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Janet’s loving spirit — her passionate yearning for adventure and love — is passed down to her son, and through him to his children’s children. As generations of the family struggle against hardship and loss, their intricately plotted history is set against the greater backdrop of war and social change in Britain. Her debut novel, The Loving Spirit established du Maurier’s reputation and style with an inimitable blend of romance, history and adventure.
“Daphne du Maurier has no equal.”-Sunday Telegraph
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Alas—the countless links are strong
That bind us to our clay,
The loving spirit lingers long,
And would not pass away
Janet Coombe (1830–1863)
No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere:
I see heaven's glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men's hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of immortality.
Janet Coombe stood on the hill above Plyn, looking down upon the harbor. Although the sun was already high in the heavens, the little town was still wrapped in an early morning mist. It clung to Plyn like a thin pale blanket, lending to the place a faint whisper of unreality as if the whole had been blessed by the touch of ghostly fingers. The tide was ebbing, the quiet waters escaped silently from the harbor and became one with the sea, unruffled and undisturbed. No straggling cloud, no hollow wind broke the calm beauty of the still white sky. For one instant a gull hovered in the air, stretching his wide wings to the sun, then cried suddenly and dived, losing itself in the mist below. It seemed to Janet that this hillside was her own world, a small planet of strange clarity and understanding; where all troublous thoughts and queer wonderings of the heart became soothed and at rest.
The white mist buried the cares and doubts of daily life, and with them all vexatious duties and the dull ways of natural folk. Here on the hilltop was no mist, no place of shadows, but the warm comfort of the noonday sun.
There was a freedom here belonging not to Plyn, a freedom that was part of the air and the sea; like the glad tossing of the leaves in autumn, and the shy fluttering wings of a bird. In Plyn it was needful to run at another's bidding, and from morn till night there were the cares and necessities of household work—helping here, helping there, encouraging those around you with a kindly word, and sinful it was to expect one in return. And now she was to become a woman, and step onto the threshold of a new life, so the preacher had told her. Maybe it would change her, and sorrow would come her way and joy also for that matter, but if she held an everlasting faith in God who is the Father of us all, in the end she would know peace and the sight of Heaven itself. It was best to follow these righteous words though it seemed that the road to Heaven was a hard long road, and there were many who fell by the way and perished for their sins.
The preacher spoke truth indeed, but with never a word of the lovable things that clung about the heart. God alone is worthy of great love. Here on the hill the solemn sheep slept alongside of one another in the chill nights, the mother protected her young ones from the stealthy fox who steals in the shadow of the hedge—even the tall trees drew together in the evening for comfort's sake.
Yet none of these things know the love for God, said the preacher.
It might happen that he did not know the truth of every bird, beast, and flower, and that they too were immortal as well as humankind.
Janet kneeled beside the stream, and touched a pale forgotten primrose that grew wistfully near the water's edge. A blackbird called from the branch above her head, and flew away, scattering the white blossom on her hair. The flaming gorse bushes breathed in the sun, filling the air with a rich sweet scent, a medley of honey and fresh dew.
It was Janet Coombe's wedding day. Even now her mother would be preparing the feast for the guests that were to come and her sisters laying her fine wedding gown upon the bed with longing awesome hands.
Soon the bells would peal over to Lanoc Church, and she and Cousin Thomas, her dear husband that was to be, would stand before the altar and be made one in the eyes of God.
Thomas's eyes would be lowered with beseeming reverence, and he would hearken to the good words of the preacher; but Janet knew her eyes would escape to the glint of pure light that shone through the church window, and her heart would travel out across the sunbeam to the silent hills.
The wedding service would seem dim and unreal, like the town of Plyn in the morning mist, and try as she could, she would not be able to listen when she herself was elsewhere. It was the sinful soul in her that came not at the preacher's bidding; sinful and wayward as it had always been, since the days when she had been no more than a mite of a child, way back at her mother's knee.
For her sisters had attended school good and proper, and had learned to sew and to read, but Janet was forever playing truant, away on the beach beyond the harbor. She would stand on the high crumbling cliffs, inside the ruin of the old Castle, and watch the brown sails of the Penlivy luggers that glittered on the far horizon.
"Please God, make me a lad afore I'm grown," she would pray, and her no larger than a boot, with curls hanging round her neck. Her mother would scold her and beat her, and chide her for a great lump of a boy with heathenish ways, but it was all of no avail. Her mother might have spared the rod for the good it did her.
Like a lad she grew, tall and straight, with steady hands and fearless eyes, and a love of the sea in her blood. For all that she was a girl at heart, with her tenderness for animals and weak, helpless things, and it was this that made her have a care to her dress later, and pin a flower to her bodice, and comb her black curls off her forehead. The men would wait for her outside the gate of her father's house, and ask her to walk up the cliff path on Sundays; they'd stand with awkward hands and silly sheep's eyes, as if their tongues were too large for their mouths, but Janet gave them a laugh for an answer, and a toss of her head.
She would go with the lads if she could run with them, and climb the hedges, and have them admire her for her skill; but not to walk side by side with hands touching, for all the world like a pair of lovers. The time would come soon enough when she'd be wed, and have a husband and home to look after, and a bothering long skirt around her ankles, and a cap on her head, tidy and respectable.
It would be a man she'd want though, and not a great hulking boy with never a word to say for himself, and nothing better to do than to hang around in hopes of a soft look or a gentle word. So reasoned Janet when she was eighteen past, and when her sisters were all for tying ribbons in their hair, and watching the men in church over their hymnbooks.
But Janet scorned their ways, though she was not better than them for listening to the preacher's words, for her thoughts traveled away across the sea, where the ships sailed into strange lands and distant countries.
Often she would wander down to the shipbuilding yard, at the bottom of Plyn hill by the harbor slip. The business was owned by her uncle, and though it was only small as yet, it was thriving steadily, and was growing larger every year. Besides, her uncle was helped by his hardworking nephew, young Thomas Coombe, Janet's second cousin.
Cousin Thomas was serious and steady, he had been to Plymouth to study, and he had a quiet way about him that impressed his uncle, and also the lazy good-for-nothing men who worked in the yard.
Soon, maybe, the firm would tackle heavier and harder work than the building of fishing luggers. Young Thomas would become a partner; on his uncle's death the business would be his.
He was a brave man, was Cousin Thomas, well-spoken and handsome enough, if you came to think of it. He had no time for lovemaking and walking up the cliff path on Sundays, but for all that he had his eye on Janet, and he thought to himself what a splendid wife she'd make, a worthy life partner for any man.
So it happened that young Thomas fell to calling at the house of an evening, and chatting to the father and mother, with his mind to Janet the while.
He pictured the house halfway up Plyn hill, ivy-covered and with a view of the harbor, and Janet waiting for him when the day's work was done, her children at her knee.
He waited a year before speaking his mind to Janet, he waited until she had come to know him as well as one of her own family, and trusted him and respected him the same.
Soon after her nineteenth birthday he told her father and mother that he wished to make Janet his wife. They were pleased, for Thomas was making his way in Plyn, and was as sober and honest as any parent could hope.
One evening he called at the house, and asked if he could see Janet alone.
She came running down the stairs, dressed neat and tidy, her locket pinned to her breast, and her dark hair parted smoothly in the middle.
"Why, Cousin Thomas," she cried, "it's early you've come to us this evenin', and supper not yet laid; and only findin' me for company."
"Yes, Janet," he answered quietly, "an' I'm here special for a certain purpose, an' a question which I'm desirous to put to you."
Janet flushed, and glanced to the window. Had not her sisters whispered something of this to her some evenings back, and she had laughed at them, heeding them not.
"Speak your mind, Cousin Thomas," she said, "maybe I shall not find it hard nor difficult to give an answer."
Then he took her hand in his, and drew her to the chair beside the hearth.
"For twelve months, Janet, I've come here to your house regular, and watched your ways, and hearkened to your words. That which I'm preparin' to say to you now, is not the outcome of anythin' hasty, nor the result of wild thinkin'. It's twelve months I've seen you, and come to love you for your own true heart and simpleness, an' now the feelin' is strong upon me to speak my mind. It's that I'm wishful for you to be my wife, Janet, and to have you share my home and my heart; an' I'll work my life to bring you peace an' sweet content, Janet."
She suffered her hand to rest in his, and thought awhile.
It seemed to her that she was scarce grown from a child to a girl, but that she must change into a woman—and forever. No more could she lift her skirts and run about the rocks, nor wander among the sheep on the hills. It was a home now to be tended, and a man of her own, and later maybe, and God willing, the child that came with being wed.
At this thought there was something that laid its finger on her soul, like the remembrance of a dream, or some dim forgotten thing: a ray of knowledge that is hidden from folk in their wakeful moments, and then comes to them queerly at strange times. This came to Janet now, fainter than a call; like a soft still whisper.
She turned to Thomas with a smile on her lips.
"It's proud I am for the honor that you've done me, and me not worthy and wise enough, I reckon, for the like of you, Thomas. But all th' same it's terrible pleasant for a girl to hear with her own ears as there's someone who'll love and cherish her. An' if it's your wish to take me, Thomas, and bear with my ways—for I'm awful wild at times—then it's happy I'll be to share your home and to care for you."
"Janet, my dear, there's not a prouder man than me in Plyn today, for sure, nor ever will be till the day I sit you for the first time by our own fireside."
Then he stood up and held her to him. "Since it's settled we'm to be wed, an' I've spoken to your parents t'other night, them being agreeable, I reckon it would be seemly enough and no harm done if I was to kiss you, Janet."
She wondered a moment, for she had never kissed a man before, saving her own father.
She placed her two hands on his shoulders, and held her face beside him.
"No matter if 'tisn' proper, Thomas," she told him afterwards, " 'tis mighty good the feel of it."
And that is how Janet promised herself to her Cousin Thomas Coombe, of Plyn in the County of Cornwall, in the year eighteen hundred and thirty, he being twenty-five years of age and she just turned nineteen.
Now the mist had lifted, and Plyn was no longer a place of shadows. Voices rose from the harbor, the gulls dived in the water, and folk stood at their cottage doors.
Janet still stood on the hilltop and watched the sea, and it seemed that there were two sides of her; one that wanted to be the wife of a man, and to care for him and love him tenderly, and one that asked only to be part of a ship, part of the seas and the sky above, with the glad free ways of a gull.
Then she turned and saw Thomas coming up the hill towards her. She smiled and ran to him.
"I fancy that it's sinful to greet your husband on the mornin' afore you'm wed," she said. "It's in the house I should be, preparin' for the church, and not here on the hill with my hand in your'n."
He took her in his arms.
"Maybe there's folks aroun', but I can't help it," he whispered. "Janie, it's terrible strong the way I'm lovin' you."
The sheep moved about the field, and the sweet scent of the gorse filled the air.
When would the bells start pealing over to Lanoc Church?
"It's queer to think as we shall never be parted agen, Thomas," she said. "Never at nights no more, an' in the daytime while you'm workin', and me fiddlin' with the house, our thoughts'll be with one another all the time."
She rested her head upon his shoulder. "Is bein' wed a mighty serious thing, Thomas?"
"Aye, sweetheart, but the holy state o' marriage has God's blessing, an' we needn't mind. Preacher has told me so. He was explainin' many things to me, 'cos there were some ways I was afeared to find uneasy an' hard. But I'll be good to you, Janie."
"There'll be times when we'll chide each other, bad, and be short o' temper I'm thinkin', an' then it's regrettin' it you'll be, wishin' you was single once more."
"No never, no never!"
"Funny to think as all our lives is to be here at Plyn, Thomas. No roaming for you an' me, same as some folks. Our children'll grow beside us, an' they'll be wed, and their children after them. We'll be old, and then the two of us at rest in Lanoc churchyard. 'Twill all happen, like flowers openin' their faces in summer, and birds flyin' south when the first leaf falls. An' here we be now Thomas, not knowin' no reckonin' of it."
" 'Tis sinful to talk o' death, Janie, and life that is to be. Everything is in the hands o' God, we mus'n' question it. It's not our childrun's childrun I'm wantin' to be thinkin' of, but our own two selves an' us to be wed today. I love you sore, Janie."
She clung fast to him, looking the while over his shoulder.
"In a hundred years there'll be two others standin' here, Thomas, same as us now—an' they'll be blood of our blood, an' flesh of our flesh."
She trembled in his arms.
"You'm talkin' strange an' wild, Janie, keep your mind on us, and back from the days when we'll be dead an' gone."
"It's not feared for meself I be," she whispered, "but feared for them as comes after us. Maybe there's many beings who'll depend on us—far, far ahead. Standin' on the top o' Plyn hill in the morning sun."
"If you'm fearful, Janie, seek out the preacher and bid him soothe your mind. He knows best, and it comes from readin' the Bible o' nights."
" 'Tisn' the Bible, nor the preacher's words, nor my everlastin' prayers to God that'll save us, Thomas; nor even watchin' the ways of birds an' beasts, nor standin' in the sun and listenin' to the quiet waves and the dear sight of Plyn with her misty face—though these be things of which I'm terrible fond."
"What is it then, Janie?"
"There's words an' plenty for folks to talk, but I reckon in my heart there's but one thing that matters; an' that's for you an' I to love each other, and them as comes after us."
They wandered down the hillside without a word.
At the house door stood Janet's mother, waiting for the pair of them.
"Where you'm been?" she called. " 'Tis neither decent nor right, Thomas, to speak with her who's to be your bride, afore you greet her in church. An' you, Janet, I'm ashamed of ye, runnin' up th' hill in your old gown on your weddin' mornin'. There's your sisters up in your room waitin' for to dress you; and folks'll be comin' in an' you not ready. Be off with you, Thomas, an' you too, Janet."
Janet went upstairs to her little bedroom that she shared with her two sisters.
"Hasty, Janie," they cried. "Was there ever such a girl for losin' the time, an' on a day like this."
They fingered the white gown on the bed with longing fingers.
"To think as in two hours you'll be wed, Janie, an' a woman. If 'twas me, I couldn' speak for the thought. You'll be aside Cousin Thomas tonight, an' not in here with us. Are you feared?"
Janet thought, and shook her head.
"If it's lovin' a person you are, there's nothin' to be scared of."
They dressed her in her bridal gown, and placed the veil upon her head.
"Why, Janie—'tis a queen you look." They held up the tiny, cracked mirror for her to see her face.
How strange she looked to herself. Not the old wild Janet, who wandered on the seashore, but someone pale and quiet with grave dark eyes.
Her mother called from the stairs.
"You'll be faintin' unless you've some food inside o' ye. Come away down."
"I'm not wishful to eat," said Janet. "But go down both of you, an' leave me a while. I'd best be alone at the last."
She kneeled by the window and looked across the harbor. In her heart were many strange unaccountable feelings, and she could name none of them. She loved Thomas dearly, but she knew in her soul there was something waiting for her greater than this love for Thomas. Something strong and primitive, lit with everlasting beauty.
One day it would come, but not yet.
Softly the bells pealed over the hill from Lanoc Church—then louder; ringing through the air.
"Janie—where are you to?"
She rose from the window, and went away down where the wedding guests were waiting.
It was as if a change came over Janet Coombe after she was wed. She was quieter, more thoughtful, and gave over running the hills in the old wild fashion. Her mother and the neighbors took note of this, and talked of the matter with many smiles and wise sayings.
" 'Tis having a man has changed her, and what more natural? She's a woman now, and wishful for nothing more than to do as her husband bids her. It's the only way with a girl like Janet, to rid her head of the sea an' the hills, and all such nonsense. It's young Thomas has found the way to quieten her mind, an' waken the rightful instincts in her."
In a sense they spoke reasonably enough, for indeed with marriage and Thomas there had come to Janet a knowledge of peace and blissful content that she had never known, and could not explain to herself. It was as if he had the power to soothe with his love and care all troublous thoughts and restless feelings.
But this was only the result of the strange new intimacy between them, which would seem to change her for the while, but had done nothing to alter the wandering spirit in her.
For the moment it lay sleeping and at rest, while she gave herself up to her newfound pride and joy. She forsook the hills and the harbor, she ceased watching the ships on the far sea, but busied herself all day in her own house.
It was a pleasant spot that Thomas had chosen for their home, this ivy-clad house standing by itself away from the prying eyes of the neighbors. There was a garden too, where Thomas liked to amuse himself of an evening, with Janet beside him, her work in her hands. There was no more messing with rough boats for her now, but the mending and care of Thomas's clothes, and maybe curtains for the trim parlor.
She never ceased to wonder at herself, did Janet, for the pride and love she found in her heart for this home of theirs.
She remembered the many times she had mocked and laughed at her sisters, "Why I'll never be a one for marryin' and wastin' my time with a house. 'Tis a lad I should ha' been, an' sailin' a ship."
But now there was scarce a house in Plyn as spick and span as Janet's and for any wondering questions her sisters might put to her, they got a toss of her head for answer, and a swift reply from her sharp tongue, "Aye, you may laugh as you will, but it's me that has the home of my own, and a husband workin' for me, while you have nothin' but soft-spoken lads who walk you along the cliff path o' Sundays.
"I can see you," says she, "yawnin' at their silly words, while I sit at my own fireside with Thomas beside me. And you can mind that."
Indeed to hear her talk there had never been a house like "Ivy House," with the tidy well-swept rooms, the big bedroom above the porch, the other rooms, "for later on, maybe," and her own smart kitchen. She was proud of her cooking, too, for she found once she gave a mind to it, it was nearly as fascinating as walking among the heather on the hills. Her saffron cake was as good as her mother's, declared Thomas, his heart swelling with pride for her.
"Now an' I come to think, Janie, 'tis better altogether. There's a lightness o' touch in your cakes like I've surely never tasted afore!"
Then she would hide her smile, and glance away from the look in his eyes.
"You'm forever flatterin' and makin' up to me," she pretended. " 'Tis my cakes you like, and not myself at all."
Then he would rise from the table, and take her face in his hands, and kiss her till the breath nearly left her body. "Stop it, stop it, Thomas, I tell you," and he would sigh and put her away from him. "It's terrible, Janie, the way I am."
She would hold Thomas close to her in the darkness, while he slept with his head against her cheek. She loved him for his strength and for his gentleness to her, for his special grave ways when he had the mood, and for the moments when like a clumsy child he'd cling to her, afraid of his own self.
"You'll stay mine, Janie, forever an' ever? Whisper it true, for the words are sweet to hear!" And she whispered them to him, knowing full well she'd be his loving, faithful wife till death came, but knowing also that there was a greater love than this awaiting her. From where it would come she did not know, but it was there, round the bend of the hills, biding until she was ready for it.
Meanwhile the first weeks passed and they became used to one another, and Janet grew accustomed to the presence of Thomas near her at all times, and his ever-ready wish to be close to her.
She busied herself with the house in the mornings, and if it happened that he was working hard she would take his dinner down to him herself in the yard, and sit beside him the while.
She loved the great trunks of trees, old and well seasoned, that lay waiting to be cut for planks, the sawdust on the ground, the smell of new rope and tar and the rough unformed shapes of boats. The thought would come into her mind that one day these planks would be living things, riding the sea with the wind for company; roaming the wide world over maybe; and she a woman in Plyn, with only a husband and a home. And she strove to banish these thoughts which belonged to the old wild Janet, and were not befitting to the wife of Thomas Coombe. She must remember that she wore a print gown now, and a smooth apron about her waist, and no longer a rough skirt for climbing the rocks beneath the Castle ruin. Sometimes of an afternoon she'd put on her bonnet, and walk up Plyn hill to her mother's house, where there'd be tea served in the front parlor, and neighbors coming in for cake and talk.
It was strange for all that to be treated by the women as one of themselves, when it was only a bit of a while since she'd been scolded and chided for a mannerless girl. How many times had she put an eye to the keyhole of the parlor, holding her handkerchief to her mouth for fear of laughing, and listening to the chitchat of the neighbors' voices? And now she was one of them, sitting as prim as you like with her cup and saucer in her hands, inquiring after old Mrs. Collins' rheumatics, and shaking her head with the rest of them at the evil shocking ways of your Albie Trevase, who'd gotten the girl into trouble over at Polmear Farm.
"Seems as young folks have no respeck for themselves nor for others these days," said Mrs. Rogers. " 'Tis runnin' and la'fin' an' go-as-you-please from mornin' till night. The lads won' wait till they're wed, good an' proper, nor the gals neither. You should pray God on your knees and thank Him you'm safe, Mrs. Coombe," turning to Janet, "for your heathenish runnin' by yourself as a gal frightened your mother sore, it did."
"All th' same, an' thankin' ye, Mrs. Rogers," said Janet's mother, "my Janie was never one for havin' the lads take liberties with her."
"No, I didn', " declared Janet, with all the indignation of a young bride.
"Mebbe not—mebbe not, I'm not sayin' as you did, my dear. You'm wedded now, an' can do as your husband bids you, without fearin' the wrath of God. It's treatin' him well that'll keep him, I tell you, an' if you forget it you'll find your Thomas slinkin' after the farm girls, same as young Albie Trevase. An' you can mind that, Mrs. Coombe."
Janet shook her head in scorn. They could say what they liked against her Thomas, there wasn't a quieter nor soberer man in all Cornwall for sure.
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- Dec 17, 2013
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