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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.