Love of Naomi, by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
The house known as Vellan's Rents stands in the Chy-pons over the
waterside, a stone's throw beyond the ferry and the archway where
the toll-keeper used to live. You may know it by its exceeding
dilapidation and by the clouds of steam that issue on the street from
one of its windows. The sill of this window stands a bare foot above
the causeway, and glancing down into the room as you pass, you will
see the shoulders of a woman stooping over a wash-tub. When first I
used to pass this window the woman was called Naomi Bricknell; later
it was Sarah Ann Polgrain; and now it is (euphemistically) Pretty
Alice. One goes and makes way for another, but the wash-tub is always
there and the rheumatic fever; and while these remain they will never
lack, as they have never lacked yet, for a woman to do battle for dear
life between them.
But my story concerns the first of these only, Naomi Bricknell. She
and her mother occupied two rooms in Vellan's Rents as far back as I
can remember, and were twisted with the fever about once in every six
months. For this they paid one shilling a week rent. If you lift the
latch and push the front door open, you seem at first to be looking
down a well; for a flight of thirty-two steps plunges straight from
the threshold to the quay door and a square of green water there. And
when the sun is on the water at the bottom of this funnel, the effect
is pretty. But taking note of the cold wind that rushes up this
stairway and into the steaming room where the wash-tub stands, you
will understand how it comes that each new tenant takes over the
rheumatic fever as one of the fixtures.
In a room to the right of the stairway, and facing Naomi's, lived a
middle-aged man who was always known as Long Oliver. This man was a
native of the port, and it was understood that he and Naomi had been
well acquainted, years ago, before he started on his first voyage and
some time before Naomi married. Tiring of the sea in time, he had
found work on the jetties and rented this room for sixpence a week. In
these days he and Naomi rarely spoke to each other beyond exchanging
a "Good-morning" when they met on the stairway, nor did he show any
friendliness beyond tapping at her mother's door and inquiring about
her once a day whenever she happened to be down with the fever. I have
made researches and find that the rest of the house was tenanted at
that time by a working block-maker, with his wife and four children;
a widow and her son just returned from sea with an injured spine; a
young couple without children. But these do not come into the tale.
Now the history of Naomi was this. She was married at three-and-twenty
to Abe Bricknell, a young sailor of the port, and as steady as a woman
could wish. In the third year of their married life, and a week
after obtaining his certificate, he sailed out of Troy as mate of a
fruit-ship, a barque, that never came back, nor was sighted again
after passing the Lizard lights.
Naomi—a tall up-standing woman with deep, gentle eyes, like a cow's,
and a firm mouth that seldom spoke—took her affliction oddly. She
neither wailed nor put on mourning. She looked upon it as a matter
between herself and her Maker, and said:
"God has done this thing to me; therefore I have finished with Him. I
am no man to go and revenge myself by breaking all the Commandments.
But I am a woman and can suffer. Let Him do His worst: I defy Him."
So she never set foot inside church again, nor offered any worship.
The week long she worked as a laundress, and sat through the Sundays
with her arms folded, gloomily fighting her duel. When the fever
wrenched her arms and lips as she stood by the wash-tub, she set her
teeth and said, "I can stand it. I can match all this with contempt.
He can kill, but that's not beating me."
Her mother, a large and pale-faced woman of sixty, with an apparently
thoughtful contraction of the lips, in reality due to a habit of
carrying pins in her mouth, watched Naomi anxiously during this period
of her life. And Long Oliver watched her too, though secretly, with
eyes screwed up after the fashion of men who have followed the sea.
One day he stopped her on the stairs and asked, abruptly:
"When be you thinkin' to marry again?"
"Never," she answered, straight and at once, halting with a hand on
her hip and eyeing him.
"Dear me; but you will, I hope."
"Not to you, anyway."
"Laws me, no! I don't want 'ee; haven't wanted 'ee these ten years.
But I'd a reason for askin'."
"Then I'm sure I don't know what it can be."
"True—true. Look'ee here, my dear; 'tis ordained for you to marry
"Aw? Who by?"
Naomi had treated Long Oliver badly in days gone by, but could still
talk to him with more freedom than to other men. Still standing with
a hand on her hip, she let fall a horrible sentence about the
Almighty—all the more horrible in that it came deliberately, without
emphasis, and from quiet lips.
"Woman!" cried a voice above them.
They turned, looked up, and saw the bent figure of a man framed in the
street doorway. This was William Geake, who walked in from Gantick
every Saturday to collect the sixpences and shillings of Vellan's
Rents for its landlord, a well-to-do wine and spirit merchant at
Tregarrick. As a man of indisputable probity and an unwearying walker,
Geake was entrusted with many odd jobs of this kind in the country
round, filling in with them such idle corners as his trade of
carpenter and undertaker to Gantick village might leave in the six
working days. On Sundays he put on a long black coat, and became a
Rounder, or Methodist local-preacher, walking sometimes twenty miles
there and back to terrify the inhabitants of outlying hamlets about
their future state.
"Woman!" cried William Geake, "Down 'pon your knees an' pray God the
roof don't fall on 'ee for your vile words."
"I reckon," retorted Naomi quietly, with a glance up at the
worm-riddled rafters, "you'd do more good by speakin' to the
William Geake had a high brow and bright, nervous eyes, betokening
enthusiasm; but he had also a long and square jaw that meant
stubbornness. This jaw now began to protrude and his lips to
"Down 'pon your knees!" he repeated.
Naomi turned her eyes from him to Long Oliver, who leant against the
staircase wall with his arms crossed and a veiled amusement in his
face. With a slightly heightened colour, but no flutter of the voice,
she repeated her blasphemy; and then, pulling a shilling from her worn
purse, tendered it to Geake. This, of course, meant "Mind your own
business"; but he waved her hand aside.
"Down 'pon your knees, woman!" he shouted thunderously. Then, as she
showed no disposition to obey, he added, grimly, "Eh? but somebody
shall intercede for thee afore thou'rt a minute older."
And pulling off his hat there and then, he knelt down on the doorstep,
with the soles of his hob-nailed boots showing to the street.
"Get up, an' don't make yoursel' a may-game," said Naomi hurriedly, as
one or two children stopped their play, and drew around to stare.
"Father in heaven," began William Geake, in a voice that fetched the
women-folk, all up and down the Chy-pons, to their doors, "Thou, whose
property is ever to have mercy, forgive this blaspheming woman! Suffer
one who is Thy servant, though a grievous sinner, to intercede for her
afore she commits the sin that cannot be forgiven; to pluck her as a
brand from the burning—"
By this, the women and a loafing man or two had clustered round, and
Colliver's coal-cart had rattled up and come to a standstill. The
Chy-pons is the narrowest street in Troy, and Colliver's driver could
hardly pass now, except over William Geake's legs.
"Draw in your feet, brother Geake," he called out, "or else pray
One or two women giggled at this. But Geake did not seem to hear.
For five good minutes he prayed vociferously, as was his custom in
meeting-house; then rose, replaced his hat, dusted his knees, held out
his hand for Naomi's shilling, and wrote her the customary voucher in
his most business-like manner, and without another word. But there was
a triumphant look in his eyes that dared Naomi to repeat her offence,
and she very nearly wept as she felt that the words would not come.
This and the shame of publicity drove her back into her room as Geake
passed down the stairs to collect the other rents. A few women still
hung about the doorway as he emerged, some twenty minutes later. But
he marched down Chy-pons with head erect and eyes fixed straight
On the following Saturday, when Geake called, Naomi was standing at
her wash-tub. She had seen him pass the window, and, hurriedly wiping
her hands, and pulling out her shilling, placed it ostentatiously in
the very centre of the deal table by the door; then had just time to
plunge her hands in the soap-suds again before he knocked. Try as she
would, she could not keep back a blush at the remembrance of last
week's scene, and half looked for him to make some allusion to it.
His extremely business-like air reassured her. She nodded towards
the shilling without removing her hands from the tub. He took it,
including in a polite good-morning both Naomi and her mother, who was
huddled in an arm-chair before the fire and recovering from an attack
of the fever, wrote out his voucher solemnly, set it in the exact spot
where the shilling had stood, took up his hat, hesitated for less than
a second, replaced his hat on the table, and, pulling a chair towards
him, dropped on his knees, and began to pray aloud.
The old woman by the fire slewed her head painfully round and stared
at him, then at Naomi. But Naomi was standing with her back to them
both, and her hands soaping the linen in the tub—gently, however, and
without any splashing. She therefore let her head sink back on the
cushion, and assumed that peculiarly dejected air, commonly reserved
by her for the consolations of religion.
On this occasion William Geake prayed in a low and level tone, and
very briefly. He made no allusion to last Saturday, but put up an
earnest petition for blessings upon "our two sisters here," and that
they might learn to accept their appointed portion with resignation,
yea, even with a holy joy. At the end of two minutes he rose, and
was about to dust his knees, after his usual custom, but, becoming
suddenly aware of the difference in cleanliness between Naomi's
lime-ash and the floors of the various meeting-houses of his
acquaintance, refrained. This little piece of delicacy did not escape
Naomi, though her shoulders were still bent over the tub, to all
seeming as resolutely as ever.
"Well, I swow that was very friendly of Mister Geake!" the old woman
ejaculated, as the door closed behind him. "'Tisn't everybody'd ha'
thought what a comfort a little scrap o' religion can be to an old
woman in my state."
"He took a great liberty," said Naomi snappishly.
"Well, he might ha' said as much as 'By your leave,' to be sure;
an' now you say so, 'twas makin' a bit free to talk about our
dependence—an' in my own kitchen too."
"He meant our dependence on th' Almighty," Naomi corrected, still more
snappishly. "William Geake's an odd-fangled man, but you might give
'en credit for good-feelin'. An', what's more, though I don't hold
wi' Christian talk, if a man have a got beliefs, I respect 'en for
standin' to 'em without shame."
"But I thought, a moment ago—" her mother began, and then subsided.
She was accustomed to small tangles in her own processes of thought,
and quite incapable, after years of blind acceptance, of correcting
No more was said on the matter. The next Saturday, after receiving his
shilling, Mr. Geake knelt down without any hesitation. It was clear he
wished this prayer to be a weekly institution, and an institution it
The women never knelt. Naomi, indeed, had never sanctioned the
innovation, unless by her silence, and her mother assisted only with a
very lugubrious "Amen," being too weak to stir from her chair. As the
months passed, it became evident to Geake that her strength would
never come back. The fever had left her, apparently for good; but the
rheumatism remained, and closed slowly upon the heart. The machine was
When the end came, Naomi had been doing the work single-handed for
close upon twelve months. She could always get a plenty of work, and
now took in a deal too much for her strength, to settle the doctor's
and undertaker's bills, and buy herself a black gown, cape, and
bonnet. The funeral, of course, took place on a Sunday. Geake, on the
Saturday afternoon, knocked gently at Naomi's door. His single
intent was to speak a word or two of sympathy, if she would listen.
Remembering her constant attitude under the Divine scourge, he felt a
But there lay the shilling in the centre of the table, and there stood
Naomi in a cloud of steam, hard at work on an immoderate pile of
washing—even a man's miscalculating eye could see that it was
"I didn't call—" he began, with a glance towards the shilling.
"No; I know you didn't. But you may so well take it all the same."
Geake had rehearsed a small speech, but found himself making out and
signing the voucher as usual; and, as usual, when it was signed, he
drew over a chair, and dropped on his knees. In prayer-meeting he was
a great hand at "improving" an occasion of bereavement; but here again
his will to speak impressively suddenly failed him. His words were:
"Lord, there were two women grinding at a mill; the one was taken, and
t'other left. She that you took, you've a-carr'd beyond our prayers;
but O, be gentle, be gentle, to her that's left!"
He arose, and looked shyly, almost shamefacedly, at Naomi. She had not
turned. But her head was bowed; and, drawing near, he saw that the
scalding tears were falling fast into the wash-tub. She had not wept
when her husband was lost, nor since.
"Go away!" she commanded, before he could speak, turning her shoulders
resolutely towards him.
He took up his hat, and went out softly, closing the door softly
His eye, which was growing quick to read Naomi's face, saw at once,
as he entered the room a week later, that she deprecated even the
slightest reference to her weakness. It also told him—he had not
guessed it before—that her emotional breakdown had probably more to
do with physical exhaustion than with any eloquence of his. The pile
of washing had grown, and the woman's face was grey with fatigue.
Geake, as he made out the voucher, cast about for a polite mode of
hinting that this kind of thing must not go on. Nevertheless it was
Naomi who began.
"Look here," she said, as he put down the voucher; "there ain't goin'
to be no more prayin', eh?"
"Why, to be sure there is," he answered with a show of great
cheerfulness; and reached for a chair.
"I'd liefer you didn't. I don't want it. I don't hold by any o't.
You'm very kind," she went on, her voice trembling for an instant and
then recovering its firmness, "and I reckon it soothed mother. But I
reckon it don't soothe me. I reckon it rubs me the wrong way. There's
times, when I hears a body prayin', that I wishes we was Papists again
and worshipped images, that I might throw stones at 'em!"
She paused, looked up into Geake's devouring eyes, and added, with a
poor attempt at a laugh:
"So you see, I'm wicked, an' don't want to be saved."
Then the man broke forth:
"Saved? No, I reckon you don't! Wicked? Iss, I reckon you be! But
saved you shall be—ay, if you was twice so wicked. Who'll do it? I'll
do it—I alone. I don't want your help. I want to do it in spite of
'ee: an' I'll lay that I do! Be your wickedness deep as hell, an' I'll
reach down a hand to the roots and pluck it up: be your salvation
stubborn as Death, I'll wrestle wi' the Lord for it. If I sell my own
soul for't, yours shall be redeemed!"
He slammed down his fist on the rickety deal table, which promptly
collapsed flat on the floor, with its four legs splayed under the
"Bein' a carpenter—" Geake began to stammer apologetically, and in a
totally different tone.
For a second—two seconds—the issue hung between tears and laughter.
An hysterical merriment twinkled in Naomi's eyes.
But the strength of Geake's passion saved the situation. He stepped up
to Naomi, laid a hand on each shoulder, and shook her gently to and
"Listen to me! As I hold 'ee now, so I take your fate in my hands.
Naomi Bricknell, you've got to be my wife, so make up your mind to
She cowered a little under his grasp; put out a hand to push him off;
drew it back; and broke into helpless sobbing. But this time she did
not command him to go away.
Fifteen minutes later William Geake left Vellan's Rents with joy on
his face and a broken table under his arm.
And two days later Naomi's face wore a look of demure happiness when
Long Oliver stopped her on the staircase and asked,
"Is it true, what I hear?"
"It is true," she answered.
"An' when be the banns called?"
"There ain't goin' to be no banns."
"There ain't goin' to be no banns; leastways, there ain't goin' to be
none called. We'm goin' to the Registry Office. You look all struck of
a heap. Was you hopin' to be best man?"
"Well, I reckoned I'd take a hand in the responses," he answered; and
seemed about to say more, but turned on his heel and went back to his
room, shutting the door behind him.
We pass to a Saturday morning, two years later, and to William Geake's
cottage at the western end of Gantick village.
Naomi had plucked three fowls and trussed them, and wrapping each in a
white napkin, had packed them in her basket with a dozen and a half of
eggs, a few pats of butter, and a nosegay or two of
garden-flowers—Sweet Williams, marigolds, and heart's-ease: for it was
market-day at Tregarrick. Then she put on boots and shawl, tied her
bonnet, and slung a second pair of boots across her arm: for the roads
were heavy and she would leave the muddy pair with a friend who lived at
the entrance of the town, not choosing to appear untidy as she walked up
the Fore Street. These arrangements made, she went to seek her husband,
who was busy planing a coffin-lid in the workshop behind the cottage,
and ruminating upon to-morrow's sermon.
"You'll be about startin'," he said, lifting his head and pushing his
spectacles up over his eye-brows.
Naomi set her basket down on his work-table, and drew her breath back
between her teeth—which is the Cornish mode of saying "Yes." "I want
you to make me a couple of skivers," she said. "Aun' Hambly sent over
word she'd a brace o' chicken for me to sell, an' I was to call for
'em: an' I'd be ashamed to sell a fowl the way she skivers it."
William set down his plane, picked up an odd scrap of wood and cut out
the skewers with his pocket-knife; while Naomi watched with a smile
on her face. Whether or no William had recovered her soul, as he
promised, she had certainly given her heart into his keeping. The love
of such a widow, he found, is as the surrender of a maid, with wisdom
The skewers finished, he walked out through the house with her and
down the garden-path, carrying the basket as far as the gate. The
scent of pine-shavings came with him. Half-way down the path Naomi
turned aside and picking a sprig of Boy's Love, held it up for him
to smell. The action was trivial, but as he took the sprig they both
laughed, looking in each other's eyes. Then they kissed; and the staid
woman went her way down the road, while the staid man loitered for a
moment by the gate and watched her as she went.
Now as he took his eyes away and glanced for an instant in the other
direction, he was aware of a man who had just come round the angle of
the garden hedge and, standing in the middle of the road, not a dozen
yards off, was also staring after his wife.
This stranger was a broad-shouldered fellow in a suit of blue seaman's
cloth, the trousers of which were tucked inside a pair of Wellington
boots. His complexion was brown as a nut, and he wore rings in his
ears: but the features were British enough. A perplexed, ingratiating
and rather silly smile overspread them.
The two men regarded each other for a bit, and then the stranger drew
"I do believe that was Na'mi," he said, nodding his head after the
woman's figure, that had not yet passed out of sight.
William Geake opened his eyes wide and answered curtly, "Yes: that's
my wife—Naomi Geake. What then?"
The man scratched his head, contemplating William as he might some
illegible sign-post set up at an unusually bothersome cross-road.
"She keeps very han'some, I will say." His smile grew still more
"Was you wishin' to speak wi' her?"
"Well, there! I was an' yet I wasn't. 'Tis terrible puzzlin'. You
don't know me, I dessay."
"No, I don't."
"I be called Abe Bricknell—A-bra-ham Bricknell. I used to be
Na'mi's husband, one time. There now"—with an accent of genuine
contrition—"I felt sure 'twould put you out."
The tongue grew dry in William Geake's mouth, and the sunlight died
off the road before him. He stared at a blister in the green paint of
the garden-gate and began to peel it away slowly with his thumb-nail:
then, pulling out his handkerchief, picked away at the paint that had
lodged under the nail, very carefully, while he fought for speech.
"I be altered a brave bit," said Naomi's first husband, still with his
"Come into th' house," William managed to say at last; and turning,
led the way to the door. On his way he caught himself wondering why
the hum of the bees had never sounded so loudly in the garden before:
and this was all he could think about till he reached the doorstep.
Then he turned.
"Th' Lord's ways be past findin' out," he said, passing a hand over
"That's so: that's what I say mysel'," the other assented
cheerfully, as if glad to find their wits jumping together.
"Man!" William rounded on him fiercely. "What's kept 'ee, all these
years? Aw, man, man! do 'ee know what you've done?"
"I'd a sun-stroke," said the wanderer, tapping his head and still
wearing his deprecatory smile; "a very bad sun-stroke. I sailed in the
John S. Hancock. I dessay Na'mi told you about that, eh?"
"Get on wi' your tale."
"Pete Hancock was cap'n. The vessel was called after his uncle, you
know, an' the Hancocks had a-bought up most o' the shares in her.
That's how Pete came to be cap'n. We sailed on a Friday—unlucky, I've
heard that is. But Pete said them that laid th' Atlantic cable had
started that day an' broke the spell. Pete had a lot o' tales, but he
made a poor cap'n; no head."
"Look here," put in "William with desperate calm," I don't want to
know about Peter Hancock."
"There's not much to know if you did. He made a very poor cap'n,
though it don't become one to say so, now he's gone. An affectionate
man, though, for all his short-comin's. The last time he brought his
vessel home from New Orleans he was in that pore to get back to his
wife an' childer, he ripped along the Gulf Stream and pretty well
ribbed the keelson out of her. Thought, I reckon, that since all the
shareholders belonged to his family th' expense wouldn' be grudged.
But I guess it made her tender. That's how she came to go down so
"I'm comin' to that. We'd just run our nose into the tropics an' was
headin' down for Kingston Harbour—slippin' along at five knots easy
an' steady, an' not a sign of trouble. The time, so far as I can tell,
was somewhere near five bells in the middle watch. I'd turned in,
leavin' Pete on deck, an' was fast asleep; when all of a suddent a
great jolt sent me flyin' out o' the berth. As soon as I got my legs
an' wits again I was up on deck, and already the barque was settlin'
by the head like a burst crock. She'd crushed her breastbone in on a
sunken tramp of a derelict—a dismasted water-logged lump, that maybe
had been washin' about the Atlantic for twenty year' an' more before
her app'inted time came to drift across our fair-way an' settle the
hash o' the John S. Hancock. Sir, I reckon she went down inside o'
five minutes. We'd but bare time to get out one boat and push clear
o' the whirl of her. All hands jumped in; she was but a sixteen foot
boat, an' we loaded her down to the gun'l a'most. There was a brave
star-shine, but no moon. Cruel things happen 'pon the sea."
He passed a hand over his eyes, as if to brush off the film his
sufferings had drawn across them. Then he pursued:
"Cruel things happen 'pon the sea. We'd no food nor drink but a tin o'
preserved pears; Lord knows how that got there; but 'twas soon done.
Pete had a small compass, a gimcrack affair hangin' to his watch-chain,
an' we pulled by it west-sou'-west towards the nighest land, which we
made out must be some one or another o' the Leeward Islands; but 'twas
more to keep ourselves busy than for aught else: the boat was so low in
the water that even with the Trade to help us, we made but a mile an
hour, an' had to be balin' all day and all night. The third day, as the
sun grew hot, two o' the men went mad. We had to pitch 'em overboard an'
beat 'em off wi' the oars till they drowned: else they'd ha' sunk the
boat. This seemed to hang on Pete's mind, in a way. All the next night
he talked light-headed; said he could hear the dead men hailin' their
names. About midnight he jumped after 'em—to fetch 'em, he said—an'
was drowned. He took his compass with him, but that didn't make much
odds. The boat was lighter now, an' we hadn' to bale. Pretty soon I got
too weak to notice how the men went. I was lyin' wi' my head under the
stern sheets an' only pulled mysel' up, now an' then, to peer out over
the gun'l. I s'pose 'twas the splashes as the men went over that made me
do this. I don't know for certain. There was sharks about: cruel things
happen 'pon the sea. The boat was in a gashly cauch of blood too. One
chap—Jeff Tresawna it was: his mother lived over to Looe—had tried to
open a vein, to drink, an' had made a mess o't an' bled to death. Far as
I know there was no fightin' to eat one another, same as one hears tell
of now an' then. The men just went mad and jumped like sheep: 'twas a
reg'lar disease. Two would go quick, one atop of t'other; an' then
there'd be a long stillness, an' then a yellin' again an' two more
splashes, maybe three. All through it I was dozin', off an' on; an' I
reckon these things got mixed up an' repeated in my head: for our crew
was only sixteen all told, an' it seemed to me I'd heard scores go over.
Anyway I opened my eyes at last—night it was, an' all the stars
blazin'—an' the boat was empty all except me an' Jeff Tresawna, him
that had bled to death. He was lying up high in the bows, wi' his legs
stretched Out towards me along the bottom-boards. There was a twinkle o'
dew 'pon the thwarts an' gun'l, an' I managed to suck my shirt-sleeve,
that was wringin' wet, an' dropped off dozin' again belike. The nex'
thing I minded was a sort o' dream that I was home to Carne again, over
Pendower beach—that's where my father an' mother lived. I heard the
breakers quite plain. The sound of 'em woke me up. This was a little
after daybreak. The sound kept on after I'd opened my eyes, though not
so loud. I took another suck at my shirt-sleeve an' pulled myself up to
my knees by the thwart an' looked over. 'Twas the sound o' broken water,
sure enough, that I'd been hearing; an' 'twas breakin' round half a
dozen small islands, to leeward, between me an' the horizon. I call 'em
islands; but they was just rocks stickin' up from the sea, and birds on
'em in plenty; but otherwise, if you'll excuse the liberty, as bare as
the top o' your head."
Geake nodded gravely, with set face.
"I've heard since," went on the seaman, "that these were bits, so to
say, belongin' to the Leeward Islands, about eighty miles sou'west o'
St. Kitt's. Our boat must ha' driven past St. Kitt's, but just out o'
sight; or perhaps we'd passed a peep of it in the night-time. Well, as
you'll be guessin' the boat was pretty nigh to one o' these islands,
or I shouldn' ha' heard the wash. Half a mile off it was, I dessay,
an' a pretty big wash. This was caused by the current, no doubt, for
the wind was nex' to nothin', an' no swell around the boat. What's
more, the current was takin' us, broadside on, pretty well straight
for the rocks. There was no rudder an' only one oar left i' the boat;
an' that was broke off short at the blade. But I managed to slip it
over the starn an' made shift to keep her head straight. Her nose went
bump on the shore, an' then she swung round an' went drivin' past: me
not havin' strength left to put out a hand, much less to catch hold
an' stop the way on us. We might ha' driven past an' off to sea again,
if it hadn' been for a spit o' rock that reached out ahead. This
brought us up short, an' there we lay an' bump'd for a bit. I dessay
it took me half an hour to get out over the side: an' all the time I
kept hold o' the broken oar. I dunno why I did this: but it saved my
life afterwards. Hav'ee got such a thing as a drop o' cider in the
"We go upon temperance principles here," said Geake. He rose and
brought a jug of water and a glass.
"That'll do," said the wanderer, and helped himself. "Na'mi used to
take a glass o' beer wi' her meals, I remember. Well, as I was agoin'
to tell you, havin' got out o' the boat, I'd just sense enough left to
clamber up above high-water mark, an' there I sat starin' stupid-like
an' wonderin' how I'd done it. Down below, the boat was heavin' i' the
wash an' joltin' 'pon the rocks, an' I watched her—bump, bump, up an'
down, up an' down—wi' Jeff jamm'd by the shoulders i' the bows, and
glazin' up at me wi' a silly blank face, like as if he couldn' make it
all out. As the tide rose him up nearer, I crawled away further up.
Seemed to me he an' the boat was after me like a sick dream, an' I
grinned every time the timbers gave an extry loud crack. At last her
bottom was stove, an' she filled very quiet an' went down. The wind
was fresher by this an' some heavy clouds comin' up. Then it rained.
I don't rightly know if this was the same day or no: can't fit in the
days an' nights. But it rained heavy. There was a quill-feather lyin'
close by my hand—the rock was strewed wi' feathers an' the birds'
droppin's—an' with it I tried to get at the rain-water that was
caught in the crannies o' the rocks. While I was searchin' about I
came across an egg. It was stinkin', but I ate it. After that, feelin'
a bit stronger, I'd a mind to fix up the oar for a mark, in case any
vessel passed near an' me asleep or too weak to make a signal. I found
a handy chink i' the rock to plant it in, an' a rovin' pain I had in
my stomach while I was fixin' it. That was the egg, I dessay. An' my
head in a maze, too: but I'd sense enough to think now what a fool
I was not to have took Jeff's shirt off'n, to serve me for a flag.
Hows'ever, my own bein' wringin' wet, an' the sun pretty strong just
then, I slipped it off an' hitched it atop o' the oar to dry an' be a
flag at the same time, till I could rig up some kind o' streamer, out
o' the seaweed. An' then I was forced to vomit. And that's about the
last thing, Mister Geake, I can mind doin'. 'Tis all foolishness after
that. They tell me that a 'Merican schooner, the Shawanee, sighted
my shirt flappin', an' sent a boat an' took me off an' landed me at
New Orleens. My head was bad—oh, very bad—an' they put me in a
'sylum an' cured me. But they took eight year' over it, an' I doubt if
'tis much of a job after all. I wasn' bad all the time, I must tell
you, sir; but 'tis only lately my mem'ry would work any further back
'n the wreck o' the barque. Everything seemed to begin an' end wi'
that. 'Tis about a year back that some visitors came to the 'sylum.
There was a lady in the party, an' something in her face, when she
spoke to me, put me in mind o' Na'mi, an' I remembered I was a married
man. Inside of a fortnight, part by thinkin'—'tis hard work still
for me to think—part by dreamin', I'd a-worried it all out. I was
betterin' fast by that. Soon as I was well enough to be discharged, I
worked my passage home in a grain ship, the Druid, o' Liverpool. I
was reckonin' all the way back that Na'mi'd be main glad to see me
agen. But now I s'pose she won't."
"It'll come nigh to killin' her."
"I dessay, now, you two have got to be very fond? She used to be a
partic'lar lovin' sort o' woman."
"I love her more 'n heaven!" William broke out; and then cowered as if
he half expected to be struck with lightning for the words.
"I heard of her havin' married, down at the Fifteen Balls, at Troy. I
dropped in there to pick up the news."
"What! You've been tellin' folks who you be!"
"Not a word. First of all I was minded to play off a little surprise
'pon old Toms, the landlord, who didn' know me from Adam. But hearin'
this, just as I was a-leadin' up to my little joke, I thought maybe
'twould annoy Na'mi. She used to be very strict in some of her
William Geake took two hasty turns up and down the little parlour. His
Bible, in which before breakfast he had been searching for a text,
lay open on the side table. Behind its place on the shelf was a
small skivet he had let into the wall; and in that drawer was stored
something over twenty-five pounds, the third of his savings. Geake
kept a bank-account, and the balance lay at interest with Messrs.
Climo and Hodges, of St. Austell. But he had the true countryman's
aversion to putting all his eggs in one basket; and although Messrs.
Climo and Hodges were safe as the Bank of England, preferred to keep
this portion of his wealth in his own stocking. He closed the Bible
hastily; rammed it back, upside down, in its place; then took it out
again, and stood holding it in his two hands and trembling. He was
living in sin: he was minded to sin yet deeper. And yet what had he
done to deserve Naomi in comparison with the unspeakable tribulations
this simple mariner had suffered? Sure, God must have preserved the
fellow with especial care, and of wise purpose brought him through
shipwreck, famine, and madness home to his lawful wife. The man had
made Naomi a good husband. Had William Geake made her a better?
(Husband?)—here he dropped the Bible down on the table again as if it
burned his fingers. Whatever had to be done must be done quickly. Here
was the innocent wrecker of so much happiness hanging on his lips for
the next word, watching wistfully for his orders, like any spaniel
dog. And Naomi would be back before nightfall. God was giving him no
time: it was unfair to hustle a man in this way. In the whirl of his
thoughts he seemed to hear Naomi's footfall drawing nearer and nearer
home. He could almost upbraid the Almighty here for leaving him and
Naomi childless. A child would have made the temptation irresistible.
"I wish a'most that I'd never called, if it puts you out so terrible,"
was the wanderer's plaintive remark after two minutes of silent
This sentence settled it. The temptation was irresistible. Geake
unlocked the skivet, plunged a hand in and banged down a fistful of
notes on the table.
"Here," said he; "here's five-an'-twenty pound'. You shall have it all
if you'll go straight out o' this door an' back to America."
Half-an-hour later, William Geake was standing by his garden-gate
again. Every now and then he glanced down the road towards St.
Austell, and after each glance resumed his nervous picking at the
blister of green paint that had troubled him earlier in the day. He
was face to face with a new and smaller, but sufficiently vexing,
difficulty. Abe Bricknell had gone, taking with him the five
five-pound notes. So far so good, and cheap at the price. But the
skivet was empty: and the day was Saturday: and every Saturday
evening, as regularly as he wound up the big eight-day clock in the
kitchen, Naomi and he would sit down and count over the money. True he
had only to go to St. Austell and Messrs. Climo and Hodges would let
him draw five new notes. The numbers would be different, and Naomi
(prudent woman) always took note of the numbers: but some explanation
might be invented. The problem was: How to get to St. Austell and back
before Naomi's return? The distance was too great to be walked in
the time; and besides, the coffin must be ready by nightfall. He had
promised it; he was known for a man of his word; and owing to the
morning's interruption it would be a tough job to finish, at the
best. There was no help for it; and—so easy is the descent of
Avernus—Geake's unaccustomed wits were already wandering in a
wilderness of improbable falsehoods, when he heard the sound of wheels
up the road, and Long Oliver came along in Farmer Lear's red-wheeled
trap and behind Farmer Lear's dun-coloured mare. As he drew near at a
trot he eyed Geake curiously, and for a moment seemed inclined to pull
up, but thought better of it, and was passing with no more than a nod
of the head and "good-day."
It was unusual, though, to see Long Oliver driving a horse and trap;
and Geake, moreover, had a sudden notion.
"Good-mornin'," he answered; "whither bound?"
"St. Austell. I've a bit of business to do, so I'm takin' a holiday;
in style, as you see."
"I wonder now," Geake suggested, forgetting all about the coffin, "if
you'd give me a lift. I was just thinkin' this moment that I'd a bit
o' business there that had clean slipped my mind this week."
This was transparently false to any one acquainted with Geake's
methodical habits. Long Oliver screwed up his eyes.
"Can't, I'm afraid. I'm engaged to take up old Missus Oke an' her
niece at Tippet's corner; an' the niece's box. The gal's goin' in to
St. Austell, into service. So there's no room. But if there's any
little message I can take—"
"When'll you be back?"
"Somewhere's about five I'll be passin'."
"Would 'ee mind waitin' a moment? I've a cheque I want cashed at Climo
and Hodges for a biggish sum: but you'm a man I can trust to bring
back the money safe."
"Sutt'nly," said Long Oliver.
Geake went into the house and wrote a short letter to the bankers.
He asked them to send back by messenger, and in return for cheque
enclosed, the sum of twenty-five pounds, in five new five-pound notes.
He was aware (he said) that the balance of his running account was but
a pound or two: but as they held something over fifty pounds of his on
deposit, he felt sure they would oblige him and enable him to meet a
"Twenty-five pounds is the sum," he explained; "an' you must be sure
to get it in five-pound notes—new five-pound notes. You'll not
forget that?" He closed the envelope and handed it up to Long Oliver,
who buttoned it in his breast-pocket.
"You shall have it, Mr. Geake, by five o'clock this evenin'," said he,
giving the reins a shake on the mare's back; "so 'long!" and he rattled
A mile, and a trifle more, beyond Geake's cottage, he came in sight
of a man clad in blue sailor's cloth, trudging briskly ahead. Long
Oliver's lips shaped themselves as if to whistle; but he made no sound
until he overtook the pedestrian, when he pulled up, looked round in
the man's face, and said—
The sailor came to a sudden halt, and went very white in the face.
"How do you know my name?" he asked, uneasily.
"'Recognised 'ee back in Troy, an' borrowed this here trap to drive
after 'ee. Get up alongside. I've summat to say to 'ee."
Bricknell climbed up without a word, and they drove along together.
"Where was you goin'?" Long Oliver asked, after a bit.
"To look for a ship?"
"Goin' back to America?"
"You've been callin' on William Geake: an' you didn' find Naomi at
"Geake don't want it known."
"That's likely enough. You've got twenty-five pound' o' his in your
Abe Bricknell involuntarily put up a hand to his breast.
"Ay, it's there," said Long Oliver, nodding. "It's odd now, but I've
got twenty-five pound in gold in my pocket; an' I want you to swop."
"I don't take ye, Mister—"
"Long Oliver, I'm called in common. Maybe you remembers me?"
"Why, to be sure! I thought I minded your face. But still I don't take
your meanin' azactly."
"I didn' suppose you would. So I'm goin' to tell 'ee. Fourteen year'
back I courted Naomi, an' she used me worse 'n a dog. Twelve year'
back she married you. Nine year' back you went to sea in the John S.
Hancock, an' was wrecked off the Leeward Isles an' cast up on a spit
o' rock. I'd been hangin' about New Orleens, just then, at a loose
end, an' bein' in want o' cash, took a scamper in the Shawanee, a
dirty tramp of a schooner knockin' in an' out and peddlin' notions
among the West Indy Islanders. As you know we caught sight o' your
signal an' took you off, an' you went to a mad-house. You was clean
off your head an' didn' know me from Adam; an' I never let on that I
knew you or the ship you'd sailed in. 'Seemed to me the hand o' God
was in it, an' I saw my way to cry quits wi' Naomi."
"I don't see."
"I don't suppose you do. But 'twas this way:—Naomi (thinks I) 'll be
givin' this man up afore long. She's a takeable woman, an' by-'n-bye,
some new man'll set eyes on her. Then, thinks I, her banns'll be
called in Church, an' I'll be there an' forbid 'em. Do 'ee see now?"
"That was very clever o' you," replied the simple seaman, and added
with obvious sincerity, "I'm sure I should never ha' thought 'pon
anything so clever as that. But why didn' you carry it out?"
"Because God Almighty was cleverer. Times an' times I'd pictured it up
in my head how 'twould all work out; an' the parson in his surplice
stuck all of a heap; an' the heads turnin' to look; an' the women
faintin'. An' when the moment came for a man to claim her, what d'ye
think she did? But there, a head like yours 'd never guess—why she
went to a Registry Office, an' there weren't no banns at all. That
overcame me. I seed the wisdom o' Providence from that hour. I be a
converted man. An' I'm damned if I'll let you come along an' upset the
apple-cart after all these years. Can 'ee write?"
"Tolerable, though I'm no hand at spellin'."
"Very well. We'll have a drink together at St. Austell, an' while
we're there you shall do up Geake's notes in an envelope with a note
sayin' your compliments, but on second thoughts you couldn't think o'
takin' his money."
Bricknell's face fell somewhat.
"You gowk! You'll have twenty-five pound' o' mine in exchange: solid
money, an' my own earnin's. I've more 'n that in my pocket here."
"But I don't see why you should want to give me money."
"An' you'm too mad to see if I explained. 'Tis a matter o' conscience,
an' you may take it at that. When the letter's wrote—best not sign
it, by the way, for fear of accidents—you give it to me an' I'll see
Geake gets it to-night. After that's written I'll pay your fare to
Liverpool, an' then you'll get a vessel easy. Now I see your mouth
openin' and makin' ready to argue—"
"I was goin' to say, Long Oliver, that you seem to be actin' very
noble, now: but 'twas a bit hard on me, your holdin' your tongue as
"So 'twas, so 'twas. I reckon some folks is by nature easy forgotten,
an' you'm one. If that's your character, I hope to gracious you'm
goin' to keep it up. An' twenty-five pound' is a heap o' money for
such a man as you."
"It is," the wanderer asserted. "Ay, I feel that."
At twenty minutes to five that evening, Long Oliver pulled up again by
the green garden-gate. William Geake from his workshop had caught the
sound of the mare's hoofs three minutes before, and awaited him.
"One, two, three, four, five." The notes were counted out
deliberately. Long Oliver, having been thanked, gathered up his reins
and suddenly set them down again.
"Dear me," said he, "if I hadn' almost forgot! I've a letter for 'ee,
"Iss. A kind of a sailor-like lookin' chap came up to me i' the Half
Moon yard as I was a takin' out the mare. 'Do you come from Gantick?'
says he, seein' no doubt Farmer Lear's name 'pon the cart. 'There or
thereabouts,' says I. 'Know Mister W. Geake?' says he. 'Well,' says
I. 'Then, if you're passin', I wish you'd give 'en this here letter,'
says he, an' that's all 'e said."
"I wonder who 'twas," said Geake. But his face was white.
"Don't know 'en by sight. Said 'e was in a great hurry for to catch
the up train. Which puts me i' mind I must be movin' on. Good-night
As soon as he had turned the corner, Geake opened the letter.
* * * * *
When Naomi returned, half-an-hour later, she found him standing at the
gate as if he had spent the day there: as, indeed, he might have, for
all the work done to the coffin.
"I must bide up to-night an' finish that job," he said, when they were
indoors and she began asking how in the world he had been spending his
time. "I've been worryin' mysel' all day."
"It's those sermons agen," Naomi decided. "They do your head no good,
an' I wish you'd give up preachin'."
"Now that's just what I'm goin' to do," he answered, pushing the
Bible far into the shelf till its edges knocked on the wood of the