George Fenn.

Friends I Have Made

Thats the watery weakness again. Dont you take no notice of that; only, you know, whatever I get talking about seems, somehow or other, to work round to my poor boy as weve laid in the earth over yonder by the old church a human seed, sowed in corruption, to be raised in incorruption, eh? Those are the words, aint they, maam? And thats faith, too, youll say.

We were quite old folks when we married, you see, not being able to afford it early in life, and when that boy was born, being an odd, old-fashioned gardener of a man, I was always looking upon him as a sort of plant sent to me to bring up to as near perfection as we can get things in a garden that isnt Eden. And there I used to sit at dinner hours or teas having my pipe, as made the little thing sneeze, but kept away blight, you know: and then I used to plot and plan as to how Id work him; how, every now and then, I should, as he grew, carefully loosen all the earth about his tender young fibres, and give him some of the best, well-mixed, rich soil when I repotted him, shaking it well in amongst his roots, giving him room to grow, every now and then, by putting him in a larger pot, watching carefully for blight, taking away all green moss, giving him proper light and air, and all the time while it was nursery gardening, treating him as his tender nature required.

Light, rich, loamy soil I meant him to have as soon as he was fit to go on a border, and then I meant to train him; ah, that I did! Id made up my mind that no one else should touch him, but that Id train him myself. A weed shouldnt come near him, nor slug, nor snail neither, if I knew it, but Id cover him over, and shelter him from all frosts, and then watch him grow and grow in the light and warmth of Gods beautiful sunshine. And let me tell you that you people who live in your big towns dont know the real pleasure there is in seeing a young plant grow day by day, putting forth its wonderful leaves from out some tiny bud, where they have lain snugly shut up from the winters frosts, then the beautifully-painted flowers with their sweet scents. There, when I go to bed every night, in my humble fashion I thank God that I was made a gardener, with the chance through life of watching His wondrous works, and how He has ordained that man, by industry and skill, can change the wild, worthless weed or tree into the healthy, life-supporting vegetable or fruit. And yet I dont know but what Im doing you town-dwellers a wrong, for Ive seen many a pale face in your close, crowded courts watching patiently over some sickly, sun-asking flower in a broken pot, watering it, maybe, with a cracked jug, and then Ive longed to put that pale face down in such a place as my garden here I call it mine, you know, though its masters to watch it brighten, and see, as Ive often seen before now, the tears of joy come into the eyes of that pale face because things were so beautiful.

Theres nothing like gardens, maam, to make people good and pure-hearted, for theres something about flowers that leads the thoughts up and up, higher and higher.

I pity you folks in London. Theres religion in gardens, and I think if you put beautiful flowers within reach of people, you do them more good than by showing them grand buildings and sights. Theres a something in flowers that makes its way to the heart not only in the grandest blossoms, but in the simplest; and I aint going to set up for a prophetic person, but I mean to say that as long as this world lasts there will always be a tender love in every human heart for the little, gentle, sweet-scented violets. Ive lived in big towns myself, and seen the girls with their baskets full of fresh-gathered blossoms, nestling amongst green leaves, with the water lying upon them in big, bright beads, and when, being only a poor man, Ive spent my penny in a bunch of the fragrant little blossoms, and held it to my face, what have I breathed in? just the scent of a violet? Oh, no! but Gods bright country far away from the smoke, and bricks, and mortar and health and strength, and then it would be that a great longing would come on me to be once again where the wind blew free and the sun shone brightly.

That was, you know, when I went up to London to better myself, and didnt; thinking, you know, to get to be gardener to some great man, or in one of the societies, but there wasnt room for me.

Ive heard about some poet saying something about a man to whom a primrose by the rivers brim was a yellow primrose, and nothing more. I wonder what sort of a man that was, who could look upon the simplest flower that grows, and not see in it wonder, majesty, grandeur a handiwork beside which the greatest piece of machinery made by man seems as it were nothing. But there, thats always the way with violets and primroses, they always have a tendency towards bringing on that watery weakness. They do it with hundreds, bless you, if given at the right times. Theyre so mixed up with ones early life, you see, and with days when everything looked so bright and sunny; and with some people, I suppose, that is the reason why they act so upon them; while with me, you see, theres something else, for when I think of them, I can always see two little bunches lying upon a little breast, with never a breath to stir them, bright blossoms, smelling of the coming spring-time, but soon to be shut from the light of heaven, and buried deep, deep with that seed to be raised where chill winds never come, where the flowers are never-fading, and where the light of love shines ever upon those thought worthy to enter into that garden of life everlasting, amen!

For it was all in vain, it was not to be. I made all my plans, I took all the care I could, I meant to train and prune and cut out all foreright and awkward growths, I meant that boy to be something to be proud of; but it was not to be: he was not to blossom here, this did not seem to be his climate; and though I wouldnt see it, there was the plain fact, that there was a canker somewhere out of sight where it could not be got at; and though I tried, and the doctor tried, all we knew, it was of no use, and at last I was obliged to own that my little fellow was slowly withering away. I used to have him in his little chair in a sheltery spot, where there was sunshine, and give him a bunch of flowers to play with; but at last he grew too weak to be taken out, so I used to take him some flowers home, and it was always the same, he would hold them in his hand till they withered away, and then cry to see how they were faded.

And at last there came a day when he did not seem any worse than usual. It was one of those soft, bright, warm spring days, that come in all at once, setting the buds bursting, the birds building, and your heart seeming to drink in a kind of joy from the soft breeze. Id been to dinner, and was going back to the garden, to finish a bit of nailing in over there upon the south wall, that ought to have been done long before. Well, Id got to the door, when my poor little fellow burst out crying to go with me; and at last, seeing how bright and warm it was, and how sheltered he would be there, under the sunny wall, we wrapped him up, and I took him in his little chair to the warmest spot I could find, gave him some violets and primroses, and a crocus and snowdrop or two, and then I was soon up on my ladder, nailing away, laying in young wood there, moving a branch here, and, being fond of my work, and soon interested, I was sometimes a quarter of an hour together without looking at our little fellow; but I was down four times to pick him a fresh flower or two and the last time I was down I thought he seemed a little drowsy.

At last I got off to move my ladder, and had my foot on the round to get up again, when I looked at the little chair, and started to see that my boy was lying fast asleep, when, for fear of cold, I caught him up, and carried him towards our cottage; but I had not gone half-way, before a strange shudder seemed to run through me, and I stopped short to look in the little face, saying something that I knew would make him smile if he heard it; and then, hardly knowing what I did, I rushed home with my light burden, whose little hands were tightly holding some of Gods early gifts of spring against the little breast now growing colder and colder.

No, he didnt hear me; but there was just the faint dawning of a smile about his little mouth: for God is very kind to some of those he loves, and there was no sign of pain there as he went to sleep. And I cant think that Im wrong, in always fancying my boy where never-fading flowers bloom, for he was too young to have ever angered his Maker; and besides, did he not say, Suffer little children to come unto me, and Of such is the kingdom of heaven?

Dont you take no notice of me, thats a watery weakness; but, now, just look there, I went over every bit of that lawn reglar, last week, and then there wasnt a bit of daisy to be seen; while now, here they are coming up in a bunch. But it really is the case with flowers, that those you want to kill and get rid of wont die, while those you wish to save There, dont take no notice of me, its only a watery weakness.

Poor old Pengelly went away, for the weakness seemed disposed to increase, and for long enough he was busy weeding a nook of the garden far away from where I sat. He was very reticent afterwards, for days to come, and when at last he grew more sociable his face was hard, rugged and weather-stained, and he seemed the last man to have been influenced by a tender sympathetical thought.

Chapter Fifteen.
Salt Tears

That rugged exterior and tenderness of heart of the Cornish people render them marked amongst their fellows. It is questionable whether you would find in any part of England so respectable and religious a body of men as those of Cornwall. Whether fishers or miners it is the same, they are quiet, temperate, and God fearing, and certainly more intelligent than the men of many counties. I have often sat in the Rosss garden of an evening listening to the singing of the fishermen upon the cliff, not the roaring of some sailors chorus, but the sweetly blended parts of some old hymn, or glee for part singing lingers still amongst these Western folks.

Then as to education, I have been surprised at their amount of knowledge and reading. One fair ruddy sturdy old fellow, the corners of whose lips were not free from the stains of tobacco, used to take me out occasionally in his boat and showed me the various rocks and caves, and he surprised me by his reading. The first time I was out with him I found that his boat was called The Chemorne, and I naturally enough asked why he had given it so quaint a name.

Oh, it means Birch Canoe, he said, and when I asked further, he told me that he had found the name in Hiawatha, when he was reading Longfellows poems.

One of my greatest intimates though amongst the fishermen, was a quiet stern-faced middle-aged man, who seemed to have some great trouble upon his mind; and one evening when he had rowed me out beyond the headland, and lay upon his oars, he began talking to me about the sorrow of his life, the death of the woman he had loved and who was to have been his wife.

Yes, he said, I behaved bad to her maam, and all through blind obstinacy and want of faith.

Ive seen that same face of hers scores of times since, and though it makes me shudder, and nips me to the heart, I always go and have a good long earnest look at it, and come away a better man. You may see that face yourself as much like as if it had been taken from her sad, anxious looks you may see it at the picture-shop windows, and its of a woman tying a handkerchief round a mans arm, and she looks up at him pitifully, and its called The Huguenot. Thats like the look, and the face that gazed up into mine after shed told me what I know now was the truth; and I yet Im most ashamed to own it I flung her away from me, and wouldnt believe what she said. There was a tear upon each cheek, and the bright drops were brimming in her eyes, and ready to fall; but I was hard and bitter, and whispered to myself that they were false tears, put on to cheat me, and I ran out of her fathers house, swearing that Id enter it again no more.

Speaking as a fisherman, and one who was brought up with the sound of the sea always in his ears, I may say we rowed well together in the same boat, Mary and I. I had a long fight of it before I could persuade her that it would be best for her future that she should take me for pilot, and not Harry Penellyn; but I did persuade her at last, and we were to be married down at the little fishermens church at the head of the cove. So we worked and waited.

Two years of as happy a life then fell to my lot as could fall to that of any man in this life, I believe. My ways were rough, and hers were not those of a lady, but they suited our stations in life, and what more would you have? I look back upon that bright bit of life as if it was some dream; and though I cant settle to go back to the old place, I cling to the fish, and look upon those days when a Lozarne boat comes in, as days worth recollecting; for they bring the blood in ones cheek, and a bit of light into ones eye.

I can see it all now as plain as can be: the little fishing village under the cliff; the stout granite pier running out so as to form a harbour for the fishing-boats; and the blue sea, stretching away far as eye could reach. Down by its edge, too, the weed-fringed rocks, piled high in places, with the sea foaming amongst the crevices, and again forming little rock-pools where the bright sea growths flourished; and as the tide came in, with its fresh cooling waters, you saw the limpets and sea flowers wakening again to life, while many a spider-crab and shell-fish crept out of the nook or crack where it had hidden from the warm sun. I can see it all now at any time, though I am growing grey, and nigh a score of years have passed since; but brighter than all seem to stand out those two mournful eyes, with the same tearful look they gave me as I flung out of the door and saw them for the last time; for when next I looked upon that face the eyes were fast closed, and could I have opened them the lustre would have been gone.

A west country fishermans life is one which takes him a deal from home, for sometimes we go off for perhaps three months at a time to the north coast, or to Ireland when the herring season is on; and, like the rest, I used to be off in my boat, sorry enough to leave home happy enough to return after a busy season, till one year, when I took it into my head to think it strange that Harry Penellyn, Marys old beau, should spin his illness out so long and stop ashore, time after time, when the boats went out, and him seeming to be well and strong as any of us. There had been a heavy gale on the coast some weeks before, and, as we always do at such times, we had run in for the harbour as soon as we saw it coming; but, through bad seamanship, Penellyns boat came inside the rocks, when she should have come outside, and then, through their not having water enough, she grounded, lifted again, caught by the stern, and then swung round broadside to the waves, which swept her half deck, while a regular chorus of shrieks rose from the women standing ashore.

It was a rough time, for even our boats that were in the harbour were groaning and grinding together, while every now and then the sea washed over so as to threaten to fill them, and sweeping the pier from end to end. In an ordinary way we made a custom of laughing at the crew of a boat who, from bungling, got her on the rocks, for born as we were in the bay, with our fathers fishers before us, we knew every stone along the coast, and could almost have steered our boat to them blindfold; but this was no time to jeer, for now the poor fellows were being swept one by one from their hold, and borne struggling through the surf to the rocks, where they were in danger of being dashed to pieces, for ours was no smooth, sandy beach. Some were swimming, some beating the water frantically; and clad as our men are, in their thick cloth trousers, heavy sea boots, and stout Guernsey shirts, they stand a poor chance of keeping long afloat, for the weight of their boots is enough to drag them down.

There was every one in a state of excitement; some running out as far as they could and throwing ropes men shouting orders that nobody attended to women tossing their arms up and crying, while first one and then another of the boats crew was dragged ashore, and carried half drowned up to the cottages.

I was standing looking on, with Mary by my side, for she was out on the cliff when my boat ran into the little harbour, while her hand was the first to clasp mine when I got ashore, thankful for the escape we had had, for the sea had risen wonderfully quick. I had taken no part in trying to save the boats crew, for there were plenty of willing hands, and there being but little standing-room down below the cliff, I had thought I should be in the way; but now it seemed to me that one poor fellow would be lost with the efforts they were making to save him, for he was too weak to cling to the ropes thrown out, and as fast as he was swept in by the waves, they sucked him back.

I had not seen who it was, but just then, as I made a start as if to go down, Mary clutched, my arm, and there was a wild look in her face as she said aloud, Harry Penellyn.

The excitement of the moment carried almost everything before it, but I had a strange feeling shoot through my heart, and something seemed to say, Keep back; but the next minute I was fighting with the waves, with the noose of a rope round my body, and plenty of stout mates ashore fast hold of the end. Then, after a strangling battle, I got tight hold of Penellyn, and we were drawn ashore, and both of us carried up to Marys fathers cottage, though I tried hard to get upon my feet and walk, but I might have known that our fellows would not have let me on any account.

Well, Harry Penellyn lay there three or four days, and Mary tended him, and all that time I had to fight against a strange, ungenerous, cowardly feeling that would creep over me, and seemed at times to make me mad, till I got myself in a corner and asked myself questions, to all of which I could only answer the same word nothing. Then Penellyn got better, and went to his mothers house; and time went on, till I grew bitter, and harsh, and morose, and was always haunted by a suspicion that I would not put into words, while now the question came again and again Why doesnt Harry Penellyn go to sea?

But no answer came to my question; and though he seemed to be well and strong as ever, he always kept at home while we went out; and in my then state of mind this troubled me, and I kept feeling glad that we were only out now on the short trips of a few days in length. I grew angry with myself and with all around. Ay, and I grow angry even now, when I think that a few earnest words of explanation a few questions that I know would have been answered freely would have set all right, and perhaps saved the life of as good and loving a woman as ever lived in the light.

But it was not to be so; and I went on wilfully blinding my eyes to everything placing a wrong construction upon every look and word, and making those true eyes gaze at me again and again in wonder; whilst Harry Penellyn, who had never before shown me much goodwill, now that I had saved his life, would have been friends, only I met his every advance with a black scowl, when he always turned off and avoided me.

One evening it had come to the lot of my boat to run into harbour with the fish of several other boats; for the takes had been very light, and somehow or another I felt more bright and happy than I had done for weeks. I got ashore, left my mates tending the mackerel, and ran up to Old Carnes cottage to find Mary out.

This did not trouble me at first; but after a few minutes fidgeting about, I felt a flush come in my face, and hurrying out, I made an excuse at Mrs Penellyns, and got to know that Harry was out too.

The hot blood rose from my cheeks to my forehead, and seemed to blind me; then a strange singing sensation came in my ears; but the next minute I was tearing along the cove in the dark of the evening, so as to get away where I might be alone with my thoughts, for that vile suspicion that was struggling with me before, had now conquered and beaten me down, so that I was its slave, and for the time a regular madman.

I had run about half a mile, when I stopped panting, and began to walk slowly along beneath the trees close beside the fern-hung rocky bank, while it was now too dark to see far before me. But the next instant I was standing with my breath held, and one hand resting on my side, for as I crouched close to the bank I heard Penellyns voice, talking earnestly as he passed a few yards from me, with his arm tightly clasping a womans waist, and just as they had passed they stopped, and there was light enough for me to see him bend over her, and without stopping to think, I leaped from where I was hid, and, as the woman shrieked and fled, I had Penellyn by the throat, and we joined in a fierce struggle.

: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16