Phoebe Lyddon frowned, and, as an instant protest, twin dimples peeped into life at the left corner of her bonny mouth. In regarding that attractive ripple the down-drawn eyebrows were forgotten until they rose again into their natural arches. A sweet, childish contour of face chimed with her expression; her full lips were bright as the bunch of ripe wood-strawberries at the breast of her cotton gown; her eyes as grey as Dartmoor mists; while, for the rest, a little round chin, a small, straight nose, and a high forehead, which Phoebe mourned and kept carefully concealed under masses of curly brown hair, were the sole features to be specially noted about her. She was a trifle below the standard of height proper to a girl of nineteen, but all compact, of soft, rounded lines, plump, fresh of colour, healthy, happy, sweet as a ripe apple.
From a position upon swelling hillsides above the valley of a river, she scanned the scene beneath, made small her eyes to focus the distance, and so pursued a survey of meadow and woodland, yet without seeing what she sought. Beneath and beyond, separated from her standpoint by grasslands and a hedge of hazel, tangled thickets of blackthorn, of bracken, and of briar sank to the valley bottom. Therein wound tinkling Teign through the gorges of Fingle to the sea; and above it, where the land climbed upward on the other side, spread the Park of Whiddou, with expanses of sweet, stone-scattered herbage, with tracts of deep fern, coverts of oak, and occasional habitations for the deer.
Every man has a right to be conceited until he is famous—so it is said; and perhaps unconsciously, Mark Brendon shared that opinion.
His self-esteem was not, however, conspicuous, although he held that only a second-rate man is diffident. At thirty-five years of age he already stood high in the criminal investigation department of the police. He was indeed about to receive an inspectorship, well earned by those qualities of imagination and intuition which, added to the necessary endowment of courage, resource, and industry, had created his present solid success.
A substantial record already stood behind him, and during the war certain international achievements were added to his credit. He felt complete assurance that in ten years he would retire from government employ and open that private and personal practice which it was his ambition to establish.
And now Mark was taking holiday on Dartmoor, devoting himself to his hobby of trout fishing and accepting the opportunity to survey his own life from a bird's-eye point of view, measure his achievement, and consider impartially his future, not only as a detective but as a man.
Mark had reached a turning point, or rather a point from which new interests and new personal plans were likely to present themselves upon the theatre of a life hitherto devoted to one drama alone. Until now he had existed for his work only. Since the war he had been again occupied with routine labour on cases of darkness, doubt, and crime, once more living only that he might resolve these mysteries, with no personal interest at all outside his grim occupation. He had been a machine as innocent of any inner life, any spiritual ambition or selfish aim, as a pair of handcuffs.
This assiduity and single-hearted devotion had brought their temporal reward. He was now at last in position to enlarge his outlook, consider higher aspects of life, and determine to be a man as well as a machine.
Above unnumbered sisters she arose, an object noteworthy even amid these aisles, where, spun from the survival of the best endowed, fabrics of ancient forest enveloped the foot-hills of the Moor and belted heather and granite with great woodlands. A dapple of dull silver marked her ascension and glimmered upwards through the masses of her robe. From noble girth of moss-grown trunk she sprang; her high top was full of a silky summer song; while sunbeams played in the meshes of her million leaves and cascades of amber light, born from her ripening harvest, streamed over the dark foliage. She displayed in unusual perfection the special symmetry of her kind, stood higher than her neighbours, and fretted the blue above with pinnacles of feathering arborescence, whose last, subtle expression, at that altitude, escaped the eye. Her midmost boughs tended from the horizontal gradually downward, and the nether branches, rippling to earth like a waterfall, fashioned a bower or music-making dome of translucent green around about the bole. Within this arbour the roots twisted down their dragon shapes into the dark, sweet-scented earth, and fortified the beech against all winds that blew. So she stood, queen of the wold, a creation loved by song-birds, a treasure-house for squirrels, pigeons, and the pheasants that, at autumn-time, strutted gorgeous in the copper lake of her fallen leaves. Beneath her now, cool and moist in twilight of shadows, grew delicate melampyre that brought light into the herbage, stood the wan seed-vessels of bygone bluebells, and trailed grasses, with other soft, etiolate things that had never known direct sunshine. The pale trunk was delicately wrought with paler lichens, splashed and circled upon its bark; while mossy boulders of granite, lying scattered within the circumference of the tree's vastness, completed this modest harmony of grey and silver, lemon and shadowed green.
Being from the first the chum and friend of Peters, I can tell about his curious ways better than anybody. In fact we shared our pocket-money, which is always a great sign of friendship; and it was understood that if ever I got into trouble when I grew up, and was accused of murder or forgery, or anything like that, which does often happen to the most innocent people, Peters would give up anything he might be doing at the time, and devote his entire life to proving me not guilty.
I remember well the day he came. I was in the big school-room at the fire, roasting chestnuts and talking to Gideon; and Shortland and Fowle were also there. The Doctor came in with a new boy and said—
"Ah! There are some of the fellows by the fire, Peters."
Then he called out to Shortland and me and said—
"Shortland and Maydew, this is Peters. Make him welcome, and if there are chestnuts going, as I suspect, share them with him."
Then the Doctor went off to have some final jaw with the mother of Peters; and Peters came down the room and said "Good-evening" in a very civil and quiet tone of voice.
He was thin and dark, and when he warmed his hands at the fire it was easy to see the light through them. He also had a pin in his tie in the shape of a human skull, about as big as a filbert nut, with imitation ruby eyes.
We asked him who he was, and he said he came from Surrey, and that his father had been a soldier, but was unfortunately dead. His name was Vincent Peters.
Nobody knew where Teddy Pegram came from or why the man ordained to settle down in Little Silver. He had no relations round about and couldn't, or wouldn't, tell his new neighbours what had brought him along. But he bided a bit with Mrs. Ford, the policeman's wife, as a lodger, and then, when he'd sized up the place and found it suited him, he took a tumble-down, four-room cottage at the back-side of the village and worked upon it himself and soon had the place to his liking. A most handy little man he was and could turn his skill in many directions. And he'd do odd jobs for the neighbours and show a good bit of kindness to the children. He lived alone and looked after himself, for he could cook and sew like a woman—at least like the clever ones. In fact there didn't seem nothing he couldn't do. And his knowledge extended above crafts, for he'd got a bit of learning also and he'd talk with Johns at the shop-of-all-sorts about business, or with Samual Mutters, the chemist, about patent medicines, or with butcher or baker concerning their jobs, or with policemen about crime, and be worth attending to on any subject.
His pleasure, however, was sporting, and not until he'd dwelt among us a good bit did a measure of doubt in that matter creep into our praise of the man.
Night stirred behind the eastern hills and a desert place burnt with fading splendour in the hour before sunset. The rolling miles of Ringmoor Down lay clad at this season in a wan integument of dead grass. Colourless as water, it simulated that element and reflected the tone of dawn or evening, sky or cloud; now sulked; now shone; now marked the passage of the wind with waves of light.
Ringmoor extends near the west quarter of Dartmoor Forest like an ocean of alternate trough and mound, built by the breath of storms. This region, indeed, shares something with the restless resting-places of the sea; and one may figure it as finally frozen into its present austerity by action of western winds that aforetime laboured without ceasing here on the bosom of a plastic earth. Only the primary forces model with such splendid economy of design, or present achievements so unadorned, yet so complete. The marvel of Ringmoor demanded unnumbered centuries of elemental collaboration before it spread, consummate and accomplished, under men's eyes. Rage of solar flame and fury of floods; the systole and diastole of Earth's own mighty heart-beat; the blast of inner fires, the rigour of age-long ice-caps--all have gone to mould this incarnate simplicity. Nor can Nature's achievement yet be gauged, for man himself must ascend to subtler perception before he shall gather the meaning of this moor.
Away beyond the village stands a white cottage with the sea lapping at low cliffs beneath it. Plum and apple orchards slope upward behind this building, and already, upon the former trees, there trembles a snowy gauze where blossom buds are breaking. Higher yet, dark plowed fields, with hedges whereon grow straight elms, cover the undulations of a great hill even to its windy crest, and below, at the water line, lies Newlyn—a village of gray stone and blue, with slate roofs now shining silver-bright under morning sunlight and easterly wind. Smoke softens every outline; red-brick walls and tanned sails bring warmth and color through the blue vapor of many chimneys; a sun-flash glitters at this point and that, denoting here a conservatory, there a studio. Enter this hive and you shall find a network of narrow stone streets; a flutter of flannel underwear, or blue stockings, and tawny garments drying upon lines; little windows, some with rows of oranges and ginger-beer bottles in them; little shops; little doors, at which cluster little children and many cats, the latter mostly tortoise-shell and white. Infants watch their elders playing marbles in the roadway, and the cats stretch lazy bodies on the mats, made of old fishing-net, which lie at every cottage door. Newlyn stands on slight elevations above the sea level, and at one point the road bends downward, breaks and fringes the tide, leading among broken iron, rusty anchors, and dismantled fishing-boats, past an ancient buoy whose sides now serve the purposes of advertisement and tell of prayer-meetings, cheap tea, and so forth.
The piers of the main entrance of Chadlands were of red brick, and upon each reposed a mighty sphere of grey granite. Behind them stretched away the park, where forest trees, nearly shorn of their leaves at the edge of winter, still answered the setting sun with fires of thinning foliage. They sank away through stretches of brake fern, and already amid their trunks arose a thin, blue haze—breath of earth made visible by coming cold. There was frost in the air, and the sickle of a new moon hung where dusk of evening dimmed the green of the western sky.
The guns were returning, and eight men with three women arrived at the lofty gates. One of the party rode a grey pony, and a woman walked on each side of him. They chattered together, and the little company of tweed-clad people passed into Chadlands Park and trudged forward, where the manor house rose half a mile ahead.
Then an old man emerged from a lodge, hidden behind a grove of laurel and bay within the entrance, and shut the great gates of scroll iron. They were of a flamboyant Italian period, and more arrestive than distinguished. Panelled upon them, and belonging to a later day than they, had been imposed two iron coats of arms, with crest above and motto beneath—the heraldic bearings of the present owner of Chadlands. He set store upon such things, but was not responsible for the work. A survival himself, and steeped in ancient opinions, his coat, won in a forgotten age, interested him only less than his Mutiny medal—his sole personal claim to public honor. He had served in youth as a soldier, but was still a subaltern when his father died and he came into his kingdom.
The people were coming to church and one had thought it Sunday, but for two circumstances. The ring of bells at St. Mary's did not peal, and the women were dressed in black as the men.
Through the winding lanes of Bridetown a throng converged, drawn to the grey tower by a tolling bell; and while the sun shone and a riot of many flowers made hedgerows and cottage gardens gay; while the spirit of the hour was inspired by June and a sun at the zenith unclouded, the folk of the hamlet drew their faces to sadness and mothers chid the children, who could not pretend, but echoed the noontide hour in their hearts.
All were not attired for a funeral. A small crowd of women, with one or two men among them, stood together where a sycamore threw a patch of shade on a triangular space of grass near the church. There were fifty of these people—ancient women, others in their prime, and many young maidens. Some communion linked them and the few men who stood with them. All wore a black band upon their left arms. Drab or grey was their attire, but sun-bonnets nodded bright as butterflies among them, and even their dull raiment was more cheerful than the gathering company in black who now began to mass their numbers and crane their heads along the highway.
Before my grandpapa, Mr. Daniel Dolphin, comes down to breakfast on the morning of his hundredth birthday, I may tell you something about him. He has been married three times; he has buried all his wives and all his children. There were five of the latter, resulting from grandpapa's three marriages; but now I, Martha Dolphin, the only child of grandpapa's eldest son, am the sole survivor and living descendant of Daniel Dolphin.
Frankly it must be confessed that grandpapa has been an unprincipled man in his time. Among other inconveniences, resulting from unedifying conduct, he suffered five years' imprisonment for forgery before I was born; but when he turned ninety-five I think he honestly began to realise that this world is, after all, a mere temporary place of preparation, and from that age up to the present moment (I am dealing with the morning of his hundredth birthday) he abandoned the things which once gave him pleasure, and began to look seriously towards another and a better life beyond the grave. Indeed, thanks to my ever-present warnings, and the Rev. John Murdoch's ministrations, grandpapa, from the time he was ninety-five, kept as sober, as honest, and as innocent as one could wish to see any nonagenarian. He regarded the future with quiet confidence now, feared death no longer, and alleged that his approaching end had no terrors for him. The dear old fellow was very fond of me, and he often said that, but for his patient granddaughter, he should never have turned from the broad downward road at all.