Uncertainties of Love and Hope. Chapter 6.

Ida.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She has no idea how she feels about this either.

Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I give thanks….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Orion.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Henry

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

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

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

“You’re a sailor?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Not at the cost of my freedom.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

It seemed that she had also forgotten about her headache.

 

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

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

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

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

“And you know best, as usual.”

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

“I’m sorry. Miss Parkinson says…”

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

“I’m sorry.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ida.

“It won’t be at all convenient dear.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Orion

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Do you think they are happy?”

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

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

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

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

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

But not, she realised, today.

“Whad‘ee mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

When? Ida wondered but dared not ask.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mary

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Henry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry smiled, he hoped, politely.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She has, she recognizes, said too much.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Uncertainties of Love and Hope. Chapter 5.

 

Faith   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now she wished devoutly she had dared to do so.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing?

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

Faith! I asked what you were doing?”

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

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

“You thought...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Henry.

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

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

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

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

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

“That young man’s ‘ere to see you.”

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

“Which young man?”

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

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

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

 

Faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is not easy.”

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

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

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

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

“So when she saw me with the toys…”

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

Elsie nodded.

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

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

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

 

Orion

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

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

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

Except, it seemed, Henry.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Faith

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which explained, Faith imagined, the sprouting horsehair.

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

It seemed important, suddenly, to justify her visit.

“They’re out back.”

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

“Perhaps I’ll just…”

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

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

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

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

“Naw,” said one of them.

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

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

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

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

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

Uncertainties of Love and Hope. Chapter 4.

Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Orion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

“Don’t you come in, Ori. Not yet!”

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

“Is it the child?”

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

“Is she all right? Mary?”

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

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

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

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

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

Mary?

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

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

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

Maa-ary!

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

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

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

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

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

“What…?”

But what question should he ask?

What had happened while he was gone?

Why was Mrs Roscrow here?

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

For there was, it seemed, no baby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s ‘e to? The babby?”

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

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

“You don’ need worry midear.”

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Ida.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Orion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.