E-text prepared by Lionel Sear
THE MAYOR OF TROY.
Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch.
1906 This e-text prepared from a reprint of a version published in 1906.
TO MY FRIEND KENNETH GRAHAM AND THE REST OF THE CREW OF THE "RICHARD AND EMILY" AND WITH APOLOGIES TO THE MAYOR OF LOSTWITHIEL A BOROUGH FOR WHICH I HAVE (WITH CAUSE) MUCH AFFECTION AND A VERY HIGH ESTEEM.
I. OUR MAJOR.
II. OUR MAYOR.
III. THE MILLENNIUM.
IV. HOW THE TROY GALLANTS CHALLENGED THE LOOE DIEHARDS.
V. INTERFERENCE OF A GUERNSEY MERCHANT.
VI. MALBROUCK S'EN VA.
VII. THE BATTLE OF TALLAND COVE.
VIII. "COME, MY CORINNA, COME!"
IX. BY LERRYN WATER.
X. GUNNER SOBEY TURNS LOOSE THE MILLENNIUM.
XI. THE MAJOR LEAVES US.
XII. A COLD DOUCHE ON A HOT FIT.
XIII. A VERY HOT PRESS.
XIV. THE "VESUVIUS" BOMB.
XVI. FAREWELL TO ALBION!
XIX. THE RETURN.
XX. IN WHICH THE MAJOR LEARNS THAT NO MAN IS NECESSARY.
XXI. FACES IN WATER.
XXII. WINDS UP WITH A MERRY-GO-ROUND.
THE MAYOR OF TROY.
Good wine needs no bush; but this story has to begin with an apology.
Years ago I promised myself to write a treatise on the lost Mayors of Cornwall—dignitaries whose pleasant fame is now night, recalled only by some neat byword or proverb current in the Delectable (or as a public speaker pronounced it the other day, the Dialectable) Duchy. Thus you may hear of "the Mayor of Falmouth, who thanked God when the town jail was enlarged"; "the Mayor of Market Jew, sitting in his own light"; "the Mayor of Tregoney, who could read print upside-down, but wasn't above being spoken to"; "the Mayor of Calenick, who walked two miles to ride one"; "the Mayor of East Looe, who called the King of England 'Brother.'" Everyone remembers the stately prose in which Gibbon records when and how he determined on his great masterpiece, when and how he completed it. "It was at Rome: on the 15th of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the bare-footed friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the Decline and Fall of the City first started in my mind." So I could tell with circumstance when, where and how I first proposed my treatise; and shall, perhaps, when I have concluded it. But life is short; and for the while my readers may be amused with an instalment.
Now of all the Mayors of Cornwall the one who most engaged my speculation, yet for a long while baffled all research, was "the Mayor of Troy, so popular that the town made him Ex-Mayor the year following."
Of course, if you don't know Troy, you will miss half the reason of my eagerness. Simple, egregious, adorable town! Shall I go on here to sing its praises? No; not yet.
The reason why I could learn nothing concerning him is that, soon after 1832, when the Reform Bill did away with Troy's Mayor and Corporation, as well as with its two Members of Parliament, someone made a bonfire of all the Borough records. O Alexandria! And the man said at the time that he did it for fun!
This brings me to yet another Mayor—the Mayor of Lestiddle, who is a jolly good fellow.
Nothing could be handsomer than my calling the Mayor of Lestiddle a jolly good fellow; for in fact we live at daggers drawn. You must know that Troy, a town of small population (two thousand or so) but of great character and importance, stands at the mouth of a river where it widens into a harbour singularly beautiful and frequented by ships of all nations; and that seven miles up this river, by a bridge where the salt tides cease, stands Lestiddle, a town of fewer inhabitants and of no character or importance at all. Now why the Reform Bill, which sheared Troy of its ancient dignities, should have left Lestiddle's untouched, is a question no man can answer me; but this I know, that its Mayor goes flourishing about with a silver mace shaped like an oar, as a symbol of jurisdiction over our river from its mouth (forsooth) so far inland as a pair of oxen yoked together can be driven in its bed.
He has, in fact, no such jurisdiction. Above bridge he may, an it please him, drive his oxen up the riverbed, and welcome. I leave him to the anglers he will discommodate by it. But his jurisdiction below bridge was very properly taken from him by order of our late Queen (whose memory be blessed!) in Council, and vested in the Troy Harbour Commission. Now I am Chairman of that Commission, and yet the fellow declines to yield up his silver oar! We in Troy feel strongly about it. It is not for nothing (we hold) that when he or his burgesses come down the river for a day's fishing the weather invariably turns dirty. We mislike them even worse than a German band—which brings us no worse, as a rule, than a spell of east wind.
Nevertheless, the Mayor of Lestiddle is a jolly good fellow, and I am glad that his townsmen (such as they are) have re-elected him. One day this last summer he came down to fish for mackerel at the harbour's mouth, which can be done at anchor since our sardine factory has taken to infringing the by-laws and discharging its offal on the wrong side of the prescribed limit. (We Harbour Commissioners have set our faces against this practice, but meanwhile it attracts the fish.) It was raining, of course. Rowing close up to me, the Mayor of Lestiddle asked—for we observe the ordinary courtesies— what bait I was using. I answered, fresh pilchard bait; and offered him some, delicately forbearing to return the question, since it is an article of faith with us that the burgesses of Lestiddle bait with earthworms which they dig out of their back gardens. Well, he accepted my pilchard bait, and pulled up two score of mackerel within as many minutes, which doubtless gave him something to boast about on his return.
He was not ungrateful. Next week I received from him a parcel of MS. with a letter saying that he had come across it, "a fly in amber," in turning over a pile of old Stannary records. How it had found its way among them he could not guess.
A fly in amber, quotha! A jewel in a midden, rather! How it came among his trumpery archives I know as little as he, but can guess. Some Lestiddle man must have stolen it, and chosen them as a safe hiding-place.
It gave me the clue, and more than the clue. I know now the history of that Mayor of Troy who was so popular that the town made him Ex-Mayor the year following.
Listen! Stretch out both hands; open your mouth and shut your eyes! It is a draught of Troy's own vintage that I offer you; racy, fragrant of the soil, from a cask these hundred years sunk, so that it carries a smack, too, of the submerging brine. You know the old recipe for Wine of Cos, that full-bodied, seignorial, superlative, translunary wine.
Yet I know not how to begin.
"Fortunam Priami cantabo et nobile bellum."
"I will sing you Troy and its Mayor and a war of high renown," that is how I want to begin; but Horace in his Ars Poetica—confound him!—has chosen this very example as a model to avoid, and the critics would be down on me in a pack.
Very well, then, let us try a more reputable way.
Arms and the Man I sing!
When, on the 16th of May, 1803, King George III. told his faithful subjects that the Treaty of Amiens was no better than waste paper, Troy neither felt nor affected to feel surprise. King, Consul, Emperor—it knew these French rulers of old, under whatever title they might disguise themselves. More than four centuries ago an English King had sent his pursuivants down to us with a message that "the Gallants of Troy must abstain from attacking, plundering, and sinking the ships of our brother of France, because we, Edward of England, are at peace with our brother of France": and the Gallants of Troy had returned an answer at once humble and firm: "Your Majesty best knows your Majesty's business, but we are at war with your brother of France." Yes, we knew these Frenchmen. Once before, in 1456, they had thought to surprise us, choosing a night when our Squire was away at market, and landing a force to burn and sack us: and our Squire's wife had met them with boiling lead. His Majesty's Ministers might be taken at unawares, not we. We slept Bristol fashion, with one eye open.
But when, as summer drew on, news came that the infamous usurper was collecting troops at Boulogne, and flat-bottomed boats, to invade us; when the spirit of the British people armed for the support of their ancient glory and independence against the unprincipled ambition of the French Government; when, in the Duchy alone, no less than 8511 men and boys enrolled themselves in twenty-nine companies of foot, horse and artillery, as well out of enthusiasm as to escape the general levy threatened by Government (so mixed are all human motives); then, you may be sure, Troy did not lag behind.
Ah! but we had some brave corps among the Duchy Volunteers!
There was the St. Germans Subscription Troop, for instance, which consisted of forty men and eleven uniforms, and hunted the fox thrice a week during the winter months under Lord Eliot, Captain and M.F.H. There was the Royal Redruth Infantry, the famous "Royal Reds," of 103 men and five uniforms. These had heard, at second hand, of Bonaparte's vow to give them no quarter, and wore a conspicuous patch of red in the seat of their pantaloons that he might have no excuse for mistaking them. There was the even more famous Mevagissey Battery, of no men and 121 uniforms. In Mevagissey, as you may be aware, the bees fly tail-foremost; and therefore, to prevent bickerings, it was wisely resolved at the first drill to make every unit of this corps an officer.
But the most famous of all (and sworn rivals) were two companies of coast artillery—the Looe Diehards and the Troy Gallants.
The Looe Diehards (seventy men and two uniforms) wore dark blue coats and pantaloons, with red facings, yellow wings and tassels, and white waistcoats. Would you know by what feat they earned their name? Listen. I quote the very words of their commander, Captain Bond, who survived to write a History of Looe—and a sound book it is. "The East and West Looe Volunteer Artillery was established in 1803, and kept in pay from Government for six years. Not a single man of the company died during the six years, which is certainly very remarkable."
But, when you come to think of it, what an even more remarkable boast for a body of warriors!
We of Troy (180 men and two uniforms) laughed at this claim. Say what you will, there is no dash about longevity, or very little. For uniform we wore dark-blue coats and pantaloons, with white wings and facings, edged and tasselled with gilt, and scarlet waistcoats, also braided with gilt. We wanted no new name, we! Ours was an inherited one, derived from days when, under Warwick the King-maker, Lord High Admiral of England, we had swept the Channel, summoned the men of Rye and Winchelsea to vail their bonnets—to take in sail, mark you: no trumpery dipping of a flag would satisfy us—and when they stiff-neckedly refused, had silenced the one town and carried off the other's chain to hang across our harbour from blockhouse to blockhouse. Also, was it not a gallant of Troy that assailed and carried the great French pirate, Jean Doree, and clapped him under his own hatches?
"The roaring cannons then were plied, And dub-a-dub went the drum-a; The braying trumpets loud they cried To courage both all and some-a."
"The grappling-hooks were brought at length, The brown bill and the sword-a; John Dory at length, for all his strength, Was clapt fast under board-a."
That was why we wore our uniforms embroidered with gold (dores). The Frenchmen, if they came, would understand the taunt.
But most of all we were proud of Solomon Hymen, our Major and our Mayor of Troy.
I can see him now as he addressed us on the evening of our first drill, standing beside the two long nineteen-pounders on the Old Fort; erect, with a hand upon his ivory sword-hilt, his knops and epaulettes flashing against the level sun. I can see his very gesture as he enjoined silence on the band; for we had a band, and it was playing "Come, Cheer Up, My Lads!" As though we weren't cheerful enough already!
[But "Come, come!" the reader will object. "All this happened a hundred years ago. Yet here are you talking as if you had been present." Very true: it is a way we have in Troy. Call it a foible—but forgive it! The other day, for instance, happening on the Town Quay, I found our gasman, Mr. Rabling, an earnest Methodist, discussing to a small crowd on the subject of the Golden Calf, and in this fashion: "Well, friends, in the midst of all this pillaloo, hands-across and down-the-middle, with old Aaron as bad as any and flinging his legs about more boldacious with every caper, I happens to glance up the hill, and with that I gives a whistle; for what do I see but a man aloft there picking his way down on his heels with a parcel under his arm! Every now and then he pulls up, shading his eyes, so, like as if he'd a lost his bearin's. I glances across to Aaron, and thinks I, 'Look out for squalls! Here's big brother coming, and a nice credit this'll be to the family!' . . ." The historic present, as my Latin grammar used to call it, is our favourite tense: and if you insist that, not being a hundred years old, I cannot speak as an eye-witness of this historic scene, my answer must be Browning's,—"All I can say is—I saw it!"]
"Gentlemen!" began the Major.
We might not all be officers, like the Mevagissey Artillery, but in the Troy Gallants we were all gentlemen.
"Gentlemen!"—the Major waved an arm seaward—"yonder lies your enemy. Behind you"—he pointed up the harbour to the town— "England relies on your protection. Shall the Corsican tyrant lay his lascivious hands upon her ancient liberties, her reformed and Protestant religion, her respectable Sovereign and his Consort, her mansions, her humble cottages, and those members of the opposite sex whose charms reward, and, in rewarding, refine us? Or shall we meet his flat-bottomed boats with a united front, a stern 'Thus far and no farther,' and send them home with their tails between their legs? That, gentlemen, is the alternative. Which will you choose?"
Here the Major paused, and finding that he expected an answer, we turned our eyes with one consent upon Gunner Sobey, the readiest man in the company.
"The latter!" said Gunner Sobey, with precision; whereat we gave three cheers. We dined, that afternoon, in the Long Room of the "Ship" Inn, and afterwards danced the night through in the Town Hall.
The Major danced famously. Above all things, he prided himself on being a ladies' man, and the fair sex (as he always called them) admired him without disguise. His manner towards them was gallant yet deferential, tender yet manly. He conceded everything to their weakness; yet no man in Troy could treat a woman with greater plainness of speech. The confirmed spinsters (high and low, rich and poor, we counted seventy-three of them in Troy) seemed to like him none the less because he lost no occasion, public or private, of commending wedlock. For the doctrine of Mr. Malthus (recently promoted to a Professorship at the East India College) he had a robust contempt. He openly regretted that, owing to the negligence of our forefathers, the outbreak of war found Great Britain with but fifteen million inhabitants to match against twenty-five million Frenchmen. They threatened to invade us, whereas we should rather have been in a position to march on Paris! He asked nothing better. He quoted with sardonic emphasis the remark of a politician that "'twas hardly worth while to go to war merely to prove that we could put ourselves in a good posture for defence."
"If I had my way," announced Major Hymen, "every woman in England should have a dozen children at least."
"What a man!" said Miss Pescod afterwards to Miss Sally Tregentil, who had dropped in for a cup of tea.
And yet the Major was a bachelor. They could not help wondering a little.
"With two such names, too!" mused Miss Sally. "'Solomon' and 'Hymen'; they certainly suggest—they would almost seem to give promise of, at least, a dual destiny."
"You mark my words," said Miss Pescod. "That man has been crossed in love."
"But who?" asked Miss Sally, her eyes widening in speculation. "Who could have done such a thing?"
"My dear, I understand there are women in London capable of anything."
The Major, you must know, had spent the greater part of his life in the capital as a silk-mercer and linen-draper—I believe, in the Old Jewry; at any rate, not far from Cheapside. He had left us at the age of sixteen to repair the fortunes of his family, once opulent and respected, but brought low by his great-grandfather's rash operations in South Sea stock. In London, thanks to an ingratiating manner with the sex on which a linen-draper relies for patronage, he had prospered, had amassed a competence, and had sold his business to retire to his native town, as Shakespeare retired to Stratford-on-Avon, and at about the same period of life.
Had the Major in London been crossed in love? No; I incline to believe that Miss Pescod was mistaken. That hearts, up there, fluttered for a man of his presence is probable, nay certain. In port and even in features he bore a singular likeness to the Prince Regent. He himself could not but be aware of this, having heard it so often remarked upon by persons acquainted with his Royal Highness as well as by others who had never set eyes on him. In short, our excellent Major may have dallied in his time with the darts of love; there is no evidence that he ever took a wound.
Within a year after his return he bought back the ancestral home of the Hymens, a fine house dating from the reign of Queen Anne. (His great-grandfather had built it on the site of a humbler abode, on the eve of the South Sea collapse.) It stood at the foot of Custom House Hill and looked down the length of Fore Street—a perspective view of which the Major never wearied—no, not even on hot afternoons when the population took its siesta within doors and, in the words of Cai Tamblyn, "you might shot a cannon down the streets of Troy, and no person would be shoot." This Cai (or Caius) Tamblyn, an eccentric little man of uncertain age, with a black servant Scipio, who wore a livery of green and scarlet and slept under the stairs, made up the Major's male retinue. Between them they carried his sedan chair; and because Cai (who walked in front) measured but an inch above five feet, whereas Scipio stood six feet three in his socks, the Major had a seat contrived with a sharp backward slope, and two wooden buffers against which he thrust his feet when going down-hill. Besides these, whom he was wont to call, somewhat illogically, his two factotums, his household comprised Miss Marty and a girl Lavinia who, as Miss Marty put it, did odds and ends. Miss Marty was a poor relation, a third or fourth cousin on the maternal side, whom the Major had discovered somewhere on the other side of the Duchy, and promoted. Socially she did not count. She asked no more than to be allowed to feed and array the Major, and gaze after him as he walked down the street.
And what a progress it was!
Again I can see him as he made ready for it, standing in his doorway at the head of a flight of steps, which led down from it to the small wrought-iron gate opening on the street. The house has since been converted into bank premises and its threshold lowered for the convenience of customers. Gone are the plants—the myrtle on the right of the porch, the jasmine on the left—with the balusters over which they rambled, and the steps which the balusters protected—ah, how eloquently the Major's sword clanked upon these as he descended! But the high-pitched roof remains, with its three dormer windows still leaning awry, and the plaster porch where a grotesque, half-human face grins at you from the middle of a fluted sea-shell. Standing before it with half-closed eyes, I behold the steps again, and our great man at the head of them receiving his hat from the obsequious Scipio, drawing on his gloves, looping his malacca cane to his wrist by its tasselled cord of silk. The descent might be military or might be civil: he was always Olympian.
"The handsome he is!" Miss Marty would sigh, gazing after him.
"A fine figure of a man, our Major!" commented Butcher Oke, following him from the shop-door with a long stare, after the day's joint had been discussed and chosen.
The children, to whom he was ever affable, stopped their play to take and return his smile. Some even grinned and saluted. They reserved their awe for Scipio. Indeed, there is a legend that when Scipio made his first appearance in Fore Street—he being so tall and the roadway so narrow—he left in his wake two rows of supine children who, parting before him, had gradually tilted back as their gaze climbed up his magnificent and liveried person until the sight of his ebon face toppled them over, flat.
Miss Jex, the postmistress, would hand him his letters or his copy of the Sherborne Mercury with a troubled blush. No exception surely could be taken if she, a Government official, chose to hang a coloured engraving of the Prince Regent on the wall behind her counter. And yet—the resemblance! She had heard of irregular alliances, Court scandals; she had even looked out "Morganatic" in the dictionary, blushing for the deed while pretending to herself (fie, Miss Jex!) that "Moravian" was the word she sought.
In Admirals' Row—its real name was Admiral's Row, and had been given to it in 1758, after the capture of Louisbourg and in honour of Admiral Boscawen; but we in Troy preferred to write the apostrophe after the 's'—Miss Sally Tregentil would overpeer her blind and draw back in a flutter lest the Major had observed her.
"Georgiana Pescod is positive that he was wild in his youth. But how," Miss Sally asked herself, "can Georgiana possibly know? And if he were—"
I leave you, my reader, as you know the female heart, to continue Miss Sally's broken musings.
Cedant arma togae. It is time we turned from the Major to the Mayor, from the man of gallantry to the magistrate.
You know, I dare say, the story of the King of England and the King of Portugal. The King of Portugal paid the King of England a visit. "My brother," said the King of England, after some days, "I wish to ask you a question." "Say on," said the King of Portugal. "I am curious to know what in these realms of mine has most impressed you?" The King of Portugal considered a while. "Your roast beef is excellent," said he. "And after our roast beef, what next?" The King of Portugal considered a while longer. "Your boiled beef very nearly approaches it." So, if you had asked us on what first of all we prided ourselves in Troy, we had pointed to our Major. If you had asked "What next?" we had pointed to our Mayor.
And these, our Dioscuri, were one and the same man! In truth, I suppose we ought to have been proudest of him as Mayor; since as Mayor he represented the King himself among us—nay, to all intents and purposes was the King. More than once in his public speeches he reminded us of this: and we were glad to remember it when—as sometimes happened—we ran a cargo from Roscoff or Guernsey and left a cask or two privily behind the Mayor's quay door. We felt then that his Majesty had been paid duty, and could have no legitimate grievance against us.
Was there any mental confusion in this? You would pardon it had you ever been privileged to witness his Sunday procession to church, in scarlet robe trimmed with sable, in cocked-hat and chain of office; the mace-bearers marching before in scarlet with puce-coloured capes, the aldermen following after in tasselled gowns of black; the band ahead playing "The Girl I left behind Me" (for, although organised for home defence, our corps had chosen this to be its regimental tune). "Some talk of Alexander and some of Hercules"—and some of Solomon, who never saw our Solomon on the bench of justice!
Let me tell you of his famous decision on Sabbath-breaking. One Sunday afternoon our Mayor's slumbers were interrupted by Jago the constable, who haled before him a man, a horse, and two pannier-loads of vegetables, and charged the first-named with this heinous offence. The fellow—a small tenant-farmer from the outskirts of the parish—could not deny that he had driven his cart down to the Town Quay, unharnessed, and started in a loud voice to cry his wares. There, almost on the instant, Jago had taken him in flagrante delicto, and, having an impediment in his speech, had used no words but collared him.
"What have you to say for yourself?" the Mayor demanded.
"Darn me if I know what's amiss with the town to-day!" the culprit made answer. "Be it a funeral?"
"You are charged with trading, or attempting to trade, on the Sabbath; and sad hearing this will be for your old parents, John Polkinghorne."
John Polkinghorne scratched his head. "You ben't going to tell me that this be Sunday!" (You see, the poor fellow, living so far in the country, had somehow miscounted the week, and ridden in to market a day late.)
"Sunday?" cried the Mayor. "Look at my Bible, there, 'pon the table! Look at my clean bandanna!"—this was his handkerchief, that he had been wearing over his face while he dozed, to keep off the flies.
"Good Lord! And me all this morning in the homefield scoading dung!"
"You go home this instant, and take every bit of that dung off again before sunset," commanded the Mayor, "and if the Lord says no more about it, we'll overlook the case."
Maybe you have never heard either of his famous examination of Sarah Mennear, of the "Three Pilchards" Inn (commonly known as the "Kettle of Fish "), who applied for a separation, alleging that her husband had kissed her by mistake for another woman.
"What other woman?" demanded his Worship.
"Sorra wan o' me knows," answered Sarah, who came of Irish extraction.
Her tale went that the previous evening, a little after twilight, she was walking up the street and had gone by the door of the "Ship" Inn, when a man staggered out into the roadway and followed her. By the sound of his footsteps she took him for some drunken sailor, and was hurrying on (but not fast, by reason of her clogs), when the man overtook her, flung an arm around her neck, and forcibly kissed her. Breaking away from him, she discovered it was her own husband.
"Then where's the harm?" asked the Mayor.
"But, please your Worship, he took me for another woman."
"Then you must cite the other woman."
"Arrah now, and how the divvle, saving your Worship's presence, will I cite the hussy, seein' I never clapt eyes on her?"
"No difficulty at all. To begin with, she was wearing clogs."
"And so would nine women out of ten be wearin' clogs in last night's weather."
"And next, she was lifting the skirt of her gown high, to let the folks admire her ankles."
"Your Worship saw the woman, then? If I'd known your Worship to be within hail—"
"I think I know the woman. And so do you, Mrs. Mennear, if you can think of one in this town that's vain as yourself of her foot and ankle, and with as good a right."
"There's not one," said Mrs. Mennear positively.
"Oh yes, there is. Go back home, like a sensible soul, and maybe you'll find her there."
"The villain! Ye'll not be tellin' me he's dared—" Mrs. Mennear came near to choke.
"And small blame to him," said the Mayor with a twinkle. "Will you go home, Sarah Mennear, and be humble, and ask her pardon?"
"Will I sclum her eyes out, ye mane!" cried Sarah, fairly dancing.
"Go home, foolish wife!" The Mayor was not smiling now, and his voice took on a terrible sternness. "The woman I mean is the woman John Mennear married, or thought he married; the woman that aforetime had kept her own counsel though he caught and kissed her in a dimmety corner of the street; the woman that swore to love, honour and obey him, not she that tongue-drove him to the 'King of Prussia,' with his own good liquor to keep him easy at home. Drunk he must have been to mistake the one for t'other; and I'm willing to fine him for drunkenness. But cite that other woman here before you ask me for a separation order, and I'll grant it; and I'll warrant when John sees you side by side, he won't oppose it."
Here and there our Mayor had his detractors, no doubt. What public man has not? He incurred the reproach of pride, for instance, when he appeared, one wet day, carrying an umbrella, the first ever seen in Troy. A Guernsey merchant had presented him with this novelty (I may whisper here that our Mayor did something more than connive at the free trade) and patently it kept off the rain. But would it not attract the lightning? Many, even among his well-wishers, shook their heads. For their part they would have accepted the gift, but it should never have seen the light: they would have locked it away in their chests.
Oddly enough the Mayor nourished his severest censor in his own household. The rest of us might quote his wit, his wisdom, might defer to him as a being, if not superhuman, at least superlative among men; but Cai Tamblyn would have none of it. He had found one formula to answer all our praises.
"Him? Why, I knawed him when he was so high!"
Nor would he hesitate, in the Mayor's presence, from translating it into the second person.
"You? Why, I knawed you when you was so high!"
Yet the Mayor retained him in his service, which sufficiently proves his magnanimity.
He could afford to be magnanimous, being adored.
Who but he could have called a public meeting and persuaded the ladies of the town to enroll themselves in a brigade and patrol the cliffs in red cloaks during harvest, that the French, if perchance they approached our shores, might mistake them for soldiery? It was pretty, I tell you, to walk the coast-track on a warm afternoon and pass these sentinels two hundred yards apart, each busy with her knitting.
Of all the marks left on our town by Major Hymen's genius, the Port Hospital, or the idea of it, proved (as it deserved) to be the most enduring. The Looe Volunteers might pride themselves on their longevity—at the best a dodging of the common lot. We, characteristically, thought first of death and wounds.
As the Major put it, at another public meeting: "There are risks even in handling the explosives generously supplied to us by Government. But suppose—and the supposition is surely not extravagant—that history should repeat itself; that our ancient enemy should once again, as in 1456, thunder at this gate of England. He will thunder in vain, gentlemen! (Loud applause.) As a wave from the cliff he will draw back, hissing, from the iron mouths of our guns. But, gentlemen"—here the Mayor sank his voice impressively— "we cannot have omelets without the breaking of eggs, nor victories without effusion of blood. He may leave prisoners in our hands: he will assuredly leave us with dead to bury, with wounded to care for. As masters of the field, we shall discharge these offices of common humanity, not discriminating between friend and foe. But in what position are we to fulfil them?"
The fact was (when we came to consider it) our prevision had extended no farther than the actual combat: for its most ordinary results we had made no preparation at all.
But in Troy we are nothing if not thorough. The meeting appointed an Emergency Committee then and there; and the Committee, having retired to reassemble ten minutes later at the "General Wolfe," within an hour sketched out the following proposals:
1.—An Ambulance Corps to be formed of youths under sixteen (not being bandsmen) and adults variously unfit for military service.
2.—A Corps of Female Nurses. Miss Pescod to be asked to organise.
3.—The Town lock-up to be enlarged by taking down the partition between it and a chamber formerly used by the Constable as a potato store. It was also resolved to strengthen the door and provide it with two new bolts and padlocks.
4.—The question of enlarging the Churchyard was deferred to the next (Easter) vestry.
5.—Subscriptions to be invited for providing a War Hospital. The Mayor, with Lawyer Chinn (Town Clerk) and Alderman Hansombody, to seek for suitable premises, and report.
Of Dr. Hansombody I shall have more to tell anon. For the present let it suffice that before entering public life he had earned our confidence as an apothecary, and especially by his skill and delicacy in maternity cases.
These proposals were duly announced: and only if you know Troy can you conceive with what spirit the town flung itself into the task of making them effective. "Task," did I say? When I tell you that at our next drill a parade of thirty-two stretchers followed us up to the Old Fort (still to the tune of "Come, Cheer Up, My Lads!") you may guess how far duty and pleasure had made accord.
The project of a hospital went forward more slowly; but at length the Mayor and his Committee were able to announce that premises had been taken on a lease of seven years (by which time an end to the war might reasonably be predicted) in Passage Street, as you go towards the ferry; the exterior whitewashed and fitted with green jalousie shutters; the interior also cleaned and whitewashed, and a ward opened with two beds. Though few enough to meet the contingencies of invasion, and a deal too few (especially while they remained unoccupied) to satisfy the zeal of Miss Pescod's corps of nurses (which by the end of the second week numbered forty-three, with sixteen probationary members), these two beds exhausted our subscriptions for the time. A Ladies' Thursday Evening Working Party supplied them with sheets, pillows and pillow-cases, blankets and coverlets (twenty-two coverlets).
The Institution, as we have seen, was intended for a War Hospital; but pending invasion, and to get our nurses accustomed to the work, there seemed no harm in admitting as our first patient a sailor from Plymouth Dock who, having paid a lengthy call at the "King of Prussia" and drunk there exorbitantly, on the way to his ship had walked over the edge of the Town Quay. The tide being low, he had escaped drowning, but at the price of three broken ribs.
It is related of this man that early in his convalescence he sat up and demanded of the Visiting Committee (the Mayor and Miss Pescod) a translation of two texts which hung framed on the wall facing his bed. They had been illuminated by Miss Sally Tregentil at the instance of the Vicar (a Master of Arts of the University of Oxford) —the one, "Parcere Subjectis," the other, "Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori"
"Ah," said the Mayor, with a rallying glance at Miss Pescod, "that's more than any of us know. That's Latin!"
"Excuse me," put in Dr. Hansombody, who had been measuring out a draught at the little table by the window, "I don't pretend to be a scholar; but I have made out the gist of them; and I understand them to recommend a gentle aperient in cases which at first baffle diagnosis."
"Ah!" was the Mayor's only comment.
"I don't profess mine to be more than a free rendering," went on the little apothecary. "The Latin, as you would suppose, puts it more poetically."
"Talking of texts," said the patient, leaning back wearily on his pillow, "there was a woman somewhere in the Bible who put her head out of window and recommended for every man a damsel or two and a specified amount of needlework. I ain't complainin', mind you; but there's reason in all things."
You have heard how our movement was launched. Where it would have ended none can tell, had not the Millennium interfered.
Aristotle has laid it down that the highest drama concerns itself with reversal of fortune befalling a man highly renowned and prosperous, of better character rather than worse; and brought about less by vice than by some great error or frailty. After all that has been said, you will wonder how I can admit a frailty in Major Hymen. But he had one.
You will wonder yet more when you hear it defined. To tell the truth, he—our foremost citizen—yet missed being a perfect Trojan. We were far indeed from suspecting it; he was our fine flower, our representative man. Yet in the light of later events I can see now, and plainly enough, where he fell short.
A University Extension Lecturer who descended upon us the other day and, encouraged by the crowds that flocked to hear him discourse on English Miracle Plays, advertised a second series of lectures, this time on English Moralities, but only to find his audience diminished to one young lady (whom he promptly married)—this lecturer, I say, whose text-books indeed indicated several points of difference between the Miracle Play and the Morality, but nothing to account for so marked a subsidence in the register, departed in a huff, using tart language and likening us to a pack of children blowing bubbles.
There is something in the fellow's simile. When an idea gets hold of us in Troy, we puff at it, we blow it out and distend it to a globe, pausing and calling on one another to mark the prismatic tints, the fugitive images, symbols, meanings of the wide world glassed upon our pretty toy. We launch it. We follow it with our eyes as it floats from us—an irrecoverable delight. We watch until the microcosm goes pop! Then we laugh and blow another.
That is where the fellow's simile breaks down. While the game lasts we are profoundly in earnest, serious as children: but each bubble as it bursts releases a shower of innocent laughter, flinging it like spray upon the sky. There in a chime it hangs for a moment, and so comes dropping—dropping—back to us until:
"Quite through our streets, with silver sound"
The flood of laughter flows, and for weeks the narrow roadways, the quays and alleys catch and hold its refluent echoes. Your true Trojan, in short, will don and doff his folly as a garment. Do you meet him, grave as a judge, with compressed lip and corrugated brow? Stand aside, I warn you: his fit is on him, and he may catch you up with him to heights where the ridiculous and the sublime are one and all the Olympians as drunk as Chloe. Better, if you have no head for heights, wait and listen for the moment—it will surely come—when the bubble cracks, and with a laugh he is sane, hilariously sane.
Just here it was that our Mayor fell out with our genius loci. He could smile—paternally, magisterially, benignantly, gallantly, with patronage, in deprecation, compassionately, disdainfully (as when he happened to mention Napoleon Bonaparte); subtly and with intention; or frankly, in mere bonhomie; as a Man, as a Major, as a Mayor. But he was never known to laugh.
Through this weakness he fell. But he was a great man, and it took the Millennium-nothing less—to undo him.
Here let me say, once for all, that the Millennium was no invention of ours. It started with the Vicar of Helleston, and we may wash our hands of it.
On the first Sunday of January 1800, the Vicar of Helleston (an unimportant town in the extreme southwest of Cornwall, near the Lizard) preached a sermon which, at the request of a few parishioners, he afterwards published under the title of Reflections on the New Century. In delight, no doubt, at finding himself in print, he sent complimentary copies to a number of his fellow-clergy, and, among others, to the Vicar of Troy.
Our Vicar, being a scholar and a gentleman, but a determined foe to loose thinking (especially in Cambridge men), courteously acknowledged the gift, but took occasion to remind his brother of Helleston that Reflection was a retrospective process; that Man, as a finite creature, could but anticipate events before they happened; and that if the parishioners of Helleston wished to reflect on the New Century they would have to wait until January 1901, or something more than a hundred years.
The Vicar of Helleston replied, tacitly admitting his misuse of language, but demanding to know if in the Vicar of Troy's opinion the new century would begin on January 1st, 1801: for his own part he had supposed, and was prepared to maintain, that it had begun on January 1st, 1800.
To this the Vicar of Troy retorted that undoubtedly the new century would begin on the first day of January 1801, and that anyone who held another opinion must suffer from confusion of mind.
The Vicar of Helleston stuck to his contention, and a terrific correspondence ensued. With the arguments exchanged—which tended more and more to appeal from common sense to metaphysics—we need not concern ourselves. The most of them reappeared the other day (1900-1901) in the public press, and will doubtless reappear at the alleged beginning of every century to come. But in his sixth letter the Vicar of Helleston opened what I may call a masked battery.
He said—and I believe the fellow had been leading up to this from the start—that he desired to thresh the question out not only on general grounds, but officially as Vicar of Helleston; since he had reason to believe that a certain day in the opening year of the new century would bring a term to the Millennium; that the Millennium had begun in Helleston close on a thousand years ago; and that (as he calculated, on the 8th of May next approaching) Satan might reasonably be expected to regain his liberty (see Revelation xx.). For evidence he adduced a local tradition that in his parish the Archangel Michael (whose Mount stands at no great distance) had met and defeated the Prince of Darkness, had cast him into a pit, and had sealed the pit with a great stone; which stone might be seen by any visitor on application to the landlord of the "Angel" Inn and payment of a trifling fee. Moreover, the stone was black as your hat (unless you were a free-thinking Radical and wore a white one; in which case it was blacker). He pointed out that the name of Helleston—i.q., Hell's Stone—corroborated this tradition. He went on to say that annually, on the 8th of May, from time immemorial his parishioners had met in the streets and engaged in a public dance which either commemorated mankind's deliverance from the Spirit of Evil, or had no meaning at all.
The Vicar of Troy, warming to this new contention, riposted in masterly style. He answered Helleston's claim to a monopoly, or even a predominant interest, in the Devil by pelting his opponent with Devil's Quoits, Devil's Punch-bowls, Walking-sticks, Frying-pans, Pudding-dishes, Ploughshares; Devil's Strides, Jumps, Footprints, Fingerprints; Devil's Hedges, Ditches, Ridges, Furrows; Devil's Cairns, Cromlechs, Wells, Monoliths, Caves, Castles, Cliffs, Chasms; Devil's Heaths, Moors, Downs, Commons, Copses, Furzes, Marshes, Bogs, Streams, Sands, Quicksands, Estuaries; Devil's High-roads, By-roads, Lanes, Footpaths, Stiles, Gates, Smithies, Cross-roads; from every corner of the Duchy. He matched Helleston's May-dance with at least a score of similar May-day observances in different towns and villages of Cornwall. He quoted the Padstow Hobby-horse, the Towednack Cuckoo-feast, the Madron Dipping Day, the Troy May-dragon, and proved that the custom of ushering in the summer with song and dance and some symbolical rite of purgation was well-nigh universal throughout Cornwall. He followed the custom overseas, to Brittany, Hungary, the Black Forest, Moldavia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland, the Caucasus. . . . He wound up by sardonically congratulating the worthy folk of Helleston: if the events of the past thousand years satisfied their notion of a Millennium, they were easily pleased.
Well, the next thing to happen was that the Vicar of Helleston published a pamphlet of 76 pages 8vo, entitled Considerations Proper to the New Century, with some Reflections on the Millennium. Note, pray, the artfulness of the title, and, having noted it, let us pass on. Our Vicar did not trouble to reply, being off by this time on a scent of his own.
The dispute had served its purpose. On the morning of March 25th, 1804, he knocked at the Major's door, and, pushing past Scipio, rushed into the breakfast-parlour unannounced.
"My dear Vicar! What has happened? Surely the French—" The Major bounced up from his chair, napkin in hand.
"The Millennium, Major! I have it, I tell you!"
Miss Marty sat down the tea-pot with a trembling hand. She was always timid of infectious disease.
"O—oh!" The Major's tone expressed his relief. "I thought for the moment—and you not shaved this morning—"
"The fellow had hold of the stick all the while. I'll do him that credit. He had hold of the stick, but at the wrong end. I've been working it out, and 'tis plain (excuse me) as the nose on your face. The moment you see 'Napoleon' with the numbers under him—"
"Eh? Then it is the French!" Again the Major bounced up from his chair.
"The French? Yes, of course—but, excuse me—"
"What numbers?" The Major's voice shook, though he bravely tried to control it.
"Good Lord! Where?"
"—And sixty and six. In Revelation thirteen, eighteen—I thought you knew!" went on the Vicar reproachfully, as his friend dropped back upon his chair, and, resting an elbow on the table, shaded his eyes and their emotion. "As I can now prove to you in ten minutes, the Corsican's name spells accurately the Number of the Beast. But that's only the beginning. Power, you remember, was given to the Beast to continue forty and two months. Add forty and two months to the first day of the century, which I have shown to be January 1st, 1801, and you come to May 1st, 1804: that is to say, next May-day. You perceive the significance of the date?"
"Not entirely," confessed the Major, still a trifle pale. "Why, my dear sir, all these rites and customs over which the Vicar of Helleston and I have been disputing—these May-day observances, in themselves apparently so puerile but so obviously symbolical to one who looks below the surface—turn out to be not retrospective, not reminiscent, not commemorative at all, but anticipatory. On every 1st of May our small urchins form a dragon or devil out of old pots and saucepans, and flog it through the streets. Ex ore infantum— on the 1st of May next (mark my words) we shall see Satan laid hold upon and bound for a thousand years."
"Good Lord!" exclaimed the Major once again.
"In the middle of spring-cleaning, too!" quavered Miss Marty.
"You'll find it as clear as daylight," the Vicar assured them, pulling out a pocket Testament and tapping the open page.
"Will it," the Major began timorously, "will it make an appreciable difference?"
"To—to our daily life—our routine? Call it humdrum, if you will—"
"My good friend, the Millennium!"
"I know, I know. Still, at my age a man has formed habits. Of course"—the Major pulled himself together—"if it's a question of Satan's being bound for a thousand years, on general grounds one can only approve. Yes, decidedly, on principle one welcomes it. Nevertheless, coming so suddenly—"
The Vicar tapped his Testament again. "It has been here all the time."
"Yes, yes," the Major sighed impatiently. "Still, it's upsetting, you'll admit."
"The end of the world!" Miss Marty gripped her apron, as if to cast it over her head.
"The Millennium, Miss Marty, is not the end of the world."
"Oh, isn't it?"
"It merely means that Satan will be bound for a thousand years to come."
"If that's all"—Miss Marty walked to the bell-rope—"there's no harm in ringing for Scipio to bring in the omelet."
"I beg your pardon?" The Vicar, not for the first time, found it difficult to follow Miss Marty's train of thought.
"Scipio never repeats what he hears at table: I'll say that for him. And I believe in feeding people up."
The Vicar turned to Major Hymen, who had pushed back his chair and was staring at the tablecloth from under a puckered brow.
"I fear this has come upon you somewhat suddenly: but my first thought, as soon as I had convinced myself—"
"Thank you, Vicar. I appreciate that, of course."
"And, after all—when you come to think of it—an event of this magnitude, happening in your mayoralty—"
"Will they knight him, do you think?" asked Miss Marty.
While the Vicar considered his answer, on top of this interruption came another—Scipio entering with the omelet. Now the entrance of the Major's omelet was a daily ritual. It came on a silver dish, heated by a small silver spirit-lamp, on a tray covered by a spotless linen cloth. Scipio, its cook and compounder, bore it with professional pride, supporting the dish on one palm bent backwards, and held accurately level with his shoulder; whence, by a curious and quite indescribable turn of the wrist (Scipio was double-jointed), during which for one fearful tenth of a second they seemed to hang upside down, he would bring tray, lamp, dish and omelet down with a sweep, and deposit them accurately in front of the Major's plate, at the same instant bringing his heels together and standing at attention for his master's approval.
"Well done, Scipio!" the Major would say, nine days out of ten.
But to-day he pushed the tray from him pettishly, ignoring Scipio.
"You'll excuse me"—he turned to the Vicar—"but if what you say is correct (you may go, Scipio) it puts me in a position of some responsibility."
"I felt sure you would see it in that light. It's a responsibility for me, too."
"To-day is the twenty-fifth. We have little more than a month."
"What am I to say in church next Sunday?"
"Why, as for that, you must say nothing. Good Heavens! is this a time for adding to the disquietude of men's minds?"
"I had thought," the Vicar confessed, "of memorialising the Government."
"Addington!" The Major's tone whenever he had occasion to mention Mr. Addington was a study in scornful expression. He himself had once memorialised the Prime Minister for a couple of nineteen-pounders which, with the two on the Old Fort, would have made our harbour impregnable. "Addington! It's hard on you, I know," he went on sympathetically, "to keep a discovery like this to yourself. But we might tell Hansombody."
"Why Hansombody?" For the second time a suspicion crossed the Vicar's mind that his hearers were confusing the Millennium with some infectious ailment.
"It is bound to affect his practice," suggested Miss Marty.
"To be sure," the Major chimed in. As a matter of fact, he attached great importance to the apothecary's judgment, and was wont to lean on it, though not too ostentatiously. "It can hardly fail to affect his practice. I think, in common justice, Hansombody ought to be told; that is, if you are quite sure of your ground."
"Sure?" The Vicar opened his Testament afresh and plunged into an explanation. "And forty-two months," he wound up, "are forty-two months, unless you prefer to fly in the face of Revelation."
His demonstration fairly staggered the Major. "My good sir, where did you say? Patmos? Now, if anyone had come to me a week ago and told me—Martha, ring for Scipio, please, and tell him to fetch me my hat."
Although the Major and the Vicar had as good as made solemn agreement to impart their discovery to no one but Mr. Hansombody; and, although Miss Marty admittedly (and because, as she explained, no one had forbidden her) imparted it to Scipio and again to Cai Tamblyn in the course of the morning; yet, knowing Troy, I hesitate to blame her that before noon the whole town was discussing the Millennium, notice of which (it appeared) had come down to the Mayor by a private advice and in Government cipher.
"But what is a Millennium?" asked someone of Gunner Sobey (our readiest man).
"It means a thousand years," answered Gunner Sobey; "and then, if you're lucky, you gets a pension accordin'."
Miss Marty confessed later that she had confided the secret to Scipio. Now Scipio, a sentimental soul, cherished a passion. In church every Sunday he sat behind his master and in full view of a board on the wall of the south aisle whereon in scarlet letters on a buff ground were emblazoned certain bequests and charities left to the parish by the pious dead. The churchwardens who had set up this list, with the date, September 1757, and attested it with their names, had prudently left a fair blank space thereunder for additions. Often, during the Vicar's sermons, poor Scipio's gaze had dwelt on this blank space. Maybe the scarlet lettering above it fascinated him. Negroes are notoriously fond of scarlet. But out upon me for so mean a guess at his motives! Scipio, regarding this board Sunday by Sunday, saw in imagination his own name added to that glorious roll. He had a few pounds laid by. He owned neither wife nor child. Why should it not be? He was black: but a black man's money passed current as well as a white man's. Might not his name, Scipio Johnson, stand some day and be remembered as well as that of Joshua Milliton, A.M. (whatever A.M. might mean), who in 1714 had bequeathed moneys to provide, every Whit-Sunday and Christmas, "twelve white loaves of half a peck to as many virtuous poor widows"?
So when Miss Marty confided the news to him in the pantry where, as always at ten in the morning, he was engaged in cleaning the plate, Scipio's hand shook so violently that the silver sugar-basin slipped from his hold and, crashing down upon the breakfast-tray, broke two cups and the slop-basin into small fragments.
"Oh, Scipio!" Miss Marty's two hands went up in horrified dismay. "How could you be so careless!"
"The Millennium, miss!"
"We can never replace it—never!"
Scipio gazed at the tray: but what he saw was a shattered dream—a cracked board strewn with fragmentary scarlet letters and flourishes, "brief flourishes."—"Ole man Satan is among us sho 'nuff, Miss Marty: among us and kickin' up Saint's Delight, because his time is short. I was jes' thinkin' of the widows, miss."
"You have spoilt the set . . . eh? what widows? You don't mean to tell me that Satan—?"
Miss Marty broke off and gazed at Scipio with dawning suspicion, distrust, apprehension. She had never completely reconciled herself with the poor fellow's colour. The Major, in moments of irritation, would address him as "You black limb of Satan." He came from the Gold Coast, and she had heard strange stories of that happily distant, undesirable shore; stories of devil-worship, and—was it there they practised suttee? What did he mean by that allusion to widows? And why had he turned pale—yes, pale—when she announced the Evil One's approaching overthrow?
Miss Marty left him to pick up the pieces, and withdrew in some haste to the kitchen. Then, half an hour later, while rolling out the paste for a pie-crust, she imparted the news to Lavinia.
"It's to happen on May-day, Lavinia. The Major had word of it this morning, and—only think!—Satan is to be bound for a thousand years."
"Law, miss!" said Lavinia. "Apprentice?"
Cai Tamblyn heard of it in the garden, which was really a small flagged courtyard leading to the terrace, which again was really a small, raised platform with a table and a couple of chairs, where the Major sometimes smoked his pipe and overlooked the harbour and the shipping. Along each side of the courtyard ran a flower-bed, and in these Cai Tamblyn grew tulips and verbenas, according to the season, and kept them scrupulously weeded. He was stooping over his tulips when Miss Marty told him of the Millennium.
"What's that?" he asked, picking up a slug and jerking it across the harbour wall.
"It's a totally different thing from the end of the world. To begin with, Satan is to be taken and bound for a thousand years."
"Oh!" said Cai Tamblyn with fine contempt. "Him!"
HOW THE TROY GALLANTS CHALLENGED THE LOOE DIEHARDS.
That it was the Major's idea goes without saying. At Looe they had neither the originality for it nor the enterprise.
I have already told you with what sardonic emphasis he quoted the saying that 'twas hardly worth while for Great Britain to go to war merely to prove that she could put herself in a good posture for defence. The main secret of strategy, he would add, is to impose your idea of the campaign on your enemy; to take the initiative out of his hands; to throw him on the defensive and keep him nervously speculating what move of yours may be a feint and what a real attack. If the Ministry had given the Major his head, so to speak, Agincourt at least might have been repeated.
But since it enforced him to wait on the enemy's movements, at least (said he) let us be sure that our defence is secure. Concerning the Troy battery he had not a doubt; but over the defences of Looe he could not but feel perturbed. To be sure, Looe's main battery stood out of reach of harm, but with the compensating disadvantage of being able to inflict none. This seemed to him a grave engineering blunder: but to impart his misgivings to an officer so sensitive as Captain Aeneas Pond of the East and West Looe Volunteer Artillery was a delicate matter, and cost him much anxious thought.
At length he hit on a plan at once tactful and so bold that it concealed his tact. Between Looe and Troy, but much nearer to Looe, lies Talland Cove, a pretty recess of the coast much favoured in those days by smugglers as being lonely and well sheltered, with a nicely shelving beach on which, at almost any state of the tide, an ordinary small boat could be run and her cargo discharged with the greatest ease. A shelving ridge on the eastern side of the cove had only to be known to be avoided, and the run of sea upon the beach could be disregarded in any but a strong southerly wind.
Now, where the free-traders could so easily land a cargo, it stood to reason that Bonaparte (were he so minded) could land an invading force. Nay, once on a time the French had actually forced this very spot. A short way up the valley behind the cove stood a mill; and of that mill this story was told. About the time of the Wars of the Roses, the miller there gave entertainment to a fellow-miller from the Breton coast opposite, who had crossed over—or so he pretended— to learn by what art the English ground finer corn than the French. Coming by hazard to this mill above Talland, he was well entertained for a month or more And dismissed with a blessing; but only to return to his own country, collect a band of men and cross to Talland Cove, where on a Christmas Eve he surprised his late host at supper, bound him, haled him down to the shore, carried him off to Brittany, and there held him at ransom. The ransom was paid, and our Cornish miller, returning, built himself a secret cupboard behind the chimney for a hiding-place against another such mishap. That hiding-place yet existed, and formed (as the Major well knew) a capital store-chamber for the free-traders.
The Major, then, having carefully studied Talland Cove, with its approaches, and the lie of the land to the east and west and immediately behind it, sat down and indited the following letter:
"Dear Pond,—I have been thinking over the military situation, and am of opinion that if the enemy once effected a lodgment in Looe, we in Troy might have difficulty in dislodging him. Have you considered the danger of Talland Cove and the accessibility of your town from that quarter? And would you and your corps entertain the idea of a descent of my corps upon Talland one of these nights as a friendly test?—Believe me, yours truly," "Sol Hymen (Major)."
"To Captain Aeneas Pond, Commanding the East and West Looe Volunteer Artillery."
To this Captain Pond made answer:
"Dear Hymen,—The military situation here is practically unchanged. We have had some bronchial trouble among the older members of the corps in consequence of the severe east winds which prevailed up to last week; but on the whole we have weathered the winter beyond expectation. A slight outbreak of whooping-cough towards the end of February was confined to the juveniles of the town, and left us unaffected.
"Seeing that I make a practice of walking over to Talland to bathe at least twice a week during the summer months, I ought to be acquainted with the dangers of the Cove, as well as its accessibility. The temperature of the water is of extraordinarily low range, and will compare in the mean (I am told) with the Bay of Naples. My informant was speaking of ordinary years. Vesuvius in eruption would no doubt send the figures up.
"By all means march your men over to Talland; and if the weather be tolerable we will await you there and have a dinner ready at the Sloop. Our Assurance Fund has a surplus this year, which, in my opinion, would be well expended in entertaining our brothers-in-arms. But do not make the hour too late, or I shall have trouble with the Doctor. What do you say to 3.30 p.m., any day after this week?—Yours truly, Aen. Pond.
"To the Worshipful the Mayor of Troy (Major S. Hymen), Commanding the Troy Volunteer Artillery."
The Major replied:
"Dear Pond,—In speaking of the enemy, I referred to the Corsican and his minions rather than to the whooping-cough or any similar epidemic. It struck me that the former (being flat-bottomed) might with great ease effect a landing in Talland Cove and fall on your flank in the small hours of the morning, creating a situation with which, single-handed, you might find it difficult to cope. My suggestion then would be that, as a test, we arranged a night together for a surprise attack, our corps here acting as a friendly foe.
"With so gallant an enemy I feel a diffidence in discussing the bare contingency of our success. But it may reassure the non-combatant portion of your population in East and West Looe if I add that 72 per centum of my corps are married men, and that I accept no recruit without careful inquiry into character.
"By direct assault I know you to be impregnable. The reef off your harbour would infallibly wreck any ship that tried to approach within the range of your battery (270 point-blank, I believe); and my experience with a picnic party last summer convinced me that to discharge the complement of even half a dozen boats by daylight on your quay requires a degree of method which in a night attack would almost certainly be lacking. Our boats would not be flat bottomed, but only partially so: enough for practical purposes.
"I do not apprehend any casualties. With a little forethought we may surely avoid the confusion incident to a night surprise, while carrying it out in all essentials. But I may mention that we have a well-found hospital in Troy, that we should bring our own stretcher-party, and that our honorary surgeon, Mr. Hansombody, is a licentiate of the Apothecaries' Hall, in London.—I am, my dear Pond, yours truly," "Sol. Hymen (Major)."
"Confound this fire-eater!" sighed Captain Pond. "I knew, when they told me he had founded a hospital, he wouldn't be satisfied till he'd filled it." Yet he could scarcely decline the challenge.
"My dear Major,—In these critical times, when Great Britain calls upon her sons to consolidate their ranks in face of the Invader, I should have thought it wiser to keep as many as possible in health and fighting condition than to incur the uncertain risks of such a nocturnal adventure as you propose. I think it due to myself to make this clear, and you will credit me that I have, or had, no other reason for demurring. It does not become me, however, to argue with my superior in military rank; and again, the tone of your last communication makes it impossible for me to decline without bringing the spirit of my Corps under suspicion. I cannot do them this injustice. His Majesty, I dare to say, has no braver, no more gallant subjects, than the inhabitants of East and West Looe; and if, or when, you choose to invade us you may count on a determined resistance and, at its conclusion, on a hearty invitation to supper, or breakfast, as the length of the operations may dictate.—I am, yours truly," "Aen. Pond (Capt. E. and W.L.V.A.)."
"P.S.—If you will accept a suggestion, it is that on the night of the 30th of April, or in the early hours of May morning, large numbers of our inhabitants fare out to the neighbouring farmhouses to eat cream and observe other unwholesome but primitive and interesting ceremonies before day-break. A similar custom, I hear, prevails at Troy. Now it occurs to me that if we agreed upon that date for our surprise attack, we should, so to speak, be killing two birds with one stone, and at a season when the night air in some degree loses its insalubrity.
"P.P.S.—You will, of course, take care—it is the essence of our agreement—that all ammunition shall be strictly blank. And pray bring your full band. Though superfluous before and during the surprise, their strains will greatly enhance the subsequent festivities."
Thus did Captain Pond accept our challenge. The Major acknowledged its acceptance in the following brief note:
"My dear Pond,—Your letter has highly gratified me. Between this and April 30th I will make occasion to meet you and arrange details. Meanwhile, could you discover and send the correct words and tune of an old song I remember hearing sung, when I was a boy, in honour of your town? It was called, I think, 'The George of Looe'; and if between this and then our musicians learnt to play it, I daresay your men would appreciate the compliment from their (temporary) foes.—Yours truly," "Sol. Hymen (Major)."
But this was before our Vicar's announcement of the Millennium.
Captain Pond promised to obtain, if possible, the words and music of the old song. "Courtesies such as yours," he wrote, "refine the spirit, while they mitigate the ferocity, of warfare."
INTERFERENCE OF A GUERNSEY MERCHANT.
A smaller man than Major Hymen—I allude to character rather than to stature—had undoubtedly postponed a military manoeuvre on finding it likely to clash with the Millennium, an event so incalculable and conceivably so disconcerting to the best-laid plans: and, indeed, for something like forty-eight hours the Major was in two minds about writing to Captain Pond and hinting at a postponement.
But in the end he characteristically chose the stronger line. I believe the handsome language of Captain Pond's last letter decided him. His was no cheap imitation of the grand manner. Magnificently, spaciously—too spaciously, perhaps, considering the width of our streets—it enshrined a real conception of Man's proper dignity. Here was an obligation in which honour met and competed with politeness: and he must fulfil it though the heavens fell. Moreover, he could not but be aware, during the month of April, that the town had its eye on him, hoping for a sign. He and the Vicar and Mr. Hansombody had bound each other to secrecy; nevertheless some inkling of the secret had leaked out. The daily current of gossip in the streets no longer kept its cheerful, equable flow. Citizens avoided each other's eyes, and talked either in hushed voices or with an almost febrile vehemence on any subject but that which lay closest to their thoughts.
But never did our Mayor display such strength, such unmistakable greatness, as during this, the last month—alas!—fate granted us to possess him. Men eyed him on his daily walk, but he for his part eyed the weather: and the weather continued remarkably fine for the time of year.
So warm, so still, indeed, were the evenings, that in the third week of April he began to take his dessert, after dinner, out of doors on the terrace overlooking the harbour; and would sit and smoke there, alone with a book, until the shadows gathered and it grew too dark to read print.
"And you may tell Scipio to bring me out a bottle of the green-sealed Madeira," he commanded, on the evening of the twentieth.
"The green-sealed Madeira?" echoed Miss Marty. "You know, of course, that there is but a dozen or so left?"
"A dozen precisely; and to-day is the twentieth. That leaves"—the Major drummed with his fingers on the mahogany—"a bottle a night and one over. That last one I reserve to drink on the evening of May-day if all goes well. One must risk something."
"Eh?" The Major looked up in surprise. Although a kinswoman, Miss Marty had never before dared to address him by his Christian name. "One must risk something; or rather, I should say, one must leave a margin. If Hansombody calls, you may send out the brown sherry."
"Forgive me, cousin. I see you going about your daily business, calm and collected, as though no shadow hung on us—"
"A man in my position has certain responsibilities, my dear Martha."
"Yes, yes; I admire you for it. Do not think that for one moment I have failed in paying you that tribute. I often wish," pursued Miss Marty, somewhat incoherently, "that I had been born a man. I trust the aspiration is not unwomanly. I see you going about as if nothing were happening or likely to happen, and me all the while half dead in my bed, and hearing the clock strike and expecting it every moment. As if the French weren't bad enough! And the Vicar may say what he likes, but when I hear you ordering up the green-sealed Madeira I know you're like me, and in your heart of hearts can't see much difference between it and the end of the world, for all the brave face you put on it. Oh, I dare say it's different when one happens to be a man," wound up Miss Marty, "but what I want to know is why couldn't we be let alone and go on comfortably?"
The Major rose and flicked a crumb or two from the knees of his pantaloons. For the moment he seemed about to answer her, but thought better of it and left the room without speech, taking his napkin with him.
To tell the truth, he had been near to giving way. In his heart he echoed Miss Marty's protest; and it touched him with an accent of reproach—faint indeed; an accent and no more—which yet he had detected and understood. Was he not in some sort responsible? Would the Millennium be imminent to-day—or, if imminent, would it be wearing so momentous an aspect?—if at the last Mayor-choosing he had modestly declined to be re-elected (for the fifth successive year), and had stood aside in favour of some worthy but less eminent citizen? Hansombody, for instance? Hansombody admired him, idolised him, with a devotion almost canine. Yet Hansombody might be expected to cherish hopes of the mayoral succession sooner or later, for one brief year at any rate; and for a few moments after acceding for the sixth time to the unanimous request of the burgesses, the Major had almost fancied that Hansombody's feelings were hurt. Hansombody would have made a competent mayor; provoking comparison, of course, but certainly not provoking the jealousy of the gods. It is notoriously the mountain top, the monarch oak that attracts the lightning. Impossible to think of Hansombody attracting the lightning, with his bedside manner!
The Major seated himself in his favourite chair on the terrace, spread his napkin over his knees and mused, while Scipio set out the decanters and glasses.
His gaze, travelling over the low parapet of the quay-wall, rested on the quiet harbour, the ships swinging slowly with the tide, the farther shore touched with the sunset glory. Evensong, the close of day, the end of deeds, the twilit passing of man—all these the scene, the hour suggested. And yet (the Major poured out a glass of the green-sealed Madeira) this life was good and desirable.
The Major's garden (as I have said) was a narrow one, in width about half the depth of his house, terminating in the "Terrace" and a narrow quay-door, whence a ladder led down to the water. Alongside this garden ran the rear wall of the Custom House, which abutted over the water, also with a ladder reaching down to the foreshore, and not five yards from the Mayor's. On the street side one window of the Custom House raked the Mayor's porch; in the rear another and smaller window overlooked his garden, and this might have been a nuisance had the Collector of Customs, Mr. Pennefather, been a less considerate neighbour. But no one minded Mr. Pennefather, a little, round, self-depreciating official who, before coming to Troy, had served as clerk in the Custom House at Penzance, and so, as you might say, had learnt his business in a capital school: for the good feeling between the Customs officials and the free-traders of Mount's Bay, and the etiquette observed in their encounters, were a by-word throughout the Duchy.
The Major, glancing up as he sipped his Madeira and catching sight of Mr. Pennefather at his window, nodded affably.
"Ah! Good evening, Mr. Collector!"
"Good evening, Major! You'll excuse my seeming rudeness in overlooking you. To tell the truth, I had just closed my books, and the sight of your tulips—"
"A fair show this year—eh?" The Major took pride in his tulips.
"Magnificent! I was wondering how you will manage when the bulbs deteriorate; for, of course, there's no renewing them from Holland, nor any prospect of it while this war lasts."
The Major sipped his wine. "Between ourselves, Mr. Collector, I have heard that forbidden goods find their way into this country somehow. Eh?"
The Collector laughed. "But the price, Major? That is where it hits us, even in the matter of tulips. War is a terrible business."
"It has been called the sport of kings," answered the Major, crossing his legs with an air of careless greatness, and looking more like the Prince Regent than ever.
"I have sometimes wondered, being of a reflective turn, on the—er— far-reaching consequences of events which, to the casual eye, might appear insignificant. An infant is born in the remote island of Corsica. Years roll on, and we find our gardens denuded of a bulb, the favourite habitat of which must lie at least eight hundred miles from Corsica as the crow flies. How unlikely was it, sir, that you or I, considering these tulips with what I may perhaps call our finite intelligence—"
"Step around, Mr. Collector, and have a look at them. You can unfold your argument over a glass of wine, if you will do me that pleasure." The Major had a high opinion of Mr. Pennefather's conversation; he was accustomed to say that it made you think.
"If you are sure, sir, it will not incommode you?"
"Not in the least. I expect Hansombody will join us presently. Scipio, bring out the brown sherry."
Now the Major had not invited Dr. Hansombody; yet that he expected him is no less certain than that, while he spoke, Dr. Hansombody was actually lifting the knocker of the front door.
How did this happen? The Major—so used was he to the phenomenon— accepted it as a matter of course. Hansombody (good soul!) had a wonderful knack of turning up when wanted. But what attracted him? Was it perchance that magnetic force of will which our Major, and all truly great men, unconsciously exert? No; the explanation was a simpler one, though the Major would have been inexpressibly shocked had he suspected it.
Miss Marty and Dr. Hansombody were mutually enamoured.
They never told their love. To acknowledge it nakedly to one another—nay, even to themselves—had been treason. What? Could Miss Marty disturb the comfort, could her swain destroy the confidence, could they together forfeit the esteem, of their common hero? In converse they would hymn antiphonally his virtues, his graces of mind and person; even as certain heathen fanatics, wounding themselves in honour of their idol, will drown the pain by loud clashings of cymbals.
They never told their love, and yet, as the old song says:
"But if ne'er so close ye wall him, Do the best that ye may, Blind Love, if so ye call him, He will find out his way."
Miss Marty had found out a way.
The Major's house, as you have been told, looked down the length of Fore Street; and on the left hand (the harbour side) of Fore Street, at some seventy yards' distance, Dr. Hansombody resided over his dispensary, or, as he preferred to call it, his "Medical Hall." The house stood aligned with its neighbours but overtopped them by an attic storey; and in the north side of this attic a single window looked up the street to the Major's windows—Miss Marty's among the rest—and was visible from them.
Behind this attic window the Doctor, when released from professional labours, would sit and read, or busy himself in arranging his cases of butterflies, of which he had a famous collection; and somehow—I cannot tell you when or how, except that it began in merest innocence—Miss Marty had learnt to signal with her window-blind and the Doctor to reply with his. This evening, for instance, by lowering her blind to the foot of the second pane from the top, Miss Marty had telegraphed,—
"The Major requests you to call and take wine with him."
The Doctor drew his blind down rapidly and as rapidly raised it again. This said, "I come at once," and Miss Marty knew that it added, "On the wings of love!"
A slight agitation of the lower left-hand corner of her blind supplemented the message thus,—
"There will be brown sherry."
"Then will I also call to-morrow," said the Doctor's blind, roguishly, meaning that if the Major indulged in brown sherry (which never agreed with him) this convivial visit would almost certainly be followed by a professional one. Miss Marty, having no signal for the green-sealed Madeira, postponed explanation, and drew her blind midway down the window. The Doctor did the same with his. This signal and its answer invariably closed their correspondence; but what it meant, what tender message it conveyed, remained an uncommunicated secret. By it Miss Marty—but shall I reveal the arcana of that virgin breast? Let us be content to know that whatever it conveyed was, on her part, womanly; on his, gallant and even dashing.
The Doctor lost no time in fetching his hat and gold-topped cane. He knew the Major's brown sherry; it had twice made a voyage to the West Indies. He hied him up the street with alacrity.
The Collector, though he had the worse of the start, was not slow. He also had tasted the Major's brown sherry. He closed his ledgers, locked his desk, caught up his hat, and was closing the Custom House door behind him when, from the top of the Custom House steps, he saw the Major's door open to admit Dr. Hansombody.
Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy and pursue in imagination the pleasures of hope, attend to the story of Dr. Hansombody, Mr. Pennefather, and the brown sherry!
"Dr. Hansombody?" With her own hand Miss Marty opened the door, and her start of surprise was admirably affected. (Ah, Miss Marty! Who was it rated Lavinia this morning for a verbal fib, until the poor child dropped her head upon the kitchen table and with sobs confessed herself the chief of sinners?) But even as she welcomed the apothecary, her gaze fell past him upon the form of a stranger who, sauntering up the street, had paused at the gate to scan the Major's house-front.
"I ask your pardon." The stranger, a long, lean, lantern-jawed man, raised his hat and addressed her with a strong French accent. "But does Mr. Hymen inhabit here?"
"Yes, sir; Major Hymen—that is to say the Mayor—lives here."
"Ah! he is also the Maire? So much the better." He drew out a card. "Will it please you, mademoiselle, to convey this to him?"
Standing on the third step he held up the card. Miss Marty took it and read, "M. Cesar Dupin."
"Of Guernsey," added M. Dupin, rubbing his long unshaven chin while he stole a long look at the Doctor. "It is understood that I come only to lodge a complaint."
"To be sure—to be sure," agreed the Doctor, hurriedly. "A Guernsey merchant," he whispered. . . . "You will convey my excuses to the Major; an unexpected visitor—I quite understand."
He made a motion to retire. At the same moment the Collector, after scanning the stranger from the Custom House porch, himself unseen, unlocked his door again without noise, re-entered his office and delicately drew down the blind of the little window overlooking the Major's garden.
"There is the parlour," Miss Marty made answer in an undertone. "This gentleman may not detain the Major long." She turned to the stranger. "Your business, sir, is doubtless private?"
"I should prefer."
"Quite so." She raised her voice and called, "Scipio! Scipio! Ah, there you are! Take this gentleman's card out to the terrace and inform the Major that he desires an interview."
"Why, hallo!" exclaimed the Major, glancing up at the sound of a blind being drawn above, in the Custom House window. "What the deuce is delaying Pennefather?"
While he speculated, Scipio emerged from the house, bearing in one hand a decanter of brown sherry, and in the other a visitor's card.
"Eh—what? M. Cesar Dupin?" The Major, holding the card almost at arm's length, conned it with a puzzled frown.
"From Guernsey, Major."
"Good Lord! And I've just invited Pennefather!" The Major rose half-way from his chair with a face of dismay.
Scipio glanced up at the Custom House window. He, too, had caught the sound of the drawn blind.
"Mas' Pennefather, Major, if you'll excuse me, he see a hole t'ro' a ladder, but not t'ro' a brick wall. Shall I show the genelman in?"
"I fear," began Miss Marty, as the Doctor took a seat in the parlour, "I greatly fear that Scipio has carried the brown sherry out to the terrace."
Dr. Hansombody smiled as a lover but sighed as a connoisseur.
"There is the Fra Angelico, however." She stepped to a panelled cupboard on the right of the chimney-piece. "Made from my own recipe," she added archly.
The Doctor lifted a hand in faint protest; but already she had set a glass before him. He knew the Fra Angelico of old. It was a specific against catarrh, and he had more than once prescribed it for Scipio.
"Wine is wine," continued Miss Marty, reaching down the bottle. "And, after all, when one knows what it is made of, as in this case— that seems to me the great point."
"You mustn't think—" began the Doctor.
"I must plead guilty"—Miss Marty poured out a glassful—"if its name suggests a foreign origin. You men, I know, profess a preference for foreign wines; and so, humorously, I hit on the name of Fra Angelico, from the herb angelica, which is its main ingredient. In reality, as I can attest, it is English to the core."
The Doctor lifted his glass and set it down again.
"You will join me?" he asked, pointing to the decanter and temporising.
"Pardon me. I indulge but occasionally: when I have a cold."
"And the Major?"
"He pleads habit. He says he is wedded to the vintages of France and Spain. 'What?' I rally him, 'when those two nations are at war with us? And you call yourself a patriot?' He permits these railleries."
"He is a man in a thousand!"
"There is no man like him!"
"If we exclude a certain resemblance—"
"You refer to the Prince Regent? But I was thinking only of moral grandeur."
"True. All else, if one may say so without disloyalty, is but skin-deep."
"Thank you, the expression is preferable, and I ask your leave to substitute it."
"Solomon, my kinsman, is the noblest of men."
"And you, Miss Marty, the best of women!" cried the Doctor, taking fire and a sip of the Fra Angelico together, and gulping the latter down heroically. "I drink to you; nay, if I dared, I would go even farther—
"No, no, I beg of you!" Her eyes, downcast before this sudden assault, let fall two happy tears, but a feeble gesture of the hand besought his mercy. "Let us talk of him," she went on breathlessly. "His elevation of character—"
"If he were to marry, now?" the Doctor suggested. "Have you thought of that?"
"Sometimes," she admitted, with a flutter of the breath, which sounded almost like a sigh.
"It would serve to perpetuate—"
"But where to find one worthy of him? She must be capable of rising to his level; rather, of continuing there."
"You are sure that is necessary? Now, in my experience," the Doctor inclined his head to one side and rubbed his chin softly between thumb and forefinger—a favourite trick of his when diagnosing a case—"in my observation, rather, some disparity of temper, taste, character, may almost be postulated of a completely happy alliance; as in chemistry you bring together an acid and an alkali, and, always provided they don't explode—"
"He would never be satisfied with that. Believe me, the woman he condescends upon must, in return for that happy privilege, surrender her whole fate into his hands. Beneath his deference to our sex he carries an imperious will, and would demand no less."
"There is a little bit of that about him, now you mention it," assented the Doctor.
"But let us not cheat—" Miss Marty checked herself suddenly. "Let us not vex ourselves with any such apprehensions. He will never marry, I am convinced. I cannot imagine him in the light of a parent—with offspring, for instance. Rather, when I see him in his regimentals, or, again, in his mayoral robe and chain—you have noticed how they become him?—"
The Doctor admitted, with a faint sigh, that he had.
"Well, then, he puts me in mind of that—what d'you call it, which the poets tell us is reproduced but once in several hundred years?"
"The blossoming aloe?" suggested the Doctor.
Miss Marty shook her head. "It's not a plant—it's a kind of bird. It begins with 'P, h,'—and you think of Dublin."
"Let me see—Phelim? No, I have it! Phoenix."
"That's it—Phoenix. And when it's going to die it lights a fire and sits down upon it and another springs up from the ashes."
"But I don't see how that applies to the Major."
"No-o?" queried Miss Marty, dubiously. "Well, not in every particular; but the point is, there's only one at a time."
"The same might be said," urged the Doctor, delicately, "of other individual members of the Town Council; with qualifications, of course."
"And somehow I feel—I can't help a foreboding—that if ever we lose him it will be in some such way."
"Miss Marty!" The Doctor stood up, with horror-stricken face.
"There, now! You may call me fanciful, but I can't help it. And you've spilled the Fra Angelico! Let me pour you out another glassful."
"We must all die," answered the Doctor inconsequently, not yet master of himself.
"Except a few Bible characters," said Miss Marty, filling his glass. "But what the town would do without him I can't think. In a sense he is the town."
A moment before the Doctor had all but denied it; but now, overcome by the thought of a world without the Major, he hid his face. For a moment, if but in thought, he had been disloyal to his friend, his hero!
Miss Marty said afterwards that, although not accustomed to prophesy and humbly aware that it was out of her line, she must have spoken under inspiration. She was wont also, when she recalled her forebodings and the events that followed and so signally fulfilled them, to regret that when the Guernsey merchant took his leave, an hour later, she omitted to take note of his boots; it being an article of faith with her that, in his traffic with mortals, the Prince of Darkness could not help betraying himself by his cloven hoof.
In the garden meanwhile the Major and his guest were making very good weather of it, as we say in Troy; the one with his Madeira, the other with the brown sherry. I leave the reader to discern the gist of their talk from its technicalities.
"Three gross of ankers, you say?" queried the Major.
"At four gallons the anker, and six francs the gallon."
"It is a large venture."
"And, for that reason, dirt cheap. To my knowledge there is not a firm in Guernsey at this moment doing trade at less than seven francs the gallon in parcels under five hundred gallons."
"Yes, yes." The Major lit his pipe and puffed meditatively. "I am not denying that. Only, you see, on our side these large operations rather heighten the expense than diminish it, while they heighten the risk enormously."
"I do not see." M. Dupin crossed his legs and awaited an explanation.
"It is simple. So many more tubs, so many more carriers; so many more carriers, so much the more risk of including an informer. One hundred carriers, say, I can lay hands on, knowing them all for tried men. Beyond that number I rely on recommendations, often carelessly given. The risk is more than trebled. And then, the fact of my being Mayor—"
"I should have thought it lessened the risk."
"In a way, yes. But in case of miscarriage, the consequences must be more severe. I will own that you tempt me. The tubs, you say, would be ready slung."
"Ready slung for carriage, man or horse, whichever you prefer, with ropes, stones and six anchors for sinking in case of emergency. We will allow for these if they are returned."
"To tell the truth, since becoming chief magistrate of this borough, I have rather set my face against these operations. It has seemed to me more consonant. . . . And an operation on the scale you propose could not be conducted without some degree of—er—audacity."
"It means a forced run," assented M. Dupin.
"If, on reflection—" the Major hesitated.
"Excuse me, but there is no time. For reasons of our own, my firm must clear the stuff before the end of April; that is why we offer it at the price. Three gross, with six ankers of the colouring stuff gratis—and the tubs ready slung. It must be 'yes' or 'no'; if you decline, then I have another customer on the string."
"The end of April, you say?" The Major refilled his glass and mused, holding it up against the last gleam of daylight.
"We could ship it on the 27th or 28th. The moon serves then. Say that you run it on the night of the 30th?"
"Of the 30th?" echoed the Major. "But on that night, of all others, my hands are full. To begin with, we are half-expecting the Millennium."
"The Millennium, hein?" echoed M. Dupin in his turn. "I do not know her."
"It's not a boat," the Major explained. "It's a—well, in fact, we are not altogether sure what it may turn out to be. But, setting this aside, I am engaged to conduct a military operation on the night of the 30th."
"Hein?" M. Dupin eyed his host with interest. "A counter-stroke to the First Consul—is that so?"
"Well, not exactly a downright counter-stroke; although, if I had my way . . . but in fact (and I mention it in confidence, of course) our Artillery here is planning a surprise upon our neighbours of Looe, the descent to be made upon Talland Cove."
M. Dupin set down his glass. "But I am in luck to-night!" said he. "You—I—we are all in luck!"
"Forgive me, I do not see—"
"Oh, decidedly, I am in very great luck! If only your neighbours of Looe—they, too, have a corps of Artillery, I suppose?" M. Dupin felt in his breast pocket and drew out a paper. "Quick! their officer's name?"
"A Captain Pond commands them: Captain Aeneas Pond."
"Pond? Pond? See now, and I have an introduction to him! And you have arranged to surprise him on the night of April 30th—and at Talland Cove—when there will be no moon! Oh, damgood!"
"But even yet I do not see," the Major protested.
"Not quite. For the moment you do not see, quite; but in a little while." M. Dupin leaned forward and tapped the Major's knee. "Your Artillery? You can count on them?"
"To the death."
"Nine score, without reckoning uniforms or stretcher-bearers."
"For the wounded. And, of course—during the operation you propose— we expect our corps to be depleted."
"By the crews? But they will be there! It is of the essence of your surprise that they, too, will return from Guernsey and join you in time. Next, of the Looe Artillery, how many?"
"You may put them down at seventy, all told."
"One hundred and eighty, and seventy—that makes two hundred and fifty; and the cognac at six francs a gallon; and this Captain Pond commended to me for the deepest man in Looe! It is you—it is he—it is I—it is all of us together that are in luck's way!" M. Dupin leapt up, snapped his bony fingers triumphantly; then, thrusting his hands beneath his coat-tails and clasping them, strode to and fro in front of the Major, for all the world like a long-legged chanticleer.
Ah, but wait a moment! Vainglorious bird of Gaul, or of the island contiguous, wait a moment ere you crow before the Mayor of Troy!
For a moment the Major lay back in his chair, to all appearance stupefied, confounded. Then he too rose, his lips working, his hand shaking for one instant only as with his pipe-stem he traced a magnificent curve upon the evening sky.
"Sit down!" he commanded. "Your plan is clever enough; but I have another worth ten of it."
And, laying down his pipe, this extraordinary man lifted the decanter and refilled his glass to the brim without spilling a drop.
What was the Major's plan? Wait again, and you shall see it evolved in operation.
MALBROUCK S'EN VA.
"There is mischief of some sort brewing," said Mr. Smellie, the Riding Officer.
"You think so?" queried Mr. Pennefather, trimming a quill.
"I'd stake my last shilling on it," said Mr. Smellie, slapping his right boot with his riding-whip. "You, a family man, now—"
"Quite so. Then you must know how it is with children; when they look at you as though there was no such thing as original sin, it's time to keep your eye lifting. Ten to one they're getting round you with some new devilry. Well, that's the way with your Cornish."
Mr. Smellie came from Glasgow—he and his colleague, Mr. Lomax, the Riding Officer of the Mevagissey district which lay next to ours. The Government, it was understood, had chosen and sent them down to us on the strength of their sense of humour—so different from any to be found in the Duchy.
It certainly was different. To Mr. Smellie, we of Troy had been at first but as children at play by the sea; in earnest over games so infantile as to excite his wondering disdain. He wondered yet; but insensibly—as might happen to a man astray in fairyland—his disdain had taken a tinge of fear. Behind "the children sporting on the shore," his ear had begun to catch the voice of unknown waters rolling. They came, so to speak, along the sands, these children; innocent seeming, hilariously intent on their make-believe; and then, on a sudden, not once but a dozen times, he had found himself tricked, duped, tripped up and cast on his back; to rise unhurt, indeed, but clutching at impalpable air while the empty beach rang with teasing laughter.
It baffled him the more because, of his own sort, he had a strong sense of humour. It was told of Mr. Pennefather, for instance, that during his clerkship at Penzance the Custom House there had been openly defied by John Carter, the famous smuggler of Prussia Cove; that once, when Carter was absent on an expedition, the Excise officers had plucked up heart, ransacked the Cove, carried off a cargo of illicit goods and locked it up in the Custom House; that John Carter on his return, furious at the news of his loss, had marched over to Penzance under cover of darkness, broken in the Custom House and carried off his goods again; and that Mr. Pennefather next morning, examining the rifled stores, had declared the nocturnal visitor to be John Carter beyond a doubt, because Carter was an honest man and wouldn't take anything that didn't belong to him. The Riding Officer thought this a highly amusing story, and would often twit Mr. Pennefather with it. But Mr. Pennefather could never see the joke, and would plead,—
"Well, but he was an honest man, wasn't he?"
"That's the way with you Cornish," repeated Mr. Smellie; "and after a time one learns to feel it in the air, so to speak."
The little Collector looked up from his ledger, pushing his spectacles high on his brow, and glanced vaguely around the office.
"Now, for my part, I detect nothing unusual," said he.
"Furthermore," the Riding Officer went on, still tapping his boot, "I met a suspicious-looking fellow yesterday on the Falmouth Road; a deucedly suspicious-looking fellow; a fellow that answered me with a strong French accent when I spoke to him, as I made it my business to do. He had Guernsey merchant written all over him."
"Tattooed?" asked Mr. Pennefather, without looking up from the ledger in which he had buried himself anew. "I had no idea they went to such lengths . . . in Guernsey . . . and fourteen is twenty-seven, and five is thirty-two, and thirty-two is two-and-eight. . . . I beg your pardon? You identified him, then?"
Mr. Smellie frowned. "I shall send up a private note to the Barracks; and meanwhile, I advise you to keep an eye lifting."
"And ten is three-and-six. . . . An eye lifting, certainly," assented Mr. Pennefather, without, however, immediately acting on this advice.
"There's that fellow Hymen, now, next door. He's not altogether the ass he looks, or my name's not Smellie."
"But it is, surely?" Mr. Pennefather looked up in innocent surprise. "And you really think it justifies calling in the Dragoons?"
"On the face of it, no; I've no evidence. And yet, I repeat, there's some mischief afoot. This new game of Hymen's, for instance—Before coming down to these parts"—Mr. Smellie threw a fine condescension into this phrase—"I should have thought it impossible that anyone in the shape of a man, let alone of a Major of Artillery, could solemnly propose to test a neighbouring corps by a night attack, and then as solemnly give warning on what night he meant to deliver it."
Mr. Pennefather took off his spectacles and polished them with his silk handkerchief. "But without that precaution he would find nobody to attack."
"I tell you, it's absurd! And yet," the Riding Officer went on irritably, "if one could count on its being absurd, I wouldn't mind. But there's just a chance that, with all this foolery, Hymen and Pond are covering up a little game. Why have they chosen Talland Cove, now?"
"I suppose because, for a night attack on Looe, there's no better spot."
"Nor for running a cargo. I tell you, I shall keep the Dragoons on the alert."
"You don't suggest that you suspect—"
"Suspect? I suspect everybody. It's the rule of the service; and by following it I've reached the position I hold to-day."