The Tempting of Tavernake by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter II. The Simple Life
So Tavernake became a boat-builder. Summer passed into winter and this hamlet by the sea seemed, indeed, as though it might have been one of the forgotten spots upon the earth. Save for that handful of cottages, the two farmhouses a few hundred yards inland, and the deserted Hall half-hidden in its grove of pine trees, there was no dwelling-place nor any sign of human habitation for many miles. For eight hours a day Tavernake worked, mostly out of doors, in the little yard which hung over the beach. Sometimes he rested from his labors and looked seaward, looked around him as though rejoicing in that unbroken solitude, the emptiness of the gray ocean, the loneliness of the land behind. What things there were which lay back in the cells of his memory, no person there knew, for he spoke of his past to no one, not even to Ruth. He was a good workman, and he lived the simple life of those others without complaint or weariness. There was nothing in his manner to denote that he had been used to anything else. The village had accepted him without question. It was only Ruth who still, gravely but kindly enough, disapproved of his presence.
One day she came and sat with him as he smoked his after-dinner pipe, leaning against an overturned boat, with his eyes fixed upon that line of gray breakers.
"You spend a good deal of your time thinking, Mr. Tavernake," she remarked quietly.
"Too much," he admitted at once, "too much, Miss Nicholls. I should be better employed planing down that mast there."
"You know that I did not mean that," she said, reprovingly, "only sometimes you make me--shall I confess it?--almost angry with you."
He took his pipe from his mouth and knocked out the ashes. As they fell on the ground so he looked at them.
"All thought is wasted time," he declared, grimly, "all thought of the past. The past is like those ashes; it is dead and finished."
She shook her head.
"Not always," she replied. "Sometimes the past comes to life again. Sometimes the bravest of us quit the fight too soon."
He looked at her questioningly, almost fiercely. Her words, however, seemed spoken without intent.
"So far as mine is concerned," he pronounced, "it is finished. There is a memorial stone laid upon it, and no resurrection is possible."
"You cannot tell," she answered. "No one can tell."
He turned back to his work almost rudely, but she stayed by his side.
"Once," she remarked, reflectively, "I, too, went a little way into the world. I was a school-teacher at Norwich. I was very fond of some one there; we were engaged. Then my mother died and I had to come back to look after father."
"We are a long way from Norwich," she continued, quietly. "Soon after I left, the man whom I was fond of grew lonely. He found some one else."
"You have forgotten him?" Tavernake asked, quickly.
"I shall never forget him," she replied. "That part of life is finished, but if ever my father can spare me, I shall go back to my work again. Sometimes those work the best and accomplish the most who carry the scars of a great wound."
She turned away to the house, and after that it seemed to him that she avoided him for a time. At any rate, she made no further attempt to win his confidence. Propinquity, however, was too much for both of them. He was a lodger under her father's roof. It was scarcely possible for them to keep apart. Saturdays and Sundays they walked sometimes for miles across the frost-bound marshes, in the quickening atmosphere of the darkening afternoons, when the red sun sank early behind the hills, and the twilight grew shorter every day. They watched the sea-birds together and saw the wild duck come down to the pools; felt the glow of exercise burn their cheeks; felt, too, that common and nameless exultation engendered by their loneliness in the solitude of these beautiful empty places. In the evenings they often read together, for Nicholls, although no drinker, never missed his hour or so at the village inn. Tavernake, in time, began to find a sort of comfort in her calm, sexless companionship. He knew very well that he was to her as she was to him, something human, something that filled an empty place, yet something without direct personality. Little by little he felt the bitterness in his heart grow less. Then a late spring --late, at any rate, in this quaint corner of the world--stole like some wonderful enchantment across the face of the moors and the marshes. Yellow gorse starred with golden clumps the brown hillside; wild lavender gleamed in patches across the silver-streaked marshes; the dead hedges came blossoming into life. Crocuses, long lines of yellow and purple crocuses, broke from waxy buds into starlike blossoms along the front of Matthew Nicholls's garden. And with the coming o spring, Tavernake found himself suddenly able to thin of the past. It was a new phase of life. He could sit down and think of those things that had happened to him, without fearing to be wrecked by the storm. Often he sat out looking seaward, thinking of the days when he had first met Beatrice, of those early days of pleasant companionship, of the marvelous avidity with which he had learned from her. Only when Elizabeth's face stole into the foreground did he spring from his place and turn back to his work.
One day Tavernake sat poring over the weekly local paper, reading it more out of curiosity than from any real interest. Suddenly a familiar name caught his eye. His heart seemed to stop beating for a moment, and th page swam before his eyes. Quickly he recovered hill self and read:
THE QUEEN'S HALL, UNTHANK ROAD, NORWICH TWICE DAILY. PROFESSOR FRANKLIN assisted by his daughter, MISS BEATRICE FRANKLIN, will give his REFINED and MARVELOUS ENTERTAINMENT, comprising HYPNOTISM, feats Of SECOND SIGHT never before attempted on any stage, THOUGHT-READING, and a BRIEF LECTURE upon the connection between ANCIENT SUPERSTITIONS and the EXTRAORDINARY DEVELOPMENTS OF THE NEW SCIENCE. PROFESSOR FRANKLIN Can be CONSULTED PRIVATELY, by letter or by appointment. Address for this week--The Golden Cow, Bell's Lane, Norwich.
Twice Tavernake read the announcement. Then he went out and found Ruth.
"Ruth," he told her, "there is something calling me back, perhaps for good."
For the first time she gave him her hand.
"Now you are talking like a man once more," she declared. "Go and seek it. Comeback and say good-bye to us, if you will, but throw your tools into the sea."
Tavernake laughed and looked across at his workshop.
"I don't believe," he said, "that you've any confidence in my boat."
"I'm not sure that I would sail with you," she answered, "even if you ever finished it. A laborer's work for a laborer's hand. You must go back to the other things."