The novel Eve was published in 1888 in Toronto, Canada. However, its roots lie distinctly along the River Tamar (which for some reason isn’t called the Tamar River) that helps form most of the boundaries between Devon from Cornwall. The book is available on Archive.org where I found it. However, the manuscript is difficult to read, and I’ve decided to transform it into an easily readable format to give the book new life.
The Novel starts with one Ezekiel Babb who is in search of his daughter Eve. I currently have no record of an Ezekiel Babb in this timeframe, but as you read the character, you will see that the author had a clear picture of how a Babb acts and many of the place names mentioned are homes to the earliest Babbs of Devon. I’ll be offering some insight about the historical places mentioned in the book as we progress through it.
Note that the novel portrays outdated stereotypes that would not be acceptable today. Regardless, the story is quite compelling.
So, without further ado, here is chapter one of Eve.
The river Tamar can be ascended by steamers as far as Morwell, one of the most picturesque points on that most beautiful river. There also, at a place called ‘New Quay,’ barges discharge their burdens of coal, bricks, &c., which thence are conveyed by carts throughout the neighbourhood. A new road, admirable as one of those of Napoleon’s construction in France, gives access to this quay—a road constructed at the outlay of a Duke of Bedford, to whom belongs all the land that was once owned by the Abbey of Tavistock. This skillfully engineered road descends by zigzags from the elevated moorland on the Devon side of the Tamar, through dense woods of oak and fir, under crags of weathered rock wreathed with heather. From the summit of the moor this road runs due north, past mine shafts and ‘ramps,’ or rubble heaps thrown out of the mines, and meets other roads uniting from various points under the volcanic peak of Brent Tor, that rises in solitary dignity out of the vast moor to the height of twelve hundred feet, and is crowned by perhaps the tiniest church in England.
Seventy or eighty years ago no such roads existed. The vast upland was all heather and gorse, with tracks across it. An old quay had existed on the river, and the ruins remained of the buildings about it erected by the abbots of Tavistock; but quay and warehouses had fallen into decay, and no barges came so far up the river.
The crags on the Devon side of the Tamar rise many hundred feet in sheer precipices, broken by gulfs filled with oak coppice, heather, and dogwood.
In a hollow of the down, half a mile from the oak woods and crags, with an ancient yew and Spanish chestnut before it, stood, and stands still, Morwell House, the hunting-lodge of the abbots of Tavistock, built where a moor-well—a spring of clear water—gushed from amidst the golden gorse brakes, and after a short course ran down the steep side of the hill, and danced into the Tamar.
Seventy or eighty years ago this house was in a better and worse condition than at present: worse, in that it was sorely dilapidated; better, in that it had not suffered tasteless modern handling to convert it into a farm with labourers’ cottages. Even forty years ago the old banquetting hall and the abbot’s parlour were intact. Now all has been restored out of recognition, except the gatehouse that opens into the quadrangle. In the interior of this old hall, on the twenty-fourth of June, just eighty years ago, sat the tenant: a tall, gaunt man with dark hair. He was engaged cleaning his gun, and the atmosphere was foul with the odour exhaled by the piece that had been recently discharged, and was now being purified. The man was intent on his work, but neither the exertion he used, nor the warmth of a June afternoon, accounted for the drops that beaded his brow and dripped from his face.
Once—suddenly—he placed the muzzle of his gun against his right side under the rib, and with his foot touched the lock. A quiver ran over his face, and his dim eyes were raised to the ceiling. Then there came from near his feet a feeble sound of a babe giving token with its lips that it was dreaming of food. The man sighed, and looked down at a cradle that was before him. He placed the gun between his knees, and remained for a moment gazing at the child’s crib, lost in a dream, with the evening sun shining through the large window and illumining his face. It was a long face with light blue eyes, in which lurked anguish mixed with cat-like treachery. The mouth was tremulous, and betrayed weakness.
Presently, recovering himself from his abstraction, he laid the gun across the cradle, from right to left, and it rested there as a bar sinister on a shield, black and ominous. His head sank in his thin shaking hands, and he bowed over the cradle. His tears or sweat, or tears and sweat combined, dropped as a salt rain upon the sleeping child, that gave so slight token of its presence.
All at once the door opened, and a man stood in the yellow light, like a medieval saint against a golden ground. He stood there a minute looking in, his eyes too dazzled to distinguish what was within, but he called in a hard, sharp tone, ‘Eve! where is Eve?’
The man at the cradle started up, showing at the time how tall he was. He stood up as one bewildered, with his hands outspread, and looked blankly at the new comer.
The latter, whose eyes were becoming accustomed to the obscurity, after a moment’s pause repeated his question, ‘Eve! where is Eve?’
The tall man opened his mouth to speak, but no words came.
‘Are you Ignatius Jordan?’
‘I am,’ he answered with an effort.
‘And I am Ezekiel Babb. I am come for my daughter.’
Ignatius Jordan staggered back against the wall, and leaned against it with arms extended and with open palms. The window through which the sun streamed was ancient; it consisted of two lights with a transom, and the sun sent the shadow of mullion and transom as a black cross against the further wall. Ignatius stood unconsciously spreading his arms against this shadow like a ghastly Christ on his cross. The stranger noticed the likeness, and said in his harsh tones, ‘Ignatius Jordan, thou hast crucified thyself.’ Then again, as he took a seat unasked, ‘Eve! where is Eve?’
The gentleman addressed answered with an effort, ‘She is no longer here. She is gone.’
‘What!’ exclaimed Babb; ‘no longer here? She was here last week. Where is she now?’
‘She is gone,’ said Jordan in a low tone.
‘Gone! —her child is here. When will she return?’
‘Return!’—with a sigh—’never.’
‘Cursed be the blood that flows in her veins!’ shouted the new comer. ‘Restless, effervescing, fevered, fantastic! It is none of it mine, it is all her mother’s.’ He sprang to his feet and paced the room furiously, with knitted brows and clenched fists. Jordan followed him with his eye. The man was some way past the middle of life. He was strongly and compactly built. He wore a long dark coat and waistcoat, breeches, and blue worsted stockings. His hair was grey; his protruding eyebrows met over the nose. They were black, and gave a sinister expression to his face. His profile was strongly accentuated, hawklike, greedy, cruel.
‘I see it all,’ he said, partly to himself; ‘that cursed foreign blood would not suffer her to find rest even here, where there is prosperity. What is prosperity to her? What is comfort? Bah! all her lust is after tinsel and tawdry.’ He raised his arm and clenched fist. ‘A life accursed of God! Of old our forefathers, under the righteous Cromwell, rose up and swept all profanity out of the land, the jesters, and the carol singers, and theatrical performers, and pipers and tumblers. But they returned again to torment the elect. What saith the Scripture? Make no marriage with the heathen, else shall ye be unclean, ye and your children.’
He reseated himself. ‘Ignatius Jordan,’ he said, ‘I was mad and wicked when I took her mother to wife; and a mad and wicked thing you did when you took the daughter. As I saw you just now—as I see you at present—standing with spread arms against the black shadow cross from the window, I thought it was a figure of what you chose for your lot when you took my Eve. I crucified myself when I married her mother, and now the iron enters your side.’ He paused; he was pointing at Ignatius with out-thrust finger, and the shadow seemed to enter Ignatius against
the wall. ‘The blood that begins to flow will not cease to run till it has all run out.’
Again he paused. The arms of Jordan fell.
‘So she has left you,’ muttered the stranger, ‘she has gone back to the world, to its pomps and vanities, its lusts, its lies, its laughter. Gone back to the players and dancers.’
Jordan nodded; he could not speak.
‘Dead to every call of duty,’ Babb continued with a scowl on his brow, ‘dead to everything but the cravings of a cankered heart; dead to the love of lawful gain; alive to wantonness, and music, and glitter. Sit down, and I will tell you the story of my folly, and you shall tell me the tale of yours.’ He looked imperiously at Jordan, who sank into his chair beside the cradle.
‘I will light my pipe.’ Ezekiel Babb struck a light with flint and steel. ‘We have made a like experience, I with the mother, you with the daughter. Why are you downcast? Rejoice if she has set you free. The mother never did that for me. Did you marry her?’
The pale man opened his mouth, and spread out, then clasped, his hands nervously, but said nothing.
‘I am not deaf that I should be addressed in signs,’ said Babb. ‘Did you marry my daughter?’
‘The face of heaven was turned on you,’ said Babb discontentedly, ‘and not on me. I committed myself, and could not break off the yoke. I married.’
The child in the cradle began to stir. Jordan rocked it with his foot.
‘I will tell you all,’ the visitor continued. ‘I was a young man when I first saw Eve—not your Eve, but her mother. I had gone into Totnes, and I stood by the cloth market at the gate to the church. It was the great fair-day. There were performers in the open space before the market. I had seen nothing like it before. What was performed I do not recall. I saw only her. I thought her richly, beautifully dressed. Her beauty shone forth above all. She had hair like chestnut, and brown eyes, a clear, thin skin, and was formed delicately as no girl of this country and stock. I knew she was of foreign blood. A carpet was laid in the marketplace, and she danced on it to music. It was like a flame flickering, not a girl dancing. She looked at me out of her large eyes, and I loved her. It was witchcraft, the work of the devil. The fire went out of her eyes and burnt to my marrow; it ran in my veins. That was witchcraft, but I did not think it then. There should have been a heap of wood raised and fired, and she cast into the flames. But our lot is fallen in evil days. The word of the Lord is no longer precious, and the Lord has said, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” That was witchcraft. How else was it that I gave no thought to Tamsine Bovey, of Buncombe, till it was too late, though Buncombe joins my land, and so Buncombe was lost to me for ever? Quiet that child if you want to hear more. Hah! Your Eve has deserted you and her babe, but mine had not the good heart to leave me.’
The child in the cradle whimpered. The pale man lifted it out, got milk and fed it, with trembling hand, but tenderly, and it dozed off in his arms.
‘A girl?’ asked Babb. Jordan nodded.
‘Another Eve—a third Eve?’ Jordan nodded again. ‘Another generation of furious, fiery blood to work confusion, to breed desolation. When will the earth open her mouth and swallow it up, that it defile no more the habitations of Israel?’
Jordan drew the child to his heart, and pressed it so passionately that it woke and cried.
‘Still the child or I will leave the house,’ said Ezekiel Babb. ‘You would do well to throw a wet cloth over its mouth, and let it smother itself before it work woe on you and others. When it is quiet, I will proceed.’ He paused. When the cries ceased he went on: ‘I watched Eve as she danced. I could not leave the spot. Then a rope was fastened and stretched on high, and she was to walk that. A false step would have dashed her to the ground. I could not bear it. When her foot was on the ladder, I uttered a great cry and ran forward; I caught her, I would not let her go. I was young then.’ He remained silent, smoking, and looking frowningly before him. ‘I was not a converted man then. Afterwards, when the word of God was precious to me, and I saw that I might have had Tamsine Bovey, and Buncombe, then I was sorry and ashamed. But it was too late. The eyes of the unrighteous are sealed. I was a fool. I married that dancing girl.’
He was silent again, and looked moodily at his pipe.
‘I have let the fire die out,’ he said, and rekindled as before. ‘I cannot deny that she was a good wife. But what availed it me to have a woman in the house who could dance like a feather, and could not make scald cream? What use to me a woman who brought the voice of a nightingale with her into the house, but no money? She knew nothing of the work of a household. She had bones like those of a pigeon, there was no strength in them. I had to hire women to do her work, and she was thriftless and thoughtless, so the money went out when it should have come in. Then she bore me a daughter, and the witchery was not off me, so I called her Eve—that is your Eve, and after that she gave me sons, and then’—angrily—’then, when loo late, she died. Why did she not die half a year before Tamsine Bovey married Joseph Warmington? If she had, I might still have got Buncombe—now it is gone, gone for ever.’
He knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and put it into his pocket.
‘Eve was her mother’s darling; she was brought up like a heathen to love play and pleasure, not work and duty. The child sucked in her mother’s nature with her mother’s milk. When the mother died, Eve—your Eve—was a grown girl, and I suppose home became unendurable to her. One day some play actors passed through the place on their way from Exeter, and gave a performance in our village. I found that my daughter, against my command, went to see it. When she came home, I took her into the room where is my great Bible, and I beat her. Then she ran away, and I saw no more of her; whether she went after the play actors or not I never inquired.’
‘Did you not go in pursuit?’
‘Why should I? She would have run away again. Time passed, and the other day I chanced to come across a large party of strollers, when I was in Plymouth on business. Then I learned from the manager about my child, and so, for the first time, heard where she was. Now tell me how
she came here.’
Ignatius Jordan raised himself in his chair, and swept back the hair that had fallen over his bowed face and hands.
‘It is passed and over,’ he said.
‘Let me hear all. I must know all,’ said Babb. ‘She is my daughter. Thanks be, that we are not called to task for the guilt of our children. The soul that sinneth it shall surely die. She had light and truth set before her on one side as surely as she had darkness and lies on the other, Ebal and Gerizim, and she went after Ebal. It was in her blood. She drew it of her mother. One vessel is for honour—such am I; another for dishonour—such are all the Eves from the first to the last, that in your arms. Vessels of wrath, ordained to be broken. Ah! you may cherish that little creature in your arms. You may strain it to your heart, you may wrap it round with love, but it is in vain that
you seek to save it, to shelter it. It is wayward, wanton, wicked clay; ordained from eternity to be broken. I stood between the first Eve and the shattering that should have come to her. That is the cause of all my woes. Where is the second Eve? Broken in soul, broken maybe in body.
There lies the third, ordained to be broken.’ He folded his arms, was silent a while, and then said: ‘Tell me your tale. How came my daughter to your house?’
Stay tuned for additional chapters coming soon.