E-text prepared by Lionel Sear
THE ADVENTURES OF HARRY REVEL.
ARTHUR THOMAS QUILLER-COUCH.
This e-text prepared from a reprint of a version published in 1903
When I started to set down these early adventures of Harry Revel, I meant to dedicate them to my friend Mr. W. F. Collier of Woodtown, Horrabridge: but he died while the story was writing, and now cannot twit me with the pranks I have played among his stories of bygone Plymouth, nor send me his forgiveness—as he would have done. Peace be to him for a lover of Dartmoor and true gentleman of Devon!
So now I have only to beg, by way of preface, that no one will bother himself by inquiring too curiously into the geography, topography, etc. of this tale, or of any that I have written or may write. If these tales have any sense of locality, they certainly will not square with the ordnance maps; and even the magnetic pole works loose and goes astray at times—a phenomenon often observed by sailors off the sea-coast of Bohemia.
It may be permissible to add that the story which follows by no means exhausts the adventures, civil and military, of Harry Revel. But the recital of his further campaigning in company with Mr. Benjamin Jope, and of the verses in which Miss Plinlimmon commemorated it, will depend upon public favour.
THE HAVEN, FOWEY, March 28th, 1903.
I. I FIND MYSELF A FOUNDLING.
II. I START IN LIFE AS AN EMINENT PERSON.
III. I AM BOUND APPRENTICE.
IV. MISS PLINLIMMON.
V. THE SHADOW OF ARCHIBOLD.
VI. I STUMBLE INTO HORRORS.
VII. I ESCAPE FROM THE JEW'S HOUSE.
VIII. POOR TOM BOWLING.
IX. SALTASH FERRY.
X. I GO ON A HONEYMOON.
XII. I FALL AMONG SMUGGLERS.
XIII. THE MAN IN THE VERANDAH.
XIV. THE MOCK-ORANGE BUSH.
XV. MINDEN COTTAGE.
XVI. MR. JACK ROGERS AS A MAN OF AFFAIRS.
XVII. LYDIA BELCHER INTERVENES.
XVIII. THE OWL'S CRY.
XX. ISABEL'S REVENGE.
XXI. I GO CAMPAIGNING WITH LORD WELLINGTON.
XXII. ON THE GREATER TESSON.
XXIII. IN CIUDAD RODRIGO.
XXIV. I EXCHANGE THE LAUREL FOR THE OLIVE.
I FIND MYSELF A FOUNDLING.
My earliest recollections are of a square courtyard surrounded by high walls and paved with blue and white pebbles in geometrical patterns—circles, parallelograms, and lozenges. Two of these walls were blank, and had been coped with broken bottles; a third, similarly coped, had heavy folding doors of timber, leaden-grey in colour and studded with black bolt-heads. Beside them stood a leaden-grey sentry-box, and in this sat a red-faced man with a wooden leg and a pigtail, whose business was to attend to the wicket and keep an eye on us small boys as we played. He owned two books which he read constantly: one was Foxe's Martyrs, and the other (which had no title on the binding) I opened one day and found to be The Devil on Two Sticks.
The arch over these gates bore two gilt legends. That facing the roadway ran: "Train up a Child in the Way he should Go," which prepared the visitor to read on the inner side: "When he is Old he will not Depart from it." But we twenty-five small foundlings, who seldom evaded the wicket, and so passed our days with the second half of the quotation, found in it a particular and dreadful meaning.
The fourth and last wall was the front of the hospital, a two-storeyed building of grey limestone, with a clock and a small cupola of copper, weather-greened, and a steeply pitched roof of slate pierced with dormer windows, behind one of which (because of a tendency to walk in my sleep) I slept in the charge of Miss Plinlimmon, the matron. Below the eaves ran a line of eight tall windows, the three on the extreme right belonging to the chapel; and below these again a low-browed colonnade, in the shelter of which we played on rainy days, but never in fine weather—though its smooth limestone slabs made an excellent pitch for marbles, whereas on the pebbles in the yard expertness could only be attained by heart-breaking practice. Yet we preferred them. If it did nothing else, the Genevan Hospital, by Plymouth Dock, taught us to suit ourselves to the world as we found it.
I do not remember that we were unhappy or nursed any sense of injury, except over the porridge for breakfast. The Rev. Mr. Scougall, our pastor, had founded the hospital some twenty years before with the money subscribed by certain Calvinistic ladies among whom he ministered, and under the patronage of a Port Admiral of like belief, then occupying Admiralty House. His purpose (to which we had not the smallest objection) was to rescue us small jetsam and save us from many dreadful Christian heresies, more especially those of Rome. But he came from the north of Britain and argued (I suppose) that what porridge had done for him in childhood it might well do for us— a conclusion against which our poor little southern stomachs rebelled. It oppressed me worse than any, for since the discovery of my sleep-walking habit my supper (of plain bread and water) had been docked, so that I came ravenous to breakfast and yet could not eat.
Nevertheless, I do not think we were unhappy. Perhaps we were too young, and at any rate we had nothing with which to contrast our lot. Across the roadway outside lay blue water, and of this and of roving ships and boats and free passers-by glimpses came to us through the wicket when Mr. George, the porter (we always addressed him as "Mr." and supposed him to resemble the King in features), admitted a visitor, or the laundress, or the butcher's boy. And sometimes we broke off a game to watch the topmasts of a vessel gliding by silently, above the wall's coping. But if at any time the world called to us, we took second thoughts, remembering our clothes.
We wore, I dare say, the most infernal costume ever devised by man—a tightish snuff-coloured jacket with diminutive tails, an orange waistcoat, snuff-coloured breeches, grey-blue worsted stockings, and square-toed shoes with iron toe-plates. Add a flat-topped cap with an immense leathern brim; add Genevan neck-bands; add, last of all, a leathern badge with "G.F.H." (Genevan Foundling Hospital) depending from the left breast-button; and you may imagine with what diffidence we took our rare walks abroad. The dock-boys, of course, greeted us with cries of "Yellow Hammer!" The butcher-boy had once even dared to fling that taunt at us within our own yard; and we left him in no doubt about the hammering, gallant fellow though he was and wore a spur on his left heel. But no bodily deformity could have corroded us as did those thrice-accursed garments with terror of the world without and of its laughter.
Of a world yet more distant we were taught the gloomiest views. Twice a week regularly, and incidentally whenever he found occasion, Mr. Scougall painted the flames of hell for us in the liveliest colours. We never doubted his word that our chances of escaping them were small indeed; but somehow, as life did not allure, so eternity did not greatly frighten us. Meanwhile we played at our marbles. We knew, in spite of the legend over the gateway, that at the age of ten or so our elder companions disappeared. They went, as a fact, into various trades and callings, like ordinary parish apprentices. Perhaps we guessed this; if so, it must have been vaguely, and I incline to believe that we confused their disappearance with death in our childish musings on the common lot. They never came back to see us; and I remember that we were curiously shy of speaking about them, once gone.
From Miss Plinlimmon's window above the eaves I could look over the front wall on to an edge of roadway, a straight dock like a canal— crowded with shipping—and a fort which fired a gun in the early morning and again at sunset. And every morning, too, the drums would sound from the hill at our back; and be answered by a soldier, who came steadily down the roadway beside the dock, halted in front of our gates, and blew a call on his bugle. Other bugle-calls sounded all around us throughout the day and far into our sleep-time: but this was the only performer I ever saw. He wore a red coat, a high japanned hat, and clean white pantaloons with black gaiters: and I took it for granted that he was always the same soldier. Yet I had plenty of opportunities for observing him, for Miss Plinlimmon made it a rule that I should stand at the window and continue to gaze out of it while she dressed.
One day she paused in the act of plaiting her hair. "Harry," said she, "I shall always think of you and that tune together. It is called the Revelly, which is a French word."
"But the soldier is English?" said I.
"Oh, I truly trust so—a heart of oak, I should hope! England cannot have too many of them in these days, when a weak woman can scarce lay herself down in her bed at night with the certainty of getting up in the same position in the morning."
(They were days when, as I afterwards learnt, Napoleon's troops and flat-bottomed boats were gathered at Boulogne and waiting their opportunity to invade us. But of this scarcely an echo penetrated to our courtyard, although the streets outside were filled daily with the tramping of troops and rolling of store-wagons. We knew that our country—whatever that might mean—was at war with France, and we played in our yard a game called "French and English." That was all: and Miss Plinlimmon, good soul, if at times she awoke in the night and shuddered and listened for the yells of Frenchmen in the town, heroically kept her fears to herself. This was as near as she ever came to imparting them.)
"I have often thought of you, Harry," she went on, "as embracing a military career. Mr. Scougall very kindly allows me to choose surnames for you boys when you—when you leave us. He says (but I fear in flattery) that I have more invention than he." And here, though bound on my word of honour not to look, I felt sure she was smiling to herself in the glass. "What would you say if I christened you Revelly?"
"Oh, please, no!" I entreated. "Let mine be an English name. Why—why couldn't I be called Plinlimmon? I would rather have that than any name in the world."
"You are a darling!" exclaimed she, much to my surprise; and, the next moment, I felt a little pecking kiss on the back of my neck. She usually kissed me at night, after my prayers were said: but somehow this was different, and it fetched tears to my eyes—greatly to my surprise, for we were not given to tears at the Genevan Hospital. "Plinlimmon is a mountain in Wales, and that, I dare say, is what makes me so romantic. Now, you are not romantic in the least: and, besides, it wouldn't do. No, indeed. But you shall be called by an English name, if you wish, though to my mind there's a je ne sais quoi about the French. I once knew a Frenchman, a writing and dancing master, called Duvelleroy, which always seemed the beautifullest name."
"Was he beautiful himself?" I asked.
"He used to play a kit—which is a kind of small fiddle—holding it across his waist. It made him look as if he were cutting himself in half; which did not contribute to that result. But suppose, now, we call you Revel—Harry Revel? That's English enough, and will remind me just the same—if Mr. Scougall will not think it too Anacherontic."
I saw no reason to fear this: but then I had no idea what she meant by it, or by calling herself romantic. She was certainly soft-hearted. She possessed many books, as well as an album in her own handwriting, and encouraged me to read aloud to her on summer mornings when the sun was up and ahead of us. And once, in the story of Maximilian, or Quite the Gentleman: Founded on Fact and Designed to excite the Love of Virtue in the Rising Generation, at a point where the hero's small brother Felix is carried away by an eagle, she dissolved in tears. "In my native Wales," she explained afterwards, "the wild sheep leap from rock to rock so much as a matter of course that you would, in time, be surprised if they didn't. And that naturally gives me a sympathy with all that is sublime on the one hand or affecting on the other."
Yet later—but I cannot separate these things accurately in time—I awoke in my cot one night and heard Miss Plinlimmon sobbing. The sound was dreadful to me and I longed to creep across the room to her dark bedside and comfort her; though I could tell she was trying to suppress it for fear of disturbing me. In the end her sobs ceased and, still wondering, I dropped off to sleep, nor next day did I dare to question her.
But it could not have been long after this that we boys got wind of Mr. Scougall's approaching marriage with a wealthy lady of the town. I must speak of this ceremony, because, as the fates ordained, it gave me my first start in life.
I START IN LIFE AS AN EMINENT PERSON.
Mr. Scougall was a lean, strident man who, if he lectured us often, whipped us on the whole with judgment and when we deserved it. So we bore him no grudge. But neither did we love him nor take any lively interest in him as a bridegroom, and I was startled to find these feelings shared by Mr. George in the porter's box when I discussed the news with him. "I'm to have a new suit of clothes," said Mr. George, "but whoever gets Scougall, he's no catch." This sounded blasphemous, while it gave me a sort of fearful joy. I reported it, under seal of secrecy, to Miss Plinlimmon. "Naval men, my dear Harry," was her comment, "are notoriously blunt and outspoken, even when retired upon a pension; perhaps, indeed, if anything, more so. It is in consequence of this habit that they have sometimes performed their grandest feats, as, for instance, when Horatio Nelson put his spy-glass up to his blind eye. I advise you to do the same and treat Mr. George as a chartered heart of oak, without remembering his indiscretions to repeat them." She went on to tell me that sailor-men were beloved in Plymouth and allowed to do pretty well as they pleased; and how, quite recently, a Quaker lady had been stopped in Bedford Street by a Jack Tar who said he had sworn to kiss her. "Thee must be quick about it, then," said the Quaker lady. And he was.
I suppose this anecdote encouraged me to be more familiar with Mr. George. At any rate, I confided to him next day that I thought of being a soldier.
"Do you know what we used to say in the Navy?" he answered. "We used to say, 'A friend before a messmate, a messmate before a shipmate, a shipmate before a dog, and a dog before a soldier.'"
"You think," said I, somewhat discouraged, "that the Navy would be a better opening for me?"
"Ay," he answered again, eyeing me gloomily; "that is, if so be ye can't contrive to get to jail." He cast a glance down upon his jury-leg and patted the straps of it with his open palm. "The leg, now, that used to be here—I left it in a French prison called Jivvy, and often I thinks to myself, 'That there leg is having better luck than the rest of me.' And here's another curious thing. What d'ye think they call it in France when you remember a person in your will?"
I hadn't a notion, and said so.
"Why, 'legs,'" said he. "And they've got one of mine. If a man was superstitious, you might almost call it a coincidence, hey?"
This was the longest conversation I ever had with Mr. George. I have since found that sentiments very like his about the Navy have been uttered by Dr. Samuel Johnson. But Mr. George spoke them out of his own experience.
Mr. Scougall's bride was the widow of a Plymouth publican who had sold his business and retired upon a small farm across the Hamoaze, near the Cornish village of Anthony. On the wedding morning (which fell early in July) she had, by agreement with her groom, prepared a delightful surprise for us. We trooped after prayers into the dining-hall to find, in place of the hateful porridge, a feast laid out—ham and eggs, cold veal pies, gooseberry preserves, and—best of all—plate upon plate of strawberries with bowl upon bowl of cool clotted cream. Not a child of us had ever tasted strawberries or cream in his life, so you may guess if we ate with prudence. At half-past ten Miss Plinlimmon (who had not found the heart to restrain our appetites) marshalled and led us forth, gorged and torpid, to the church where at eleven o'clock the ceremony was to take place. Her eyes were red-rimmed as she cast them up towards the window behind which Mr. Scougall, no doubt, was at that moment arraying himself: but she commanded a firm step, and even a firm voice to remark outside the wicket, as she looked up at the chimney-pots, that Nature had put on her fairest garb.
The day, to be sure, was monstrously hot and stuffy. Not a breath of wind ruffled the waters of the dock, around the head of which we trudged to a recently erected church on the opposite shore. I remember observing, on our way, the dazzling brilliance of its weathercock.
We found its interior spacious but warm, and the air heavy with the scent—it comes back to me as I write—of a peculiar sweet oil used in the lamps. Perhaps Mr. Scougall had calculated that a ceremony so interesting to him would attract a throng of sightseers; at any rate, we were packed into a gallery at the extreme western end of the church, and in due time watched the proceedings from that respectful distance and across a gulf of empty pews.
—That is to say, some of us watched. I have no doubt that Miss Plinlimmon did, for instance; nay, that her attention was riveted. Otherwise I cannot explain what followed.
On the previous night I had gone to bed almost supperless, as usual. I had come, as usual, ravenous to breakfast, and for once I had sated, and more than sated, desire. For years after, though hungry often enough in the course of them, I never thought with longing upon cold veal or strawberries, nor have I ever recovered an unmitigated appetite for either.
It is certain, then, that even before the ceremony began—and the bride arrived several minutes late—I slumbered on the back bench of the gallery. The evidence of six boys seated near me agrees that, at the moment when Mr. Scougall produced the ring, I arose quietly, but without warning, and made my exit by the belfry door. They supposed that I was taken ill; they themselves were feeling more or less uncomfortable.
The belfry stairway, by which we had reached the door of our gallery, wound upward beyond it to the top of the tower, and gave issue by a low doorway upon the dwarf battlements, from which sprang a spire some eighty feet high. This spire was, in fact, a narrowing octagon, its sides hung with slate, its eight ridges faced with Bath stone, and edged from top to bottom with ornamental crockets.
The service over, bride and bridegroom withdrew with their friends to the vestry for the signing of the register; and there, while they dallied and interchanged good wishes, were interrupted by the beadle, a white-faced pew-opener, and two draymen from the street, with news (as one of the draymen put it, shouting down the rest) that "one of Scougall's yellow orphans was up clinging to the weathercock by his blessed eyebrows; and was this a time for joking, or for feeling ashamed of themselves and sending for a constable?"
The drayman shouted and gesticulated so fiercely with a great hand flung aloft that Mr. Scougall, almost before comprehending, precipitated himself from the church. Outside stood his hired carriage with its pair of greys, but the driver was pointing with his whip and craning his neck like the rest of the small crowd.
It may have been their outcries, but I believe it was the ringing of the dockyard bell for the dinner-hour, which awoke me. In my dreams my arms had been about some kindly neck (and of my dreams in those days, though but a glimpse ever survived the waking, in those glimpses dwelt the shade, if not the presence, of my unknown mother). They were, in fact, clasped around the leg of the weathercock. Unsympathetic support! But I have known worse friends. A mercy it was, at any rate, that I kept my embrace during the moments when sense returned to me, with vision of the wonders spread around and below. Truly I enjoyed a wonderful view—across the roofs of Plymouth, quivering under the noon sun, and away to the violet hills of Dartmoor; and, again, across the water and shipping of the Hamoaze to the green slopes of Mount Edgcumbe and the massed trees slumbering in the heat. Slumber, indeed, and a great quiet seemed to rest over me, over the houses, the ships, the whole wide land. By the blessing of Heaven, not so much as the faintest breeze played about the spire, or cooled the copper rod burning my hand (and, again, it may have been this that woke me). I sat astride the topmost crocket, and glancing down between my boot heels, spied the carriage with its pair of greys flattened upon the roadway just beyond the verge of the battlements, and Mr. Scougall himself dancing and waving his arms like a small but very lively beetle.
Doubtless, I had ascended by the narrow stairway of the crockets: but to descend by them with a lot of useless senses about me would be a very different matter. No giddiness attacked me as yet; indeed I knew rather than felt my position to be serious. For a moment I thought of leaving my perch and letting myself slip down the face of the slates, to be pulled up short by the parapet; but the length of the slide daunted me, and the parapet appeared dangerously shallow. I should shoot over it to a certainty and go whirling into air. On the other hand, to drop from my present saddle into the one below was no easy feat. For this I must back myself over the edge of it, and cling with body and legs in air while I judged my fall into the next. To do this thirty times or so in succession without mistake was past hoping for: there were at least thirty crockets to be manoeuvred, and a single miscalculation would send me spinning backwards to my fate. Above all, I had not the strength for it.
So I sat considering for a while; not terrified, but with a brain exceedingly blank and hopeless. It never occurred to me that, if I sat still and held on, steeplejacks would be summoned and ladders brought to me; and I am glad that it did not, for this would have taken hours, and I know now that I could not have held out for half an hour inactive. But another thought came. I saw the slates at the foot of the weathercock, that they were thinly edged and of light scantling. I knew that they must be nailed upon a wooden framework not unlike a ladder. And at the Genevan Hospital, as I have recorded, we wore stout plates on our shoes.
I am told that it was a bad few moments for the lookers-on when they saw me lower myself sideways from my crocket and begin to hammer on the slates with my toes: for at first they did not comprehend, and then they reasoned that the slates were new, and if I failed to kick through them, to pull myself back to the crocket again would be a desperate job.
But they did not know our shoe-leather. Mr. Scougall, whatever his faults, usually contrived to get value for his money, and at the tenth kick or so my toes went clean through the slate and rested on the laths within. Next came the most delicate moment of all, for with a less certain grip on the crocket I had to kick a second hole lower down, and transfer my hand-hold from the stone to the wooden lath laid bare by my first kicks.
This, too, with a long poise and then a flying clutch, I accomplished; and with the rest of my descent I will not weary the reader. It was interminably slow, and it was laborious; but, to speak comparatively, it was safe. My boots lasted me to within twenty feet of the parapet, and then, just as I had kicked my toes bare, a steeplejack appeared at the little doorway with a ladder. Planting it in a jiffy, he scrambled up, took me under his arm, bore me down and laid me against the parapet, where at first I began to cry and then emptied my small body with throe after throe of sickness.
I recovered to find Mr. Scougall and another clergyman (the vicar) standing by the little door and gazing up at my line of holes on the face of the spire. Mr. Scougall was offering to pay.
"But no," said the vicar, "we will set the damage down against the lad's preservation; that is, if I don't recover from the contractor, who has undoubtedly swindled us over these slates."
I AM BOUND APPRENTICE.
Although holidays were a thing unknown at the Genevan Hospital, yet discipline grew sensibly lighter during Mr. Scougall's honeymoon, being left to Miss Plinlimmon on the understanding that in emergency she might call in the strong and secular arm of Mr. George. But we all loved Miss Plinlimmon, and never drove her beyond appealing to what she called our better instincts.
Her dearest aspiration (believe it if you can) was to make gentlemen of us—of us, doomed to start in life as parish apprentices! And to this her curriculum recurred whether it had been divagating into history, geography, astronomy, English composition, or religious knowledge. "The author of the book before me, a B.A.—otherwise a Bachelor of Arts, but not on that account necessarily unmarried— observes that to believe the sun goes round the earth is a vulgar error. For my part I should hardly go so far: but it warns us how severely those may be judged who obtrusively urge in society opinions which the wise in their closets have condemned." "The refulgent orb—another way, my dears, of saying the sun—is in the vicinity of Persia an object of religious adoration. The Christian nations, better instructed, content themselves with esteeming it warmly, and as they follow its course in the heavens, draw from it the useful lesson to look always on the bright side of things." Humble beneficent soul! I never met another who had learned that lesson so thoroughly. Once she pointed out to me at the end of her dictation-book a publisher's colophon of a sundial with the word Finis above it, and, underneath, the words "Every Hour Shortens Life." "Now, I prefer to think that every hour lengthens it," said she, with one of her few smiles; for her cheerfulness was always serious.
Best of all were the hours when she read to us extracts from her album. "At least," she explained, "I call it an album. I ever longed to possess one, adorned with remarks—moral or sprightly, as the case might be—by the Choicest Spirits of our Age, and signed in their own illustrious handwriting. But in my sphere of life these were hard—nay, impossible—to come by; so in my dilemma I had recourse to subterfuge, and having studied the career of this or that eminent man, I chose a subject and composed what (as it seemed to me) he would most likely have written upon it, signing his name below—but in print, that the signatures may not pass hereafter for real ones, should the book fall into the hands of strangers. You must not think, therefore, that the lines on Statesmanship which I am about to read you, beginning 'But why Statesmans ship? Because, my lords and gentlemen, the State is indeed a ship, and demands a skilful helmsman'—you must not think that they were actually penned by the Right Honourable William Pitt. But I feel sure the sentiments are such as he would have approved, and perhaps might have uttered had the occasion arisen."
This puzzled us, and I am not sure that we took any trouble to discriminate Miss Plinlimmon's share in these compositions from that of their signatories. Indeed, the first time I set eyes on Lord Wellington (as he rode by us to inspect the breaches in Ciudad Rodrigo) my memory saluted him as the Honourable Arthur Wellesley, author of the passage, "Though educated at Eton, I have often caught myself envying the quaintly expressed motto of the more ancient seminary amid the Hampshire chalk-hills, i.e. Manners makyth man"; and to this day I associate General Paoli with an apostrophe "O Corsica! O my country, bleeding and inanimate!" etc., and with Miss Plinlimmon's foot-note: "N.B.—The author of these affecting lines, himself a blameless patriot, actually stood godfather to the babe who has since become the infamous Napoleon Bonaparte. Oh, irony! What had been the feelings of the good Paoli, could he have foreseen this eventuality, as he promised and vowed beside the font! (if they have such things in Corsica: a point on which I am uncertain)."
I dwell on these halcyon days with Miss Plinlimmon because, as they were the last I spent at the Genevan Hospital, so they soften all my recollections of it with their own gentle prismatic haze. In fact, a bare fortnight had gone by since my adventure on the spire when I was summoned to Mr. Scougall's parlour and there found Miss Plinlimmon in conversation with a tall and very stout man: and if her eyelids were pink, I paid more attention to the stout man's, which were rimmed with black—a more unusual sight. His neck, too, was black up to a well-defined line; the rest of it, and his cheeks, red with the red of prize beef.
"This is the boy—hem—Revel, of whom we were speaking." Miss Plinlimmon smiled at me and blushed faintly as she uttered the name. "Harry, shake hands with Mr. Trapp. He has come expressly to make your acquaintance."
Somehow I gathered that this politeness took Mr. Trapp aback; but he held out his hand. It was astonishingly black.
"Pray be seated, Mr. Trapp."
"The furniture, ma'am!"
"Ah, to be sure!" Mr. Scougall's freshly upholstered chairs had all been wrapped in holland coverings pending his return. "Mr. Trapp, Harry, is a—a chimney-sweep."
"Oh!" said I, somewhat ruefully.
"And if I can answer for your character (as I believe I can)," she went on with a wan, almost wistful smile, "he is ready to make you his apprentice."
"But I had rather be a soldier, Miss Plinlimmon!"
She still kept her smile, but I could read in it that my pleading was useless; that the decision really lay beyond her.
"Boys will be boys, Mr. Trapp." She turned to him with her air of gentility. "You will forgive Harry for preferring a red coat to—to your calling." (I thought this treacherous of Miss Plinlimmon. As if she did not prefer it herself!) "No doubt he will learn in time that all duty is alike noble, whether it bids a man mount the deadly breach or climb a—or do the sort of climbing required in your profession."
"I climbed up that spire in my sleep," said I, sullenly.
"That's just it," Mr. Trapp agreed. "That's what put me on the track of ye. 'Here's a tacker,' I said, 'can climb up to the top of Emmanuel's in his sleep, and I've been wasting money and temper on them that won't go up an ord'nary chimbley when they're wideawake, 'ithout I lights a furze-bush underneath to hurry them.'"
"I trust," put in Miss Plinlimmon, aghast, "you are jesting, Mr. Trapp?"
"You do not really employ that barbarous method of acceleration?"
"Meaning furze-bushes? Why, no, ma'am; not often. Look ye here, young sir," he continued, dismissing (as of no account) this subject, so interesting to me; "you was wide awake, anyway, when you came down, and that you can't deny."
"Harry," persisted Miss Plinlimmon, "has not been used to harsh treatment. You will like his manners: he is a very gentlemanly boy."
Mr. Trapp stared at her, then at me, then slowly around the room. "Gentlemanly?" he echoed at length, in a wondering way, under his breath.
"I have used my best endeavours. Yes, though I say it to his face, you will really—if careful to appeal to his better instincts—find him one of Nature's gentlemen."
Mr. Trapp broke into a grin of relief; almost you could say that he heaved a sigh.
"Oh, that's all?" said he. "Why, Lord love ye, ma'am, I've been called that myself before now!"
So to Mr. Trapp I was bound, early next week, before the magistrates sitting in petty sessional division, to serve him and to receive from him proper sustenance and clothing until the age of twenty-one. And I (as nearly as could be guessed, for I had no birthday) had barely turned ten. Mr. Scougall arrived in time to pilot me through these formalities and hand me over to Mr. Trapp: but at a parting interview, throughout which we both wept copiously, Miss Plinlimmon gave me for souvenir a small Testament with this inscription on the fly-leaf:
H. REVEL, from his affectionate friend, A. Plinlimmon.
O happy, happy days, when childhood's cares Were soon forgotten! But now, when dear ones all around are still the same, Where shall we be in ten years' time?
"They were my own composition," she explained. Mr. George bade me a gloomier farewell. "You might come to some good," he said contemplatively; "and then again you mightn't. I ain't what they call a pessimist, but I thinks poorly of most things. It's safer."
Mr. Trapp was exceedingly jocose as he conveyed me home to his house beside the Barbican, Plymouth; stopping on the way before every building of exceptional height and asking me quizzically how I would propose to set about climbing it. At the time, in the soreness of my heart, I resented this heavy pleasantry, and to be sure, after the tenth repetition or so, the diversity of the buildings to which he applied it but poorly concealed its sameness. But, in fact, he was doing his best to be kind, and succeeded in a sort; for it roused a childish scorn in me and so fetched back my heart, which at starting had been somewhere in my boots.
I took it for granted that a sweep must inhabit a dingy hovel, and certainly the crowded filth of the Barbican promised nothing better as we threaded our way among fishermen, fish-jowters, blowzy women, and children playing hop-scotch with the heads of decaying fish. At the seaward end of it, and close beside the bow-fronted Custom House, we turned aside into an alley which led uphill between high blank walls to the base of the Citadel: and here, stuck as if it were a marten's nest under the shadow of the ramparts, a freshly whitewashed cottage overhung the slope, with a sweep's brush dangling over its doorway and the sign "S. Trapp, Chimney Sweep in Season."
While I wondered what might be the season for chimney-sweeps, a small bead-eyed woman emerged from the doorway and shook a duster vigorously: in the which act catching sight of us, she paused.
"I've a-got en, my dear," said Mr. Trapp much as a man might announce the capture of a fish: and though he did not actually lift me for inspection his hand seemed to waver over my collar.
But it was Mrs. Trapp, who, after a fleeting glance at me, caught her husband by the collar.
"And you actilly went in that state, you nasty keerless hulks! O, you heart-breaker!"
Mr. Trapp in custody managed to send me a sidelong, humorous grin.
"My dear, I thought 'twould be a surprise for you—business taking me that way, and the magistrates being used to worse."
"You heart-breaker!" repeated Mrs. Trapp. "And me slaving morn and night to catch up with your messy ways! What did I tell you the first time you came back from the Hospital looking like a malkin, and with a clean shift of clothes laid out for you and the water on the boil, that I couldn't have taken more trouble, no, not for a funeral? Didn't I tell you 'twas positively lowering?"
"I ha'n't a doubt you did, my dear."
"That's what you are. You're a lowering man. And there by your own account you met a lady, with your neck streaked like a ham-rasher, and me not by—thank goodness!—to see what her feelings were; and now 'tis magistrates. But nothing warns you. I suppose you thought that as 'twas only fondlings without any father or mother it didn't matter how you dressed!"
Mrs. Trapp, though she might seem to talk at random, had a wifely knack of dropping a shaft home. Her husband protested.
"Come, come, Maria—you know I'm not that sort of man!"
"How do I know what sort of man you are, under all that dirt? For my part, if I'd been a magistrate, you shouldn't have walked off with the boy till you'd washed yourself, not if you'd gone down on your hands and knees for it; and him with his face shining all over like a little Moses on the Mount, which does the lady credit if she's the one you saw; though how they can dress children up like pickle-herrings it beats me. Your bed's at the top of the house, child, and there you'll find a suit o' clothes that I've washed and aired after the last boy. I only hope you won't catch any of his nasty tricks in 'em. Straight up the stairs and the little door to the left at the top."
"Unless"—Mr. Trapp picked up courage for one more pleasantry—"you'd like to make a start at once and go up by way of the chimbley."
He was rash. As a pugilist might eye a recovering opponent supposed to be stunned, so Mrs. Trapp eyed Mr. Trapp.
"I thought I told you plain enough," she said, "that you're a lowering man. What's worse, you're an unconverted one. Oh, you nasty, fat, plain-featured fellow! Go indoors and wash yourself, this instant!"
I spent close upon four years with this couple: and good parents they were to me, as well as devoted to each other. Mrs. Trapp may have been "cracked," as she certainly suffered from a determination of words to the mouth: but, as a child will, I took her and the rest of the world as I found them. She began to mother me at once; and on the very next morning took my clothes in hand, snipped the ridiculous tails off the jacket, and sent it, with the breeches, to the dyer's. The yellow waistcoat she cut into pin-cushions, two for upstairs and two for the parlour.
Having no children to save for, Mr. Trapp could afford to feed and clothe an apprentice and take life easily to boot. Mrs. Trapp would never allow him to climb a ladder; had even chained him to terra firma by a vow—since, as she explained to me once, "he's an unconverted man. There's no harm in 'en; but I couldn't bear to have him cut off in his sins. Besides, with such a figure, he'd scatter."
I recollect it as a foretaste of his kindness that on the first early morning, as he led me forth to my first experiment, we paused between the blank walls of the alley that I might practise the sweep's call in comparative privacy. The sound of my own voice, reverberated there, covered me with shame, though it could scarcely have been louder than the cheeping of the birds on the Citadel ramparts above. "Hark to that fellow, now!" said my master, as the notes of a bugle sang out clear and brave in the dawn. "He's no bigger than you, I warrant, and has no more call to be proud of his business." In time I grew bold enough and used to begin my "Sweep, Swee—eep!" at the mouth of the alley to warn Mrs. Trapp of our return.
My first chimney daunted me, though it was a wide one, belonging to a cottage, well fitted with climbing brackets, and so straight that from the flat hearth-stone you could see a patch of blue sky with the gulls sailing across it. Mr. Trapp instructed me well and I listened, setting my small jaws to choke down the terror: but, once started, with his voice guiding me from below and growing hollower as I ascended, I found that all came easily enough. "Bravo!" he shouted up from the far side of the street, whither he had run out to see me wave my brush from the summit. In a day or two he began to boast of me, and I had to do my young best to live up to a reputation; for the fame of my feat on Emmanuel Church spire had spread all over the Barbican. Being reckoned a bold fellow, I had to justify myself in fighting with the urchins of my age there; in which, and in wrestling, I contrived to hold my own. My shame was that I had never learnt to swim. All my rivals could swim, and even in the winter weather seemed to pass half their time in the filthy water of Sutton Pool, or in running races, stark naked, along the quay's edge.
Our trade, steady and leisurable until the last week of March, then went up with a rush and continued at high pressure through April and May, so that, dog-tired in every limb, I had much ado to drag myself to bed up the garret stairs after Mrs. Trapp had rubbed my ankles with goose-fat where the climbing-irons galled them. While this was doing, Mr. Trapp would smoke his pipe and watch and assure me that mine were the "growing-pains" natural to sweeps, and Mrs. Trapp (without meaning it in the least) lamented the fate which had tied her for life to one. "It being well known that my birthday is the 15th of the month and its rightful motto in Proverbs thirty-one, 'She riseth also while it is yet night and giveth meat to her household and a portion to her maidens'; and me never able to hire a gel at eight pounds a year even!"
"If you did," retorted Mr. Trapp, "I don't see you turning out at midnight to feed her."
Early in June this high-tide of business slackened, and by the close of the second week we were moderately idle. On Midsummer morning I descended to find, to my vast astonishment, Mr. Trapp seated at table before a bowl of bread and milk and wearing a thick blue guernsey tucked inside his trousers, the waist of which reached so high as to reduce his braces to mere shoulder-straps. I could not imagine why he, a man given to perspiration, should add to his garments at this season.
Breakfast over, he beckoned me to the door and jerked his thumb towards the lintel. The usual, sign had been replaced by a shorter one: "S. Trapp. Gone Driving."
"If folks," said he, "ha'n't the foresight to get swept afore Midsummer, I don't humour 'em."
"Are—are you really going for a drive, sir?" I stammered.
"To be sure I am. I drive every day in the summer. What do you suppose?"
"It won't be a chaise and pair, sir?" I hazarded, though even this would not have surprised me.
"Not to-day. Lord knows what we may come to, but to-day 'tis mackerel and whiting; later on, pilchards."
He took me down to the quay; and there, sure enough, we stepped on board a boat lying ready, with two men in her, who fended off and began to hoist sails at once. Mr. Trapp took the helm. It turned out that he owned a share in the vessel and worked her from Midsummer to Michaelmas with a crew of two men and a boy. The men were called Isaac and Morgan (I cannot remember their other names), the one extremely old and surly, the other cheerful, curly-haired and active, and both sparing of words. I was to be the boy.
We baited our hooks and whiffed for mackerel as we tacked out of the Sound. And by and by we came to what Isaac called the "grounds" (though I could see nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the sea) and cast anchor and weighted our lines differently and caught a few whiting while we ate our dinner. The wind had fallen to a flat calm. After dinner Mr. Trapp looked up and said to Isaac:
"Got a life-belt on board?"
"What in thunder do 'ee want it for?" asked Isaac.
"That's my business," said Mr. Trapp.
So Isaac hunted up a belt made of pieces of cork and then was ordered to lash one of the sweeps so that it stuck well outboard. "Now, my lad," said Mr. Trapp, turning to me, "you've been a very good lad 'pon the whole, and I see you fighting with the tackers down 'pon the quay and holding your own. But they can swim, and you can't, and it's wearing your spirit. So here's a chance to larn. I can't larn' ee myself, for the fashion's come up since I was a youngster. Can you swim, Morgan?"
Morgan could not; and old Isaac said he couldn't see the use of it— if you capsized, it only lengthened out the trouble.
"Well, then, you must larn yourself," said Mr. Trapp to me. "I've heard that pigs and men are the only animals it don't come to by nature. And that's a scandal however you look at it."
So strip I did, and was girt with the belt under my armpits, tied to a rope, and slipped over the side in fear and trembling. I swallowed a pint or two of salt water and wept (but they could not see this, though they watched me curiously), I dare say, half a pint of it back in tears of fright. I knew by observation how legs and arms should be worked, but made disheartening efforts to put it into practice. At length, utterly ashamed, I was hauled out and congratulated: at which I stared.
"As for the swimmin'," said Isaac, "I can't call to mind that I've seen worse: but for pluck, considering the number of sharks at about this season, I couldn't ask better of his age."
I had not thought of sharks—supposed them, indeed, to inhabit the tropics only. We caught one towards sunset, after it had fouled all our lines, and smashed its head with the unshipped tiller as it came to the surface. It measured five feet and a little over, and we lashed it alongside the gunwale and carried it home in triumph next morning (having shot the nets at sundown and slept and hauled them up empty at sunrise—the pilchards being scarce as yet, though a few had been caught off the Eddystone). I don't suppose the shark would have interfered with my bath, but I gave myself airs on the strength of him.
Late in August, and a week or two before Mr. Trapp changed his signboard and resumed his proper business, I was idling by the edge of the Barbican one evening when a boy, whose eye I had blacked recently, charged up behind me and pushed me over. I pretended to be drowning, and sank theatrically as he and half a dozen others, conveniently naked, plunged to the rescue. They dived for my body with great zeal, while I, having slipped under the keel of a trading-ketch and climbed on board by her accommodation-ladder dangling on the far side, watched them from behind a stack of flower-pots on her deck. When they desisted, and I had seen the culprit first treated as a leper by the crowd, then haled before two constables and examined at length, finally led homeward by the ear and cuffed at every few steps by his mother (a widow), I slipped back into the water, dived back under the ketch, and, emerging, asked the cause of the disturbance. This made a new reputation for me, at the expense of some emotion to Mrs. Trapp, to whom the news of my decease had been borne on the swiftest wings of rumour.
But I have tarried too long over those days of my apprenticeship, and am yet only at the beginning. Were there no story to be told, I might fill a chapter by fishing up recollections of Plymouth in those days; of the women, for instance, carried down in procession to the Barbican and ducked for scolding. A husband had but to go before the Mayor (Mr. Trapp sometimes threatened it) and swear that his wife was a common scold, and the Mayor gave him an order to hoist her on a horse and take her to the ducking-chair to be dipped thrice in Sutton Pool. At last a poor creature died of it, and that put an end to the bad business. Then there were the press-gangs. Time and again I have run naked from bathing to watch the press as, after hunting from tavern to tavern, it dragged a man off screaming to the steps, the sailors often man-handling him and the officer joking with the crowd and behaving as cool and gentlemanly as you please. Mr. Trapp and I were by the door one evening, measuring out the soot, when a man came panting up the alley and rushed past us into the back kitchen without so much as "by your leave." Half a minute later up came the press, and the young officer at the head of them was for pushing past and into the house; but Mr. Trapp blocked the doorway, with Mrs. Trapp full of fight in the rear.
"Stand by!" says the officer to his men. "And you, sir, what the devil do you mean by setting yourself in the way of his Majesty's Service?"
"An Englishman's house," said Mr. Trapp, "is his castle."
"D'ye hear that?" screamed Mrs. Trapp.
"An Englishman's house," repeated Mr. Trapp slowly, "is his castle. The storms may assail it, and the winds whistle round it, but the King himself cannot do so."
The officer knew the law and called off his gang. When the coast was clear we went to search for the man, and found he had vanished, taking half a flitch of bacon with him off the kitchen-rack.
All those days, too, throb in my head to the tramp of soldiers in the streets, and ring with bugles blown almost incessantly from the ramparts high above my garret. On Sundays Mr. Trapp and I used to take our walk together around the ramparts, between church and dinner-time, after listening to the Royal Marine Band as it played up George Street and Bedford Street on the way from service in St. Andrew's Church. If we met a soldier we had to stand aside; indeed, even common privates in those days (so proudly the Army bore itself, though its triumphs were to come) would take the wall of a woman—a greater insult then than now, or at least a more unusual one. A young officer of the '—'th Regiment once put this indignity upon Mrs. Trapp, in Southside Street. The day was a wet one, and the gutter ran with liquid mud. Mrs. Trapp recovered her balance, slipped off her pattens, and stamped them on the back of his scarlet coat—two oval O's for him to walk about with.
Those were days, too, which kept our Plymouth stones rattling. Besides the coaches—the "Quicksilver," which carried the mails and a coachman and guard in scarlet liveries, the humdrum "Defiance" and the dashing "Subscription" or "Scrippy" post-chaises came and went continually, whisking naval officers between us and London with dispatches: and sometimes the whole populace turned out to cheer as trains of artillery wagons, escorted by armed seamen, marines, and soldiers, horse and foot, rumbled up from Dock towards the Citadel with treasure from some captured frigate. I could tell, too, of the great November Fair in the Market Place, and the rejoicings on the King's Jubilee, when I paid a halfpenny to go inside the huge hollow bonfire built on the Hoe: but all this would keep me from my story— for which I must hark back to Miss Plinlimmon.
For many months I heard nothing of this dear lady, and it seemed that I had parted from her for ever, when one evening as I returned from carrying a bag of soot out to Mutley Plain (where a market-gardener wanted some for his beds), Mrs. Trapp put into my hands a letter addressed in the familiar Italian hand to "H. Revel, residing with Mr. S. Trapp, House Renovator, near the Barbican." It ran:
"My dearest Harry,—I wonder if, amid your new avocations, you will take the pleasure in the handwriting of an old friend? I remember you many times daily, and often when I wake in the night; and commend you to God morning and evening, kneeling on the place where your cot used to stand, for I have no one now to care for in my room. There is little change in our life here; though Mr. Scougall, as I foreboded, takes less heart in his ministrations, and I should not wonder if he retired before long. But this is between ourselves. Punctual as ever in his duties, he rarely spends the night here, but departs at six p.m. for his wife's farm, where Mrs. S. very naturally prefers to reside. Indeed, I wish she would absent herself altogether; for when she comes, it is to criticise the housekeeping, in which I regret to say she does not maintain that generous spirit of which she gave promise in the veal pies, etc., of that ever memorable morning. I never condescended to be a bride: yet I feel sure, that had I done so, it would have given me an extra compassion for the fatherless."
"But enough of myself. My object in writing is to tell you that my birthday falls on Wednesday next (May 1st, dedicated by the Ancient Romans to the Goddess of Flowers, as I was yearly reminded in my happy youth. But how often Fate withholds from us her seeming promises!). It might be a bond between us, my dear boy, if you will take that day for your birthday too. Pray humour me in this; for indeed your going has left a void which I cannot fill, and perhaps do not wish to, except with thoughts of you. I trust there used to be no partiality; but for some reason you were dearer to me than the others; and I feel as if God, in His mysterious way, sent you into my life with meaning. Do you think that Mr. Trapp, if you asked him politely (and I trust you have not forgotten your politeness), would permit you to meet me at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, in Mr. Tucker's Bun Shop, in Bedford Street, to celebrate your birthday with an affectionate friend? Such ever is,"
"Oh, very well," said Mr. Trapp when I showed him the letter and put my request; "only don't let her swell you out of shape. Chimbleys is narrower than they used to be. May-day is Sweeps' Holiday, too, though we don't keep it up in Plymouth: I dare say the lady thought 'pon that. In my bachelor days I used to be Jack in the Green reggilar."
"It's just as well I never saw ye, then," said his wife tartly. "And to imagine that a lady like Miss Plinlimmon would concern herself with your deboshes! But you'd lower the King on his throne."
Indeed, Mr. Trapp went on to give some colour to this. "I wonder what she means, talking about Roman goddesses?" he mused. "I seen one, once, in a penny show; and it was marked outside 'Men only Admitted.'"
Mrs. Trapp swept me from the room.
On May-day, then, I entered Mr. Tucker's Bun Shop with a beating heart, a scrubbed face and a sprig of southernwood in my button-hole, and Miss Plinlimmon fell on my neck and kissed me. All the formality of the Genevan Hospital dropped away from her as a garment, and left only the tender formality of her own nature, so human that it amazed me. I had never really known her until now. She had prepared a feast, including Mr. Tucker's famous cheese-cakes, "as patronised by Queen Charlotte," and cakes called "maids of honour." "To my mind," said Miss Plinlimmon, taking one, "there is always an air of refinement about this shop." She praised my growth, and the cleanliness of my skin, and the care with which Mrs. Trapp kept my clothes; and laughed when I reported some of Mrs. Trapp's sayings— but tremulously: indeed, more than once her eyes brimmed as she gazed across the table. "You cannot think how happy I am!" she almost whispered, and broke off to draw my attention to a young officer who had entered the shop, with two ladies in fresh summer gowns of sprigged muslin, and who stood by the counter buying sweetmeats. "If you can do so without staring, Harry, always make a point of observing such people as that. You will be surprised at the little hints you pick up." I told her, growing bold, that I knew no finer lady than she, and never wanted to—which I still think a happy and highly creditable speech for a boy of eleven. She flushed with pleasure. "I have birth, I hope," she said, and with that her colour deepened, perhaps with a suspicion that this might hurt my feelings. "But since our reverses," she went on hurriedly, "we Plinlimmons have stood still; and one should move with the times. I am not with those who think good manners need be old-fashioned ones." She recurred to Mrs. Trapp. "I feel sure she must be an excellent woman. Your clothes are well kept, and I read more in needlework than you think. Also folks cannot neglect their cleanliness and then furbish themselves up in a day. I see by your complexion that she attends to you. I hope you are careful not to laugh at her when she makes those ludicrous speeches?"
But I shifted the talk from Mrs. Trapp.
"What did you mean, just now, by 'we,' Miss Plinlimmon?" I asked.
"Did I say 'we'?"
"You talked about your reverses—'our reverses,' you said. I wish you would tell me about it: I never heard, before, of anyone belonging to you."
"'We' means 'my brother and I,'" she said, and said no more until she had paid the bill and we walked up to the Hoe together. There she chose a seat overlooking the Sound and close above the amphitheatre (in those days used as a bull-ring) where Corineus the Trojan had wrestled, ages before, with the giant Gogmagog and defeated him.
"My brother Arthur—Captain Arthur Plinlimmon of the King's Own—is the soul of honour. I do not believe a nobler gentleman lives in the whole wide world: but then we are descended from the great Glendower, King of Wales (I will show you the pedigree, some day), and have Tudor blood, too, in our veins. When dear papa died and we discovered he had been speculating unfortunately in East India Stock—'buying for a fall' was, I am told, his besetting weakness, though I could never understand the process—Arthur offered me a home and maintenance for life. Of course I refused: for the blow reduced him, too, to bitter poverty, and he was married. And, besides, I could never bear his wife, who was a woman of fashion and extravagant. She is dead now, poor thing, so we will not talk of her: but she could never be made to understand that their circumstances were altered, and died leaving some debts and one child, a boy called Archibald, who is now close on twenty years old. So there is my story, Harry; and a very ordinary one, is it not?"
"Where does Captain Plinlimmon live?" I asked.
"He is quartered in Lancaster just now, with his regiment: and Archie lives with him. He had hoped to buy the poor boy a commission before this, but could not do so honourably until all the debts were paid. 'The sins of the fathers—'" She broke off and glanced at me nervously.
But I was not of an age to suspect why, or to understand my own lot at all. "I suppose you love this Archibald better than anybody," said I with a twinge of jealousy.
"Oh, no," she exclaimed quickly, and at once corrected herself. "Not so much as I ought. I love him, of course, for his father's sake: but in features he takes after his mother very strikingly, and that—on the few occasions I have seen him—chilled me. It is wrong, I know; and no doubt with more opportunity I should have grown very fond of him. Sometimes I tax myself, Harry, with being frail in my affections: they require renewing with a sight of—of their object. That is why we are keeping our birthdays together to-day."
She smiled at me, almost archly, putting out a hand to rest it on mine, which lay on my knee; then suddenly the smile wavered, and her eyes began to brim; I saw in them, as in troubled water, broken images of a hundred things I had known in dreams; and her arm was about my neck and I nestled against her.
"Dear Harry! Dear boy!"
I cannot tell how long we sat there: certainly until the ships hung out their riding-lights and the May stars shone down on us. At whiles we talked, and at whiles were silent: and both the talk and the silences (if you will not laugh) held some such meanings as they hold for lovers. More than ever she was not the Miss Plinlimmon I remembered, but a strange woman, coming forth and revealing herself with the stars. She actually confessed that she loathed porridge!— "though for example's sake, you know, I force myself to eat it. I think it unfair to compel children to a discipline you cannot endure with them."
She parted with me under the moonlit Citadel, at the head of a by-lane leading to the Trapps' cottage. "I shall not write often, or see you," she said. "It is seldom that I get a holiday or even an hour to myself, and we will not unsettle ourselves"—mark, if the child could not, the noble condescension—"in our duties that are perhaps the more blessed for being stern. But a year hence for certain, if spared, we will meet. Until then be a gentleman always and—I may ask it now—for my sake."
So we parted, and for a whole year I saw nothing of her, nor heard except at Christmas, when she sent me a closely written letter of six sheets, of which I will transcribe only the poetical conclusion:
"Christmas comes but once a year: And why? we well may ask. Repine not. We are probably unequal To a severer task."
THE SHADOW OF ARCHIBALD.
It is not only children who, having once tasted bliss, suppose fondly that one has only to prepare a time and place for it again and it can be repeated. But he must be a queer child who starts with expecting any less. Certainly no doubts assailed me when the anniversary came round and I made my way to Mr. Tucker's Bun Shop; nor did Miss Plinlimmon's greeting lack anything of tenderness. She began at once to talk away merrily: but children are demons to detect something amiss, and there was a note in her gaiety which somehow did not sound in key. After a while she broke off in the middle of a sentence and sat stirring her tea, as with a mind withdrawn; recovered herself, and catching at her last words, continued—but on a different subject; then, reading some puzzlement in my eyes, exclaimed abruptly, "My dear Harry, you have grown beyond knowledge!"
"Were you thinking of that?" I asked, for I had heard it twice already.
She answered one question with another. "Of what were you thinking?"
I hesitated, for in truth I had been thinking how much older she had grown. A year is a long time to a child, but it did not account to me for a curious wanness in her colour. Her hair was greyer, too, and there were dark rings under her eyes. "You seem different somehow, Miss Plinlimmon."
"Do I? The Hospital has been wearing me out, of late. I have thought sometimes of resigning and trying my fortune elsewhere: but the thought of the children restrains me. I make many mistakes with them—perhaps more as the years go on: they love me, however, for they know that I mean well, and it would haunt me if they fell into bad hands. Now I am not sure that Mr. Scougall would choose the best successor. Before he married I could have trusted his judgment." She fell a-musing again. "Archibald is here in Plymouth," she added inconsequently. "My nephew, you know."
I nodded, and asked, "Is he quartered here?"
"Why, how did you know he was in the Army?"
"You told me Major Arthur was saving up to buy him a commission."
"How well you remember!" she sighed. "Alas! no: the debts were too heavy. Archibald is in the Army, but he has enlisted as a private, in the 105th, the North Wilts Regiment. His father advised it: he says that, in these days, commissions are to be won by young men content to begin in the ranks; and the lad has (I believe) a good friend in Colonel Festonhaugh, who commands the North Wilts. He and Arthur are old comrades in arms. But garrison life does not suit the poor boy, or so he complains. He is a little sore with his father for subjecting him to it, and cannot take his stern view about paying the debts. That is natural enough, perhaps." She heaved another sigh. "His regiment—or rather the second battalion, to which he belongs—was ordered down to Plymouth last January, and since then has been occupied with drill and petty irritating duties at which he grumbles sorely—though I believe there is a prospect of their being ordered out to Portugal before long."
"You see him often?" I asked.
She seemed to pause a moment. "Yes; oh, yes to be sure, I see him frequently. That is only natural, is it not?"
We left the shop and strolled towards the Hoe. I felt that something was interfering to spoil our day; and felt unreasonably sure of it on finding our old seat occupied by three soldiers—two of them supporting a drunken comrade. We made disconsolately for an empty bench, some fifty yards away.
"They belong to Archibald's regiment," said Miss Plinlimmon as we settled ourselves to talk. I had noted that she scanned them narrowly. "Why, here is Archibald!" she exclaimed: and I looked up and saw a young red-coat sauntering towards us.
Her tone, I was jealously glad to observe, had not been entirely joyous. And Master Archibald, as he drew near, did not seem in the best of tempers. He was beyond all doubt a handsome youth, and straight-limbed; but apparently a sullen one. He kept his eyes on the ground and only lifted them for a moment when close in front of us.
"Good afternoon, aunt."
"Good afternoon, Archibald. This is Harry—my friend of whom you have heard me speak."
He glanced at me with a curt nod. I could see that he considered me a nuisance. An awkward silence fell between the three of us, broken at length by a start and a smothered exclamation from Miss Plinlimmon.
Archibald glanced over his shoulder carelessly. "Oh, yes," said he, "they are baiting a bull down yonder."
The ridge hid the bull-ring from us. Dogs had been barking there when we seated ourselves, but the noise held no meaning for us. It was the bull's roar which had startled Miss Plinlimmon.
"Pray let us go!" She gathered her shawl about her in a twitter. "This is quite horrible!"
"There's nothing to be afraid of," he assured her. "The brute's tied fast enough. Don't go, aunt: I want a word with you."
He glowered at me again, and this time with meaning. I saw that he wished me gone, and I moved to go.
"This is Harry's birthday. I am keeping it with him: his birthday as well as mine, Archibald."
"Gad, I forgot! I'm sorry, aunt—Many happy returns of the day!"
"Thank you," said she drily. "And now if you particularly wish to speak to me, I will walk with you, but only a short way. Harry shall find another seat."
As they walked away side by side, I turned my head to look for a bench farther removed from the bull-ring; and so became aware of another soldier, in uniform similar to Mr. Archibald's, stretched prone on the turf a few paces behind me.
When I stood up and turned to have a look at him, his head had dropped on his arms and he appeared to be sleeping. But I could have sworn that when I first caught sight of him he had been gazing after the pair.
Well, there was nothing in this (you will say) to disturb me; yet for some reason it made me alert, if not uneasy. I chose another seat, but at no great distance, and kept him in view. He raised his head once, stared around like one confused and not wholly awake, and dropped into slumber again. Miss Plinlimmon and Archibald turned and came pacing back; turned again and repeated this quarter-deck walk three or four times. He was talking, and now and then using a slight gesture. I could not see that she responded. At any rate, she did not turn to him. But the man on the grass occupied most of my attention, and I missed the parting. An odd fancy took me to watch if he stirred again while I counted a hundred. He did not, and I shifted my gaze to find Miss Plinlimmon coming towards me unescorted. Archibald had disappeared.
Her eyes were red, and her voice trembled a little. "And now," said she, "that's enough of my affairs, please God!" She began to put questions about the Trapps. And while I answered them I happened to look along the flat stretch of turf to the right, in time to see, at perhaps a hundred yards' distance, a soldier cross it from behind and go hurrying down the slope towards the bull-ring. I recognised him at a glance. He was the black-avised man who had pretended to be sleeping.
Almost at once, as I remember it—but I dare say some minutes had passed—a furious hubbub arose below us, mixed with the yelling of dogs and a few sharp screams. And, before we knew what it meant, at the point where the black-avised man had disappeared, he came scrambling back, found his legs and headed desperately towards us, with a bull behind him in full chase.
I managed to drag Miss Plinlimmon off the bench, thrust her like a bundle beneath it, and scrambled after her into shelter but a second or two before the pair came thundering by; for the bull's hooves shook the ground; and so small a space—ten or twelve yards at the most—divided him from the man, that they passed in one rush, and with them half a dozen bulldogs hanging at the brute's heels as if trailed along by an invisible cord. Next after these pelted Master Archibald, shouting and tugging at his side-arm; and after him again, but well in the rear, a whole rabble of bull-baiters, butchers, soldiers, boys and mongrels, all yelping together with excitement and terror, the men flourishing swords and pitchforks.
To speak of the man first.—I have since seen soldiers crazed and running in battle, but never such a face as passed me in that brief vision. His lips were wide, his eyes strained and almost starting from his head, the pupils turned a little backward as if fascinated by the terror at his heels, imploring help, seeking a chance to double—all three together—and yet absolutely fixed and rigid.
The bull made no account of us, though below the seat I caught the light of his red eye as he plunged past, head to ground and so close that his hot breath smote in our faces and the broken end of rope about the base of his horns whipped the grass by my fingers. Perhaps the red coat attracted his rage. But he seemed to nurse a special grudge against the man.
This appeared when, a stone's-throw beyond our seat, the man sprang sideways to the left of his course—in the nick of time, too, for as he sprang he seemed to clear the horns by a bare foot. The bull's heavier rush carried him forward for several yards before he swerved himself on to the new line of pursuit; and this let up Master Archibald, who by this time had his side-arm loose.
"Ham-string 'en!" yelled a blue-shirted butcher, pausing beside us and panting. "Quick, you fool—ham-string 'en!"
For some reason the young man seemed to hesitate. Likely enough he did not hear; perhaps had lost presence of mind. At any rate, for a second or so, his arm hung on the stroke, and as the bull swerved again he jabbed his bayonet feebly at the haunch.
The butcher swore furiously. "Murdered by folly if ever man was! Ye bitter fool," he shouted, "it's pricked him on, ye've done!"
The black-faced man, having gained maybe a dozen yards by his manoeuvre, was now heading for the Citadel gate; beside which—so far away that we saw them as toys—stood a sentry-box and the figure of a sentry beside it. Could he reach this gate? His altered course had taken him a little downhill, to the left of the ridge, and to regain it by the Citadel he must fetch a slight loop. Luckily the bull could not reason: he followed his enemy. But there was just a chance that by running along the ridge the chase might be headed off. The crowd saw this and set off anew, with Master Archibald still a little in front and increasing his lead. I scrambled from under the seat and followed.
But almost at once it became plain that we were out-distanced. Alone of us Master Archibald had a chance; and if the man were to be saved, it lay either with him or with the sentry at the gate.
I can yet remember the look on the sentry's face as we drew closer and his features grew distinct. He stood in the middle of the short roadway which led to the drawbridge, and clearly it had within a few moments dawned upon him that he was the point upon which these fatal forces were converging. A low wall fenced him on either hand, and as he braced himself, grasping his Brown Bess—a fine picture of Duty triumphing over Irresolution—into this narrow passage poured the chase, rolled as it were in a flying heap; the hunted man just perceptibly first, the bull and Archibald Plinlimmon cannoning against each other at the entrance. Master Archibald was hurled aside by the impact of the brute's hindquarters and shot, at first on all fours, then prone, alongside the base of the wall; but he had managed to get his thrust home, and this time with effect. The bull tossed his head with a mighty roar, ducked it again and charged on his prey, who flung up both arms and fell spent by the sentry-box. The sentry sprang to the other side of the roadway and let fly his charge at random as box, man, and bull crashed to earth together, and a dreadful bellow mingled with the sharper notes of splintered wood.
It was the end. The bullet had cut clean through the bull's spine at the neck, and the crowd dragged him lifeless, a board of the sentry-box still impaled on his horns, off the legs of the black-avised man—who, at first supposed to be dead also, awoke out of his swoon to moan feebly for water.
While this was fetching, the butcher knelt and lifted him against his knee. He struck me as ill-favoured enough—not to say ghastly—with the dust and blood on his face (for a splinter had laid open his cheek), and its complexion an unhealthy white against his matted hair. I took note that he wore sergeant's stripes.
"What's the poor thing called?" someone inquired of the sentry.
The sentry, being an Irishman, mistook the idiom. "He's called a Bull," said he, stroking the barrel of his rifle. "H'what the divvle else?"
"But 'tis the man we mean."
"Oh, he's called Letcher; sergeant; North Wilts."
Letcher gulped down a mouthful of water and managed to sit up, pushing the butcher's arm aside.
"Where's Plinlimmon?" he asked hoarsely. "Hurt?"
"Here I am, old fellow," answered Archibald, reeling rather than stepping forward. "A crack on the skull, that's all. Hope you're none the worse?" His own face was bleeding from a nasty graze on the right temple.
"H'm?" said Letcher. "Mean it? You'd better mean it by—!" he snarled suddenly, his face twisted with pain or malice. "You weren't too smart, the first go. Why the deuce didn't you hamstring the brute? You heard them shouting?"
"That's asackly what I told 'en," put in the butcher.
"Oh, stow your fat talk, you silly Devonshire-man!" The butcher's tongue was too big for his mouth, and Letcher mimicked him ferociously and with an accuracy quite wonderful, his exhaustion considered. He leaned back and panted. "The brute touched me—under the thigh, here. I doubt I'm bleeding." He closed his eyes and fainted away.
They found, on lifting him, that he spoke truth. The bull had gored him in the leg: a nasty wound beginning at the back of the knee, running upward and missing the main artery by a bare inch. A squad of soldiers had run out, hearing the shot, and these bore him into the Citadel, Master Archibald limping behind.
The crowd began to disperse, and I made my way back to Miss Plinlimmon.
"A providential escape!" said she on hearing my report. "I am glad that Archibald acquitted himself well." She went on to tell me of a youthful adventure of her own with a mountain bull, in her native Wales.
Some days later she sent me a poem on the occurrence:
"Lo, as he strides his native scene, The bull—how dignified his mien! When tethered, otherwise! Yet one his tether broke and ran After a military man Before these very eyes!"
"I feel that I have been more successful with the metre than usual," she added, "having been guided by a little poem, a favourite of mine, which, as it also inculcates kindness to the brute creation, you will do well, Harry, to commit to memory. It runs:
"'Poor little birds! If people knew What sorrows little birds go through, I think that even boys Would never deem it sport, or fun, To stand and fire a frightful gun For nothing but the noise.'"
The shadow of Mr. Archibald seemed doomed to rest upon our anniversaries. This second one, though more than exciting enough, had not answered my expectations: and, on the third, when I presented myself at the Bun Shop it was to learn with dismay that Miss Plinlimmon had not arrived; with dismay and something more—for I had walked into the country towards Plympton early that morning and raided an orchard under the trees of which grew a fine crop of columbines, seeded from a neighbouring garden. Also I jingled together in my pocket no less a sum than two bright shillings, which Mr. Trapp had magnificently handed over to me out of a wager of five he had made with an East Country skipper that I could dive and take the water, hands first, off the jib-boom of any vessel selected from the shipping then at anchor in Cattewater. I knew that Miss Plinlimmon wanted a box to hold her skeins, and I also knew the price of one in a window in George Street, and had the shopman's promise not to part with it before five o'clock that evening. I wished Miss Plinlimmon to admire it first, and then I meant to enter the shop in a lordly fashion and, emerging, to put the treasure in her hands.
So I paced the pavement in front of Mr. Tucker's, the prey of a thousand misgivings. But at length, and fully half an hour late, she hove in sight.
"I have been detained, dear," she explained as we kissed, "—by Archibald," she added.
Always that accursed Archibald! "Did he wish you many happy returns?" I asked, thrusting my bunch of columbines upon her with a blush.
"You dear, dear boy!" she chirruped. But she ignored my question. When we were seated, too, she made the poorest attempt to eat, but kept exclaiming on the beauty of my flowers.
The meal over, she drew out her purse to pay. "We shan't be seeing Mr. Archibald to-day?" I asked wistfully, preparing to go.
"You may be certain—" With that she paused, with a blank look which changed to one of shame and utter confusion. The purse was empty.
"Oh, Harry—what shall I do? There were five shillings in it when—. I counted them out and laid the purse on the table beside my gloves. I was just picking them up when—when Archibald—" Her voice failed again and she turned to the shop-woman. "Something most unfortunate has happened. Will you, please, send for Mr. Tucker? He will know me. I have been here on several previous occasions—"
I had not the slightest notion of the price of eatables; but I, too, turned on the shopwoman with a bold face, albeit with a fluttering heart.
"How much?" I demanded.
I know not which made me the happier—relief, or the glory of being addressed as "sir." I paid, pocketed my threepence change, and in the elation of it offered Miss Plinlimmon my arm. We walked down George Street, past the work-box in the window. I managed to pass without wincing, though desperately afraid that the shopman might pop out—it seemed but natural he should be lying in wait—and hold me to my bargain.
Our session upon the Hoe, though uninterrupted, did not recapture the dear abandonment of our first blissful birthday. Miss Plinlimmon could neither forget the mishap to her purse, nor speak quite freely about it. A week later she celebrated her redemption in the following stanza:
"A friend in need is a friend indeed, We have oft-times heard: And King Richard the Third Was reduced to crying, 'My kingdom for a horse!' O, may we never want a friend! 'Or a bottle to give him,' I omit, as coarse."
She enclosed one-and-ninepence in the missive: and so obtained her work-box after all—it being, by a miracle, still unsold.
I STUMBLE INTO HORRORS.
It was exactly seven weeks later—that is to say, on the evening of June 18th, 1811—that as I stood in the doorway whistling Come, cheer up, my lads, to Mrs. Trapp's tame blackbird, the old Jew slop-dealer came shuffling up the alley and demanded word with my master.
His name was Rodriguez—"I. Rodriguez, Marine Stores"—and his shop stood at the corner of the Barbican as you turn into Southside Street. He had an extraordinarily fine face, narrow, emaciated, with a noble hook to his nose (which was neither pendulous nor fleshy) and a black pointed beard divided by a line of grey. We boys feared him, one and all: but in a furred cloak and skull-cap he would have made a brave picture. The dirt of his person, however, was a scandal. I told him that Mr. Trapp had walked over and taken the ferry to Cremyll, where his boat was fitting out for the summer. "But Mrs. Trapp is washing-up at the back. Shall I call her?"
"God forbid!" said he. "I am not come to listen, but to speak."
I asked him then if I could take a message.
"As wine in a leaky vessel, so is a message committed to a child. Two of my chimneys need to be swept."
"I can remember that, sir," said I.
He eyed me in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. "Yes; you will remember," he said, as if somehow he had satisfied himself. Yet his eyes continued to search me. "You have not swept my chimneys before?"
"I have been working for Mr. Trapp almost three years," said I demurely.
"Yes, I have seen your face. But I do not often have my chimneys swept: it is dreadful waste of money. The soot, now—your master and I cannot agree about it. I say that the soot is mine, that I made it, in my own chimney, with my own fuel; therefore it should be my property, but your master claims it. Five years ago I left my chimneys un-swept while I argued this; but one of them took fire, and so I lost my soot, and the Corporation fined me five shillings. It was terrible." He fell back a pace and studied me again. "If my brother Aaron could see your face, boy, he would want to paint it and you might make money."
"Where does he live, sir?" I asked.
"Eh? Good boy—good boy! He lives in Lisbon, in the Ghetto off the Street of the Four Evangelists." He laughed, high up in his nose, at my discomfiture. "If you ever meet him, mention my name: but first of all tell your master I shall expect him at five o'clock to-morrow morning." He wished me good night and shuffled away down the alley, still laughing at his joke.
At five o'clock next morning, or a little before, Mr. Trapp and I started for the house. The Barbican had not yet awaked to business. Its frowzy blinds were down, and out on the Pool nothing moved but a fishing-boat sweeping in upon the first of the flood.
At the entrance of Southside Street, however, we almost overtook a soldier walking towards the town. He walked slowly and with a very slight limp, but seemed to quicken his pace a little, and kept ahead of us. The barracks being full just then, many soldiers had their billets about the town, and that one should be abroad at such an hour was nothing suspicious: yet my eyes were still following him when Mr. Trapp halted and knocked at the Jew's door. At the sound, I saw the man start and hesitate for an instant in his stride: and in that instant, though he held on his pace and was lost to sight around the street-corner, I recognised him and understood the limp. He was the man of the bull-chase—Sergeant Letcher (as the sentry had named him) of the North Wilts.
Nobody answered Mr. Trapp's knock, though he repeated it four or five times. He stepped back into the roadway and scanned the unshuttered upper windows. They were uncurtained, too, every one, and grimed with dust: and through this dust we could see rows of cast-off suits dangling within like limp suicides.
"Very odd," commented Mr. Trapp. "You're sure he said five o'clock?"
"Sure," said I.
"Besides—five o'clock or six—why can't the old skin-flint answer?"
He knocked again vigorously. A blind-cord creaked, a window went up over a ship-chandler's shop next door, and a man thrust out his head.
"What's wrong?" he demanded.
"Sorry to disturb ye, Clemow; but old Rodriguez, here, bespoke us to sweep his chimneys at five, and we can't get admittance."
"Why, I heard him unbolt for ye an hour ago!" said the ship-chandler. "He woke me up with his noise, letting down the chain."
The door had a latch-handle and Mr. Trapp grasped it. "Drat me, but you're right!" he exclaimed, as he pressed his thumb and the door at once yielded. "Huh!" He stared into the empty passage, out of which a room opened on either hand, each hung with cast-off suits which seemed to sway slightly in the scanty light filtered through the shutter-holes. "I don't stomach moving among these. Even in broad daylight I'm never too sure there ain't a man hidden in one of 'em. He might be dead, too—by the smell."
He stepped to the foot of the uncarpeted stairs. "Mister Rodriguez!" he called. His voice echoed up past the cobwebbed landing and seemed to go wandering aloft among unclean mysteries to the very roof. Nobody answered.
"Mister Rodriguez!" he called again, and waited. "Let's try the kitchen," he suggested. "We started with that, last time: and, if my memory holds good, 'tis the only chimney he uses. He beds in a small room right over us, next the roof, and keeps a fire going there through the winter: but the flue of it leads into the same shaft—a pretty wide shaft as I rec'llect."
We groped our way by the foot of the staircase and along a line of cupboards to the kitchen. The window of this looked out upon a backyard piled with refuse timber, packing-cases, and plaster statuary broken and black with soot. Within, the hearth had been swept as if in preparation for us. On the dirty table stood a milk-jug with a news-sheet folded and laid across its top, a half-loaf of bread, and a plate of meat—but of what kind we did not pause to examine. It looked nauseous enough. A brindled cat made a dash past us and upstairs. Its unexpected charge greatly unsettled Mr. Trapp.
"It daunts me—I declare it do!" he confided hoarsely. "But he's been here, anyway; and he expects us." He waved a hand towards the hearth. "Shall I call again? Or what d'ye say to getting it over?"
"I'm ready," said I. To tell the truth, the inside of the chimney seemed more inviting to me than the rest of the house. I was accustomed to chimneys.
"Up we go, then!" Mr. Trapp began to spread his bags. He always used the first person plural on these occasions—meaning, no doubt, that I took with me his moral support. "The shaft's easy enough, I mind— two storeys above this, and all the flues leadin' to your right. I'll be out in the street by the time you hail."
I hadn't a doubt he would. "One week to Midsummer!" I cried, to hearten me—for we were both counting the days now between us and the fishing. He grinned, and up I went.
The chimney was foul, to be sure, but once past the first ten or a dozen feet I mounted quickly. Towards the top the shaft narrowed so that for a while I had my doubts if it could be squeezed through: but I found, on reaching it, that the brickwork shelved inwards very slightly, though furred or crusted with an extra thick coating of soot below the vent. Through this I broke in triumph, sweating from my haste; and brushing the filth from my eyes, leaned both arms on the chimney-pot while I scanned the roofs around for a glimpse between them, down to the street and Mr. Trapp. I did so at ease, for a flue entered the main shaft immediately below the stack, which was a decidedly dumpy one—in fact, less than five feet tall; so that I supported myself not by the arms alone but by resting my toes on the ridge where flue and shaft met.
Now, as the reader will remember, it was the height of summer, and the day had brightened considerably since we entered the house. The sudden sunshine set me blinking, and while I cleared my eyes it seemed to me that a man—a dark figure—something, at any rate, and something a great deal too large to be mistaken for a cat—stole from under the gable above which my chimney rose, and, swiftly crossing a patch of flat leaded roof to the right, disappeared around a chimney-stack on the far side of it.
I ceased rubbing my eyes and stared at the stack. It was a tall one, rising from a good fifteen feet below almost to a level with mine, and I could not possibly look over it. Something, I felt sure, lurked behind it, and my ears seemed to hold the sound of a soft footstep. I forgot Mr. Trapp. By pulling myself a little higher I could get a better view, not of the stack, but of the stretch of roof beyond it: nobody could break cover in that direction and escape me. I took a firm grip on the corroded bricks and heaved on them.
Next moment they had given way under my hands, falling inwards: and I was falling with them.
I kicked out, striving to find again with my toes the ridge where the flue joined the shaft—missed it—and went shooting down to the right through a smother of soot.
The total fall—or slide, rather—was not a severe one, after all; twenty feet perhaps, though uncomfortable enough for sixty. I pulled myself up quite suddenly, my feet resting on a ledge which, as I shook the soot off and recovered my wits, turned out to be the upper sill of a grate. Then, growing suddenly cautious when the need for caution was over, I descended the next foot or two back foremost, as one goes down a ladder, and jumped out into the room clear of the hearthstone.
And with that, as I turned, a scream rose to my throat and died there. I had almost jumped upon the stretched-out body of a man.
I ESCAPE FROM THE JEW'S HOUSE.
It was Mr. Rodriguez. He lay face downward and slantwise across the front of the hearth, with arms spread, fingers hooked, and his neck protruding from the collar of his dingy dressing-gown like a plucked fowl's. He had cast a slipper in falling, and the flesh of one heel showed through its rent stocking. For a moment I supposed him in a fit; the next, I was recoiling towards the wall, away from a dark moist line which ran from under his left armpit and along the uneven boards to the far corner by the window, and there, under a disordered truckle-bed, spread itself in a pool.
With my eyes glued upon this horrid sight I slowly straightened myself up—having crouched back until I felt the wall behind me—and so grew aware of a door beside the chimney-breast, and that it stood ajar upon the empty landing. The dead man's heels pointed towards it, his head towards the window at the foot of the bed.
And still my shaken wits could not clutch at the meaning of what I saw. I only felt that there was something horrible, menacing, hideously malignant in the figure at my feet: only craved for strength of will to dash by it, reach the door and fling myself down the stairs—anywhere—away from it. Had it stirred, I believe it had then and there destroyed my reason.
But it did not stir. And all the while I knew that the thing lay with its breast in a bath of blood; that it had been stabbed in the back and the blood welling down under the clothes had gathered in a pool, ready to gush and spread on all sides as soon as the body should be lifted or its attitude interfered with. I cannot tell how I found time to reason this out; but I did.
I knew, too, that I could not scream aloud if I tried: but I had no desire to try. It might wake and lift up its head! I felt backwards with my hand along the wall, groping unconsciously for something to aid my spring towards the door; but desisted. For the moment I could not lift a foot.
With that—either this was all a dream or I heard footsteps on the flat roof outside; very slow, soft footsteps, too, as of somebody walking on tiptoe. But if on tiptoe, why was he coming towards me? Yet so it was; my ear told me distinctly.
As his feet crunched the leads close outside the window I caught a gleam of scarlet; then the frame grew dark between me and the daylight, and through the pane a man peered cautiously into the room.
It was Archibald Plinlimmon.
He peered in, turning his face sideways for a better view and shading it, after a moment, with his hand. So shaded, and with the daylight behind it, his face after that first instant became an inscrutable blur.