you’d pull my ‘air in class!”

He had also, she remembered, chased her and her friend Lily home from school most afternoons.

“Well I never!”

Sidney’s past misdeeds set aside, she held out her hand to be grasped against his thick, red fingers and shaken with heavy enthusiasm.

“Ida Roskear!” he exclaimed again. “Well I never did. I ‘an’t seen ee for must be twenty years.”

“More’n thirty. I been over to Falmouth that long.”

“Never! Well I’m blessed. Livin’ back ‘ere are ee?” Belatedly he removed the bowler revealing the full head of curly hair, showing signs of grey only above the ears.

“No. Just visitin’ fam’ly. If they’re still ‘ere. Cousin Ellis Williams up St Day road.”

“Oh, Ellis be still ‘ere. Saw ‘im only last week with ‘is youngest, the one what ‘ad the accident over Dolcoath.

“Accident? I din’ ‘ear ‘bout no accident.”

This was not something she wanted to admit – but, if she were visiting the family, it was best that she should know.

“Ais. Last year, May-June time. Caught ‘is ‘and in the winding gear an’ lost ‘is ‘ole arm. Bad business.”

“Terrible. Poor lad.”

“Terrible. They found ‘im work there though. On the dressing floor. Not so well paid,  but better’n nothing. Anyways….” He shifted his attention from the unfortunate boy. “I’ll walk along with ‘ee if tha’s all right. I’m on my way’ up cemetery, so it’s on my way.”

“Well….” It would be reassuring – even if, all those years before, Sidney Beith would have been the last companion she would have wished for.

“That’d be nice,” she agreed and, arm in arm, they set off up the hill, passing the fine, stone viaduct that had replaced, since her time, Mr Brunel’s wooden one. On the way Sidney told her how he had taken over his father’s farm out near Piece, the village to the west of Carn Brea, and how his wife had died three years before – it was her grave he was visiting.

In return Ida told him about Percy Goss, who was dead and good riddance to him. About her daughter, Maybelle living in Blackwater. Her son Alfred, without mentioning his likeness to his father. Her son Orion, working his bit of land down the south coast. And about her own employment as cook-housekeeper to what she called ‘a nice enough family’.

“An’ lucky to get you, I’ll be bound.” Sidney paused – they were on the steepest part of St Day road, near the top of the town – leaned on his stick and fixed his dark eyes on hers.. “I reckon you’d be a fine cook. A fine cook,” he repeated, eyeing her ample form in a way that Ida wasn’t sure she entirely liked.

It was good, however, to have his company, especially, on a road of long terraces of identical stone cottages, each with their tiny patch of garden enclosed by an identical stone wall. As a child she had known her uncle’s house, now the home of Cousin Ellis, by instinct. All these years later and uncertain whether the number was thirty six, thirty eight or even fifty eight, it was a relief when Sidney stopped confidently outside number forty two and knocked with his stick on the front door.

“You’ll never believe ‘oo I’ve got ‘ere,” he told the balding, bandy-legged man who answered the door in shirt sleeves and waistcoat. “Not in a million years!”

Uncertainties of Love and Hope. Chapter 8.

Ida.

An experienced cook-housekeeper was a valuable commodity and Ida had a new position long before Mrs Trembath was settled with a new cook. (The character with which she had furnished Ida admitted grudgingly that she was a ‘good plain cook’ adding that she was ‘prone, on occasions to obstinacy and discourtesy’ but her new employer, who knew Mrs Trembath, disregarded this.)

What was difficult was adjusting to new ways.

Ida had worked for Mrs Trembath for close on eleven years and, in spite of the recent changes,  knew her ways and whims. Now she had to learn the ways and whims of Mrs Jenkins, her husband, her unmarried brother and her three grown up sons. Had she, in fact, realised quite how many men there were in the household, she might not have accepted the position but now, she told herself, it was too late.

Ida Goss was not easily defeated and must learn new ways.

Breakfasts, for a start. Mrs Trembath had breakfasted lightly, usually at around ten o’clock, with toast and tea, but the five Jenkins men required a more solid start to the day with finnan haddock, brawn or sausages, poached or scrambled eggs and several platefuls of toast and marmalade. They also, since they caught the ten past eight train to Truro, required it to be on the table by seven am. Some early mornings, as Ida passed Mrs Trembath’s house and toiled on up the hill towards the Jenkins’ home half a mile away in Spernan Wynn Road, she regretted her decision.

On the other hand, she was required only to cook. Mrs Jenkins had a competent maid and the nanny who had looked after her three sons still lived with them and did most of the running of the household. It was obvious, in fact, that Nanny Opie and Mrs Jenkins were friends and companions and that it was Mrs Opie – she was unmarried and the title was a courtesy one – who held sway over the family. Certainly it was she who came to the kitchen each morning to discuss the menus for the day.

Lunch, since only the two women were at home, was a light one but the evening meal, taken when the men arrived home on the five fifteen train, was substantial. Soup, even on the hottest days, followed by a meat course or baked or fried fish, with potatoes and greens – but never cauliflower, which, according to Mrs Opie, gave ‘her boys’ wind. Followed by a dessert – fruit tart, milk pudding or similar nursery fare –  and, finally, cheese or a savoury.

Ida, in a kitchen that was smaller than Mrs Trembath’s if newer and airier, being on the ground floor rather than in the basement, worked hard all afternoon to prepare this meal and arrived home most evenings ready for her bed.

Not, she supposed, walking home past Kimberly Park one autumn evening when the gas was already lit, that she had anything else to do. Occasionally there was an evening meeting at chapel but mostly she just sat with her cup of tea in her kitchen, staring at the coals in the range or out over the back yard.

And apart from chapel, she spoke to more or less no-one from one week end to the next.

At Mrs Trembath’s there had been Edie Teague who, if not the brightest body, was at least cheerful and brought with her stories of her family in High Street and the gossip – not that Ida approved of gossip – from the Seven Stars where she spent her evenings. And Mrs Trembath herself, in the right mood, had not been averse to a chat.

Mrs Jenkins, on the other hand, conversed only with Mrs Opie, who obviously thought it beneath her to communicate with Ida any more than was necessary to give orders, and Mrs Richards who came in for the rough was, she quickly realised, half-witted and spoke to no-one but herself. (Which she did with alarming frequency.) Now Ida missed Bea more than ever, as well as Orion, who had been a quiet but friendly presence about the home. Now, as she listened to the laughter and quarrels of the Richards family next door, spilling occasionally into the yard, she felt lonelier than she had ever felt before.

It was at times like this that she wondered if she should go back to Redruth. She had grown up there, after all, never expecting to leave until the day Percy Goss had turned up, singing in a sacred concert at Wesley Chapel. And now her sons, unlike the young Jenkins men who showed no signs of leaving the family home, no longer needed her. Orion had his Mary and was busy with his cottage and his plot. Alfred, according to Edie Teague, had regular work on the St Mawes ferry and was courting a girl who worked in a cafe along Bar Road. And Percy Goss was, Lord be praised, dead. What was there – beyond chapel – to keep her in Falmouth?

Sitting on her own in her dark kitchen – the lamp was low on oil – she remembered her old Wesley Chapel in Redruth, especially after the arrival of Mr Robert Heath as organist and choirmaster – a flamboyant man who described himself as a Professor of Music and arranged thrilling concerts both in the chapel and around the town.

Redruth was known, of course, for its singing. As well as church and chapel choirs there were glee clubs, the Redruth Choral Society with upwards of a hundred voices, and many others. And the miners, as anyone knew who heard them singing carols at both Easter and Christmas, not to mention in public houses on Saturday nights, had voices unequalled through the country.

Ivan Hart, she remembered, had a fine baritone voice. He had sung, solo, Let your Lower Lights be Burning, she remembered, at a chapel concert one year when Ida, along with Bea and others, had been called to carry buns and cups of tea to the old folk who sat listening. She could still remember the thrilling richness of those deep notes – not to mention the glimmer of fun in his dark eyes as he came over later as she stood by the steaming urn.

“Got a cup for a parched throat?” he’d asked and then, sliding his arm round her waist to reach a cup and saucer from the trestle table, although he could, rather more easily, have reached them from the front, “and I might get you a glass of something a bit stronger later.”  

“What? After all they ‘ymns?” – the choir had just finished several choruses of the temperance hymn Throw out the Lifeline. “You should be ashamed.”

Ivan, grinning broadly, had assured her he was.

“You better take me in ‘and,” he said. “Show me ‘ow to mend my wicked ways.”

Had she gone with him, perhaps to one of Redruth’s many public houses, afterwards? So many years later it was hard to remember but she thought not. Her mother would not have approved and, as a good Methodist, she was a teetotaller – as Ivan Hart should have been. He was not, of course, and who could blame him, working all those hours thousands of feet below ground at the great Dolcoath mine. He, and others like him, had every excuse for slaking their thirst after a day spent down there in all that heat…

Perhaps, she thought now, she should have shown her sympathy more openly – but Ida Roskear, as she was then – was not that sort of person. But if she had been… If she had allowed him to do more than simply walk her home from the Whit Service or the Whitsun Fair… If she had shown willing to go with him, even to a public house…

Perhaps, in that case, her future might have been different.

Instead of which, at a time when men were being laid off and mines closing because of the drop in the prices of metals, he had gone off with hundreds of others to seek his fortune in South Africa and she had never heard from him again.

Not that she had expected to. He would hardly have been a letter-writer and they had never, in spite of those few occasions, been really close but those dark eyes smiling at her across the chapel or Sunday School had been something to dream about after he had gone.

Dreams, she thought irritably – brought to her senses by blood-curdling screams from children, fighting as if to the death in the back yard. Percy Goss, with his curly blond hair and round, cherubic face, before it became flushed and bloated by drink, had seemed like a young girl’s dream and look how that had turned out. Nightmare, more like; she heaved herself from her seat to lock up for the night, and Ivan Hart would, more than likely, have proved the same.

And the idea of going back to Redruth and expecting to find the town she had loved as a girl was a ridiculous one.

 

Henry

October brought thick sea mists which blew in across the town to overhang it most of the day, damp and grey and drenching, generally clearing towards evening for half an hour or so of watery sunlight before it was gone.

Too wet to work outdoors and he continued indoors with his study of the two boys and their swimming dog which he had started in the summer. As he worked on details – a carefully positioned hat, the back of a lad’s trousers, the seaweed on the rocks – he was cheered to recognise that this was one of his most successful paintings…

He needed cheering, he realised. The thought of Orion’s unhappiness tugged at his thoughts, catching him unawares, when he would have said he was absorbed in his work, and yet he dared not visit him.

It was more difficult, in any case, at this time of year and in this weather, when he could hardly jump onto his bicycle and pedal down the coast with the excuse that it was a glorious day. He would need to hire a trap, which meant planning in advance, which was not something he wanted to be seen to be doing. He was intending to wean himself – if that was the word – away from Orion and continually worrying about him was not the way to do this.

But worry about him he did. To the extent that his friend Charles Hemy wondered if there was something wrong.

Always a deeper thinker than his normally ebullient friend, Charles was sensitive to his moods and not yet convinced that he had recovered from his obsession with his handsome young market gardener. As they sat together after dinner at the Hemys’ one evening – there was a bottle of port on the table but Charles was a light drinker and Henry was still toying with the glass of claret that had seen him through the meal – Charles broke a longer-than-usual silence to ask if he was quite well.

“Well? Of course I am. When am I ever ill?”

“Rarely. I know that. It is just that you seem… distracted? Perhaps I should have asked if there was something worrying you?”

“Ah well.” Henry drank the last of his claret and reached for his port glass. Charles politely moved the decanter closer. “Perhaps that is the question you should have asked.”

He poured himself a small glassful.

“And if I had asked it?”

“I should have answered…” The pause that follows is a lengthy one and Charles, a patient man, waits, listening as he does so to the sounds of his daughters and a noisy board game in the next room.

Henry – perhaps he is also listening to their carefree, girlish voices – sighs.

“I should have answered – if I were speaking the truth – that I am worried.”

“About?”

But Charles knows he need not ask. What – or rather whom – for the past two years has Henry worried about, other than ‘that boy.’

“Orion, of course. Who else?”

Henry can read his friend’s expression.

“But why? He is safe now, surely, and you said he is making a go of his plot of land. And is happy with his…” he pauses, sensitive to his friend’s feelings, “with his lady friend,” he finishes, and wonders whether a drop of port might be helpful to him too.

Henry shrugs.

“So I thought but things have altered. The girl, Mary, was with child.” (To Charles, the devout Catholic, this statement has a distinctly religious ring.) “But it – he; it was a little boy – died at birth.” (Charles closes his eyes as if in prayer.) “He was, according to Orion, badly malformed so that his death was, in all probability, a blessing.”

Charles gives a slight nod of the head.

“Poor souls,” he murmurs. But, although the death of a child is always sad, the death of one that would have needed constant care and would probably not have lived long in any case may not be considered to be entirely a tragedy.

And the parents are young. There will be others.

“It is more than that.” Henry finishes his port and pours another glassful. An action which worries Charles. “Orion was… is desperately upset by the loss and is also – perhaps even more so – upset that Mary appears to have recovered easily. It is as if, he says, she did not really care about the child.”

“I see.” Charles is actually not sure that he does. “So they have quarrelled?”

“Oh no. Or not as far as I know. But there is a… coldness between them. A lack of understanding. And it has driven Orion back to his art.”

“Surely that pleases you?” Charles has never seen Orion’s paintings or drawings and has never felt, from what Henry has told him, that he can be as talented as his friend has suggested but that, he tells himself, is beside the point..

“Not these pictures. They are…” Henry circles his port but does not drink it. “They are… odd. Strange. Before he has concentrated on drawings of his cottage, the yard, the little cove and the rocks that define it. Simple line drawings, executed with love and representing a way of life…” He pauses, swirls his glass once more then downs the contents. “Since the… death… he has started to do something very different. Strange – you might say wild – pictures, always with a child’s face caught somewhere in the darkness.” He puts down his glass and lets out his breath in a rush of air. “They are unsettling pictures, Charles. Disturbing. I fear he may be losing his mind.”  

 

Faith

Elsie and William were to marry this coming Saturday. The appropriate forms had been completed, the date and time of the marriage announced after Meeting for Worship for several weeks and a notice placed outside the Meeting House. Otherwise Quaker marriages were simple affairs and required no great preparations, unlike the society weddings of which Faith had read in Home Chat or the Daily Mail which Mrs Badcock occasionally brought into the house.

There would be no great arrangements of flowers, no carriages, no bridesmaids or groomsmen, no fine bridal dress with a lace veil and a long, embroidered train… Elsie would wear a simple day dress and would carry a bunch of the late roses Cyril had been protecting from the autumn winds and William would wear his dark suit and hat, as would all the men who attended. Afterwards there would be no tiered bridal cake, no sumptuous dinner with fine wines, not even a table laden with dainty sandwiches, iced fancy cakes and bowls of fruit… There would be tea, in the lobby of the Meeting House, to which Friends would contribute their own offerings of a plain and homely kind – scones, currant buns, saffron cake – to ensure that those who had come from a distance would be sustained on the way home, after which Cyril would drive Elsie and William in the trap to William’s house in Falmouth and Faith would be left to act as housekeeper in Clinton Road.

And Elsie was, she now realised, well-prepared for this new life. The trunk which Faith had helped her pack was filled with neatly hemmed sheets, pillow-slips and tablecloths which she must have sewn in her own room. There were petticoats, night dresses, aprons and plain, if beautifully stitched, undergarments and as Faith watched her sister folding each one she almost felt sad for William who, dull as he was – he had been to lunch three times now after Meeting for Worship and he was, in her opinion, very dull indeed – would have to remove them – or so she assumed – from her sister before he could do that terrible thing called ‘taking her to bed’.

There was a book – a flimsy thing with green card covers – that Susannah Anstey had brought  secretly into school last term, borrowed from one of her older brothers. ‘After the Ceremony’ it was called and it contained line-drawings of a narrow, nervous-looking, young man and his new bride, who wore a flowing gown and had flowers in her abundantly curling hair, facing each other in a room dominated by a lavishly-curtained four-poster bed. As the pictures progressed through several pages the young man gradually removed the young lady’s clothing – a beribboned petticoat, a lacy chemise, a pair of equally lacy drawers, topped with a corset with a frighteningly narrow waist – until, on Page Six, she stood before him, slender and naked, with only her pretty hands to cover the parts that Susannah‘s brother had, presumably, most wanted to see.

Poor William, Faith couldn’t help thinking as she helped fold a pair of very plain, cotton drawers, was going to have to forget any dreams of such fripperies – although it was hard to imagine him having any dreams, least of all, dreams of lace and ribbons. And as for what, according to the book, was supposed to come next, it was hard to imagine anyone doing anything so unlikely, so foolish and so, when you really thought about it, embarrassing. She had giggled, of course, with the other girls, shrieked – with her hand over her mouth to stop the noise from carrying – and gasped and then moved her hands to cover her eyes whilst peering through her fingers. But that night, between the clean, white sheets of her narrow, dormitory bed, she had, she remembered, felt unusually conscious of the body that lay around her and felt, along with the cringe of horror that came with the memory of the drawings, other, inexplicable, feelings that were both upsetting and, at the same time, exciting.

It would not be like the pictures, she decided, sitting in the Meeting House, surrounded by Friends from this and neighbouring meetings, for Elsie and William. It could not possibly be so when the ceremony preceding it was so very solemn. This was a Meeting for Worship for Marriage and after some minutes of silence as they centred down, William and Elsie rose, hand in hand, and William began the meeting by saying ‘Friends, I take this my friend, Elsie Hope Vigo, to be my wife, hoping through divine assistance to be unto her a loving and faithful husband as long as we both on earth shall live.’

After which Elsie, in her familiar, clear, practical-sounding voice, promised to take her friend William Earnshaw to be her husband and they both sat and the silence resumed.

It seemed so little, Faith thought, for something so immense and instead of praying as she was meant to, she found herself looking round the Meeting House, staring, as she so often did, through the high windows at the tall elm tree whose leaves shone golden in the autumn light.

The world, or the little portion of it that she could see, could be so beautiful but in here, surrounded by so much dark woodwork and grey stone wall, it was all gloom. It seemed a sad way to celebrate what should be a joyful occasion.

After a few minutes Papa rose to speak of his hopes for Elsie and William’s happiness and the divine help they would receive throughout their lives together. William’s father spoke of Elsie’s modesty and gentleness and William’s faithfulness and conscientious attention to business matters and other Friends said such similar things that Faith stopped listening – until one, female Friend spoke of the blessing of children that she hoped would be bestowed on the young couple and her thoughts were back with the young man removing his wife’s pretty undergarments.

Would William, with his pink, flabby hands, actually….? And would Elsie, who only that morning had gone through, in detail, the instructions for ensuring that Agnes attended properly to the whitening of the front doorstep, actually allow….?

They would not, she decided, as the Elder in charge, shook hands with William and then Elsie, to indicate that the meeting was at an end. They would undress in private, meet, decently covered in their night-clothes, say their prayers and climb into their separate beds. Probably, as a married couple, they would exchange a kiss as they did so. It was impossible to imagine anything more and as the Friend who acted as Registering Officer brought forward the certificate of marriage which all present, as witnesses, were to sign and which would hang in Elsie and William’s home for the rest of their lives, Faith pushed from her mind the thought of the ‘blessing of children.’ Papa and Mama had, after all, four children and she could not imagine them, even when young, behaving in such a way.

“If only our dear George and John could have been here,” was Mama’s only comment, sitting on one of the wooden benches, a cup of tea in her hand but refusing a slice of cake. Her eyes watered with tears and Elsie, noticing, hurried across to her.

“You must be so tired,” she said. “Cyril will drive you home and Faith will go with you.” So that Faith, having signed the certificate and eaten just one buttered scone, found herself in the trap with her weeping mother.

“I feel completely exhausted,” Maud Vigo moaned as they turned under the railway bridge and into Clinton Road. “I shall take a powder and go to bed.”

And so, before four o’clock on her sister’s wedding day, Faith sat in the empty kitchen of which she was now, she supposed, in charge – Mrs Badcock and Agnes had been given the afternoon and evening off in celebration – and stared at her reflection in the window glass. A dreary-looking girl, her face almost as pale as her neat white collar and with her hair drawn back in plaits, stared back at her with dark and hopeless eyes, the rest of her life reflected against the granite walls of the back yard.

 

Orion

An overnight storm whose waves had thudded through the darkness had deposited huge piles of seaweed onto their little beach. As the tide went down, the clouds dispersed and autumn sunlight started to dry the heaps of gleaming bladder wrack, tiny flies rose to hover above it and by the time Orion arrived with his fork and barrow it had started, already, to stink.

It took him the better part of two hours to move it from the shore to the back of the cottage where he spread it onto the bare earth of his largest beds. He had worked hard out here this past week, lifting the swedes and carrots and setting them in the outhouse to store, before digging over his cabbage beds, removing the old haulms and taking down the straggling remains of the peas and runner beans. Now, apart from his hedge of parsley and the currant bushes his plot was completely bare and, in spite of the thick drizzle that drenched him most days, dug over to his satisfaction. The mulch of seaweed was just what it needed before he started next year’s sowings.

Mary had gone up early to Roscrows’, where she was working extra hours since Mrs Roscrow’s mother had moved in with them. When she came back yesterday afternoon he had wanted to ask how the old lady had settled but Mary had walked straight past him into the cottage. Later, as he ate his stew, he had asked but she had ignored him and, after clearing the dishes, had gone upstairs to bed.

It is impossible, he thinks now, treading down with his heavy boots the seaweed piles at the edge of the earth pathway, to speak to someone who won’t talk back. Especially when, in the past, it was generally Mary who did the talking. But at least the yard has been properly dug and although he will have only a few eggs to take to market Mary will see that he has been working.

Pulling off his muddy boots, he goes indoors, pokes at the fire and sets the kettle to boil. Then, barefoot and clutching his mug of newly-brewed tea, he goes upstairs to the studio where his drawings are still strewn across the floor and he spends some time collecting them up and placing them between the card covers of what Henry calls his folder. Then he fastens another sheet of paper to his easel…

Usually this is the moment he loves. The moment he has been looking forward to. Usually he knows what he wants to draw or to paint and longs to get started.

This time he knows only what he must not draw. He knows, from Henry’s reaction –  when, before, has he seen Henry lost for words? – and now from Mary’s horror, that he must not draw the baby or anything connected with him.

And yet, what else is there? All those other subjects – the cottage, the yard, the hens, the growing vegetables, the cove, the rocks, the path along the coast – everything he loved about his life here, are unimportant compared to the twisted little body lying in the small plot in front of the house. Now he does not even want to draw his Mary, whose curved body he loves so much…

He picks up a piece of charcoal.

“Just draw,” Henry has told him. “Don’t fret about it. Just draw what’s in front of you or whatever comes into your head.”

What comes into his head is no use to him now but he can draw what is in front of him and, altering the position of his easel, he fixes his eye on the narrow fireplace against the wall – a  narrow fireplace with a dusty, cast iron hood over the empty grate and a wooden mantle above. A wide mantel for so small a fireplace on which things have gathered, along with the dust and the bodies of flies and crane flies. There is a jar of pencils, an old dusting cloth, a couple of smooth pebbles from the beach, a cracked saucer with a burnt down candle…

 

He has no idea what time it is when he hears Mary poking the range, except that it must be late. The sun, which was high in the sky when he came indoors, sits low over the western cliffs, shooting out wavering lines of orange, green and yellow that foretell a fine day tomorrow, and the room, losing its light with the lowering sun, hangs its shadows about him as he leans in towards his drawing, using his pencil to fill in the fine detail.

Standing upright to ease his aching back, he realises he has been bent like this for some time. And the black hood, he can see now, is wrong; he has failed to catch its curve – but hasn’t Henry told him not to worry about this? It’s your work, he has told him; your vision and you should stay true to it. And he is pleased with the mantel – the pot of pencils, the crumpled cloth, the pebbles, the burnt-down candle… He has even caught the faint lines of the old spider’s web that now, in the failing light, he can no longer see. But these details were completed some time ago, when the light through the salt-crusted windows revealed them clearly. Since then – perhaps for more than an hour – he has been working on the figure in the foreground. The figure of a child in long clothes on a stool in front of the fireplace, a toy cart clutched in his hands…

 

There had been a row at the farm between Mrs Roscrow and her mother, which would have been something to tell Orion, Mary thought as she walked back down to the cottage. Except that it was hard to tell him about anything these days.

Not that he had ever been a talker, but before…. all that… it hadn’t mattered and they had been comfortable together whether they spoke or not. Now it was as if he had some sort of a cloud around him – or perhaps a glass case, like the one surrounding the precious clock with the swirling brass balls hanging from its pendulum that old Mrs Truscott had brought with her. Something, in any case, that came between them and made it hard – impossible even – for Mary to say what was in her mind.

At least he had been digging the plot this week and today – the smell reached her from halfway down the field –  he must have brought in some of the foul seaweed last night’s heavy seas had tossed ashore. Which was a good thing and she looked around, hoping to tell him so, but he was nowhere in the yard or downstairs in the cottage. It was possible, of course, that he had gone fishing even though the tide wasn’t right, but as she started to peel the potatoes, which with a few onions would have to do for their supper – unless he had gone fishing – she heard the creak of a loose floorboard up in the studio.

Bugger the man, she thought, although it wasn’t in her nature to swear, even in her thoughts, and stabbed so crossly into the potato in her hand that her knife slipped, slicing off a portion of skin from her thumb. Bugger.. bugger… bugger him, as she held it in the air to stop the bleeding and tried, with little success, to wind a cloth around it. He was up there again and dear knew what weird stuff he was producing.

 

Ida.

It was real Autumn weather now. Sea mists rolled in off the bay bringing the chill with them, trees and buildings dripped constantly, the great bell of St Anthony’s lighthouse tolled all night and half the day and deep grey skies hung low overhead, seeming to leave little space for living underneath them..

In Mrs Jenkins’ kitchen they needed to keep the gas lit all day and the windows closed so that by mid-afternoon Ida felt quite queasy and light-headed. When Mr Drage, the fishmonger, pushed open the back door, thrusting his way between the two hydrangeas whose great leaves drenched his jacket and apron, she welcomed the draught of air he brought with him.

“‘Ere you are midear. Seven nice plaice – you din’ want ‘em filleted did ee?”

He dumped the wet box onto the draining board.

“No. I d’like to do that myself thankee,” Ida smiled, Mr Drage being one of her favourites amongst the tradesmen. “Cup o’ tea?” she asked – and this was not an offer she would make to any of the others.  “I was just making a fresh pot.”

“Tha’s very kind of ee my lover. I don’ mind if I do.”

Pulling off his wet jacket, he sat down and Ida hung it across the clothes horse which she moved closer to the range. Just to do this one task for a man who was not one of her employers gave her a feeling of satisfaction, as did reaching for the cake tin and taking out the remains of the Madeira cake she had made for yesterday’s tea.

“I’ll cut ee a good, big slice. They don’ never like the same cake two days running

so it’ll only go to waste else.”

“More fools they, when ‘tis as good as this.”

He had a cheery face, Mr Drage, red and weatherbeaten – he‘d started on the boats as a lad and still went out, he’d told her, when he could – with dark brown eyes and a full mouth of large, white teeth. He was a big man – his apron bulged from the size of his thighs and stomach – but a friendly one and Ida was generally pleased to see him. (He had a perfectly good delivery boy, but he liked, he’d also told her, to keep his hand in and the days he did this were often those on which he had to deliver to Mrs Jenkins, a fact Ida might have pondered on  if she were a thinking – or perhaps a less modest – woman.)

“Dreadful weather,” she said, filling his cup with a strong, dark brown brew of tea. “In’ it never going to stop?”

“Don’t seem like it.” Mr Drage blew on his tea and took a first gulp. “Proper job!” he

exclaimed. Then, “They was saying in shop this morning they might cancel the Autumn Show if it don’t get no better by the end of the week.” (Actually this was untrue. The Autumn Fruit and Flower show which set up in a marquee on the Recreation Ground at the top of Killigrew Hill would take place, as always, no matter what the weather. Mr Drage was merely using the thought as a link to Ida’s comment.)

“That’d be a shame. I d’dearly like to see the show – especially the flowers.” (This

was also not entirely true. Ida liked flowers – what woman did not? – but had not thought of going to the show.)

“In that case…”  Mr Drage wiped his large, fish-scented hand across his wet mouth.

“‘Ow about coming with me, Sunday afternoon? Weather permitting, of course.” The dark eyes glinted up at Ida who stood at the other side of the table. “If you don’ ‘ave no other escort,” he added and bent his face back towards his cup.

“Oh no! I mean, no I don’ ‘ave no-one to go with. That’d be very nice, thank ee. If

you’re quite sure…”

“Sure? Course I’m sure!” Mr Drage had a loud, hearty sort of voice when roused. “I’d

be proud to ‘ave such a fine young lady keep me company.”

Fine young lady indeed, Ida smiled to herself as, half an hour later, she set to with her fish knife, expertly filleting the plaice before dipping them in seasoned flour to be fried. Whoever heard such nonsense! It was pleasant nonsense for all that and as she walked home later she was pleased to note that the mist had vanished, the clouds had dispersed and the almost full moon was shining unobscured from a clear sky. It might well continue fine for the weekend, when, for once, she had something to look forward to.

 

Faith

Two Friends from Meeting were visiting her mother. Perhaps, one of them, Alice Pasco, had suggested, dear Faith might like to take the opportunity of a walk; she would surely benefit from the fresh air.

She was concerned, Faith realised, for her health. Alice was a sweet-natured woman who always asked after Mama after First Day Meeting and rarely forgot to say that Faith must take care of herself as well. It was kind but a depressing thought, as she got herself obediently into her heavy cloak and woolen scarf – there was always a wind in Redruth even if today’s was not too cold – to be regarded as someone about whom Friends should be concerned.

The wind was blowing in from the south west this afternoon, bringing with it the stench of smoke and steam from the pumping engines of the mines around the slopes of Carn Brea, as well as the dust that would turn to dirty pink the washing of any unwary housewife. The air was loud with the thudding of the stamps, the wail of sirens, the creaking and thumping of machinery and the rattle of the mineral trams and as she turned out into Clinton Road she felt the heavy, underground shudder that came from a blasting at one of the nearer mines.

She should, she supposed, take the opportunity to visit the Urens, whom she hadn’t seen for some weeks, but as the wind scattered a few clouds to reveal an expanding area of blue sky and allowing rays of sunshine to brighten the dull, grey granite of the buildings, she felt suddenly defiant. For, apart from the walk to and from Meeting and one trip to the library, she had not left the house all week. The housekeeping tasks which Elsie had apparently managed with such ease, took every hour of the day and even then Papa’s study had remained un-dusted for days and last week she had forgotten that his suit needed pressing before a meeting with local businessmen.      

Every night she went to bed convinced of her inadequacy and yet one part of her mind – and this part was in the ascendant this afternoon – told her that this was not entirely her fault. It was not her fault that Mama was ill and unable to manage the house. It was not her fault that Elsie had married and moved away. And it was certainly not her fault that Papa refused to see the necessity to employ another servant.

Three people, he had said last night at supper, should not need another three people to take care of their needs. They lived simply. They did not eat sumptuous banquets or wear costly clothes that demanded great maintenance. They rarely entertained and then in the simplest fashion.

But even plain food, Faith had wanted but had not dared to say, needed to be bought and prepared and the pans and dishes cleared away afterwards. Even plain clothing must be washed and ironed and cared for. The house, even if they rarely entertained, must be kept clean and tidy, polished and dust-free, the windows cleaned and the front doorstep scrubbed so as to present a decent appearance.

It was not fair, she felt herself screaming inside, as a flash of sunlight drew glints of silver from the granite blocks of the railway bridge. It was not fair that she should be responsible for managing this household which was nothing like as simple as Papa seemed to think. It was not fair that she should be here, crunching under foot the fallen leaves of the lime tree at the end of the road instead of…. Bending her head to see below the railway arch and along Alma Place to the Town Clock on its newly-raised tower, she saw that it was almost half past two, which meant that, since it was Tuesday, she might be sitting in Miss Bradshaw’s Geography class, learning about the Alps or the river Amazon or the Nile Delta…

And then she remembered that this term would be different. This year, with a new timetable, Amy and Magel and the others could, at this moment, be doing English or History or Needlework… They might even be in the Science Room, created only two years before and where, this term, her form were to begin the study of science at the tall work-benches with their sinks and gas burners and their cupboards filled with mysteriously labelled jars.

They were fortunate young ladies, the Lord Bishop had said at the formal opening of the room – one of the most modern in the country, he told them – to have the opportunity many boys still did not have, of studying the wonders of the scientific world. Perhaps one of them – he had smiled benevolently, if without much conviction – might one day make such discoveries as Madam Curie had made in France and bring credit on her school. Certainly some of them would go on to university and might even take a degree in a scientific subject.           

Faith had felt herself glow with excitement at such a prospect, unlikely as it seemed, and had looked eagerly forward to being allowed entrance to this thrilling room.

Passing under the bridge, she turned downhill past the fair meadow, where the stench of dung and urine from the animals penned there earlier in the day still fouled the air and a few sheep remained, bleating in sad clusters as they waited to be loaded in the carts that would take them to the slaughter yard.

The sounds of the poor animals seemed a suitable reminder of the pointlessness of ambition.

She would walk out towards St Euny’s Church, she decided, attempting to shake off the gloomy thought, where there were trees and some of the fresh air Alice Pasco had recommended but, as she waited for a cart to pass on Penryn Street, she saw, leaning for support against the wall of the viaduct arch, a man she recognised as Arthur Uren. He was in a state, not uncommon among miners, of breathless collapse and as she came closer she could hear, even above the creaking of another passing cart and the yells of a street vendor, the dreadful, damp, choking sounds of his feeble attempts to draw breath.

“Mr Uren. Let me help you. Here, take my arm – it’s me, Faith Vigo,” she said as he turned his face towards her, twisted with effort and a frightening puce colour. “I come to see Mrs Uren sometimes. Remember?”

He said nothing, needing all his strength to continue breathing and she reached her arm under his and, ignoring the smell of sweat mingled with smoke and general grime, started the slow process of half-leading, half-carrying him towards his home.

This was no more than a few yards but they needed frequent pauses for the gasping man to lean his weight against a wall and it was almost ten minutes before Faith managed to help him through the open doorway and into the dark passageway inside.

“Mrs Uren,” she called then. “Mrs Uren. Your husband’s not well.”

A sound came from Mr Uren, who stood slumped against the side of the staircase. A horrible sound, more like the rasping of some rusty metal object being drawn across stone than a human voice, but from somewhere within the bubbling and creaking inside the poor man’s chest came what must be words, although it was impossible to make out what they were.

“Just rest a moment. Mrs Uren!” she shouted in the  direction of the kitchen. “Are you

there?” For she was breathless herself, after heaving the helpless man along the pavement, and the idea of moving him any further seemed an impossibility.

“No…ot ‘ere.” More gurgles than words but this time she understood. “Gone down….”

The man’s shoulders, hunched as if this might help him to draw breath, drooped suddenly downwards and his legs, in their loose and shabby trousers, buckled with the effort of speech. Faith reached forward, drooped his arms across her shoulders and took a deep breath. At least, she thought, using all her muscle power to heave him, as if he were a sack of flour or coal, she could draw breath which was more than this poor man could do.

In the kitchen, when they eventually reached it, there was indeed no sign of Mrs Uren or the children as she let the man slide from her arms onto his chair beside the back door, where he slumped, drawing in wheezing, painful-sounding breaths, his cheeks still flushed a violent crimson.

And it was no use, she knew as she stood panting beside the range, suggesting she should go for a doctor. The Urens would never be able to afford such an expense and, from what she had heard Papa say, little that a doctor would be able to do to help.

Last year she had attended, with other Friends, a talk by a Dr Laurie on first aid, knowledge of which he was attempting to establish particularly in the mining communities. Admittedly her interest had been in learning what should be done in the case of an accident at home – cuts, burns or a turned ankle – but the doctor had also spoken, this being a particular concern of his, about the lung weaknesses to be found among miners who had spent years underground, breathing in the foul air, the fumes and the granite dust from the constant blasting. The death rate among these men was, he said, appalling and indefensible and he and some colleagues were carrying out investigations which might in time lead to a change in mining practices.

Meanwhile, for men like Mr Uren, there was little hope and no effective treatment. Rest and as much fresh air as possible was the best that could be done for them.

“I’ll make some tea,” Faith told the man, whose breathing, now that he was sitting,

was a little easier, so that he was able to tell her, after several attempts, that his wife had taken the children to see her sister over towards Camborne.

“I went up shop,” he explained. “I needed baccy but…”

Tobacco was another cause of lung disease, Dr Laurie had said, but it was pointless to repeat this and as the man’s speech disintegrated into a bout of coughing Faith concentrated in hunting for his wife’s tea caddy.

“Thankee maid.” Another ten minutes had passed and the man’s voice was much firmer as she leaned towards him with a mug of steaming tea. “You come a bit nearer, eh?” And then, as she did as he asked, she felt his hand, with surprisingly strength considering his weakness not long before, make a rough and clumsy lunge not for the mug but towards the front of her dress.

Gasping, not realising at first what was happening, she drew back, heard the tin mug fall with a splash and a clatter onto the stone floor, and felt him grasp her, now with both hands, to drag her face against his greasy waistcoat and then horribly downwards towards a sudden hole between the undone buttons of his stinking trousers to press it inwards against the great, warm, living thing that rose out of it.

“Tha’s a good maid,” she heard him wheeze above her. “Tha’s what ‘ee d’want, aint it? Tha’s what ‘ee come ‘ere for. I knew all along what ‘t’was.”

 

Henry.

He continued to worry about Orion, whilst still not daring to visit the cottage. Meanwhile he continued with his Genoa painting, losing himself for hours at a time in the luminous light and pale Mediterranean colours, stirring memories of the warm and happy weeks of his recent trip.

“You could go back.” Charles Hemy has driven to Pennance cottage, despite the rain, to

see his friend’s work in progress and to reassure himself that he is not still brooding about ‘that boy.’

“Even at this time of year the Mediterranean climate must be an improvement on this one.”

He gestures towards the studio window, where dreary rivulets of rain obscure a drowning landscape.

“Not at the moment. I am busy enough here. Besides…” Henry turns away from his

warm, Italian scene and stares at a picture of Charlie Mitchell’s tanned and muscular back on his studio wall.

And besides… Charles sets aside his cane and drops, somewhat irritably, into a chair, Henry is worried about his wretched boy…

“I am still concerned about Orion.” His suspicions are confirmed and Charles allows

himself a grim smile, which is more or less concealed by his thick, white moustache. “I am worried about his pictures.”

“As you said.”

“Well, they are… disturbing. The lad is obviously unhappy.”

“As his… wife must be also. I am sure they will comfort each other. And there…”

And there will be more babies, he is about to say but Henry, who is never good at standing still, has started to pace about the room in a way that makes it hard to concentrate.

“You may be right. But I am still worried. About his state of mind.”

Henry knows, as it happens, more than most men, about illnesses of the mind. He comes, after all, from a family of doctors, his father working at the hospital in York, founded by his great, great grandfather, which is still the only one in the country providing humane treatment for sufferers of mental ailments. He knows that one need not be born ‘mad’ but can have the fragile balance of the mind upset by circumstance – especially, he thinks now, a person who has a gentle, loving temperament; someone who thinks more than he speaks and does not always have the words with which to express those thoughts.

And – a new, still more uncomfortable, thought comes to his mind – this… trouble… is all his fault.

If he had never come into Orion’s life he would still be working in the Falmouth market garden, where he had seemed contented enough. Or if he had not interfered with Charles’ plan for the boy to emigrate to America, he would be a thousand miles away in the new world…

It is his, Henry’s, fault that the boy is in this remote cottage where he and his girl are miserable and he is haunted by his dead child.

But he is being ridiculous, he tells himself. He has a least given the boy a chance of a better life than that of a garden apprentice. And, if he had gone to America, he might have succumbed to some terrible disease on the boat or been captured and scalped by Indian tribesmen or frozen to death during one of that continent’s vicious winters. In spite of this the feelings of guilt continue to nag at his mind. Tomorrow, he tells himself, offering Charles a glass of port wine which he knows he will refuse, he will drive out and visit Orion. He has left it too long.

 

The rain stopped during the night and next morning he sent Georgie Fouracre to the livery stables to engage a pony and trap in which he was able to make a fairly speedy journey to the Roscrows’ farm where he stabled them. The lanes were quiet, the hedgerows adorned by tangles of old man’s beard, clusters of black or scarlet berries and streamers of bright red creepers like a church decorated for harvest home, and as he strode down the fields towards Orion’s cottage the sea lay before him, winter green but with sporadic sunlight glinting so sharply off the waves that it hurt the eyes. A good day, he thought, for painting en plein air.

He had seen Mary up at the farm, coming into the courtyard with a basket of washing as he left the stable. Both were taken by surprise and Henry, recovering first, asked if Orion were at the cottage.

“Far‘s I know.”

Her eyes used to light up, he remembered, at the sound of Orion’s name. Now they retain the same dull, sadness as when she came out of the washhouse.

“‘E’ll be upstairs. In ‘is room,” she added indifferently.

“The studio?”

The girl shrugged her shoulders and looked away. Putting down the basket, she pulled at the pole which held the washing line aloft, lowering it to the point where she could reach it.

“You’re working for Mrs Roscrow?”

A pointless question but he felt impelled to keep the conversation going.

“I do extra now Mrs Roscrow’s ma’s living ‘ere. Brings in more money.”

The girl bent towards the basket and then paused and Henry, guessing she might be about to hang up garments of an intimate, female nature, felt obliged to move away. As he walked down to the cottage, trying with little success to avoid the mud on the well-trodden path, he continued to worry about Orion.

Who was, as Mary had said, in ‘his room’. As Henry bellowed his name from the back doorstep and attempted to clear the mud from his boots, he heard the door open at the top of the stairs and the sound of descending footsteps.

“‘Enry.”

There is a look on the boy’s face that is hard to interpret. It is a wary look, almost the look of someone who has been caught doing something wrong but there seems to Henry to be something else – an expression, perhaps, of resignation.

“I thought I’d come out to visit.” Henry states the obvious. “I left the trap at the farm.”

Orion says nothing and they both stare into the yard. Which is liberally covered, Henry sees, with rotting seaweed from which rises a pungent smell and, in the damp sunlight, a haze of small flies.

“You’re preparing for next year.” He states the obvious again. “Quite a whiff!”

“You’d best come in.”

The invitation, especially since it is Henry who owns the cottage, is an ungracious one but he has never been a man to take offence.

“Thank you,” he says instead. “And will you show me your work?”

Which is obviously the question Orion has been dreading but he leads him up the stairs and along the short passageway.

“I an’t done much.” He pushes open the door. “An’ it an’t no good neither.”

But he is wrong about that. The picture on the easel is, Henry can see immediately, one of his best. It is also very different from those which worried him so much on his last visit. This drawing has the simplicity of Orion’s past work; the fireplace with the mantle shelf above it and the bits and pieces that sit on that – a pot of pencils, some pebbles, a burnt-down candle, an old cloth – are clearly depicted with the honesty Henry has always admired. But there is something more. In the foreground, visible but so delicately shaded that the viewer’s eye is not immediately certain whether it is really there, is the figure of a seated child with a toy in its small hands.

“It’s a little ghost!” At first he is not aware that he has spoken aloud. Then, “It’s beautiful,” he whispers and glances sideways at Orion, who stands staring at the picture with his usual expression of uncertainty. “You’ve caught something… magical, Orion. You really have.”

“I s’pose ‘e is a ghost.” It is a while before he speaks. “‘E just comes, you see. Like I can’t keep ‘im out. It don’ matter what I draw.”

“Yes.” Henry remembers those other, disturbing, pictures. But this one is different… There is something calmer about this one. As if the little ghost has found its place and is at peace.

Which is nonsense, he tells himself. He, who believes neither in ghosts nor any sort of afterlife, should not be thinking such thoughts. Nevertheless,

“It’s very good Orion. Your best, I think. And others might think so too. This exhibition I keep suggesting to you. If you could produce more pictures like this one…”

“I don’ wan’ no-one to see it!” Orion moves, convulsively, forward, as if to tear the picture from the easel. “It’s… private.”

“Of course it is. And yet…” He hesitates. He who is so used to showing in public paintings that, to him certainly, reflect his innermost thoughts. For no-one could look at his paintings of his boys without being aware that he…. cares for them. That he admires their youth and the beauty of their firm young bodies; their eager, innocent faces. “Artists do – should – show their feelings. They are what give a picture its strength.”

Orion says nothing, his face a blank – as it so often is, Henry reflects, when he talks about art. For he is not one of the students he teaches in South Kensington. He is a country boy, poorly educated, who happens to have a talent – a raw, unnurtured talent – in which he still does not believe.

“People are interested in pictures that are, in some way, different,” he persists. “The Impressionist painters are changing people’s attitudes to art. In a new century and with a new monarch they are ready for new things…”

“I don’ understand. Any case,” Orion breaks into the lecture, “Mary don’ like them. My pictures,” he explains, in case there should be any doubt. “She don’ like me drawin’ ‘im.”

Meaning, Henry realises, her dead child.

“I met her, up at the farm,” he says. “She seemed…” He searches for an appropriate word. “She didn’t seem happy,” he compromises. “She says she’s working extra hours.”

“We d’need the money. I an’t got nothing much to sell these days.”

“I see,” Henry does, of course, see. Also that he could make things financially easier for them without causing himself problems. But he also knows that Orion would refuse any such offer.

“We don’ talk much no more.” Orion stares past Henry towards the window, from which the view is blurred by the build-up of salt. “She don’ wan’ talk about the babby an’ I…”

“And you want to.” Henry feels the old longing to put his arm around the boy’s shoulders. It is, surely, what a father would do and the boy’s father, who was, in any case, totally inadequate, is dead. “That’s understandable.” He speaks firmly, thrusting his hands deeper into his pockets. “But you mustn’t blame Mary if she feels differently. We are all different people, are we not? She is mourning your child as much as you are, but in her own way. Come on now!” Taking his hands from his pockets, he claps them as if calling to order a class of children. “It’s a lovely day out there. Why don’t we go outside and paint? Where are those water colours I gave you?”

 

Ida.

The weather continued to improve and on Sunday morning Ida noticed the rays of autumn sunlight which hung in golden streamers through the chapel windows. She also noticed Mr Drage, in his dark Sunday suit, seated on the far side and, since he was not a regular attender, took this as a compliment to herself.

She took, perhaps for this reason, less notice of the sermon than usual, although the theme, that service to others was an important part of our service to The Lord, might well have appealed to her, as someone who spent most of her life serving others.

Afterwards, as she walked out onto on the sunlit Moor, the open area surrounded by the town hall, the library and other civic buildings, Mr Drage caught up with her.

“Weather’s set fair,” he said, doffing his Sunday hat. “I’ll come by your place around three if that suits.”

She felt, as three o’clock approached, quite nervous. Sitting, as she generally did on Sunday afternoons, in the small, overcrowded front parlour into which, because of the heavy nets at the window, little light ever reached so that the big, leather chair with its horsehair stuffing, the oversized mantel which dominated one wall and the low table from which the bible and her mother’s old prayer book never moved, except for their weekly dusting, were simply darker shapes within the lesser darkness, she felt her eyelids start to droop and knew that she would rather sit drowsing here until tea time.

And would Mr Drage, she wondered, be expecting tea? She had plenty of food, of course – a seed cake, made only the evening before, ginger parkin, for he had once commented that he had a sweet tooth, as well as a saffron cake, scones and home-made greengage jam. But would it be right to entertain a man in the house on her own?

 

It was warmer than ever by three o’clock and Mr Drage looked uncomfortably warm in his Sunday suit. His forehead, cheeks and heavy jowls were wet with perspiration and the handkerchief with which he wiped them looked as if it had already served this purpose many times over.

“It’s some ‘ot,” he said, several times as they set off up the steep slope of Killigrew Hill, and this, it seemed, was his only topic of conversation. “Some ‘ot, compared to early in the week,” he told her. “When you think of Tuesday, for example…” When it was miserable with drizzle, Ida thought. “Or Friday even.” When it was dry but with a biting wind blowing in off the harbour. “Some ‘ot for October,” he went on. “August you expect it, but not October.”

“Would you rather we turned back?”

Ida was not enjoying this as much as she had expected.

“Oh no, no. This is your treat,” he puffed and, pulling out the creased, grey-looking handkerchief, mopped it once more across his perspiring forehead.

Once they had gained admission to the Recreation ground and were inside the flower tent it was easier. On the flat and being required only to move slowly along the stands, Mr Drage seemed more comfortable and Ida was able to enjoy the displays of brilliant-coloured dahlias, deep blue michaelmas daisies and some late and vast-headed begonias. It was pleasant also to be part of the crowd of ladies and gentlemen, who greeted and chatted to each other among the flowers. She had seen pictures in the Falmouth Packet of such events but had never been to one before and, as she breathed in the strange, sour scent of a vase of huge and golden chrysanthemums, she felt her mood brightening.

“I’d dearly like to see the veg tent,” she told Mr Drage who stood, silent for the most part, beside her. “Daft I know, when I spend all week cooking the things…”

He laughed, for the first time that afternoon, throwing back his head and showing his big, white teeth.

“An so you shall my lover. So you shall,” he told her and they passed through to the next tent to admire bunches of long and flawless carrots, cauliflowers the size of bouquets, swedes that might have passed as footballs, runner beans almost a foot long…

“My Orion’d love to see they,” she exclaimed. “‘E’s a great one for veg-growing…”

She paused, remembering how far her Orion, and his vegetables were from her reach, and then, looking more closely at a Highly Commended cabbage, noticed that one of the inner leaves had been chewed by a caterpillar.

Nothing, she thought to herself, was as perfect as it might seem.

“They tatties’d go well with a nice bit o’ cod,” Mr Drage remarked of a trio of King Edwards. Then, “Seen enough ‘ave ee? My legs is aching, standing ‘ere looking at things”

 

The afternoon, she decided, as she cleared the table after Mr Drage had left, had been a  disappointment. He had eaten a good tea, she’d say that for him, and there was little left of the seed cake or the parkin, which would otherwise have seen her through the week. Her jar of greengage jam was also greatly depleted and she had filled the teapot three times before his thirst was satisfied. And, away from his fish round, Mr Drage seemed to have little to talk about, beyond his health.

He suffered from palpitations, he told her, spreading his fourth scone with a thick layer of butter. Sometimes he woke in the night sure he was going to die and, if it wasn’t that keeping him awake, it was dyspepsia, for which he took rhubarb powder after every meal but it made little difference. He had been told to avoid salt and vinegar but what good was a meal without salt, he asked, and in any case, he was a martyr to leg cramps…

All in all Ida was quite relieved when he heaved his chair back from the table, pressed one hand over his stomach and said he supposed he should be going. His sister, who kept house for him, would be wondering, he said.

“That were ‘ansome tea midear,” he told her, as she helped him on with his jacket. “Proper ‘ansome.”

Boiling water for the dish-washing, Ida stared out at the quarry wall where a bright orange nasturtium, a last survivor from Orion’s plantings, hauled itself upwards on its long, pale stems through the weeds and the thin branches of a young buddleia whose glorious purple flowers had died back to resemble dingy, brown bottle-brushes. Mr Drage had said nothing about the pleasure of her company, she thought, watching the orange flower as it shifted like a hanging lantern in the breeze. But then she had said nothing of the pleasure of his.

Which, if she were to be honest, had not been very great.

Tying her apron around her Sunday skirt, she picked up her dish cloth and began to wipe jam off her best tea plates. Once again she wished Bea were still alive. At least then she would have had the pleasure of recounting the tale of her strange outing to someone who would appreciate it.

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.