A neighbour met them at the gate, her face eager to impart bad news.
"Your mother's worse," she cried. "She came out of the door just now, staring like a ghost, and she trembled all over, and fell down in the path.
Mrs. Hoblyn has gone to her, and Will Searle; they've lifted her inside, poor soul.
They say her eyes are shut."
Firmly the doctor pushed the little gaping crowd away from the door.
Together he and the man Searle lifted the still figure from the floor and carried her upstairs to the bedroom.
"It's a stroke," said the doctor, "but she's breathing; her pulse is steady.
This is what I've been afraid of — that she'd snap suddenly, like this.
Why it's come just now after all these years is known only to the Lord and herself.
You must prove yourself your parents' child now, Mary, and help her through this.
You are the only one who can."
For six long months or more Mary nursed her mother in this her first and last illness, but with all the care she and the doctor gave her it was not the widow's will to recover.
She had no wish to fight for her life.
It was as though she longed for release and prayed silently that it would come quickly.
She said to Mary,
"I don't want you to struggle as I have done.
It's a breaking of the body and of the spirit.
There's no call for you to stay on in Helford after I am gone.
It's best for you to go to your aunt Patience up to Bodmin."
There was no use in Mary telling her mother that she would not die.
It was fixed there in her mind, and there was no fighting it.
"I haven't any wish to leave the farm, Mother," she said. "I was born here and my father before me, and you were a Helford woman.
This is where the Yellans belong to be.
I'm not afraid of being poor, and the farm falling away.
You worked here for seventeen years alone, so why shouldn't I do the same?
I'm strong; I can do the work of a man; you know that."
"It's no life for a girl," said her mother. "I did it all these years because of your father, and because of you.
Working for someone keeps a woman calm and contented, but it's another thing when you work for yourself.
There's no heart in it then."
"I'd be no use in a town," said Mary. "I've never known anything but this life by the river, and I don't want to.
Going into Helston is town enough for me.
I'm best here, with the few chickens that's left to us, and the green stuff in the garden, and the old pig, and a bit of a boat on the river.
What would I do up to Bodmin with my Aunt Patience?"
"A girl can't live alone, Mary, without she goes queer in the head, or comes to evil.
It's either one or the other.
Have you forgotten poor Sue, who walked the churchyard at midnight with the full moon, and called upon the lover she had never had?
And there was one maid, before you were born, left an orphan at sixteen.
She ran away at Falmouth and went with the sailors.
"I'd not rest in my grave, nor your father neither, if we didn't leave you safe.
You'll like your Aunt Patience; she was always a great one for games and laughing, with a heart as large as life.
You remember when she came here, twelve years back?
She had ribbons in her bonnet and a silk petticoat.
There was a fellow working at Trelowarren had an eye to her, but she thought herself too good for him."
Yes, Mary remembered Aunt Patience, with her curled fringe and large blue eyes, and how she laughed and chatted, and how she picked up her skirts and tiptoed through the mud in the yard.
She was as pretty as a fairy.
"What sort of a man your Uncle Joshua is I cannot say," said her mother, "for I've never set eyes on him nor known anyone what has.
But when your aunt married him ten years ago last Michaelmas she wrote a pack of giddy nonsense you'd expect a girl to write, and not a woman over thirty."
"They'd think me rough," said Mary slowly. "I haven't the pretty manners they'd expect. We wouldn't have much to say to one another."
"They'll love you for yourself and not for any airs and graces.
I want you to promise me this, child, that when I'm gone you'll write to your Aunt Patience and tell her that it was my last and dearest wish that you should go to her."