E-text prepared by Lionel Sear
HOCKEN AND HUNKEN
A Tale of Troy
Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch ('Q')
I. CAPTAIN CAI HAULS ASHORE.
II. THE BARBER'S CHAIR.
III. TABB'S CHILD.
IV. VOICES IN THE TWILIGHT.
V. A TESTIMONIAL.
VI. RILLA FARM.
VII. 'BIAS ARRIVES.
VIII. 'BIAS APPROVES.
IX. FIRST SUSPICIONS.
X. REGATTA NIGHT.
XI. MRS BOSENNA PLAYS A PARLOUR GAME.
XII. AMANTIUM IRAE.
XIII. FAIR CHALLENGE.
XIV. THE LETTERS.
XV. PALMERSTON'S GENIUS.
XVI. IS IN TWO PARTS.
XVII. APPARENTLY DIVIDES INTO THREE.
XVIII. THE PLOUGHING.
XIX. ROSES AND THREE-PER-CENTS.
XX. A NEWSPAPER PARAGRAPH.
XXI. THE AUCTION.
XXII. THE LAST CHALLENGE.
XXIII. PASSAGE REGATTA.
XXIV. FANCY BRINGS NEWS.
XXV. CAI RENOUNCES.
XXVI. 'BIAS RENOUNCES.
XXVII. MRS BOSENNA GIVES THE ROSE.
CAPTAIN CAI HAULS ASHORE.
"Well, that's over!"
Captain Caius Hocken, from the stern-sheets of the boat bearing him shoreward, slewed himself half-about for a look back at his vessel, the Hannah Hoo barquentine. This was a ticklish operation, because he wore a tall silk hat and had allowed his hair to grow during the passage home—St. Michael's to Liverpool with a cargo of oranges, and from Liverpool around to Troy in charge of a tug.
"I'm wonderin' what 'twill feel like when it comes to my turn," mused his mate Mr Tregaskis, likewise pensively contemplating the Hannah Hoo. "Not to be sure, sir, as I'd compare the two cases; me bein' a married man, and you—as they say—with the ship for wife all these years, and children too."
"I never liked the life, notwithstandin'," confessed the Captain. "And I'll be fifty come Michaelmas. Isn' that enough?"
"Nobody likes it, sir; not at our age. But all the same I reckon there be compensations." Mr Tregaskis, shading his eyes (for the day was sunny), let his gaze travel up the spars and rigging of the Barquentine—up to the truck of her maintopmast, where a gull had perched itself and stood with tail pointing like a vane. "If the truth were known, maybe your landsman on an average don't do as he chooses any more than we mariners."
"Tut, man!" The Captain, who held the tiller, had ceased to look aft. His eyes were on the quay and the small town climbing the hillside above it in tier upon tier of huddled grey houses. "Why, damme! Your landsman chooses to live ashore, to begin with. What's more, he can walk where he has a mind to, no matter where the wind sits."
Mr Tregaskis shook his head. Having no hat, he was able to do this, and it gave him some dialectical advantage over his skipper.
"In practice, sir, you'd find it depend on who's left to mind the shop."
"Home's home, all the same," said Captain Cai positively, thrusting over the tiller to round in for the landing-stairs. "I was born and reared in Troy, d'ye see? and as the sayin' goes—Steady on!"
A small schooner, the Pure Gem of Padstow, had warped out from the quay overnight after discharging her ballast with the usual disregard of the Harbour Commissioners' bye-laws; and a number of ponderable stones, now barely covered by the tide, encumbered the foot of the landing. On one of these the boat caught her heel, with a jerk that flung the two oarsmen sprawling and toppled Captain Hocken's tall hat over his nose. Mr Tregaskis thrust out a hand to catch it, but in too great a haste. The impact of his finger-tips on the edge of the crown sent the hat spinning forward over the thwart whereon sprawled Ben Price, the stroke oar, and into the lap of Nathaniel Berry, bowman.
Nathaniel Berry, recovering his balance, rescued the headgear from the grip of his knees, gave it a polite brush the wrong way of the nap, and passed it aft to Ben Price. Ben—a bald-headed but able seaman—eyed it a moment, rubbed it the right way dubiously with his elbow, and handed it on to the mate; who in turn smoothed it with the palm of his hand, which—being an alert obliging man—he had dexterously wetted overside before the Captain could stop him.
"That's no method to improve a hat," said Captain Hocken shortly, snatching it and wiping it with his handkerchief. He peered into it and pushed out a dent with his thumb. "The way this harbour's allowed to shoal is nothing short of a national disgrace!"
He improved on this condemnation as, having pushed clear and brought his boat safely alongside, he climbed the steps and met the Quaymaster, who advanced to greet him with an ingratiating smile.
"—A scandal to the civilised world! There's a way to stack ballast, now! Look at it, sproiled about the quay-edge like a skittle-alley in a cyclone! But that has been your fashion, Peter Bussa, ever since I knowed 'ee, and 'Nigh enough' your motto."
"You've no idea, Cap'n Cai, the hard I work to keep this blessed quay tidy."
"Work? Ay—like a pig's tail, I believe: goin' all day, and still in a twist come night."
"Chide away—chide away, now! But you're welcome home for all that, Cap'n Cai,—welcome as a man's heart to his body."
Captain Cai relaxed his frown. After all, 'twas good to return and find the little town running on just as he left it, even down to Quaymaster Bussa and his dandering ways. Yes, there stood the ancient crane with its broken-cogged winch—his own initials, carved with his first clasp-knife, would be somewhere on the beam; and the heap of sand beside it differed nothing from the heap on which he and his fellows had pelted one another forty years ago. Certainly the two bollards—the one broken, the other leaning aslant—were the same over which he and they had played leap-frog. Yes, and yonder, in the arcade supporting the front of the "King of Prussia," was Long Mitchell leaning against his usual pillar; and there, on the bench before the Working Men's Institute, sat the trio of septuagenarians—Un' Barnicoat, Roper Vine, Old Cap'n Tom—and sunned themselves; inseparables, who seldom exchanged a remark, and never but in terms and tones of inveterate contempt. Facing them in his doorway lounged the town barber, under his striped pole and sign-board—"Simeon Toy, Hairdresser," with the s's still twiddling the wrong way; and beyond, outside the corner-shop, Mr Rogers, ship-broker and ship-chandler—half paralytic but cunning yet,—sat hunched in his invalid chair, blinking; for all the world like a wicked old spider on the watch for flies.
"Ahoy, there!" Captain Cai hailed, and made across at once for the invalid chair: for Mr Rogers was his man of business. "Lost no time in reportin' myself, you see."
Mr Rogers managed to lift his hand a little way to meet Captain Cai's grasp. "Eh? Eh? I've been moored here since breakfast on the look-out for 'ee." He spoke indistinctly by reason of his paralysis. "They brought word early that the Hannah Hoo was in, and I gave orders straight away for a biled leg o' mutton—with capers—an' spring cabbage. Twelve-thirty we sit down to it, it that suits?"
"Thank 'ee, I should just say it did suit! . . . You got my last letter, posted from the Azores?"
"To be sure I did. I've taken the two houses for 'ee, what's more, an' the leases be drawn ready to sign. . . . But where's your friend? He'll be welcome too—that is, if you don't hold three too many for a leg o' mutton?"
"'Bias Hunken? . . . You didn't reckon I was bringing him along with me, did you?"
"I reckoned nothin' at all, not knowin' the man."
"Well, he's at West Indy Docks, London,—or was, a week ago. I saw it on 'The Shipping Gazette' two days before we left the Mersey: the I'll Away, from New Orleans; barquentine, and for shape in tonnage might be own sister to the Hannah Hoo; but soft wood and Salcombe built. I was half fearing 'Bias might get down to Troy ahead of me."
"He hasn't reported himself to me, anyway. . . . But we'll talk about him and other things later on."
Mr Rogers dismissed the subject as the Quaymaster came sidling up to join them. Mild gossip was a passion with the Quaymaster, and eavesdropping his infirmity.
"Well, Cap'n Cai, and so you've hauled ashore—and for good, if I hear true?"
"For good it is, please God," answered Captain Cai, lifting his hat at the word. He was a simple man and a pious.
"And a householder you've become already, by all accounts. I don't set much store by Town Quay talk as a rule—"
"That's right," interrupted Mr Rogers. "There's no man ought to know its worth better than you, that sets most of it goin'."
"They do say as you've started by leasin' the two cottages in Harbour Terrace."
"Do they?" Captain Cai glanced at the ship-chandler for confirmation. "Well, then, I hope it is true."
"'Tis nothing of the sort," snapped Mr Rogers. Seeing how Captain Cai's face fell, he added, "I may be wrong, o' course, but I reckon there was two tenants, and they wanted a cottage apiece."
"Ah, to be sure!" agreed the honest captain, visibly relieved.
But the Quaymaster persisted. "Yes, yes; there was talk of a friend o' yours, an' that you two were for settin' up house alongside one another. Hunken was the name, if I remember?"
Again Captain Cai glanced at the ship-chandler. He was plainly puzzled, as the ship-chandler was plainly nettled. But he answered simply—
"That's it—'Bias Hunken."
"Have I met the man, by any chance?"
"No," said Captain Cai firmly, "you haven't, or you wouldn't ask the question. He's the best man ever wore shoe-leather, and you can trust him to the end o' the earth."
"I can't say as I know a Hunken answerin' that description," Mr Bussa confessed dubiously.
"You've heard the description, anyway," suggested Mr Rogers, losing patience. "And now, Peter Bussa, what d'ye say to running off and annoying somebody else?"
The Quaymaster fawned, and was backing away. But at this point up came Barber Toy, who for some minutes had been fretting to attract Captain Cai's notice, and could wait no longer.
"Hulloa, there! Is it Cap'n Cai?—an' still carryin' his gaff-tops'l, I see" (this in pleasant allusion to the tall hat). "Well, home you be, it seems, an' welcome as flowers in May!"
"Thank 'ee, Toy." Captain Cai shook hands.
"We was talkin' business," said the ship-chandler pointedly.
"Then you might ha' waited for a better occasion," Mr Toy retorted. "Twasn' mannerly of ye, to say the least."
"Better be unmannerly than troublesome, I've heard."
"Better be both than unfeelin'. What! Leave Cap'n Cai, here, pass my door, an' never a home-comin' word?"
"I was meanin' to pay you a visit straight away; indeed I was," said Captain Cai contritely. "Troy streets be narrow and full o' friends; and when a man's accustomed to sea-room—" He broke off and drew a long breath. "But O, friends, if you knew the good it is!"
"Ay, Cap'n: East or West, home is best."
"And too far East is West, as every sailor man knows. . . . There, now, take me along and think' that out while you're giving me a clip; for the longer you stand scratching your head the longer my hair's growing." He turned to Mr Rogers. "So long, soce! I'll be punctual at twelve-thirty—what's left of me."
THE BARBER'S CHAIR.
"This is home!" Captain Cai settled himself down in the barber's chair with a sigh of luxurious content. "I've heard married men call it better," said Mr Toy, fetching forth a clean wrapper.
"Very likely." The Captain sighed again contentedly. "I take no truck in marriage, for my part. A friend's company enough for me."
"What's his name, Cap'n? The whole town's dyin' to know."
"He's called Hunken—Tobias Hunken."
The barber paused, snapping his scissors and nodding. "Bussa was right then, or Bussa and Philp between 'em."
"'Tis wonderful how news gets abroad in Troy. . . . 'Hunken,' now? And where might he be one of? I don't seem to fit the name in my mem'ry at all."
"You wouldn't. He comes from t'other side of the Duchy—a Padstow-born man, and he've never set eyes on Troy in his life."
"Yet he takes a house an' settles here? That's queer, as you might say."
"I see nothing queer about it. He's my friend—that's why. And what's more, the Lord never put bowels into a better man."
"He'll be a pleasure to shave, then," opined Mr Toy.
"No, he won't; he wears his hair all over his face. Talkin' of that reminds me—when you've done croppin' me I want a clean shave."
"Chin-beard an' all, Cap'n?"
"Take it off—take it off! 'Twas recommended to me against sore throat; but I never liked the thing nor the look of it."
"Then there's one point, it seems, on which you an' your friend don't agree, sir?"
The barber meant this facetiously, but Captain Cai considered it in all seriousness.
"You're mistaken," he answered. "Between friends there's a give-an'-take, and until you understand that you don't understand friendship. 'Bias Hunken likes me to do as I choose, and I like 'Bias to do as he chooses: by consekence o' which the more we goes our own ways the more we goes one another's. That clear, I hope."
"Moderately," the barber assented.
"I'll put it t'other way—about an' make it still clearer. Most married folks, as I notice, start t'other way about. For argyment's sake we'll call 'em Jack an' Joan. Jack starts by thinkin' Joan pretty near perfection; but he wants her quite perfect and all to his mind—his mind, d'ye see? Now if you follow that up, as you followed it between 'Bias and me—"
"I don't want my missus to wear a beard, if that's what you mean."
"'Twasn't a good illustration, I admit. But the p'int is, I like 'Bias because he's 'Bias, an' 'Bias likes me because I'm Cai Hocken. That bein' so, don't it follow we're goin' to be better friends than ever, now we've hauled ashore to do as likes us?"
The barber shook his head. "You're determined to have off your chin-beard?"
"To be sure. I'm ashore now, aren't I?—and free to wear what face I choose."
"You won't find it so, Cap'n."
"T'ch't! You landsmen be so fed with liberty you don't know your privileges. If you don't like your habits, what hinders you from changin' 'em? But do you? Here I come back: here's th' old Town Quay same as ever it was; and here likewise you all be, runnin' on as I left 'ee, like a clockwork—a bit slower with age maybe—that's all. Whereby I conclude your ways content ye."
"You're wrong, Cap'n Cai—you're wrong. We bide by our habits—an', more by token, here comes Mr Philp. 'Morning, Mr Philp." The barber, without turning, nodded towards the newcomer as he entered—a short man, aged about sixty, with a square-cut grey beard, sanguine complexion, and blue eyes that twinkled with a deceptive appearance of humour. "Here's Cap'n Cai Hocken, home from sea."
"Eh? I am very glad to see you, Cap'n Hocken," said Mr Philp politely. "There's a post-card waitin' for you, up at the Office."
Captain Cai sat bolt upright of a sudden, narrowly missing a wound from the scissors. "That will be from 'Bias! To think I hadn' sense enough to go straight to the Post Office and inquire!"
"'Tis from your friend, sure enough," announced Mr Philp. "He paid off his crew last Toosday, an' took his discharge an' the train down to Plymouth. He've bought a wardrobe there—real wornut—an' 'tis comin' round by sea. There's a plate-chest, too, he thinks you may fancy— price thirty-five shillin secondhand: an' he hopes to reach Troy the day after next, which by the post-mark is to-morra."
"Mr Philp," explained the barber, "calls in at the Office every mornin' to read all the post-cards. 'Tis one of his habits."
"Recent bereavement?" asked Mr Philp, before Captain Cai could well digest this.
"Recent bereavement?" Mr Philp was examining the tall hat, which he had picked up to make room for his own person on the customers' bench.
"That's another of his aptitoods," the barber interpolated. "He attends all the funerals in the parish."
"In the midst o' life we are in death," observed Mr Philp. "That's a cert, Cap'n Hocken, an' your hat put me in mind of it."
"Oh, 'tis my hat you're meanin'? What's wrong with it?"
"Did I say there was anything wrong? No, I didn't—God forbid! An' no doubt," concluded Mr Philp cheerfully, "the fashions'll work round to it again."
"I'll change it for another."
"You won't find that too easy, will you?" The barber paused in his snipping, and turned about for a thoughtful look at the hat.
"I mean I'll buy another, of a different shape. First the beard, then the headgear—as I was tellin' Toy, a man ashore can reggilate his ways as he chooses, an here's to prove it."
"They do say a clean shave is worth two virtuous resolutions," answered the barber, shaking his head Again. "And you're makin' a brave start, I don't deny. But wait till you pick up with a few real habits."
"What sort o' habits?"
"The sort that come to man first-along in the shape o' duties—like church-goin'. Look here, Cap'n, I'll lay a wager with 'ee. . . . Soon as you begin to walk about this town a bit, you'll notice a terrible lot o' things that want improvin'—"
"I don't need to walk off the Town Quay for that."
"Ah, an' I daresay it came into your head that if you had the orderin' of Bussa you wouldn' be long about it? The town'll think it, anyway. We're a small popilation in Troy, all tied up in neighbourly feelin's an' hangin' together till—as the sayin' is—you can't touch a cobweb without hurtin' a rafter. What the town's cryin' out for is a new broom—a man with ideas, eh, Mr Philp?—above all, a man who's independent. So first of all they'll flatter ye up into standin' for the Parish Council, and put ye head o' the poll—"
"Tut, man!" interrupted Captain Cai, flushing a little. "What do I know about such things? Not o' course that I shan't take an interest—as a ratepayer—"
"To be sure. I heard a man say, only last Saturday, sittin' in that very chair, as there was never a ship's captain hauled ashore but in three weeks he'd be ready to teach the Chancellor of th' Exchequer his business an' inclined to wonder how soon he'd be offered the job."
"A ship's captain needn't be altogether a born fool."
"No: an' next you'll be bent on larnin' to speak in public; and takin' occasions to practise, secondin' votes o' thanks an' such like. After that you'll be marryin' a wife—"
"I don't want to marry a wife, I tell 'ee!"
"Who said you did? Well, then, you'll get married—they dotes on a public man as a rule; and for tanglin' a man up in habits there's no snare like wedlock, not in the whole world. I've known scores o' men get married o' purpose to break clear o' their habits an' take a fresh start; but ne'er a man that didn't tie himself up thereby in twenty new habits for e'er a one he'd let drop."
"Go on with your folly, if it amuses you."
"Then, again, you've taken a house."
"So Rogers tells me. I don't even know the rent, at this moment."
"Twenty-five pound p'r annum," put in Mr Philp. Captain Cai—released just then from his wrapper—turned and stared at him.
"I had it from the Postmistress," Mr Philp's tone was matter-of-fact, his gaze unabashed. "Bein' paralytic, Rogers did your business with the widow by letter; he keeps a type-writin' machine an' pays Tabb's girl three shillin' a-week to work it. The paper's thin, as I've had a mind to warn 'er more than once."
"'Twould be a Christian act," suggested Mr Toy. "If there's truth in half what folks say, some of old Johnny Rogers' correspondence 'd make pretty readin' for the devil."
"But look here," interposed Captain Cai, "what's this about doin' business with a widow? Whose widow?"
"Why, your landlady, to be sure—the Widow Bosenna, up to Rilla Farm."
"No—stop a minute—take that blessed latherin'-brush out o' my mouth! You don't tell me old Bosenna's dead, up there?"
"It didn' altogether surprise most of us when it happened," said the barber philosophically. "A man risin' sixty-five, with his habits! . . . But it all came about by the County Council's widenin' the road up at Four Turnin's. . . . You see, o' late years th' old man 'd ride home on Saturdays so full he had to drop off somewhere 'pon the road; an' his mare gettin' to find this out, as dumb animals do, had picked up a comfortable way of canterin' hard by Four Turnin's and stoppin' short, slap in the middle of her stride, close by th' hedge, so 's her master 'd roll over it into the plantation there, where the ditch is full of oak-leaves. There he'd lie, peaceful as a suckin' child; and there, every Sabbath mornin' in the small hours, one o' the farm hands 'd be sent to gather 'em in wi' the new-laid eggs. So it went on till one day the County Council, busy as usual, takes a notion to widen th' road just there; an' not only pulls down th' hedge, but piles up a great heap o' stones, ready to build a new one. Whereby either the mare hadn' noticed the improvement or it escaped her memory. Anyway—the night bein' dark—she shoots old Bosenna neck-an'-crop 'pon the stones. It caused a lot o' feelin' at the time, an' the coroner's jury spoke their minds pretty free about it. They brought it in that he'd met his death by the visitation o' God brought about by a mistake o' the mare's an' helped on by the over-zealous behaviour of the County Surveyor. Leastways that's how they put it at first; but on the Coroner's advice they struck out the County Surveyor an' altered him to a certain party or parties unknown."
"I mind Mrs Bosenna well," said Captain Cai, rising as the barber unwrapped him; "a smallish well-featured body, with eyes like bullace plums."
"Ay, an' young enough to ha' been old Bosenna's daughter—a penniless maid from Holsworthy in Devon, as I've heard; an' now she's left there, up to Rilla, happy as a mouse in cheese. Come to think, Cap'n Cai, you might do worse than cock your hat in that quarter."
But Captain Cai did not hear for the moment. He was peering into the looking-glass and thinking less of Mrs Bosenna than of his shaven-altered appearance.
"'Twould be a nice change for her, too," pursued Mr Toy in a rallying tone; "an adaptable man like you, Cap'n."
"Eh? What's that you were sayin' about my hat?" asked Captain Cai; and just then, letting his gaze wander to the depths of the glass, he was aware of Mr Philp shamelessly trying on that same hat before another mirror at the back of the shop.
Mr Philp faced about solidly, composedly.
"I was thinkin'," said he, "as I'd bid you three-an'-six for this, if you've done with it. I've long been wantin' something o' the sort, for interments."
"Done with you!" said Captain Cai, reaching for it and clapping it on his head. "Only you must send round for it to-morrow, when I've found myself something more up-to-date." Again he contemplated his shaven image in the mirror. "Lord! A man do look younger without a chin-beard!"
"Ay, Cap'n." Barber Toy, knuckles on hips, regarded and approved his handiwork. "The world's afore 'ee. Go in and win!"
As he stepped out upon the Quay, Captain Cai lifted his gaze towards the tower of the Parish Church, visible above an alley-way that led between a gable-end of the Town Hall and the bulging plank of the "King of Prussia." Aloft there the clock began to chime out the eight notes it had chimed, at noon and at midnight, through his boyhood, and had been chiming faithfully ever since.
Yes, it was good to be home! Captain Cai would have been astonished to learn that his thirty-five years at sea had left any corner for sentiment. Yet a sudden mist gathered between him and the face of the old clock. Nor had it cleared when, almost punctually on the last stroke, a throng of children came pouring from school through the narrow alley-ways. They ran by him with no more than a glance, not interrupting their shouts. In a moment the Quay was theirs; they were at leap-frog over the bollards; they were storming the sand-heap, pelting a king of the castle, who pelted back with handfuls. Captain Cai felt an absurd sense of being left out in the cold. Not a child had recognised him.
All very well . . . but to think that these thirty-odd years had made not a scrap of difference—that the Quay lay as it had lain, neglected, untidy as ever! Thirty-odd years ago it had been bad enough. But what conscience was there in standing still and making no effort to move with the times? As Barber Toy said, it was scandalous.
"Three hundred pounds a-year . . ." mused Captain Cai between two puffs of tobacco smoke. He repeated the words, rolling them in his mouth, as though they tasted well. "You're pretty sure 'twill come to that?"
"Sure," answered Mr Rogers. The pair had dined, and were now promoting digestion with pipes and grog in Mr Rogers' bow-window overlooking the harbour. "You might put your money to an annuity, o' course, an' live like a lord: but I'm reckonin' it in safe ord'nary investments, averagin' (let's say) four per cent. An' that's leavin' out your thirty-odd shares in the Hannah Hoo, when she's for sale. Ship-auctions be chancey things in these days, an' private purchasers hard to find."
"I never knew 'em when they weren't," said Captain Cai.
"When d'ye pay off, by the way?"
"Not till Saturday. There's no hurry. When a man drops hook on his last cruise I allow 'tis his duty to tidy up an' leave all ship-shape; in justice to hisself, you understand. There's Tregaskis an' the crew, too,—old shipmates every one—"
The chandler nodded.
"Ay, you're to be envied, Cap'n. There's others—masters of oil-tanks, f'r instance—as makes their pile faster; some of em' in ways that needn't be mentioned atween you an' me. But slow an' honest has been your motto; an' here you be—What's your age? Fifty? Say fifty at the outside.—Here you be at fifty with a tidy little income and a clean conscience to sit with in your pew o' Sundays; nothing to do o' week-days but look after a few steady-goin' investments an' draw your little dividends."
"That'd be more business than I've a mind for, Rogers," answered Captain Cai; "at any rate, while you live. I've a-left my affairs to you these twelve year, an' mean to continue, please God—you knowin' my ways."
The chandler blinked. "That's very han'some o' ye, Cap'n," he said after a long pause. "But—"
"There's no 'but' about it," interrupted Captain Cai shortly, looking away and resting his gaze on the Hannah Hoo out in the harbour, where she lay on the edge of the deep-water channel among a small crowd of wind-bounders. Her crew had already made some progress in unbending sails, and her stripped spars shone as gold against the westering sunlight. "No 'but' about it, Rogers—unless o' course you're unwillin'."
"What's willin' or unwillin' to a man broken in health as I be? That's the p'int, Cap'n—here, set opposite to 'ee, staring 'ee in the face—a hulk, shall we say?—rudder gone, ridin' to a thread o' life—" "You'll ride to it a many years yet, please God again."
"I take 'e to witness this is not my askin'."
Captain Cai stared. "'Tis my askin', Rogers. I put it as a favour."
"What about your friend? I was thinkin' as maybe he'd take over the job."
"'Bias?" Captain Cai shook his head. "He've no gift in money matters; let be that I don't believe in mixin' friendship in business."
Mr Rogers pondered this for some while in silence. Then he struck a hand-bell beside him, and his summons was answered by a small short-skirted handmaiden who had waited table.
"Pipe's out, my dear," he announced. "An' while you're about it you may mix us another glassful apiece."
"Not for me, thank 'ee," said Captain Cai.
"An' not for him, neither," said the girl. She was but a child, yet she spoke positively, and yet again without disrespect in her manner. "'Tis poison for 'ee," she added, knocking out the ash from her master's churchwarden pipe and refilling it from the tobacco-jar. "You know what the doctor said?"
"Ugh!—a pair o' tyrants, you an' the doctor! Just a thimbleful now—if the Cap'n here will join me."
"You heard him? He don't want another glass."
Her solemn eyes rested on Captain Cai, and he repeated that he would take no more grog.
She struck a match and held it to the pipe while the chandler drew a few puffs. Then she was gone as noiselessly as she had entered.
"That's a question now," observed Captain Cai after a pause.
"What's a question?"
"Servants. I've talked it over with 'Bias, and he allows we should advertise for a single housekeeper; a staid honest woman to look after the pair of us—with maybe a trifle of extra help. That gel, for instance, as waited table—"
"Is that her name?"
"She was christened Fancy—Fancy Tabb—her parents being a brace o' fools. Ay, she's a nonesuch, is Tabb's child."
"With a manageable woman to give her orders—What's amiss with ye, Rogers?"
Captain Cai put the question in some alarm, for the heaving of the ship-chandler's waistcoat and a strangling noise in his throat together suggested a sudden gastric disturbance.
But it appeared they were but symptoms of mirth. Mr Rogers lifted his practicable hand, and with a red bandanna handkerchief wiped the rheum from his eyes.
"Ho, dear!—you'll excuse me, Cap'n; but 'with a manageable woman,' you said? I'd pity her startin' to manage the like of Fancy Tabb."
"Why, what's wrong wi' the child?"
"Nothin'—let be I can't keep a grown woman in the house unless she's a half-wit. I have to get 'em from Tregarrick, out o' the Home for the Feeble-Minded. But it don't work so badly. They're cheap, you understand; an' Fancy teaches 'em to cook. If they don't show no promise after a fortni't's trial, she sends 'em back. I hope," added the chandler, perceiving Captain Cai to frown, "you're not feelin' no afterthoughts about that leg o' mutton. Maybe I ought to have warned 'ee that 'twas cooked by a person of weak intellect."
"Don't mention it," said Captain Cai politely. "What the eye don't see the heart don't grieve, as they say; an' the jint was boiled to a turn. . . . I was only wonderin' how you picked up such a maid!"
The chandler struck again upon the small hand-bell. "I got her from a bad debt."
"Seems an odd way—" began Captain Cai, after pondering for a moment, but broke off, for the hand-maiden stood already on the threshold.
"Fancy Tabb," commanded the chandler, "step fore, here, into the light."
The child obeyed.
"You see this gentleman?"
"Yes, master." Her eyes, as she turned them upon Captain Cai, were frank enough, or frank as eyes could be that guarded a soul behind glooms of reserve. They were straight, at any rate, and unflinching, and very serious.
"You know his business?"
"I think so, master. . . . Has he come to sign the lease? I'll fetch it from your desk, if you'll give me the keys."
"Bide a bit, missy," said Captain Cai. "That'd be buying a pig in a poke, when I ha'n't even seen the house yet—not," he added, with a glance at Mr Rogers, "that I make any doubt of its suiting. But business is business."
The child turned to her master, as much as to ask, "What, then, is your need of me?"
"Cap'n Hocken wants a servant," said Mr Rogers, answering the look.
She appeared to ponder this. "Before seein' the house?" she asked, after a moment or two.
"She had us there, Rogers!" chuckled Captain Cai; but the child was perfectly serious.
"You would like me to show you the house? Master has the key."
"That's an idea, now!" He was still amused.
"This moment—that's to say, if your master'll spare you?" He glanced at Mr Rogers, who nodded.
"Couldn't do better," he agreed. "You've a good two hours afore dusk, an' she's a proper dictionary on taps an' drainage."
"Please you to come along, sir." The child waited respectfully while Captain Cai arose, picked up his hat, and bade his host "So long!" He followed her downstairs.
Their way to the street lay through the shop, and by the rearward door of it she paused to reach down her hat and small jacket. The shop was long, dark, intricate; its main window overshadowed by the bulk of the Town Hall, across the narrow alley-way; its end window, which gave on the Quay, blocked high with cheeses, biscuit-tins, boxes of soap, and dried Newfoundland cod. Into this gloom the child flung her voice, and Captain Cai was aware of the upper half of a man's body dimly silhouetted there against the panes.
"Daddy, I'm going out."
"Yes, dear," answered the man's voice dully. "For an hour, very likely. This gentleman wants to see his new house, and I'm to show it to him."
"You'll be careful, won't you now? Mrs M—fus'll be coming round, certain, for half-a-pound of bacon; And that P—fus girl for candles, if not for sugar. You've to serve neither, mind, until you see their money."
"Yes, dear. What excuse shall I make?" The man's voice was weary but patient. The tone of it set a chord humming faintly somewhere in Captain Cai's memory: but his mind worked slowly and (as he would have put it) wanted sea-room, to come about.
They had taken but a few steps, however, when in the narrow street, known as Dolphin Row, he pulled up with all sail shaking.
"That there party as we passed in the shop—"
"He's my father," said the child quickly.
"And you're Tabb's child. . . . You don't tell me that was Lijah Tabb, as used to be master o' the Uncle an' Aunt?"
"I don't tell you anything," said the child, and added, "he's a different man altogether."
"That's curious now." Captain Cai walked on a pace or two and halted again. "But you're Tabb's child," he insisted. "And, by the trick of his voice, if that wasn't Lijah—"
"His name is Elijah."
"Eh?" queried Captain Cai, rubbing his ear. "But I heard tell," he went on in a puzzled way, searching his memory, "as Lijah Tabb an' Rogers had quarrelled desp'rate an' burnt the papers, so to speak."
"'Twas worse than that." She did not answer his look, but kept her eyes fixed ahead.
"Yet here I find the man keepin' shop for Rogers: and as for you—if you're his daughter—"
"I'm in service with Mr Rogers," said Fancy, who as if in a moment had recovered her composure. "If you want to know why, sir, and won't chat about it, I don't mind tellin' you."
"You make me curious, little maid: that I'll own."
"'Tis simple enough, too," said she. "He's had a stroke, an' he's goin to hell."
"Eh? . . . I don't see—"
"He's goin' to hell," she repeated with a nod as over a matter that admitted no dispute.
"Well, but dang it all!" protested Captain Cai after a pause, "we'll allow as he's goin' there, for the sake of argyment. Is that why you're tendin' on him so careful?"
"You mustn't think," answered the child, "that I'm doin' it out o' pity altogether. There's something terrible fascinatin' about a man in that position."
VOICES IN THE TWILIGHT.
"I don't see anything immodest in it," said Mrs Bosenna looking up. She was on her knees and had just finished pressing the earth about the roots of a small rose-bush. "The house is mine, and naturally I am curious to know something about my tenant."
Dinah, her middle-aged maid, who had been holding the bush upright and steady, answered this challenge with a short sniff. "He don't seem over curious, for his part, about you." She, too, glanced upward and toward the house, the upper storey alone of which, from where they stood, was visible above the spikes of a green palisade. A roadway divided the house from the garden, which descended to the harbour-cliff in a series of tiny terraces. "They've been pokin' around indoors this hour and more."
"You don't suppose he caught sight of us?"
"Maybe not; but Tabb's child did. That girl 've a-got eyes like niddles. If he don't come down to pay his respects, you may bet 'tis because he don't want to." Dinah, being vexed, spoke viciously. Her speech implied that her mistress's conduct had been not only indelicate but clumsy.
"You are a horrid woman," Mrs Bosenna accused her; "and I can't think what put such nasty-minded thoughts into your head."
"No more can I, unless you suggested 'em," Dinah retorted.
"You were willing enough to come, when—when—"
"When you proposed it," Dinah relentlessly concluded the sentence. "Of course. Why not?"
"And you were excited enough—you can't deny it"—her mistress insisted, "when you brought the news this morning, that his ship had arrived. But now, and only because you happen to be put out—"
"Who said I was put out?"
"As if I couldn't tell by your tone! Now, just because you happen to be put out, I'm indelicate all of a sudden."
"I never said so," Dinah protested sullenly.
"Said so?" Mrs Bosenna, rising, faced her with withering scorn. "I hope you've a better sense of your position than to say such a thing. Oh, you content yourself with hinting! . . . But who owns this house and garden, I should like to know?"
Dinah, though remorseful, showed fight yet. "Then why couldn' ye take the bull by the horns an' march in by the front door?"
"Why? Because you agreed with me that to plant a two or three roses for him would be a nice attention! . . . You can't start planting roses in the dusk, at the end of an afternoon call; and, as it is, we've only just finished before twilight."
Dinah was minded to retort that, as it was, the planting had taken a long time. But she contented herself with glancing again at the house and saying evasively that the new tenant appeared to take more interest in fixtures than in flowers.
"I own," sighed Mrs Bosenna, "I thought he'd have been eager to take stock of the garden before it grew dark. Such a beautiful garden, as it is, in a small way!"
"When a man has passed his whole life at sea—"
"True," her mistress agreed. "Yet how it must enlarge the mind! So different from farming!"
"It must be ekally dependent on the weather," Dinah opined. "At least. More so, takin' one thing with another. Oh, decidedly. It stands to reason."
"I'm romantic perhaps," confessed Mrs Bosenna; "but I can never think of any ship's captain as being quite an ordinary man. The dangers he must go through—and the foreign countries he visits—and up night after night in all weathers, staring into the darkness in an oilskin suit!"
"'Tisn' the sort o' man I should ever choose for a husband, if I wanted one," maintained Dinah.
"Who was talking of husbands, you silly woman?"
"I don't see how else the men-folk consarn us, mistress."
"You're coarse, Dinah."
"I'm practical, anyway. If they choose to toss up an' down 'pon the sea they're welcome, for me. But, for my part, when I lay me down at night, I like to be sure o' gettin' up in the same position next mornin'; and I'd to feel the same about a husband, supposin' I cared for the man."
"I often think," mused Mrs Bosenna, "that we're not half grateful enough to sailors, considering the risks they run and the things they bring us home: tea and coffee, raisins, currants, with all kinds of spices and cordial drinks."
"Oranges an' lemons, say the bells o' St Clemen's. Oranges—"
"I wasn't thinking of this Captain Hocken in particular," interrupted the widow hastily. "Take a Christmas pudding, for instance. Flour and suet, and there's an end if you depend on the farmer; just an ordinary dumpling. Whereas the sailor brings the figs, the currants, the candied peel, the chopped almonds, the brandy—all the ingredients that make it Christmassy."
"And then the farmer takes an' eats it. Aw, believe me, mistress, Stay-at-home fares best in this world!"
"I don't know, Dinah," sighed Mrs Bosenna. "Haven't you ever in your life wished for a pair o' wings?"
"To wear in my hat? Why, o' course I have."
"No, no; I mean, for the wings of a dove, to fly away and be—well, not at rest exactly—"
"No, I haven't, mistress. But 'tis the way with you discontented rich folks. Like Hocken's ducks, all of 'ee—never happy unless you be where you baint. . . . I wonder if that Hocken was any relation—S-sh! now! Talk of the devil!"
Captain Cai and Fancy had spent a good hour-and-a-half in overhauling the two cottages. Their accommodation was narrow enough, but Captain Cai, after half a lifetime on shipboard, found them little short of palatial. The child could scarcely drag him away from the tiny bath-rooms with their hot and cold water taps.
"Lord," said he, gazing down into the newly painted bath in No.1. "To think of 'Bias in the likes o' this!"
"You may, if you care to," said Fancy.
"'Tis a knack of mine," he apologised. "We'll suppose him safely out of it, an' what happens next? Why, he'll step across to the linen-cupboard here, wi' the hot pipes behind it, an' there's a clean shirt dried an' warmed to his skin. He gets into that—the day bein' Sunday, as we'll suppose—an' finishes his dressin', danderin' forth an' back from one room to t'other; breakfast gettin' ready downstairs an' no hurry for it—all his time his own, clean away to sundown. Up above the lower window-sash here with the Prodigal Son in stained glass, and very thoughtful of the architect, too—"
"It isn't stained glass," the child corrected; "it's what they call a transparency."
"I hope you're mistaken. . . . I must try it from the outside before I let 'Bias undress here. As I was sayin', through the upper pane he'll see his cabbages comin' on at the back; an' in the front, under his window, there's the bread-cart—"
"But you said 'twas Sunday."
"So I did. . . . Well, there's the milk-cart anyway, an' a boy janglin' the cans. You can't think how pretty these shore-noises be to a sailor-man. An' down in the town the church bell goin' for early Communion, but he'll attend mornin' service later on. An', across the road, there's the garden, full o' flowers, an' smellin'—an' a blessed sense as he can pick an' choose an' take his time with it all." Captain Cai had wandered to the front window. He let fall these last words slowly, in a kind of reverie, as he gazed out on the garden over which the twilight was fast gathering.
"With all this time on your hands, I reckon you won't be takin' a look round the garden?" hazarded Fancy.
"Certainly. Why not?"
"Well, 'tis drawin' in dusk. But there! I wouldn' disappoint Mrs Bosenna, if I was you."
"She's been down in the garden this hour and more, waitin' for you to take her by surprise."
"Oh—come now, I say!"
Fancy nodded her head. "I don't know as I blame her," she said judicially. "She's curious to know what you look like, that's all; or else she's curious for you to know what she looks like. Anyway, she's down there, if you've a mind to be polite."
Seeing that he hesitated, the child led the way. Captain Cai followed her in something of a tremor. Across the road they went and through the garden-gate; and the sound of their footsteps on the flagged pathway gave Mrs Bosenna warning. By the time they reached the second terrace she was down on her knees again, packing the soil about the rose-bush, which Dinah obediently held upright for her.
"Losh, here's visitors!" exclaimed Dinah.
Mrs Bosenna turned with the prettiest start of surprise, and sprang to her feet. If there was a suspicion—a shade—of overacting, the twilight concealed it. She had a charming figure, very supple and maidenly: she bought her corsets in London. The kneeling posture and the swift rise from it were alike noticeably graceful, even in the dusk.
"Visitors?" she echoed. "And me in this state to receive 'em, earthed up to the wrists!" She plucked off her gardening-gloves, handed them to Dinah, and stooped to snatch up one of a pair of white cuffs—badges of her widowhood—that she had laid aside on the turf before starting to work. While slipping it over her wrist she found time to glance up at Captain Cai, who fumbled confusedly with the rim of his tall hat.
"Excuse me, madam—no wish to intrude. We'll take ourselves off this minute, eh?" He turned to the child, who, however, did not budge.
"Please, don't go. You are—?"
"Caius Hocken, ma'am—of the Hannah Hoo—at your service."
"Dear me, what a very pleasant surprise!" (Oh, Mrs Bosenna!) She held out a hand. "I am glad to make your acquaintance, Captain Hocken."
"I hope I see you well, ma'am?" Captain Cai took the hand and dropped it nervously.
"Quite well, I thank God. . . . They told me your ship had arrived, sir; but I could not count—could I?—on your coming to inspect the house so soon."
"If I've been over hasty, ma'am—"
"Not at all," she interrupted. "There now! I put things so clumsily at times! I meant to excuse myself; for, you see, the house has been yours since Lady-day—that's to say, if you sign the lease,—and Lady-day's more than a week past. So 'tis I that am the intruder. . . .But passing the garden yesterday, I'd a notion that half a dozen dwarf roses would improve it, without your knowledge. You're not offended, I hope, now that you've caught me? I dote on roses, for my part."
"I—I take it very kindly, ma'am."
"'Tis a funny time o' the year to be plantin' roses, isn't it?" asked Fancy.
"Eh?" In the dusk Mrs Bosenna treated her to a disapproving stare. "Is that Elijah Tabb's child? . . . You've grown such a lot lately, I hardly recognised you."
"I noticed that," said the child with composure, "though I didn't guess the reason. But 'tis a funny time to be plantin' roses, all the same."
"And pray, child, what do you know about roses?"
"Nothing," answered Fancy, "'cept that 'tis a funny time to be plantin' 'em."
"When you grow a little older," said Mrs Bosenna icily, "you'll know that anything can be done with roses in these days—with proper precautions. Why"—she turned to Captain Cai—"I've planted out roses in July month—in pots, of course. You break the pots in the October following. But there must be precautions."
"Cow," interposed Dinah tersely, "it's the best. Pig comes next, for various reasons."
"We need not go into details," said Mrs Bosenna. "I sent down a cartload this morning and had it well dug in. Provided you dig it deep enough, and don't let it touch the young roots—"
"I thank you kindly, ma'am," said Captain Cai, "and so will my friend 'Bias Hunken when he hears of it."
"Ah, my other tenant?—or tenant in prospect, I ought to say. He has not arrived yet, I understand."
"He's due to-morrow, ma'am, by th' afternoon train."
"You must bring him over to Rilla Farm, to call on me," said Mrs Bosenna graciously.
Captain Cai rubbed his chin. He was taken at unawares; and not finding the familiar beard under his fingers, grew strangely helpless. "As for that, ma'am," he stammered, "I ought to warn you that 'Bias isn' easily caught."
"God defend me!" answered the widow, who had a free way of speaking at times. "Who wants to catch him?"
"You don't take my meanin', ma'am, if you'll excuse me," floundered Captain Cai in a sweat. "I ought to ha' said that 'Bias, though one in a thousand, is terrible shy with females—or ladies, as I should say."
"He'll be all the more welcome for that," said Mrs Bosenna relentlessly. "You must certainly bring him, Captain Hocken."
Before he could protest further, she had shaken hands, gathered up trowel and kneeling-pad, given them into Dinah's keeping, unpinned and shaken down the skirt of her black gown, and was gone—gone up the twilit path, her handmaiden following,—gone with a fleeting smile that, while ignoring Fancy Tabb, left Captain Cai strangely perturbed, so nicely it struck a balance between understanding and aloofness.
He rubbed his chin, then his ear, then the back of his neck.
"Lord!" he groaned suddenly, "where was my manners?"
"I never said a word about her affliction."
"What might that be, in your opinion?"
"Her first husband, o' course—or, as I should say, the loss of him. Shockin' thing to forget. . . . I've almost a mind now to follow her an' make my excuses."
"Do," said Fancy; "I'd like to hear you start 'pon 'em."
"Well, you can if you will. Come over with me to Rilla to-morrow forenoon. I'll get leave for you."
"That'd spoil the fun," said Fancy, not one risible muscle twitching; "but go you'll have to. Mrs Bosenna has left one of her cuffs behind."
She pointed to a white object on the turf. Captain Cai stooped, picked it up, and held it gingerly in his hand.
"She didn' seem a careless sort, neither," he mused.
"Not altogether," the child agreed with him.
"Dinah," said Mrs Bosenna, halting suddenly as they walked homeward in the dusk, "I've left one of my cuffs behind!"
"'Yes, mistress,'" Mrs Bosenna mimicked her. "If 'twas anything belonging to you, you'd be upset enough."
"I'd have more reason," said Dinah stolidly. "Do 'ee want me to run back an' fetch it?"
"No—o." Her mistress seemed to hesitate. "'Tisn't worth while; and ten chances to one somebody will find it."
"That's what I was thinkin'," agreed Dinah.
Captain Cai's sea-chest had been conveyed to the Ship Inn, Trafalgar Square (so called—as the landlord, Mr Oke, will inform you—after the famous battle of that name), and there he designed to lodge while his friend and he furnished their new quarters.
His bed, a four-poster, was luxurious indeed after his old bunk in the Hannah Hoo, and he betook himself to it early. Yet he did not sleep well. For some while sleep was forbidden by a confusion of voices in the bar-parlour downstairs; then, after a brief lull, the same voices started exchanging good-nights in the square without; and finally, when the rest had dispersed, two belated townsmen lingered in private conversation, now walking a few paces to and fro on the cobbles, but ever returning to anchorage under a street lamp beneath his window. By-and-by the town lamplighter came along, turned off the gas-jet and wished the two gossips good-night, adding that the weather was extraordinary for the time of year; but still they lingered. Captain Cai, worried by the murmur of their voices, climbed out of bed to close the window. His hand was outstretched to do so when, through the open sash, he caught a few articulate words—a fragment of a sentence.
Said one—speaking low but earnestly—"If I should survive my wife, as I hope to do—"
Unwilling to play the eavesdropper, or to startle them by shutting the window, Captain Cai very delicately withdrew, climbed back into bed, and drew the edge of the bedclothes over his ear. Soon he was asleep; but, even as he dropped off, the absurd phrase wove itself into the midnight chime from the church tower and passed on to weave itself into his dreams and vex them. "If I should survive my wife—" In his dreams he was back in Troy, indeed, and yet among foreigners. They spoke in English, too; but they conversed with one another, not with him, as though he might overhear but could not be expected to understand. One dream—merely ludicrous when he awoke and recalled it—gave him real distress while it lasted. In it he saw half a dozen townsmen—Barber Toy, Landlord Oke, the Quaymaster, and Mr Philp among them—gathered around the mound of sand on the Quay, solemnly playing a child's game with his tall hat. Mr Philp took it from the Quaymaster's head, transferred it to his own, and, lifting it by the brim, said reverently, "If I should survive my wife," &c., to pass it on to the barber, who recited the same formula to the same ritual. In the middle of the sandheap was a pit, which appeared to be somebody's grave; and somewhere in the background, on the far side of the pit, stood Mrs Bosenna and Tabb's girl together, the one watching with a queer smile, while the other kept repeating, "He's going to hell. He couldn't change his habits, and it's high time the Quay was improved."
From this dream Captain Cai awoke in a sweat, and though the rest of the night yielded none so terrifying, his sleep was fitful and unrefreshing. The return of day brought with it a sense of oppression, of a load on his mind, of a task to be performed.
Ah, yes!—he must pay a call on Mrs Bosenna. She had as good as engaged him by a promise, and, moreover, there was her cuff to be returned. . . . Well, the visit must be paid this morning. 'Bias would be arriving by the afternoon train; and, apart from that, when you've a daunting job that cannot be escaped, the wise course is to play the man and get it over.
Still, he could not well present himself at Rilla Farm before eleven o'clock—say half-past eleven—or noon even. No, that would be too late; might suggest a hint of staying to dinner—which God forbid! He resolved upon eleven.
He grudged to lose the latter half of the morning; for the gardens—his and Hunken's—had yet to be explored, and the rainwater cisterns in rear of the houses, and the back premises generally, and the patches where the cabbages grew. Also (confound the woman!) he could well have spent an hour or two about the streets and the Quay, renewing old acquaintance. The whole town had heard of his return, and there were scores of folk to remember him and bid him welcome. They would chase away this feeling of forlornness, of being an alien. . . . Strange that, wide awake though he was, it should continue to haunt him!
But Troy, on all save market mornings, is a slug-a-bed town; and even at nine o'clock, when he issued forth after an impatient breakfast, the streets wore an unkempt, unready, unsociable air. Housewives were still beating mats, shopboys washing down windows; ash-buckets stood in the gutter-ways, by door and ope, awaiting the scavenger.
"These people want a Daylight Saving Bill," thought Captain Cai, and somewhat disconsolately wheeled about, setting his face for the Rope Walk. Here his spirits sensibly revived. There had been rain in the night, but the wind had flown to the northward, and the sun was already scattering the clouds with promise of a fine day. Cleansing airs played between the houses, the line of ash-buckets grew sparser, and the buckets—for he had encountered the scavenger's cart on the slope of the hill—were empty now, albeit their owners showed no hurry to fetch them indoors.
A row of houses—all erected since his young days—still blocked the view of the harbour. But just beyond them, where a roadway led down to the ferry, the exquisite scene broke upon him—the harbour entrance, with the antique castles pretending to guard it; the vessels (his own amongst them) in the land-locked anchorage; the open sea beyond, violet blue to the morning under a steady off-shore breeze; white gulls flashing aloft, and, in the offing, a pair of gannets hunting above the waters.
Captain Cai took no truck (as he would have said) in the beauties of nature; but here was a scene he understood, and he began to feel at home again. He halted, rested his elbows on a low wall and watched the gannets at their evolutions—the poise, the terrific dive, the splash clearly visible at more than a mile's distance. The wall on which he leaned overhung a trim garden, gay with scentless flowers such as tulips and late daffodils, and yet odorous—for early April has a few days during which the uncurling leaf has all the fragrance of blossom: and this was such a day, lustrous from a bath of rain. To our uninstructed seaman the scent seemed to exhale from the tulips; it recalled his attention from the gannets, and he drew in deep breaths of it, pondering the parterres of Kaiserskroon and Duchesse de Parme—bold scarlet splashed with yellow—of golden Chrysoloras, of rosy white Cottage Maids. Unknowing it, he had a sense of beauty, and he decided that horticulture, for a leisured man, was well worth a trial.
"That's the best of living ashore," he told himself. "A man can choose what hobby he will and, if he don't like it, pick up another."
He climbed the hill briskly, to view his own garden and take stock of its possibilities. . . . The roses planted by Mrs Bosenna had scarcely flagged at all, thanks to the night's rain. Around them and to right and left along the border under the walls of the two first terraces, green shoots were pushing up from the soil—sword-like spikes of iris, red noses of peonies, green fingers of lupins. Into what flowers these various shootlets would expand Captain Cai knew no more than Adam, first of gardeners. He would consult some knowledgeable person—no, not Mrs Bosenna—and label them 'as per instructions': or, stay! 'Bias Hunken had a weakness for small wagers. Here was material for a long summer game, more deliberate even than draughts; to buy a botanical book and with its help back one's fancy, flower or colour. A capital game: no doubt (thought Captain Cai) quite commonly played among landsmen possessing gardens.
At this point he made a discovery he had missed in the dusk overnight. His eyes fell on a flat-topped felt-covered roof, almost level with his feet and half-hidden between two bushes (the one a myrtle, the other a mock-orange; but he knew no such distinctions). There was yet a third terrace, then; and on this third terrace—yes, by the Lord, a summer-house fit for a king! Glass-fronted, with sliding sashes; match-boarded within, fitted with racks and shelves for garden tools; with ample room for chairs and a table at which two could sup and square their elbows. Such a view, moreover! It swept the whole harbour. . . .
Captain Cai's first impulse was to search around for a rack whereon to stow a telescope: his next, to run to the party-wall and hoist himself high enough to scan his friend's garden.
Yes! 'Bias, too, had a summer-house; not precisely similar in shape, however. Its roof was a lean-to, and its frontage narrower; but of this Captain Cai could not be sure. He was short of stature, and with toes digging into the crevices of the wall and hands clutching at its coping he could take no very accurate survey. He dropped back upon terra firma and hurried up the flights of steps to the roadway, in haste to descend from it into 'Bias's garden and resolve his doubts.
For you must understand that the two cottages comprised by the name of Harbour Terrace were (according to Mr Rogers) "as like as two peas, even down to their water-taps," and even by name distinguished only as Number 1 and Number 2: and that, taking this similarity on trust, Captain Cai had chosen Number 2, Because—well, simply because it was Number 2. If inadvertently he, being first in the field, had collared the better summer-house!—The very thought of it set him perspiring.
At the head of the garden, to his annoyance, he found Mr Philp leaning over the gate.
"Ah, Good morning!" said Mr Philp. "You was expectin' me, o' course."
"Good morning," returned Captain Cai. "Expectin' you? No, I wasn't. Why?"
"About that hat. I've brought you the three-an'-six." He held out the coins in his palm.
"You can't have it just now. I'm in a hurry."
"So I see," said Mr Philp deliberately, not budging from the gate. "It don't improve a hat as a rule."
"What d'ye mean?"
"Perspiration works through the linin'. I've seen hats ruined that way."
"Very well, then: we'll call the bargain off. The fact is, I'd forgot about it; and you can't very well have the hat now. 'Tis my only one, an'—well the fact is, I'm due to pay a call."
"I don't see as 'tis any business o' yours," answered Captain Cai with vexation; "but, if you want to know, I've to call on my landlady, Mrs Bosenna."
"Is that where you're hurryin' just now?"
"Well, no: not at this moment," Captain Cai had to confess.
"Oh, look here—"
"You needn't tell, if you don't want to. But I'm goin' to a funeral at eleven o'clock," said Mr Philp. "Eleven A.M.," he added pointedly. "Not that I hold with mornin' funerals in a general way: but the corpse is old Mrs Wedlake, and I wasn't consulted."
"Relative?" asked Captain Cai.
"No relation at all; though I don't see as it matters." Mr Philp was cheerful but obdurate. "A bargain's a bargain, as I take it."
"That fact is—"
"And a man's word ought to be good as his bond. Leastways that's how I look at it."
"Here, take the darned thing!" exclaimed Captain Cai. His action, however, was less impulsive than his speech: he removed the hat carefully, lowering his head and clutching the brim between both hands. A small parcel lay inside.
"What's that?" asked Mr Philp.
"It's—it's a cuff," Captain Cai admitted.
"Belongs to the Widow Bosenna, I shouldn't wonder?" Mr Philp hazarded with massive gravity. "It's the sort o' thing a woman wears now-a-days when she've lost her husband. I follows the fashions in my distant way." He paused and corrected himself carefully—"Them sort."
"I thought—it occurred to me—as it might be the handiest way of returnin' the thing."
"It seems early days to be carryin' that sort of article around in the crown o' your hat. Dangerous, too, if you use hair-oil. But you don't. I took notice that you said 'no' yesterday when Toy offered to rub something into your hair. Now that's always a temptation with me, there bein' no extra charge. . . . Did she give it to you?"
"Who? . . . Mrs Bosenna? No, she left it behind here."
"What was she doin' here, yesterday evenin', to want to take off her cuffs?"
"If you must know, she was planting roses."
"What? In April? . . . You mustn't think I'm curious."
"Not at all," Captain Cai agreed grimly.
"Nice little place you've pitched on here, I must say." Mr Philp changed his tone to one of extreme affability. "There's not a prettier little nest in all Troy than these two cottages. And which of the pair might be your choice?"
"It's not quite decided."
"Well, you can't do wrong with either. But"—Mr Philp glanced back across the roadway and lowered his voice—"I'd like to warn you o' one thing. I don't know no unhandier houses for gettin' out a corpse. There's a turn at the foot o' the stairs; most awk'ard."
"I reckon," said Captain Cai cheerfully, "'Bias an' me'll leave that to them as it concerns. But, man! what a turn you've a-got for funerals!"
"They be the breath o' life to me," Mr Philp confessed, and paused for a moment's thought. "Tell 'ee what we'll do: you shall come with me down to Fore Street an' buy yourself a new hat at Shake Benny's: 'tis on your way to Rilla Farm. There in the shop you can hand me over the one you're wearin', and Shake can send mine home in a bandbox." He twinkled cunningly. "I shall be wantin' a bandbox, an' that gets me one cost-free."
The man was inexorable. Captain Cai gave up resistance, and the pair descended the hill together towards Mr Benny's shop.
Young Mr Benny, "S. Benny, Gents' Outfitter," had suffered the misfortune to be christened Shakespeare without inheriting any of the literary aspirations to which that name bore witness. It was, in any event, a difficult name to live up to, and so incongruous with this youth in particular that, as he grew up, his acquaintances abbreviated it by consent to Shake; and, again, when, after serving an apprenticeship with a pushing firm in Exeter, he returned to open a haberdashery shop in his native town, it had been reduced, for business purposes, to a bare initial.
But it is hard to escape heredity. Albeit to young Mr Benny pure literature made no appeal, and had even been summarised by him as "footle," in the business of advertising he developed a curious literary twist. He could not exhibit a new line of goods without inventing an arresting set of labels for it; and upon these labels (executed with his own hands in water-colour upon cardboard) he let play a fancy almost Asiatic. Not content with mere description, such as "Neck-wear in Up-to-date Helios" or "Braces, Indispensable," he assailed the coy purchaser with appeals frankly personal, such as "You passed us Yesterday, but We Hit you this time," or (of pyjamas) "What! You don't Tell us You Go to Bed like your Grandfather," or (of a collar) "If you Admire Lord Rosebery, Now is Your Time."
Captain Cai wanted a hat. "I be just returned from foreign," he explained; "and this here head-gear o' mine—"
Young Mr Benny smiled with a smile that deprecated his being drawn into criticism. "We keep ahead of the Germans yet, sir,—in some respects. Is it Captain Hocken I have the pleasure of addressin'?"
"Now, how did he know that?" Captain Cai murmured.
"Why, by your hat," answered Mr Philp with readiness.
"You'll be wanting something more nautical, Captain? Something yachty, if I may suggest. . . . I've a neat thing here in yachting caps." Mr Benny selected and displayed one, turning it briskly in his hands. "The Commodore. There's a something about that cap, sir,—a what shall I say?—a distinction. Or, if you prefer a straight up-and-down peak, what about the Squadron here? A little fuller in the crown, you'll observe; but that"—with a flattering glance—"would suit you. You'd carry it off."
"Better have it full in the crown," suggested Mr Philp; "by reason it's handier to carry things."
"None of your seafarin' gear, I'll thank you," said Captain Cai hastily. "I've hauled ashore."
"And mean to settle among us, I hope, sir? . . . Well, then, with the summer already upon us—so to speak—what do we say to a real Panama straw? The Boulter's Lock here, f'r instance,—extra brim—at five and sixpence? How these foreigners do it for the money is a mystery to me."
"I see they puts 'Smith Brothers, Birmingham,' in the lining," said Captain Cai.
"Importers' mark, sir,—to insure genuineness. . . . Let me see, what size were you saying? H'm, six-seven-eighths, as I should judge." Young Mr Benny pulled out a drawer with briskness, ran his hand through a number of genuine Panamas of identical pattern, selected one, and poised it on the tips of his fingers, giving it the while a seductive twist. "If you will stand so, Captain, while I tilt the glass a trifle?"
Captain Cai gazed hardily at his reflection in the mirror. "It don't seem altogether too happy wi' the rest of the togs," he hazarded, and consulted Mr Philp. "What do you think?"
"I ain't makin' no bid for your tail-coat, if that's what you mean," answered Mr Philp with sudden moroseness, pulling out his watch. "I got one."
"Our leading townsmen, sir," said young Mr Benny, "favour an alpaca lounge coat with this particular line. We stock them in all sizes. Alpacas are seldom made to measure,—'free-and-easy' being their motto, if I may so express it."
"It's mine, anyway."
"And useful for gardening, too. In an alpaca you can—" Young Mr Benny, without finishing the sentence, indued one and went through brisk motions indicative of digging, hoeing, taking cuttings and transplanting them.
The end of it was that Captain Cai purchased an alpaca coat as well as a Panama hat, and having bidden "so long" to Mr Philp, and pocketed his three-and-sixpence, steered up the street in the direction of Rilla Farm, nervously stealing glimpses of himself in the shop windows as he went. As he hove in sight of the Custom House, however, this bashfulness gave way of a sudden to bewilderment. For there, at the foot of the steps leading up to its old-fashioned doorway lounged his mate, Mr Tregaskis, sucking a pipe.
"Hullo! What are you doin' here?" asked Captain Cai.
"What the devil's that to you?" retorted Mr Tregaskis. But a moment later he gasped and all but dropped the pipe from his mouth. "Good Lord!"
"Took me for a stranger, hey?"
The mate stared, slowly passing a hand across his chin as though to make sure of his own beard. "What indooced 'ee?"
"When you're in Rome," said Captain Cai, with a somewhat forced nonchalance, "you do as the Romans do."
"Do they?" asked Mr Tregaskis vaguely. "Besides, we ain't," he objected after a moment.
"Crew all right?"
"Upstairs,"—this with a jerk of the thumb.
"Hey? . . . But why? We don't pay off till Saturday, as you ought to know, for I told 'ee plain enough, an' also that the men could have any money advanced, in reason."
"Come along and see," said the mate mysteriously. "I've been waitin' here on the look-out for 'ee." He led the way up the steps, along a twisting corridor and into the Collector's office, where, sure enough, the crew of the Hannah Hoo were gathered.
"Here's the Cap'n, boys!" he announced. "An' don't call me a liar, but take your time."
The men—they were standing uneasily, with doffed hats, around a table in the centre of the room—gazed and drew a long breath. They continued to breathe hard while the Collector bustled forward from his desk and congratulated Captain Cai on a prosperous passage.
"There's one thing about it," said Ben Price the bald-headed, at length breaking through the mortuary silence that reigned around the table; "it do make partin' easier."
"But what's here?" demanded Captain Cai, as his gaze fell upon a curious object that occupied the centre of the table. It was oblong: it was covered with a large red handkerchief: and, with the men grouped respectfully around, it suggested a miniature coffin draped and ready for committal to the deep.
"Well, sir," answered Nat Berry, who was generally reckoned the wag of the ship, "it might pass, by its look, for a concealment o' birth. But it ain't. It's a testimonial."
But here the mate—who had been standing for some moments on one leg— suddenly cleared his throat.
"Cap'n Hocken," said he in a strained unnatural voice, "we the undersigned, bein' mate and crew of the Hannah Hoo barquentine—"
"Be this an affidavit?"
"No it isn': 'tis a Musical Box. . . . As I was sayin', We the undersigned, bein' mate an' crew of the Hannah Hoo barquentine, which we hear that you're givin' up command of the same, Do hereby beg leave to express our mingled feelin's at the same in the shape of this here accompanyin' Musical Box. And our united hope as you may have live long to enjoy the noise it kicks up, which"—here Mr Tregaskis dropped to a confidential tone—"it plays 'Home, Sweet Home,' with other fashionable tunes, an' can be turned off at any time by means of a back-handed switch marked 'Stop' in plain letters. IT IS therefore—" here the speaker resumed his oratorical manner—"our united wish, sir, as you will accept the forthcoming Musical Box from the above-mentioned undersigned as a mark of respect in all weathers, and that you may live to marry an' pass it down to your offspring—"
"Hear, hear!" interjected Mr Nat Berry, and was told to shut his head.
"—to your offspring, or, in other words, progenitors," perorated Mr Tregaskis. "And if you don't like it, the man at the shop'll change it for something of equal value." Here with a sweep of the hand he withdrew the handkerchief and disclosed the gift. "I forget the chap's name for the moment, but he's a watchmaker, and lives off the Town Quay as you turn up west-an'-by-north to the Post Office. The round mark on the lid—as p'r'aps I ought to mention—was caused by a Challenge Cup of some sort standin' upon it all last summer in the eye of the sun, which don't affect the music, an' might be covered over with a brass plate in case of emergency; but time didn't permit." Thus Mr Tregaskis concluded, and stood wiping his brow.
Captain Cai stared at the gift and around at the men's faces mistily. "Friends"—he managed to say. "Friends," he began again after a painful pause, and then, "It's all very well, William Tregaskis, but you might ha' given a man warnin'—after all these years!"
"It don't want no acknowledgment: but take your time," said the mate handsomely, conscious, for his part, of having performed with credit.
At this suggestion Captain Cai with a vague gesture pulled out his watch, and amid the whirl of his brain was aware of the hour—10.45.
"I've—I've an appointment, friends, as it happens," he stammered. "And I thank you kindly, but—" On a sudden happy inspiration he fixed an eye upon the mate. "All sails unbent aboard?" he asked sternly.
"There's the mizzen, sir—"
"I thought so. We'll have discipline, lads, to the end—if you please. We'll meet here on Saturday: and when you've done your unbendin' maybe I'll start doin' mine."
He took up the musical box, tucked it under his arm, and marched out.
The way was long, the sun was hot, the minstrel (as surely he may be called who carries a musical box) was more than once in two minds about turning back. He perspired under his absurdly superfluous burden.
To be sure he might—for Troy is always neighbourly—have knocked in at some cottage on his way through the tail-end of the town and deposited the box, promising to return for it. But he was flurried, pressed for time, disgracefully behind time, in fact; and, moreover, thanks to his attire and changed appearance, no friendly face had smiled recognition though he had recognised some half a dozen. There was no time to stop, renew old acquaintance, ask a small favour with explanations. . . . All this was natural enough: yet he felt an increasing sense of human selfishness, human ingratitude—he, toiling along with this token of human gratitude under his arm!
At the extreme end of the town his way led him through the entrance of a wooded valley, or coombe, down which a highroad, a rushing stream, and a railway line descend into Troy Harbour, more or less in parallels, from the outside world. A creek runs some little way up the vale. In old days—in Captain Cai's young days—it ran up for half a mile or more to an embanked mill-pool and a mill-wheel lazily turning: and Rilla Farm had in those days been Rilla Mill, with a farmstead attached as the miller's parergon.
But the railway had swept away mill-pool and wheel: and Rilla was now Rilla Farm. The railway, too, cutting sheer through the slope over which the farmstead stood, had transformed shelving turf to rocky cliff and farmstead to eyrie. You approached Rilla now by a footbridge crossing the line, and thereafter by a winding pathway climbing the cliff, with here and there a few steps hewn in the living rock. Nature in some twenty odd years had draped the cliff with fern—the Polypodium vulgare—and Mrs Bosenna in her early married days had planted the crevices with arabis, alyssum, and aubrietia, which had taken root and spread, and now, overflowing their ledges, ran down in cascades of bloom—white, yellow, and purple. The ascent, in short, was very pretty and romantic, and you might easily imagine it the approach to some foreign hill-castle or monastery: for the farmhouse on the summit hid itself behind out-buildings the walls of which crowned the escarpment and presented a blank face, fortress-like, overlooking the vale. The path (as you have gathered) was for pedestrians only. Mrs Bosenna's farm-carts and milk-carts—her dairy trade was considerable—had to fetch a circuit by the road-bridge, half a mile inland.
The air in the valley was heavy, even on this April day. Captain Cai reached the footpath-gate in a bath of perspiration, despite his alpaca coat and notwithstanding that the last half mile of his way had lain under the light shade of budding trees. He gazed up at the ascent, and bethought him that the musical box was an intolerable burden for such a climb. It would involve him in explanations, too, being so unusual an accessory to a morning call. He searched about, therefore, for a hiding-place in which to bestow it, and found one at length in a clump of alder intermixed with brambles, that overhung the stream a few paces beyond the gate, almost within the shadow of the footbridge.
Having made sure that the bed on which it rested was firm and moderately dry, he covered the box with a strewing of last year's leaves, cunningly trailed a bramble or two over it, and pursued his way more lightsomely, albeit still under some oppression: for the house stood formidably high, and he feared all converse with women. For lack of practice he had no presence of mind in their company, Moreover, his recent fiasco in speech-making had dashed his spirits.
He reached the last turn of the path. It brought him in sight of a garden-gate some ten yards ahead, on his left hand. The gate was white, and some one inside was even at this moment engaged in repainting it; for as he halted to draw breath he caught sight of a paint-brush—or rather the point of one—briskly waggling between the rails.
The gate opened and Mrs Bosenna peeped out. "Ah, I thought I heard footsteps!" said she. She wore a widow's cap—a very small and natty one; and a large white apron covered the front of her widow's gown from bosom to ankles.
"I—I'm sorry to call so late, ma'am."
"Late? Why, it can't be past noon, scarcely. . . . We don't have dinner till one o'clock. You'll excuse my not shaking hands, but I never could paint without messing my fingers."
"But I hadn't an idea, ma'am—"
"Nothing was farther from my thoughts than—than—"
"Staying to dinner? Oh, but it's understood! There's roast sucking-pig," said Mrs Bosenna tranquilly, as if this disposed of all argument. She added, "I didn't recognise you for the moment. You're wearing a different hat."
"Actin' under advice, ma'am."
"I don't know that it's an improvement." Her eyes rested on him in cool scrutiny, and he flinched under it. "There's always a—a sort of distinction about a top hat. Of course, it was very thoughtful of you to change it for something more free-and-easy. But different styles suit different persons, and—as I'm always telling Dinah—the secret of dressing is to find out the style that suits you, and stick to it."
"Bein' free-an'-easy, ma'am, was the last thing in my mind," stammered Captain Cai.
"There, didn't I guess? . . . Well, you shall wear your top hat next time, and I'll take back my first impressions if I find 'em wrong."
"But, ma'am, the—the fact is—"
"Of course it was in the dusk," continued Mrs Bosenna; "but I certainly thought it suited you. One meets with so little of the real old-fashioned politeness among men in these days! Now "—she let her voice trail off reflectively as her eyes wandered past Captain Cai and rested on the tree-tops in the valley—"if I was asked to name my bo ideal of an English gentleman—and the foreigners can't come near it, you needn't tell me—'twould be Sir Brampton Goldsworthy, Bart., of Halberton Court, Devon."
"That's close to Holsworthy, where I was brought up. 'Goldsworthy of Holsworthy' he liked to be known as, dropping the 'Sir': and he always wore a top hat, rather flat in the brim. But he'd off with it to anything in woman's shape. . . . And that's what women value. Respect. . . . It isn't a man's age—" She broke off and half closed her eyes in reverie. "And so particular, too, about his body-linen! Always a high stock collar . . . and his cuffs!"
"Talkin' about cuffs, now—" Captain Cai dived a hand into a hip-pocket and drew forth a circlet of white lawn, much flattened. "I found this in the garden last night—by the rose-bushes."
"Thank you—yes, it is mine, of course. I missed it on the way home." Mrs Bosenna reached out her hand for it. "You must have set me down for a very careless person? But with all my responsibilities just now—" She concluded the sentence with a sigh, and held open the gate, warning him to beware of the wet paint. "You see, there is so much to be looked after on a farm. One can never trust to servants—or at any rate not to the men kind. Dinah is different; but even with Dinah—" Mrs Bosenna let fall another, slightly fainter, sigh.
"That reminds me," said Captain Cai hardily entering, and for all his lack of observation falling at once under the spell of the little front garden—so scrupulously tidy it was, so trim and kempt, with a pathway of white pebbles leading up between clumps of daffodils and tulips to a neatly thatched porch: so homely too, with but a low fence of euonymus shutting off all that could offend in the court before the cow-byres; so fragrant already with scent of the just sprouting lemon verbena; so obviously the abode of cleanly health, with every window along the white-washed house front open to the April air. "That reminds me, I never mentioned the—the deceased—your late husband, I mean, ma'am—nor how sorry I was to hear of it."
"Did you know him?" asked Mrs Bosenna, scarcely glancing up as she pinched the fragrance out of an infant bud of the lemon verbena.
"Very slightly, ma'am. Indeed, I don't remember meetin' him but once, and that was at Summercourt Fair, of all places; me bein' home just then from a trip, an' takin' a day off, as you might say, just to see how things was gettin' on ashore. As fate would have it I happened into a boxin' booth, which was twopence, and there, as I was watchin' a bout, some one says at my elbow, ''Tis a noble art, deny it who can!' An' that was your late husband. We'd never met afore to my knowledge, an' we never met again; but his words have come back to me more'n once, an' the free manly way he spoke 'em."
"I feel sure," said Mrs Bosenna, "you and he would have found many things in common, had he been spared. . . Now, I dare say, you'd like to look around the place a bit before dinner. Where shall we begin? With the live stock?"
"As you please, ma'am."
"Well, as we're to eat sucking-pig, we'll go and have a look at the litter he was one of; and then we'll take the cows; and then you'll have to excuse me for a few minutes while I attend to the apple-sauce, about which I'm very particular."
They visited the sow and her farrows—a family group which Captain Cai pronounced to be "very comfortable-lookin'."
"But how stupid of me!" exclaimed Mrs Bosenna. "To forget that you sailors are tired to death with pork!"
"Not with this variety, ma'am," Captain Cai assured her.
They passed on to the cow-houses, which were empty just then, but nevertheless worth visiting, being brick-floored, well-ventilated, and roomy, with straw generously spread in the stalls, fresh and ready for the cattle's return. There were two houses, one for Jerseys (as Mrs Bosenna explained), the other for Devons; and she drew his attention to their drainage system. "If I had my way, every cow in the land should be as cleanly lodged as a cottager. None of your infected milk for me!"
From the cow-houses she conducted him through the mowhay, where the number and amplitude of the ricks fairly took his breath away. "Oh, we call Rilla quite a small farm!" said Mrs Bosenna carelessly. "But I could never endure to be short of straw. Clean bedding is a craze with me." She halted and invited him to admire some details in the thatching—the work of an old man past seventy, she told him, and sighed. "Thatching's a lost art, almost. Too much education nowadays, and everybody in a hurry—that's what's the matter. . . . In a few years we shall all be thatching with corrugated iron."
"An' by that time every one will be in steam."
"Ah, yes—to be sure. And everybody making butter with a County Council separator. 'All very scientific,' I tell them, 'so long as you don't ask me to eat it!' Why, look at this!" Captain Cai looked. She was holding out her hand palm uppermost, and a very pretty, plump hand it was to be sure.
"I should be sorry to say how many hundredweights of butter I've made wi' that very hand—or how many hundreds of persons have eaten it."
Captain Cai dived his own hands into the hip-pockets of his new coat, aimlessly searching for pipe and tobacco-pouch; not that he would have ventured to smoke in her presence!—but it gave his hands something to do.
"'Glad,' I think you must mean, ma'am," said he slowly.
She laughed. "If you're going to make pretty speeches, it's time for me to run indoors," and she left him with a warning that dinner would be ready in ten minutes, or at one o'clock to the tick.
This was by the gate of a broad-acred field ("Parc Veor" she had called it) in which her Jerseys browsed. Captain Cai counted them—they were five—while still half-consciously searching for pipe and pouch, which, in fact, he had left behind in the shop, in the pockets of his old coat. By-and-by he realised this, and with a curious sense of helplessness—of having lost his bearings. . . .
Ten minutes later Dinah, coming across the mowhay to invite Captain Cai into the house, found him leaning against the gate, sunk in a brown study, contemplating the kine.
The smell of roasted sucking-pig dissipated this transient cloud upon his spirits. Mrs Bosenna (who had discarded her apron, and looked mighty genteel with a gold locket dependent from her throat) avowed, appealing to his sympathy, that it mightn't be sentimental, but she, for her part, adored the savour of crackling.
"And as for Robert—my late husband—he doted on it."
Captain Cai came within an ace of saying fatuously it was a pity the late Mr Bosenna couldn't be present to partake of this; but checked himself.
"To think that you should have met him! Well, it's a small world."
"There's a lot of folks attend Summercourt Fair—or used to," said Captain Cai, and added that the world was not so noticeably small, if you tried sailing up and down it a bit.
"Ah!" exclaimed Mrs Bosenna, dropping knife and fork and clasping her hands. "Yes, to be sure, the vastness of it—the great distances! . . . And so you met my late husband in a boxing tent? Sport of all kinds appealed to him. But isn't boxing a-er—more or less degrading exhibition?"
"Nothing of the sort, ma'am. I never went in for it myself—worse luck; never had the time. But my friend 'Bias, now! He's past his prime, o' course; but if only you'd seen him strip—in the old time—"
"Er—you're surely not referring to your friend Captain Hunken?"
"But I am, ma'am. . . . He had a way o' stepping back an' usin' his reach . . . a trifle slow with the left, always . . . that was his failin'. But the length of his arms would delight you—and he had a hug, too, of his own—if you happened to take an interest in such things."
"But I don't," protested Mrs Bosenna. "And you frighten me! If I'd guessed that my other tenant was a prize-fighter—"
"Prize-fighter, ma'am? What, 'Bias? . . . He's the gentlest you ever knew, and the easiest-goin': and for ladies' company—well, I don't know," confessed Captain Cai, "as he ever found himself in such, least-ways not to my knowledge. But I'll be bound he wouldn't be able to open his mouth."
"—Unless in defence of a friend," suggested Mrs Bosenna, laughing. "You must bring him to call on me."
Captain Cai shook his head.
"Oh"—she nodded confidently—"I'll make him talk, never fear! If he's half so true a friend to you as you are to him—"
"He's a truer."
"Then, as a last resource, I have only to run you down. So it's easy."
The sucking-pig was followed by a delectable junket with Cornish cream; and the junket—when Dinah had removed the cloth—by a plate of home-made biscuits, flanked by decanters of port and sherry.
"Widow's port is the best, they say." Mrs Bosenna invited him to fill his glass without waiting for ceremony. "You smoke?" she asked.
He confessed that he was without pipe or tobacco. Dinah was summoned again, left the room after a whispered consultation, and returned with a small sheaf of clean churchwarden pipes and a cake of tobacco, dark in hue, somewhat dry but (as a quick inspection assured Captain Cai) quite smokeable.
"Now you're to make yourself at ease," said Mrs Bosenna, rising and moving to the door. Captain Cai, remembering his manners, rose and held it open for her. "The wine is at your elbow and (oh, believe me, I understand men!) when you've finished your smoke you will find me in the rose-garden. That's my real garden, though nothing to boast of at this time of the year. But April's the month for pruning tea-roses, and this weather in April is not to be missed. I want to hear more of your friend; and when you are ready—you are not to hurry—Dinah will show you the way."