Uncertainties of Love and Hope. Chapter 3.

Henry.

He held back from visiting Orion as long as he could, which was about two weeks, although he had intended it to be longer. One morning, however, woken by gulls squalling on the roof of Pennance cottage and invigorated by his early morning swim, he dragged his bicycle from its shed, dusted off the accumulated cobwebs and set out for the cottage.

A ride of around eight miles but along an earth road that twisted between narrow hedges, dipping steeply and then rising again, every breathlessly ascended hill leading to a summit from which another was visible. The hedges – ancient stone walls, earth-covered and topped with shrubs and trees – grew voluptuously outwards, except where the regular passage of a farm cart had snapped branches and torn back the growth and, despite the dust of the roadway which clogged his nostrils and the smell of his own sweat as he wiped his arm across his forehead, he caught the musty scent of earth and grass, the glorious aniseed of wild cicely and the tang of alexander leaves, overlaid as he passed a farm by the stench of dung from cows herded to and from the milking.

Such a glorious morning, he thought, giving up on yet another hillside and dismounting to push the heavy bike instead. Where else in the world would he want to be, sweating and breathless as he was, his hair, stiff with salt from his swim and dishevelled from the ride, standing out around his head?

Another mile or so along a more level gradient, the sun higher in the sky and beating down almost violently, although Henry with his sea-tanned skin barely felt it, he turned into the shady tunnel of trees that led down towards Orion’s cottage and dismounted, the rough stone track being, he well knew, an uncomfortable ride and a sure way of tearing his tyres. The pink pink of a chaffinch in the hawthorn bushes and the shrill alarm call of a startled wren accompanied his footsteps and the rattle of his bicycle until he came out onto the stretch of grass above Orion’s shallow cove when they became lost under the more familiar wails of the gulls soaring on the thermals – and the clattering of stones from the back of the cottage.

 

“Orion! Is that you flinging stones about?”

And, as he leans his bike against the front wall of the cottage, Orion appears round the side, spade in hand.

The sunlight is dazzling after the shade of the trees. Henry blinks, pushes his damp hair from his forehead and holds his hand over his eyes. The boy – his boy, he cannot help thinking, – is as beautiful as ever. His hair is bleached almost white and his face and arms are tanned to a deep and healthy-looking brown. He wears a rough cotton shirt, open down the front and with the sleeves pushed up, and it is obvious that the body Henry has always admired has become in the past months more muscular still.

“‘Enry!”

But he has never been a great talker and Henry has taken him by surprise. And now, unlike Henry’s friends of his own class who greet his arrival, however unexpected, with a warm handshake, perhaps a slap on the back and some comment on his absence, his appearance or some remembered item of news, Orion can only stare silently down at his dirt-encrusted boots as if they may inspire him.

“You’ve been busy. All these flowers…”

Orion’s awkwardness – or perhaps it is his pleasure at seeing him after so many months – affects even someone as articulate as Henry, who looks round for something else to comment on, until Mary appears in the doorway and gives him something to think about – if something on which he cannot possibly comment.

“Mr Tuke! You’ve never rode out ‘ere in this ‘eat! Come on in an’ cool down now. Fetch some fresh water, Ori, there’s a dear.”

Her chatter leads him into the cottage, where she settles him into the one armchair while Orion hastens round to the pump in the back yard.

“You sit there while I fetch ‘ee some food. You’ll be worn out after that ride,” and she goes into the back kitchen, leaving Henry feeling elderly and somewhat discomposed

For the girl is clearly enceinte. With not many weeks to go, if he is any judge – which he is not, being a bachelor, who knows little enough of these matters. On the other hand, wives of various friends – and indeed his own sister – have given birth and although they tend not to appear in public at this stage he cannot help but know that by the time the front of a woman’s dress is pushed so prominently upwards and outwards she is nearing her time. The thought is unsettling and he fidgets in the chair, which is too small for a man of his height, as his mind throws up a still more unsettling thought – that his boy is to become a father. That he will, inevitably, move further from him than ever.

Mary, returning with a mug of cold water, shows no sign of fragility.

“Some ‘ot init?” she comments. “Even the hens is ‘iding. It don’ worry Ori though. ‘E’s digging a new bed for gooseberries an’ the ‘eat don’ bother ‘im any.”

“Yes I found him digging out stones as I came in.”

The mention of gooseberries further discomfits Henry, recalling childhood tales of the origins of babies.

“Ground’s full of them. Stones an’ slates. Ori says ‘e could easy build another ‘ouse the number he’s taken out.”

Mary excuses herself and goes back to her kitchen. As Orion comes in – he has removed his boots and appears to have shoved his head under the pump – she follows with a tray of saffron cake – fresh-baked from the smell – buttered scones and what Henry recognises as her best china.

“Let me!” Impossible to stay seated while she carries a heavy tray but Orion takes it from her and Henry, subsiding into his chair, prepares to be waited on.

 

“I’ve not done much drawin’ lately.”

Scones and saffron cake have been eaten and tea drunk and Henry and Orion are in the second bedroom which serves as Orion’s studio. Which will perhaps, Henry thinks, be put now to a new use and the restraint which has eased over the tea is back between them.

“You’ve been busy.” Which could be interpreted as a comment on the subject which he, as a male visitor, cannot possibly raise. “The garden looks fine,” he adds quickly. “And you’ve been working on the roof I see.”

“There was leaks in the bad weather. I put new slates on.”

Orion has always been a literal person.

“That’s good. Still… you mustn’t neglect your art. Remember our plans? For an exhibition of your work?”

“I dunno.” Orion has never liked this idea. “Why’d people wan’ look at my stuff? It’s nothin, special.”

“But it is, Orion!” They have had this argument before, many times, and Henry feels the old enthusiasm take over. “Your work is… different. New. Exciting. It is what we need in this new century. Artists are breaking away from the old constraints. Seeing things in a new light. These French painters… Those they call the Impressionists….”

But Orion’s simple works are not impressionistic, nor are they abstract. They are plain representations, almost childlike, of the world around him – Mary, his garden implements, his cottage, the outhouses…  And yet they have an honesty that speaks, Henry is convinced, to the beholder, even if they are a world away from Henry’s own paintings – the tall sailing ships he loves, his boys, clad and unclad, swimming or wading or lying beside sunlit waters, Georgie Fouracre with flowers around his forehead, raising his arms in joy amidst the birch trees…

“I dunno.”

Orion does, as it happens, know about ‘these French painters’. Did he not go to weekly lectures, two years ago, in Falmouth’s Polytechnic Hall, where he learned about Pissarro, Cezanne and Matisse? From them he learned that an artist is allowed his own vision, his own methods of expression. That he does not need to paint in the same way as those other artists whose works hang in galleries.

This does not mean he is convinced of the value of his own work.

And there is something else. Soon there will be another mouth to feed. How can he spend time on pictures when he should be digging vegetables and seeing to his hens?

The little room is hot, even though Orion has opened the window, and dust-motes swirl in the light like living creatures. In these cottages the dust falls from the ceiling and seeps from the stone walls and the calls of the interminable gulls come remotely, as if through a fog. In the room below Mary sweeps her hard broom across the stone floor.

“There’s summing else…” But this is hard to speak of, especially when Henry, who has been examining a sketch of the back-yard pump, turns his dark eyes towards him and raises his eyebrows.

“There’ll be a babby,” he manages at last.

Left under a gooseberry bush, Henry wonders, but conceals his amusement.

“ That is good news. Excellent news!”

He thumps Orion across the shoulders. Making the best of it.

“I know. An’ I’m glad. But I d’need earn more. Get more veg growing – an’ more fruit… ‘F’ I c’n get more currants planted…” It is so much easier to talk about fruit and vegetables than about babies. He knows so much more about them for a start. “I was thinking… if I clear that patch by the near out’ouse – it gets the morning sun almost all year round an’ if I get it cleared and manured this summer I can plant…”

He talks on and Henry, pretending to listen, thinks that currants sold at market for tuppence a box for one or two months won’t make a fortune or even a reasonable living. Whereas, if Orion’s artworks became popular, he might make as much selling two or three of these as he could make with his fruit and veg in an entire year.

Perhaps, of course, they will not become popular; Henry knows his market and knows how changeable it can be, how easily reputations are made or lost, but he isn’t thinking about this now. If Orion’s work should become – he winces at the thought of the word – ‘fashionable’, if only for a short time, it would give him, and his young family, a far better chance in life.

 

Faith. Truro.

Soon it would be the end of term and in the boarding house girls were filled with excitement at the prospect of six weeks of freedom.

Amy’s mama had written to ask if Faith could stay with them again for part of the holiday but Papa had refused the invitation.

‘We all look forward to your homecoming,’ he wrote to Faith. ‘Your mama is especially eager to see you. Also I am not convinced, from what I have heard, that Amy Pearce is a suitable friend.

What, she wondered, folding away the letter as if hiding the words might cause them to vanish, could he have heard? And from whom? She had been cautious in her letters not to mention any activities of which he might have disapproved – this had seemed to include almost everything but she had made as much as possible of healthy walks along cliff paths and a visit to Pendennis Castle, where they had been shown around by the custodian.

But what she had not been able to describe, of course, had been any sort of religious observations, not even at Easter. On Good Friday they had, in fact, gone in the horse-drawn buggy across to the Helford river where, at the season’s lowest tide, they had joined dozens of others in the activity of ‘ligging’ – digging in the mud for cockles and other shellfish, which they had gathered in buckets and taken home for their supper.

As Quakers, the Vigos did not celebrate Easter, or any of the great festivals of the church, such celebrations being part of the sort of ceremonial fripperies against which George Fox, founder of the Society, had originally rebelled. They did, however, mark the holiday in their own manner with the usual Meeting for Worship on the First Day and quiet activities – reading suitable books or texts, visiting the elderly or bedridden, even making music of the more sober kind – when others observed Good Friday. Digging for cockles would not, Faith was certain, be considered suitable.

And her father might, she supposed, have made enquiries of the Pearce family among the many Friends who lived in Falmouth, who might have known of them and that they were not connected to any of the local churches.

Her father, strict Quaker though he was, made no objection to her attending church, even though he did not agree with this form of worship. If he had felt otherwise he would never have allowed her to go to her school. Her older brothers had both attended Bootham, the Quaker school in York, but he had not considered it appropriate to send his daughters such a distance and felt there was no harm in their experiencing the faiths of others. It might even, he thought, increase their Quaker convictions. (Not all Redruth Friends agreed with this but there was no doubting William Vigo’s faith and commitment and no-one commented.)

He would have been less happy, Faith thought, to discover that she had been living with a family who had no discernable religious beliefs.

 

`Lord dismiss us, with thy blessing…’ they sang in the final assembly of the term and, standing between Amy and Magel Rusco whose voices chirped merrily into the sound rising to the ceiling, Faith found that she could hardly sing for the tears that clogged her throat. And when they reached the lines,

‘Those who here will meet no more,

May their seed times past be yielding

Year by year a richer store,’ she gave in and wept as the great girls who were leaving school for ever today were already weeping, and even though she would be back here with Amy and Magel in September.

Later, back at the boarding house, she watched rather sadly in the hallway as girls hugged and kissed before flinging themselves into the arms of mothers and fathers – sometimes, brothers and sisters as well – and being driven off, waving from their traps or carriages or, in the case of the wealthy Rodda sisters, from the back of their motor car.             

Papa arrived late in the pony trap, driven by Cyril who also worked in their garden. He had been kept on business at the works, he said, and it seemed to Faith that they left in unnecessary haste, Papa barely exchanging a word with Miss Crabbe and giving her no time to say goodbye to Matron and the maids who had lined up to wish everyone happy holiday. William Vigo was not a rude man but he was a plain one and had little time for what he considered to be unnecessary social niceties. Besides, he said, her mama was impatient to welcome her home.

 

Henry Falmouth. August.

He was working on a portrait of a little girl, Miss Peggy Hatch, for her grandfather who lived above the beach at Gyllyngvase. Peggy, a delightful young lady, enjoyed the sittings and Henry, enjoying her company, was pleased with the progress of the painting. This one at least, he thought, would meet with Charles’ approval.

It was at an evening party, given by Peggy’s grandfather, eager, perhaps, to show off his acquaintance with the famous artist, that he met the solicitor Edgar Pearce, who, sharing the same sociable temperament, invited Henry to luncheon the following Sunday.

This was the kind of family occasion he enjoyed, relaxed and informal with none of the conventional stuffiness that he so disliked. Mrs Pearce – he was invited, almost immediately, to call her Hetty – was a charming woman whose strong views were tempered with a sense of humour and a keen enjoyment of her young family, who were all present. Little George and Thomas, aged seven and five, were active, inquisitive creatures who soon discovered that Papa’s new friend could be counted on to give horseback rides or join in wheelbarrow races around the lawn, and their older sister, Amy, aged fourteen, was a pretty girl, eager to impress as a young lady until she forgot herself in the heat of an argument or was caught up in her brothers’ romps.

Her friend, introduced as Faith Vigo, interested Henry still more. A quieter, altogether more serious girl, although this might just be by contrast with the noisy Pearces, with dark hair and dark Cornish eyes, she and Amy were, according to Hetty Pearce, ‘best friends’ at school and the whole family had loved Faith when she had stayed with them at Easter.

“We invited her to spend part of these holidays here as well,” she said. “The poor girl comes from Redruth – such a dreary place, blighted with mines and smelting works. It cannot possibly be healthy for a growing child but her father said he did not wish to impose on us further and refused the invitation.”

“But she is here now,”

Lunch over, the adults sat in the sunny conservatory at the front of the house, while the children, including the girl Faith, played a somewhat unruly game of croquet on the lawn. Beyond the heavy blue and purple blooms of the hydrangeas that bordered the garden, it was possible to see the sun-tipped crests of a swell in Falmouth bay where several boats, including Flamingo’s rivals Stork and Syrinx, he recognised with the slightest pang, raced well reefed in a strong south-westerly.

Hetty laughed.

“Indeed – but not staying with us. Apparently her elder sister is visiting friends in Florence Terrace and dear Faith came with her, since her mother does not travel. We were surprised but delighted when she appeared on our doorstep just before you arrived.”

Henry looked out at the group on the lawn. Amy, prettily dressed in white muslin with    

a lace-edged pinafore, her hair tumbling over her shoulders, was arguing with her brothers about a disputed hoop. The girl Faith stood watching, one hand on her mallet, her appearance a contrast to her friend’s. She wore a dark pinafore over a plain white dress and her hair, which appeared to curl naturally, was held back by a dark ribbon as if to restrain it as much as possible.

She had, he had noticed at lunch, unusually solemn eyes for so young a girl.

“The family are Quakers.” Mrs Pearce confirmed what he suspected. “She came to us after attending their Sunday Meeting. I suspect her Papa would not approve if he were to see her playing croquet….”

The children’s dispute became noisier, the smaller boy burst into angry tears and his mother went outside to establish some sort of order.

“ It is too hot,” she said, returning with the weeping, wriggling child, “to play outside and time in any case for your rest.”

She rang the bell for the nurse and called from the doorway to the two girls who were continuing their game on the lawn.

“You should come inside too, girls. Come and find some cooler activity indoors.”

“I wonder…” Henry’s fingers felt a familiar itching sensation. “I have a sketch book with me. Would you mind very much if I drew your daughter and her friend?”

 

Faith. Redruth.

Another sunny day and another day of insufferable boredom.

Perhaps, after the surprise of her brief visit to Falmouth, it seemed worse than ever. For Redruth, for all its fine buildings, reflecting the past prosperity of a town which had rightly claimed to be the mining capital of Cornwall, was a dreary place to live.

The industry on which that prosperity had been based disfigured much of the surrounding landscape, with stacks, pumping-engine houses and headgear – many in ruins – as well as disused mine shafts already overgrown with brambles. In what must once have been a pretty valley a tin stream, red like all the rivers hereabouts, ran for several miles, built around with sheds, conveyors and the dozens of slime pits and rag frames that were used for dressing the tin. These covered almost the whole valley floor and were worked by men, women and even children, eking out a poor living in this way.

Another cause of the town’s dreariness – for, in spite of the prosperous appearance of some inhabitants, visiting shoppers and the men who crowded the town for the fortnightly auctions of ore, known as ticketings, most people in the streets were grimy, poor and ill-looking. In the case of miners or ex-miners suffering from the common lung disease, they were ill-sounding as well – lacking in nourishment, in decent clothing and, it seemed to Faith, who shared the sentiment, lacking in hope.

Which was not surprising when the mining industry was in such disastrous decline. In the past thirty years almost a hundred mines had closed and men had left in their thousands to work in the lead, copper and silver mines of America, the rich copper mines of South Australia or the diamond mines of South Africa, often leaving behind wives, elderly parents and children who, if their men did not send home regular remittances, fell quickly into poverty

The air, in spite of the winds which blew continuously across the town, was generally overcast from the steam and smoke of the remaining mines and fouled by the stink of sulfurous fumes and Faith’s memories of the salt air gusting in off Falmouth bay, the bright flowers and exotic trees, the elegant clothing and healthy cheerfulness of the fortunate holiday-makers or residents who strolled about admiring the bay, the gardens or the beaches seem to come from another world.

Nevertheless those few days had been a gift and now, sitting with Mama in the gloomy morning room from which any sunshine that managed to penetrate the clouds was excluded by tightly-drawn Venetian blinds, there was some comfort to be gained from those memories.

 

It had all been so sudden. Until the evening before the visit her mother had intended to accompany Elsie to visit Esther Thom, sister of the elderly Silas Thom from their Meeting, but had decided at the last minute that she was too unwell.

“Esther Thom is too infirm to accompany Elsie if she wishes to go out,” her father had explained, “I feel that it will be in right ordering for you to go with her.”

‘In right ordering’ was Friends’ way of stating that some principle of Quaker practice had been adhered to and it was strange to hear it applied to a point of social etiquette but she was to go to Falmouth so what did Faith care?

Better still, Elsie, much to her surprise, had agreed that she might visit Amy’s family after Meeting for Worship on Sunday.

But this was all in the past and now she was imprisoned at home with little to occupy her time, other than sitting with her mother, whose health had improved slightly but who still did not venture outdoors.

It was hard, Faith felt, not to feel resentful as they sat together in the morning room before lunch and, later, in the drawing room when the sun had moved round to that side of the house. Not, she couldn’t avoid thinking, that it made any difference where the sun was shining or whether it was shining at all, since the blinds were always drawn down and they sat in a sort of underwater half light without so much as a glimpse of the outside world.

And not that the outside world – the granite, grey-roofed houses opposite, a few half-grown trees and, should the haze permit, a distant view of Carn Brea across the valley and beyond the stacks of a dozen mines – was worth looking at. Certainly not compared to the sparkling water of Falmouth bay studded with the sails of fishing boats or the great three or four-masters making for the horizon.

I am so bored, she wanted to tell Mama, who seemed content to lie on her couch, occasionally adding a few stitches to her embroidery and who did not, in spite of what Papa had said, seem to gain any pleasure from Faith’s presence. I do not want to sew a nightshirt for some poor person’s child. I do not want to read The Water Babies or Comfort in the Wilderness or listen to visiting Friends describe the progress of the children in the First Day School. I want to gossip with Amy in her pretty bedroom or play with her and her brothers in their garden or hunt for crabs or sticklebacks in the rock pools…

I want to have fun!

How hard it was, sitting in her dress and overall, heavy petticoat and cotton stockings in this stuffy room, to remember the taste of salt water against her face or the feeling of her hair blowing loose in the breeze or the sand drying on her bare legs.

And what else was there for her to do?

In the early afternoon, while her mother rested upstairs, she went out but none of her school-fellows lived nearby, there were no other children of her age in Meeting and few enough in Clinton Road, where the houses, often called Clinton Castles since only the wealthy could afford them, belonged mostly to older people

There were shops, of course, especially in the long hill that was Fore Street – bakeries, drapers’ shops, shoe shops, grocers, butchers, confectioners and tea rooms not to mention a market hall and a department store – but there was little pleasure in staring into windows on her own. There was the Passmore Edwards Library further along Clinton Road, but who wanted to spend a summer afternoon in a library? There was Victoria Park, laid out with shrubs, pathways and turf lawns, with elegant timber and metalwork seats for ladies and gentlemen or nursemaids with perambulators, but where was the fun in walking along a path or sitting on a seat?

In the event the decision was made for her;

“The dear Lord be praised, if it isn’t Faith Vigo! Just when I need your strong, young limbs!”

Myra Yelland, at the top of the library steps, held out both arms – one clutching several books in a leather strap – in her direction. A large, round-faced woman, her piled-up hair escaping into a grey halo around her head, she looked quite intimidating in her dark coat and skirt.

“Good afternoon. I was on my way home. Mama isn’t…” It was wrong to lie – and she was facing in the wrong direction – but Myra Yelland rarely listened to what anyone else might say.

“This’ll take no time at all. Just come up here,” and Faith climbed gloomily up the steps and into the narrow lobby where a bulging bag was about to tip its contents over the floor.

“Just a few things for the Urens, down Penryn Street. Arthur’s laid up with his old trouble and I don’t want those kiddies going without. If you just pop them down there, it’ll be done in no time and I’ll rest easy tonight.”

The bag was heavy and hard to manage and as she struggled down the steep hill past the meat market and the fair meadow Faith could not help but wonder what Arthur Uren’s ‘old trouble’ might be and whether she would be expected to observe it. For experience had told her that it was never a case, when visiting the poor and needy, of just ‘popping’ something in. You were expected to go inside, sometimes into the most horrid houses, be stared at – possibly pawed at – by grubby children with runny noses and all the indications of lice and ringworm and thanked, effusively but generally resentfully, by some exhausted-looking woman who would insist on offering a cup of dark, foul-tasting tea…

Why, she thought crossly, almost dropping one handle of the bag in her annoyance, should she be expected to go on such errands? Wasn’t her life miserable enough?

But at least Papa would be pleased with her. The Yellands were prominent members of their meeting, where Myra was much admired for her good works, and Foster Yelland’s works supplied a number of items on which Vigo’s depended.

 

Ida.

Mrs Trembath was entertaining again. Another evening party, which was tiresome, since the girl Clarice, who was walking out with a young man from Spooner’s Drapery in Market Street, was more concerned about this Edwin and his possible intentions, not to mention the fashions and accessories available in the shop, than in learning to do her job properly.

“I don’t ‘ave time to keep showing ‘er ‘ow to do ‘er work as well as doin’ my own.”

Ida broke in on her mistress’s recital of all that would be needed for tomorrow evening’s party. The card tables, she was saying, must be placed here. And here. And over there. With the unbroken packs, the pencils and the notebooks in the centre of each…

“Last time they were placed all anyhow. I was appalled when I came to check the room before my guests arrived.”

“Well I did tell Clarice but ‘alf the time she don’ listen…” ‘Half the time’ was generous. Clarice listened to one word in twenty – unless, as Ida had already commented to Edie Teague, who did the rough, one of the other words was Edwin. “An’ I’m too busy to do no more.”

Mrs Trembath, she thought resentfully, could try training her own parlour maid.

“And these ‘ere fancies…”

Another cause of resentment.

When Ida had first been taken on as cook-housekeeper there had been none of these profiteroles and petits fours. Good, plain cooking was what had been required – a substantial breakfast followed by a still more substantial lunch, bread and butter, sandwiches and cake for tea and cold meats or perhaps some tinned salmon for supper. But Mrs Trembath had recently made new friends, a Major and Mrs Henry, who had brought with them from their former home in Salisbury a lot of ideas Ida could well do without.

‘The Henrys always have four courses at luncheon, even when they have no guests.’

‘Mrs Henry prefers a light, clear soup.’

‘The Major must have his savouries at supper…’  

It was not the sort of cooking Ida was used to and the additional responsibility of ensuring that Clarice prepared the drawing and dining room suitably for Mrs Trembath’s increasing entertainments was getting wearing.

“You’re a good enough cook, Ida. Surely a few fancies aren’t beyond your capabilities?”

Ida’s brain lacked the subtlety to recognise faint praise and she thought irritably of the new-fangled cookery book with which her employer had presented her the previous week.

Reading was not something she did for pleasure – or with ease. Nor was it something she was often required to do. She had known all the hymns they sang in chapel, for example, since childhood and had no need of the hymnal she held open purely for form. Mrs Aubrey’s book of Recipes for the New Century was a different matter entirely.

For Mrs Aubrey, it was obvious from the frontispiece, lived a life remote from Ida’s. (And, she thought privately, Mrs Trembath’s.) Her picture – slender, upright, her hair built into a mound of plaits and curls with an artfully-placed spray of feathers – showed her beside a table laden with elegant arrangements of tiny morsels of food. There were quails’ eggs, portions of caviare on little biscuits, vol aux vents decorated with piped swirls of something unrecognisable – not enough to keep a canary alive, to Ida’s way of thinking – and nothing she could imagine eating herself.

“Your guests always enjoy my cakes…”

“But not at this sort of party, Ida dear.” Ida recognised the ‘dear’ as a sign of her employer’s exasperation. “As Mrs Henry says, it’s a new age and we must follow new fashions, even if we are so far from London society. We read in the papers, after all, of the dishes our new king enjoys – very different from his dear Mama’s regime.”

The new king, from what Ida had heard, enjoyed a great deal too much food – but would probably, she thought, like her fruit tarts and saffron cake as much as Mrs Trembath’s guests had always done. She did not argue, however, but waited to be allowed to go back to her kitchen, where she was boiling a ham for the cold cuts to go with the boiled chicken and for the ham, egg and potato pie she would make this afternoon. The precious Henrys might not appreciate them but she was sure the other guests would.

When Clarice flounced in with her outdoor cloak over her shoulders to fetch a shopping basket she looked up from her pastry board in surprise.

“Madam wants me to collect a s’lecsh’n of fancies from Miss Clare’s.” The girl named the shop that had opened recently at the bottom of High Street, its windows draped in lace and with tiny cakes – no more than a mouthful each – displayed on silver doilies on engraved glass plates. “She says she can’t go on giving her guests saffron buns and heavy cake….”

She grabbed the basket, tossed her head in Ida’s direction and went out, slamming the back door.

Ida, mouth open, her strong arms white with flour, stared after her. The draught from the slammed door stirred the still air of the kitchen and the scent of, yes, saffron buns mingled with that of the ham that stood cooling next to the window.

She felt tears of anger and humiliation fill her eyes. That Mrs Trembath should have sent Clarice on such an errand, without telling her first. That she should have made so cruel a remark about her food. And that she had no idea what she was meant to do now.

Was she to go on with her preparations, assuming that Miss Clare’s fancies were simply an addition? Or should she clear her kitchen and go home? Leaving Clarice and Mrs Trembath to cope as best they could.

A tempting thought but one that would almost certainly lose her her job.

If only, she was thinking… If only Bea were still alive. Then – even though it was not her night for visiting – she could have walked across town to visit her in the little house in Railway Terrace. Bea would be there, after all, since she never left her bedroom, let alone the house, and Ida would have been able to unburden herself of the injustices she was expected to bear.

But Bea was dead and there was no one else and this was another cause for tears.

 

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Uncertainties of Love and Hope. Chapter 2.

 

Faith – Truro

“In crocodile girls! Form pairs and no talking. Make haste now!”

But the no talking rule lasted no further than the weeping willow at the boarding house gate and as they turned onto the road a dozen conversations broke out among the two dozen girls to continue non-stop for the speedy half mile to the main school building, although there was perhaps more puff than chatter as they hauled their way up the steep slope of Lemon Street and the even steeper slope inside the school grounds.

Faith loved walking in crocodile. It was the feeling of anonymity, she had decided, combined with a sense of belonging so strong that it threatened sometimes to overwhelm her, as when she stood in the assembly hall for morning prayers, surrounded so comfortably by fifty other girls for the singing of Onward Christian Soldiers or He Who Would Valiant Be.  A feeling of safety, of being enclosed to the point of invisibility.

Faith very much liked to feel that she was invisible. In Redruth, in her drab Quaker dress and especially if she was with her father in his dark suit and Quaker hat, she was always conscious of appearing different. Here, as the crocodile surged its way along River Street, threatening, in spite of Miss Crabbe’s warnings, to over-balance passers-by into the water-filled gutters, no outsider could tell which of the girls in their felt hats and dark stuff skirts was Faith Vigo. And from the safety of their small procession they could look out – Faith, Amy, Magel and the rest of them – for the squint-eyed greengrocer, the crook-backed postman, the handsome butcher’s boy and others who, for whatever reason, set them giggling.

There was much giggling in the croc, even on a morning like this, when the thick Cornish drizzle blew in under their brimmed hats and seeped into the chilly gaps between gloves and cuffs, when a passing cart could, even on these well-paved streets, throw up muddy splatters that would have to be brushed from their coats when they returned to the boarding house this evening…

“There he is!” Amy clutched Faith’s arm. “Wiping down the window.” And they stared out from under their brims in the direction of the dark-eyed butcher’s boy who leaned across a display of lamb cutlets to wipe away the moisture that might obscure a shopper’s view. “He’s looking across. See! And he’s gone bright red!”

So that both girls dissolved into laughter, breaking step and clinging helplessly to one another’s arms, disrupting completely the progress of the crocodile

“Girls! Whatever is the matter?” Miss Crabbe at the front of the line, becoming aware of confusion behind her, held up her hand. “Pamela?”

But Pamela, one of the ‘great girls’ at the back of the croc, had been too occupied by the gowns in Miss Anstey’s window display and simply shook her head.

“I tripped on my bootlace, Miss Crabbe,” Amy called out and, after being admonished for clumsiness, they moved on.

It must be nice, Faith thought, with a sideways glance at her friend, to have no religious faith and be freed from the necessity to tell the truth at all times; a thought which preoccupied her for most of the remainder of their walk to school, although Amy prattled on, unconcerned.

 

It was hard, some nights, to sleep in her narrow bed, although the nine other girls with whom she shared the dormitory had all, judging from their quiet and even breathing, drifted off. The windows, left open to let in the healthy air from the nearby woodlands that was meant to counteract the dangerous vapours of tuberculosis, rattled in the night breeze, as did the bare branches of the elm tree in the garden, but these did not disturb her. It was not noise or cold that prevented her from sleeping; it was her thoughts.

Papa’s letter, which she and Amy were so eagerly anticipating, had not arrived today – the third day on which they had looked for it. Which perhaps meant that he was displeased with her request. Which perhaps meant he did not intend to grant it.

Dear Papa, she had written,

I hope you and Mama and Elsie are all well. I am very well and have been working hard at school. Last week I was given a commendation for my botanical drawing of yew tree berries and I gained full marks in the weekly spelling test.

On Saturday Amy and I helped Miss Parkinson with the little girls. We took them on an expedition through Kenwyn churchyard and down towards the river. It was cold but sunny and we found some primroses.

Amy has asked if I might spend the first week of the Easter holidays at her home in Falmouth. Her Mama will write to Mama with an invitation and I hope very much that you will agree to let me go…’

‘Amy is my best friend in all the world and I would love to stay with her more than anything,’ was what she had wanted to write but had had the sense to realise that this would not do. Papa objected to what he called ‘sentimental friendships’ and would have been sure to refuse her and so she concluded instead by saying that Amy’s papa was a solicitor, which she hoped he would consider suitably respectable. It would also remind him that he was not a clergyman – the majority of girls in the boarding house were daughters of Anglican clergymen, which was one reason why her papa, a pillar of the Redruth Quaker community, had hesitated so long before agreeing to sent her to this school.

If she couldn’t go and stay with Amy, she thought now, huddling under her quilt, she would die. For Amy had described so often the delights of her home in Falmouth, the seaside town which Faith, in spite of living only ten miles away, had never visited.

Their house was right by the beach, she had told her. Only just across the road was the sand, the beautiful, clear sea and rock pools with shrimps and crabs and tiny fish…

It sounded so exciting but it would have been no use admitting this to her father who, the more she wanted something, the more he was likely to refuse it, self-denial being, in his view, good for a child.  And now, lying in her bed, the only person awake in the dormitory… in the building… perhaps in the whole world… it seemed so impossible that he would agree that it was also impossible to hold back the tears that forced themselves out of her eyes and made warm pathways across the coldness of her cheeks.

And now her nose was blocked and she had no handkerchief so that she was forced to hide under her bedclothes and blow it as quietly as possible into her nightdress, rubbing the thick winceyette against itself in hopes that it would absorb the moisture.

 

Orion – near Mawnan Smith. March.

His second spring in the cottage and the daffodils, primroses and violets were blooming beneath the hedge and the anemones Mary had planted by the front door showed the thick, drab buds that would soon burst into deep purples, scarlets and pinks.

Their position, just back from a small inlet on the gentler south coast, was a good one for growing, sheltered as they were between an ancient path between Cornish hedges lined with sturdy coastal oaks on one side and a thick undergrowth of blackthorn, gorse and brambles on the other. Even in the worst winter storms the sea, so close to their door, never rose above the shelving pebble beach between outcrops of rocks and did no more than fling up great bunches of seaweed which Orion harvested to feed his burgeoning vegetable plot.

His kale, cabbages and broccoli were coming up thick and green and he had been taking them to Helston market for some weeks now. The parsnips were doing well, his turnips were sprouting, he already needed to get in the bushy twigs he had ready to support the scrambling growth of the peas and the parsley around the edge of his root veg bed was, in Mary’s words, ‘like a great hedge’, ready for bunching…

Mary – who appeared now in the back doorway, clutching her zinc wash tub, and peering out from the shadow into the sunlit yard….

“You put that down now!” Orion thrust his spade into the earth and hastened across to her. “I told you. You mustn’t go lifting such ‘eavy things.”

Taking the tub from her, he walked a few steps down the rough path between the cabbages and the turnips and heaved the washing water in the direction of the the potato bed beyond.

“An’ you’ve been working that mangle again.”

Setting the tub on the doorstep he touched his hand against the visible swelling under her apron, then turned to put his arms around her shoulders. This was the most wonderful feeling, he thought. Holding his Mary and feeling between them the small but strangely solid lump that was their child. Due, so she had told him, along with the currants and raspberries and with plenty of warmth ahead of them before the winter fogs and chills arrived.

“You old fusspot,” she whispered against his ear. “Ma was out ‘elping with the ‘arvest the morning she ‘ad our Davy. You need to be strong to give birth, she says. Not feeble.”

“All the same…” But Mary just laughed and he turned back to his digging.

All the same, he thought, pressing his boot onto the spade to unearth yet another broken slate, although he must have dug up enough of the buggers to roof an entire shed since he’d been here… All the same, this was the first time he’d done anything so serious… So frightening…

He, Orion, who had been planting seeds and seedlings for several years past, first in Mr Cyril’s market garden in Falmouth and now here in his own plot, had planted a seed inside his Mary that was growing, miraculously, into a human being.  

It had always seemed enough of a miracle that those grit-like specks or hard-shelled, dead-looking beans, could transform themselves, hidden below ground, into bulging roots which swelled into carrots or swedes or turnips or produced twisting, sinuous shoots, coiling their way around twigs, hoisting themselves upwards, putting out leaves and then flowers to turn, finally, into pods of peas or beans.They were miracles, the roots, the shoots, the leaves, and now, the greatest of them all was happening to him and Mary.

So,

“I don’ care what yer ma says. I say you need take care of yerself – an’ li’l Mary,” he told her, scraping his muddy boot against the doorstep half an hour later and as if there had been no pause in the conversation.

“Or li’l Orion.”

Mary, seated at the kitchen table, squinted down at the old sheet from which she intended making baby’s bed linen – and, if she could contrive it, a baby’s nightgown. You could never, her Ma had told her, have too many nightgowns.

The thought weighed on her as Orion turned back to his garden. She rarely saw her mother, who lived only five miles off on the far side of the Helford River but, with Mary’s three youngest brothers at home and baby Rosa still nursing, was never able to get away. And when Mary managed to get to Manaccan it was always a shock to see how old and worn her mother looked.

The farm – a few small fields with a few cows, wheat, swedes and a flock of chickens – was hard work, especially now Pa was poorly, but the real problem, Mary felt, was the number of children her mother had borne. There was her brother Sam, then Mary and Cara, then Davy, who’d died of croup when he was seven, then Amy and then the four who were still at home. It was no good complaining, Ma had said once, since nothing could be done about it but, looking at the creases around her eyes and mouth that spoiled what had once been a pretty face, Mary had felt there should be.

And soon she too would be starting down the same path…

Sometimes she wasn’t sure that this was what she wanted. She and Orion had been together only a few months. They were still finding out about each other, still learning to get comfortable together… Something that a small and demanding baby wouldn’t help with. And the garden, on which Orion worked so hard, was only beginning to come good… They were fortunate that Mr Tuke had given them this cottage rent free and she still had work at Roscrow’s farm but that too would be more difficult when the baby came.

There was also the matter of Orion’s art, the paintings and drawings that Mr Tuke, who was, after all, a famous artist, made so much fuss over. He should have an exhibition, he was always saying. People would pay money for them. But with a baby in the house and the need for Orion to work still harder on his garden, this might not be possible and the opportunity missed.

It was no wonder Mary frowned as she bent over her sewing.

 

Faith – Falmouth. April.

She had never been happier. Even the fact that Papa had allowed her to spend the holiday with Amy only because, as he had eventually written, ‘Your dear Mama’s health is causing concern and it will give some relief to Elsie if you are not at home,’ could not spoil her pleasure.

It was sad that Mama was ill, although she did seem to be ill more often than she was well, and  that Papa obviously viewed her own presence as a hindrance rather than a help. She was fond of her mother, of course; everyone loved their mothers, but it was getting harder and harder to remember her as other than someone who lay on the drawing room couch until it was time for her afternoon rest which often lasted until it was time to retire for the night. Who seemed to find fault with everything Faith did. Who seemed sometimes not even to like her very much…

When she watched Mrs Pearce, Amy’s mother, who had said she must call her Aunt Hetty, playing cricket in the garden, racing wildly between the wickets in spite of her long skirts, or giving horse-back rides to little George or Thomas, who clung onto her hair as if it were reins until it came loose from its fastenings, it was hard not to feel just a little envious and wish there was something she could do to make her own mother better or to care for her more.

Not that she had ever played games with her children as Aunt Hetty did but then the Pearces’ home in Falmouth could not have been more different to Faith’s home in Redruth, where games were frowned upon, where the piano was rarely opened and then only for the dull tunes Elsie favoured and where even visitors spoke in lowered tones.

She could pray for Mama, of course, as her father and the Elders of their Meeting instructed her, and she duly added ‘and please, if it be Thy will, make Mama better again’ to the long list of God Blesses that made up her nightly prayers. She knew, all the same, that even if her prayer was granted her mother would never be like Aunt Hetty.

And the prayers were another difference between the Pearce household and her own.

The first night she had knelt automatically, next to her bed and, having her eyes obediently shut, did not notice that Amy was not doing the same. It was not until the second night when she saw her come back from the bathroom and clamber straight into bed that she realised…

“Don’t you say your prayers,” she asked, “when you’re at home?”

For at school every girl knelt beside the bed for the required two minutes, watched over by their housemistress or her deputy.

Amy reached for her book.

“I don’t say them when I’m at school. I just kneel and count the seconds. It’s very boring. Perhaps saying prayers would be more interesting if I believed in God but as I don’t there’s no point.”

“I suppose not.”

Sometimes Faith wasn’t entirely sure that she believed in God either. He was supposed, after all, to be kind and gentle but He seemed to allow horrible things to happen and, although Papa had explained that He was testing their faith, there was a great deal in the bible about the punishment of sinners and, although there seemed to be nothing the matter with that, she couldn’t be entirely sure that He didn’t sometimes punish the wrong people.

Poor Mrs Laity who attended their Meeting, for example. Her little daughter had died when she was three years old, her son had been killed in a mining accident, her husband had died young of one of the breathing diseases so common among miners and now she was so crippled with arthritis that her back was bent almost double. And yet she was a good person. She came every Sunday to Meeting for Worship. Even when she was in terrible pain she baked bread that her arthritic hands made it almost impossible to knead for her elderly neighbours and gave more generously than Faith felt she could afford for the relief of the poor.

It was possible, of course, that Mrs Laity was really, underneath it all, very sinful and deserved all the terrible things that had happened to her but it seemed unlikely. She had always been kind to Faith and smiled so gently that she must be a good actress to hide so much wickedness. Which meant that God must be mistaken – but He was meant to be All-Knowing and All-Seeing, which was something else Faith found hard to understand.

The following night she said her prayers in bed, pretending to be asleep. Which was, she supposed, a sin when Elders at Meeting said that they should be proud of their beliefs, and perhaps it would be more honest not to say her prayers at all – but perhaps she might endanger her poor mother if she failed to pray for her…

But it was only in bed at night that such thoughts came. Mostly she was enjoying herself too much to worry about anything. For the weather was glorious and the Pearces’ house was built right above the beach at Gyllyngvase, where she and Amy passed entire days building castles in the gritty sand, collecting shells, paddling in the sea or, when the tide was low, clambering across the rocks with their jam jars tied at the necks with loops of string, to search for shrimps and crabs and the tiny fish which darted around the pools.

The conservatory along the front wall of the house stank, Mr Pearce complained in mock horror, of the bowls of festering seawater they brought home with them in their attempts to keep their catches alive – and that was another great difference between this house and her own. The horror in her home, had she dared bring in something so unhygienic, so much of the outdoors, would have been real and long-lasting. Just as the state of her shoes and stockings – in spite of their being pulled off the moment they reached the beach – and her skirt and petticoat, inevitably soaked and crusted with salt, would have been greeted with cries of anger and disgust. She would have been made to remove them immediately, take them, with apologies, to the kitchen and would be expected, without it even needing to be stated, to never repeat such an activity.

“God created you a young lady, not a hooligan,” her father would have said. “You should be ashamed.”

But Papa so often expected her to be ashamed about what did not seem to be such very terrible things and it was a surprise to discover how different Amy’s father was.

“What mischief have you been up to today?” he asked most evenings, as if mischief was something to be expected, and often he encouraged them to do things Faith would never have dared even consider at home. Playing hide and seek, for example, under the beds and in the closets. Building a ‘den’ amongst the hydrangeas and rhododendrons in the garden. Making a pile of cushions on the hall floor and seeing who could jump from the highest point on the stairs…

“Perhaps that is high enough,” he had spluttered, helping Faith to her feet after she had broken their record by jumping from the seventh stair. “I doubt your mama would thank us for returning you home with a broken leg!”

He made no comments, however, about young ladies or hooligans.

 

Falmouth – Henry. July.

He had been away from Falmouth for seven months and was, as always, glad to be back, even though last summer – he could look back on it now without too much pain – had been such a difficult one for him.

He had worked hard of course; it was in his nature to do so, spending much of his time on a new painting of Georgie Fouracre, his housekeeper’s son, standing naked in the sunshine in the woods at Pennance behind the cottage he rented above the bay at Swanpool. Unusually for him, the sea did not feature – or only in the distant background. The boy stood among trees and bushes, arms uplifted towards the sun as if he might be worshipping it and Henry had felt, as he worked on it, almost defiant. He had not believed, for many years now, in the Christian God and the blow he had suffered earlier that year, losing Orion, for whom he had cared so lovingly, to the young girl he had paid to keep his cottage clean, had not been likely to bring him back to the fold. How much safer it was, he could not help but believe, to worship the beauty of the natural world, which would not let him down.

It was with a feeling that he was working out some sort of grudge that he had painted through the warm summer of 1903 but he had needed an even greater outlet for his energies – and it was fortunate that his new boat, the Flamingo, a gaff-rigged cutter with seven hundred square feet       of sail, built in Jackett’s yard at Greenbank on the far side of Falmouth, had been ready for her first outing in June.

The weather that summer was glorious, Flamingo was a magnificent craft and he won almost every race he entered. There was no stopping Henry his friend the wealthy South African, Alfred de Pass, who had only recently taken up sailing, remarked. And no beating him either, he added gloomily, this being something he had hoped, with so much more money at his disposal, to achieve easily.

And yet it was no good. Alfred and his other friends might not recognise it but this hectic activity had been Henry’s attempt to conceal from himself the emptiness he could not help feeling inside. As he strode back towards Swanpool after a day on the water… As he rowed back from a day’s painting in Sunny Cove… As he shut the door behind a group of his departing friends… Once he was on his own there was no escaping the memory of his loss, which lingered like a night cloud trailing out across a summer sky, towing the greater darkness behind it.

It was a sort of bereavement, he supposed, taking him back to the time after his father’s death when a random thought would break painfully in on other activities, reminding him of what he would have preferred to forget. Except that a real bereavement was more public; something that could be shared and for which he could accept sympathy, whilst the loss of his young friend was too private even for his personal diary, which others might read after his death..

His boys – Johnny Jackett, son of the boat-builder, Charley Mitchell, who  looked after his boats for him, Bert White and the other lads who acted as his models –  were glad to be in demand again, to crew for him on the Flamingo, to model for him or just to play cricket or football. But none of them were Orion. None had his thoughtful, unspoilt nature, the quiet calm that came, perhaps, from spending so much time among his growing plants, or his simple, honest talent for his art.

He was fond of them; of course he was. They were lively, energetic, rough – at times downright coarse. They were, after all, quay scamps – boys who lived and played and worked around Falmouth’s waterfront, diving into the murky waters of the inner harbour for the coins tossed by summer visitors, diving under moored boats, splashing and ducking each other. Orion – quiet, serious Orion – could not have been more different and, much as Henry enjoyed the company of Charley, Bert and the others, his heart still ached for the awkward, handsome lad who had touched him more deeply than any other.                                                                              

His other friends, in the social sphere to which he more properly belonged – Charles Masson    Fox, May Bull and Alfred de Pass – also welcomed back the companion they had missed in the past two years, delighted to have a keen bridge-player, an unattached, presentable and sociable dinner guest, an active, energetic man, always ready to organise a game of cricket or take part in swimming parties.

His friend, the artist Charles Hemy, had also been pleased to see more of his younger friend, although he had no interest in cricket or swimming – or, for that matter, bridge. He also regarded Henry with a more concerned eye, since he knew, as the others did not, the reason they had seen so little of him during 1901 and 1902, when Henry’s time and energies were concentrated on his friendship – Charles, the devout Catholic who believed in plain speaking, would have called it an obsession – with the handsome young market garden assistant with some slight talent for drawing.

Charles had helped Henry then, when he was in despair over the boy’s violent and dangerous father’s threats to his life. He had disapproved of everything about Henry’s emotional attachment but had stood by him, even when Henry had, to Charles’s mind, deceived him and, instead of sponsoring his journey to the new world of America – as Charles had agreed with the boy’s mother – had set him up in a cottage further down the south Cornish coast, where he might still visit him.

And when the boy had – as the more realistic, or more cynical, Charles could have foreseen – repaid Henry’s generosity by falling for the girl he had arranged to clean and cook for him, it was, of course, to Charles he had turned in his despair. Even now, over a year later, he felt his bushy eyebrows rise heavenwards as he remembered that scene.

But he was still glad to have Henry back in Falmouth. They might be very different in character and in the religious beliefs that were so important to Charles but they shared a love of the sea and sailing and in painting both and he had always enjoyed the company of his younger, more sociable friend.

He was not, however, impressed with his latest painting – which Henry, anticipating this, had not shown him until it was almost finished. As a work of art Charles found no fault with it. The surrounding trees, the flowers and undergrowth, the glimpse of Falmouth bay, the summer sky with its fluffy clouds were finely executed, as was the central figure of the boy with outstretched arms.

But the boy was completely naked. And he was facing straight on to the viewer.

Henry’s paintings frequently featured naked boys – his ability to depict the structure of their bodies and the effect of sunlight on their skin was one of the hallmarks of his work – but always with their backs turned or their male parts concealed by an arm or a crossed thigh. This boy concealed nothing and Henry, Charles could tell, was uneasy about his reaction.

There was also the question of what the boy was meant to represent and, with his arms raised to the sky, it was impossible not to feel that there was something uncomfortably pagan about the picture. Surely the boy was not meant to be worshipping the sun? And did Henry really intend to send it for exhibition without at least some concealing draperies?

They discussed this – perhaps even argued about it – for some time and the matter was left unresolved – at least for the moment.

 

Ida Goss – Falmouth.

It had been another lovely day, although Ida, in Mrs Trembath’s kitchen in Kimberley Park Road, had seen little of it. For Mrs Trembath was entertaining friends to a card party for which Ida had spent her day preparing. A chicken had been boiling on the range all morning, adding to the heat of the basement, to make chicken cream which, with a ham and some savoury tarts, would form the basis of the accompanying supper, together with apple and cinnamon tartlets and both a saffron and a seed cake.

Mrs Trembath’s parlourmaid being young and inexperienced, she had also needed to check arrangements in the sitting and drawing rooms. That the silver was untarnished – it was not and she had spent a good half hour going over with Clarice the correct way to clean and buff it. That the best table linen was clean, starched and uncreased – again it was not and she had been forced to heat the irons. That the carpet had no crumbs or dirt – it had plenty and it had been necessary to go over it with the carpet sweeper Mrs Trembath had recently been persuaded to buy. That the flowers were fresh and had clean water – they were; flower arrangements being one detail with which Clarice appeared to be familiar…

At last, having set out the trays of sweetmeats and leaving the plates and cutlery and linen napkins, alongside the plates of food covered with their white cloths, for Clarice, who at least looked the part, to take into the dining room at the appropriate time, she was free to go home.

 

Where she sits now at her kitchen table, a cup of tea in front of her, staring out into the yard where the heat of the day is caught, as if in a bowl, between the wall of the quarry and the row of cottages and outhouses that stand between them. A child, one of the Richards children from next door, stumbles, clutching at his short trousers, towards the shared privy, emerging moments later with a dark stain down their front. Which will mean, Ida thinks grimly, that the privy floor will, once again, be soaked and, since Mrs Richards is a known slattern, will stink more than normal unless Ida does something about it.

Which, as both she and Mrs Richards know, she will.

The last of the sun catches the flowers of the buddleia that clings on, in spite of gravity and an almost total lack of soil, halfway up the quarry wall. Butterflies hang drowsily as if drugged, wings outstretched against the deep purple flowers. Below them clumps of red and white valerian also bloom – the only colour now that the garden Orion once planted has become overgrown and littered with the detritus of the other families whose houses back onto the yard and the flowers and vegetables he worked so hard to cultivate have almost completely vanished.

As, Ida thinks gloomily, has Orion himself.

She misses him. Perhaps, she wonders, being always so busy, she never showed him as much affection as she felt. (Or, perhaps, for more complex reasons, felt less affection than she should have.) Whatever the truth is, she misses her younger son now that he has left home – not, as she had expected, for a new life in the new world of America but for a life that is not, perhaps, so different from the old one, a mere ten miles down the coast.

And yet, for all she sees of him, she thinks, sipping discontentedly at her tea, he might as well be in America. For in the two years since he has been gone – to a cottage belonging to the artist Mr Tuke, whose friendship with Orion had caused all the trouble in the first place – she has seen him just once, last December, when a neighbour offered her a ride in his wagon.

Which was when she found out for the first time about this Mary. His wife, Orion called her, although they had had no sort of wedding, which upset Ida, good Methodist as she was. On the other hand the girl seemed decent enough, the cottage was well kept and it appeared there was no longer any need of those unmentionable fears that had been so hard to keep from her head.

For Mr Tuke, as well as being an artist, which was bad enough, was unmarried – a suspicious state for a man in his forties with no obvious deficiencies – and was well known – famous even – for his paintings of boys and young men without their clothing. Not that – as far as Ida knew – he had ever painted Orion without his clothing but it had become obvious that he felt some affection for the boy – affection that his brother Alfred and their estranged father Percy, had interpreted as unnatural lust, with the result that Orion had been savagely beaten and threatened with worse until Mr Tuke had removed him to a place of safety.

Where he had met and fallen for this Mary, which, as far as Ida was concerned, was a happy enough ending, although she would have prefered it if they had come back to Falmouth where, now that Percy Goss was dead, there was no longer anything to fear. Orion could have gone back to his job in Mr Rouse’s market garden, he and Mary could have lived with Ida, which would have been company for her, as well as help with the rent.

Ida would have liked help with the rent – two shillings a week was a large sum when she earned just thirty pounds a year – and she would have liked some company. For her older son Alfred, after one final altercation, had at last moved out and – more tragically for Ida – her friend Bea Rogers, bed-ridden for many years, had at last died.

Up to a month ago today, Friday, would have been her evening for visiting Bea. For sitting in the small bedroom overlooking the road between the railway station and the docks, drinking tea, sewing and talking over the week’s events, reminiscing about their girlhoods, ten miles away in Redruth – carefree days it seemed now, when they were young and attractive and enjoyed the attentions of young men – and their far less carefree lives since they had both married dockworkers in Falmouth, neither of whom had turned out well.

Certainly Ida missed Bea’s company more than she was ever likely to miss Alfred’s, which had never been worth much.

Sometimes it seemed, in her grief, that she missed her more than she missed Orion.

Uncertainties of Love and Hope Chapter 1.

London February 1904 Henry Scott Tuke.

 

Was he beginning, at long last, to recover?

Perhaps it was the daffodils, those clumps of bold yellow trumpets below the trees of Green Park, their perfume, as he bent to breathe it in, almost as powerful as those growing wild in the Cornish fields. Or perhaps it was the thought of the trip he was about to make – two months or more on the Mediterranean coast, escaping the British winter – by no means over, despite the daffodils – to paint in the sun.

He lost, as he strode out into Piccadilly, the scent of the flowers, overwhelmed by the stench of horse and human waste. The overhanging pall of coal dust caught at his nostrils, his throat tingled and memories of the clear Cornish air vanished from his mind. Working his way between the hansoms, broughams, motor buses, tramcars and the crested carriage of at least one aristocratic family, all brought to a standstill by congestion in Piccadilly Circus, he sauntered in the direction of Burlington Gardens and the Ladies’ Naval and Military Club where he was due to lunch with a Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs Grundy, to discuss the portrait they had commissioned him to paint. He was much in demand these days as a portraitist, which left him less reliant on sales of his other works.

Those ‘other works’ – his studies of ships and seascapes and the other, more controversial, paintings of boys, mostly naked, generally in or around boats or sitting or lying on one of the beaches near the little house in Falmouth where he spent many months of the year – would always be his favourites but it was undeniably pleasant to have a secure income.

Perhaps this thought also contributed to his improved mood.  

 

Redruth, Cornwall. Faith Vigo.

She wrapped her shawl around her mouth and nostrils on account, not of the cold but the dust clogging the air this early spring morning. Air which, had the wind been blowing from the north, would have been clear and salt-scented from the Atlantic ocean four miles distant but, since it was blowing from the south, was filled with mineral dust from the great, multi-headed steam stamp at Carnkye, which was a great deal closer.

It was nothing, Papa was always telling her, to the conditions men suffered working underground in the mines, sometimes in up to a hundred degrees of heat, in air thick with powder from the rock blasting and the fumes from the  tallow candles on their hats. Or the bal maidens, who worked on the surface, crushing the ore with their hammers, their hands and faces scarred and pitted from the flying shards of stone – not to mention stained red from the iron oxide in the ore.

Here, high up in Clinton Road, where the air was relatively fresh, if still tainted by the sulfurous smoke from several dozen mines all burning the cheapest coal, they had, he would tell her, nothing to complain about. She should think more about her fellow men and women and less about herself.

Papa was right, of course, but when her eyes stung and the bitter-tasting dust filled her throat and set her coughing it was hard to feel as grateful as he expected. And yet how often had she seen men who, however old they might look, might be less than forty years old – miners not living to any great age – collapsed against a wall or clinging to a lamp standard in order to keep upright as they struggled to breathe? Or their pale skin disfigured with great, scarlet blotches from one of the dreadful diseases contracted from the human dirt left below ground? Or missing limbs from one of the frequent blasting accidents or from getting them caught in machinery?

She was indeed fortunate and she should give thanks for this, not complain about a small inconvenience like dust. Had not George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, to which her family belonged, told them they should walk cheerfully over the world – and he had written this from prison in Launceston, which was notorious for its terrible conditions?

What right had she, Faith Vigo, to complain?

Except that she was still coughing half an hour later when she returned from changing her mother’s library books. And Mama, downstairs for the first time in days to rest on her couch in the drawing room, was not pleased with her selection.

“I’m certain I’ve read this one before.” She flicked a languid finger across the first book in the little pile. “And it wasn’t at all to my taste.”

Sighing, she lay back and closed her eyes. The books remained, unopened, on the table.

And would need, Faith thought, to be removed before her father came home.

For her mother was not, like the rest of the family, a member of the Society of Friends. Father had, in Quaker terminology, ‘married out’ and, although pretty Maud Vigo had been pleased enough to be married to such a good-looking, hard-working and relatively successful man and had attended Meetings for Worship with him in the early years of their marriage, she had bored of the sobriety and disciplined nature of the life she was expected to lead and it was many years since she had involved herself in the life of the Society.

Perhaps William Vigo had become stricter in his observances as he became older but there was certainly a disparity between his wife’s tastes, in clothing, in furnishings and in recreational activities and his own. Where William valued simplicity in all things – including their food – and spent what leisure time he had on Quaker work, Maud would have preferred a more frivolous style of living.

Perhaps, Faith often thought, this was why her mother spent so much of her time in her prettily furnished, bedroom. Frivolity was not a commodity in great supply in their house in Clinton Road.

But at least tomorrow – she took up the knitting she had discarded earlier – she would be returning to school after the half term break, which, although other girls might complain that the holiday had been too brief, she would have been happy to do without. Anything would be better than sitting here, struggling to knit a woolen baby vest for the New Mothers’ Comfort Box, while her mother complained about her library books and where the windows, tight-closed as always, did not keep out the constant thudding of the tin and copper stamps or the clatter from further up the hill behind the house of the mineral tramway, which ran between the ports of Portreath on the North Coast and Devoran in the South, carrying either tin or copper ore to be shipped to Wales for smelting or the imported coal which supplied the mines.

“My poor head. It could be bursting!” Her mother, her thoughts echoing Faith’s own, gave a little shudder and pulled her shawl closer about her shoulders. “I shall go to my room.”

“Oh please don’t.” It was not good for her, Doctor Henderson had said, to spend so much time in bed. “Would you like me to read to you?”

“And worsen my headache still more?” Her mother closed her eyes in irritation. “Please allow me to know what is best for myself.”

Pulling open the door as if it had caused her some injury – although perhaps it was Faith who had done this – Maud Vigo gathered her skirts around her and swept through it. Faith remained helplessly in her chair, the half-knitted woolen item in a sad heap in her lap.

 

Henry. London.

“How’s your young protege, Harry? That good-lookin’ Cornish lad you were teaching to draw. Farmer’s boy or somethin’?”

“He’s very well. At least he was last time I saw him. And he was a market gardener…”

Rufus Bonham was not a friend, although they belonged to some of the same clubs and, unfortunately in Henry’s view, the same circle of acquaintance. And it was obvious that no-one had thought to warn him to keep off the subject of Henry’s ‘young protege’ – although it was equally possible that they had done so and that Bonham, who had little discretion or concern for other people’s feelings, had chosen to ignore them.

“Market gardener… farmer… All the same, surely?”

Bonham reached for the decanter and helped himself to more of his host’s claret.

“I doubt either would agree. However, the boy is settled with his own small plot but continues to draw and paint. I am hoping to arrange an exhibition of his work when I am back in Falmouth in the summer.”

His anxiety to prove imperturbable misfired, merely arousing Bonham’s interest still further.

“Are you indeed?” The salacious grin that spread across the man’s slightly too-red lips – was it possible, Henry wondered, he was using some sort of cosmetic preparation? – was at odds with the jealous glint in his eyes. (And the man was jealous, he reminded himself, of his success as an artist and at the loyalty he inspired in the young men who were willing to pose naked for him.) “Are you then settin’ yourself up as his protector?” He smiled again. More suggestively, if possible, than before.

Henry, who rarely if ever lost his temper, felt the anger rise up inside him now as if it were a living creature that might take hold and overwhelm him. That might drag him from his seat to lean across the dinner table, reaching his hand for his almost-full glass to fling it with the force of the handy bowler he was into the grinning face of the man opposite…

“I certainly…”

“Ladies and Gentlemen!”  His host’s interruption could not have been better timed. “I would like to propose a toast,” Hugh went on, “to our friend Harry Tuke, who has been elected a member of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour,” and the whole table rose, turning towards Henry, raising their glasses and calling out their congratulations. After which it was easy to turn away from Bonham to the neighbour on his left – Lizzie Carnoustie, a lovely, somewhat unconventional, woman married, in Henry’s view, to one of the dullest men in London, but one who had at least the virtue of allowing her the freedom to enjoy a social life of her own.

“You look rather upset.” She spoke in the lowest register of her naturally husky voice, “for a man who’s just been elected to the Royal Society of Something or Other. Is something wrong?”

“Nothing that ten minutes of your undivided attention will not put right.” Henry could not resist swivelling his eyes, very slightly, in the direction of Bonham.

“Ah.” Lizzie was quick on the uptake. “Our resentful friend. Who is wearing, if I’m not mistaken, a cochineal salve on his lips.”

“Really?” Henry’s anger dissipated as quickly as it had been aroused.

“Oh yes, It’s the same as I wear myself.”

She had an almost boyish face, Lizzie, in spite of her tawny mass of piled-up hair and the attractively – in her case – reddened lips to which she had referred. A healthy, open-air complexion that matched her energetic stride and her enthusiasm for games of tennis and cricket.

“In which case, I have to say it becomes you far more.”

Henry leaned over to whisper into her ear, moving smartly back as she let out a shout of unladylike laughter.  

“Dear Harry!” She put down her fork to lay her hand against his wrist. “What a shame…”

What a shame what? He might have wondered. What a shame that Lizzie was married to one of the dullest men in London? Or what a shame that Henry was, as she might have expressed it, ‘just not interested.’

He liked women – of course he did. He was a sociable man who liked most people – and could generally find something of interest even in those he did not like – and he enjoyed especially the company of women like Lizzie, cheerful, lively women with a love of sports and other activities. (And one particular activity in which Henry, had he been a different sort of man and in spite of the dull husband, might have been happy to join her.) But he was not, it seemed, that sort of man and now, approaching the age of forty six, was unlikely to change.

“Hugh has promised bridge after dinner,” he said now, as she removed the hand and turned her attention to her fricase’ed sweetbreads. “I hope you will partner me.”

“I hope so too. I have already spent this month’s allowance and need some winnings.”

Henry was, Lizzie knew, an excellent player of cards.

Change of Tack.

People keep asking when the sequel to The Improbable Story of Orion Goss will be ‘coming out’. Not in their thousands, hundreds or even dozens but at the rate of about one a week, which isn’t bad, I guess, for an unknown author and certainly gives my confidence a boost.

On the other hand, I have no answer to give them. The sequel is finished – at least it’s gone through at least half a dozen drafts and, although I keep thinking of possible improvements, I’m pretty pleased with the way it is. All I have to do is find a publisher. Or an agent who will find a publisher for me.

Simple!

Unfortunately not. The publishers of the first novel have decided they want to restrict themselves to poetry in future, which is fair enough, so I have to start from scratch and, as a friendly agent told me, no publisher is likely to want to publish Part Two, when they didn’t do Part One. Also fair enough.

Also I realise, late in the day, that I do need an agent. As it happens I did quite well out of Orion One but almost all my earnings came from copies I sold myself and via galleries and bookshops that I approached. I think the only royalty cheque I received was for around £42 and that was over three years ago – in spite of the fact that a number of people have told me they’ve bought the book on Amazon and a couple of Waterstones’ stores are still stocking it, so it is presumably still selling. Obviously I need an agent who knows what they’re doing to represent me.

But agents don’t need me! I’ve done all the things we’re told to do. I’ve sent off my carefully crafted letters – carefully crafted according to the experts at Guardian workshops! – to a number of selected agents whose interest is in the kind of books I write and I have to say the answers have been fairly flattering. Most of them say they like my writing and give the impression of having read the extracts I’ve sent but the ending is always the same. “I’m sorry, it’s not for us.”

And it’s such a bore! I love writing. I even enjoy the dull, proof-reading part. When I was asked to talk about my book I loved doing that as well. But sending off attachment after attachment to agents and publishers is just the end. So much of the business of attracting a publisher is, we are told, a matter of luck. Or who you know? Or already having a name in some other area of achievement. If I was a top model or a sports personality or a celebrity gardener or even, heaven help the world, an MP I’d stand a much better chance of publication.

It’s too late for that, however, and I’ve reached a decision! No more sending off to agents or publishers and no, I’m not going down the self-publishing route. I already have a busy enough life and I’m not getting into that. Instead I’m taking the far easier route of putting Orion Two online – a couple of chapters at a time. Then my tiny band of readers can satisfy their curiosity and I can stop beating myself up.

Good idea? Let me know what you think.

Water Music?

I seem to have been able to swim for ever, although I can dimly remember having two little air bags called water wings attached somewhere under my arms and catching in the elasticated bobbles of my…

Source: Water Music?

Talking to Snowdrops

I’d been worrying about them for days. Surely snowdrops are meant to come out before daffodils and there were the daffs in my neighbours’ garden flowering away in the mistaken belief that spring was on the way whilst my snowdrops were nowhere to be seen. Normally I have a relatively spectacular display but this year… nothing. Had I somehow managed to dig them up without noticing? All of them? In different parts of the garden? Did they not like rain? (It has been raining more or less non stop since September) Or is there some sort of Galanthus blight and my garden has contracted it?

Then, last Saturday, in a gap between showers, I went out to clear the leaves from the happily flowering hellebores and comb the moss with which the rain has carpeted our beds and there they were. Dozens of slender white spears thrusting their way bravely upwards.   ‘There you are my loves!’ I exclaimed. (Sorry, that’s the only word for it.) ‘How very clever of you. Now just wait there and I’ll cover you with some nice, fresh compost.’

Yes, Prince Charles isn’t the only one who talks to his plants – it’s probably the only thing we have in common – but I can’t help it. If these lovely things have made the effort to grow in my garden it seems only polite to thank them – or, in the case of unwanted interlopers, to tell them what I intend to do to them.

My neighbour, on the other hand, quietly troweling away on the far side of the intervening hedge, may well have imagined I’d lured a couple of our infant grandchildren into the cold in order to play a bizarre form of hide and seek on a theme of Babes in the Wood.

And I’m doing far too much of this talking to inanimate objects I realise – with apologies to the snowdrops, who were doing their best to be animated.

For years I’ve done it in supermarkets. I’ve only recently stopped berating oranges for coming from South Africa and I still mutter angrily at peppers and avocados as I search out their provenance or complain at the innocent bunch of asparagus that’s made the effort to fly all the way from Peru. But I have, I noticed, got worse…

‘Five doughnuts!’ I heard myself snarl at Sainsbury’s bakery shelves the other day. ‘I want one doughnut; not five. No wonder there’s so much obesity about.’ And, three aisles further on, ‘I want pistachios. Plain pistachios. Not salted. Not sweet-chili flavoured,  for heavens sake! Is it too much to ask?’ Before going on to complain at the decaff coffee for hiding on the bottom shelf.

All this in addition to the normal, ‘Onions, onions; don’t forget the onions,’ and ‘Was it plain or self-raising we needed?’

Quite soon I expect a young man in a suit, with an identity tag around his neck, to take me gently by the elbow and suggest I might like to just come with him. Before asking if there’s anyone at home who might be worried about me…

So, if I was going to make a new year’s resolution it would be this – to talk only to people or at least, if I must swear at a pear, to hold my phone to my face and pretend that’s what I’m talking to. It’s what everyone else does after all.

 

 

Speaking into the Silence.

I’ve loved the paintings of Eric Ravilious since I first saw one in the little Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden, near where he lived for a while in the 1930s with his artist friend Edward Bawden.

I love his  landscapes – cross-hatched hillsides, elegantly bare-branched trees, geometric lines of ploughed fields, rutted roads or telegraph wires, often with detailed depictions of old vehicles or weird bits of agricultural machinery or blank, unprepossessing barns or farmhouses half-hidden behind a spiky hedge.

I love his strangely beautiful interiors – symmetrical rows of potted cyclamen in a greenhouse where the bricks of the lower walls and the drainage holes in the floor draw your eye into the distance; or narrow, iron-framed bedsteads in bedrooms that would be utterly bleak except for the wild, brightly-coloured, geometrically patterned rugs and wall papers.

I love, perhaps more than anything, his views from windows – especially his beautifully detailed Third Class railway carriage with its leather window strap, the vicious, heavy door lock capable of crushing fingers to a pulp (and I’ve seen that happen) and, beyond, the thrilling view of west country hills and a glorious white horse cut into the chalk.

The pictures suggest a world under control. Organised, silent, calm and cared for. If there is mystery or danger in them, they are kept safely at a distance and there are rarely any figures to disturb the silence.

But the 1930s came crashing to an end with the Second World War, Ravilious was taken on as a war artist and on September 2nd 1942 died in an aircraft that was lost on an air-sea rescue mission off the Icelandic coast.

The current exhibition of his work, at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, begins with his calm and cared-for landscapes but ends, inevitably, with war. The old caravans and bits of agricultural machinery are replaced by aircraft swooping about runways, barrage balloons, battleships and gunnery emplacements. The quiet farmhouse interiors change to operation rooms and map corridors, where a shadowy figure or an empty chair stand in for human beings. The scenery changes to seascapes where convoys of small ships slip through the darkness or wait at anchor in a dark Norwegian fjord.

There are more figures here than in the earlier pictures, where there were more horses than humans, but they are mostly in uniform – or disguised in sea-caps and oilskins – and the quietness remains. Even the gunfire consists of light rather than sound.

They are pictures to be contemplated in silence.

Except, apparently, not.

A large young woman, with a voice to match, was just ahead of us in the queue for the gallery. Talking. And continued to talk her way through the first room – those quiet farmhouses and peaceful ploughed fields. Not about the pictures, which would have been bad enough but understandable, but about friends, work-colleagues, what she did last night… Not loudly but in a carrying accent.

What is the etiquette here, I wonder? Art galleries are not churches or theatres or libraries. Silence is not enforced. And it was actually the accent which caused me the problem but I could hardly say ‘excuse me but could you stop talking with an American accent?’ And yet she was spoiling my pleasure. And, I noticed, that of her companion who was doing her best to concentrate on the pictures and moved, to my relief, faster and faster until she had almost managed to escape into the next room. She exited, however, ‘pursued by a bear’ as her large friend followed, still eager to let her into the secrets of her life but leaving the rest of us in relative peace.

She reminded me of my room-mate in my first year at university – a perfectly nice girl but with a loud, English public school accent which I found embarrassing and never more so than at the theatre. I can’t even remember what play it was now but I loved it, in the way only an impressionable eighteen-year-old can. The first interval found me huddled in my seat, wallowing in the words and sights I’d seen and just longing for it all to start again.

My room-mate stood up and loomed over me. “Wasn’t that simply spine-tingling?!” she bellowed in a voice bred to carry across three hunting fields. “Don’t you just feel completely wiped out?!”

And yes, actually, I did. My spine was tingling and I was wiped out with emotion – but I had no desire to tell the entire Aldwych Theatre. I like to enjoy my art, of whatever kind, in silence. Which at least harms no-one else.