The Three Brothers
AUTHOR OF "THE SECRET WOMAN," "THE AMERICAN
PRISONER," "CHILDREN OF THE MIST," ETC.
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
All rights reserved
BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped. Published January, 1909.
J. S. Cushing Co.—Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
HERBERT MACDONALD PHILLPOTTS
A SMALL TRIBUTE OF
THE THREE BROTHERS
From Great Trowlesworthy's crown of rosy granitethe world extended to the moor-edge, and thence,by mighty, dim, air-drenched passages of earthand sky, to the horizons of the sea. A clear May noonilluminated the waste, and Dartmoor, soaking her fill ofsunshine, ran over with it, so that Devon's self spreadlittle darker of bosom than the grey and silver of highclouds lifted above her, mountainous under the sun.
Hills and plains were still mottled with the winter coatof the heather, and the verdure of the spearing grassessuffered diminution under a far-flung pallor of deadblades above breaking green; but the face of Dartmoorbegan to glow and the spring gorse leapt like a runningflame along it. At water's brink was starry silver of crow-foot,and the heath, still darkling, sheltered sky-blue milk-wortand violet and the budding gold of the tormentil.
One white road ran due north-east and south-westacross the desert, and round about it, like the tents ofthe Anakim, rose huge snowy hillocks and ridges silver-brightin the sun. Here the venerable Archśan granitesof Dartmoor, that on Trowlesworthy blush to a ruddysplendour, and elsewhere break beautifully in fair colourand fine grain through the coarser porphyritic stone, suffera change, and out of their perishing constituents emergeskaolin, or china clay.
A river met this naked road, and at their junction thegrey bridge of Cadworthy saddled Plym. Beyond, likethe hogged back of a brown bear, Wigford Down rolledabove the gorges of Dewerstone, and further yet,retreated fields and forests, great uplifted plains, andsudden elevations that glimmered along their crests with thetender green of distant larch and beech.
The atmosphere was opalescent, milky, sweet, asthough earth's sap, leaping to the last tree-tip andbursting bud, exuded upon air the very visible incenseand savour of life. Running water and lifting larkmade the music of this hour; and at one spot on thedesert a girl's voice mingled with them and enlargedthe melody, for it was gentle and musical and belongedto the springtime.
She sat high on Trowlesworthy, where the rusheschatter and where, to their eternal treble, the wind strikesdeep organ music from the forehead of the tor. Fromthe clefts of the rocks around her, where foxes homedsometimes and the hawk made her nest, there hung nowrusset tassels and tufts of dead lady-fern; and abovethis rack of the old year sprang dark green aigrettesof the new.
Stonecrops and pennyworts also flourished amid theuncurling fronds; aloft, the heath and whortle madecurls for the great tor's brow; below, to the girl's feet,there sloped up boulders that shone with fabric ofgolden-brown mosses and dappled lichens, jade-green and grey.The woodsorrel had climbed hither, and its frail bellsand sparkling trefoils glittered on the earth.
The sun shone with a thready lustre over the millionflattened dead rushes roundabout this place, and its lightspread out upon them into a pool of pale gold. Thus aradiance as of water extended here and the wind, frettingall this death, heightened the deception; while thescattered rocks shone brilliantly against so much reflectedlight and looked like boulders half submerged at thefringe of a glittering sea.
The girl laughed and gazed down at her home. It wasa squat grey building half-way between the red tor andthe distant bridge. It stood amid bright green crofts,and beside it was a seemly hayrick and an unseemlypatch of rufous light that stared—hideous as abloodshot eye—from the harmonious textures of the waste.There a shippen under an iron roof sank to rustydissolution.
Here was Trowlesworthy Farm and a great rabbitwarren that extended round about it.
Milly Luscombe lived at Trowlesworthy with an uncleand aunt. She was accustomed to work very hard forher living, but for the moment she did not work. Sheonly breathed the breath of spring and talked of love.
Beside her sat a sturdy youth with a red face and alittle budding flaxen moustache. His countenance wasnot cast in a cheerful mould. Indeed, he frowned andgazed gloomily out of large grey eyes at the valleybeneath him.
"I axed father in plain words if I might be tokenedto you—of course, that was if you said 'yes'—andhe answered as plainly that I might not. You see, hewas terrible up in years afore he got married himself,and so he thinks a man's a fool to go into it young."
"How old was he then?"
"Forty-five to the day. And he's seventy nextmonth, though he don't feel or look anything like somuch. He's full of old, stale sayings about marryingin haste and repenting at leisure: and such like. Sothere it is, Milly."
The girl nodded. She was a dark maiden with browneyes and a pretty mouth. She sniffed rather tearfullyand wiped her eyes with the corner of her sun-bonnet.
"Belike your father only waited so long because theright one didn't come. When he found your mother,I'm sure he married her quick enough."
"No, he didn't. They was tokened when he wasforty, and kept company for five years."
"That ban't loving," she said.
"Of course it ban't! And yet father isn't what youmight call a hard man. Far from it, to all but me. Abig-hearted, kindly creature and a good father, if hecould only understand more. Like a boy in somethings. I'm sure I feel a lot older than himsometimes. If 'twas Ned now, he'd be friendly and easyas you please."
"What does Mrs. Baskerville say?"
"She's on our side, and so's my sisters. Polly andMay think the world of you. 'Tisn't as if I was likemy brother Ned—a lazy chap that hates the sight ofwork. I stand to work same as father himself, and heknows that; and when there's anything calling to bedone, 'tis always, 'Where be Rupert to?" But lazyas Ned is, he'd let him marry to-morrow."
"Mr. Baskerville's frighted of losing you fromCadworthy, Rupert."
The young man looked out where a wood rose southof the bridge, and his father's farm lifted its blackchimneys above the trees.
"He tells me I'm his right hand; and yet refuses,though this is the first thing that ever I've asked him,"he said.
"Wouldn't he suffer it if you promised him to doas he done, and not marry for five years?"
"I'll promise no such thing. Father seems to think'tis all moonshine, but I shall have another go at himwhen he comes home next week. Till then I shan'tsee you no more, for I've promised myself to get througha mighty pile of work—just to astonish him."
"The harder you work, the more he'll want you tobide at home," she said. "Not that I mind youworking. All the best sort work—I know that."
"I must work—no credit to me. I'm like fatherthere. I ban't comfortable if I don't get through agood lump of work in the day."
She looked at him with large admiration.
"Where's Mr. Baskerville gone to?"
"To Bideford for the wrestlin' matches. He alwaysstands stickler when there's a big wrestlin'. Such afamous man he was at it—champion of Devon fornine years. He retired after he was married. Butnow, just on his seventieth birthday, he's as cleveras any of 'em. 'Twas his great trouble, I dobelieve, that neither me nor Ned ever shaped well at it.But we haven't got his weight. We take after mymother's people and be light built men—compared tofather."
"Pity May weren't a boy," said Milly. "She'sgot weight enough."
"Yes," he admitted. "She's the very daps offather. She'll be a whacker when she grows up. 'Tis anuisance for a woman being made so terrible beamy.But there 'tis—and a happier creature never had towalk slow up a hill."
Silence fell for a while between them.
"We must wait and hope," she declared at last. "Ishan't change, Rupert—you know that."
"Right well I know it, and more shan't I."
"You're just turned twenty-three and I'm eighteen.After all, we've got plenty of time," said Milly.
"I hope so. But that's no reason why for we shouldwaste it. 'Tis all wasted till I get you."
She put her hand out to him, and he caught it andheld it.
"It might be a long sight worse," she said. "'Tisonly a matter of patience."
"There's no need for patience, and there lies thecruelty. However, I'll push him hard when he comeshome. Tokened I will be to 'e—not in secret, butafore the nation."
"Look!" she said. "Two men riding up over.Go a bit further off, there's a dear."
Rupert looked where she pointed, and then heshowed no little astonishment and concern.
"Good Lord!" he exclaimed. "If 'tisn't my UncleHumphrey Baskerville; and Mark along with him.What the mischief sent them here, of all ways? Can'twe hide?"
But no hiding-place offered. Therefore the youngpeople rose and walked boldly forward.
"He's going out to Hen Tor to look at they ruins,I reckon," said Milly. "I met your cousin Mark abit ago, and he told me his father was rather interestedin that old rogues-roost of a place they call Hen TorHouse. Why for I can't say; but that's where theybe riding, I doubt."
Two men on ponies arrived as she spoke, and drewup beside the lovers.
The elder exhibited a cast of countenance somewhatremarkable. He was a thin, under-sized man withgrey hair. His narrow, clean-shorn face slopedwedge-shaped to a pointed chin, and his mouth was liplessand very hard. Grotesquely large black eyebrowsdarkened his forehead, but they marked no arch.They were set in two patches or tufts, and movedfreely up and down over a pair of rather dim grey eyes.The appearance of dimness, however, was not real,for Humphrey Baskerville possessed good sight. Hewas sixty-three years old, and a widower. He passedfor a harsh, secretive man, and lived two miles fromhis elder brother, Vivian Baskerville, of Cadworthy.His household consisted of himself, his son Mark, andhis housekeeper.
"Good morning, Uncle Humphrey," said Rupert,taking the bull by the horns. "You know MillyLuscombe, don't you? Morning, Mark."
Mr. Baskerville's black tufts went up and his slit ofa mouth elongated.
"What's this then?" he asked. "Fooling up herewith a girl—you? I hope you're not taking afteryour good-for-nothing brother?"
"Needn't fear that, uncle."
"How's Mr. Luscombe?" asked the old manabruptly, turning to the girl.
Milly feared nobody—not even this much-fearedand mysterious person—and now she turned to himand patted his old pony's neck as she answered—
"Very well, thank you, Mr. Baskerville, and I'msure he'd hope you are the same."
The tufts came down and he looked closely at her.
"You playing truant too—eh? Well, why not?'Tis too fine a day for work, perhaps."
"So it is, then. Even your old blind pony knowsthat."
"Only blind the near side," he answered. "Hecan see more with one eye than many humans can withboth."
"What's his name, please?"
"I don't know. Never gave him one."
They walked a little way forward, while Rupertstopped behind and spoke to his cousin Mark.
"So you like that boy very much—eh?" said theold man drily and suddenly to Milly.
She coloured up and nodded.
"Nonsense and foolery!"
"If 'tis, I wouldn't exchange it for your sense,Mr. Baskerville."
He made a deep grunt, like a bear.
"That's the pert way childer speak to the old folknow—is it?"
"Even you was in love once?"
"Nonsense and foolery—nonsense and foolery!"
"Would you do different if you could go back?"
He did not answer the question.
"I doubt you're too good for Rupert Baskerville,"he said.
"He's too good for me."
"He stands to work—I grant that. But he'syoung, and he's foolish, like all young things.