E-text prepared by Lionel Sear
THE ASTONISHING HISTORY OF TROY TOWN.
Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch.
This etext prepared from a reprint of a version published in 1914.
TO CHARLES CANNAN.
My Dear Cannan, It is told of a distinguished pedagogue that one day a heated stranger burst into his study, and, wringing him by the hand, cried, "Heaven bless and reward you, sir! Heaven preserve you long to educate old England's boyhood! I have walked many a weary, weary mile to see your face again," he continued, flourishing a scrap of paper, "and assure you that but for your discipline, obeyed by me as a boy and remembered as a man, I should never—no, never—have won the Ticket-of-Leave which you behold!"
In something of the same spirit I bring you this small volume. The child of encouragement is given to staggering its parent; and I make no doubt that as you turn the following pages, you will more than once exclaim, with the old lady in the ballad—
"O, deary me! this is none of I!"
Nevertheless, it would be strange indeed if this story bore no marks of you; for a hundred kindly instances have taught me to come with sure reliance for your reproof and praise. Few, I imagine, have the good fortune of a critic so friendly and inexorable; and if the critic has been unsparing, he has been used unsparingly. Wargrave, Henley-on-Thames, June 7, 1888
I. IN WHICH THE READER IS MADE ACQUAINTED WITH A STATE OF INNOCENCE; AND THE MEANING OF THE WORD "CUMEELFO"
II. HOW AN ADMIRAL TOOK ONE GENTLEMAN FOR ANOTHER, AND WAS TOLD THE DAY OF THE MONTH.
III. OF A BLUE-JERSEYED MAN THAT WOULD HOIST NO MORE BRICKS; AND A NIGHTCAP THAT HAD NO BUSINESS TO BE WHERE IT WAS.
IV. OF CERTAIN LEPERS; AND TWO BROTHERS WHO, BEING MUCH ALIKE, LOVED THEIR SISTER AND RECOMMENDED THE USE OF GLOBES.
V. HOW AN ABSENT-MINDED MAN, THAT HATED WOMEN, TOOK A HOUSE BY THE WATERSIDE AND LIVED THEREIN WITH ONE SERVANT.
VI. HOW CERTAIN TROJANS CLIMBED A WALL OUT OF CURIOSITY; AND OF A CHARWOMAN THAT COULD GIVE NO INFORMATION.
VII. OF A LADY THAT HAD A MUSICAL VOICE, BUT USED IT TO DECEIVE.
VIII. HOW A CREW, THAT WOULD SAIL ON A WASHING-DAY, WAS SHIPWRECKED: WITH AN ADVERTISEMENT AGAINST WOMEN.
IX. OF A TOWN THAT WOULD LAUGH AT THE GREAT: AND HOW A DULL COMPANY WAS CURED BY AN IRISH SONG.
X. OF ONE EXCURSION AND MANY ALARUMS.
XI. OF A WESLEYAN MINISTER THAT WOULD IMPROVE UPON NATURE, AND THEREBY TRAINED A ROOK TO GOOD PRINCIPLES.
XII. OF DETERIORATION; AND A WHEELBARROW THAT CONTAINED UNEXPECTED THINGS.
XIII. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF POMEROY'S CAT; AND HOW THE MEN AND WOMEN OF TROY ENSUED AFTER PLEASURE IN BOATS.
XIV. OF A LADY OF SENSIBILITY THAT, BEING AWKWARDLY PLACED, MIGHT EASILY HAVE SET MATTERS RIGHT, BUT DID NOT; WITH MUCH BESIDE.
XV. HOW A LADY AND A YOUTH, BEING SEPARATED FROM THEIR COMPANY, VISITED A SHIP THAT HELD NOTHING BUT WATER.
XVI. OF STRATAGEMS AND SPOILS; AND THAT THE NOMINALISTS ERR WHO HOLD A THING TO BE WHAT IT IS CALLED.
XVII. HOW ONE THAT WAS DISSATISFIED WITH HIS PAST SAW A VISION, BUT DOUBTED.
XVIII. OF A YOUNG MAN THAT WOULD START UPON A DARK ADVENTURE, BUT HAD TWO MINDS UPON IT.
XIX. THAT A SILVER BULLET HAS VIRTUE; WITH A WARNING TO COMMODORES.
XX. HOW CERTAIN CHARACTERS FOUND THEMSELVES, AT DEAD OF NIGHT, UPON THE FIVE LANES ROAD.
XXI. THAT A VERY LITTLE TEA MAY SUFFICE TO ELEVATE A MAN.
XXII. IN WHICH SEVERAL ATTEMPTS ARE MADE TO PUT A PERIOD TO THIS HISTORY.
XXIII. HOW ONE LOVER TOOK LEAVE OF HIS WITS, AND TWO CAME TO THEIR SENSES.
XXIV. OF THE BEST HELLEBORE; AND AN EXPERIMENT IN THE ENTERTAINMENT OF TWINS.
XXV. WHICH ENDS THIS STORY OF TROY.
IN WHICH THE READER IS MADE ACQUAINTED WITH A STATE OF INNOCENCE; AND THE MEANING OF THE WORD "CUMEELFO".
"Any news to-night?" asked Admiral Buzza, leading a trump.
"Hush, my love," interposed his wife timidly, with a glance at the Vicar. She liked to sit at her husband's left, and laid her small cards before him as so many tributes to his greatness.
"I will not hush, Emily. I repeat, is there any news to-night?"
Miss Limpenny, his hostess and vis-a-vis, finding the Admiral's eye fierce upon her, coughed modestly and announced that twins had just arrived to the postmistress. Her manner, as she said this, implied that, for aught she knew, they had come with the letters.
The Vicar took the trick and gathered it up in silence. He was a portly, antique gentleman, with a fine taste for scandal in its proper place, but disliked conversation during a rubber.
"Twins, eh?" growled the Admiral. "Just what I expected. She always was a wasteful woman."
"My love!" expostulated his wife. Miss Limpenny blushed.
"They'll come to the workhouse," he went on, "and serve him right for making such a marriage."
"I have heard that his heart is in the right place," pleaded Miss Limpenny, "but he used—"
"It's of no consequence," said Miss Limpenny, with becoming bashfulness. "It's only that he always used, in sorting his cards, to sit upon his trumps—that always seemed to me—"
"Just so," replied the Admiral, "and now it's twins. Bless the man! what next?"
It was in the golden age, before Troy became demoralised, as you shall hear. At present you are to picture the drawing-room of the Misses Limpenny arranged for an "evening": the green rep curtains drawn, the "Book of Beauty" disposed upon the centre table, the ballad music on the piano, and the Admiral's double-bass in the corner. Six wax candles were beaming graciously on cards, tea-cakes and ratafias; on the pictures of "The First Drive," and "The Orphan's Dream," the photographic views of Troy from the harbour, the opposite hill, and one or two other points, and finally the noted oil-painting of Miss Limpenny's papa as he appeared shortly after preaching an assize sermon. Above all, the tea-service was there—the famous set in real silver presented to the late Reverend Limpenny by his flock, and Miss Priscilla—she at the card-table—wore her best brooch with a lock of his hair arranged therein as a fleur-de-lys.
I wish I could convey to you some of the innocent mirth of those "evenings" in Troy—those noctes Limpennianae when the ladies brought their cap-boxes (though the Buzzas and Limpennys were but semi-detached neighbours), and the Admiral and his wife insisted on playing against each other, so that the threepenny points never affected their weekly accounts. Those were happy days when the young men were not above singing the "Death of Nelson," or joining in a glee, and arming the young ladies home afterwards. In those days "Hocken's Slip" had not yet become the "Victoria Quay," and we talked of the "Rope Walk" where we now say "Marine Parade." Alas! our tastes have altered with Troy.
Yet we were vastly genteel. We even had our shibboleth, a verdict to be passed before anything could hope for toleration in Troy. The word to be pronounced was "CUMEELFO," and all that was not Cumeelfo was Anathema.
So often did I hear this word from Miss Limpenny's lips that I grew in time to clothe it with an awful meaning. It meant to me, as nearly as I can explain, "All Things Sanctioned by the Principles of the Great Exhibition of 1851," and included as time went on—
Crochet Antimacassars. Art in the style of the "Greek Slave." "Elegant Extracts," and the British Poets as edited by Gilfillan. Corkscrew Curls and Prunella Boots. Album Verses. Quadrille-dancing, and the Deux-temps. Popular Science. Proposals on the bended Knee. Conjuring and Variety Entertainments. The Sentimental Ballad. The Proprieties, etc., etc., etc.
The very spirit of this word breathed over the Limpenny drawing-room to-night, and Miss Priscilla's lips seemed to murmur it as she gazed across to where her sister Lavinia was engaged in a round game with the young people. These were Admiral Buzza's three daughters, Sophy, Jane, and Calypso—the last named after her father's old ship—and young Mr. Moggridge, the amusing collector of customs. They were playing with ratafias for counters (ratafias were cumeelfo), and peals of guileless laughter from time to time broke in upon the grave silence of the whist-table.
For always, on such occasions, in the glow of Miss Limpenny's wax candles, Youth and Age held opposite camps, with the centre table as debatable ground; nor, until the rubber was finished, and the round game had ended in a seemly scramble for ratafias, would the two recognise each other's presence, save now and then by a "Hush, if you please, young people," from the elder sister, followed by a whispered, "What spirits your dear girls enjoy!" for Mrs. Buzza's ear.
But at length the signal would be given by Miss Priscilla.
"Come, a little music perhaps might leave a pleasant taste. What do you say, Vicar?"
Upon which the Vicar would regularly murmur—
"Say, rather, would gild refined gold, Miss Limpenny."
And the Admiral as invariably broke in with—
"Come, Sophy! remember the proverb about little birds that can sing and won't sing."
This prelude having been duly recited, the Misses Buzza would together trip to the piano, on which the two younger girls in duet were used to accompany Sophia's artless ballads. The performance gained a character of its own from a habit to which Calypso clung, of counting the time in an audible aside: as thus—
Sophia (singing): "Oh, breathe but a whispered command." Calypso: "One, two, three, four." Sophia: "I'll lay down my life for thee!" Calypso: "One, two, three, four."
—the effect of which upon strangers has been known to be paralysing, though we who were cumeelfo pretended not to notice it. But Sophy could also accompany her own songs, such as, "Will you love me then as now?" and "I'd rather be a daisy," with much feeling. She was clever, too, with the water-colour brush, and to her we owe that picture of " H.M.S. Calypso in a Storm," which hangs to this day over the Admiral's mantelpiece.
I could dwell on this evening for ever; not that the company was so large as usual, but because it was the last night of our simplicity. With the next morning we passed out of our golden age, and in the foolishness of our hearts welcomed the change.
It was announced to us in this manner—
The duets had been beaten out of Miss Limpenny's piano—an early Collard, with a top like a cupboard, fluted in pink silk and wearing a rosette in front; the performers, on retiring, had curtseyed in acknowledgment of the Vicar's customary remark about the "Three Graces "; the Admiral had wrung from his double-bass the sounds we had learnt to identify with elfin merriment (though suggestive, rather, of seasick mutineers under hatches), and our literary collector, Mr. Moggridge, was standing up to recite a trifle of his own—"flung off"—as he explained, "not pruned or polished."
The hush in the drawing-room was almost painful—for in those days we all admired Mr. Moggridge—as the poet tossed back a stray lock from his forehead, flung an arm suddenly out at right angles to his person, and began sepulchrally—
(Here he looked very hard at Miss Lavinia Limpenny.)
"Maiden, what dost thou in the chill churchyard Beside yon grassy mound? The night hath fallen, the rain is raining hard, Damp is the ground."
Mrs. Buzza shivered, and began to weep quietly.
"Maiden, why claspest thou that cold, cold stone Against thy straining breast? Tell me, what dost thou at this hour alone? (Persuasively) The lambs have gone to rest. The maiden lifted up her tearful gaze, And thus she made reply: 'My mother, sir, is—'"
But the secret of her conduct remains with Mr. Moggridge, for at this moment the door opened, and the excited head of Sam Buzza, the Admiral's only son, was thrust into the room.
"I say, have you heard the news? 'The Bower' is let."
All eyes were fixed on the newcomer. The Vicar woke up. Even the poet, with his arm still at right angles and the verse arrested on his lips, turned to stare incredulously.
"It's a fact; I heard it down at the Man-o'-War Club meeting, you know," he explained. "Goodwyn-Sandys is his name, the Honourable Goodwyn-Sandys, brother to Lord Sinkport—and what's more, he is coming by the mid-day train to-morrow."
The poet's arm dropped like a railway signal. There was a long pause, and then the voices broke out all together—
"'The Bower' let at last!"
"An Honourable, too!"
"What is he like?"
"Are you sure?"
"Well, I never did!"
"Miss Limpenny," gasped the Admiral, at length, "where is your Burke?"
It lay between the "Cathedrals of England" and "Gems of Modern Art"; under the stereoscope. Miss Lavinia produced it.
"Let me see," said the Admiral, turning the pages. "Sinkport— Sinkport—here we are—George St. Leonards Goodwyn-Sandys, fourth baron—H'm, h'm, here it is—only brother, Frederic Augustus Hythe Goodwyn-Sandys, b. 1842—married—"
"1876—Geraldine, eighth daughter of Sheil O'Halloran of Kilmacuddy Court, County Kerry—blank space for issue—arms: gules, a bar sinist—Ahem! Well, upon my word!"
"I'm sure," sighed Mrs. Buzza, after the excitement had cooled a little—"I'm sure I only hope they will settle down to our humble ways."
"Emily," snapped her husband, "you speak like a fool. Pooh! Let me tell you, ma'am, that our ways in Troy are not humble!"
Outside, in Miss Limpenny's back garden, the laurestinus bushes sighed as they caught those ominous words. So might Eden have sighed, aware of its serpent.
HOW AN ADMIRAL TOOK ONE GENTLEMAN FOR ANOTHER, AND WAS TOLD THE DAY OF THE MONTH.
Next morning, almost before the sun was up, all Troy was in possession of the news; and in Troy all that is personal has a public interest. It is this local spirit that marks off the Trojan from all other minds.
In consequence long before ten o'clock struck, it was clear that some popular movement was afoot; and by half-past eleven the road to the railway station was crowded with Trojans of all sorts and conditions—boatmen, pilots, fishermen, sailors out of employ, the local photographer, men from the ship-building yards, makers of ship's biscuit, of ropes, of sails, chandlers, block and pump manufacturers, loafers—representatives, in short, of all the staple industries: women with baskets—women with babies, women with both, even a few farmers in light gigs with their wives, or in carts with their families, a sprinkling from Penpoodle, across the harbour—high and low, Church and Dissent, with children by the hundred. Some even proposed to ring the church bells and fire the cannon at the harbour's mouth; but the ringers and artillerymen preferred to come and see the sight. As it was, the "George" floated proudly from the church tower, and the Fife and Drum Temperance Band stood ready at the corner of East Street. All Troy, in fact, was on tip-toe.
Meanwhile, as few in the crowd possessed Burke or Debrett, the information that passed from mouth to mouth was diverse and peculiar, but, as was remarked by a laundress in the crowd to a friend: "He may be the Pope o' Rome, my dear, an' he may be the Dook o' Wellington, an' not a soul here wud know t'other from which no mor'n if he was Adam. All I says is—the Lord send he's a professin' Christian, an' has his linen washed reg'lar. My! What a crush! I only wish my boy Jan was here to see; but he's stayin' at home, my dear, cos his father means to kill the pig to-day, an' the dear child do so love to hear'n screech."
The Admiral, who happened by the merest chance to be sauntering along the Station Road this morning, in his best blue frock-coat with a flower in the buttonhole, corrected some of the rumours, but without much success. Finding the throng so thick, he held a long debate between curiosity and dignity. The latter won, and he returned to No. 2, Alma Villas, in a flutter, some ten minutes before the train was due.
By noon the crowd was growing impatient. But hardly had the church clock chimed the hour when the shriek of a whistle was heard from up the valley. Amid wild excitement a puff of white smoke appeared, then another, and finally the mid-day train steamed serenely into the station.
As it drew up, a mild spectacled face appeared at the window of a first-class carriage, and asked—
"Is this Troy?"
"Yessir—terminus. Any luggage, sir?"
The mild face got out. It belonged to the only stranger in the train.
"There is only a black portmanteau," said he. "Ah, that is it. I shall want it put in the cloakroom for an hour or two while I go into the town."
The stranger gave up his ticket—a single ticket—and stepped outside the station. He was a mild, thin man, slightly above middle height, with vacant eyes and a hesitating manner. He wore a black suit, a rather rusty top-hat, and carried a silk umbrella.
"Here he comes!"
"Look, that's him!"
"Give 'un a cheer, boys."
"Hip, hip, hoor-roar!"
The sound burst upon the clear sky in a deafening peal. The stranger paused and looked confused.
"Dear me!" he murmured to himself, "the population here seems to be excited about something—and, bless my soul, what a lot of it there is!"
He might well say so. Along the road, arms, sticks, baskets, and handkerchiefs were frantically waving; men shouting and children hurrahing with might and main. Windows were flung up; heads protruded; flags waved in frenzied welcome. The tumult was stupendous. There was not a man, woman, or child in Troy but felt the demonstration must be hearty, and determined to make it a success.
"What can have caused this riot?"
The stranger paused with a half-timid air, but after a while resumed his walk. The shouts broke out again, and louder than ever.
"Welcome, welcome to Troy! Hooroar! One more, lads! Hooroar!" and all the handkerchiefs waved anew.
"Bless my soul, what is the matter?"
Then suddenly he became aware that all this frantic display was meant for him. How he first learnt it he could never afterwards explain, but the shock of it brought a deathly faintness.
"There is some horrible mistake," he murmured hoarsely, and turned to run.
He was too late. The crowd had closed around him, and swept him on, cheering, yelling, vociferating towards the town. He feebly put up a hand for silence—
"My friends," he shouted, "you are—"
"Yes, yes, we know. Welcome! Welcome! Hip-hip-hoo-roar!"
"My friends, I assure you—"
Boom! Boom! Tring-a-ring—boom!
It was that accursed Fife and Drum Temperance Band. In a moment five-and-twenty fifers were blowing "See, the conquering hero comes," with all their breath, and marching to the beat of a deafening drum. Behind them came a serried crowd with the stranger in its midst, and a straggling train of farmers' gigs and screaming urchins closed the procession.
Miss Limpenny, at the first-storey window of No. 1 Alma Villas, heard the yet distant din. With trembling fingers she hung out of window a loyal pocket-handkerchief (worn by her mother at the Jubilee of King George III), shut down the sash upon it, and discreetly retired again behind her white blinds to watch.
The cheering grew louder, and Miss Limpenny's heart beat faster. "I hope," she thought to herself, "I hope that their high connections will not have given them a distaste for our hearty ways. Well as I know Troy, I think I might be frightened at this display of public feeling."
She peeped out over the white blinds. Next door, the Admiral was fuming nervously up and down his gravel walk. He was debating the propriety of his costume. Even yet there was time to run up-stairs and don his cocked hat and gold-laced coat before the procession arrived. Between the claims of his civil and official positions the poor man was in a ferment.
"As a man of the world," Miss Limpenny soliloquised, "the Honourable Frederic Goodwyn-Sandys cannot fail to appreciate our sterling Admiral. Dear, dear, here they come! I do trust dearest Lavinia has not put herself in too conspicuous a position at the parlour window. What a lot of people, to be sure!"
The crowd had gathered volume during its passage through the town, and the "Conquering Hero" was more distractingly shrill than ever. The goal was almost reached, for "The Bower" stood next door to Alma Villas, and was divided from them only by a road which led down to the water's edge and the Penpoodle ferry boat.
"Why, everybody is here," said Miss Limpenny, "except, of course, the Vicar. There's Pharaoh Geddye waving a flag, and blind Sam Hockin and Mrs. Hockin with him, I declare, and Bathsheba Merryfield, and Jim the dustman, and Seth Udy in the band—he must have taken the pledge lately—and Walter Sibley and a score I don't even know by sight. And, bless my heart! that's old Cobbledick, wooden leg and all! I thought he was bed-ridden for life. But I don't see the arrivals yet. I wonder who that poor man is, in the crowd—it can't be—and yet—Why, whatever is the Admiral doing?"
For Admiral Buzza had opened his front gate and deliberately stepped out into the road.
The stranger, dishevelled, haggard and bewildered, had long since abandoned all attempts at explanation and fallen into a desperate apathy, when all at once a dozen voices in front cried "Hush!" The band broke off suddenly, and the cheering died away.
"Make way for the Admiral!" "Out of the road, there!" "The Admiral's going to speak!" "Silence for the Admiral!"
The stranger looked up and saw through the opening in the crowd a little man advancing, hat in hand. He had a red face, and the importance of his mission had lent it even a deeper tint than it usually wore: his bald head was fringed with stiff grey hair: he was clothed in "pepper-and-salt" trousers, a blue frock-coat and waistcoat, and carried a large bunch of primroses in his buttonhole. His step was full of dignity and his voice of grave politeness, as he began, with a bow—
"Though not the accredited spokesman of my fellow-citizens here, I am sure I shall not be deemed presumptuous" (cries of "No") "if I venture to give expression to some of the kindly sentiments which I am sure we one and all entertain upon this auspicious occasion." (Loud cheers.) "For upwards of twenty years I have now resided in this beautiful and prosperous—I think I may use these words" ("Hear, hear!") "this beautiful and prosperous little town, and it is therefore with the more sincere pleasure" (here the Admiral laid his hand upon his waistcoat) "that I bid you welcome to Troy." (Frantic cheering.) "We had hoped—I say we had hoped—to have seen your good lady also among us to-day: but doubtless when 'The Bower' is prepared—the—ahem! the bird will fly thither."
Vociferous applause followed this impromptu trope, and for some moments the Admiral's voice was completely drowned.
"I hope and trust," he went on, as soon as silence was restored, "that she enjoys good health."
The stranger looked more perplexed than ever.
"But be that as it may—be that, I say, as it may, my pleasant duty is now discharged. In the name of my fellow-Trojans and in my own name I bid you a hearty welcome to 'The Bower.'" (Loud and continuous cheering, during which the Admiral handed his card with a flourish, and mopped his brow.)
"I can assure you," replied the stranger after a pause, "that I am deeply sensible of your kindness—" (The cheering was renewed.) "While conscious," he went on, "that I have done nothing to deserve it. In point of fact, I think you must all be labouring under some ridiculous delusion."
"What do you mean, sir?" gasped the Admiral. "Do you mean to say you are not the new tenant of this delightful residence?" Then the speaker waved his hand in the direction of "The Bower."
"Certainly I am not."
"Then, damme, sir! who are you?" cried the Admiral, whose temper was, as we know, short.
"My name is Fogo," replied the stranger. "Here is my card—Philip Fogo—at your service."
Even Miss Limpenny, with the first-floor window of No. 1 timidly lifted to admit the Admiral's eloquence; even the three Misses Buzza, arranged in a row behind the parlour blinds of No. 2, and gazing with fond pride upon their papa; even Mrs. Buzza, nervously clasping her hands on the upper storey;—could not but perceive that something dreadful was happening. The Admiral's face turned from crimson to purple; he positively choked.
The situation needed a solution. A wag among the crowd hit upon it.
"Tell th' Admiral, some of 'ee: what day es et?"
"Fust of April!" cried a voice, then another; and then—
Then the throng broke into roar upon roar of inextinguishable laughter. The whole deluded town turned and cast its April folly, as a garment, upon the Admiral's shoulders. It was in vain that he stamped and raved and swore. They only held their sides and laughed the louder.
The credit of Trojan humour was saved. With a final oath the Admiral dashed through his front gate and into the house. The volgus infidum formed in procession again, and marched back with shouts of merriment; the popularis aura of the five-and-twenty fifers resumed the "Conquering Hero," and Mr. Fogo was left standing alone in the middle of the road.
OF A BLUE-JERSEYED MAN THAT WOULD HOIST NO MORE BRICKS; AND A NIGHTCAP THAT HAD NO BUSINESS TO BE WHERE IT WAS.
No one acquainted with the character of that extraordinary town will be surprised when I say that, within an hour after the occurrences related in the last chapter, Troy had resumed its workday quiet. By two o'clock nothing was to be heard but the tick-tack of mallets in the ship-building yards, the puffing of the steam-tug, the rattle of hawsers among the vessels out in the harbour, and the melodious "Woo-hoo!" of a crew at capstan or windlass. Troy in carnival and Troy sober are as opposite, you must know, as the poles. Fun is all very well, but business is business, and Troy is a trading port with a character to keep up: for who has not heard the bye-word— "Working like a Trojan"?
At two o'clock on this same day a little schooner lay alongside the town quay, busily discharging bricks. That is to say, a sunburnt man, blue-jerseyed and red with brick-dust, leisurely turned a windlass which let down an empty bucket and brought it up full. Another blue-jerseyed man, also sunburnt and red with brick-dust, then pulled it on shore, emptied and returned it; and the operation was repeated. A choleric little man, of about fifty, presumably the proprietor of the bricks, stood on the edge of the quay, and swore alternately at the man with the windlass and the man ashore.
"Look 'ere," said the man at the windlass, after a bit. "Stop cussin'. This ain't a hurdy-gurdy, and if you expec's music you'll have to toss us a copper."
The owner of the bricks swore worse than ever.
Round went the windlass as leisurely as might be and another bucketful was hoisted ashore. The man on deck spat on his hands, and broke into cheerful song:—
"Was you iver to Que-bec, Bonnie laddie, Hieland laddie Was you iver to Que-bec, Rousing timber over the deck? Hey my bonny laddie! Wur-roo! my heart's—"
The rage of the little man found extra vent.
"Look here, Caleb Trotter," he concluded, after a full minute of profanity, "how do you think I'm to get my living and pay a set of lubberly dolts like you?"
Caleb paused with his hand on the windlass, and suggested retrenchment of the halfpenny a week hitherto spent in manners. "'Cos, you see, all this po-liteness of yourn es a'runnin' to waste," he explained with fine irony.
But before the next load was more than three-parts hoisted, Caleb's patience was exhausted. What he did was simple but decisive. He removed his hold; the handle whizzed violently round, and the bucket of bricks descended to the hold with a crash.
"Now I tell 'ee straight. Enough's enough; an' I han't got time, at my time o' life, to be po-lite to ivery red-faced chap I meets. You can pay me or no, as you likes; but I'm off to get a drink. An' that's all about et; an' wen 'tes over, 'tes over, as Joan said by her weddin'."
With this Caleb stepped ashore, spat good-naturedly, put his hands in his pockets, and went off whistling.
At this moment Mr. Fogo, who had been on the quay long enough to hear this altercation, touched him softly by the arm.
"You said you were going to have a drink, I believe. May I go with you? I wish to ask you a few questions."
"Sutt'nly, sir," said Caleb with a stifled grin, as he recognised the hero of the morning. "I generally patronises the 'King o' Prooshia' for beer. It won't make your hair curl, nor yet prevent your seein' a hole dro' a ladder: but perhaps neither o' these is your objec'."
Mr. Fogo, a little bewildered, replied modestly that he pursued neither of these aims. Caleb led the way across the quay, and they ascended the steps of the "King of Prussia" together.
"My object," said Mr. Fogo timidly, as they were seated together in the low-roofed parlour before two foaming mugs—"My object was this. In the first place, I like your look."
"Same to you, sir," said Caleb, and acknowledged the compliment with a draught, "though 'tes what my gal said afore she desarted me for a Rooshan."
"Are you a single man, then?"
"To be sure, sir."
"So much the better—but I will talk of that presently. I, too, am a single man, with rather peculiar tastes. One of these is solitude. I had heard of Troy as a place where I was likely to find this, though my experience of this morning—"
"Never mind, sir. Accidents will happen even in the best reggylated families. You was took for another, which has happened even to Bible characters afore this—though Jacob's the only one I can call to mind just now."
"Still, I should be sorry to go back with the knowledge that my journey has been in vain. But I must have solitude at any price, and the reason why I am consulting you is that you might possibly know of a house to let in this neighbourhood, where I could be alone and secure against visitors."
Caleb scratched his head.
"I'm sure, sir, 'tes hard to say. Troy's a powerful place for knowin' what your neighbour's got for dinner, and they do say as the Admiral's telescope will carry dro' a brick wall."
Mr. Fogo's face fell.
"Stop a bit," said Caleb more brightly. "About livin' inside o' the town, now—es that a shiny cannon?"
"A shiny cannon—which es the same as to say, won't et do elst?"
"Oh, a sine-qua-non," said Mr. Fogo; "no, I am not particularly anxious to live in the town itself."
"Wud the matter of a mile up the river be out o' the way?"
"Not at all."
"An' about rent?"
"Within reasonable limits, that would not matter."
"Then my advice to you, sir, es to see the Twins about et."
Mr. Fogo's mild face looked more puzzled than ever. He removed his spectacles, wiped and resumed them.
"For any reasonable object," he said, "I am ready to see any number of twins—much as I dislike babies—"
But here Caleb interrupted him by bursting into a roar of laughter which lasted for half a minute.
"Babbies! Well I—ho! ho!—'scuse me, sir—but aw dear, aw dear! Babbies! Bab—" Here he slapped his thigh and broke into another roar, at the end of which he grew fairly black in the face.
"Bless yer innocent heart, sir! They'm a matter o' six foot high, the both—and risin' forty. Dearlove's their name—and lives up the river 'long wi' their sister—Peter an' Paul an' Tamsin (which es short for Thom-a-si-na), an' I've heerd tell as the boys came nigh to bein' chrisn'd Sihon an' Og, on'y the old Vicar said he'd be blowed fust—very free wi' his langwidge was th' ould Vicar."
"I should fancy so," said Mr. Fogo; "but you'll excuse me if I don't quite see, yet, why you advise me to call on these people."
"No offence, sir. On'y they owns Kit's House, that's all."
"I see; and Kit's House is the place you have in your mind."
"That's et, sir."
"And these Dearloves, where do they live?"
"Furder up the river by two mile."
"Could you row me up this afternoon to see them?"
Caleb Trotter rose, and drew the back of his hand across his mouth.
"Wi' all the pleasure in life, sir, as Uncle Zachy said when he gi'ed his da'ter in marriage."
In less than ten minutes Caleb had brought his boat round to the quay. Mr. Fogo stepped in, and was presently seated in the stern and meditatively listening while Caleb rowed—and talked—"like a Trojan."
Here we may leave them for a while and return to the Admiral, whom we left in the act of plunging furiously into his own house. It was not the habit of that fiery little tar to hide his emotions from the wife of his bosom.
"Emily!" he bellowed, "Em-i-ly, I say! Come down this instant."
The three Misses Buzza at the parlour window knew the tone, and shuddered: Mrs. Buzza, up-stairs, heard, trembled, and obeyed.
"Yes, darling. What is it?"
"Fill the warming-pan at once. I'm going to bed."
"To bed, love!"
"Yes, to bed. Don't I speak plainly enough? To bed, ma'am, to bed, and at once."
"You are upset, dearest; be cool, I implore you."
"Be cool! Be coo'—Don't hector me, ma'am, but fetch that warming-pan at once. I'll teach you about being cool! Sophy, pull off my boots."
They obeyed. The warming-pan was brought—an enormous engine, big enough to hold the Admiral himself—and the bed heated. The Admiral undressed, and, himself a warming-pan of rage, plunged between the sheets. It was a wonder the bed-clothes were not on fire.
"Pull down the blind, and bring me something to eat!"
"And be quick about it. Can't you see I'm starving?"
It is true that the Admiral's excitement had interfered with his breakfast that morning, but it was none the less difficult to read starvation upon his face. Mrs. Buzza obeyed, however; and presently returned with the liver-wing of a fowl.
"You call that a dinner for a hungry man, I suppose! Bring me some more!"
"My dear, I didn't know you wanted a dinner."
"Confound it, ma'am! must I put dress-studs in my night-shirt to convince you I want to dine? Bring me some more!"
"There is no more fowl, dear. I kept this from yesterday's as a tit-bit for you."
"What is for dinner to-day?"
"Boiled beef: but you said expressly that dinner was to be late to-day, in consequence of the arrivals, and it is not nearly done yet."
"I don't care, bring it!"
The mention of the arrivals sent the Admiral up to a white heat again.
It was brought. The Admiral had two helpings, and then a glass of grog.
Mrs. Buzza withdrew. Left to himself, the Admiral tossed, and turned, and fumed, and swore, lay still for a while, and then repeated the process backwards. After a time the bed-clothes began to prick him, and the heat to become a positive torture. He leapt out, and tore at the bell-rope, until it came away in his hand—just as his wife reappeared.
"Will you kindly inform me what the devil's wrong with this bed? Who made it?"
"Then will you kindly give Selina a month's notice on the spot? Do you hear? On the spot—What's that?"
The Admiral rushed to the window and pulled up the blind. He was just in time to see a close carriage and pair dash past and pull up at "The Bower."
A moment afterwards, Miss Limpenny, from the first-storey window of No. 1, saw the carriage door open, and a tall gentleman emerge. The tall gentleman was followed by a lady, whom even at that distance Miss Limpenny could see to possess a remarkably graceful figure. A small youth in livery sprang down from beside the coachman and helped to lower the boxes, whilst the new arrivals passed into the house where the charwoman, Mrs. Snell, stood smearing her face with her apron, and ducking in frenzied welcome.
The Honourable Frederic Augustus Hythe Goodwyn-Sandys and his wife, instead of arriving by train, had posted from Five-Lanes Junction.
There was no public demonstration. They might as well have come in the dead of night. Miss Limpenny was almost the sole witness of their arrival, and Miss Limpenny's observations were cut short by a terrible occurrence.
She had taken stock of the Honourable Frederic, and pronounced him "aristocratic-looking"; of the Honourable Mrs. Frederic's travelling-dress, and decided it to be Cumeelfo; she had counted the boxes twice, and made them seven each time; she was about to count the buttons on the liveried youth, when—
To this day she sinks her voice as she narrates it. She saw—the unseemliness, the monstrous indelicacy of it!—she saw—the nightcap and shoulders of Admiral Buzza craning out of the next-door window!
What happened next? Whether she actually fainted, or merely kept her eyes shut, she cannot clearly remember. But for weeks afterwards, as she declares, the sight of a man caused her to "turn all colours."
It was significant, this nightcap of Admiral Buzza—as the ram's horn to Jericho, the Mother Carey's chicken to the doomed ship. It announced, even as it struck, the first blow at the old morality of Troy.
OF CERTAIN LEPERS; AND TWO BROTHERS, WHO, BEING MUCH ALIKE, LOVED THEIR SISTER, AND RECOMMENDED THE USE OF GLOBES.
I must here clear myself on a point which has no doubt caused the reader some indignation. "We remarked," he or she will say, "that, some chapters back, the Admiral described Troy as a 'beautiful little town.' Why, then, have we had no description of it, no digressions on scenery, no word-painting?"
To this I answer—Dear sir, or madam, no one who has known Troy was ever yet capable of describing it. If you doubt me, visit the town and see for yourself. I will for the moment suppose you to do so. What happens?
On the first day you take a boat and row about the harbour. "Scenery!" you exclaim, "why, what could you have more? Here is a lovely harbour flanked by bold hills to right and left; here are the ruined castles, witnesses of the great days when Troy sent ships to carry the English army to Agincourt; here axe grey houses huddled at the water's edge, hoary, battered walls and quay-doors coated with ooze and green weed. Such is Troy, and on the further shore quaint Penpoodle faces it, where a silver creek, dividing, runs up to Lanbeg; further up, the harbour melts into a river where the old ferry-boat plies to and from the foot of a tiny village straggling up the hill; further yet, and the jetties mingle with the steep woods beside the roads, where the vessels lie thickest; ships of all builds and of all nations, from the trim Canadian timber-ship to the corpulent Billy-boy. Why, the very heart of the picturesque is here. What more can you want?"
On the second day you will see all this from the harbour again, or perhaps you will cross the ferry and climb the King's Walk on the opposite bank; you will see it all, but with a change. It is more lovely, but not the same.
On the third day you will cast about in your mind to explain this; and so in time you will come to find that it is the spirit of Troy that plays this trick upon you. For you will have learnt to love the place, and love, as you know, dear sir or madam, is apt to affect the eyesight.
The eyes of Mr. Fogo, as Caleb pulled sturdily up with the tide, were passing through the first of these stages.
"This," he said at length, reflectively, "is one of the loveliest spots I have looked upon."
Caleb, in whom humanity and Trojanity were nicely compounded, flushed a bright copper-colour with pleasure.
"'Tes reckoned a tidy spot," he answered modestly, "by them as cares for voos an' such-like."
"There, now," he went on, after a pause, and turning round, "yonder's Kit's House, wi' Kit's Cottage, next door. You can't see the house so plain, 'cos 'tes behind the trees. But there 'tes, right enough."
"Is the cottage uninhabited, too?"
"Both on 'em. Ha'nted they do say. By the way, I niver axed 'ee whether you minded ghostes?"
"Iss, ghostes. This 'ere place was a Lazarus one time, where they kept leppards."
"Leopards? How very singular!" murmured Mr. Fogo.
"Ay, leppards as white as snow, as the sayin' goes."
"Oh, I see," said Mr. Fogo, suddenly enlightened. "You mean that this was a Lazar-house."
"That's so—a Lazarus. The leppards used to live there together, and when they died, they was berried at dead o' night down at thicky spit you sees yonder. No one had dealin's wi' 'em nor went nigh 'em, 'cept that they was allowed to make ropes. 'Tesn' so many years that the rope-walk was moved down to th' harbour mouth."
Caleb stopped rowing, and leant forward on his paddles.
"These 'ere leppards in time got to be quite a happy famb'ly—'cept, of course, they warn't happy, 'cos nobody wudn' have nuthin' to say to 'em. Well, the story goes as one on 'em got falled in love wi' by a very nice gal down in Troy, and one fine day she ups an' tells her sorrowin' parents that she's agoin' to marry a leppard. 'Not ef we knows et,' says they; 'we forbids the banns'; and wi' that they went off to bed thinkin' as they'd settled et. 'But,' says Parson Lasky—"
"Who was he?" interrupted Mr. Fogo.
"On'y a figger o' speech, sir, and nothin' to do wi' the yarn, as the strollin' actor said when his theayter cotched a-fire. Wot I meant was, that very night the gal gets a boat an' rows up to Kit's House, arter leavin' a letter to say as she'd drownded hersel'. An' there she lived in hidin', 'long wi' the leppards for the rest of her days, which, by the tale, warn't many, an' she an' her sweetheart was berried in wan grave." Caleb paused for breath.
"And the ghosts?" said Mr. Fogo, much interested.
"Some ha' seed her rowin' about here in a boat, o' dark nights; and others swear to seein' all the leppards a-marchin' down wi' her corpse to the berryin'-ground. Leastways, that's the tale. Jan Spettigue was the last as seed 'em, but as he be'eld three devils on his own chimbly-piece the week arter, along o' too much rum, p'r'aps he made a mistake. Anyways, 'tes a moral yarn, an' true to natur'. These young wimmen es a very detarmined sex, whether 'tes a leppard in the case or a Rooshan."
Mr. Fogo had fallen into a reflective silence.
"'Tes a thousand pities this 'ere place should be empty, wi' a lean-to Crystal Pallis—by which I means a conserva-tory, sir—an' gardens, an' room for a cow, an' a Pyll o' ets own—"
"Pyll, sir, otherwise a creek—'c, r, double e, k—an arm o' the sea,' as the spellin' book says."
A curious fascination stole over Mr. Fogo as he looked earnestly at the house round which these memories hung. Standing on an angle formed by the bending river, and the little creek, and behind a screen of trees—elms almost too old to feel the sap of spring, a chestnut or two, and a few laurels and sombre firs, that had cracked with their roots the grey garden wall and sprawled down to the beach below—the stained and yellow frontage looked down towards the busy harbour, as it seemed with a sense of serene decay, haunted but without disquietude, like the face of an old lady who has memories and lives in them, though she deigns to contemplate a life from which her hopes, with her old friends and lovers, have dropped out. Perhaps Mr. Fogo had some sympathy with this mood; for Caleb, after waiting some time for his reply, took to his paddles again with a will, and presently the boat, sweeping round a projecting rock, passed into a very different scene.
Here the river, shut in on the one side with budding trees to the water's edge, on the other with bracken and patches of ploughed land to where the cliffs broke sheer away, stretched for some miles without bend or break. Far ahead a blue bank of woodland closed the view. Not a sound disturbed the stillness, not a sail broke the placid expanse of water.
But a true Trojan must still be talking. Presently Caleb resumed.
"'Tes a luvly spot, as you said, sir. Mr. Moggridge down at the customs—he's a poet, as maybe you know—has written a mint o' verses about this 'ere place. 'Natur', he says:—"
"Natur' has 'ere assoomed her softest garb; 'Ere would I live an' die
"—which I calls a very touchin' sentiment, an' like what they says in a nigger song."
With such conversation Mr. Trotter beguiled the way until they came abreast of a tiny village almost buried in apple trees and elms. On the opposite bank, a thin column of blue smoke was curling up from among the dense woodland.
Caleb headed the boat for this smoke, ran her nose on the pebbles beneath a low cliff, and stepped out.
"'Ere we are, sir."
"But I don't see any house," said Mr. Fogo, perplexed.
"All in good time, sir," replied Mr. Trotter, and having fastened up the boat, led the way.
A narrow flight of steps, hewn out of the rock, led up to the little cliff. At the top, and almost hidden by bushes, stood a low gate. Thence the path wound for a space between walls of budding hazel, and at its end quite unexpectedly a tiny cottage burst upon Mr. Fogo's view.
Little dreaming that the owner of Kit's House could live in such humility, he was considerably surprised when Caleb stepped up and struck a rousing knock upon the door.
It was opened by a comely girl with a white apron pinned before her neat stuff gown, and a face as fresh and healthful as a spring day.
"Why, Caleb," she cried, "who would have thought it? Come inside; you're as welcome as flowers in May."
"And you," replied Caleb gallantly, "are a-lookin' so sweet as blossom. Here's a gentlem'n come to call upon 'ee, my dear. An' how's Peter an' Paul? Brave, I hopes."
"Both, thank you, Caleb," said the maiden, curtseying without embarrassment to Mr. Fogo. "Won't you come in, sir?"
It was noticeable that Mr. Fogo at this point became very nervous, but he crossed the threshold in answer to this invitation. Mr. Trotter followed.
The fragrant smoke of a wood fire filled the room in which Mr. Fogo found himself. It was a rude kitchen, with white limeash floor, and for ceiling, a few whitewashed beams and the planching of the bedroom above. All was scrupulously clean. In the flickering obscurity of the chimney depended a line of black pot-hooks and hangers; a trivet and a pair of bellows furnished the hearth; from the capacious rack hung a rich stock of hams and sides of bacon, curing in the smoke; an English clock stood in one corner, a tall cupboard in another, and a geranium in the window-seat. Along the side opposite the door, and parallel to a dresser of shining crockery, ran a strong deal table. Some high-backed chairs, a pair of brass candlesticks with snuffers, a book or two, a few old hats, and a lanthorn, on various pegs, completed the furniture of the place.
But Mr. Fogo's gaze was riveted on two men who rose together at his entrance from the table where they were seated, side by side, at their tea.
Both tall, both adorned with crisp curls of black hair—with clean-shaven, mahogany faces, and the gentlest of possible smiles, the twins came forward to greet the stranger. So appallingly alike were they that Mr. Fogo felt a ridiculous desire to run away, nor could help fancying himself the victim of a disordered dream.
The Twins advanced upon him simultaneously with outstretched horny palms. He noticed that even their dress was precisely similar, with the single exception that one wore a red, the other a yellow bandanna handkerchief loosely knotted about his throat.
"You'm kindly welcome, sir," said the Twin with the red bandanna; and the Twin with the yellow neck-cloth murmured "kindly welcome," like an echo.
"Stop a bit," interposed Caleb, "let's do a bit of introducin'. This here es Mr. Fogo, gent, as es thinkin' of rentin' Kit's House, and es come for that puppos'. That there es Peter Dearlove—him wi' the red neckercher; likewise Paul Dearlove—him wi' the yaller. An', beggin' yer pardon for passin' over the ladies, this es Tamsin Dearlove (christ'n'd Thomasina), dearly beloved sister o' the same," concluded Caleb, with a sudden recollection of having read something like this on a tombstone.
Tamsin curtseyed, and the two horny palms were again presented. Not knowing which to take first,
Mr. Fogo held his umbrella between his knees and gave them a hand a-piece.
"I am afraid, Mr.—" He hesitated with a suspicion that he ought to say "Messrs."
"Dearlove," suggested Caleb; "an' reckoned a purty name, too."
"I am afraid, Mr. Dearlove," repeated Mr. Fogo, compromising matters by staring hard between the Twins, "that we have interrupted you."
"Not at all, sir," said Peter. "Sit down, sir, ef you'm not proud. Tamsin, bring a cup for the gentleman. A piece o' pasty, sir? Tamsin es famous for pasties."
Mr. Fogo, remembering that, with the exception of the mug of beer at the "King of Prussia," he had not broken his fast since the morning, and seeing also that the hospitality was anxiously sincere, complied. In a few moments both he and Caleb were seated before a steaming pasty.
Tamsin poured out the tea. She was a full twenty years younger than her brothers, as could be seen notwithstanding their boyish look, which came from innocence and clean-shaven faces. It was pleasant to see their almost fatherly pride in her. Mr. Fogo noted it vaguely, but an inexplicable nervousness seemed to have overtaken him since entering the cottage.
"I came," he said at last, "to inquire about Kit's House, which I hear is to let."
"Thankin' you kindly, sir," answered Peter; "an' I won't say but what we shall be glad to let et. But Paul and I ha' been puttin' our heads togither, and we allow 'tes for Tamsin to say."
Here he looked at Paul, who nodded gravely and repeated, in his former mechanical tone, "for Tamsin to say."
Mr. Fogo looked more distressed than ever.
"I beg your pardon, I'm sure," he began, with a quick glance at the girl, who was quietly pouring tea; "I did not know."
"No offence, sir. On'y, don't you see, 'tes this way. Kit's House es a gran' place wi' a slaty roof an' a I-talian garden, and a mighty deal too fine for the likes of Paul an' me. But wi' Tamsin 'tes another thing. We both agree she ought to be a leddy—not but what she's a better gal than tens o' thousands o' leddies—an' more than once we've offered to get her larnt the pi-anner an' callysthenics, an' the use o' globes, an' all such things which we knows to be usual in gran' sussiety; on'y she sticks to et to bide along wi' we. God bless her! I say, an' a rough life et must be for her."
Tamsin turned away towards the fireplace, and became very busy among the pot-hooks and hangers. Her brother pulled out a red handkerchief—a fellow to the one around his neck—mopped his face and proceeded—
"Well, as I was a-saying, seein' she was bent on bein' wi' us, Paul and me allowed to each other that we'd set up in fine style at Kit's House, so as not to rob her of what es her doo: that es to say—one of us wou'd live down there wi' a car'ge and pair o' hosses, and cut a swell wi' dinner parties an' what-not, while the other bided here an' tilled 'taties, turn and turn about. But she wudn' hear o' that, neither. She's a terrible stubborn gal, bless her!"
"We shou'd ha' been slow at larnin' the ropes, just at fust," he resumed after a moment's silence, "not bein' scholards, partikler at the use o' globes, which I have heerd es diffycult, though very entertainin' in company when you knows how 'tes done. But we was ready to try a hand—on'y she wudn' have et, an' so et has gone on. But, beggin' your pardon, sir, and hopin' no offence, she shall give her answer afore 'tes too late. Eh, Paul?"
"You have spoken, Peter," said the other twin, very slowly, "like a printed book. Let Tamsin speak her mind about et."
The girl came forward from the fireplace, and Mr. Fogo, as he stole a glance at her, could see that her eyes were red.
"What do 'ee say, Tamsin? Must we let Kit's House, or shall we leave th' ould place an' go an' make a leddy of 'ee?"
Tamsin's reply was to fall on her knees before the speaker and break into a fit of weeping.
"Don't ask me, don't ask me! I don't want to be a lady, an' I won't leave you. Don't ask me, my dear, dear brothers!"
Peter stroked the dark head buried in his lap, while Paul blew his nose violently in a yellow bandanna, and replied to Mr. Fogo.
"Very well, sir, so be et. There's the key of Kit's House yonder on the nail. Ef you likes to look over the place, one of us will follow you presently, and then, supposin' et to be to your likin', us can talk over terms."
HOW AN ABSENT-MINDED MAN, THAT HATED WOMEN, TOOK A HOUSE BY THE WATER-SIDE, AND LIVED THEREIN WITH ONE SERVANT.
"Well, sir," said Caleb Trotter, when the boat was pushed off, "what do 'ee think of 'em?"
Mr. Fogo, whose wits had been wool-gathering, came to himself with a start. "I think they are very good people."
"You may say that! The likes o' those Twins you won't see again, not ef you live to be a hundred. Seems to me," he went on reflectively, "that Natur', when she turned out the fust, got so pleased wi' herself that she was bound to try her hand at a dooplicity, just to relieve her feelin's."
"A dooplicity, sir, otherwise another of the same identical."
"Oh, I see."
"Iss, sir. 'Tes like that rhyme about the Force o' Natur' what cudn' no furder go, and you can't do 't agen, not ef you try all you know."
"You are fond of poetry, I see," said Mr. Fogo, with a smile.
"Puffec'ly dotes on et, sir."
"Have you ever composed any yourself?"
"Once 'pon a time, sir," said Caleb, pausing in his work, and leaning forward very mysteriously. "Ef you cares to hear, I don't mind tellin' 'ee; on'y you must gi' me your Davy you won't let et out to nobody."
Mr. Fogo gave the required promise.
"Well, 'twas in this way. Once 'pon a time, me an' old Joe Bonaday was workin' a smack round from Bristol. The Betsy Ann was her name, No. 1077 o' Troy. Joe was skipper, an' me mate; there was a boy aboard for crew, but he don't count. Well us got off Ilfrycombe one a'ternoon—August month et was, an' pipin' hot—when my blessed parlyment, says Molly Franky—"
"Who was she?"
"Another figger o' speech, sir, that's all. Well, as I was a-sayin', on a sudden, lo and be'old! the breeze drops dead. Ef you'll believe me, sir, 'twas calm as the Sar'gossa Sea. So there we was stuck—the sail not so much as flappin'—for the best part o' two hour; at the end o' which time (Joe not bein' a convussational man beyond sayin' 'thankye' when he got hes vittles) I was gettin' a bit dumb-foundered for topicks to talk 'pon. 'Cos, as for the weather, there 'twas, an', as Joe remarked, 'twasn' going to move any more for our discussin' of et, nor yet cussin' for that matter."
"Well, sir, we was driven at last to singin' a hymn to keep our speerits up. Leastways, the boy an' me sang, an' Joe beat time. Then says Joe, 'Look 'ere, I'm a-goin' to allee-couchee ef et lasts like this.' 'Well,' I says, for I was gettin' desprit, 'have 'ee ever tried to make poetry?' 'No,' says he, 'can't say I have.' 'Well,' I says, 'I've oft'n wanted to. Let's ha' a shy. You go aft and think of a verse, an' I'll go forra'd an' make another, an' then us'll see which sounds best.' 'Done,' says he, an' off he goes.
"Well, I sits there for mor'n an hour, thinkin' hard, and terrable work I found et. At last Joe shouts across, 'Hav'ee done? Time's up'; and I told 'un I'd done purty middlin'. So us stepped amidships, and spoke out what us had made."
Caleb made a long pause.
"I should like to hear the verses, if you remember them," said Mr. Fogo.
"Should 'ee now?" Caleb asked with fine modesty. "Well, I don't mind, on'y you mus'n' expect 'em to be like Maister Moggridge's. Mine went thicky way." He recited very slowly, with a terrific rolling of syllables:—
"See her glidin' dro' the water, Far, far away! Many a true heart's niver to be found.
"The last line alludes to my gal wot had recently e-loped wi' the Rooshan," Caleb explained.
"Was that all?"
"That was all o' mine, sir, but Joe's was p'ints better. Just listen:—"
"Fare thee well, Barnstaple steeple,—"
"(He was a Barnstaple man, sir, was Joe)—"
"Fare thee well, I say, Never shall I see thee, once agen, a long time ago."
"Well, sir, we was just a-goin' to step back an' have another shy, when the breeze sprang up a'most as sudden as et fell, and the consikence es, sir, that I've niver made no more poetry from that day to this."
The sun was getting low, as Mr. Fogo and Caleb stepped ashore on the ruined quay at Kit's House, not far from the spit of land where the lazars were buried. Kit's Cottage stood plain to see at a short distance from the water, but Kit's House lay to the right, behind its screen of laurels and elms. A narrow flight of steps and a path along the cliff's edge brought the visitors to the front door.
It was a long, low house, with pointed windows on the upper storey, and a deep verandah shading the ground-floor rooms. It faced the south, and although few flowers were out, the ruined garden was luxuriant with decay. One could see where the old Lazar-house had been overlaid with the taste of more recent inhabitants, but, as Caleb said, no one had lived here now for a dozen years or more. The walls were smeared with green vegetation; the iron gate creaked heavily with rust. On the roof the stonecrop flourished, and the swallows had built their nests about the chimneys.
Indoors it was as bad. Rich papers hung and rotted from the walls; rats scampered about the floors overhead; a smell of damp and mouldiness pervaded every room.
"Deary me, sir!" said Caleb in despair, "I'd no idee 'twas as bad as this, or I wou'dn' have mentioned the place to 'ee."
An old barrel stood on end before the French-window of the drawing-room. Mr. Fogo seated himself on this, and gazed meditatively out on the mellow glory of the evening.
"Caleb," he said very quietly, after a while, "I think I shall take this house."
"You will, sir?"
"I fancy there will be no difficulty in arranging about the rent. And now I want to speak with you on another question. You are a single man, you say. Have you any employment?"
"Why, sir, I mostly picks up my livin' on the say, on'y I thought as how I'd like a spell ashore for a change; but the end o' that you saw for yourself this very a'ternoon."
"Do you think that for a pound a week you could look after me?"
"I'd like the chance."
"That would exclude your food and clothes."
Caleb hesitated for a moment, and then said, with Trojan independence—
"You beant' a-goin' to rig me out in a yaller weskit an' small-clothes wi' a stripe down the leg, by any chance?"
"I was proposing that you should dress exactly as you do at present."
"Then done wi' you, sir, an' thank 'ee. When be I to enter on my dooties?"
"An' where, sir?"
"Be you a-goin' to sleep the night in this moloncholy place?"
"Very well, sir. Please yoursel', as Dick said to the press-gang. An' what be I to do fust?"
Mr. Fogo perhaps did not hear the question, for he was gazing out at the falling shadows: when he spoke again it was upon another subject.
"It is right that you should know," said he, "the kind of life you will be wanted to lead. In the first place, I am extraordinarily subject to fits of abstraction—absence of mind, in other words. It is an affection to which my style of life has made me particularly prone: it has led me before now into absurd, and sometimes into dangerous situations.
"I have heard tell," said Caleb, "of an old gentl'm'n as carefully tucked hes umbrella in bed an' put hissel' in the corner. Es that the style o' thing, sir?"
"It is something similar," said his master, "and within certain limits I should expect you to look after me and as far as possible prevent such accidents: however, I shall not, of course, expect you to have more than one pair of eyes. My tastes are simple—I read a little, sketch a little, botanise, dabble in chemistry, am fond of carpentering—boat-building especially. My very absence of mind makes me indifferent to surroundings. In short, I am a mild man."
Mr. Fogo got off his barrel, went to the window, sighed softly, and returned. Something in his manner imposed silence on Caleb.
"We shall live here alone," he resumed. "It is even possible that, to ensure solitude, I shall rent the cottage as well, and install you there. Above all things, remember," with sudden sternness, "that no woman is to come near this house—I shall even expect you to do your utmost to prevent their landing on the quay below. That, I think, is all. I now wish you to row down to the station and get my portmanteau. After that, with this money procure a couple of hammocks, besides provisions and whatever will be necessary for the night, not forgetting soap and candles. To-morrow we will take in further stock."
Caleb was about to make some answer when the garden gate creaked heavily, and Peter Dearlove appeared in the dusk outside the window; so he merely took the money, touched his forelock by way of acknowledging his new employment, and retired. But it was noticeable that once or twice on his way to the boat he had to pull himself up and think a bit. Arrived on the quay, too, he stood for a moment or so beside the boat in profound meditation.
"Come, Caleb Trotter!" he exclaimed, suddenly jumping in and seizing the paddles; "this sort o' thing won't do, nohow. Here you be paid for lookin' arter a gentl'm'n as wanders in hes wits, and fust news es, you be doin' the same yoursel'. 'Tes terribul queer, though," he added, and with that began to row towards town with an energy that set the boat quivering.
When he returned, in less than two hours' time, he found Mr. Fogo with a barrel full of water and the stump of a decayed broom, washing out the back kitchen. The Twin had gone.
"Here we be, sir. Pound o' candles, pound o' tea, two loaves o' bread, knives, forks, two cups, three eggs—one on 'em smashed, in my trowsy pocket—saucepan, kettle, tea-pot, an' a hunk o' cold beef as salt as Lot's wife's elbow. That's the fust load. There's more in the boat, but I must ax'ee to bear a hand wi' thicky portmanty o' youm, 'cos 'tes mortal heavy. I see'd Jan Higgs's wife a-fishin' about two hundred yards from the quay, on my way up, an' warned her to keep her distance. There's a well o' water round at the back, an' I've fetched a small sack o' coal, and ef us don't have a dish o' tay ready in a brace o' shakes, then Tom's killed an' Mary's forlorn."
With the statement of which gloomy alternative Mr. Caleb Trotter broke into a smile of honest pride.
"Caleb," said Mr. Fogo from his hammock in the back kitchen at about eleven o'clock on the same night.
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Are you comfortable?"
"Thank'ee, sir, gettin' on nicely. Just a bit Man-Fridayish to begin wi', but as corrat as Crocker's mare."
"What did you say?"
"Figger o' speech agen, sir, that's all. Good-night, sir."
Mr. Fogo settled himself in his hammock, sighed for a second time and dropped asleep.
HOW CERTAIN TROJANS CLIMBED A WALL OUT OF CURIOSITY; AND OF A CHARWOMAN THAT COULD GIVE NO INFORMATION.
Meanwhile, curiosity in Troy was beating its wings against the closed doors of "The Bower." The early morning train next day brought three domestics to supplement the youth in buttons, and supplant the charwoman. Miss Limpenny, in deshabille (but at a decent distance from the window), saw them arrive, and called Lavinia to look, with the result that within two minutes the sisters had satisfied themselves as to which was the cook, which the parlour-maid, and which the kitchen-maid.
Later in the day, a van-load of furniture arrived, though "The Bower" was already furnished; but, as Miss Limpenny said, in all these matters of comfort and refinement, "there are degrees." On this occasion the Admiral, who had been prevailed upon to leave his bed, executed a manoeuvre the audacity of which should have commanded success.
He crossed the road, and opened a conversation with the driver.
But success does not always wait on the brave. The van-driver happened to have a temper as short as the Admiral's, and far less reverence.
"Good-morning," said the Admiral, cheerily.
"What's a-foot to-day?"
"Same as yesterday—twelve inches."
The Admiral was rather taken aback, but smiled, nevertheless, and persevered.
"Ha, ha! very good. You are a wit, I perceive."
But the driver's conversation teemed with the unexpected.
"Look 'ere, Ruby-face! give me any more of your sass an' I'll punch yer 'ed for tuppence."
This was conclusive. The Admiral struck his flag, re-crossed the street, went indoors, and had it out with Mrs. Buzza. Indeed, at the end of half-an-hour that poor lady's feelings were so overwrought, and, in consequence, her sobs so loud, that the Admiral had perforce to get out his double-bass and play a selection of martial music to prevent Miss Limpenny's hearing them on the other side of the partition.
All this happened early in the afternoon. Towards five o'clock Miss Limpenny, who had only left her post twice, and on each occasion to snatch a hurried meal, was rewarded for her patience. The front door of "The Bower" opened, and Mr. and Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys appeared, dressed, as Miss Limpenny could see, for a walk.
"Now, I wonder," reflected that kind soul, "which direction they will take. Personally, of course, I should prefer them to pass this window; but I hope I can subdue private inclination to public spirit, and for Troy's sake I hope they will visit the Castle first. The salubrity of the air, as well as the expansiveness of the view, would be certain to impress them favourably. Dear, dear! I wish I could advise them. Should they take the direction of the town, I know by experience they will be apt to meet with an effluvium of decaying fish, and I should so like their stay among us to be begun under pleasant auspices."
But almost before Miss Limpenny had concluded these reflections, the strangers had determined on the direction. They turned neither towards the Town nor up the hill towards the Castle and the harbour's mouth; but down the little road which led to Bower Slip and the Penpoodle Ferryboat.
"Gracious me!" exclaimed Miss Limpenny; "they are going to take a boat."
The words were scarcely out of her mouth, when she was seized with a sudden idea—an idea so alluring, yet so bold withal, that the blood flew from her cheeks. She made a step forward, paused, took another step, and returned to the window. The strangers had turned down the road and were out of sight.
For a full minute she stood there, tapping her foot.
"I will," she said, with sudden determination. "I will!" On Miss Limpenny's maiden lip the words were as solemn as though she spoke them at the altar. "I will,—and—I don't care what happens!"
Awful words! Awful in themselves, more awful from such lips, but surely most awful as making the second-step in the moral decadence of Troy!
Yet I would not have my readers too excited. They were words to shudder at, indeed; but the immediate consequences were not bloody— they were only to a limited degree tragic. It must be remembered that the magnificence of all actions is relative to the performer, nor would I seek to exalt Miss Limpenny to the level of a Semiramis or a Dido; only, when I say that she bore a great soul in a little body, I say no more than that she was a Trojan.
In short, Miss Limpenny did not, as the reader may have expected, take a boat and pursue after the strangers. What she did was simply to descend swiftly to the front hall, take down from its stand an antique, brass-bound telescope of enormous proportions, and with it make her way swiftly to the back door.
The back gardens of Alma Villas ran parallel to each other, and were terminated by a high wall, with a quay-door apiece, a tall ladder leading from the door straight down to the water. At the end of the garden, and built against this wall, in each case a stone terrace with a flight of steps allowed any one who chose to climb, and even perform a limited promenade while enjoying a full view of the harbour beyond.
It was to this flight of steps that Miss Limpenny, with a prayer on her lips and the telescope under her arm, made her way.
Both terrace and steps were rickety to a degree. To help you to estimate her conduct at its full temerity I may mention that Miss Limpenny had never attempted the climb before in her life. But whatever qualms she may have felt, they did not appear in her behaviour. Gingerly, but without hesitation, and clutching the telescope, which impeded her as an ice-axe the rock-climber, she essayed all the perils of this maiden ascent.
Five minutes' stiff climbing, as they say in the Alpine Journal, brought her to a point where she could take breath and look about her. Despite her terror, the excitement and the light breeze now blowing over the arete of garden wall, had brought a flush to her cheek. But scarcely had she resumed and set her foot upon the summit, when the flush suddenly faded, and left her blanched as snow.
For there, not a foot to her right, and above the crest of the partition wall, rose another telescope, the exact counterpart of her own!
The Spectre on the Brocken was nothing to this.
She clutched at the rotten stones and panted for breath. Slowly, very slowly, the rival telescope was tilted up against the harbour-wall; very slowly it rose in air. Then came a pair of hands—of blue cuffs—and then—the crimson face of Admiral Buzza soared into view, like the child's head in Macbeth.
He did not see her yet, being absorbed in adjusting the telescope. Terror-smitten, too fearful to advance or retreat, clinging to the telescope with one hand as a drowning mariner might grasp a spar, and clutching with the other at the crumbling wall, Miss Limpenny stood arrested, wildly staring, scarce venturing to breathe.
The Admiral's telescope was tilted into position, and the Admiral half-turned his head before applying his eye to the hole.
She could not help it. In spite of all her efforts to repress it, a little gasping squeal of affright broke from her. The Admiral, with a start, withdrew his eye quickly from the glass, and looked over the wall.
"Damnation!" (This was the Admiral, by the way.)
What happened exactly at this moment will never be known. Whether a stone underfoot gave way, or whether the Admiral's voice brought down a serac of rotten wall, is not clear. There was a rumbling sound, an oath or two—and then both telescope and Admiral disappeared, with a crash, from view.
Miss Limpenny screamed, dropped her telescope, which went rattling down the steps, cowered desperately against the wall, shut her eyes, screamed again, trod on a tilting slab, hung for a moment, toppled, clutched wildly at space, and shot, with a rush and shower of stones, straight to the very bottom.
Miss Lavinia Limpenny, who, startled by the screams, had rushed to the window and witnessed the last stages of the catastrophe, was out in a minute. Tenderly raising her sobbing sister, she assisted her back to the house, and attended to the bruises with a combination of arnica, vinegar, and brown paper. On the other side of the wall the Admiral lay for some time and bellowed for help, until his frightened family bore him in, and attempted to put him to bed.
But mark the heroism of the truly great. In spite of his late treatment at the hands of his fellow-citizens—treatment which still rankled—here was no Coriolanus to depart in a huff to Antium. The Admiral had a duty to perform, a service due to this ungrateful Town, and on the subject of going to bed he was adamant.
"Cease, Emily. Your tears, your protestations are in vain. Stop, I tell you! Get me my uniform."
Surely some desperate, some decisive step was contemplated when the Admiral ordered out that gold-laced coat and cocked hat that once had shone in the Blue Squadron of Her Majesty's Navy. What could this stern magnificence portend?
The Admiral had made up his mind. He was going to interview Mrs. Snell, the charwoman.
It was a pretty fancy, and one not without parallel in the history of famous men, that inspired him at his crisis to assume his bravest attire. There is to my mind a flavour in the conceit—a bravado lifting the action above mere intrepidity into actual greatness. Nor in this little Iliad are there many figures that I regard with more affection than that of Admiral Buzza at his garden gate waiting for Mrs. Snell.
When at length she issued from "The Bower" and came down the road, the effect of the gold lace was rather striking. She dropped her bundle and her lower jaw together.
"Lawks, sir! how you did frighten me, to be sure! I thought it was the devil!"
This was hardly what the Admiral had expected. He beckoned with his forefinger mysteriously. Mrs. Snell advanced as though not quite sure that her first fright was unfounded.
"Mrs. Snell," inquired the Admiral, in a whisper, "what are they like?" He pointed melodramatically towards "The Bower" as he asked the question.
Again the unexpected happened. Mrs. Snell burst into loud and hysterical sobbing.
"Don't 'ee, sir! don't 'ee! I can't abear it. Not a thing can you do to please 'em, an' the Honorubble Frederic a-dammin' about the 'ouse fit to make your flesh creep. An' that though he might 'ave ate his dinner off the floor, gold studs an' all, as I told 'un at last. For 'twasn't in flesh and blood, sir—not to be ordered this way an' that by a whipper-snapper whose gran'mother I might 'a been, though he 'as got three rows o' shiny buttons on 'is stummick, which is no cause for a proud carriage toward them as 'asn't, nor callin' 'em slow-coaches and names which I won't soil my tongue wi'—an' so I said. Aw dear! aw dear!" And here Mrs. Snell's passion again found vent in violent sobs and cries.
"Hush! Confound it! Hush! I tell you. You'll have the whole town out."
"I beg your pardon, sir—boo-hoo!—but it isn't in natur', sich wickedness in 'igh places, an' pore Maria sick at 'ome wi' the colic an' a leak in the roof you might put your cocked 'at through, an' very fine it looks, sir, beggin' your parding agen, which is all vexashun o' sperrit on a shillin' a day an' your vittles, let alone bein' swore at 'till you dunno whether you be 'pon your 'ed or your 'eels."
With this Mrs. Snell picked up her bundle and marched off down the road. She was quite hopeless, the Admiral determined, as he watched her retreating figure and heard her sobs borne back to him on the evening air. Well, well! it had been another reverse—but not a defeat. His face cleared again as he turned to re-enter the house.
"Let me see: to-morrow is Sunday. They will probably be at church. In the afternoon, though it involve the loss of my usual nap, I will consider. On Monday I will act."
Even the strangers themselves, as they walked up the aisle of St. Symphorian's Church, Troy, on the following morning, could not but perceive something of importance to be in the wind. That the church should be full was not unusual, for in those days Sunday Observance was the rule among Trojans. But on this particular day the Wesleyan and Bible Christian chapels must have been sadly depleted, so great was the crush; and, besides, there was the unwonted magnificence of dress, the stir caused by the simultaneous turning of some hundred bonnets as the Goodwyn-Sandys entered, the audible whispering as they took their seats, the nervousness of the Vicar, who twice dropped his spectacles over the reading desk and once over the pulpit. On this last occasion one of the glasses was broken, and the sermon in consequence became, towards the end, a trifle involved. All this made the service rather hysterical.
Tell me, my Muse, thou who sittest at the tea-table and rejoicest in the rattling of cups: Who were they that attended St. Symphorian's Church on this Sunday morning? First, there were the Misses Limpenny, in black tabbinet dresses and lace shawls; a cameo brooch adorned the throat of each, and from her waist a reticule depended. These first directed the gold-bound optic glass at the strangers' pew. Behind them sat the Doctor and his wife, the one conspicuous for his black stock, the other for a shawl of Paisley workmanship. Next, the Harbour-master, tall Mr. Stripp, with his daughters Tryphena and Tryphosa; nor would Mrs. Stripp have been absent had she not been buried some years before. Yellow-haired were both the daughters, and few knew better the prevailing fashion in dress; these whispered concerning Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys' costume. By them sat Mr. Moggridge, the poet, good at the responses, and Sam Buzza, his friend, whom few Trojans excelled in casting glances at the female congregation. Then, most gorgeous and bravest of all, the Admiral: he wore again his gold-laced coat, but the cocked-hat rested underneath the seat, and none could fathom the import of his gaze. By him sat his three daughters, a-row, in straight-backed dresses of like cut and colour, and peeped over their prayer-books; and Mrs. Buzza, timorous, in bright green satin. But of the throng of Trojan men and women, not though I had a hundred mouths, etc., etc.
"Her dress must have cost nine shillings a yard if it cost a penny," said Miss Limpenny when they were outside in the open air. She looked at the ground as she said so, for she could forget neither the Nightcap nor the Telescope.
The Admiral was silent.
"She is very lovely," remarked Mrs. Buzza, "and did you remark how the Vicar paused in the Litany when he came to 'all the Nobility'?"
"I was particularly careful to pray for Lord Sinkport," said Calypso, innocently.
Still the Admiral was silent. That afternoon Mrs. Buzza, stealing softly into the back parlour lest she should disturb her lord, was amazed, in place of the usual recumbent form with a bandanna over its face, to find him sitting up, wide awake, and staring gloomily.
"My dear—" she began in her confusion.
The Admiral turned a Gorgon stare upon her, but made no answer. Under its petrifying influence she backed out without another word, to communicate with the girls upon the portent.
This mood of the Admiral's lasted all day. Next morning, at breakfast, he looked up from his bacon, and observed, with the air of a man whose mind is made up—
"Emily, see that the girls have on their best gowns by eleven o'clock sharp. I am going to pay a call."
Consternation sat on every face. Sam Buzza paused in the act of breaking an egg.
"At 'The Bower'?" he asked.
"At 'The Bower.'"
Mrs. Buzza clasped her hands nervously. The girls turned pale.
"Oh, very well," said Sam, tapping his egg. "I shouldn't wonder if I turned up while you were there."
He was a light-haired, ungainly youth, of about twenty, with a reputation for singing a comic song. It was understood that the Admiral designed him for College and Holy Orders, but meanwhile time was passing, and Sam sat "with idle hands at home," or more frequently, in the bar of the "Man-o'-War."
"You!" exclaimed his father.
"Well, I don't see what there is in that to be surprised about," replied the youth, with an aggrieved air. "I met the Honourable Frederic smoking a cigar out on the Rope-walk last night. His cigars are very good; and he asked me to drop in soon and try another. He isn't a bit stuck-up."
The Admiral's feelings were divided between annoyance at the easy success of his son, and elation at finding the stranger so unexpectedly affable. He rose.
"Girls, remember to be punctual. I will show this town of Troy that I am not the man to be laughed at."
OF A LADY THAT HAD A MUSICAL VOICE, BUT USED IT TO DECEIVE.
Many of the advantages that wait upon the readers of this history are, I should hope, by this time obvious. Among them must be reckoned the privilege of taking precedence of Admiral Buzza—of paying a visit to "The Bower" not only several minutes in advance of that great man, but moreover on terms of the utmost intimacy.
Shortly before eleven on Monday morning the Honourable Frederic Augustus Hythe Goodwyn-Sandys was shaving contemplatively. He was a tall, thin man, with light, closely cropped hair, a drooping moustache that hid his mouth, and a nose of the order aquiline, and species "chiselled." For the present the lower half of his face was obscured with lather. His dress—I put it thus in case Miss Limpenny should read these lines—was that usually worn by gentlemen under similar circumstances.
Mr. Goodwyn-Sandys was just taking his first stroke with the razor, when the creaking of the garden gate caused him to glance out of window. The effect of this was to make him cut his cheek; whereupon he both bled and swore simultaneously and profusely.
On the gravel walk stood Admiral Buzza with his three daughters.
Again the great man was in full dress. Behind him in Indian file advanced Sophia, Jane, Calypso, each in a straight frock of vivid yellow surmounted by a straw hat of such enormous brim as to lend them a fearful likeness to three gigantic fungi. As far as the hats allowed one to see from above, each wore sandal-shoes, and carried a small green parasol, neatly folded.
At the sight of this regiment of visitors, Mr. Goodwyn-Sandys paused with razor in air and blood trickling down his chin. The Admiral marched resolutely up the path and struck three distinct knocks upon the door.
It was opened by the youth in buttons.
The Admiral produced a sheaf of visiting cards and handed them to the page, as if inviting him to select one, note it carefully, and restore it to the pack.
"Is the Honourable Frederic Goodwyn-Sandys or the Honourable Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys at home?"
Words cannot do justice to the Admiral's tone.
The regiment was marched into the drawing-room, where Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys rose to receive them.
She was undeniably beautiful; not young, but rather in that St. Martin's Summer when a woman learns for the first time the value of her charms. Her hair was of a glossy black, her lips red and full, her figure and grey morning gown two miracles. But on her eyes and voice you shall hear Mr. Moggridge, who subsequently wasted a deal of Her Majesty's time and his own paper upon this subject. From a note-book of his, the early pages of which are constant to a certain Sophia, I select the following—
"TO GRACIOSA, WALKING AND TALKING."
Whenas abroad, to greet the morn, I mark my Graciosa walk, In homage bends the whisp'ring corn; Yet, to confess Its awkwardness, Must hang its head upon the stalk.
And when she talks, her lips do heal The wound her lightest glances give. In pity, then, be harsh and deal Such wounds, that I May hourly die And, by a word revived, live!
All this was very shocking of Mr. Moggridge; for Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys was not his Graciosa at all. But it was what we were fated to come to, in Troy. And Graciosa's voice and smile were certainly inspiring.
Let us return to "The Bower." The Admiral having presented his daughters, and arranged them in line again, cleared his throat and began—
"Though aware that, as judged by the standard of the best society, this visit may be condemned as premature, I have thought right to stifle such apprehensions in my anxiety to assure you of a welcome in Troy—I may say, an open-armed welcome."
Here the Admiral actually spread his arms abroad. His hostess retreated a step.
"My daughters,—Calypso, I perceive an errant curl—my daughters, madam, will bear me out when I say that only excess of feeling prevents their mother from joining in this—may I call it so?—this ovation."
(In point of fact, Mrs. Buzza had been judged too red in the eyes to accompany the Admiral.)
"Ever since I beheld you and your husband—whom I do not see" (here the Admiral stared ferociously under a table), "but who, I trust, is in health—for the first time in church yesterday"— (Oh, Admiral Buzza!)—"I have been forcibly reminded of an expression in one of our British poets, which runs—Sophia, how the devil does it run?"
Neither of the Misses Buzza had the faintest idea. Their father's efforts to remember it were interrupted by Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys, who begged them, with a charming smile, to be seated.
"My husband," she said, "will be down in a minute or two. It is really most kind of you to call; for, as strangers, we are naturally anxious to hear about the place and its people."
Her voice, which was low and musical, came with the prettiest trip upon the tongue. There was just the faintest shade of brogue in it— for instance, she said "me husband"—but I cannot attempt to reproduce it.
Upon this hinted desire for information, the Admiral bestowed his cocked-hat under the chair, and began—
"Our small town, ma'am, may be viewed in many aspects—as an emporium of commerce, a holiday centre, or a health resort. In our trade you would naturally, with your tastes, find little interest. It is rather our scenic advantages, our romantic fortresses, our river (pronounced by many to equal the Rhine), our mild atmosphere—"
"On the contrary, I take the greatest interest in your trade."
The Admiral lifted his brows and smiled, as one who would imply "You are kind enough to say so, but really, with your high connections, that can hardly be seriously believed." What he said was—
"It is indeed good of you to interest yourself in our simple tastes. We are (I confess it) to some degree—ahem!—mercantile, and as citizens of Troy esteem it our duty to acquaint ourselves (theoretically) with the products of other lands. To this end I have had all my daughters carefully grounded in the 'Child's Guide to Knowledge.' Jane, my dear, what is Gamboge?"
"A vegetable, gummy juice, of a most beautiful yellow colour, chiefly brought from Gambodia in the East Indies," repeated Jane, with a glance at her gown.
"You see, ma'am," explained her father with a wave of the hand, "it is a form of instruction in which the rawness of the material is to some extent veiled by a clothing of picturesque accessories. This will be even more noticeable in the case of Soy. Calypso, inform Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys of the humorous illusion under which our seamen labour with regard to Soy."
But at this point the door opened, and Mr. Samuel Buzza entered, with Mr. Goodwyn-Sandys himself.
The introductions were gone through; the Admiral let off another speech of welcome, and plunged with the Honourable Frederic into a long discussion of Troy, its scenery and neighbourhood; the three girls sat bolt upright, each on the edge of her chair; and their brother took his hostess' extended hand with a bashful grin.
"Ah, Mr. Buzza, I am interested in you already—my husband has been telling me how he met you."
"Proud to hear it," muttered Sam.
"Oh, yes. I hope we shall be great friends. It is so kind of you all to call."
Sam asked her not to mention it; and looked at his father, whose face was by this time purple with conversation.
"I say, ain't the old boy enjoying himself, though!" he remarked in a sudden burst of confidence. "What do you think of him?"
Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys smiled sweetly, and replied that the Admiral was "so thorough."
"Thorough old duffer, you mean. Look at him. What with his gold spangles and his talking to Mr. Goodwyn-Sandys, he's as proud as a cock on a wall."
His hostess laughed. "You are very frank," she said.
"That's me all over," replied Sam, evidently pleased. "You see, I ain't polite—not a ladies' man in any way."
"There I am sure you do yourself injustice."
"No, 'pon my word! I never had any practice."
"What, not among all the charming girls I saw in church yesterday? Oh, Mr. Buzza, you mustn't tell me that." A look from the dark eyes accompanied this sentence.
Now, very few young men of Sam's stamp greatly mind being considered gay Lotharios. So that when he repeated that "'Pon his word he wasn't," he also turned his neck about in his collar for a second or so, smiled meaningly, and altogether looked rather pleased than not.
"I'm afraid you are a very sad character, Mr. Buzza."
"No, really now."
"And are deceiving me horribly."
"No, really; wouldn't think of it."
"Sam!" broke in the Admiral's voice in tones of thunder.
"How does Mr. Moggridge describe the 'Man-o'-War' Hotel?"
"Says the beer's falling off, sir. It did, once upon a time, taste of the barrel, but now he'll be hanged if it tastes of anything at all. It ought—"
"Don't be a fool, sir! I mean in that poem of his from 'Ivy Leaves: or, Tendrils from Troy.'"
"Beg pardon, sir, I'm sure. Let me see—"
Before he could recall it, Sophia finished the quotation, timidly. "I think, papa, I can remember it:—"
'And thou, Quaint hostel! 'neath whose mould'ring gable ends In amber draught I slake my noonday thirst . . .'
"Something like that, I think, papa."
"Ah, to be sure: 'mould'ring gable ends,' a most accurate description. It used to belong to—" and the Admiral plunged again into a flood of conversation.
"You must bring this Mr. Moggridge and introduce him," said Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys to Sam. "He is a Collector of Customs, is he not? Do you think he would recite any of his verses to me?"
"By the hour. But I shouldn't advise you to ask him. It's all about my sister."
"The eldest there—Sophy's her name—and don't judge from appearances; the family diet is not hardware."
"Hush, sir! you must not be rude. That reminds me that I ought to go and speak to them."
"You won't get anything out of them. If you want a subject, though, I'll give you the straight tip—lambs. I've heard them talk about lambs by the hour. Say they are nice and soft and woolly: that'll draw them out."
"You are a great quiz, I perceive."
"No, really, now, Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys."
"But, really yes, Mr. Buzza. I shall have to cure you, I see, before I can trust my husband in your company."
She rose and left him to his flutter of pleased excitement. Oh, Sam! Sam! To fall from innocence was bad enough, but to fall thus easily!
In a few moments and with charming tact, Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys had drawn the Misses Buzza into a lively conversation; had told Sophy of some new songs; and had even promised them all some hints on the very latest gowns, before Sam Buzza, weary of silence, called across the room—
"I say, dad, what do you think is the news about the seedy-looking fellow you treated by mistake to all that speechifying?"
The Admiral looked daggers, but Sam was imperturbable.
"Ho, ho! I say, Mr. Goodwyn-Sandys, the governor took him for you, and welcomed him to Troy in his best style-flower in his buttonhole and all—'twas as good as a play. Well, the fellow has taken Kit's House."
"Yes, and lives there all alone, with Caleb Trotter for servant. I'd advise you to call, now that you've got your Sunday best on. I'm sure he'd like to thank you for that speech you made him."
"Be quiet, sir!"
"Oh, very well; only I thought I'd mention it. I'm afraid I must be going, Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys." Sam held out his hand.
"Must you? Good-bye, then," she said, "but remember, you have to come and be taught innocence."
"Oh, I'll remember, never fear," answered Sam, and departed.
The Admiral also rose.
"I trust," he said, "that this may be the beginning of a pleasant intimacy. My wife will be most happy to give you any information concerning our little town that I may have omitted. By the way, how is Lord Sinkport? I really forgot to ask. Quite well? I am so glad. I was afraid the gout—Come, Sophy, my dear, we have trespassed long enough. Good-morning!"
He was gone. Scarcely, however, could his host and hostess exchange glances before he reappeared.
"Oh, Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys, that quotation—I have just remembered it. It was, 'Welcome, little strangers!' The original, I believe, has the singular—'little stranger'—but the slight change makes it more appropriate. 'Welcome, little strangers!' Good-morning!"
O Troy, Troy! Scarcely had the garden gate creaked again, when Mr. and Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys looked at each other for a moment, then sank into arm-chairs, and broke into peals of the most unaffected laughter.
"Nellie, hand me a cigar. This beats cock-fighting."
"Whist, me dear!" answered the lady, relapsing into honest brogue, "but Brady is the bhoy to know the ropes."
"I believe you, Nellie."
Outside the garden gate the Admiral had fallen into a brown study.
"I perceive," he said, at length, very thoughtfully, "that wine and biscuits have gone out of fashion, as concomitants of a morning call. In some ways I regret it; but they are evidently people of extreme refinement. Sophy, how badly your gown sits."
"Why, it was only yesterday, papa, that you praised it so!"
"Did I? H'm! Well, well, now for the boat."
"The boat, papa?"
"Certainly, Sophy; we are going to call at Kit's House."
HOW A CREW, THAT WOULD SAIL ON A WASHING-DAY, WAS SHIPWRECKED: WITH AN ADVERTISEMENT AGAINST WOMEN.
It was a bright April morning, and the Admiral's boat, as it swept proudly past the little town, cast a wealth of bright reflection on the water. Inhabitants of Troy, sitting at their windows, and overlooking the harbour, caught sight of the yellow dresses, the blue coat with its gold lace, and the red face beneath the cocked-hat, and whispered to each other that something was in the wind.
Jane and Calypso rowed—for the Trojan maidens in those days were not above pulling an oar, and did not mind blisters—while Sophia sat in the bows, her mushroom hat "a world too wide" for the little green parasol hoisted above it. The Admiral himself held the tiller ropes, and occasionally gave a word of command. It was a gracious spectacle.