E-text prepared by Lionel Sear
NEWS FROM THE DUCHY.
A. T. Quiller-Couch (Q).
To My Friend AUSTIN M. PURVES of Philadelphia and Troy Town.
PIPES IN ARCADY.
OUR LADY OF GWITHIAN.
PILOT MATTHEY'S CHRISTMAS.
THE THREE NECKLACES.
NOT HERE, O APOLLO.
FIAT JUSTITIA RUAT SOLUM.
THE HONOUR OF THE SHIP.
THE CASK ASHORE.
YE SEXES, GIVE EAR.
PIPES IN ARCADY.
I hardly can bring myself to part with this story, it has been such a private joy to me. Moreover, that I have lain awake in the night to laugh over it is no guarantee of your being passably amused. Yourselves, I dare say, have known what it is to awake in irrepressible mirth from a dream which next morning proved to be flat and unconvincing. Well, this my pet story has some of the qualities of a dream; being absurd, for instance, and almost incredible, and even a trifle inhuman. After all, I had better change my mind, and tell you another—
But no; I will risk it, and you shall have it, just as it befel.
I had taken an afternoon's holiday to make a pilgrimage: my goal being a small parish church that lies remote from the railway, five good miles from the tiniest of country stations; my purpose to inspect—or say, rather, to contemplate—a Norman porch, for which it ought to be widely famous. (Here let me say that I have an unlearned passion for Norman architecture—to enjoy it merely, not to write about it.)
To carry me on my first stage I had taken a crawling local train that dodged its way somehow between the regular expresses and the "excursions" that invade our Delectable Duchy from June to October. The season was high midsummer, the afternoon hot and drowsy with scents of mown hay; and between the rattle of the fast trains it seemed that we, native denizens of the Duchy, careless of observation or applause, were executing a tour de force in that fine indolence which has been charged as a fault against us. That we halted at every station goes without saying. Few sidings—however inconsiderable or, as it might seem, fortuitous—escaped the flattery of our prolonged sojourn. We ambled, we paused, almost we dallied with the butterflies lazily afloat over the meadow-sweet and cow-parsley beside the line; we exchanged gossip with station-masters, and received the congratulations of signalmen on the extraordinary spell of fine weather. It did not matter. Three market-women, a pedlar, and a local policeman made up with me the train's complement of passengers. I gathered that their business could wait; and as for mine—well, a Norman porch is by this time accustomed to waiting.
I will not deny that in the end I dozed at intervals in my empty smoking compartment; but wish to make it clear that I came on the Vision (as I will call it) with eyes open, and that it left me staring, wide-awake as Macbeth.
Let me describe the scene. To the left of the line as you travel westward there lies a long grassy meadow on a gentle acclivity, set with three or four umbrageous oaks and backed by a steep plantation of oak saplings. At the foot of the meadow, close alongside the line, runs a brook, which is met at the meadow's end by a second brook which crosses under the permanent way through a culvert. The united waters continue the course of the first brook, beside the line, and maybe for half a mile farther; but, a few yards below their junction, are partly dammed by the masonry of a bridge over which a country lane crosses the railway; and this obstacle spreads them into a pool some fifteen or twenty feet wide, overgrown with the leaves of the arrow-head, and fringed with water-flags and the flowering rush.
Now I seldom pass this spot without sparing a glance for it; first because of the pool's still beauty, and secondly because many rabbits infest the meadow below the coppice, and among them for two or three years was a black fellow whom I took an idle delight in recognising. (He is gone now, and his place knows him no more; yet I continue to hope for sight of a black rabbit just there.) But this afternoon I looked out with special interest because, happening to pass down the line two days before, I had noted a gang of navvies at work on the culvert; and among them, as they stood aside to let the train pass, I had recognised my friend Joby Tucker, their ganger, and an excellent fellow to boot.
Therefore my eyes were alert as we approached the curve that opens the meadow into view, and—as I am a Christian man, living in the twentieth century—I saw this Vision: I beheld beneath the shade of the midmost oak eight men sitting stark naked, whereof one blew on a flute, one played a concertina, and the rest beat their palms together, marking the time; while before them, in couples on the sward, my gang of navvies rotated in a clumsy waltz watched by a ring of solemn ruminant kine!
I saw it. The whole scene, barring the concertina and the navvies' clothes, might have been transformed straight from a Greek vase of the best period. Here, in this green corner of rural England on a workaday afternoon (a Wednesday, to be precise), in full sunlight, I saw this company of the early gods sitting, naked and unabashed, and piping, while twelve British navvies danced to their music. . . . I saw it; and a derisive whistle from the engine told me that driver and stoker saw it too. I was not dreaming, then. But what on earth could it mean? For fifteen seconds or so I stared at the Vision . . . and so the train joggled past it and rapt it from my eyes.
I can understand now the ancient stories of men who, having by hap surprised the goddesses bathing, never recovered from the shock but thereafter ran wild in the woods with their memories.
At the next station I alighted. It chanced to be the station for which I had taken my ticket; but anyhow I should have alighted there. The spell of the vision was upon me. The Norman porch might wait. It is (as I have said) used to waiting, and in fact it has waited. I have not yet made another holiday to visit it. Whether or no the market-women and the local policeman had beheld, I know not. I hope not, but now shall never know. . . . The engine-driver, leaning in converse with the station-master, and jerking a thumb backward, had certainly beheld. But I passed him with averted eyes, gave up my ticket, and struck straight across country for the spot.
I came to it, as my watch told me, at twenty minutes after five. The afternoon sunlight still lay broad on the meadow. The place was unchanged save for a lengthening of its oak-tree shadows. But the persons of my Vision—naked gods and navvies—had vanished. Only the cattle stood, knee-deep in the pool, lazily swishing their tails in protest against the flies; and the cattle could tell me nothing.
Just a fortnight later, as I spent at St. Blazey junction the forty odd minutes of repentance ever thoughtfully provided by our railway company for those who, living in Troy, are foolish enough to travel, I spied at some distance below the station a gang of men engaged in unloading rubble to construct a new siding for the clay-traffic, and at their head my friend Mr. Joby Tucker. The railway company was consuming so much of my time that I felt no qualms in returning some part of the compliment, and strolled down the line to wish Mr. Tucker good day. "And, by the bye," I added, "you owe me an explanation. What on earth were you doing in Treba meadow two Wednesdays ago—you and your naked friends?"
Joby leaned on his measuring rod and grinned from ear to ear.
"You see'd us?" he asked, and, letting his eyes travel along the line, he chuckled to himself softly and at length. "Well, now, I'm glad o' that. 'Fact is, I've been savin' up to tell 'ee about it, but (thinks I) when I tells Mr. Q. he won't never believe."
"I certainly saw you," I answered; "but as for believing—"
"Iss, iss," he interrupted, with fresh chucklings; "a fair knock-out, wasn' it? . . . You see, they was blind—poor fellas!"
"No, sir—blind—'pity the pore blind'; three-parts blind, anyways, an' undergoin' treatment for it."
"Nice sort of treatment!"
"Eh? You don't understand. See'd us from the train, did 'ee? Which train?"
"The 1.35 ex Millbay."
"Wish I'd a-knowed you was watchin' us. I'd ha' waved my hat as you went by, or maybe blawed 'ee a kiss—that bein' properer to the occasion, come to think."
Joby paused, drew the back of a hand across his laughter-moistened eyes, and pulled himself together, steadying his voice for the story.
"I'll tell 'ee what happened, from the beginnin'. A gang of us had been sent down, two days before, to Treba meadow, to repair the culvert there. Soon as we started to work we found the whole masonry fairly rotten, and spent the first afternoon (that was Monday) underpinnin', while I traced out the extent o' the damage. The farther I went, the worse I found it; the main mischief bein' a leak about midway in the culvert, on the down side; whereby the water, perc'latin' through, was unpackin' the soil, not only behind the masonry of the culvert, but right away down for twenty yards and more behind the stone-facing where the line runs alongside the pool. All this we were forced to take down, shorein' as we went, till we cut back pretty close to the rails. The job, you see, had turned out more serious than reported; and havin' no one to consult, I kept the men at it.
"By Wednesday noon we had cut back so far as we needed, shorein' very careful as we went, and the men workin' away cheerful, with the footboards of the expresses whizzin' by close over their heads, so's it felt like havin' your hair brushed by machinery. By the time we knocked off for dinner I felt pretty easy in mind, knowin' we'd broke the back o' the job.
"Well, we touched pipe and started again. Bein' so close to the line I'd posted a fella with a flag—Bill Martin it was—to keep a look out for the down-trains; an' about three o'clock or a little after he whistled one comin'. I happened to be in the culvert at the time, but stepped out an' back across the brook, just to fling an eye along the embankment to see that all was clear. Clear it was, an' therefore it surprised me a bit, as the train hove in sight around the curve, to see that she had her brakes on, hard, and was slowin' down to stop. My first thought was that Bill Martin must have taken some scare an' showed her the red flag. But that was a mistake; besides she must have started the brakes before openin' sight on Bill."
"Then why on earth was she pulling up?" I asked. "It couldn't be signals."
"There ain't no signal within a mile of Treba meadow, up or down. She was stoppin' because—but just you let me tell it in my own way. Along she came, draggin' hard on her brakes an' whistlin'. I knew her for an excursion, and as she passed I sized it up for a big school-treat. There was five coaches, mostly packed with children, an' on one o' the coaches was a board—'Exeter to Penzance.' The four front coaches had corridors, the tail one just ord'nary compartments.
"Well, she dragged past us to dead-slow, an' came to a standstill with her tail coach about thirty yards beyond where I stood, and, as you might say, with its footboard right overhangin' the pool. You mayn't remember it, but the line just there curves pretty sharp to the right, and when she pulled up, the tail coach pretty well hid the rest o' the train from us. Five or six men, hearin' the brakes, had followed me out of the culvert and stood by me, wonderin' why the stoppage was. The rest were dotted about along the slope of th' embankment. And then the curiousest thing happened—about the curiousest thing I seen in all my years on the line. A door of the tail coach opened and a man stepped out. He didn't jump out, you understand, nor fling hisself out; he just stepped out into air, and with that his arms and legs cast themselves anyways an' he went down sprawlin' into the pool. It's easy to say we ought t' have run then an' there an' rescued him; but for the moment it stuck us up starin' an',—Wait a bit! You han't heard the end.
"I hadn't fairly caught my breath, before another man stepped out! He put his foot down upon nothing, same as the first, overbalanced just the same, and shot after him base-over-top into the water.
"Close 'pon the second man's heels appeared a third. . . . Yes, sir, I know now what a woman feels like when she's goin' to have the scritches. I'd have asked someone to pinch me in the fleshy part o' the leg, to make sure I was alive an' awake, but the power o' speech was taken from us. We just stuck an' stared.
"What beat everything was the behaviour of the train, so to say. There it stood, like as if it'd pulled up alongside the pool for the very purpose to unload these unfort'nit' men; an' yet takin' no notice whatever. Not a sign o' the guard—not a head poked out anywheres in the line o' windows—only the sun shinin', an' the steam escapin', an' out o' the rear compartment this procession droppin' out an' high-divin' one after another.
"Eight of 'em! Eight, as I am a truth-speakin' man—but there! you saw 'em with your own eyes. Eight! and the last of the eight scarce in the water afore the engine toots her whistle an' the train starts on again, round the curve an' out o' sight.
"She didn' leave us no time to doubt, neither, for there the poor fellas were, splashin' an' blowin', some of 'em bleatin' for help, an' gurglin', an' for aught we know drownin' in three-to-four feet o' water. So we pulled ourselves together an' ran to give 'em first aid.
"It didn' take us long to haul the whole lot out and ashore; and, as Providence would have it, not a bone broken in the party. One or two were sufferin' from sprains, and all of 'em from shock (but so were we, for that matter), and between 'em they must ha' swallowed a bra' few pints o' water, an' muddy water at that. I can't tell ezackly when or how we discovered they was all blind, or near-upon blind. It may ha' been from the unhandiness of their movements an' the way they clutched at us an' at one another as we pulled 'em ashore. Hows'ever, blind they were; an' I don't remember that it struck us as anyways singular, after what we'd been through a'ready. We fished out a concertina, too, an' a silver-mounted flute that was bobbin' among the weeds.
"The man the concertina belonged to—a tall fresh-complexioned young fella he was, an' very mild of manner—turned out to be a sort o' leader o' the party; an' he was the first to talk any sense. 'Th-thank you,' he said. 'They told us Penzance was the next stop.'
"'Hey?' says I.
"'They told us,' he says again, plaintive-like, feelin' for his spectacles an' not finding 'em, 'that Penzance was the next stop.'
"'Bound for Penzance, was you?' I asks.
"'For the Land's End,' says he, his teeth chatterin'. I set it down the man had a stammer, but 'twas only the shock an' the chill of his duckin'.
"'Well,' says I, 'this ain't the Land's End, though I dessay it feels a bit like it. Then you wasn' thrown out?' I says.
"'Th-thrown out?' says he. 'N-no. They told us Penzance was the next stop.'
"'Then,' says I, 'if you got out accidental you've had a most providential escape, an' me an' my mates don't deserve less than to hear about it. There's bound to be inquiries after you when the guard finds your compartment empty an' the door open. May be the train'll put back; more likely they'll send a search-party; but anyways you're all wet through, an' the best thing for health is to off wi' your clothes an' dry 'em, this warm afternoon.'
"'I dessay,' says he, 'you'll have noticed that our eyesight is affected.'
"'All the better if you're anyways modest,' says I. 'You couldn' find a retirededer place than this—not if you searched: an' we don't mind.'
"Well, sir, the end was we stripped 'em naked as Adam, an' spread their clothes to dry 'pon the grass. While we tended on 'em the mild young man told us how it had happened. It seems they'd come by excursion from Exeter. There's a blind home at Exeter, an' likewise a cathedral choir, an' Sunday school, an' a boys' brigade, with other sundries; an' this year the good people financin' half a dozen o' these shows had discovered that by clubbin' two sixpences together a shillin' could be made to go as far as eighteenpence; and how, doin' it on the co-op, instead of an afternoon treat for each, they could manage a two days' outin' for all—Exeter to Penzance an' the Land's End, sleepin' one night at Penzance, an' back to Exeter at some ungodly hour the next. It's no use your askin' me why a man three-parts blind should want to visit the Land's End. There's an attraction about that place, an' that's all you can say. Everybody knows as 'tisn' worth seein', an' yet everybody wants to see it. So why not a blind man?
"Well, this Happy Holiday Committee (as they called themselves) got the Company to fix them up with a special excursion; an' our blind friends—bein' sensitive, or maybe a touch above mixin' wi' the schoolchildren an' infants—had packed themselves into this rear compartment separate from the others. One of 'em had brought his concertina, an' another his flute, and what with these an' other ways of passin' the time they got along pretty comfortable till they came to Gwinear Road: an' there for some reason they were held up an' had to show their tickets. Anyways, the staff at Gwinear Road went along the train collectin' the halves o' their return tickets. 'What's the name o' this station?' asks my blind friend, very mild an' polite. 'Gwinear Road,' answers the porter;' Penzance next stop.' Somehow this gave him the notion that they were nearly arrived, an' so, you see, when the train slowed down a few minutes later an' came to a stop, he took the porter at his word, an' stepped out. Simple, wasn't it? But in my experience the curiousest things in life are the simplest of all, once you come to inquire into 'em."
"What I don't understand," said I, "is how the train came to stop just there."
Mr. Tucker gazed at me rather in sorrow than in anger. "I thought," said he, "'twas agreed I should tell the story in my own way. Well, as I was saying, we got those poor fellas there, all as naked as Adam, an' we was helpin' them all we could—some of us wringin' out their underlinen an' spreading it to dry, others collectin' their hats, an' tryin' which fitted which, an' others even dredgin' the pool for their handbags an' spectacles an' other small articles, an' in the middle of it someone started to laugh. You'll scarce believe it, but up to that moment there hadn't been so much as a smile to hand round; an' to this day I don't know the man's name that started it—for all I can tell you, I did it myself. But this I do know, that it set off the whole gang like a motor-engine. There was a sort of 'click,' an' the next moment—
"Laugh? I never heard men laugh like it in my born days. Sort of recoil, I s'pose it must ha' been, after the shock. Laugh? There was men staggerin' drunk with it and there was men rollin' on the turf with it; an' there was men cryin' with it, holdin' on to a stitch in their sides an' beseechin' everyone also to hold hard. The blind men took a bit longer to get going; but by gosh, sir! once started they laughed to do your heart good. O Lord, O Lord! I wish you could ha' see that mild-mannered spokesman. Somebody had fished out his spectacles for en, and that was all the clothing he stood in—that, an' a grin. He fairly beamed; an' the more he beamed the more we rocked, callin' on en to take pity an' stop it.
"Soon as I could catch a bit o' breath, 'Land's End next stop!' gasped I. 'O, but this is the Land's End! This is what the Land's End oughter been all the time, an' never was yet. O, for the Lord's sake,' says I, 'stop beamin', and pick up your concertina an' pitch us a tune!'
"Well, he did too. He played us 'Home, sweet home' first of all— 'mid pleasure an' palaces—an' the rest o' the young men sat around en an' started clappin' their hands to the tune; an' then some fool slipped an arm round my waist. I'm only thankful he didn't kiss me. Didn't think of it, perhaps; couldn't ha' been that he wasn't capable. It must ha' been just then your train came along. An' about twenty minutes later, when we was gettin' our friends back into their outfits, we heard the search-engine about half a mile below, whistlin' an' feelin' its way up very cautious towards us.
"They was sun-dried an' jolly as sandhoppers—all their eight of 'em—as we helped 'em on board an' wished 'em ta-ta! The search-party couldn' understand at all what had happened—in so short a time, too—to make us so cordial; an' somehow we didn' explain—neither we nor the blind men. I reckon the whole business had been so loonatic we felt it kind of holy. But the pore fellas kept wavin' back to us as they went out o' sight around the curve, an' maybe for a mile beyond. I never heard," Mr. Tucker wound up meditatively, "if they ever reached the Land's End. I wonder?"
"But, excuse me once more," said I. "How came the train to stop as it did?"
"To be sure. I said just now that the curiousest things in life were, gen'rally speakin', the simplest. One o' the schoolchildren in the fore part of the train—a small nipper of nine—had put his head out o' the carriage window and got his cap blown away. That's all. Bein' a nipper of some resource, he wasted no time, but touched off the communicatin' button an' fetched the whole train to a standstill. George Simmons, the guard, told me all about it last week, when I happened across him an' asked the same question you've been askin'. George was huntin' through the corridors to find out what had gone wrong; that's how the blind men stepped out without his noticin'. He pretended to be pretty angry wi' the young tacker. 'Do 'ee know,' says George, 'it's a five pound fine if you stop a train without good reason?' 'But I had a good reason,' says the child. 'My mother gave 'levenpence for that cap, an' 'tis a bran' new one.'"
OUR LADY OF GWITHIAN.
"Mary, mother, well thou be! Mary, mother, think on me; Sweete Lady, maiden clean, Shield me from ill, shame, and teen; Shield me, Lady, from villainy And from all wicked company!" Speculum Christiani.
Here is a little story I found one day among the legends of the Cornish Saints, like a chip in porridge. If you love simplicity, I think it may amuse you.
Lovey Bussow was wife of Daniel Bussow, a tin-streamer of Gwithian Parish. He had brought her from Camborne, and her neighbours agreed that there was little amiss with the woman if you overlooked her being a bit weak in the head. They set her down as "not exactly." At the end of a year she brought her husband a fine boy. It happened that the child was born just about the time of year the tin-merchants visited St. Michael's Mount; and the father—who streamed in a small way, and had no beast of burden but his donkey, or "naggur"—had to load up panniers and drive his tin down to the shore-market with the rest, which for him meant an absence of three weeks, or a fortnight at the least.
So Daniel kissed his wife and took his leave; and the neighbours, who came to visit her as soon as he was out of the way, all told her the same story—that until the child was safely baptised it behoved her to be very careful and keep her door shut for fear of the Piskies. The Piskies, or fairy-folk (they said), were themselves the spirits of children that had died unchristened, and liked nothing better than the chance to steal away an unchristened child to join their nation of mischief.
Lovey listened to them, and it preyed on her mind. She reckoned that her best course was to fetch a holy man as quickly as possible to baptise the child and make the cross over him. So one afternoon, the mite being then a bare fortnight old, she left him asleep in his cradle and, wrapping a shawl over her head, hurried off to seek Meriden the Priest.
Meriden the Priest dwelt in a hut among the sandhills, a bowshot beyond St. Gwithian's Chapel on the seaward side, as you go out to Godrevy. He had spent the day in barking his nets, and was spreading them out to dry on the short turf of the towans; but on hearing Lovey's errand, he good-naturedly dropped his occupation and, staying only to fill a bottle with holy water, walked back with her to her home.
As they drew near, Lovey was somewhat perturbed to see that the door, which she had carefully closed, was standing wide open. She guessed, however, that a neighbour had called in her absence, and would be inside keeping watch over the child. As she reached the threshold, the dreadful truth broke upon her: the kitchen was empty, and so was the cradle!
It made her frantic for a while. Meriden the Priest offered what consolation he could, and suggested that one of her neighbours had called indeed, and finding the baby alone in the cottage, had taken it off to her own home to guard it. But this he felt to be a forlorn hope, and it proved a vain one. Neither search nor inquiry could trace the infant. Beyond a doubt the Piskies had carried him off.
When this was established so that even the hopefullest of the good-wives shook her head over it, Lovey grew calm of a sudden and (as it seemed) with the calm of despair. She grew obstinate too.
"My blessed cheeld!" she kept repeating. "The tender worm of 'en! But I'll have 'en back, if I've to go to the naughty place to fetch 'en. Why, what sort of a tale be I to pitch to my Dan'l, if he comes home and his firstborn gone?"
They shook their heads again over this. It would be a brave blow for the man, but (said one to another) he that marries a fool must look for thorns in his bed.
"What's done can't be undone," they told her. "You'd best let a two-three of us stay the night and coax 'ee from frettin'. It's bad for the system, and you so soon over child-birth."
Lovey opened her eyes wide on them.
"Lord's sake!" she said, "you don't reckon I'm goin' to sit down under this? What?—and him the beautifullest, straightest cheeld that ever was in Gwithian Parish! Go'st thy ways home, every wan. Piskies steal my cheeld an' Dan'l's, would they? I'll pisky 'em!"
She showed them forth—"put them to doors" as we say in the Duchy— every one, the Priest included. She would have none of their consolation.
"You mean it kindly, naybors, I don't say; but tiddn' what I happen to want. I wants my cheeld back; an' I'll have'n back, what's more!"
They went their ways, agreeing that the woman was doited. Lovey closed the door upon them, bolted it, and sat for hours staring at the empty cradle. Through the unglazed window she could see the stars; and when these told her that midnight was near, she put on her shawl again, drew the bolt, and fared forth over the towans. At first the stars guided her, and the slant of the night-wind on her face; but by and by, in a dip between the hills, she spied her mark and steered for it. This was the spark within St. Gwithian's Chapel, where day and night a tiny oil lamp, with a floating wick, burned before the image of Our Lady.
Meriden the Priest kept the lamp filled, the wick trimmed, year in and year out. But he, good man, after remembering Lovey in his prayers, was laid asleep and snoring within his hut, a bowshot away. The chapel-door opened softly to Lovey's hand, and she crept up to Mary's image, and abased herself before it.
"Dear Aun' Mary," she whispered, "the Piskies have taken my cheeld! You d'knaw what that means to a poor female—you there, cuddlin' your liddle Jesus in the crook o' your arm. An' you d'knaw likewise what these Piskies be like; spiteful li'l toads, same as you or I might be if happen we'd died unchristened an' hadn' no share in heaven nor hell nor middle-earth. But that's no excuse. Aun' Mary, my dear, I want my cheeld back!" said she. That was all Lovey prayed. Without more ado she bobbed a curtsy, crept from the chapel, closed the door, and way-to-go back to her cottage.
When she reached it and struck a light in the kitchen she more than half expected to hear the child cry to her from his cradle. But, for all that Meriden the Priest had told her concerning the Virgin and her power, there the cradle stood empty.
"Well-a-well!" breathed Lovey. "The gentry are not to be hurried, I reckon. I'll fit and lie down for forty winks," she said; "though I do think, with her experience Mary might have remembered the poor mite would be famished afore this, not to mention that the milk in me is beginnin' to hurt cruel."
She did off some of her clothes and lay down, and even slept a little in spite of the pain in her breasts; but awoke a good two hours before dawn, to find no baby restored to her arms, nor even (when she looked) was it back in its cradle.
"This'll never do," said Lovey. On went her shawl again, and once again she faced the night and hurried across the towans to St. Gwithian's Chapel. There in her niche stood Our Lady, quite as though nothing had happened, with the infant Christ in her arms and the tiny lamp burning at her feet.
"Aun' Mary, Aun' Mary," said Lovey, speaking up sharp, "this iddn' no sense 't all! A person would think time was no objic, the way you stick there starin', ain' my poor cheeld leary with hunger afore now—as you, bein' a mother, oft to knaw. Fit an' fetch 'en home to me quick. Aw, do'ee co', that's a dear soul!"
But Our Lady stood there and made no sign.
"I don't understand 'ee 't all," Lovey groaned. "'Tiddn' the way I'd behave in your place, and you d'knaw it."
Still Our Lady made no sign.
Lovey grew desperate.
"Aw, very well, then!" she cried. "Try what it feels like without your liddle Jesus!"
And reaching up a hand, she snatched at and lifted the Holy Child that fitted into a stone socket on Our Lady's arm. It came away in her grasp, and she fled, tucking it under her shawl.
All the way home Lovey looked for the earth to gape and swallow her, or a hand to reach down from heaven and grip her by the hair; and all the way she seemed to hear Our Lady's feet padding after her in the darkness. But she never stopped nor stayed until she reached home; and there, flinging in through the door and slamming to the bolt behind her, she made one spring for the bed, and slid down in it, cowering over the small stone image.
Rat-a-tat! tat!—someone knocked on the door so that the cottage shook.
"Knock away!" said Lovey. "Whoever thee be, thee 'rt not my cheeld."
"My cheeld wouldn' be knockin': he's got neither strength nor sproil for it. An' you may fetch Michael and all his Angels, to tear me in pieces," said Lovey; "but till I hear my own cheeld creen to me, I'll keep what I have!"
Thereupon Lovey sat up, listening. For outside she heard a feeble wail.
She slipped out of bed. Holding the image tight in her right arm, she drew the bolt cautiously. On the threshold at her feet, lay her own babe, nestling in a bed of bracken.
She would have stooped at once and snatched him to her. But the stone Christling hampered her, lying so heavily in her arm. For a moment, fearing trickery, she had a mind to hurl it far out of doors into the night. . . . It would fall without much hurt into the soft sand of the towans. But on a second thought she held it forth gently in her two hands.
"I never meant to hurt 'en, Aun' Mary," she said. "But a firstborn's a firstborn, be we gentle or simple."
In the darkness a pair of invisible hands reached forward and took her hostage.
When it was known that the Piskies had repented and restored Lovey Bussow's child to her, the neighbours agreed that fools have most of the luck in this world; but came nevertheless to offer their congratulations. Meriden the Priest came also. He wanted to know how it had happened; for the Piskies do not easily surrender a child they have stolen.
Lovey—standing very demure, and smoothing her apron down along her thighs—confessed that she had laid her trouble before Our Lady.
"A miracle, then!" exclaimed his Reverence. "What height! What depth!"
"That's of it," agreed Lovey. "Aw, b'lieve me, your Reverence, we mothers understand wan another."
PILOT MATTHEY'S CHRISTMAS.
Pilot Matthey came down to the little fishing-quay at five p.m. or thereabouts. He is an elderly man, tall and sizable, with a grizzled beard and eyes innocent-tender as a child's, but set in deep crow's-feet at the corners, as all seamen's eyes are. It comes of facing the wind.
Pilot Matthey spent the fore-half of his life at the fishing. Thence he won his way to be a Trinity pilot, and wears such portions of an old uniform as he remembers to don. He has six sons and four daughters, all brought up in the fear of the Lord, and is very much of a prophet in our Israel. One of the sons works with him as apprentice, the other five follow the fishing.
He came down to the quay soon after tea-time, about half an hour before the luggers were due to put out. Some twenty-five or thirty men were already gathered, dandering to and fro with hands in pockets, or seated on the bench under the sea wall, waiting for the tide to serve. About an equal number were below in the boats, getting things ready.
There was nothing unusual about Matthey, save that, although it was a warm evening in August, he wore a thick pea-jacket, and had turned the collar up about his ears. Nor (if you know Cornish fishermen) was there anything very unusual in what he did, albeit a stranger might well have thought it frantic.
For some time he walked to and fro, threading his way in and out of the groups of men, walking much faster than they—at the best they were strolling—muttering the while with his head sunk low in his jacket collar, turning sharply when he reached the edge of the quay, or pausing a moment or two, and staring gloomily at the water. The men watched him, yet not very curiously. They knew what was coming.
Of a sudden he halted and began to preach. He preached of Redemption from Sin, of the Blood of the Lamb, of the ineffable bliss of Salvation. His voice rose in an agony on the gentle twilight: it could be heard—entreating, invoking, persuading, wrestling—far across the harbour. The men listened quite attentively until the time came for getting aboard. Then they stole away by twos and threes down the quay steps. Meanwhile, and all the while, preparations on the boats had been going forward.
He was left alone at length. Even the children had lost interest in him, and had run off to watch the boats as they crept out on the tide. He ceased abruptly, came across to the bench where I sat smoking my pipe, and dropped exhausted beside me. The fire had died out of him. He eyed me almost shamefacedly at first, by and by more boldly.
"I would give, sir," said Pilot Matthey, "I would give half my worldly goods to lead you to the Lord."
"I believe you," said I. "To my knowledge you have often risked more than that—your life—to save men from drowning. But tell me—you that for twenty minutes have been telling these fellows how Christ feels towards them—how can you know? It is hard enough, surely, to get inside any man's feelings. How can you pretend to know what Christ feels, or felt—for an instance, in the Judgment Hall, when Peter denied?"
"Once I did, sir," said Pilot Matthey, smoothing the worn knees of his trousers. "It was just that. I'll tell you:"
"It happened eighteen or twenty years ago, on the old Early and Late—yes, twenty years come Christmas, for I mind that my eldest daughter was expectin' her first man-child, just then. You saw him get aboard just now, praise the Lord! But at the time we was all nervous about it—my son-in-law, Daniel, bein' away with me on the East Coast after the herrings. I'd as good as promised him to be back in time for it—this bein' my first grandchild, an' due (so well as we could calculate) any time between Christmas an' New Year. Well, there was no sacrifice, as it happened, in startin' for home— the weather up there keepin' monstrous, an' the catches not worth the labour. So we turned down Channel, the wind strong an' dead foul— south at first, then west-sou'-west—headin' us all the way, and always blowin' from just where 'twasn't wanted. This lasted us down to the Wight, and we'd most given up hope to see home before Christmas, when almost without warnin' it catched in off the land— pretty fresh still, but steady—and bowled us down past the Bill and halfway across to the Start, merry as heart's delight. Then it fell away again, almost to a flat calm, and Daniel lost his temper. I never allowed cursin' on board the Early and Late—nor, for that matter, on any other boat of mine; but if Daniel didn't swear a bit out of hearin', well then—poor dear fellow, he's dead and gone these twelve years (yes, sir—drowned)—well then I'm doin' him an injustice. One couldn't help pitying him, neither. Didn't I know well enough what it felt like? And the awe of it, to think it's happenin' everywhere, and ever since world began—men fretting for the wife and firstborn, and gettin' over it, and goin' down to the grave leavin' the firstborn to fret over his firstborn! It puts me in mind o' the old hemn, sir: 'tis in the Wesley books, and I can't think why church folk leave out the verse—
"The busy tribes o' flesh and blood, With all their cares and fears—"
Ay, 'cares and fears'; that's of it—
"Are carried downward by the flood, And lost in followin' years."
"Poor Daniel—poor boy!"
Pilot Matthey sat silent for a while, staring out over the water in the wake of the boats that already had begun to melt into the shadow of darkness.
"'Twas beautiful sunshiny weather, too, as I mind," he resumed. "One o' those calm spells that happen, as often as not, just about Christmas. I remember drawin' your attention to it, sir, one Christmas when I passed you the compliments of the season; and you put it down to kingfishers, which I thought strange at the time."
"Kingfishers?" echoed I, mystified for the moment. "Oh, yes"—as light broke on me—"Halcyon days, of course!"
"That's right," Pilot Matthey nodded. "That's what you called 'em. . . . It took us a whole day to work past the tides of the Start. Then, about sunset, a light draught off the land helped us to Bolt Tail, and after that we mostly drifted all night, with here and there a cat's-paw, down across Bigbury Bay. By five in the morning we were inside the Eddystone, with Plymouth Sound open, and by twelve noon we was just in the very same place. It was Christmas Eve, sir.
"I looked at Daniel's face, and then a notion struck me. It was foolish I hadn't thought of it before.
"'See here, boys,' I says. (There was three. My second son, Sam, Daniel, and Daniel's brother, Dick, a youngster of sixteen or so.) 'Get out the boat,' I says,' and we'll tow her into Plymouth. If you're smart we may pluck her into Cattewater in time for Daniel to catch a train home. Sam can go home, too, if he has a mind, and the youngster can stay and help me look after things. I've seen a many Christmasses,' said I, 'and I'd as lief spend this one at Plymouth as anywhere else. You can give 'em all my love, and turn up again the day after Boxin' Day—and mind you ask for excursion tickets,' I said.
"They tumbled the boat out fast enough, you may be sure. Leastways the two men were smart enough. But the boy seemed ready to cry, so that my heart smote me. 'There!' said I, 'and Dicky can go too, if he'll pull for it. I shan't mind bein' left to myself. A redeemed man's never lonely—least of all at Christmas time.'
"Well, sir, they nipped into the boat, leavin' me aboard to steer; and they pulled—pulled—like as if they'd pull their hearts out. But it happened a strongish tide was settin' out o' the Sound, and long before we fetched past the breakwater I saw there was no chance to make Cattewater before nightfall, let alone their gettin' to the railway station. I blamed myself that I hadn't thought of it earlier, and so, steppin' forward, I called out to them to ease up— we wouldn't struggle on for Cattewater, but drop hook in Jennycliff Bay, somewhere inside of the Merchant Shipping anchorage. As things were, this would save a good hour—more likely two hours. 'And,' said I, 'you can take the boat, all three, and leave her at Barbican steps. Tell the harbour-master where she belongs, and where I'm laying. He'll see she don't take no harm, and you needn't fear but I'll get put ashore to her somehow. There's always somebody passin' hereabouts.'
"'But look 'ee here, father,' said the boys—good boys they were, too—'What's to happen if it comes on to blow from south or sou'-west, same as it blew at the beginning of the week?'
"''Tisn't goin' to do any such thing,' said I, for I'd been studyin' the weather. 'And, even if it should happen, I've signals aboard. 'Tisn't the first time, sonnies, I've sat out a week-end on board a boat, alone wi' the Redeemer.'
"That settled it, sir. It relieved 'em a bit, too, when they spied another lugger already lyin' inside the anchorage, and made her out for a Porthleven boat, the Maid in Two Minds, that had been after the herrings with the rest of us up to a fortni't ago, or maybe three weeks: since when we hadn't seen her. As I told you, the weather had been cruel, and the catches next to nothing; and belike she'd given it up earlier than we and pushed for home. At any rate, here she was. We knowed her owners, as fishermen do; but we'd never passed word with her, nor with any of her crew. I'd heard somewhere—but where I couldn't recollect—that the skipper was a blasphemous man, given to the drink, and passed by the name of Dog Mitchell; but 'twas hearsay only. All I noted, or had a mind to note, as we dropped anchor less than a cable length from her, was that she had no boat astern or on deck (by which I concluded the crew were ashore), and that Dog Mitchell himself was on deck. I reckernised him through the glass. He made no hail at all, but stood leanin' by the mizen and smokin', watchin' what we did. By then the dark was comin' down.
"Well, sir, I looked at my watch, and there was no time to be choice about position; no time even for the lads to get aboard and pack their bags. I ran forward, heaved anchor, cast off tow-line, an' just ran below, and came up with an armful o' duds which I tossed into the boat as she dropped back alongside. I fished the purse out of my pocket, and two sovereigns out o' the purse. 'That'll take 'ee home and back,' said I, passin' the money to Daniel. 'So long, children! You haven't no time to spare.'
"Away they pulled, callin' back, 'God bless 'ee, father!' and the like; words I shan't forget. . . . Poor Daniel! . . . And there, all of a sudden, was I, left to spend Christmas alone: which didn't trouble me at all.
"'Stead o' which, as you might say, havin' downed sail and made things pretty well shipshape on deck, I went below and trimmed and lit the riding light. When I came on deck with it the Maid in Two Minds was still in darkness. 'That's queer,' thought I; but maybe the Early and Late's light reminded Dog Mitchell of his, for a few minutes later he fetched it up and made it fast, takin' an uncommon long time over the job and mutterin' to himself all the while. (For I should tell you that, the weather bein' so still and the distance not a hundred yards, I could hear every word.)
"'Twas then, I think, it first came into my mind that the man was drunk, and five minutes later I was sure of it: for on his way aft he caught his foot and tripped over something—one o' the deck-leads maybe—and the words he ripped out 'twould turn me cold to repeat. His voice was thick, too, and after cursin' away for half a minute it dropped to a sort of growl, same as you'll hear a man use when he's full o' drink and reckons he has a grudge against somebody or something—he doesn't quite know which, or what. Thought I, ''Tis a risky game o' those others to leave a poor chap alone in that state. He might catch the boat afire, for one thing: and, for another, he might fall overboard.' It crossed my mind, too, that if he fell overboard I hadn't a boat to pull for him.
"He went below after that, and for a couple of hours no sound came from the Maid in Two Minds. 'Likely enough,' thought I, 'he's turned in, to sleep it off; and that's the best could happen to him'; and by and by I put the poor fellow clean out o' my head. I made myself a dish o' tea, got out supper, and ate it with a thankful heart, though I missed the boys; but, then again, I no sooner missed them than I praised God they had caught the train. They would be nearin' home by this time; and I sat for a while picturin' it: the kitchen, and the women-folk there, that must have made up their minds to spend Christmas without us; particularly Lisbeth Mary—that's my daughter, Daniel's wife—with her mother to comfort her, an' the firelight goin' dinky-dink round the cups and saucers on the dresser. I pictured the joy of it, too, when Sam or Daniel struck rat-tat and clicked open the latch, or maybe one o' the gals pricked up an ear at the sound of their boots on the cobbles. I 'most hoped the lads hadn't been thoughtful enough to send on a telegram. My mind ran on all this, sir; and then for a moment it ran back to myself, sittin' there cosy and snug after many perils, many joys; past middle-age, yet hale and strong, wi' the hand o' the Lord protectin' me. 'The Lord is my shepherd; therefore can I lack nothing. He shall feed me in a green pasture, and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort. He shall convert my soul . . .'
"I don't know how it happened, sir, but of a sudden a well o' warmth ran through me and all over me, just like a spring burstin'. 'Waters o' Comfort?' Ay, maybe . . . maybe. Funny things happen on Christmas Eve, they say. My old mother believed to her last day that every Christmas Eve at midnight the cattle in their challs went down on their knees, throughout the land . . .
"But the feelin', if you understand me, wasn't Christmas-like at all. It had started with green pastures: and green pastures ran in my head, with brooks, and birds singin' away up aloft and bees hummin' all 'round, and the sunshine o' the Lord warmin' everything and warmin' my heart . . . I felt the walls of the cuddy chokin' me of a sudden, an' went on deck.
"A fine night it was, up there. Very clear with a hint o' frost—no moon. As I remember, she was in her first quarter and had gone down some while. The tide had turned and was makin' in steady. I could hear it clap-clappin' past the Maid in Two Minds—she lay a little outside of us, to seaward, and we had swung so that her ridin' light come over our starboard how. Out beyond her the lighthouse on the breakwater kept flashin'—it's red over the anchorage—an' away beyond that the 'Stone. Astern was all the half-circle o' Plymouth lights—like the front of a crown o' glory. And the stars overhead, sir!—not so much as a wisp o' cloud to hide 'em.
"'Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east . . .'I'd always been curious about that star, sir,—whether 'twas an ordinary one or one sent by miracle: and, years before, I'd argued it out that the Lord wouldn't send one like a flash in the pan, but—bein' thoughtful in all things—would leave it to come back constant every year and bring assurance, if ye looked for it. After that, I began to look regularly, studying the sky from the first week of December on to Christmas: and 'twasn't long before I felt certain. 'Tis a star—they call it Regulus in the books, for I've looked it out—that gets up in the south-east in December month: pretty low, and yet full high enough to stand over a cottage; one o' the brightest too, and easily known, for it carries five other stars set like a reap-hook just above it.
"Well, I looked to the south-east, and there my star stood blazin', just over the dark o' the land, with its reap-hook over its forehead. 'The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light . . .'
"While I stood staring at it, thinkin' my thoughts, there came a noise all of a sudden from the other lugger, as if someone had kicked over a table down below, and upset half a dozen pots and pans. Then, almost before I had time to wonder, I heard Dog Mitchell scramble forth on deck, find his feet in a scrufflin' way, and start travisin' forth and back, forth and back, talkin' to himself all the while and cursin'. He was fairly chewin' curses. I guessed what was the matter. He had been down below toppin' things up with a last soak of neat whisky, and now he had the shakes on him, or the beginnings of 'em.
"You know the sayin', 'A fisherman's walk—two steps, an' overboard'? . . . I tell you I was in misery for the man. Any moment he might lurch overboard, or else throw himself over—one as likely as another with a poor chap in that state. Yet how could I help—cut off, without boat or any means to get to him?
"Forth and back he kept goin', in his heavy sea-boots. I could hear every step he took, and when he kicked against the hatchway-coamin' (he did this scores o' times) and when he stood still and spat overboard. Once he tripped over the ship's mop—got the handle a-foul of his legs, and talked to it like a pers'nal enemy. Terrible language—terrible!
"It struck me after a bit"—here Pilot Matthey turned to me with one of those shy smiles which, as they reveal his childish, simple heart, compel you to love the man. "It struck me after a bit that a hemn-tune mightn't come amiss to a man in that distress of mind. So I pitched to sing that grand old tune, 'Partners of a glorious hope,' a bit low at first, but louder as I picked up confidence. Soon as he heard it he stopped short, and called out to me to shut my head. So, findin' that hemns only excited him, I sat quiet, while he picked up his tramp again.
"I had allowed to myself that 'twould be all right soon after eleven, when the publics closed, and his mates would be turnin' up, to take care of him. But eleven o'clock struck, back in the town; and the quarters, and then twelve; and still no boat came off from shore. Then, soon after twelve, he grew quiet of a sudden. The trampin' stopped. I reckoned he'd gone below, though I couldn't be certain. But bein' by this time pretty cold with watchin', and dog-tired, I tumbled below and into my bunk. I must have been uneasy though, for I didn't take off more'n my boots.
"What's more I couldn't have slept more than a dog's sleep. For I woke up sudden to the noise of a splash—it seemed I'd been waitin' for it—and was up on deck in two shakes.
"Yes, the chap was overboard, fast enough—I heard a sort of gurgle as he came to the surface, and some sort of attempt at a cry. Before he went under again, the tide drifted his head like a little black buoy across the ray of our ridin' light. So overboard I jumped, and struck out for him."
At this point—the exciting point—Pilot Matthey's narrative halted, hesitated, grew meagre and ragged.
"I got a grip on him as he rose. He couldn't swim better'n a few strokes at the best. (So many of our boys won't larn to swim—they say it only lengthens things out when your time comes.) . . . The man was drownin', but he had sproil enough to catch at me and try to pull me under along with him. I knew that trick, though, luckily. . . . I got him round on his back, with my hands under his armpits, and kicked out for the Maid in Two Minds.
"'Tisn't easy to climb straight out o' the water and board a lugger— not at the best of times, when you've only yourself to look after; and the Maid in Two Minds had no accommodation-ladder hung out . . . But, as luck would have it, they'd downed sail anyhow and, among other things, left the out-haul of the mizen danglin' slack and close to the water. I reached for this, shortened up on it till I had it taut, and gave it into his hand to cling by—which he had the sense to do, havin' fetched back some of his wits. After that I scrambled on to the mizen-boom somehow and hauled him aboard mainly by his collar and seat of his trousers. It was a job, too; and the first thing he did on deck was to reach his head overside and be vi'lently sick.
"He couldn't have done better. When he'd finished I took charge, hurried him below—my! the mess down there!—and got him into somebody's dry clothes. All the time he was whimperin' and shiverin'; and he whimpered and shivered still when I coaxed him into his bunk and tucked him up in every rug I could find. There was a bottle of whisky, pretty near empty, 'pon the table. Seein' how wistful the poor chap looked at it, and mindin' how much whisky and salt water he'd got rid of, I mixed the dregs of it with a little hot water off the stove, and poured it into him. Then I filled up the bottle with hot water, corked it hard, and slipped it down under the blankets, to warm his feet.
"'That's all right, matey,' said he, his teeth chatterin' as I snugged him down. 'But cut along and leave me afore the others come.'
"Well, that was sense in its way, though he didn't seem to take account that there was only one way back for me—the way I'd come.
"'You'll do, all right?' said I.
"'I'll do right enough now,' said he. 'You cut along.'
"So I left him. I was that chilled in my drippin' clothes, the second swim did me more good than harm. When I got to the Early and Late, though, I was pretty dead beat, and it cost me half a dozen tries before I could heave myself on to the accommodation-ladder. Hows'ever, once on board I had a strip and a good rub-down, and tumbled to bed glowin' like a babby.
"I slept like a top, too, this time. What woke me was a voice close abeam, hailin' the Early and Late; and there was a brisk, brass-bound young chap alongside in a steam-launch, explainin' as he'd brought out the boat, and why the harbour-master hadn't sent her out last night. 'As requested by your crew, Cap'n.' 'That's very polite o' them and o' you, and o' the harbour-master,' said I; 'and I wish you the compliments o' the season.' For I liked the looks of him there, smiling up in an obliging way, and Plymouth bells behind him all sounding to Church together for Christmas. 'Same to you, Cap'n!' he called out, and sheered off with a wave o' the hand, having made the boat fast astern.
"I stared after him for a bit, and then I turned my attention to the Maid in Two Minds. Her boat, too, lay astern of her; and one of her crew was already on deck, swabbin' down. After a bit, another showed up. But Dog Mitchell made no appearance.
"Nat'rally enough my thoughts ran on him durin' breakfast; and, when 'twas done, I dressed myself and pulled over to inquire. By this time all three of his mates were on deck, and as I pulled close they drew together—much as to ask what I wanted.
"'I came across,' says I, 'to ask after the boss. Is he all right this morning?'
"'Why not?' asked one o' the men, suspicious-like, with a glance at the others. They were all pretty yellow in the gills after their night ashore.
"'What's up?' says Dog Mitchell's own voice on top o' this: and the man heaved himself on deck and looked down on me.
"'It's the skipper of the Early and Late,' said one of the fellows grinning; 'as seems to say he has the pleasure o' your acquaintance.'
"'Does he?' said Dog Mitchell slowly, chewing. The man's eyes were bleared yet, but the drink had gone out of him with his shock: or the few hours' sleep had picked him round. He hardened his eyes on me, anyway, and says he—'Does he? Then he's a bloody liar!'
"I didn't make no answer, sir. I saw what he had in mind—that I'd come off on the first opportunity, cadgin' for some reward. I turned the boat's head about, and started to pull back for the Early and Late. The men laughed after me, jeering-like. And Dog Mitchell, he laughed, too, in the wake o' them, with a kind of challenge as he saw my lack o' pluck. And away back in Plymouth the bells kept on ringing.
"That's the story. You asked how I could tell what the blessed Lord felt like when Peter denied. I don't know. But I seemed to feel like it, just that once."
I have a sincere respect and liking for the Vicar of Gantick—"th' old Parson Kendall," as we call him—but have somewhat avoided his hospitality since Mrs. Kendall took up with the teetotal craze. I say nothing against the lady's renouncing, an she choose, the light dinner claret, the cider, the port (pale with long maturing in the wood) which her table afforded of yore: nor do I believe that the Vicar, excellent man, repines deeply—though I once caught the faint sound of a sigh as we stood together and conned his cider-apple trees, un-garnered, shedding their fruit at random in the long grasses. For his glebe contains a lordly orchard, and it used to be a treat to watch him, his greenish third-best coat stuck all over with apple-pips and shreds of pomace, as he helped to work the press at the great annual cider-making. But I agree with their son, Master Dick, that "it's rough on the guests."
Master Dick is now in his second year at Oxford; and it was probably for his sake, to remove temptation from the growing lad, that Mrs. Kendall first discovered the wickedness of all alcoholic drink. Were he not an ordinary, good-natured boy—had he, as they say, an ounce of vice in him—I doubt the good lady's method might go some way towards defeating her purpose. As things are, it will probably take no worse revenge upon her solicitude than by weaning him insensibly away from home, to use his vacation-times in learning to be a man.
Last Long Vacation, in company with a friend he calls Jinks, Master Dick took a Canadian canoe out to Bordeaux by steamer, and spent six adventurous weeks in descending the Dordogne and exploring the Garonne with its tributaries. On his return he walked over to find me smoking in my garden after dinner, and gave me a gleeful account of his itinerary.
". . . And the next place we came to was Bergerac," said he, after ten minutes of it.
"Ah!" I murmured. "Bergerac!"
"You know it?"
"Passably well," said I. "It lies toward the edge of the claret country; but it grows astonishing claret. When I was about your age it grew a wine yet more astonishing."
"Hallo!" Master Dick paused in the act of lighting his pipe and dropped the match hurriedly as the flame scorched his fingers.
"It was grown on a hill just outside the town—the Mont-Bazillac. I once drank a bottle of it."
"Lord! You too? . . . Do tell me what happened!"
"Never," I responded firmly. "The Mont-Bazillac is extinct, swept out of existence by the phylloxera when you were a babe in arms. Infandum jubes renovare— no one any longer can tell you what that wine was. They made it of the ripe grape. It had the raisin flavour with something—no more than a hint—of Madeira in it: the leathery tang—how to describe it?"
"You need not try, when I have two bottles of it at home, at this moment!"
"When I tell you—" I began.
"Oh, but wait till you've heard the story!" he interrupted. "As I was saying, we came to Bergerac and put up for the night at the Couronne d'Or—first-class cooking. Besides ourselves there were three French bagmen at the table d'hote. The usual sort. Jinks, who talks worse French than I do (if that's possible), and doesn't mind, got on terms with them at once. . . . For my part I can always hit it off with a commercial—it's the sort of mind that appeals to me—and these French bagmen do know something about eating and drinking. That's how it happened. One of them started chaffing us about the ordinaire we were drinking—quite a respectable tap, by the way. He had heard that Englishmen drank only the strongest wine, and drank it in any quantities. Then another said: 'Ah, messieurs, if you would drink for the honour of England, justement you should match yourselves here in this town against the famous Mont-Bazillac.' 'What is this Mont-Bazillac?' we asked: and they told us—well, pretty much what you told me just now—adding, however, that the landlord kept a few precious bottles of it. They were quite fair in their warnings."
"Which, of course, you disregarded."
"For the honour of England. We rang for the landlord—a decent fellow, Sebillot by name—and at first, I may tell you, he wasn't at all keen on producing the stuff; kept protesting that he had but a small half-dozen left, that his daughter was to be married in the autumn, and he had meant to keep it for the wedding banquet. However, the bagmen helping, we persuaded him to bring up two bottles. A frantic price it was, too—frantic for us. Seven francs a bottle."
"It was four francs fifty even in my time."
"The two bottles were opened. Jinks took his, and I took mine. We had each arrosed the dinner with about a pint of Bordeaux; nothing to count. We looked at each other straight. I said, 'Be a man, Jinks! A votre sante messieurs!' and we started. . . . As you said just now, it's a most innocent-tasting wine."
"As a matter of fact, I didn't say so. Still, you are right."
"The fourth and fifth glasses, too, seemed to have no more kick in them than the first. . . . Nothing much seemed to be happening, except that Sebillot had brought in an extra lamp—at any rate, the room was brighter, and I could see the bagmen's faces more distinctly as they smiled and congratulated us. I drank off the last glass 'to the honour of England,' and suggested to Jinks—who had kept pace with me, glass for glass—that we should take a stroll and view the town. There was a fair (as I had heard) across the bridge. . . . We stood up together. I had been feeling nervous about Jinks, and it came as a relief to find that he was every bit as steady on his legs as I was. We said good evening to the bagmen and walked out into the street. 'Up the hill or down?' asked Jinks, and I explained to him very clearly that, since rivers followed the bottoms of their valleys, we should be safe in going downhill if we wanted to find the bridge. And I'd scarcely said the words before it flashed across me that I was drunk as Chloe.
"Here's another thing.—I'd never been drunk before, and I haven't been drunk since: but all the same I knew that this wasn't the least like ordinary drunkenness: it was too—what shall I say?—too brilliant. The whole town of Bergerac belonged to me: and, what was better, it was lit so that I could steer my way perfectly, although the street seemed to be quite amazingly full of people, jostling and chattering. I turned to call Jinks's attention to this, and was saying something about a French crowd—how much cheerfuller it was than your average English one—when all of a sudden Jinks wasn't there! No, nor the crowd! I was alone on Bergerac bridge, and I leaned with both elbows on the parapet and gazed at the Dordogne flowing beneath the moon.
"It was not an ordinary river, for it ran straight up into the sky: and the moon, unlike ordinary moons, kept whizzing on an axis like a Catherine-wheel, and swelled every now and then and burst into showers of the most dazzling fireworks. I leaned there and stared at the performance, feeling just like a king—proud, you understand, but with a sort of noble melancholy. I knew all the time that I was drunk; but that didn't seem to matter. The bagmen had told me—"
I nodded again.
"That's one of the extraordinary things about the Mont-Bazillac," I corroborated. "It's all over in about an hour, and there's not (as the saying goes) a headache in a hogshead."
"I wouldn't quite say that," said Dick reflectively. "But you're partly right. All of a sudden the moon stopped whizzing, the river lay down in its bed, and my head became clear as a bell. 'The trouble will be,' I told myself, 'to find the hotel again.' But I had no trouble at all. My brain picked up bearing after bearing. I worked back up the street like a prize Baden-Powell scout, found the portico, remembered the stairway to the left, leading to the lounge, went up it, and recognising the familiar furniture, dropped into an armchair with a happy sigh. My only worry, as I picked up a copy of the Gil Blas and began to study it, was about Jinks. But, you see, there wasn't much call to go searching after him when my own experience told me it would be all right.
"There were, maybe, half a dozen men in the lounge, scattered about in the armchairs and smoking. By and by, glancing up from my newspaper, I noticed that two or three had their eyes fixed on me pretty curiously. One of them—an old boy with a grizzled moustache—set down his paper, and came slowly across the room. 'Pardon, monsieur,' he said in the politest way, 'but have we the honour of numbering you amongst our members?' 'Good Lord!' cried I, sitting up, 'isn't this the Couronne d'Or?' 'Pray let monsieur not discommode himself,' said he, with a quick no-offence sort of smile, 'but he has made a little mistake. This is the Cercle Militaire.'
"I must say those French officers were jolly decent about it: especially when I explained about the Mont-Bazillac. They saw me back to the hotel in a body; and as we turned in at the porchway, who should come down the street but Jinks, striding elbows to side, like a man in a London-to-Brighton walking competition! . . . He told me, as we found our bedrooms, that 'of course, he had gone up the hill, and that the view had been magnificent.' I did not argue about it, luckily: for—here comes in another queer fact—there was no moon at all that night. Next morning I wheedled two more bottles of the stuff out of old Sebillot—which leaves him two for the wedding. I thought that you and I might have some fun with them. . . . Now tell me your experience."
"That," said I, "must wait until you unlock my tongue; if indeed you have brought home the genuine Mont-Bazillac."
As it happened, Master Dick was called up to Oxford unexpectedly, a week before the beginning of term, to start practice in his college "four." Our experiment had to be postponed; with what result you shall hear.
About a fortnight later I read in our local paper that the Bishop had been holding a Confirmation service in Gantick Parish Church. The paragraph went on to say that "a large and reverent congregation witnessed the ceremony, but general regret was expressed at the absence of our respected Vicar through a temporary indisposition. We are glad to assure our readers that the reverend gentleman is well on the way to recovery, and indeed has already resumed his ministration in the parish, where his genial presence and quick sympathies, etc."
This laid an obligation upon me to walk over to Gantick and inquire about my old friend's health: which I did that same afternoon. Mrs. Kendall received me with the information that her husband was quite well again, and out-and-about; that in fact he had started, immediately after luncheon, to pay a round of visits on the outskirts of the parish. On the nature of his late indisposition she showed herself reticent, not to say "short" in her answers; nor, though the hour was four o'clock, did she invite me to stay and drink tea with her.
On my way back, and just within the entrance-gate of the vicarage drive, I happened on old Trewoon, who works at odd jobs under the gardener, and was just now busy with a besom, sweeping up the first fall of autumn leaves. Old Trewoon, I should tell you, is a Wesleyan, and a Radical of the sardonic sort; and, as a jobbing man, holds himself free to criticise his employers.
"Good afternoon!" said I. "This is excellent news that I hear about the Vicar. I was afraid, when I first heard of his illness, that it might be something serious—at his age—"
"Serious?" Old Trewoon rested his hands on the besom-handle and eyed me, with a twist of his features. "Missus didn' tell you the natur' of the complaint, I reckon?"
"As a matter of fact she did not."
"I bet she didn'. Mind you, I don't know, nuther." He up-ended his besom and plucked a leaf or two from between the twigs before adding, "And what, makin' so bold, did she tell about the Churchwardens?"
"The Churchwardens?" I echoed.
"Aye, the Churchwardens: Matthey Hancock an' th' old Farmer Truslove. They was took ill right about the same time. Aw, my dear"—Mr. Trewoon addresses all mankind impartially as "my dear"—"th' hull parish knaws about they. Though there warn't no concealment, for that matter."
"What about the Churchwardens?" I asked innocently, and of a sudden became aware that he was rocking to and fro in short spasms of inward laughter.
"—It started wi' the Bishop's motor breakin' down; whereby he and his man spent the better part of two hours in a God-forsaken lane somewhere t'other side of Hen's Beacon, tryin' to make her go. He'd timed hisself to reach here punctual for the lunchin' the Missus always has ready on Confirmation Day: nobody to meet his Lordship but theirselves and the two Churchwardens; an' you may guess that Hancock and Truslove had turned up early in their best broadcloth, lookin' to have the time o' their lives.
"They were pretty keen-set, too, by one o'clock, bein' used to eat their dinners at noon sharp. One o'clock comes—no Bishop: two o'clock and still no Bishop. 'There's been a naccydent,' says the Missus: 'but thank the Lord the vittles is cold!' 'Maybe he've forgot the day,' says the Vicar; 'but any way, we'll give en another ha'f-hour's grace an' then set-to,' says he, takin' pity on the noises old Truslove was makin' inside his weskit. . . . So said, so done. At two-thirty—service bein' fixed for ha'f-after-three—they all fell to work.
"You d'know, I dare say, what a craze the Missus have a-took o' late against the drinkin' habit. Sally, the parlourmaid, told me as how, first along, th' old lady set out by hintin' that the Bishop, bein' a respecter o' conscience, wouldn' look for anything stronger on the table than home-brewed lemonade. But there the Vicar struck; and findin' no way to shake him, she made terms by outin' with two bottles o' wine that, to her scandal, she'd rummaged out from a cupboard o' young Master Dick's since he went back to Oxford College. She decanted 'em [chuckle], an' th' old Vicar allowed, havin' tasted the stuff, that—though he had lost the run o' wine lately, an' didn' reckernise whether 'twas port or what-not—seemin' to him 'twas a sound wine and fit for any gentleman's table. 'Well, at any rate,' says the Missus, 'my boy shall be spared the temptation: an' I hope 'tis no sign he's betaken hisself to secret drinkin'!'
"Well, then, it was decanted: an' Hancock and Truslove, nothin' doubtful, begun to lap it up like so much milk—the Vicar helpin', and the Missus rather encouragin' than not, to the extent o' the first decanter; thinkin' that 'twas good riddance to the stuff and that if the Bishop turned up, he wouldn't look, as a holy man, for more than ha'f a bottle. I'm tellin' it you as Sally told it to me. She says that everything went on as easy as eggs in a nest until she started to hand round the sweets, and all of a sudden she didn' know what was happenin' at table, nor whether she was on her head or her heels. . . . All I can tell you, sir, is that me and Battershall"— Battershall is the vicarage gardener, stableman, and factotum—"was waitin' in the stables, wonderin' when in the deuce the Bishop would turn up, when we heard the whistle blown from the kitchen: which was the signal. Out we ran; an' there to be sure was the Bishop comin' down the drive in a hired trap. But between him and the house— slap-bang, as you might say, in the middle of the lawn—was our two Churchwardens, stripped mother-naked to the waist, and sparring: and from the window just over the porch th' old Missus screaming out to us to separate 'em. No, nor that wasn't the worst: for, as his Lordship's trap drove up, the two tom-fools stopped their boxin' to stand 'pon their toes and blow kisses at him!
"I must say that Battershall showed great presence o' mind. He shouted to me to tackle Truslove, while he ran up to Matthey Hancock an' butted him in the stomach; an' together we'd heaved the two tom-fools into the shrubbery almost afore his Lordship could believe his eyes. I won't say what had happened to the Vicar, for I don't rightways know. All I can get out o' Sally—she's a modest wench—is that—that—he wanted to be a Statoo! . . ."
"Quite so," I interrupted, edging towards the gate and signifying with a gesture of the hand that I had heard enough.
Old Trewoon's voice followed me.
"I reckon, sir, we best agree, for the sake o' the dear old fella, that such a sight as them two Churchwardens was enough to make any gentleman take to his bed. But"—as the gate rang on its hasp and rang again—"I've been thinkin' powerful what might ha' happened if his Lordship had turned up in due time to partake."
Master Dick is a good boy; and when we met in the Christmas vacation no allusion was made to the Mont-Bazillac. On my part, I am absolved from my promised confession, and my lips shall remain locked. That great, that exhilarating, that redoubtable wine, has—with the nuptials of M. Sebillot's daughter—perished finally from earth. I wonder what happened in Bergerac on that occasion, and if it had a comparable apotheosis!
THE THREE NECKLACES.
"A great nation!" said the little Cure. "But yes, indeed, the English are a very great nation. And now I have seen them at home! But it passes expression, monsieur, what a traveller I find myself!"
We stood together on the deck of the steamer, watching—after an eight hours' passage from Plymouth—the Breton coast as it loomed out of the afternoon haze. Our crossing had been smooth, yet sea-sickness had prostrated all his compatriots on board—five or six priests, as many religieuses, and maybe a dozen peasants, whom I supposed to be attached in some way to the service of the religious orders the priests represented. (Of late years, since the French Government expelled them, quite a number of these orders have found a home in our West Country.) On my way to the docks that morning I had overtaken and passed them straggling by twos and threes to the steamer, the men in broad-brimmed hats with velvet ribbons, the women coifed and bodiced after the fashion of their country, each group shepherded by a priest; and I had noted how strange and almost forlorn a figure they cut in the grey English streets. If some of the strangeness had worn off, they certainly appeared no less forlorn as they sat huddled in physical anguish, dumb, immobile, staring at the sea.
The little Cure, however, was vivacious enough for ten. It was impossible to avoid making friends with him. He had nothing to do, he told me, with his companions, but was just a plain parish priest returning from an errand of business.
He announced this with a fine roll of the voice.
"Of business," he repeated. "The English are a great nation for business. But how warm of heart, notwithstanding!"
"That is not always reckoned to us," said I.
"But I reckon it . . . Tenez, that will be Ile Vierge—there, with the lighthouse standing white—as it were, beneath the cliffs; but the cliffs belong in fact to the mainland. . . . And now in a few minutes we come abreast of my parish—the Ile Lezan. . . . See, see!" He caught my arm as the tide raced us down through the Passage du Four. "My church—how her spire stands up!" He turned to me, his voice shaking with emotion. "You English are accustomed to travel. Probably you do not guess, monsieur, with what feelings I see again Ile Lezan—I, who have never crossed the Channel before nor indeed have visited any foreign land. But I am glad: it spreads the mind." Here he put his hands together and drew them apart as though extending a concertina. "I have seen you English at home. If monsieur, who is on tour, could only spare the time to visit me on Ile Lezan!"
Well, the end of it was that before we parted on the quay at Brest I found myself under half a promise, and a week later, having (as I put it to myself) nothing better to do, I took the train to a little wind-swept terminus, whence a ramshackle cart jolted me to Port Lezan, on the coast, whence again by sail and oar a ferry-boat conveyed me over to the Island.
My friend the Cure greeted me with something not far short of ecstasy.
"But this is like you English—you keep your word. . . . You will hardly believe," he confided, as I shared his admirable dejeuner— soup, langouste, an incomparable omelet, stuffed veal, and I forget what beside—"you will hardly believe with what difficulty I bring myself back to this horizon." He waved a hand to the blue sea-line beyond his window. "When one has tasted progress—" He broke off. "But, thanks be to God, we too, on Ile Lezan, are going to progress. You will visit my church and see how much we have need."
He took me to it: a bleak, decayed building, half ruinated, the slated pavement uneven as the waves of the sea, the plastered walls dripping with saline ooze. From the roof depended three or four rudely carved ships, hung there ex voto by parishioners preserved from various perils of the deep. He narrated their histories at length.
"The roof leaks," he said, "but we are to remedy that. At length the blessed Mary of Lezan will be housed, if not as befits her, at least not shamefully." He indicated a niched statue of the Virgin, with daubed red cheeks and a robe of crude blue overspread with blotches of sea-salt. "Thanks to your England," he added.
"Why 'thanks to England'?"
He chuckled—or perhaps I had better say chirruped.
"Did I not say I had been visiting your country on business? Eh? You shall hear the story—only I tell no names."
He took snuff.
"We will call them," he said, "only by their Christian names, which are Lucien and Jeanne. . . . I am to marry them next month, when Lucien gets his relief from the lighthouse on Ile Ouessant.
"They are an excellent couple. As between them, the wits are with Lucien, who will doubtless rise in his profession. He has been through temptation, as you shall hear. For Jeanne, she is un coeur simple, as again you will discover; not clever at all—oh, by no means!—yet one of the best of my children. It is really to Jeanne that we owe it all. . . . I have said so to Lucien, and just at the moment Lucien was trying to say it to me.
"They were betrothed, you understand. Lucien was nineteen, and Jeanne maybe a year younger. From the beginning, it had been an understood thing: to this extent understood, that Lucien, instead of sailing to the fishery (whither go most of the young men of Ile Lezan and the coast hereabouts) was destined from the first to enter the lighthouse service under Government. The letters I have written to Government on his behalf! . . . I am not one of those who quarrel with the Republic. Still—a priest, and in this out-of-the-way spot—what is he?
"However, Lucien got his appointment. The pay? Enough to marry on, for a free couple. But the families were poor on both sides—long families, too. Folk live long on Ile Lezan—women-folk especially; accidents at the fishery keep down the men. Still, and allowing for that, the average is high. Lucien had even a great-grandmother alive—a most worthy soul—and on Jeanne's side the grandparents survived on both sides. Where there are grandparents they must be maintained.
"No one builds on Ile Lezan. Luden and Jeanne—on either side their families crowded to the very windows. If only the smallest hovel might fall vacant! . . . For a week or two it seemed that a cottage might drop in their way; but it happened to be what you call picturesque, and a rich man snapped it up. He was a stranger from Paris, and called himself an artist; but in truth he painted little, and that poorly—as even I could see. He was fonder of planning what he would have, and what not, to indulge his mood when it should be in the key for painting. Happening here just when the cottage fell empty, he offered a price for it far beyond anything Lucien could afford, and bought it. For a month or two he played with this new toy, adding a studio and a veranda, and getting over many large crates of furniture from the mainland. Then by and by a restlessness overtook him—that restlessness which is the disease of the rich—and he left us, yet professing that it delighted him always to keep his little pied-a-terre in Ile Lezan. He has never been at pains to visit us since.
"But meanwhile Lucien and Jeanne had no room to marry and set up house. It was a heavy time for them. They had some talk together of crossing over and finding a house on the mainland; but it came to nothing. The parents on both sides would not hear of it, and in truth Jeanne would have found it lonely on the mainland, away from her friends and kin; for Lucien, you see, must in any case spend half his time on the lighthouse on Ile Ouessant. So many weeks on duty, so many weeks ashore—thus it works, and even so the loneliness wears them; though our Bretons, being silent men by nature, endure it better than the rest.
"Lucien and Jeanne must wait—wait for somebody to die. In plain words it came to that. Ah, monsieur! I have heard well-to-do folk talk of our poor as unfeeling. That is an untruth. But suppose it were true. Where would the blame lie in such a story as this? Like will to like, and young blood is hot. . . . Lucien and Jeanne, however, were always well conducted. . . . Yes, yes, my story? Six months passed, and then came word that our rich artist desired to sell his little pied-a-terre; but he demanded the price he had given for it, and, moreover, what he called compensation for the buildings he had added. Also he would only sell or let it with the furniture; he wished, in short, to disencumber himself of his purchase, and without loss. This meant that Lucien less than ever could afford to buy; and there are no money-lenders on Ile Lezan. The letter came as he was on the point of departing for another six weeks on Ile Ouessant: and that evening the lovers' feet took them to the nest they had so often dreamed of furnishing. There is no prettier cottage on the island—I will show it to you on our way back. Very disconsolately they looked at it, but there was no cure. Lucien left early next morning.
"That was last autumn, a little before the wreck of your great English steamship the Rougemont Castle. Days after, the tides carried some of the bodies even here, to Ile Lezan; but not many— four or five at the most—and we, cut off from shore around this corner of the coast, were long in hearing the terrible news. Even the lighthouse-keepers on Ile Ouessant knew nothing of it until morning, for she struck in the night, you remember, attempting to run through the Inner Passage and save her time.
"I believe—but on this point will not be certain—that the alarm first came to Lucien, and in the way I shall tell you. At any rate he was walking alone in the early morning, and somewhere along the shore to the south of the lighthouse, when he came on a body lying on the seaweed in a gully of the rocks.
"It was the body of a woman, clad only in a nightdress. As he stooped over her, Lucien saw that she was exceeding beautiful; yet not a girl, but a well-developed woman of thirty or thereabouts, with heavy coils of dark hair, well-rounded shoulders, and (as he described it to me later on) a magnificent throat.
"He had reason enough to remark her throat, for as he turned the body over—it lay on its right side—to place a hand over the heart, if perchance some life lingered, the nightdress, open at the throat, disclosed one, two, three superb necklaces of diamonds. There were rings of diamonds on her fingers, too, and afterwards many fine gems were found sewn within a short vest or camisole of silk she wore under her nightdress. But Lucien's eyes were fastened on the three necklaces.
"Doubtless the poor lady, aroused in her berth as the ship struck, had clasped these hurriedly about her throat before rushing on deck. So, might her life be spared, she would save with it many thousands of pounds. They tell me since that in moments of panic women always think first of their jewels.
"But here she lay drowned, and the jewels—as I said, Lucien could not unglue his eyes from them. At first he stared at them stupidly. Not for some minutes did his mind grasp that they represented great wealth; and even when the temptation grew, it whispered no more than that here was money—maybe even a hundred pounds—but enough, at all events, added to his savings, to purchase the cottage at home, and make him and Jeanne happy for the rest of their lives.
"His fingers felt around to the clasps. One by one he detached the necklaces and slipped them into his trousers' pocket.
"He also managed to pull off one of the rings; but found this a more difficult matter, because the fingers were swollen somewhat with the salt water. So he contented himself with one, and ran back to the lighthouse to give the alarm to his comrades.
"When his comrades saw the body there was great outcry upon the jewels on its fingers; but none attempted to disturb them, and Lucien kept his own counsel. They carried the poor thing to a store-chamber at the base of the lighthouse, and there before nightfall they had collected close upon thirty bodies. There was much talk in the newspapers afterwards concerning the honesty of our poor Bretons, who pillaged none of the dead, but gave up whatever they found. The relatives and the great shipping company subscribed a fund, of which a certain small portion came even to Ile Lezan to be administered by me.
"The poor lady with the necklaces? If you read the accounts in the newspapers, as no doubt you did, you will already have guessed her name. Yes, in truth, she was your great soprano, whom they called Madame Chiara, or La Chiara: so modest are you English, at least in all that concerns the arts, that when an incomparable singer is born to you she must go to Italy to borrow a name. She was returning from South Africa, where the finest of the three necklaces had been presented to her by subscription amongst her admirers. They say her voice so ravished the audiences at Johannesburg and Pretoria that she might almost, had she willed, have carried home the great diamond they are sending to your King. But that, no doubt, was an invention of the newspapers.
"For certain, at any rate, the necklace was a superb one; nor do I speak without knowledge, as you shall hear. Twenty-seven large stones—between each a lesser stone—and all of the purest water! The other two were scarcely less magnificent. It was a brother who came over and certified the body; for her husband she had divorced in America, and her father was an English clergyman, old and infirm, seldom travelling beyond the parish where he lives in a chateau and reigns as a king. It seems that these things happen in England. At first he was only a younger son, and dwelt in the rectory as a plain parish priest, and there he married and brought up his family; but his elder brother dying, he became seigneur of the parish too, and moved into a great house, yet with little money to support it until his only daughter came back from studying at Milan and conquered London. The old gentleman speaks very modestly about it. Oh, yes, I have seen and talked with him. And what a garden! The azaleas! the rhododendrons! But he is old, and his senses somewhat blunted. He lives in the past—not his own, but his family's rather. He spoke to me of his daughter without emotion, and said that her voice was undoubtedly derived from three generations back, when an ancestor—a baronet—had married with an opera-singer.
"But we were talking of the necklaces and of the ring which Lucien had taken. . . . He told his secret to nobody, but kept them ever in his trousers' pocket. Only, when he could escape away from his comrades to some corner of the shore, he would draw the gems forth and feast his eyes on them. I believe it weighed on him very little that he had committed a crime or a sin. Longshore folk have great ease of conscience respecting all property cast up to them by the sea. They regard all such as their rightful harvest: the feeling is in their blood, and I have many times argued in vain against it. Once while I argued, here in Ile Lezan, an old man asked me, 'But, Father, if it were not for such chances, why should any man choose to dwell by the sea?' If, monsieur, you lived among them and knew their hardships, you would see some rude sense in that question.