HotFreeBooks.com
The Blue Pavilions
by Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

E-text prepared by Lionel Sear



THE BLUE PAVILIONS.

by

Arthur Thomas Quiller Couch (Q).

This e-text was prepared from a reprint of a version published in 1891.



TO A FORMER SCHOOLFELLOW.

MY DEAR ——,

I will not write your name, for we have long been strangers; and I, at any rate, have no desire to renew our friendship. It is now ten years and more from the end of that summer term when we shook hands at the railway-station and went east and west with swelling hearts; and since then no report has come of you. In the meantime you may have died, or grown rich and esteemed; but that you have remained the boy I knew is clearly beyond hope.

You were a genius then, and wrote epic poetry. I assume that you have found it worth while to discontinue that habit, for I never see your name among the publishers' announcements. But your poetry used to be magnificent when you recited it in the shadow of the deserted fives-court; and I believe you spoke sincerely when you assured me that my stories, too, were something above contempt.

To the boy that was you I would dedicate a small tale, crammed with historical inaccuracy. To-day, no doubt, you would recognise the story of Captain Seth Jermy and the Nightingale frigate, and point out that I have put it seventeen years too early. But in those days you would neither have known nor cared. And the rest of the book is far belated.

Q.

Shiplake, 20 November, 1891.



CONTENTS.

Chap.

DEDICATION.

I. CAPTAIN JOHN AND CAPTAIN JEMMY.

II. THE DICE-BOX.

III. THE TWO PAVILIONS.

IV. THE TWO PAVILIONS (continued).

V. A SWARM OF BEES.

VI. THE EARL OF MARLBOROUGH SEEKS RECRUITS.

VII. THE CAPTAINS MAKE A FALSE START.

VIII. FATHER AND SON.

IX. THE FOUR MEN AT THE "WHITE LAMB".

X. THE TRIBULATIONS OF TRISTRAM.

XI. THE GALLEY "L'HEUREUSE".

XII. WILLIAM OF ORANGE.

XIII. CAPTAIN SALT EFFECTS ONE SURPRISE AND PLANS TWO MORE.

XIV. THE GALLEYS AND THE FRIGATE.

XV. BACK AT THE BLUE PAVILIONS.



THE BLUE PAVILIONS.



CHAPTER I.

CAPTAIN JOHN AND CAPTAIN JEMMY.

At noonday, on the 11th of October, 1673, the little seaport of Harwich, beside the mouth of the River Stour, presented a very lively appearance. More than a hundred tall ships, newly returned from the Dutch War, rode at anchor in the haven, their bright masts swaying in the sunshine above the thatched and red-tiled roofs of the town. Tarry sailors in red and grey kersey suits, red caps and flat-heeled shoes jostled in the narrow streets and hung about St. Nicholas's Churchyard, in front of the Admiralty House, wherein the pursers sat before bags and small piles of money, paying off the crews. Soldiers crowded the tavern doors—men in soiled uniforms of the Admiral's regiment, the Buffs and the 1st Foot Guards; some with bandaged heads and arms, and the most still yellow after their seasickness, but all intrepidly toasting the chances of Peace and the girls in opposite windows. Above their laughter, and along every street or passage opening on the harbour—from Cock and Pye Quay, from Lambard's stairs, the Castleport, and half a dozen other landing-stages—came wafted the shouts of captains, pilots, boatswains, caulkers, longshore men; the noise of artillery and stores unlading; the tack-tack of mallets in the dockyard, where Sir Anthony Deane's new ship the Harwich was rising on the billyways, and whence the blown odours of pitch and hemp and timber, mingling with the landward breeze, drifted all day long into the townsfolk's nostrils, and filled their very kitchens with the savour of the sea.

In the thick of these scents and sounds, and within a cool doorway, before which the shadow of a barber's pole rested on the cobbles, reclined Captain John Barker—a little wry-necked gentleman, with a prodigious hump between his shoulders, and legs that dangled two inches off the floor. His wig was being curled by an apprentice at the back of the shop, and his natural scalp shone as bare as a billiard-ball; but two patches of brindled grey hair stuck out from his brow above a pair of fierce greenish eyes set about with a complexity of wrinkles. Just now, a coating of lather covered his shrewish underjaw.

The dress of this unlovely old gentleman well became his rank as captain of his Majesty's frigate the Wasp, but went very ill with his figure—being, indeed, a square-cut coat of scarlet, laced with gold, a long-flapped blue waistcoat, black breeches and stockings. Enormous buckles adorned the thick-soled shoes which he drummed impatiently against the legs of his chair.

The barber—a round, bustling fellow—stropped his razor and prattled gossip. On a settle to the right a couple of townsmen smoked, listened, and waited their turn with an educated patience.

"Changes, indeed, since you left us, Captain John," the barber began, his razor hovering for the first scrape.

"Wait a moment. You were about to take hold of me by the nose. If you do it, I'll run you through. I thought you'd like to be warned, that's all. Go on with your chatter."

"Certainly, Captain John—'tis merely a habit—"

"Break yourself of it."

"I will, sir. But, as I was saying, the changes will astonish you that have been at sea so long. In the first place, a riding-post started from hence to London and from London hither a-gallop with brazen trumpet and loaded pistols, to keep his Majesty certified every day of the Fleet's doings, and the Fleet of his Majesty's wishes; and all Harwich a-tremble half the night under its bedclothes, but consoled to find the King taking so much notice of it. And the old jail moved from St. Austin's Gate, and a new one building this side of Church Street, where Calamy's Store used to stand—with a new town-hall, too—"

Here, as he paused to scrape the captain's cheek, one of the two townsmen on the settle—a square man in grey, with a red waistcoat— withdrew the long pipe from his mouth and groaned heavily.

"What's that?" asked the hunchback snappishly.

"That, sir, is Mr. Pomphlett," the barber explained. "He disapproves of the amount spent in decorating the new hall with pillars, rails, balusters, and what not; for the king's arms, to be carved over the mayor's seat and richly gilt, are to be a private gift of Mr. Isaac Betts, and the leathern fire-buckets to be hung round the wall—"

Mr. Pomphlett emitted another groan, which the barber good-naturedly tried to drown in talk. Captain Barker heard it, however.

"There it is again!"

"Yes, sir. You see Mr. Pomphlett allows his public spirit to run high. He says—"

The little captain jerked round in his chair, escaping a gash by a hair's-breadth, and addressed the heavy citizen—

"Mr. Pomphlett, sir, it was not for the sake of listening to your observations upon public affairs that I came straight off my ship to this shop, but to hear the news."

The barber coughed. Mr. Pomphlett feebly traced a curve in the air with his pipe-stem, and answered sulkily—

"I s-said nun-nothing. I f-felt unwell."

"He suffers," interposed Mr. Pomphlett's neighbour on the settle, a long-necked man in brown, "from the wind; don't you, Pomphlett?"

Mr. Pomphlett nodded with an aggrieved air, and sucked his pipe.

"Death," continued the man in brown, by way of setting the conversation on its legs again, "has been busy in Harwich, Barker."

"Ah! now we come to business! Barber, who's dead?"

"Alderman Croten, sir."

"Tut-tut. Croten gone?"

"Yes, sir; palsy took him at a ripe age. And Abel's gone, the Town Crier; and old Mistress Pinch's bad leg carried her from us last Christmas Day, of all days in the year; and young Mr. Eastwell was snatched away by a chain-shot in the affair with the Smyrna fleet; and Mistress Salt—that was daughter of old Sir Jabez Tellworthy, and broke her father's heart—she's a widow in straitened circumstances, and living up at the old house again—"

"What!"

Captain Barker bounced off his chair like a dried pea from a shovel.

"There now! Your honour's chin is wounded."

"P'sh! give me your towel." He snatched it from the barber's arm and mopped away the blood and lather from his jaw. "Mistress Salt a widow? When? How?"

"I thought, maybe, your honour would know about it."

"Don't think. Roderick Salt dead? Tell me this instant, or—"

"He was drowned, sir, in a ditch, they tell me, but two months after he sailed with his company of Foot Guards, in the spring of this year. It seems 'twas a ditch that the Marshal Turenne had the misfortune to forget about—"

"My hat—where is it? Quick!"

Already Captain Barker had plucked the napkin from his throat, caught up his sword from a chair, and was buckling on the belt in a tremendous hurry.

"But your honour forgets the wig, which is but half curled; and your honour's face shaved on the one side only."

The hunchback's answer was to snatch his wig from between the apprentice's tongs, clap it on his head, ram his hat on the top of it, and flounce out at the shop door.

The streets were full of folk, but he passed through them at an amazing speed. His natural gait on shipboard was a kind of anapaestic dance—two short steps and a long—and though the crowd interrupted its cadence and coerced him to a quick bobbing motion, as of a bottle in a choppy sea, it hardly affected his pace. Here and there he snapped out a greeting to some ship's captain or townsman of his acquaintance, or growled testily at a row of soldiers bearing down on him three abreast. His angry green eyes seemed to clear a path before him, in spite of the grins which his hump and shambling legs excited among strangers. In this way he darted along High Street, turned up by the markets, crossed Church Street into West Street, and passed under the great gate by which the London Road left the town.

Beyond this gate the road ran through a tall ravelin and out upon a breezy peninsula between the river and the open sea. And here Captain Barker halted and, tugging off hat and wig, wiped his crown with a silk handkerchief.

Over the reedy marsh upon his right, where a windmill waved its lazy arms, a score of larks were singing. To his left the gulls mewed across the cliffs and the remoter sandbanks that thrust up their yellow ridges under the ebb-tide. The hum of the little town sounded drowsily behind him.

He gazed across the sandbanks upon the blue leagues of sea, and rubbed his fingers softly up and down the unshaven side of his face.

"H'm," he said, and then "p'sh!" and then "p'sh!" again; and, as if this settled it, readjusted his wig and hat and set off down the road faster than ever.

A cluster of stunted poplars appeared in the distance, and a long thatched house; then, between the trees, the eye caught sight of two other buildings, exactly alike, but of a curious shape and colour. Imagine two round towers, each about forty feet in height, daubed with a bright blue wash and surmounted with a high-pitched, conical roof of a somewhat darker tint. Above each roof a gilt vane glittered, and a flock of white pigeons circled overhead or, alighting, dotted the tiles with patches of silver.

A bend of the road broke up this cluster of trees and buildings. The long thatched house fell upon the left of the highway, and in front of it a sign-post sprang into view, with a drinking-trough below. Directly opposite, the two blue roofs ranged themselves side by side, with long strips of garden and a thick privet hedge between them and the road. And behind, in the direction of the marsh, the poplars stretched in an irregular line.

Now the nearer of these blue pavilions was the home of Captain Barker, who for more than two years had not crossed its threshold. Yet he neither paused by its small blue gate nor glanced up the gravelled path. Nor, though thirsty, did he turn aside to the porch of the Fish and Anchor Inn; but kept along the privet hedge until he came to the second blue gate. Here he drew up and stood for a moment with his hand on the latch.

A trim lawn stretched before him to the door of the pavilion, and here, on a rustic seat before an equally rustic table, sat a long lean gentleman, in a suit of Lincoln green faced with scarlet, who gazed into a pewter tankard. His sword lay on the turf beside him, and a hat of soft cloth edged with feathers hung on the arm of the bench.

This long gentleman looked up as the gate clicked, stretched out his legs, rose, and disappeared within the pavilion, returning after a minute with a jug of beer and a fresh tankard.

"Paid off your crew already?"

The little hunchback took a pull, answered "No" as he set down the tankard, and looked up at the weathercock overhead.

"Wind's in the south-east."

The long man looked at the little one and pursed up his mouth. His face proclaimed him of a like age with Captain Barker. It did not at all match his figure, being short as a bull-dog's; and like a bull-dog he was heavily jowled. Many weathers had tanned his complexion to a rich corn-colour. His name was Jeremy Runacles, and for two years, that had ended on this very morning, he had commanded the Trident frigate. As he climbed down her ladder into his gig he had left on the deck behind him a reputation for possessing a shorter temper than any three officers in his Majesty's service. At present his steel-blue eyes seemed gentle enough.

"You've something to tell," he said, after a minute's silence.

The hunchback kicked at a plantain in the turf for two minutes longer, and asked—

"How's the little maid, Jemmy?"

"Grown. She's having her morning nap."

"She want's a mother."

"She'll have to do with a nurse."

"You don't want to marry again?"

"No."

"That's a lie."

Before Captain Runacles could resent this, the little man turned his back and took six paces to the party hedge and six paces back.

"I say, Jemmy, do you think we could fight?"

"Not decently."

"I was thinking that. I don't see another way out of it, though."

He kicked the plantain out of the ground, and, looking up, said very softly—"Meg's a widow."

Captain Jeremy Runacles sat down on the rustic bench. A hot flush had sprung into his face and a light leapt in his eyes; but he said nothing. Captain Barker cocked his head on one side and went on—

"Yes, you lied, Jemmy. That fellow, as I guess, ran off and left her, finding that the old man had the courage to die without coming to reason. He went back to his regiment, sailed, and was drowned in a ditch. She's back at the old house, and in want."

"You've seen her?"

"Look here, Jemmy. You and I are a couple of tomfools; but we try to play fair."

"Upon my soul, Jack," observed Captain Jemmy, rising to his feet again, "we can't fight. You're too good a fellow to kill."

"H'mph, I was thinking that."

As if by consent, the pair began to pace up and down the turf, one on either side of the gravelled path. At the end of three minutes Captain Jack looked up.

"After all, you've been married once, whereas I—"

"That doesn't count," the other interrupted. "I married in an unguarded moment. I was huffed with Meg."

"No, I suppose it doesn't count."

They resumed their walk. Captain Jemmy was the next to speak.

"It seems to me Meg must decide."

"Yes, but we must start fair."

"The devil! we can't propose one in each ear. And if we race for it—"

"You must give me half a mile's start."

"But we can write."

"Yes; and deliver our letters together at the door."

"On the other hand, I've always heard that women look upon a written proposal of marriage as rather tame."

"That objection would hardly apply to two in one day. And, besides, she knows about us."

"We'll write," said Captain Jemmy.

He went into the pavilion to search for pens and paper, while Captain Barker stepped down to the Fish and Anchor to borrow a bottle of ink.

"There must be preliminaries," the little man observed, returning and setting the ink down in the centre of the rustic table, on which already lay a bundle of old quills and some quarto sheets of yellow paper.

"As for instance?"

"Imprimis, a thick folio book for me to sit on. The carpenter built this table after your measure."

"I will fetch one."

"Also more beer."

"I will draw some."

"Thirdly, a time-keeper. My stomach's empty, but it can hold out for another hour. We'll give ourselves an hour; start together and finish together."

Captain Runacles fished a silver whistle from his waistcoat pocket and blew on it shrilly. The blue and white door of the pavilion was opened, and a slight old man in a blue livery appeared on the step and came ambling down the path. The weight of an enormous head, on the top of which his grey wig seemed to be balanced rather than fitted, bowed him as he moved. But he drew himself up to salute the two captains.

"Glad to welcome ye, Captain John, along with master here. Hey, but you've aged—the pair o' ye."

"Simeon," said his master, "draw us some beer. Aged, you say?"

"Aye—aged, aged: a trivial, remediless complaint, common to folk. Valiant deeds ye'll do yet, my masters; but though I likes to be hopeful, the door's closin' on ye both. Ye be staid to the eye, noticeably staid. The first sign o't, to be marked at forty or so, is when a woman's blush pales before wine held to the light; the second, and that, too, ye've passed—"

"Hurry, you old fool! As it happens you've been proving us a pair of raw striplings."

"Hee-hee," tittered the old man sardonically, and catching up the tankards trotted back to the house, with his master at his heels. Captain Barker, left alone, rearranged his neckcloth, contemplated his crooked legs for a moment with some disgust, and began to trot up and down the grass-plot, whistling the while with great energy and no regard for tune.

The pair reappeared in the doorway—Captain Runacles bearing an hour-glass and a volume of "Purchas," and Simeon the tankards, crowned with a creamy froth.

"Have you picked your quill?"

"Yes," answered the hunchback, settling himself on top of the brown folio. "No, 'tis a split one."

The pens were old, and had lain with the ink dry upon them ever since the outbreak of the Dutch War. The two men were half a minute in finding a couple that would write. Then Captain Runacles turned the hour-glass abruptly; and for an hour there was no sound in the pavilion garden but the scratching of quills, the murmur of pigeons on the roof, and the creaking of the gilded vane above them.



CHAPTER II.

THE DICE-BOX.

That same afternoon, at four o'clock, Captain Barker and Captain Runacles entered Harwich and advanced up the West Street side by side. Each had a bulky letter in his side-pocket, and the address upon each letter was the same. They talked but little.

On the right-hand side of West Street, as you enter the town, and a hundred yards or more from the town gate, there stood at that time a two-storeyed house of more pretensions than its fellows—from which it drew back somewhat. A line of railings, covered with ironwork of a florid and intricate pattern, but greatly decayed, shut it off from the roadway. The visitor, on opening the broad iron gate over which this pattern culminated in the figure of a Triton blowing a conch-shell, found himself in a pebbled court and before a massive front-door.

Neglect hung visibly over house and court alike as the two captains entered by the iron gate and looked around them with more trepidation than they had ever displayed in action. Grass sprouted between the pebbles and a greenish stain lay upon the flagstones. The drab frontage was similarly streaked; dust and rain together had set a crust upon the windows, and tufts of dark mossy grass again flourished in the gutter-pipes beneath the eaves.

Surveying this desolation, Captain Jemmy uttered a grunt and Captain John a "p'sh!" They fumbled in their pockets, drew out their two letters, and moved to the blistered front-door. A bell-pull, as rusty as the railings outside, depended by the jamb. Captain Jemmy tugged at it. It was noteworthy that whenever any effort had to be put forth, however small, the tall man stepped forward and the hunchback looked on. It was Captain Jemmy, for instance, who had, a moment before, pushed back the gate.

He had to tug thrice before a discordant bell sounded within the house, and twice again before footsteps began to shuffle along the passage.

A bolt was let down and the big door fell open, disclosing a small serving-girl, who stared upon the visitors with round eyes.

"Is your mistress within?"

"Mistress Salt is within, sirs; but—"

"But what?"

"She—she can't see you!" The girl burst into tears.

"Who the devil asked her to see us?" rapped out Captain Barker.

"You are to take these two letters," interposed Captain Runacles. Each captain held out his letter. "You are to take these two—blow your nose and dry your eyes—letters to your mistress at once—mind you, at once—and together—together, you understand, and—what in thunder are you whimpering about?"

"I c-c-can't, sirs."

"Can't! Why, in the name of—don't drip on 'em, I tell you! Why, in the name of—"

The iron gate creaked behind them, and the two captains turned their heads. A portly, broad-shouldered gentleman, in a suit of snuff colour, came slowly across the court, with both hands behind him, and a cane rapping against his heels.

"Dr. Beckerleg."

"Hey? Why—Captain Barker! Captain Runacles! Glad to see you both—glad to see you both home again! Also I'd be glad to know what you're both doing here, at such a time."

The captains looked at each other and coughed. They turned towards the doorway. The serving-girl had disappeared, taking their letters with her. Captain Barker faced round upon the Doctor.

"You said 'at such a time,' sir."

"I did."

"And why not at this time, as well as another?"

"God bless me! Is it possible you don't know?"

"It is not only possible, but certain."

The Doctor bent his head, pointed up at a window, and whispered; then went softly up the three steps into the house.

He left the two friends staring at each other. They stood and stared at each other for three minutes or more. Then Captain Barker spoke in a hoarse whisper.

"Jemmy, do you know anything about this—this kind of business?"

"Nothing. I was abroad, you know, when my own little maid—"

"Yes, I remember. But I thought, perhaps—say, I can't go home till—till I've seen the Doctor again."

"Nor I."

A dull moan sounded within the house.

"Oh, my God!" groaned Captain Runacles; "Meg—Meg!"

A lattice was opened softly above them and the doctor leant out.

"Go away—you two!" he whispered and waved his hand towards the gate.

"But, Doctor—"

"H'sh! I'll come and tell you when it's over. Where shall you be?"

"At the Three Crowns, down the street here."

"Right."

The lattice was closed again very gently. Captain Barker laid his hand upon the tall man's sleeve.

"Jemmy, we're out of this action. I thought I knew what it meant to lay-to and have to look on while a fight went forward; but I didn't. Come—"

They passed out of the courtyard and down the street towards the Three Crowns. Beneath the sign of that inn there lounged a knot of officers wearing the flesh-coloured facings of the Buffs, and within a young baritone voice was uplifted and trolling, to the accompaniment of clinking glasses, a song of Mr. Shirley's:

You virgins that did late despair To keep your wealth from cruel men, Tie up in silk your careless hair: Soft Peace is come again! . . .

There was one sitting-room but no bedroom to be had at the Three Crowns. So they ordered up a dinner which they could not touch, but sat over in silence for two weary hours, drinking very much more burgundy than they were aware of. Captain Jemmy, taking up three bottles one after another and finding them all empty, ordered up three more, and drew his chair up to the hearth, where he sat kicking the oaken logs viciously with his long legs. The little hunchback stared out on the falling night, rang for candles, and began to pace the room like a caged beast.

Before midnight Captain Runacles was drunk. Six fresh bottles stood on the table. The man was a cask. Even in the warm firelight his face was pale as a sheet, and his lips worked continually.

Captain Barker still walked up and down, but his thin legs would not always move in a straight line. His eyes glared like two globes of green fire, and he began to knock against the furniture. Few men can wait helplessly and come out of it with credit. Every time Captain John hit himself against the furniture Captain Jemmy cursed him.

Tie up in silk your careless hair; Soft Peace is come again!

—Sang the little man, in a rasping voice. "Your careless hair," he hiccoughed; "your careless hair, Meg!"

Then he sat down on the floor and laughed to himself softly, rocking his distorted body to and fro.

"Bah!" said his friend, without looking round. "You're drunk." And he poured out more burgundy. He was outrageously drunk himself, but it only affected his temper, not his wits.

"Meg," he said, "will live. What's more, she'll live to marry me."

"She won't. She'll die. Hist! there's a star falling outside."

He picked himself up and crawled upon the window-seat, clutching at the red curtains to keep his footing.

"Jemmy, she'll die! What was it that old fool said to-day? The door's closing on us both. To think of our marching up, just now, with those two letters; and the very sun in heaven cracking his cheeks with laughter at us—us two poor scarecrows making love thirty years after the time!"

His wry head dropped forward on his chest.

After this the two kept silence. The rest of the house had long since gone to rest, and the sound of muffled snoring alone marked the time as it passed, except when Captain Jemmy, catching up another oak log, drove it into the fire with his heel; or out in the street the watch went by, chanting the hour; or a tipsy shouting broke out in some distant street, or the noise of dogs challenging each other from their kennels across the sleeping town.

A shudder of light ran across the heavens, and over against the window Captain Barker saw the east grow pale. For some while the stars had been blotted out and light showers had fallen at intervals. Heavy clouds were banked across the river, behind Shotley; and the roofs began to glisten as they took the dawn.

Footsteps sounded on the roadway outside. He pushed open the window and looked out. Doctor Beckerleg was coming up the street, his hat pushed back and his neckcloth loosened as he respired the morning air.

The footsteps paused underneath, by the inn door; but the little Captain leant back in the window-seat without making a sign. He had seen the Doctor's face. Before the fire Captain Jemmy brooded, with chin on breast, hands grasping the chair-rail and long legs stretched out, one on each side of the hearth. The knocking below did not rouse him from this posture, nor the creaking of feet on the stairs.

Doctor Beckerleg stood in the doorway and for a moment contemplated the scene—the empty bottles, the unsnuffed candles guttering down upon the table, and the grey faces of both drunken men. Then he turned and whispered a word to the drawer, who had hurried out of bed to admit him and now stood behind his shoulder. The fellow shuffled downstairs.

Captain Barker struggled with a question that was dried up in his throat. Before he could get it out the Doctor shook his head.

"She is dead," he announced, very gravely and simply.

The hunchback shivered. Captain Runacles neither spoke nor stirred in his chair.

"A man-child was born at two o'clock. He is alive: his mother died two hours later."

Captain Barker shivered again, plucked aimlessly at a rosette in the window-cushion, and stole a quick glance at his comrade's back. Then, putting a finger to his lip, he slid down to the floor and lurched across to the Doctor.

"She was left penniless?" he whispered.

"That, or almost that, 'tis said," replied Dr. Beckerleg in the same key, though the question obviously surprised him. "Her father left his money to the town, as all know—"

"Yes, yes; I knew that. Her husband—"

"Hadn't a penny-piece, I believe: pawned her own mother's jewels and gambled 'em away; thereupon left her, as a dog his cleaned bone."

The little man laid a hand on his collar, and as the doctor stooped whispered low and rapidly in his ear.

Their colloquy was interrupted.

"I'll adopt that child!" said Captain Runacles from the hearth. He spoke aloud, but without turning his head.

Captain Barker hopped round, as if a pin were stuck into him.

"You!—adopt Meg's boy!"

"I said that."

"But you won't."

"I shall."

"I'm sorry to disappoint you, Jemmy; but I intend to adopt him myself."

"I know it. You were whispering as much to the Doctor there."

"You have a little girl already."

"Precisely. That's where the difference comes in. This one, you'll note, is a boy."

"A child of your own!"

"But not of Meg's."

Captain Runacles turned in his chair as he said this, and, reaching a hand back to the table, drained the last bottle of burgundy into his glass. His face was white as a sheet and his jaw set like iron. "But not of Meg's," he repeated, lifting the glass and nodding over it at the pair.

His friend swayed into a chair and sat facing him, his chin but just above the table and his green eyes glaring like an owl's.

"Jemmy Runacles, I adopt that boy!"

"You're cursedly obstinate, Jack."

"Having adopted him, I shall at once quit my profession and devote the residue of my life to his education. For a year or two—that is, until he reaches an age susceptible of tuition—I shall mature a scheme of discipline, which—"

"My dear sir," the Doctor interposed, "surely all this is somewhat precipitate."

"Not at all. My resolution was taken the instant you entered the room."

"That hardly seems to me to prove—"

The little man waved aside the interruption and continued: "Tristram—for I shall have him christened by that name—"

"He'll be called Jeremiah," decided Captain Runacles shortly.

"I've settled upon Tristram. The name is a suitable one, and signifies that its wearer is a child of sorrow."

"Jeremiah also suggests lamentations, and has the further merit of being my own name."

"Tristram—"

"Jeremiah—"

"Gentlemen, gentlemen," cried Dr. Beckerleg, "would it not be as well to see the infant?"

"I can imagine," Captain Barker answered, "nothing in the infant that is likely to shake my resolution. My scheme of discipline will be based—"

"Decidedly, Jack, I shall have to run you through," said his friend gloomily. Indeed, the Doctor stood in instant fear of this catastrophe; for Captain Runacles' temper was a byword, and not even his customary dark flush looked so dangerous as the lustreless, sullen eyes now sunk in a face that was drawn and pinched and absolutely wax-like in colour. To the Doctor's astonishment, however, it was the little hunchback who now jumped up and whipped out his sword.

"Run me through!" he almost screamed, dancing before the other and threatening him with absurd flourishes—"Run me through?"

"Listen, gentlemen; listen, before blood is spilt! To me it appears evident that you are both drunk."

"To me that seems an advantage, since it equalises matters."

"But whichever of you survives, he will be unable to forgive himself; having sinned not only against God, but also against logic."

"How against logic?"

"Permit me to demonstrate. Mrs. Salt, whom (as I well know) you esteemed, is lost to you; and in her place is left a babe whom— healthy though he undoubtedly is—you cannot possibly esteem without taking a great deal for granted, especially as you have not yet set eyes on him. Now it is evident that, if one of you should kill the other, a second life of approved worth will be sacrificed for an infant of purely hypothetical merits. As a man of business I condemn the transaction. As a Christian I deprecate the shedding of blood. But if somebody's blood must be shed, let us be reasonable and kill the baby!"

Captain Barker lowered his point.

"Decidedly the question is more difficult than I imagined."

"At least it cannot be settled before eating," said Dr. Beckerleg, as the drawer entered with a tray. "You will forgive me that I took the liberty of ordering breakfast as soon as I looked into this room. Without asking to see your tongues, I prescribed dried herrings and home-brewed ale; for myself, a fried sole, a beef-steak reasonably under-done, a kidney-pie which the drawer commended on his own motion, with a smoked cheek of pork, perhaps—"

"You wish us to sit still while you devour all this?"

"I am willing to give each side of the argument a fair chance."

"But I find nothing to argue about!" exclaimed Captain Runacles, pushing his plate from him after a very faint attempt to eat. "My mind being already made up—"

"And mine," interrupted Captain Barker.

"If I suggest that both of you adopt the child," Dr. Beckerleg begun.

"Still he must be educated; and our notions of education differ. Moreover, when we differ—as you may have observed—we do so with some thoroughness."

"Let me propose, then, a system of alternation, by which you could adopt the boy for six months each, turn and turn about."

"But if—as would undoubtedly happen—each adoptive parent spent his six months in undoing the other's work, it must follow that, at the end of any given period, the child's mind would be a mere tabula rasa. Suppose, on the other hand, we failed to wipe out each other's teaching, the unfortunate youth would be launched upon life with half his guns pointed inboard and his needle jerking from one pole to the other. Consider the name, Jeremiah Tristram!"

"It is heterogeneous," admitted the Doctor.

"He would be called Tristram Jeremiah," Captain Barker put in.

"Well, but that is not less heterogeneous. O wise Solomon!" cried the Doctor, with his mouth full of kidney-pie; "had I but the authority you enjoyed in a like dispute, I would resign to you all the credit of originality!"

"As it is, however, you are wasting our time, and it becomes clear that we must fight, after all."

"By no means; for I have this moment received an inspiration. Drawer!"

The drawer answered this summons almost before it was uttered, by appearing in the doorway with a dish of eggs and a fresh tankard.

"Set the dish down and attend," commanded Dr. Beckerleg. "You have a dice-box and dice in the house?"

"No, sir. His worship the Mayor—"

"My good fellow, the regulations against play in this town are well known to me; also that the Crowns is an orderly house. Let me suggest, then, that you have several gentlemen of the army lodging under this roof; that one of these, if politely asked, might own that he had come across such a thing as a dice-box during his sojourn in the Low Countries. It may even be that in the sack of some unpronounceable town or other he has acquired a specimen, and is bringing it home in his valise to exhibit it to his family. Be so good as to inform him that three gentlemen, in Room No. 6, who are about to write a tractate on the amusements of the Dutch—"

"By your leave, sir, I don't know how it may be on campaign; but in this house we never awaken a soldier for any reason which he cannot grasp at once."

"In that case let him have his sleep out before you vex him with our apologies. But meanwhile bring the dice."

The fellow went out, whispered to the chamber-maid, and returned in less than five minutes with a pair of dice and a leathern box much worn with use.

"They belong," he whispered, "to a young gentleman of the Admiral's regiment, who was losing heavily last night."

"Thank you; they are the less likely to be loaded. You may retire for a while. My friends," the Doctor continued, as soon as they were alone, "Aristotle invented Chance to account for the astonishing fact that there were certain things in the world which he could not explain. I appeal to it for as cogent a reason. Indeed, had Mistress Margaret—whose soul God has this night resumed—had she, I say, been spared to receive and ponder the two letters which I saw you deliver at her door; and had she invited me, as a tried friend, to decide between them, I feel sure I should have ended by putting a dice-box into her hands. Do not blush. No true man need blush that he has loved such a woman: and you are both true men, if a trifle obstinate—justi et tenaces propositi. Men of your character, Flaccus tells us, do not blench at the thunderbolts of Jove himself; and truly, I can well imagine his missile fizzing harmlessly into your party hedge, unable to decide between the pavilion of Captain John and the pavilion of Captain Jeremy. But Chance, being witless, discriminates without trouble; and because she is blind, her arbitraments offend nobody's sensibility. Do you consent?"

The two captains looked at the dice-box and nodded.

"The conditions?"

"One throw," said Captain Runacles.

"And the highest cast to win," added Captain Barker.

"You, Captain Barker, are the senior by a year, I believe. Will you throw first?"

The little man caught up the box, rattled the dice briskly, and threw—four and three.

Captain Runacles picked them up, and made his cast deliberately—six and ace.

"Gentlemen, you must throw again. Fortune herself seems to hesitate between you."

Captain Barker threw again, and leant back with a sob of triumph.

"Two sixes, upon my soul!" murmured the Doctor.

"I'm afraid, Captain Jeremy—" Captain Jeremy took the dice up, turned them between finger and thumb, and dropped them slowly into the box. As he lifted his hand to make the cast he looked up and saw the gleam in his friend's greenish eyes.

The next moment box and dice flew past the hunchback's head and out at the open window.

"That's my throw," Captain Runacles announced, standing up and turning his back on the pair as he staggered across the room for his hat. But the little man also had bounced up in a fury.

"That's a vile trick! I make the best throw, and you force me to fight."

"Ah," said the other, facing slowly about and putting on his hat. "I didn't see it in that light. Very well, Jack, I decline to fight you."

"You apologise?"

"Certainly."

The little man held out a hand. "I might have known, Jemmy, you were too good a fellow—" he began.

"Oh, stow away your pretty speeches and take back your hand. I can't prevent your playing the fool with Meg's child; but if I had a decent excuse, you may make up your mind I'd use it. As it is, the sight of you annoys me. Good morning!"

He went out, slamming the door after him, and they heard him descend the stairs and turn down the street.

"A day's peace," mused Captain Barker, "strikes me as more expensive than a year's war. It has cost me my two dearest friends."

He strode up and down the room muttering angrily; then looked up and said:

"Take me to Meg; I want to see her."

"And the child?"

"To be sure. I'd clean forgotten the child."

Dr. Beckerleg led the way downstairs. A pale sunshine touched the edge of the pavement across the road, and while Captain Barker was settling the bill, the doctor stepped across and picked a dice-box out of the gutter.

"Luckily I found the dice, too; they were lying close together," said he, as his companion came out. He turned the box round and appeared to be reflecting; but next moment walked briskly into the bar and returned the dice to the drawer, with a small fee.

"She is not much changed?" asked the Captain, as they moved down the street arm in arm.

"Eh? You were saying? No, not changed. A beautiful face."

Though middle-aged and lined with trouble it was, as Dr. Beckerleg said, a beautiful face that slept behind the dusty window above the court where the sparrows chattered. From a chamber at the back of the house the two men were met, as they climbed the stairs, by the sound of an infant's wailing. Dr. Beckerleg went towards this, after opening for the Captain the door of a room wherein no sound was at all.

When, half an hour later, Captain Barker came out and closed this door gently, Dr. Beckerleg, who waited on the landing, forbore to look a second time at his face. Instead he stared fixedly at the staircase wall and observed:

"I think it is time we turned our attention upon the child."

"Take me to him by all means."

Margaret's son was reclining, very red and angry, in the arms of an old woman who attempted vainly to soothe him by tottering up and down the room as fast as her decrepit legs would carry her. The serving-girl, who had opened the door on the previous evening, stood beside the window, her eyes swollen with weeping.

"He is extremely small," said the Captain.

"On the contrary, he is an unusually fine boy."

"He appears to me to want something."

"He wants food."

"Bless my soul! Has none been offered to him?"

"Yes; but he refuses it."

"Extraordinary!"

"Not at all. I understand—do I not?—that you have adopted this infant."

The Captain nodded.

"Then your parental duties have already begun. You must come with me at once and choose a wet nurse."

As they passed through the hall to the front-door, Captain Barker perceived two letters lying side by side upon a table there. He snatched them up hastily and crammed one into his pocket. Then, handing the other to Dr. Beckerleg:

"You might give that to Jemmy when you see him, and—look here, as soon as the child is out of the house, I think—if you went to Jemmy—he might like to see Meg, you know."



CHAPTER III.

THE TWO PAVILIONS.

Captain Barker and Captain Runacles had been friends from boyhood. They had been swished together at Dr. Huskisson's school, hard by the Water Gate; had been packed off to sea in the same ship, and afterwards had more than once smelt powder together. Admiral Blake and Sir Christopher Mings had turned them into tough fighters by sea; and Margaret Tellworthy had completed their education ashore, and made them better friends by rejecting both. In an access of misogyny they had planned and built their blue pavilions, beside the London road, vowing to shut themselves up and look on no woman again. This happened but a short time before the first Dutch War, in which the one served under Captain Jonings in the Ruby and the other had the honour to be cast ashore with Prince Rupert himself, aboard the Galloper. Upon the declaration of peace, in the autumn of 1667, they had returned, and, forgetting their vow, laid siege again to their mistress, who regretted the necessity of refusing them thrice apiece.

Upon his third rejection, Jeremy Runacles was driven by indignation to offer his hand at once to Mistress Isabel Seaman, sister of that same Robert Seaman who, as Mayor of Harwich, admitted Sir Anthony Deane to the freedom of the Corporation, and had the honour to receive, in exchange, twelve fire-buckets for the new town-hall. As Mistress Isabel inherited a third of the profits amassed by her father in the rope-making trade, she was considered a good match. Captain Barker, however, resented the marriage on the ground that she was out of place in a pavilion expressly designed for a confirmed bachelor. When, after a few months, her husband also began to hold this view, Mrs. Runacles, instead of reminding him that he, and he alone, was to blame for her intrusion, did her best to make matters easy by quitting this world altogether on St. Bartholomew's Eve, 1670, leaving behind her the smallest possible daughter. But as this daughter at once required a nurse, the alleviation proved to be inconsiderable—as Mr. Runacles would have delighted to point out to his wife, had she remained within earshot. As it was, he took infinite pains to select a suitable nurse, and forthwith neglected the child entirely—a course of conduct which was not so culpable as might be supposed, since (with the sole exception of Mrs. Runacles) he had never been known to err in choosing a subordinate. In times of peace he gave himself up to studying the mathematics, in which he was a proficient, and to the designing of such curious toys as sundials, water-clocks, pumps, and the like; which he so multiplied about the premises, out of pure joy in constructing them, that Simeon, his body-servant, had much ado to live among the many contrivances for making his life easier.

Although the two pavilions were exactly similar in shape and colour, their gardens differed in some important respects. On Captain Runacles' side of the hedge all was order—trim turf and yews accurately clipped, though stunted by the sea winds. Captain Barker's factotum, Narcissus Swiggs by name, was a slow man with but a single eye. His orbit in gardening was that of the four seasons, but he had the misfortune to lag behind them by the space of three months; while the two sides of the gravel path, though each would be harmonious in itself, could only be enjoyed by shutting one eye as you advanced from the blue gate to the blue front-door. The particular pride of Captain Barker's garden, however, was a collection of figure-heads set up like statues at regular intervals around the hedge. The like of it could be found nowhere. Here, against a background of green, and hanging forward over a green lawn, were an Indian Chief, a Golden Hind, a Triton, a Centaur, an effigy of King Charles I., another of Britannia, a third of the god Pan, and a fourth of Mr. John Phillipson, sometime alderman and shipowner of Harwich. Though rudely modelled, the majority received an extremely lifelike appearance from their colouring, which was renewed every now and then under the Captain's own supervision. He asserted them to be beautiful, and his acquaintances were content with the qualification that to an unwarned visitor, in an uncertain light, they might be disconcerting.

To this paradise Captain Barker introduced his newly adopted son, with the wet-nurse that the Doctor had found for him: and after explaining matters to Narcissus—who had heard of the Wasp's arrival in port and had been vaguely troubled by a long conversation with Simeon, next door—installed the new-comers in the two rooms under the roof of the pavilion and sat down to meditate and wait for the child's development.

On the fourth morning after the installation, Narcissus appeared and demanded a higher wage. This was granted.

On the sixth morning, Narcissus appeared again.

"That there nurse—" he began.

"What of her?"

"As touching that there nurse, your instructions were to feed her up."

"Well?"

"I've fed her up."

"Well?"

"She's ate till she's sick."

The Captain sent post-haste for Dr. Beckerleg.

"That woman's green with bile," the Doctor announced. "You've been over-feeding her."

"I did it to strengthen the child."

"No doubt; but this sort of woman will eat all that's put before her. Lower her diet."

This was done. The woman recovered in a couple of days and resigned her place at once, declaring she was starved.

A second wet-nurse was sought for and found. The child thrived, was weaned, and began to cut his teeth without any trouble to mention. Twice a day Captain Barker visited his nursery and studied him attentively.

"I'll own that I'm boggled," he confessed to Dr. Beckerleg. "You see, a child is the offspring of his parents."

"That is undeniable!" the Doctor answered.

"And science now asserts that he inherits his parents' aptitudes: therefore, to train him secundum naturam, I must discover these aptitudes and educate or check them."

"Decidedly."

"Well, but his mother was an angel, and his father the dirtiest scamp that ever cheated the halter."

"I should advise you to strike a mean. What of the child himself?"

"He does nothing but eat."

"It appears to me that, striking a mean between the two extremes you mention, we arrive at mere man. I perceive a great opportunity. Suppose you teach him exactly what Adam was taught."

"Gardening?"

"Precisely. He will start with some advantage over Adam, there being no Eve to complicate matters."

"He shall be taught gardening," the little Captain decided.

"The pursuit will accord well with his temperament, which is notably pacific. The child seldom or never cries. At the same time we cannot quite revert to the Garden of Eden. His life will, almost certainly, bring him more or less into contact with his fellow-men."

"We must expect that."

"Therefore, as a mere measure of precaution, it might be as well to instruct him in the use of the small-sword."

"I will look after that. There is nothing I shall enjoy more than teaching him—precaution. We have now, I think, settled everything—"

"By no means." The Doctor put a hand into his tail-pocket, and after some difficulty with the lining pulled out a small book bound in green leather and tied with a green ribbon. "Here," he announced, "is the first volume of a treatise on education."

"Plague take your books! You're as bad as Jemmy, yonder. I tell you I'll not addle the boy's head with books."

"But this treatise has the advantage to be unwritten."

Dr. Beckerleg untied the ribbon, and holding out the book, turned over a score of pages. They were all blank.

"Undoubtedly that is an advantage. But then, it hardly seems to me to be a treatise."

"No: but it will be when you have written it."

"I?"

"Certainly, you intend to train Tristram in accordance with nature. On what do we base our knowledge of nature? On experiment and observation. For many reasons your experiments with the child must be limited; but you can observe him daily—hourly, if you like. In this volume you shall record your observations from day to day, nulla dies sine linea. It is the first present I make to him, as his godfather: and in doing so I set you down to write the most valuable book in the world, a complete History of a Human Creature."

Captain Barker took the volume.

"But I shall never live to finish it."

"We hope not. The beauty, however, of this history will be that at any point in its progress we may consult it for Tristram's good, and learn all that, up to that point, God has given us eyes to see. It may be that in deciding to make him a gardener we have been mistaken. That book will enlighten us."

"There's one blessing," said Captain Barker, tucking the book under his arm; "whatever pursuit the boy may follow, he'll want to follow it unmolested. And therefore, in any case, I must teach him to use the small-sword."

During the first few months, almost every entry in the Captain's green volume dealt with Tristram's appetite. Nor did this fluctuate enough to make the record exciting. He was a slow, phlegmatic infant, with red cheeks and an exuberant crop of yellow curls. He slept all night and a good third of the day, and, beyond cutting ten teeth in as many months, exhibited no precocity. Nothing troubled him, if we except an insatiable hunger. He was weaned with extreme difficulty, and even when promoted to bread and biscuits and milk puddings, continued to recognise his nurse's past service and reward it with so sincere an affection that the woman accepted an increase of wage and cheerfully consented to stay on and take care of him.

Captain Barker saw nothing in all this to shake his first resolution of making the boy a gardener, but rather found in each successive day a reason the more for making haste to learn something about horticulture himself, in order that when the time came he might be able to teach it. At length he took counsel with Narcissus Swiggs and unfolded his desire.

Mr. Swiggs listened sleepily, and as soon as his master had done gave him a month's notice.

"What the devil's the use of that?" Captain Barker asked.

"I thought you weren't satisfied, that's all."

"If I weren't, I should kick you out without half these words. You've been thinking of yourself all this while."

"I mostly does."

"Then don't, while I'm talking." And Captain Barker explained his scheme a second time.

"No use," pronounced Mr. Swiggs at the close, shaking his head ponderously.

"Why not?"

Mr. Swiggs swept his hand before him, summing up the whole landscape with one majestic semicircle.

"Where is your soil?" he asked. "And where is your water? Springs?"—he paused a couple of seconds—"There ain't none. All that mortal man can do, I does."

"And what is that?"

"I does without."

"But the marsh behind us—"

"Salt."

"Narcissus Swiggs, you have been in my service twenty years."

"Twenty-three."

"During that time you have once or twice argued with me. I ask you, as a Christian man, to tell me truly what you got by it."

"Naught."

"Just so. On this occasion, however, I've listened with great patience to all your objections—"

"Not a tithe of 'em."

"They're all you'll have a chance of making, at any rate. And I answer them thus: If the worst comes to the worst, I'll cover the whole of this property with a couple of tubs, one to catch rain-water and t'other filled with garden mould. If the sea rots 'em, I'll have the whole estate careened, and its bottom pitched and its seams stopped with oakum. I'll rig up a battery here, and if the water-butt runs dry you shall blaze away at the guns till you fetch the rain down, as I've seen it fetched down before now by a cannonade. But I mean to have a garden here, and a garden I'll have."

Faithful to this resolve, Captain Barker set to work to study the art in which Tristram was to be instructed, and, being by nature a hater of superficiality, determined to begin by acquainting himself with everything that had been written about the nature and habits of plants from the earliest ages to that present day. He engaged a young demy of Magdalen College, Oxford—son of Mr. Lucas, saddler, of the High Street, Harwich—who was much pinched to continue his studies at the University, to extract and translate for him whatever Aristotle, Theophrastus and others of the Peripatetic school had written on the subject; to search the college libraries for information concerning the horticulture of China and Persia, the hanging gardens of Babylon, those planted by the learned Abdullatif at Bagdad, and the European paradises of Naples, Florence, Monza, Mannheim and Leyden to draw up plans and a particular description of the Oxford Physic Garden, by Magdalen College, as well as the plantations of Worcester, Trinity and St. John's Colleges; and to ransack the bookshops of that seat of learning for such works as might be procurable in no more difficult tongue than the Latin. In this way Captain Barker became possessed of a vast number of monkish herbals, Pliny's Historia Naturalis, the Herbarum Vivas Eicones of Brunsfels, the treatises of Tragus, Fuchsius, Matthiolus, Ebn Beithar and Conrad Gesner, the Stirpium Adversaria Nova and Plantarum seu Stirpium Historia of Matthew Lobel, with the works of such living botanists as Henshaw, Hook, Grew and Malpighi. As the Captain had no thought of resuming a seafaring life, he felt confident of digesting in time these masses of learning, though it annoyed him at first to find himself capable of understanding but a tenth of what he read. On summer evenings he would sit out on the lawn, with a folio balanced on his knee, and do violence to Mr. Swiggs's ears with such learned terms as "Boraginiae," "Cucurbitaceae," "Leguminosae," and as winter drew in, master and man would hold long consultations indoors over certain plants, the portraits of which in the herbals seemed familiar enough, though their habitats often proved, on further reading, to lie no nearer than Arabia Felix or the Spice Islands. Nevertheless, they took some practical steps. To begin with, the soil of the garden before the Blue Pavilion was entirely changed—Captain Barker importing from The Hague no less than thirty tons of the mould most approved by the Dutch tulip-growers. A tank, too, was sunk at the back of the building towards the marsh, as a receptacle and reservoir for rain-water; and by Tristram's fourth birthday his adoptive father began to build, on the south side of the house, a hibernatory, or greenhouse, differing in size only from that which Solomon de Caus had the honour to erect for the Elector Palatine in his gardens at Heidelberg.

Meanwhile Captain Runacles, who watched these operations from the other side of the privet hedge and picked up many scraps of rumour from the antique Simeon, was consumed with scorn and envy. The two friends no longer spoke. At the back of the Fish and Anchor, across the road, there stretched at this time the largest and fairest bowling-green in the east of England—two good acres of smooth turf, stretching almost to the edge of the sea-cliff, on which side the wall was cut down to within a foot of the ground, so that the gossips as they played, or sat and smoked on the benches about the green, might have a clear view of the ships entering or leaving the harbour, or of others that, hull-down on the horizon, took the sunset on their sails. Hither it had always been the custom of the two captains to repair at the closing in of the day, and drink their beer together as they watched this or that vessel more or less narrowly avoiding the shoals below. Nor would they commonly retire, unless the weather was dirty, until the sea-coal fire was lit above the town-gate and the lesser lighthouse upon the town-green answered with its six candles. Now, however, though they met here as usual, no salutation was exchanged. On benches as far apart as possible they drank their beer in silence and watched the players. The situation was understood by everybody at the inn; and at first some awkward attempts were made to heal the breach. But Captain Jeremy's scowl and the light in Captain John's green eyes soon convinced the busybodies that they were playing with fire, and likely to burn their fingers.

In his home Captain Runacles grew restless. To cure this, he set to work and finished a large dial which he had long intended to present to the Corporation of Harwich, to set up over the town-gate. The Corporation accepted the gift and employed their clerk to write a letter of thanks. The language of this letter was so flattering that Captain Runacles made another dial for the Exchange. Being thanked for this also, he presented an excellent pendulum clock of his own making, to be placed over his Majesty's arms upon the principal gate of the dockyard, with a bell above the clock to strike the hours of the day, as well as to summon the men to their work; and two more dials, the one for the new town-hall, the other for the almshouses near St. Helen's Port. Again the Corporation thanked him as profusely as before, but asked him to be at the expense of affixing these dials, which, both by their beauty and number, were rapidly making Harwich unique among towns of its size. Upon this Captain Runacles, in a huff, forswore all further munificence, and applied himself to the construction of a pair of compasses capable of dividing an inch into a thousand parts, and to the sinking of a well in the marsh behind his pavilion. The design of this well was extremely ingenious. It was worked by means of a wheel, nine feet in diameter, with steps in its circumference like those of a treadmill, and so weighted that by walking upon it, as if up a flight of stairs, a person of eleven or twelve stone would draw up a bucket—two buckets being so hung, at the ends of a rope surrounding the wheel, that while one ascended, full of water, the other, which was empty, sank down and was refilled. These buckets being too heavy for a man to overturn to pour out the water, he bored a hole in each, and contrived to plug the holes so that the weight of the bucket as it bumped upon the trough prepared for it at the well's edge jogged out the plug and sent the water running down the trough into whatever pail or vessel stood ready to catch it. Nor is it astonishing that he lost his temper when, after these preparations, he found the well was not deep enough, and the water as much infected with brine as if he had gathered it from the surface of the marsh.

It was on the day following this disappointment that, while walking to and fro the length of his turfed garden, between three and four in the afternoon (for his habits were methodical), he heard a child's voice lifted on the far side of the party hedge:

"Dad!"

"Eh? What is it?" answered the voice of Captain Barker, from his new tulip-bed, across the garden.

"What thing is this?"

"A nymph." Captain Runacles guessed by this that the four-year-old's question had reference to one of the figure-heads disposed along the hedge.

"What is a nymph?"

"A sort of girl."

"I don't like this sort of girl. She's got no legs."

"Come over here and look at this tulip."

"There's a much better sort of girl next door," Tristram continued, unheeding.

"What do you know about her?" sharply inquired his guardian.

"Oh, I see her often at the top window, and sometimes out walking. Nurse says we're not to speak, so we put out our tongues at each other."

"Tristram, come over here and look—"

"She's got funny curls, and puts her doll to bed in the window-seat every night. I like that sort of girl. When I grow up," the young bashaw proceeded, "I shall have lots of that sort of girl all over the garden, instead of these wooden things."

Captain Barker treated this Oriental day-dream with silence.

"Dad—why am I worth more than all the girls in the world?"

"Who said you were?"

"Nurse. She says you think so. She says the big man next door would give his eyes to have a boy like me; but he can't make nothing of a girl, and don't try. Narcissus—"

"Hallo!" replied the heavy voice of Mr. Swiggs.

"Have you got a boy?"

"No, sir: 'nmarried."

"What did you give your eye for, then?"

"Losh!" ejaculated Narcissus, as Captain Barker pounced on the youngster and haled him off to the tulip-bed. The interrogatory was stayed for a while.

Captain Runacles, who had caught every word, strode half a dozen times up and down his grass-plot: then summoned Simeon.

"Tell nurse to send Miss Sophia down to me."

Five minutes later a small child of seven appeared in the doorway, and, after hesitating there for a moment, stepped timidly across the turf. Her figure and movements were ungainly and her complexion appeared unnaturally sallow against a dark grey frock. A wet brush, applied two minutes before with inconsiderate zeal, had taken all the curl out of her dark hair and smoothed it in preposterous bands on either side of her brow. Her arms hung stiff and perpendicular, and she fidgeted with her short skirt as she advanced.

Captain Runacles stopped short in his walk and surveyed her.

"H'm," he said. "Don't shuffle."

The little girl looked up, dropped her eyes again quickly, and let her hands hang limp beside her. She was shaking from head to foot.

"You are a girl."

"Pardon, father," she mumbled in a low whisper.

"Next door there lives a small boy. You are in the habit of putting out your tongue at him. Why?"

"I—I—"

Her voice wavered and she broke into a fit of sobbing.

"Tut, tut! Stop that noise; I haven't scolded you. On the contrary, I sent for you in the hope that you might always be able to put out your tongue at that boy. Sophia, dry your eyes and attend, please. Would you like to be an accomplished woman?"

"If it please you, father."

"Now may the devil fly away with the whole sex! If they do happen to desire anything good in itself, it's always to please some man or another. Sophia, I ask you if, for your own sake, and for the sake of knowledge, you will be my pupil; if you care to pursue—" Captain Runacles checked himself, not because he had any idea that he was talking over the head of a girl of seven, but because a general proposition had occurred to him.

"Woman's notion of a pursuit," he said, clasping his hands behind him and regarding his daughter's tear-stained face with severity— "woman's notion of a pursuit is entirely passive. Her only idea is to be pursued, and even so her mind runs on ultimate capture. Sophia," he continued, himself forgetting for the moment his view of knowledge as sui causa optandum, "would you like to please me by licking that boy across the hedge into a cocked-hat?"

"But—oh, father!"

"What is it?"

She could not answer for a moment. Nor did he know that she besought God every night to change her into a boy that she might find some grace in his sight.

"You have one advantage," said her father coldly, as she struggled to keep down her tears. "Your rival across the hedge is in a fair way to be turned into a fool. We will begin to-morrow. In a week or so I shall be able to pronounce some opinion on your capacity. Now run indoors to your nurse—why, bless my soul!"

The child had trotted forward, and, taking his hand, kissed it passionately. He looked into her face, and, finding it white as a sheet, lifted her in his arms and carried her into the pavilion.



CHAPTER IV.

THE TWO PAVILIONS (continued).

"We must have an apiarium," Captain Barker announced a week later.

"What's that?" Mr. Swiggs asked.

"Half a dozen beehives, at least."

"No room."

"There is nothing," pursued Captain Barker, "that gives such character to a garden as an apiarium unless it be fishponds. I will have both."

"No water."

"The fishponds shall be constantly supplied with running water. I will have three ponds at different levels, connected with miniature waterfalls and approached by an allee verte. The glimpse of water between green hedges will be extremely refreshing to the eye. The apiarium shall stand close to these ponds—as Virgil commends:"

At liquidi fontes et stagna virentia musco Adsint, et tenuis fugiens per gramina rivus

"—And shall be surrounded with beds of violets and lavender and such blue flowers as bees especially love. When, Narcissus, I glance over the hedge at the back of the house and behold Captain Runacles' two acres lying waste, cumbered like a mining country with the ruins of his mechanical toys, I have a mind to—"

"He'll neither sell nor lend."

"I perceive that in time we must set about draining so much of the marsh outside as belongs to me. There, if anywhere, the fishponds must lie. In the meantime there is a full rood of ground beyond the northern hedge that we may consider. By cutting a path through the privet there and enclosing this parcel, we gain for our bees a quadrangle which will not only give them their proper seclusion, but may be planted in the classical style without detriment to the general effect of our garden. The privet serving as a screen. . . ."

Invigorated by Mr. Swiggs's opposition, the little man continued for twenty minutes to revel in details, and ended by rushing his companion off to examine the ground. In his hot fit he forgot all about Tristram, who, tired of listening, had slipped away among the gooseberry-bushes, with a half-eaten slice of bread and butter in his hand.

The fruit proved green and hard—for it was now the third week of May—and by the time his bread and butter was eaten the boy had a fancy to explore farther. He wandered through the strawberry-beds, and, finding nothing there but disappointment, allowed himself to run lazily after a white butterfly, which led him down to the front of the pavilion, over the parterres of budding tulips and across to an east border gay with heart's-ease, bachelor's buttons, forget-me-nots and purple honesty. The scent of budding yews met him here, blown softly across from Captain Runacles' garden. The white butterfly balanced himself on this odorous breeze, and, rising against it, skimmed suddenly over the hedge and dropped out of sight.

Now there was set, under an archway in this hedge, a blue door, the chinks of which were veiled with cobwebs and the panels streaked with the silvery tracks of snails. By this pervius usus (as Captain Runacles called it) the two friends had been used to visit each other, but since the quarrel it had never been opened. No lock had been fixed upon it, however. Only the passions of two obstinate men had kept it shut for four years and more.

The child contemplated this door for a minute, then lifted himself on tip-toe and stretched his hand up towards the rusty latch. It was a good six inches above his reach.

He glanced back over his shoulder. Nobody was in sight. His eyes fell on a stack of flower-pots left by Narcissus beside the path. He fetched one, set it upside-down in front of the door and climbed atop of it.

This time he reached the latch and lifted it with some difficulty. His weight pressed the door open and he fell forward, sprawling on hands and knees, into the next garden.

He picked himself up, and was on the point of fetching a prolonged howl, but suddenly thought better of it and began to stare instead.

Barely six paces in front of him, and in the centre of a round garden-bed, a small girl was kneeling. She held a rusty table-knife, the blade of which was covered with mould; and as she gazed back at him the boy saw that her face was stained with weeping.

"Hallo!"

"Hallo!"

"I was just thinking of you, little boy, and beginning to despise you, when plump—in you tumbled."

"But, I say—look here, you know—I've been told what despising is, and if you despise me you ought to say why."

"Because I've been ordered to. I'm going to do it out of this book here. Listen: 'A point is that which has no parts and no magnitude,' and that's only the beginning. Oh, my dear, I'll wither you up—you just wait a bit!"

She dug the knife viciously into the earth.

"I don't care," said Tristram affably.

"P'r'aps you don't know what 'Don't Care' came to?"

"No, I don't."

"Well, he came to—a place. It was a good deal deeper down than this hole I'm digging."

"What's the hole for?"

"My doll, here. I've got to put away childish things; so I'm going to cover her right up and never see her face again. Oh! oh!"

She began to sob as if her heart would break.

"I wouldn't cry if I were you. I didn't cry just now when I tumbled off the flower-pot."

"You don't know what it is to be a mother."

"No, but I can dig ever so much better than you. Look here. I've got a spade of my own, and I'll show you how to dig properly, if you like."

He ran off and returned with it in less than a minute. In another minute they were engrossed in the burial rites, the girl still playing at tragedy, but enjoying herself immensely.

"We must read something over the remains," she announced.

"Why?"

"Because it's always done, unless the dead person is buried with a stake through his inside."

"Then we'd better take her out again and put a stake through her; because I can't read."

"Haven't you begun to learn yet?"

"No."

"Well," said Sophia, picking up the Euclid, "you can hold a corner of the book and listen to what I read, and perhaps you can repeat some of it after me, you contemptible boy."

They were standing over the doll's grave, side by side, and chanting in antiphon the fourth proposition of the First Book of Euclid, when Captain Runacles came round the corner of the house and halted to rub his eyes.

At the sound of his footstep on the gravel Sophia snatched the book from Tristram and looked desperately round. It was too late. Her father was glaring down upon them both, with his hands behind him and his chin stuck forward.

"You miserable child!"

He pronounced it deliberately, syllable by syllable, and turned upon Tristram.

"Will you kindly explain, sir, to what I owe the honour of your presence in my garden?"

Tristram, who had never before been addressed with harshness, failed to understand the tone of this speech, and answered with amiable directness—

"I tumbled in, off a flower-pot."

"Indeed!"

"Yes; and I stayed because I liked the girl here."

"You do her infinite honour."

"I'm going away now because I'm hungry. But I'll come back again after dinner, all right."

"No," said Captain Runacles grimly; "on that point you must allow me to correct you. You infernal young cub, if I catch you here again—"

"Hi! Captain!" interrupted a voice at the foot of the garden.

Doctor Beckerleg stood beside the blue gate and held it open to admit another visitor, whose dress and appearance were unfamiliar to the Captain. He paused midway in his threat and removed his eyes from the children. Sophia crept towards the house, while Tristram seized his opportunity and slipped away to the safe side of the privet hedge.

"Let me present," said the Doctor, "Mr. Josias Finch, of Boston, New England."

"Attorney-at-law," Mr. Finch added, lifting his hat politely.

He was a little man with a triple chin and small, intelligent eyes that twinkled deep in a round, fat face. His dress was of a slate-coloured material, decorated with silver buttons, and he wore a voluminous wig.

"With news for you, Captain."

"Important news," Mr. Finch echoed. He pulled out a silver snuff-box and offered it to Captain Runacles. "You don't indulge? But you will suffer me, no doubt. Ah," he went on, inhaling a pinch, "it has been a long journey, sir, and my stomach abhors sea-voyaging."

"Shall we step into the house?" suggested Captain Runacles.

"By all means, sir. My business is simple, but may require some elucidation. May I suggest that Dr. Beckerleg accompanies us? He is already acquainted with the drift of my commission, for reasons I will expound hereafter."

"Of course. Come in, Doctor." He led the pair into his dining-room. "I may as well state, Mr. Finch, that my temper is somewhat impatient. If you come as a friend, my hospitality is yours for as long as you care to use it; but I'd take it kindly if you came to the heart of your business at once."

"To be sure, sir, and a very proper attitude. I plunge, then, into the middle of affairs. You will doubtless remember Silvanus Tellworthy, younger brother of the late Sir Jabez Tellworthy whose virtues recently ceased to adorn this neighbourhood."

"Perfectly."

"His conscience led him to exchange this country, in the thirty-fifth year of his age, for a soil more amical to his religious opinions."

"I have heard 'twas for fear of the attentions of a widow in Harwich; but proceed."

"After amassing a considerable fortune he died, sir, of a paralytical stroke, upon the 12th of November last."

"I am sorry to hear it."

"That was the common expression of Boston at the time. Dismissing for a more leisurely occasion the consideration of his civic virtues, I may say that I had the honour to possess his confidence in the double capacity of friend and legal adviser. It fell to me to draw up his will, some few years before his decease; and now I am left to the task of giving it effect. He was a childless man, and, with the exception of some trifling legacies to the town of Boston and a few private friends, bequeathed his wealth to his only niece, Margaret, daughter of the Sir Jabez Tellworthy already mentioned, and her heirs."

Captain Runacles uncrossed his legs and addressed Dr. Beckerleg.

"Doctor, haven't you brought this gentleman to the wrong pavilion?"

"Wait a moment."

"I should rather say," Mr. Finch continued, "that a life interest only was bestowed upon Margaret Salt, the bulk of the estate going to the anticipated heirs of her body, and being (also by anticipation) apportioned among them on a principle of division which need not occupy our attention, for (as it turns out) she has left but one child. My client made this will soon after receiving the news of his niece's marriage with Captain Roderick Salt, and before he had any reason to suspect that gentleman's real character. It was therefore natural that in selecting a couple of trustees he regarded the Captain as the man who, of all others, might be reckoned on to look after the interests of the child or children. When, however, the unamiable qualities of Captain Salt reached his ear, he would doubtless have made some alteration in the will, but for the tidings of that officer's death in the Low Countries. He had such confidence in the surviving trustee—"

"Man alive!" Captain Runacles broke in, "if you are talking of yourself, let me advise you to quit England by the first ship that sails. The child is already furnished with a guardian—a guardian, my dear sir, who will nullify your legal claim upon the child by the simple expedient of taking your life."

"But, excuse me—"

"You will waive your claim, of course. But let me advise you also to conceal it; for Captain Barker is quite capable, should he get hold of this will, of regarding your mere existence as an insult."

"But, dear me—if you'll allow me to speak—I am not talking of myself."

"No?"

"No; I am not the child's legal guardian."

"I congratulate you. But who is it, then?"

"It is you, Captain Runacles."

"What!" The Captain leapt up and glared at Mr. Finch incredulously.

"Here is a copy of the will; read for yourself. My friend, Silvanus Tellworthy, remembered you as a friend of his early days and as a man of probity. He had heard also, from time to time, news of your public actions that increased his esteem. He was informed—pardon me if I mention it—of your sincere and honourable affection for his niece; and, indeed, hoped, I may say—"

"No more on that point, if you please."

"Sir, I am silent, and ask your pardon."

"But—but—Doctor, this is simply astounding. Do you hear what this gentleman says?—that I—I alone—am Tristram's guardian after all?"

Mr. Finch and Dr. Beckerleg exchanged an anxious look. The Doctor cleared his throat and took up the story.

"No, my dear Captain, I regret that you make one mistake. You said 'alone.'"

"What? Is there another trustee?"

"There is the man already mentioned—Roderick Salt."

"Tut, tut—he's dead."

"I fear, on the contrary, that he's alive."

"But he was drowned, confound him!"

"Some meddling Netherlander, cursed with too much humanity, must have baulked the will of Heaven by dragging him out of the ditch and reviving him. He was rescued, sir, and clapped into prison; escaped by turning traitor and entering the service of the Prince of Orange— in what capacity I dare not say, but likely enough as a spy, or perhaps a kidnapper of soldiers. There are plenty of the trade along the frontiers just now. He has changed his name, but has been recognised by more than one Harwich man at The Hague, and again at Cuxhaven. For a year now I have heard nothing of him. Belike he is off upon a dirty mission to some German principality no bigger than your back-garden; ambassadors of his size are as easy to find on the Continent of Europe as a needle in a bottle of hay. Or maybe he wanders on some gaming campaign of his own."

The face of Captain Runacles, as the Doctor proceeded, went through three rapid changes of colour—white, scarlet and purple.

"You knew all this?" he shouted, the congested veins standing out upon his temples; "you knew all this, and kept us in the dark?"

"I did. It affected the child in no way. The fellow clearly knew nothing, or cared nothing, about Tristram. Even supposing—which was absurd—that he would wish to burden himself with the boy, I felt pretty sure of Barker's ability to cope with him at the briefest notice. Moreover, considering his mode of life, I hoped by waiting a very short while to be able to tell you that Captain Salt's career was ended by the halter. You see, he was evidently not born to be drowned, and I drew the usual inference. But Mr. Finch's news puts a very different complexion on the business. Tristram being heir, as I understand, to some fifteen hundred pounds per annum—"

"Mr. Finch," said the Captain calmly, stepping to the door and locking it, "have you, by any chance, the intention of seeking out my co-trustee?"

"H'm: I am bound, sir, to consider my duty as a professional man."

"Let me entreat you also to reconsider it."

The little attorney glanced over his shoulder at the closed door.

"Sir," he replied with dignity, "I perceive that I have been unfortunate enough to give you a wrong notion of my character. Let me say that, in interpreting my duty, I am even less likely to be coerced by threats than by the strict letter of the law. I will not be dragooned. And I decide nothing until you have opened that door."

"And that's mighty well said," commented Dr. Beckerleg.

Captain Jemmy slipped back the bolt.

"I shall nevertheless hold you to account," he growled.

"Thank you; I am accustomed to responsibility. And now let me say that as the child seems to be in good hands—"

"On the contrary, he's in outrageously bad ones."

"—Or rather, in the hands of an upright and kindly gentleman, I think we may perhaps agree that these rumours about Captain Salt are—shall we say?—too good to be true. May I ask Dr. Beckerleg here if he believes in ghosts?"

"Firmly," answered the Doctor, hiding a smile.

"I have known occasions," the attorney went on, with a serious face, "when a cautious belief in ghosts has proved of the very highest service in dealing with apparently intractable problems. Or suppose we call it an hypothesis, liable to correction?"

"That's it," assented the Captain heartily. "I can believe Roderick Salt to be a ghost until he comes to me and proves that he is not."

"Decidedly."

"And then I'll make him one."

The corners of Mr. Finch's mouth twitched perceptibly.

"Gently, dear sir! Remember, please, that I am only concerned with the immediate situation. To-morrow I start again for Bristol, leaving the future to be dealt with as your prudence may direct. But I have no doubt," he added, with a bow "that you will act, in all contingencies, with a single eye to the child's welfare. It is understood, then, that the child, Tristram Salt, remains under the care of Captain Barker, your friend, and his adoptive father—"

"Not at all."

"I think so," said Dr. Beckerleg quietly, looking straight into the Captain's eyes.

"That's for me to decide, Doctor."

"Tut, tut! it was decided the moment you were born."

"I think," Mr. Finch interposed, "it is time I gave Captain Runacles some necessary information about the boy's inheritance."

It was close upon four o'clock when the little blue door which, until that morning, had remained shut for over four years was opened a second time and Captain Runacles stepped through into Captain Barker's domain. His wig was carefully brushed and he carried a gold-headed cane. Whatever emotion he may have felt was concealed by the upright carriage and solemn pace proper to a visit of state.

Captain Barker, who stood at the lower end of the garden and stooped over his beloved tulips, started at the sound of footsteps, looked round, and hastily plucking his wig from the handle of a spade that stood upright in the mould by his elbow, arranged it upon his bald scalp and awaited the other's advance.

The pair did not shake hands.

"I have come to speak with you about—er—Tristram." The name stuck in Captain Jeremy's throat.

"The boy strayed into your premises to-day. I know it. If you are aggrieved by such a trifle—"

"I am not. If you doubt the sufficiency of my excuse for calling upon you, let me say at once that I come as the boy's guardian."

"Upon my word—"

"As his legal guardian."

"Bah! This is too much! Do you conceive yourself to be jesting?"

"Have you ever known me to jest?"

"Not wilfully."

"Not, at any rate, upon parchment. Be so good as to run your eye over this."

The little man took the copy of Silvanus Tellworthy's will and fumbled it between his fingers.

"Is this some dirty trick of lawyer's work?"

"It is."

"Do you really wish me to read it?"

"Unless you prefer me to explain."

"I do—vastly."

"Very well, then."

And Captain Runacles proceeded to explain the will in a hard, methodical voice, nodding his head whenever he reached a point of importance at the parchment which rustled between Captain Barker's fingers. For a while this rustle sounded like the whisper of a gathering storm.

"It follows from this," concluded Captain Runacles, "that I am responsible for the child's upbringing. Can you carry the reasoning a step farther?"

The little man looked up. The wrath had clean died out of his puckered face; and in place of it there showed a blank despair, mingled with loathing and unspeakable bitterness of soul.

"Yes, I can," he replied very slowly, and turning away his face leant a hand on the spade beside him. "Oh, Jemmy, Jemmy!" he muttered.

There was no entreaty in the words, but they pierced Captain Jemmy's heart like two stabs of a knife. He took a step forward and stretched out a hand as if to lay it on his old friend's shoulder. The little man jumped aside, faced him again, hissing out one word—

"You!"

The arm dropped.

"Jack—I'm sorry; but you have drawn the wrong conclusion."

The pair looked each other in the face for a moment, and Captain Runacles went on, but more coldly and as if repeating a task—

"Yes, the wrong conclusion. For my own part, as you once pointed out, I have a girl. I may add that I propose to train up Sophia; and I haven't the faintest doubt that, in spite of her sex, I can train her to knock your Tristram into a cocked-hat in every department of useful knowledge. At the same time it has occurred to me that, as his guardian, I am at least bound to give the boy every chance. You are teaching him gardening?"

Captain Barker nodded, with a face profoundly puzzled.

"You object to it?" he asked.

"Decidedly, under your present conditions. You are cramped for space."

"We are using every inch between the road and the marsh."

"You forget my back-garden, which lies waste at present."

"My dear Jemmy!"

"By knocking a hole in the party hedge you gain two and a half acres at least. Then, as to water—you depend on the rainfall."

"That's true."

"But there's an excellent spring between this and Dovercourt; and the owner will sell."

"It's half a mile away."

"God bless my soul! I suppose I am not too old to design a conduit."

Captain Jack's arm stole into Captain Jemmy's.

"You'll be saying next," the latter went on, "that I'm too old to set about draining the marsh. Then, as to sundials: you're amazingly deficient in sundials. Now half a dozen here and there—and a fish-pond or two—unless you'd like to have a moat. I could run you a moat around the back, and keep it supplied with fresh water all the year round. By the way, talking of moats and fresh water, did I tell you that Roderick Salt was not drowned, after all?"

"Eh? How did he die, then?"

"He's not dead."

"Good God!"

"He has been seen at The Hague, and again at Cuxhaven, by men of this very port. Beckerleg will give you their names."

"But you tell me—the will, here, says—that he's joint guardian—"

"Yes: it's serious, if he finds out. Mr. Finch—I may say I've a large respect for that attorney—Mr. Finch suggests that it may have been his ghost. I think, Jack, we must take that explanation."

"Rubbish!"

"Ghosts have some useful properties."

"Name one or two."

"Well, to start with, they can be disbelieved in until seen."

"I begin to see."

"Then, again, should one appear, he can be believed in and walked through. This is a rule without exceptions. If you have reason to believe that a ghost stands before you, your first step would be to make a hole in him to convince yourself."

"But if one should be mistaken?"

"If the apparition gives up the ghost, so to speak, and you find yourself mistaken, I see no harm in owning it. As co-trustee of aggrieved man, I will at any time listen to your apologies. By the by, I have asked Mr. Finch to call upon you to-morrow and explain his theory, among other matters of business. You will understand that I bear no affection towards this boy of yours: on the contrary, I sincerely desire my Sophia to shame him with her attainments. It is a mere matter of my duty towards him; and I'll be obliged if you keep him, as far as possible, out of my sight. Now about those dials—"

Captain Barker understood, but replied only by tightening for a moment the hand that rested on his comrade's sleeve. The old friends moved on beside the flower-borders and fell into trivial converse to hide a joy as deep as that of sweethearts who have quarrelled and now are reconciled.



CHAPTER V.

A SWARM OF BEES.

The green volumes in which, for the next thirteen years, Captain Barker kept accurate chronicle of Tristram's progress, and of every fact, however trivial, that seemed to illustrate it, have since been lost to the world, as our story will show. There were thirty-seven of these volumes; and as soon as one was filled Dr. Beckerleg presented another. It is our duty to take up the tale on the 1st of May, 1691—the very day upon which misfortune stopped Captain Barker's pen and (as it turned out) closed his magnum opus for ever.

Let us record only that during these thirteen years Tristram added so much to his stature as to astonish his friends whenever they looked at him; and that he took little interest in the affairs of the world beyond the privet hedge—affairs which just then were extremely unsettled and disturbed the sleep and appetite of a vast number of people. To begin with, King Charles had died without doing his faithful subjects the honour of explaining whether he did so as a Protestant or a Papist, an uncertainty which caused them endless trouble. The religion of his brother and successor, though quite unambiguous, put them to no less vexation by being incurably wrong; and after four years of heated controversy they felt justified in flocking, more in sorrow than in anger, round the standard of William, Prince of Orange, who agreed with them on first principles and had sailed into Torbay before an exceedingly prosperous breeze. King James having escaped to Saint Germains, King William reigned in his stead, to the welfare of his people and the disgust of Captain Barker and Captain Runacles, who from habit were unable to regard a Dutchman otherwise than as an enemy to be knocked on the head. Moreover, they retained a warm respect for the seamanship of their ejected Sovereign, under whom they had frequently served, when as Duke of York he had commanded the British Fleet.

Now, shortly after daybreak upon May morning, 1691—which fell on a Friday—his Majesty King William the Third set out from Kensington for Harwich, where a squadron of five-and-twenty sail, under command of Rear-Admiral Rooke, lay waiting to escort him to The Hague, there to open the summer campaign against King Lewis of France. This expedition raised his Majesty's spirits for more than one reason. Not only would it take him for some months out of a country he detested, and back to his beloved Holland—the very flatness of which was inexpressibly dear to his recollection, though he had left it but a month or two—but the prospect of this year's campaign had awakened quite an extraordinary enthusiasm in England. For the first time since Henry the Eighth had laid siege to Boulogne, an English army commanded by an English king was about to exhibit its prowess on Continental soil. It became the rage among the young gentlemen of St. James's and Whitehall to volunteer for service in Flanders. The coffee-houses were threatened with desertion, and a prodigious number of banquets had been held by way of farewell. The regiments which marched into Harwich on the last day of April to await the King were swollen with recruits eager for glory. Addresses of duty and loyalty met his Majesty at every halting-place, and acclamations followed the royal coach throughout the route. The townsfolk of Harwich, in particular, had hung out every scrap of bunting they could find, besides erecting half a dozen triumphal arches, which by their taste and magnificence were calculated to leave the most favourable impression in the Sovereign's mind.

The first of these arches, bearing the inscription God Save King William, Defender of our Faith and Liberty, was erected on the London road, a dozen paces beyond the Fish and Anchor Inn, Captain Barker having refused the landlord—who desired to build the arch right in front of his inn-door—permission to set up any pole or support against the privet hedge. In fact, he and Captain Runacles had sworn very heartily to sit indoors, pull down their blinds and withhold their countenances from the usurper.

Nature, however, which regards neither the majesty of kings nor the indignation of their subjects, made frustrate this unamiable design.

At twenty minutes past four that afternoon a hiveful of Captain Barker's bees took it into their heads to swarm.

It was a warm afternoon, and the little man sat in his library composing a letter to Mr. John Ray, of Cambridge University, whose forthcoming Historia Plantarum he believed himself to be enriching with one or two suggestions on hibernation. Narcissus Swiggs was down at the Fish and Anchor drinking King William's health. Tristram, who was supposed to be at work clipping the privet hedge around the apiarium, was engaged in the summer-house, at the far end of it, upon business of his own.

This business—the nature of which shall be explained hereafter— completely engrossed him. Nor did he even hear the restless hum of the bees at the mouth of the hive, ten paces away, nor the noisy bustle of the drones. It was only when the swarm poured out upon the air with a whir of wings and, darkening for an instant the sunny doorway of the summer-house, sailed over the yew hedge towards the road, that Tristram leapt to his feet and ran at full speed towards the pavilion.

"The bees have swarmed!" he called out, thrusting his head in at the library window.

Captain Barker dropped his pen, bounced up, and came rushing out by the front-door.

"Where?"

"Down towards the road."

Years had not tamed the little hunchback's agility. Without troubling to fetch hat or wig, he raced down the garden path, and had almost reached the gate before Tristram caught him up.

"Up or down did they go?" he asked, standing in the middle of the road, uncertain in which direction to run.

"Across, most likely; but higher up than this, by the line they took," Tristram answered, pointing in the direction of the town. "Hullo!"

"What is it?"

"Why, look: there—under the arch!"

Beneath the very centre of the triumphal arch, and directly under the sacred name of King William, there hung a black object larger than a man's head and in shape resembling a bunch of grapes. It was the swarm, and a very fine one, numbering—as Captain Barker estimated— twenty thousand workers at the very least. He ran under the arch, and nearly cricked his neck staring up at them.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse