TWO SIDES OF THE FACE.
Stephen of Steens.
The Horror on the Stair.
The Mazed Election (1768).
The Hotwells Duel.
The Rider in the Dawn.
My Lady's Coach.
STEPHEN OF STEENS.
A Tale of Wild Justice.
Beside a high-road in the extreme West of England stands a house which you might pass many times without suspecting it of a dark history or, indeed, any history worth mention. The country itself, which here slopes westward from the Mining District to Mount's Bay, has little beauty and—unless you happen to have studied it—little interest. It is bare, and it comes near to be savage without attaining to the romantic. It includes, to be sure, one or two spots of singular beauty; but they hide themselves and are not discoverable from the road, which rewards you only by its extravagant wealth of wild flowers, its clean sea-breeze, and perhaps a sunset flaming across the low levels and silhouetting the long shoulder of Godolphin Hill between you and the Atlantic, five miles distant.
Noting, as you passed, the size of the house, its evident marks of age, and the meanness of its more modern outbuildings, you would set it down for the residence of an old yeoman family fallen on evil days. And your second thought—if it suggested a second—might be that these old yeomen, not content with a lonely dwelling in a lonely angle of the land, had churlishly built themselves in and away from sight even of the infrequent traveller; for a high wall enclosing a courtlage in front screens all but the upper story with its slated roof, heavy chimneys and narrow upper windows; and these again are half hidden by the boughs of two ragged yew trees growing within the enclosure. Behind the house, on a rising slope, tilled fields have invaded a plantation of noble ash trees and cut it back to a thin and ugly quadrilateral. Ill-kept as they are, and already dilapidated, the modern farm-buildings wear a friendlier look than the old mansion, and by contrast a cheerful air, as of inferiors out-at-elbows, indeed, but unashamed, having no lost dignities to brood upon.
Yet it may happen that your driver—reading, as he thinks, some curiosity in your glance at Steens (for so the house is called), or politely anxious to beguile the way—pulls up his horse and with a jerk of his whip draws your attention to certain pock-marks in the courtlage wall. Or perhaps, finding you really curious but unable from your seat in the vehicle to distinguish them, he dismounts and traces them out for you with the butt of his whip-handle. They are bullet-marks, he says, and there are plenty of others on the upper front of the house within—even grooves cut by bullets in the woodwork of the windows. Then follows a story which you will find some difficulty in swallowing. That in 1734, when Walpole was keeping England at peace—that almost at the moment when he boasted, "There are fifty thousand men slain this year in Europe, and not one Englishman,"—an unmilitary pewterer was here holding at bay the Sheriff, his posse and half a regiment of soldiers, slaying seven and wounding many; and that for eight months he defied the law and defended himself, until cannon had to be dragged over the roads from Pendennis Castle to quell him—such a tale may well seem incredible to you unless you can picture the isolation of Cornwall in days when this highway was a quag through which, perhaps twice a week, a train of pack-horses floundered. The man who brought Roger Stephen to justice, though tardily and half against his sense of right, was Sir John Piers, of Nansclowan, hard by. And when Sir John—"the little baronet," as he was called, a Parliamentman, and the one whom Walpole never could bribe—married pretty Mistress Catherine, the heiress of Sherrington across Tamar, his lady's dowry was hauled down through the Duchy to Nansclowan in waggons—a wonder to behold—and stacked in Nansclowan cellars: ten thousand pounds, and every doit of it in half-crowns. Eighty thousand half-crowns!
Be pleased to reflect upon these cellared piles of silver, and what they indicate of Cornish life in those days: and bear in mind that they were stacked in place a short ten years before Roger Stephen, a mile-and-a-half away, first let fly his bullets at the Sheriff, on the principle that an Englishman's house is his castle, and in firm conviction—shared by all the countryside and in the bottom of his heart by Sir John himself—that this particular castle was Roger Stephen's; not perhaps by law, but assuredly by right.
Four miles south of Steens, and a trifle over, lies the market town of Helston (or 'Helleston' as men wrote it in 1734, and ought to write it still); on the road to nowhere and somnolent then as now, but then as now waking up once a year, on the 8th of May, to celebrate the Feast of Flora and welcome back the summer. She is brought in at daybreak with green boughs and singing, and at noon the citizens dance through the streets in her honour, the Mayor himself leading off as the town band strikes up its immemorial quickstep, the staid burgesses following with their partners. At first they walk or amble two and two, like animals coming out of Noah's ark; then, at a change in the tune, each man swings round to the lady behind him, 'turns' her, regains his partner, 'turns' her too, and the walk is resumed. And so, alternately walking and twirling, the procession sways down the steep main street and in and out of the houses left open for it—along the passage from front door to court or garden, out at the back door, in at the back door of the next open house, and through to the street again—the beadles preceding with wreathed wands, the band with decorated drum, the couples 'turning' duly at the break in the tune, though it catch them in the narrowest entrance or half-way down a flight of steps.
On the 8th of May, 1734, at the foot of Coinage-hall Street, hard by the Bowling Green, a pewterer's shop stood open, like its neighbours, to admit the Flora. But the master of the shop and his assistant—he kept no apprentice—sat working as usual at their boards, perhaps the only two men in Helleston who disregarded the public holiday. But everyone knew Roger Stephen to be a soured man, and what old Malachi Hancock did was of no account.
Malachi sat at his bench in the rear of the shop turning the rim of a pewter plate, and Roger Stephen in the front, for the sake of better light, peering into the bowels of a watch which had been brought to him to be cleaned—a rare job, and one which in his sullen way he enjoyed. From youth up he had been badly used. His father, Humphrey Stephen, owned Steens, and was a man of substance; a yeoman with money and land enough to make him an esquire whenever he chose. In those days it was the custom in Cornish families of the better class to send the eldest son to college (usually to Oxford), and thence, unless the care of his estates claimed him at home, into one of the liberal professions. Sometimes the second son would follow him to college and proceed to Holy Orders, but oftener he had to content himself as apprentice to an apothecary or an attorney. The third son would, like Roger Stephen, be bound to a pewterer or watchmaker, the fourth to a mercer, and so on in a descending scale. But Roger, though the only child of a rich man, had been denied his natural ambition, and thrust as a boy into the third class. His mother had died young, and from the hour of her death (which the young man set down to harsh usage) he and his father had detested each other's sight. In truth, old Humphrey Stephen was a violent tyrant and habitually drunk after two o'clock. Roger, self-repressed as a rule and sullen, found him merely abhorrent. During his mother's lifetime, and because she could not do without him, he had slept at Steens and walked to and from his shop in Helleston; but on the day after the funeral he packed and left home, taking with him old Malachi, a family retainer whom Humphrey had long ago lamed for life by flinging a crowbar at him in a fit of passion.
So for twelve years he had lodged and taught Malachi his trade in the dirty, low-browed shop, over which a pewter basin hung for sign and clashed against the tilt whenever a sea-breeze blew. Malachi did his marketing: Roger himself rarely stepped across his threshold, and had never been known to gossip. To marriage he never gave a thought: "time enough for that," he had decided, "when Steens became his, as some day it must;" for the estate ever since the first Stephen acquired it in the Wars of the Roses and gave it his name ('Steens' being but 'Stephen's' contracted) had been a freehold patrimony descending regularly from father to son or next heir. All in good time Roger Stephen would marry and install his wife in the manor-house. But the shop in Coinagehall Street was no place for a woman. She would be a nuisance, sweeping the place out and upsetting him and Malachi; an expense, too, and Roger—always a penurious man—incurred no expense until obliged.
But on a day, about two years before this 8th of May, 1734, word had come down from Steens that his father wished to speak with him.
"Not dying, is he?" Roger asked the messenger in Cornish. Half his customers spoke the old language, and it came readier to his tongue.
The messenger chuckled. "Dying? He'll live to be a hundred! Eh, it's not dying he's after," and the man winked. He was near upon bursting with news—or gossip—of his own.
"That's enough," said Roger. "Go back and tell him that if he's well and wants to talk, he knows where to find me." And he turned back to his work.
Next day old Humphrey Stephen rode down into Helleston in a towering rage, reined up before his son's shop, and dismounted.
"You're a pretty dutiful kind of son," he snarled. "But I've a word that concerns you belike. I'm going to marry again."
"Ah?" said Roger, drawing in his breath and eyeing the old man up and down in a way that disconcerted him. "Who's the poor soul?"
"She lives over to Porthleven," answered his father, "and her name is Mary Nankivell. She's—well, in fact she's a fisherman's daughter; but I've lived long enough to despise differences of that kind."
"I wasn't asking your age," said Roger meditatively. "What's the woman's?"
"She'll be twenty next birthday." The old man was sixty-five. "Well, what's your opinion?" he asked testily, for he knew he was doing a wrong thing, and craved an excuse to work himself into a rage.
"On which?" asked Roger, "—you, or the woman?"
"On the marriage." Old Humphrey stood glowering under his eyebrows, and tapped his boot impatiently with the butt of his riding-whip. "I reckoned it might concern you, that's all."
"I can't see that it does." There was that in Roger's slow look which his father found maddening.
"Oh, can't you?" he sneered.
"No, for the life of me," answered Roger. "'Tis wickedness of course, but I've no call to interfere. Take and marry the miserable fool, if you're so minded."
Humphrey Stephen had more to say, but gulped it down and mounted his horse with a devilish grin.
Roger Stephen went back to his work-bench.
"Pack of fools!" growled old Malachi as the thump-thump of the drum drew nearer. He rose and shifted his stool to a corner, for the way to the back premises lay through the shop. Roger looked forth into the sunny street, blinked, and, picking up a pair of pincers, returned to his watch.
The band came slowly down the street and halted outside—still in full blast; for between the Market House and the Bowling Green there must be no pause in the Flora-dance or its music. And presently the Mayor himself thrust his red face in at the shop-door.
"Good-mornin'!" he nodded, jigging away with his feet. "You'll lev' us come through, I suppose?"
"Welcome," grunted Roger.
"And, darn'ee, take care o' my cabbages!" added Malachi. "You ruined half a score of 'em last year with your May-games."
"Cab—" Here the inexorable tune forced His Worship to face about and twirl his partner. "Cabbages?" he resumed. "You dare to use such a word to me, you saucy rascal? Why, I've sent better men than you to prison for less!"
"I don't doubt it," retorted Malachi. "But King George is above us, and holds even a Mayor responsible for what he treads on. Dance along out, that's a dear man, and if you want to be frolicsome, keep to the paths."
"Of all the unpublicspirited houses I've danced into this day, this here's the unpublicspiritedest!" exclaimed the Mayor. He had reached by this time the door at the back of the shop, and would have said more; but again the tune took him by the legs compelling him to twirl his partner, and, twirling her, he was swept out of sight.
Roger Stephen still pored over his watch. Several of the dancers—had the will to do it been enough—were minded to stop and rebuke him for his churlishness. A tradesman at work in Helleston on Flora-day in the morning was a scandalous sight. But Roger stood six-foot-three in his socks, and had been a famous wrestler in his youth.
The giddy throng went by, his hunched shoulders expressing his contempt of it. But when all the dancers had paraded through the shop and out into Malachi's cabbage garden, a man appeared in the entrance and said—
"Arise, Master Roger, and dance—or otherwise as your feelings incline you! For Doctor Gaye sends down his compliments, and your father's had a stroke."
Roger Stephen dropped his pincers. "A stroke? Is it serious?"
"Middlin'," answered the man, a woodcutter on the Steens estate. "He took it at three in the morning and never said another word, but passed away a little under two hours agone; and the funeral's on Thursday."
Roger laid down the watch and stood erect. The band in the street still thumped out the Flora tune.
"Malachi," said he, "can you dance the Flora?"
"Bejimbers!" answered Malachi, "the old man did his best to spoil my legs, but I feel like trying."
Up at Steens the young widow spent the three days before the funeral in a flutter of the nerves. For reasons of her own she stood in fear of her stepson, and felt herself in hourly desperate need of a male champion. Yet she had pluck as well as a head on her shoulders. She might have summoned—what more natural at such a time?—her old father, the fisherman, over from Porthleven; but she argued it out with herself, and decided that his presence would be a protection rather apparent than real, and might easily set Roger suspecting. Even less politic would be the presence of her Penzance lawyer, Mr. Alfonso Trudgian. In the early morning hours after her husband's death she sat a long while with her hands in her lap, thinking. She was a young and pretty woman, and by no means a bad one. But she had not married old Humphrey for love, and she meant to have her rights now. Also her having married Humphrey was proof of that courage which she now distrusted. While her heart sank at the prospect, she resolved to meet and face Roger alone.
He came on horseback that same evening, with Malachi on horseback behind him—both in their best black clothes with hideous black streamers pinned to their hats and dangling. Mrs. Stephen, having made enquiries among the servants—it added to her helplessness that she had never prevailed on Humphrey to dismiss his old servants, though she had made more than one attempt, and they knew it and hated her for it—had Roger's old room prepared for him, and met him at the door with decorous politeness.
Roger had never set eyes on her before. But she had long ago made it her business to see him; had, in fact, put on bonnet and shawl one day and visited Helleston on pretence of shopping, and had, across the width of Coinagehall Street, been struck with terrified admiration of his stern face and great stature, recognising at a glance that here was a stronger man and better worth respecting than old Humphrey—a very dangerous man indeed for an enemy.
Roger in return considered her merely as a hussy—a designing baggage who had sold herself to an old fool. He came with a mind quite clear about this, and was not the sort of man to dismiss a prejudice easily. But her greeting, though it did not disarm him, forced him to defer hostilities for the moment, and in his room he allowed to himself that the woman had shown sense. He could not well send her packing while the old man lay above ground, and to begin quarrelling, with his corpse in the house, would be indecent. Go the woman should, but during her three days' grace stepson and stepmother had best keep up appearances.
He did not demur, when descending to supper, he found his father's chair removed from its place at the head of the table and his own set at the side on the widow's right. She met him with a smile, too, of which he had to approve; it seemed to say, "I do not forget that we are, and must be, antagonists; but in trifles, and for the short while permitted to us, let us do each other justice." She discussed, in low tones but frankly, the old man's illness—told him what there was to tell, pausing now and then with a silent invitation to question her were he minded, and apologised very prettily for her shortcomings as a hostess.
"But you will, of course, order just what you want. Luckily the servants know you and your ways, and you will forgive anything I have overlooked. In the circumstances—"
She broke off, and Roger found himself grunting that "she wasn't to trouble about that: he'd do well enough." He did not actually thank her for her preparations to make him comfortable, but discovered with a kind of indignant surprise that he had come very near to it. Somehow this woman, whom he had expected to find an ignorant fisher-wench, hoity-toity and brazen or tearful and sullen, was making him painfully conscious of his own boorishness. Out she must go, of course, after the funeral; but he wished he had seen a little more of good company in the past, and he kept up his temper by reminding himself that he had been ill-used and denied a college education.
The meal ended, she rose and swept him a curtsey, neither over-friendly nor standoffish. "Peggy will bring you the brandy and water," she said, "or, if you prefer it, there is rum in the house. I thought, maybe, the weather was warm for a fire; but, as you see, it is laid, and only needs a light if you feel chilly. Your father liked to sit by a fire even on summer evenings." She did not add that he had invariably come drunk to bed. "But there," she ended with a faint smile, "we have the old servants, and they are not likely to neglect you."
A second curtsey, and she was gone. Roger sat down by the cold hearth and stroked his chin. By-and-by he looked at his fingers, as if (absurdly enough) to make sure he had not shaken hands with her.
Next day this armed but almost friendly neutrality continued. Roger spent the hours in striding about his acres, planning how to improve them and curtail expenses here and there. The farm to be sure was neglected; but here and there he noted improvements, and caught himself wondering if the credit of them belonged to the old man. He left the household to his stepmother, and returned to find his meals ready and his appetite courted by some of his favourite dishes.
At dinner Mrs. Stephen produced and handed to him a sheet of paper. "I thought it might save trouble," she explained, "if I made out a list of folks to be invited to the funeral. You understand that I've only put down those that occurred to me. Please take the list away and strike out or add any names you choose."
Roger was within an ace of telling her to look after this for herself. He had forgotten that these invitations were necessary, and the writing of them would be a nuisance. But he recollected his suspicions, took the paper, and carried it out into the fields to study it. The list was a careful one, and almost all the names belonged to neighbours or old family friends. Half a dozen at most were unfamiliar to him. He pored over these one by one, but scratched none out. "Let the poor creature invite them if they're friends of hers," he decided; "'twill be her last chance." At supper he gave her back the list, and somewhat awkwardly asked her to send the invitations.
Had he been cleverer in the ways of women, he might still have failed to read the glint in her eyes as she folded the paper and thrust it into her bodice.
So the three days passed.
They buried Humphrey Stephen on the morning of the 11th, and if any of the widow's own friends attended the funeral they forbore to obtrude themselves during the ceremony or at the breakfast which followed it. While the guests drank sherry and ate cold chickens in the dining-room, Mrs. Stephen carried her grief off to her own apartment and left Roger to do the honours. She descended only when the throng had taken leave.
The room, indeed, when she entered, was empty but for three persons. Roger and the family attorney—Mr. Jose, of Helleston—stood by one of the windows in friendly converse, somewhat impatiently eyeing a single belated guest who was helping himself to more sherry.
"What the devil is he doing here?" asked Mr. Jose, who knew the man. He turned and bowed as the young widow entered. "I was on the point, madam," said he, "of sending up to request your presence. With your leave, I think it is time to read the deceased's will." He pulled out his watch and glanced again, with meaning, towards the stranger.
He had lifted his voice purposely, and the stranger came forward at once with the half of a pasty in one hand and his glass of sherry in the other.
"Certainly," agreed the stranger, with his mouth full of pasty. He nodded familiarly to Mr. Jose, drained his glass, set it down, and wiped his damp fingers on the lappels of his coat. His habits were not pretty, and his manners scarcely ingratiating. The foxy look in his eyes would have spoilt a pleasanter face, and his person left an impression that it had, at some time in the past and to save the expense of washing, been coated with oil and then profusely dusted over with snuff. "Shall we begin?" he asked, drawing a parcel of papers from his breast-pocket.
Roger Stephen glared at him, somewhat as a bull-dog might eye a shrew-mouse. "Who is this?" he demanded.
"This is Mr. Alfonso Trudgian, my lawyer from Penzance," explained the widow, and felt her voice shaking.
"Then he's not wanted."
"But excuse me, Mr. Stephen, this lady's interests—," began Mr. Trudgian.
"If my father's will makes any provision for her I can attend to it without your interference." Roger glanced at Mr. Jose.
"I think," said that very respectable lawyer, "there can be no harm in suffering Mr. Trudgian to remain, as an act of courtesy to Mrs. Stephen. We need not detain him long. The will I have here was drawn by me on the instruction of my late respected client, and was signed by him and witnessed on the 17th of March, one thousand seven hundred and twenty-five. It is his last and (I believe) his only one; for, like many another man otherwise sensible, the deceased had what I may call an unreasoning dislike—"
"What date?" put in Mr. Alfonso Trudgian pertly.
"I beg your pardon?—the 17th of March, one thousand seven hundred and twenty-five."
"Then I'm sorry to interrupt ye, Jose, but since Mr. Roger wants me gone, I have here a will executed by Mr. Stephen on February the 14th last— St. Valentine's day. And it reads like a valentine, too. 'To my dear and lawful wife, Elizabeth Stephen, I devise and bequeath all my estate and effects, be they real or personal, to be hers absolutely. And this I do in consideration of her faithful and constant care of me. —Signed, Humphrey Stephen. Witnesses, William Shapcott'—that's my clerk—'and Alfonso Trudgian.' That's short enough, I hope, and sweet."
Mr. Jose reached out a shaking hand for the document, but Roger was before him. At one stride he had reached Mr. Trudgian and gripped him by the collar, while his other hand closed on the paper.
The attorney shrank back, squealing like a rabbit. "Let me go! 'Tis only a copy. Let me go, I say!"
"You dirty cur!" Roger's broad palm crumpled up the paper, and with a swift backward movement tossed it at Mrs. Stephen's feet. "Out of the way, Jose; he asks me to let him go, and I will." He lifted the wretched man, and, flinging him on the window-seat, pinned him there for a moment with his knee while he groped for the latch and thrust open the broad lattice.
A moment later, as she stood and shook, Mrs. Stephen saw her legal adviser swung up by his collar and the seat of his breeches and hurled, still squealing, out upon the flagstones of the courtlage; saw him tumble sprawling, pick himself up, and flee for the gate without even waiting to pick up his wig or turning to shake his fist. Nay, without one backward look, but weakly clutching at his coat, which had been split up the back and dangled in halves from his neck, he broke for the open country and ran.
"Thank you," said she, as Roger swung round upon her in turn. Her lips were smiling, but she scarcely recognised her own voice. "Am—am I to follow by the same way?"
Roger did not smile, but took her by the wrist.
"Gently, Mr. Stephen—gently, I implore you!" interposed Mr. Jose.
Roger did not seem to hear, and the woman made no resistance. He led her through the hall, across the threshold of Steens, and up the courtlage path. At the gate, as he pushed it wide for her, his grip on her wrist relaxed, and, releasing her, he stood aside.
She paused for one instant, and gently inclined her head.
"Stepson, you are a very foolish man," said she. "Good-day to you!"
She passed out. Roger closed the gate grimly, slipped forward its bolt, and walked back to the house.
But the woman without, as he turned his back, stepped aside quickly, found the wall, and, hidden by it, leaned a hand against the stonework and bowed her head.
A moment later, and before Roger had reached the front door, her hand slipped and she fell forward among the nettles in a swoon.
"Well, that's over!" said Roger, returning to the dining-room and mopping his brow. "Upon my word, Jose, that nasty varmint gave me quite a turn for the moment, he spoke so confident."
"Tut, tut!" ejaculated Mr. Jose, pacing the room with his hands clasped beneath his coat-tails.
"Do you know," Roger continued musingly, "I'm not altogether sorry the woman showed her hand. Sooner or later she had to be got rid of, and a thing like that is easier done when your blood's up. But Lord! could anyone have thought such wickedness was to be found in the world!"
The lawyer rounded on him impatiently. "Mr. Stephen," said he, in the very words the widow had used two minutes before, "you're very foolish man, if you'll excuse my saying it."
"Certainly," Roger assured him. "But be dashed to me if I see why."
"Because, sir, you're on the wrong side of the law. Your father executed that will, and it's genuine; or the vermin—as you call him—would never have taken that line with me."
"I daresay. But what of that?"
"What of that? Why, you've cut yourself off from compromise—that's all. You don't think a fellow of that nature—I say nothing of the woman—will meet you on any reasonable terms after the way you've behaved!"
"Compromise? Terms? Why, dang it all, Jose! You're not telling me the old fool could will away Steens, that has passed as freehold from father to son these two hundred years and more?"
"The law allows it," began Mr. Jose; but his outraged client cut him short.
"The law allows it!" he mimicked. "How soon d'ye think they'll get the country to allow it? Why, the thing's monstrous—'tis as plain as the nose on your face!"
"Oh, you'll get sympathy, no doubt!"
"Sympathy? What the devil do I want with sympathy? I want my rights, and I've got 'em. What's more, I'll keep 'em—you see! Man, if that limb of Satan dared to come back, d'ye think the whole countryside wouldn't uphold me? But he won't; he won't dare. You heard him squeal, surely?"
"Drat the very name of politics!" exclaimed Mr. Jose so inconsequently that Roger had good excuse for staring.
"I don't take ye, Jose."
"No, I daresay not. I was thinking of Sir John. He's up at Westminster speechifying against corruption and Long Parliaments, and, the pamphleteers say, doing ten men's work to save the State; but for your sake I wish he was home minding the affairs of his parish. For I do believe he'd be for you at the bottom of his heart, and, if he used his influence, we might come to a settlement."
"'Settlement'?" Roger well-nigh choked over the word. He took three paces across the room and three paces back. His face twitched with fury, but for the moment he held himself in rein. "Look here, Jose, are you my lawyer or are you not? What in thunder do I want with Sir John? Right's right, and I'm going to stand on it. You know I'm in the right, and yet, like a cowardly attorney, at the first threat you hum and haw and bethink you about surrender. I don't know what you call it, sir, but I call it treachery. 'Settlement?' I've a damned good mind to believe they've bought you over!"
Mr. Jose gathered up his papers. "After that speech, Mr. Stephen, it don't become me to listen to more. As your father's friend I'm sorry for you. You're an ill-used man, but you're going to be a worse-used one, and by your own choice. I wish indeed I may prove mistaken, but my warning is, you have set your feet in a desperate path. Good-day, sir."
And so Roger Stephen quarrelled with his wisest friend.
Young Mrs. Stephen awoke in her bed of nettles, and sitting up with her back to the wall, pressed her hands to her temples and tried to think. She could not. For the moment the strain had broken her, and her mind ran only on trifles—her wardrobe, a hundred small odds and ends of personal property left behind her in the house.
She could not think, but by instinct she did the wisest thing—found her feet and tottered off in the direction of Nansclowan. She had barely passed the turning of the road shutting her off from his sight when Mr. Jose came riding out by the stable gate and turned his horse's head towards Helleston.
When Lady Piers heard that Mrs. Stephen was below in the morning-room and wished to speak with her, she descended promptly, but with no very goodwill towards her visitor. She suspected something amiss, for the maid who carried up the news had added that the widow was "in a pretty pore," and wore not so much as a shawl over her indoor garments. Also she knew, as well as her commoner neighbours, that the situation at Steens must be a difficult one. Now Lady Piers was a devoted and gentle-hearted woman, a loving wife and an incomparable housekeeper (the news had found her busy in her still-room), but her judgment of the young fisher-girl who had wheedled old Humphrey Stephen into matrimony was that of the rest of her sex; and even good and devout women can be a trifle hard, not to say inhuman, towards such an offender.
Therefore Lady Piers entered the morning-room with a face not entirely cordial, and, finding the pretty widow in tears, bowed and said, "Good-morning, Mrs. Stephen. What can I do for you?"
"He's turned me out!" Mrs. Stephen sobbed.
"Indeed!" Lady Piers was not altogether surprised. "He used no violence, I hope?"
"I d—don't know what you'd c—call violence, my lady, but he pitched Mr. Trudgian through the window."
"That seems to border on violence," said Lady Piers with a faint smile. "But who is Mr. Trudgian?"
"He's my lawyer, and he comes from Penzance."
"I see." Lady Piers paused and added, "Was it not a little rash to introduce this Mr. Trudgian? In the circumstances,"—she laid a slight stress here—"I should have thought it wiser to leave the house as quietly as possible."
"But—but the house is mine, my lady . . . every stick of it willed to me, and the estate too! Mr. Trudgian had drawn up the will, and was there to read it."
"You don't mean to tell me—" Lady Piers started up from her chair. "'Tis atrocious!" she exclaimed, and a pink spot showed itself on each of her delicate cheeks. "Indeed, Mrs. Stephen, you cannot dare to come to me for help; and if you have come for my opinion, I must tell you what I think—that you are a wicked, designing young woman, and have met with no more than your deserts."
"But he called me a dear wife, and he spoke of my loving care."
"Who did? Mr. Roger?"
"My husband did, my lady."
"Oh!" There was a world of meaning in Lady Piers' "oh!" Even a good and happy wife may be allowed to know something of men's weakness. "And Mr. Trudgian, I suppose, put that down on parchment?"
Mrs. Stephen gazed for a moment disconsolately out of the window, and rose to go.
"Nay," Lady Piers commanded, "you must sit down for a while and rest. Sir John is in London, as you know, and were he at home I feel sure you would get little condolence from him. But you are weak and over-worn, and have few friends, I doubt, between this and Porthleven. You cannot walk so far. Rest you here, and I will send you some food, and order John Penwartha to saddle a horse. I can lend you a cloak too, and you shall ride behind him to Porthleven. A friend I cannot find, to escort you; but John is a sensible fellow, and keeps his opinions to himself."
Next day Roger went over the house with Jane Trewoofe, the cook, and collected all his stepmother's belongings. These he did up carefully into three bales, and had them ready at the gate by six o'clock on the following morning, when Pete Nancarrow, the carrier between Helleston and Penzance, passed with his pack-ponies.
"You're to deliver these to the woman's own cottage over to Porthleven," was his order, conveyed by old Malachi.
Two days later, towards evening, Roger himself happened to be mending a fence on the slope behind the house, when he looked along the road, spied Pete returning, and stepped down to meet him.
"You delivered the parcels?"
"What's your charge?" asked Roger, dipping his hand in his pocket.
"Bless you, they're paid for. I took the goods round by way of Penzance, meaning to deliver them on the return journey; but in Market-jew Street whom should I run up against but the widow herself, sporting it on the arm of a lawyer-fellow called Trudgian. 'Hullo, mistress!' says I, 'I've a pack of goods belonging to you that I'm taking round to Porthleven.' So she asked what they were, and I told her. 'There's no need for you to drag them round to Porthleven,' said she, 'for I'm lodging here just now while Mr. Trudgian gets up my case.' And with that they fetched me over to Trudgian's office and paid me down on the table; 'for,' says the lawyer, 'we won't put expense on a man so poor as Roger Stephen is like to be, though he have given these fal-lals a useless journey.' 'Tell ye what, master; they mean to have you out of Steens if they can, that pair."
"Let 'em come and try," said Roger grimly.
The packman laughed. "That's what I told the folks over to Penzance. That's the very speech I used: 'Let 'em come and try,' I said. Everyone's prettily talking about the case."
"What can it concern anyone over there?"
"Why, bless you, the wide world's ringing with it! And look here, master, I'll tell you another thing. The country's with you to a man. You've been shamefully used, they say, and they mean it. Why, you've only to lift a hand and you can have 'em at your back to defy the Sheriff and all his works—if ever it should come to that."
"It won't," said Roger, turning back to the house.
This was the first news to reach him that his affairs were being publicly discussed, and for a moment it annoyed him. Of danger he had scarcely a suspicion. Here at Steens the days passed quietly, the servants obeying him as though he had been master for years. They brought him no gossip, and any rumours Malachi picked up Malachi kept to himself. Roger, never a man to talk with servants, brooded rather on the attempted wrong. That in itself was enough to sour a man. He had met it with prompt action and baulked it, but he nursed a sense of injury. He felt especially bitter towards Mr. Jose, first of all for permitting such a will to be made without discovering it, and next for shilly-shallying over the decisive counter-stroke. To possible trouble ahead he gave no thought.
The days drew on to hay-harvest, and on the 5th of June Roger and his men started to mow Behan Parc, a wide meadow to the east of the house. Roger took a scythe himself: he enjoyed mowing.
By noon the field was half-shorn, and the master, pausing to whet his scythe, had begun to think upon dinner, when at a call from Malachi he looked up to see a ragged wastrel of a man picking his way across the swathes towards him with a paper in his hand.
"Hullo! What's this?" he demanded, taking the paper and unfolding it.
As his eye took in its contents the blood surged up and about his temples. He tore the paper across and across again, flung the pieces on the ground, and stooped for his scythe.
The wastrel cast a wild look about him and fled. As he turned, presenting his back, Roger hurled his hone. It caught him a little above the shoulder-blades, almost on the neck, and broke in two pieces. The unhappy man pitched forward on his face.
Some of the mowers ran to pick him up. "Thee'st killed him, master, for sure!" cried one.
"Ch't!" snarled Roger, and strode back to the house without another look.
The law was in motion, then, and in motion to oust him! He could scarcely believe it; indeed, it was scarcely thinkable. But over his first blind, incredulous rage there swept a passionate longing to be alone in the house —to sit in it and look about him and assure himself. Without thought of what he did, he touched the door-jamb reverently as he stepped across the threshold. He wandered from room to room, and even upstairs, feeling the groove in the oaken stair-rail familiar under his palm. Yes, it was his, this home of dead and gone Stephens; it was here, and he was its master. And of this they would dare to deprive him—they, an interloping trollop and a dirty little attorney! No, it couldn't be done. He clenched and unclenched his fists. It could never be done in England; but the wrong was monstrous, all the same.
By-and-by he grew calmer, went down to the parlour, ate his dinner, and sallied out to the meadow again. The wastrel had disappeared. Roger asked no questions, but took up his scythe, stepped into the rank, and mowed. He mowed like a giant, working his men fairly to a standstill. They eyed him askance, and eyed each other as they fell behind. But disregarding the rank, he strode on and on, scything down the grass— his grass, grown on his earth, reaped with his sweat.
The hay had been gathered and stacked, and the stacks thatched; and still Roger lived on at Steens unmolested. He began to feel that the danger had blown over, and for this security old Malachi was responsible. Malachi had witnessed the scene in the hayfield, and dreamed for nights after of the look on his master's face. The next time a messenger arrived (he told himself) there would be murder done; and the old man, hazy upon all other points of the law and its operations, had the clearest notion of its answer to murder. He had seen gibbets in his time, and bodies dangling from them in chains.
He began to watch the road for messengers, and never slackened his watch. Six in all he intercepted during the next three weeks and took their papers to carry to his master. It seemed to him to be raining papers. He could not read, and, had he been able, their contents would have conveyed no meaning to him. He burned every one in secret.
It is possible, and even likely, that had they reached Roger they would have had no effect beyond angering him. He believed—as for miles around every man not a lawyer believed—that freehold land which had once descended to an heir could not be alienated without the next heir's consent: nor in all the countryside had such a wrong been perpetrated within living memory. It would have taken twenty lawyers with their books to shake him in this conviction. But it is a fact that he never received a last letter from Lawyer Jose imploring him to appear and fight the suit entered against him, and not to sit in obstinate slumber while his enemies destroyed him.
After this for some weeks the stream of messengers ceased, and even Malachi breathed more freely. He still, however, kept his eye lifting, and was able to intercept the document announcing that in the case of "Stephen versus Stephen," judgment had been entered against the defendant, who was hereby commanded to evade the premises and yield up possession without delay. This also he destroyed.
But there arrived a morning when, as Roger sat at breakfast, the old man came running with news of a gang of men on the road, not six hundred yards away, and approaching the house.
"Are the gates bolted?" asked Roger, rising and taking down two guns from the rack over the chimney-piece.
"Ay, master, bolted and locked." With some vague notion that thereby he asserted possession, Roger had bought new padlocks and clapped them on all three gates—the wrought-iron one admitting to the courtlage, the side wicket, and the great folding-doors of the stable-yard at the back.
"Where's Joseph?"—this was the farm-hind.
"In the challs." [Cattle sheds.]
"Take you this gun and give him the other, and you're to fire on anyone who tries to force the stable gate. They're loaded, the pair of 'em, with buckshot. Now, this fellow,"—he reached down a third gun—"is loaded blank, and here's another with a bullet in him. I'll take these out to the front."
"But, master, 'tis a hanging matter!"
"And I'll hang, and so shall you, before e'er a one o' these scoundrels sets foot in Steens. Go you off quick and tell Joseph, if there's trouble, to let slip the tether of the shorthorn bull."
Roger crammed a powder-flask into one pocket with a handful of wadding, a bag of bullets into another, took his two guns, and went forth into the courtlage, in time to see a purple-faced man in an ill-fitting Dalmahoy wig climb off his horse and advance to the gate, with half a dozen retainers behind him.
He tried the latch, and, finding it locked, began to shake the gate by the bars.
"Hullo!" said Roger. "And who may you be, making so bold?"
"Is your name Roger Stephen?" the purple-faced man demanded.
"I asked you a question first. Drop shaking my gate and answer it, or else take yourself off."
"And I order you to open at once, sir! I'm the Under-Sheriff of Cornwall, and I've come with a writ of ejectment. You've defied the law long enough, Master Stephen; you've brought me far; and, if you've ever heard the name of William Sandercock, you know he's one to stand no nonsense."
"I never heard tell of you," said Roger, appearing to search his memory; "but speaking off-hand and at first sight, I should say you was either half-drunk or tolerably unlucky in your face." And indeed the Under-Sheriff had set out from Truro at dawn and imbibed much brandy on the road.
"Open the gate!" he foamed.
Roger stepped back and chose his gun. "You'd best lead him away quiet," he advised the men in the road. "You won't? Then I'll give the fool till I count three. One—two—three." And he let off his gun full in the Under-Sheriff's face.
The poor man staggered back, clapped his hand to his jaw, and howled; for the discharge was close enough to scorch his face and singe his wig. Also one eyebrow was burnt, and before he knew if he still retained his sight, his horse had plunged free and was galloping down the road with the whole posse in pursuit, and only too glad of the excuse for running.
"Turn loose the bull!" shouted Roger, swinging round towards the house.
The Under-Sheriff found his legs, and bolted for dear life after his horse.
Travellers in the Great Sahara report many marvels, but none so mysterious and inexplicable as its power of carrying rumour. The desert (say they) is one vast echoing gossip-shop, and a man cannot be killed in the dawn at Mabruk but his death will be whispered before night at Bel Abbas or Amara, and perhaps bruited before the next sun rises on the sea-coast or beside the shores of Lake Chad.
We need not wonder, therefore, that within a few hours the whole of West Cornwall knew how Roger Stephen had defied the Under-Sheriff and fired upon him. Indeed, it is likely enough that in the whole of West Cornwall, at the moment, Roger Stephen was the man least aware of the meaning of the Under-Sheriff's visit and least alive to its consequences. Ever since his father's death that desolate county had been humming with his fame: his wrongs had been discussed at every hearthside, and his probable action. There were cottages so far away as St. Ives where the dispute over Steens had been followed intently through each step in the legal proceedings and the issue of each step speculated on, while in Steens itself the master sat inert and blind to all but the righteousness of his cause—thanks in part to Malachi, but in part also to his own taciturn habit. Men did not gossip with him; they watched him. He was even ignorant that Mrs. Stephen had been pelted with mud in the streets of Penzance, and forced to pack and take refuge in Plymouth.
Next morning Malachi brought word of another small body of men on the road, advancing this time from the direction of Helleston. Three of them (he added) carried guns.
Roger made his dispositions precisely as before, save that he now loaded each of his guns with ball, and again met his visitors at the gate.
"Don't fire, that's a dear man!" cried a voice through the bars; and Roger wondered; for it belonged to a young yeoman from St. Keverne, and its tone was friendly.
"Hey, Trevarthen? What brings you here?" he demanded.
"Goodwill to help ye, if you're not above taking it. You've been served like a dog, Stephen; but we'll stand by you, though we go to Launceston jail for it. Open the gate, like a good man."
"You'll swear 'tis no trick you're playing?"
"If we mean aught but neighbourliness, may our bones rot inside of us!" Trevarthen took oath.
Roger opened the padlock and loosened the chain. "I take this very kind of you, friends," he said slowly.
"Why, man, 'tis but the beginning!" the cheerful Trevarthen assured him. "Once we've made the start, you'll find the whole country trooping in; it but wants the signal. Lift your hand, and by nightfall you can have fivescore men at your back: ay, and I'm thinking you'll need 'em; for Sandercock went back no farther than Nansclowan, and there he'll be getting the ear of Sir John, that arrived down from London but yesterday."
"Right's right," growled Roger, "and not even Sir John can alter it."
"Ay, and he won't try nor wish to, if we stand to you and put a firm face on it. But in dealing with Sandercock he deals with the law, and must point to something stronger than you can be, standing here alone. Trust Sir John: he's your friend, and the stouter show we make the more we help him to prove it."
"There's something in what you say," agreed Roger.
"Why, 'tis plain common sense. A fool like Sandercock wants a lesson he can understand, and he'll understand naught but what stares him in his ugly face."
All that day driblets of volunteers arrived at Steens' gate, and at nightfall a party of twoscore from Porthleven, the widow's native village, where it seemed that her conduct was peculiarly detested. Plainly the whole country was roused and boiling over in righteous wrath. Roger, who had brooded so long alone, could hardly credit what he saw and heard, but it touched him to the heart. That day of rallying was perhaps the sweetest in his life. Most of the men carried guns, and some had even loaded themselves with provisions—a flitch of bacon or a bag of potatoes—against a possible siege. They chose their billets in the barns, hay-lofts, granaries, the cider-house, even the empty cattle-stalls, and under the brisk captaincy of Trevarthen fell to work stockading the weak spots in the defence and piercing loopholes in the outer walls. Finding that the slope behind the house commanded an open space in the south-west corner of the yard, they even began to erect a breastwork here, behind which they might defy musketry.
That night fifty-six men supped in Steens kitchen, drank Roger's health, and laughed over their labours. But in the midst of their mirth Roger, on his way to the cellar with a cider-keg under each arm, was intercepted by Malachi, who should have been standing sentry by the yard gate.
"Go back to your post, you careless fool!" commanded Roger, but the old man, beckoning mysteriously, led him out and across the dark yard to a pent beside the gate, and there in the deep shadow he could just discern the figure of a man—a very short man, but erect and somehow formidable even before he spoke.
"Good evening, Stephen!" said the stranger in a low, easy voice.
"Sir John!" Roger drew back apace.
"Ay, and very much at your service. I'm your friend, if you'll believe me, and I don't doubt you've been hardly used; but there's one thing to be done, and you must do it at once. To be short, stop this fooling; and quit."
"'Quit'?" echoed Roger.
"This very night. You've put yourself on the wrong side of the law, or allowed yourself to be put there. You're in the ditch, my friend, and pretty deep. I won't say but I can get you righted in some fashion—you may count on my trying, at least. But you've fired on the Under-Sheriff, the law's after you, and not a hand can I lift until you quit Steens and make yourself scarce for awhile."
"'Quit Steens'?" Roger echoed again with his hand to his forehead. "But, Sir John, you are fresh home from London, and you don't know the rights o' this: 'tis just to bide in Steens and be left quiet that I'm fighting. And here's the whole country to back me, Sir John; over fifty men in my kitchen at this moment, and all ready to burn powder rather than see this wrong committed on me!"
"Yes, yes, so I've just discovered," answered Sir John impatiently; "and there's your worst peril, Stephen. Man, I tell you this makes matters worse; and to-morrow may turn them from worse to incurable. Now, don't argue. I'm your friend, and am risking something at this moment to prove it. At the top of the lane here you'll find a horse: mount him, and ride to Helford Ferry for dear life. Two hundred yards up the shore towards Frenchman's Creek there's a boat made fast, and down off Durgan a ketch anchored. She's bound for Havre, and the skipper will weigh as soon as you're aboard. Mount and ride like a sensible fellow, and I'll walk into your kitchen and convince every man Jack that you have done well and wisely. Reach France and lie quiet for a time, till this storm blows over: the skipper will find lodgings for you and supply you with money, and I shall know your address. Come, what say you?"
"Sir John," Roger stammered hoarsely after a pause, "I—I say it humbly, your house and mine have known one another for long, and my fathers have stood beside yours afore now—and—and I didn't expect this from you, Sir John."
"Why, what ails ye, man?"
"What ails me?" His voice was bitter. "I reckon 'tis an honest man's right that ails me, and ails me cruel. But let God be my witness "—and Roger lifted his fist to the dark night—"they shall take my life from me when I quit Steens, and kill the man in me before I renounce it. Amen!"
"Is that your last word, Stephen?"
"It is, sir."
"Then," said the little man gravely, "as you may need me soon to beg mercy for you, I have a bargain to make. You are fighting with one woman: beware how you fight with two."
"I don't take ye. With what other woman should I fight?"
"When you turned Mrs. Stephen out at door she fled to my wife. And my wife, not liking her, but in common charity, gave her food and lent her a horse to further her to her home. For this she has been attacked, and even her life threatened, in a score of unsigned letters—and in my absence, you understand. She is no coward; but the injustice of it—the cruelty—has told on her health, and I reached home to find her sick in bed. That you have had no hand in this, Stephen, I know well; but it is being done by your supporters."
"If I catch the man, Sir John, he shall never write another letter in his life."
"I thank you." Sir John stepped out into the yard and stood while Roger unbarred the folding gates. Then, "I think if mischief comes, you had better not let them take you alive," said he quietly.
"Thank you, Sir John; I won't," was Roger's reply, and so he dismissed another good friend.
Sir James Tillie, Knight, of Pentillie Castle by Tamar and High Sheriff of Cornwall, was an amiable gentleman of indolent habits and no great stock of brains. On receiving Sandercock's message and instant appeal for help, he cursed his Under-Sheriff for a drunken bungler, and reluctantly prepared to ride West and restore order.
"Piers is a good fellow and a man of parts," he told his wife; "but he gives up too much of his time to parliamenteering, and lets his neighbourhood get out of hand. I protest, my dear, the miners down there are little better than naked savages, and the substantial farmers but a degree better. Here's a fellow, if you please, who answers the law with armed violence—a man, too, of education, as education goes. Sandercock's a coward. On his own showing the gun was loaded blank, and by this time no doubt Master Stephen is quaking at his own temerity and wondering how to save his skin. A few firm words, and he'll be meek as a lamb. What surprises me is that a man of affairs like Piers should lose his head and endorse Sandercock's sweating post; but I always say that, if the gentlemen of England are to maintain their influence, they should live on their own acres." From this it will be seen that Sir James was a prolix rather than a clear thinker.
He took an affectionate leave of his wife, and travelling by easy stages with a single groom for escort, on the third day reached Nansclowan, where Sir John and his lady made him welcome.
"You have ridden ahead of your force?" said Sir John pleasantly.
"How many are you bringing?"
"I don't quite take you. Eh? 'Soldiers'? My dear fellow—an affair of this kind—you surely didn't expect me to make myself ridiculous by marching through Cornwall with a regiment!"
"You mean to say that you've brought none?"
"Oh, to serve a writ on a yeoman!" and Sir James laughed heartily.
"Look here, Tillie, you shall ride over with me to-morrow at daybreak and look at the place. The man has sixty stout farmers at his back. They know that the soldiery has been sent for, and for five days they've been working like niggers. The front of the house is loopholed, and along the rear, which was their weak point, they've opened a trench six feet wide by six deep. By to-night's report they have even begun as outworks two barricades across the high-road, and no traffic may pass without permission."
"It seems to me your part of the world needs looking after," Sir James exclaimed testily.
Sir John ignored this shaft. "You'd better ride over to Pendennis Castle to-morrow and borrow as many men as the garrison can spare you."
"A score should be plenty," said Sir James. "It's astonishing—or so I've always heard—what a few trained men will do against irregulars."
"Treble the number, and you may save bloodshed," was Sir John's advice.
Early next morning, after a cursory inspection of the defences, the Sheriff rode over to Pendennis and held consultation with the Governor. The Governor, who had fifty men in garrison, agreed that twenty would suffice for the job; so twenty were told off, under command of a sergeant, and that same afternoon marched with Sir James to Nansclowan. On their way through Wendron church-town they were hissed and pelted with lumps of turf; but this hint of popular feeling made slight impression on the sanguine Sheriff, who had convinced himself that the resistance of Steens would collapse at the sight of his redcoats.
Having rested them at Nansclowan for the night, he led them forth at dawn and along the high-road to within fifty yards of the barricade which the defenders had drawn across it. There was no thought of tactics. He consulted for a minute with the sergeant, who knew nothing of the strength of the defence except from gossip (which he disbelieved), and the soldiers were ordered to charge.
Sir John Piers, seated on horseback a few paces off, had a mind to ride forward and protest. To his mind the order spelt sheer lunacy. The barrier, to begin with, stood close on twenty feet high, built of rough timbers staked in the ground and densely packed with furze. Nothing could be seen behind it but the top of the second barrier, which at fifty yards distance guarded the approach from Helleston. This nearer one stretched across the road from hedge to hedge, and, though none were perceptible, loopholes there must be and eyes watching every movement of the soldiers.
But Sir John had already this morning proved himself a false prophet. All the way from Nansclowan he had been assuring the Sheriff that the whole country would be advertised of the red-coats' arrival and agog for a fray; that he would have not only the defenders of Steens to deal with but a sympathetic mob outside, and likely enough a large one. Nothing of the sort! They had overtaken indeed a few stragglers on the road: a knot of boys had kept pace with them and halted a furlong behind, climbing the hedges and waiting to see the fun. But Steens itself stood apparently desolate. In the fields around not even a stray group of sightseers could Sir John perceive. It puzzled him completely; and the Sheriff, after demanding in gently satirical accents to be shown the whereabouts of the promised mob, had somewhat pointedly ignored him and consulted with the sergeant alone.
The soldiers charged well, holding their fire. And, again to Sir John's flat astonishment, no volley met them. They reached the foot of the barricade and began demolishing it, dragging out the furze-faggots, tearing a passage through.
In less than a minute they had laid open a gap: and with that the mystery was clear. Leaping through, they found themselves in the midst of a cheerful and entirely passive crowd, lining the road in front of Steens' wall, the gate of which had been closed with large baulks of timber from the mines. The crowd numbered perhaps three hundred, and included men, women and children. Groups of them squatted by the roadside or sat in the hedges, quietly sharing out their breakfasts; and one and all, as the Sheriff rode in through the gap on his grey horse, greeted him with laughter, as a set of children might laugh over an innocent practical joke.
Sir James lost his temper, and roughly ordered his soldiers to clear the road. There was no difficulty about this. The men withdrew most obligingly, collecting their breakfast cans, helping their wives and children over the hedge, laughing all the while. They scattered over the fields in front of Steens and sat down again in groups to watch. To disperse them farther with his handful of soldiers would be waste of time, and the Sheriff turned his attention to the house, which faced him grim and silent.
He rode up to the gate, and rattling upon it with his riding-whip, demanded admittance. There was no answer. He looked along the wall to right and left, and for the first time began to understand that the place was strong and his force perhaps inadequate. He could not retreat in the face of ridicule, and so—to gain time—ordered the barricade to be burnt.
The soldiers set to work, and soon had two fine bonfires blazing, and the Sheriff withdrew up the road with his sergeant to consult Sir John, the pair of them a trifle shamefacedly. Sir James tried to ease his own smart by an innuendo or two on the lawlessness of the West and the responsibility of its Justices of the Peace.
Sir John took his sneers very quietly. "My dear Tillie," said he, "I am with you to support the law, and you will remember that I advised your bringing thrice your strength. But I tell you that the law is doing this man a wrong, that all these people are convinced of it, and are innocently scandalised to see me here; and that I at this moment am undoing myself in their esteem, destroying a good feeling of over thirty years' growth, and all for a cause I detest. Get that into your head; and then, if you will, we'll ride round and examine the defences."
Meanwhile, as if the bonfires had given a signal to half the population of West Cornwall, the roads were beginning to swarm with people. They poured down from the north and up from the south, they spread over the fields and lined the hedges. They carried no weapons, they made no demonstration of anger. There was no attempt to hustle or even to jeer at the red-coats, who stood with grounded arms in a clear space of the roadway and fretted under the slow curious scrutiny of thousands, of eyes. Neighbours nodded and "passed the time of day,": acquaintances from the two coasts of the Duchy met, exchanged greetings and enquiries, lit their pipes and strolled about together. It might have been a gathering for a horse-race or a game of hurling, but for the extreme orderliness of the throng and a note of strained expectancy in its buzz of talk; and the likeness was strengthened about nine o'clock, when, in the broad field to the south-west, half a dozen merchants began to erect their sweet-meat booths or "standings,"— always an accompaniment of Cornish merrymaking.
It was just then that Sir James rode back from his reconnaissance. He had fetched a circuit of Steens without discovering a weak spot, and his temper had steadily risen with the increase of the crowd. His dignity now stood fairly at stake. He moved his soldiers up the road and gave orders to attack the gate.
As they fell into rank, an old man, perched on the hedge hard by, rose lazily and turned to the crowd on the far side. "Here, help me down, some of ye," said he; "I knawed that there Sheriff was a fool the moment I set eyes on 'en."
Sir James heard and rode straight on. If a fool, he was no coward. The soldiers carried axes at their belts, and, dismounting, he led them up to the gate and showed them where to attack. Blow after blow rained on the stout timbers. At length two fell crashing.
And then from a breastwork within, drawn across the flagged pathway of the courtlage, a ragged volley rang out and a dozen bullets swept the opening.
In the crowd across the road many women screamed. Two red-coats dropped, one of them striking the ironwork of the gate with his forehead. A third ran back into the road, stared about him, flung up his arms and tumbled dead. The man who had fallen against the gate lifted himself by its bars, sank again, and was dragged aside by his comrades. The third soldier lay curled in a heap and did not stir.
Across the smoke floating through the entrance Sir James looked at the sergeant. His own coat-cuff had been shorn through by a bullet. The sergeant shook his head.
With a motion of his hand he gave the order to desist. In silence the soldiers picked up their dead and wounded and began their retreat, the crowd pressing forward to watch them—a line of faces peering through the hazel-boughs. It neither cheered nor hissed.
As the enemy drew off, hundreds climbed down into the road and crowded around the pools of blood, gazing but saying little.
The assailants returned to Nansclowan, where the Sheriff opened his mind to Sir John in a bitter harangue and rode homeward in dudgeon. The soldiers were marched back to Pendennis. And so, to the scandal of the law, for four months the quarrel rested.
It sounds incredible. Sir James reached his house and spent a week in drawing up a report alleging that he and his twenty soldiers had been met by a crowd of over a thousand people, all partisans of Stephen; and that on attempting a forcible entry of Steens he had been murderously fired upon, with the loss of two killed and one wounded. There was not an incorrect statement in the report; and no one could read it without gathering that the whole of West Cornwall was up in arms and in open rebellion against the Crown.
Walpole read it in due course, and sent for Sir John Piers, who had returned to London for a short visit on parliamentary business. The two men (you will remember) were deadly political foes, and Sir John's first thought on receiving the message was, "Walpole is weakening, but he must be hard put to it when he sends for me, to bribe me!" However, he waited on the Minister.
Walpole greeted him with a pleasant bow: he had always a soft spot in his heart for the chubby-faced little Cornish baronet who always fought fair. "Let us be friends for ten minutes and talk like men of sense," said he. "Cast your eye over this paper and tell me, for the love of Heaven, what it means."
Sir John read it through and burst out laughing.
"The poor man has lost his head, hey? I guessed so," said Walpole.
"A reed shaken by the wind. As such he advertised an exhibition and the folks came out to see—that is all. To be sure, they feel for this Stephen as an ill-used man; and so for that matter do I."
"You were present. Tell me the whole story, if you will."
So Sir John told it and put it back into its true colours. "As for open rebellion, I'll engage to set down what I've told you in a report which shall be signed by every Justice between Truro and the Land's End."
"I don't need it," said Walpole. "But, when all's said, the fellow has defied the law and slaughtered two men. We must make an example of him. You agree, of course?"
"In due time I shall plead for mercy. But of course I agree."
"Well, then, what do you advise?"
"He won't run. I—well, in fact, I could have shipped him off before this happened, and tried to persuade him to go."
"The deuce you did!"
"Yes, but he refused. And he won't budge now. My advice is—wait, and pick a strong sheriff for next year. There's a neighbour of Tillie's— William Symons, of Hatt—you had best choose someone who doesn't belong to our neighbourhood, for many reasons."
The minister nodded.
"Symons won't drop the business until he has pushed it through."
"I will make a note of his name."
So for four months Roger Stephen remained unmolested, Sir James Tillie having received an answer from London requesting him to hold his hand.
And Sir John's counsel to the minister began to bear fruit even before the new Sheriff took up the case. Until the day of the attack Roger's forces had obeyed him cheerfully. They had volunteered to serve him, and put themselves in jeopardy for his sake. His sense of gratitude had kept him unusually amiable, and when a sullen fit took him his lieutenant Trevarthen had served for an admirable buffer. Trevarthen was always cheerful. But since Roger had tasted blood Trevarthen and Malachi agreed that his temper had entirely changed. He was, in fact, mad; and daily growing madder with confinement and brooding. What they saw was that his temper could no longer be trusted. And while he grew daily more morose, his supporters—left in idleness with the thought of what had been done— began to wish themselves out of the mess. Without excitement to keep their blood warm they had leisure to note Roger's ill humours and discuss them, and to tell each other that he showed very little of the gratitude he certainly owed them. Also, since it was certain that no further attack could be delivered at less than a few hours warning, and since their own affairs called them, the garrison divided itself into "shifts," one mounting guard while the rest visited their homes. And when the men were at home their wives talked to them.
Roger himself never put his nose beyond the defences. In all the years at Helleston a sedentary life had not told on him; but it told on him now, and rapidly. The true cause no doubt lay in his own sullen heart. It is a fact, however, that by this time the state of Steens was insanitary to a high degree and the well water polluted. At little cost of labour the garrison could have tapped and led down one of the many fresh springs on the hillside, but to this no thought was given. The man grew gaunt and livid in colour, and his flesh began to sag inwards at the back of the neck. By the middle of December he was far gone in what is now called Bright's disease, and with this disease the madness in his brain kept pace.
The crisis came with the New Year. Rumours had already reached Steens that the new Sheriff meant business, and was collecting a regiment at Plymouth to march westward as soon as he took up office; also that Mrs. Stephen had travelled down ahead of him and taken lodgings at a farmhouse on the near side of Truro in readiness to witness her triumph. Confident now that no danger threatened before the New Year, all but ten of the garrison—but these ten included the faithful (and unmarried) Trevarthen—had dispersed to their homes to keep Christmas.
Early in the morning of New Year's Day Trevarthen suggested riding into Helleston to purchase fresh meat, their stock of which had run low with the Christmas feasting. He had made many such expeditions—always, however, with an escort of four or five; for although the Justices held their hands, and made no attempt to arrest the dispersed conspirators in their own homes but suffered them there to go about their private occupations, the purchase of victuals for the besieged house was another matter, and rumour had more than once come to Steens that the Helleston constables meant to challenge it by force. So to-day, with Roger's leave, Trevarthen withdrew five of the garrison and rode off, leaving but four men on guard—Roger himself, Malachi, a labourer named Pascoe, and one Hickory Rodda—a schoolmaster from Wendron, whose elder brother, Nathaniel, a small farmer from the same parish, went with the expedition.
The short day passed quietly enough, if tediously. Roger spent the morning in melting down lead for bullets and running it into moulds. Long strips from the roof and even some of the casement lattices had gone to provide his arsenal against the next assault; and at the worst he fully meant to turn to his father's stacks of silver coin in the locked cellar. That afternoon he shut himself up with his Bible, and read until the print hurt his eyes. Then in the waning light he took his hat and started for a stroll around the back defences and out-buildings.
His way led through the kitchen, where Jane, the cook—the only woman left at Steens—was peeling potatoes for the night's supper; and there beside the open hearth sat Hickory Rodda writing by the glow of it, huddled on a stool with a sheet of paper on his knee.
At Roger's entrance the young man—he was scarce twenty, long-legged, overgrown, and in bearing somewhat furtive—slipped a hand over the writing and affected to stare into the fire.
"Hey? What's that you're doing?"
"Nun—nothing, Mr. Stephen; nothing particular—that is, I was writing a letter."
"Hand it over."
Hickory rose, upsetting his stool, and began to back away.
"'Tis a private letter I was writing to a friend."
Roger gripped him by the collar, plucked the paper from him, and took it to the door for better light. As he read the dark blood surged up in his neck and face. It was addressed to Lady Piers—a foul letter, full of obscene abuse and threats. Roger cast back one look at its author, and from the doorway shouted into the yard—
His voice was terrible. The two men heard it at their posts, and came running.
"Fetch a wain-rope!" He caught Hickory by the collar again, and forced his face up to the window against the red rays of the level sun. "Look on that, you dirt! And look your last on it! Nay, you shall see it once more, as you swing yonder."
He pointed across the courtlage to the boughs of an ash tree in the corner, naked against the sky, and with that began to drag the youth through the passage to the front door. Pascoe, not staying to comprehend, had run for a rope. But Malachi and Jane the cook broke into cries of horror.
"Nay, master, nay—you'll do no such thing—you cannot! Let the poor boy go: he's half dead already."
"'Cannot'? I'll see if I cannot!" grunted Roger, and panted with rage. "Open the door, you! He'll hang, I tell you, afore this sun goes down."
"Surely, surely, master—'tis a sin unheard of! The good Lord deliver us; 'tis mad you be to think of it!"
"Mad, am I? P'raps so, but 'twill be an ill madness for this coward." He spurned the dragging body with his foot. "Ah, here's Pascoe! Quick, you: swarm up the tree here, and take a hitch round that branch. See the one I mean?—the third up. Take your hitch by the knot yonder, but climb out first and see if it bears."
"What for?" demanded Pascoe stolidly.
"Oh, stifle you and your questions! Can't you see what for?"
"Iss," Pascoe answered, "I reckon I see, and I ben't goin' to do it."
"Look here,"—Roger drew a pistol from his pocket, "who's master here—you or I?"
Malachi had run to the gate, and was dragging at the baulks of timber, shouting vain calls for help into the road. Jane had fled screaming through the house and out into the backyard. Pascoe alone kept his head. It seemed to him that he heard the distant tramp of horses.
He looked up towards the bough.
"'Tis a cruel thing to order," said he, "and my limbs be old; but seemin' to me I might manage it."
He began to climb laboriously, rope in hand. As his eyes drew level with the wall's coping he saw to his joy Trevarthen's troop returning along the road, though not from the direction he had expected. Better still, the next moment they saw him on the bough, dark against the red sky. One rider waved his whip.
He dropped the rope as if by accident, crying out at his clumsiness. "Curse your bungling!" yelled Roger, and stooped to pick it up. Pascoe descended again, full of apologies. He had used the instant well. The riders had seen the one frantic wave of his hand, and were galloping down the lane towards the rear of the house.
Had Roger, as the sound of hoofs reached him, supposed it to be Trevarthen's troop returning, he might yet have persisted. But Trevarthen had ridden towards Helleston, and these horsemen came apparently out of the north. His thoughts flew at once to a surprise, and he shouted to Pascoe and Malachi to get their guns and hurry to their posts. The youth at his feet lay in a swoon of terror. He kicked the body savagely and ran, too, for his gun.
Half a minute later Jane came screaming back through the house.
"Oh, master—they've caught her! They've caught her!"
"Why, Jezebel herself! They've got her in the yard at this moment, and Master Trevarthen's a-bringing her indoors!"
Trevarthen had planned the stroke, and brought it off dashingly. From the Helleston road that morning he and his troop had turned aside and galloped across the moors to the outskirts of the village where Mrs. Stephen lodged. No man dared to oppose them, if any man wished to. They had dragged her from the house, hoisted her on horseback and headed for home unpursued. It was all admirably simple as Trevarthen related it, swelling with honest pride, by the kitchen fire. The woman herself heard the tale, cowering in a chair beside the hearth, wondering what her death would be.
Roger Stephen looked at her. "Ah!"—he drew a long breath.
Then Trevarthen went on to tell—for the wonders of the day were not over—how on their homeward road they had caught up with a messenger from Truro hurrying towards Steens, with word that the new Sheriff was already on the march with a regiment drawn off from the barracks at Plymouth, and had reached Bodmin. In two days' time they might find themselves besieged again.
Roger listened, but scarcely seemed to hear. His eyes were on the woman in the chair, and he drew another long breath.
With that a man came crawling through the doorway—or stooping so low that he seemed to crawl.
It was young Rodda, and he ran to his brother Nathaniel with a sob, and clasped him about the legs.
"Hullo!" cried Nathaniel. "Why, Hick, lad, what's taken 'ee?"
Said Roger carelessly, "I was going to hang him. But I can afford to stretch a point now. Carry the cur to the gate and fling him outside."
"Dang it all, Mr. Stephen," spoke up Nat; "you may be master in your own house, but I reckon Hick and I didn' come here for our own pleasure, and I see no sport in jokin' a lad till you've scared 'en pretty well out of his five senses. Why, see here, friends—he's tremblin' like a leaf!"
"He—he meant it!" sobbed Hickory.
"Meant it? Of course I meant it—the dirty, thievin', letter-writer!" Roger's eyes blazed with madness, and the men by the hearth growled and shrank away from him. He pulled out his pistol and, walking up, presented it at Nat Rodda's head. "Am I captain here, or amn't I? Very well, then: I caught that cur to-day writin' a letter—never you mind of what sort. 'Twas a sort of which I'd promised that the man I caught writing one should never write a second."
"You're mighty tender to women, all of a sudden!" Nat—to do him credit— answered up pluckily enough for a man addressing the muzzle of a pistol not two feet from his nose.
"We'll see about that by-and-by," said Roger grimly. "You've helped do me a favour, and I'll cry quits with you and your brother for't. But I want no more of you or your haveage: yon's the door—walk!"
"Oh, if that's how you take it,"—Nat Rodda shrugged his shoulders and obeyed, his brother at his heels. One or two of the men would have interfered, but Trevarthen checked them. Malachi alone went with the pair to let them forth and bar the gates behind them.
"I thank ye, Master Stephen," said Nat, turning in the doorway with a short laugh. "You've let two necks of your company out o' the halter." He swung round and stepped out into the darkness.
His words smote like the stroke of a bell upon one or two hearts in the kitchen. Trevarthen stepped forward briskly to undo the mischief.
"We'll have forty of the boys back before daylight: Dick Eva's taken a fresh horse to carry round the warning. Get to your posts, lads, and leave Jane here to cook supper. 'Tis 'one and all' now, and fight square; and if Hick Rodda has been sending his dirty threats to Nansclowan and frightening women, he's a good riddance, say I."
The woman in the chair heard all this, and saw Trevarthen draw Roger aside as the men filed out. They were muttering. By-and-by Roger commanded Jane to go and set candles in the parlour. Again they fell to muttering, and so continued until she returned.
Roger Stephen came slowly forward to the hearth.
"Stand up!" he said, and Mrs. Stephen stood up.
She could not raise her eyes to his face, but felt that he was motioning her to walk before him. Her limbs seemed weighted with lead, but she obeyed.
They passed out together and into the parlour, where Roger shut the door behind him and locked it.
A dull fire burnt on the hearth, banked high upon a pile of white wood-ash. Beside it lay a curiously-shaped ladle with a curl at the end of its iron handle. Two candles stood on the oval table in the centre of the room— the table at which she had been used to sit as mistress. She found her accustomed chair and seated herself. She had no doubt but that this man meant to kill her. In a dull way she wondered how it would be.
Roger, having locked the door, came slowly forward and waited, looking down at her, with his back to the hearth.
By-and-by she lifted her face. "How will you do it?" she asked, very quietly, meeting his eyes.
For the moment he did not seem to understand. Then, drawing in his breath, he laughed to himself—almost without sound, and yet she heard it.
"There's more than one way, if you was woman. But I've been reading the Bible: there's a deal about witches in the Bible, and so I came to understand ye." He stared at her and nodded.
Having once lifted her face, she could eye him steadily. But she made no answer.
He stooped and picked up the ladle at his feet. "You needn't be afraid," he said slowly: "I promised Trevarthen I wouldn't hurt you beforehand. And afterwards—it'll be soon over. D'ye know what I use this for? It's for melting bullets."
He felt in his waistcoat pocket, drew out a crown-piece, held it for a moment betwixt finger and thumb, and dropped it into the ladle.
"They say 'tis the surest way with a witch," said he; then, after a pause, "As for that lawyer-fellow of yours—"
And here he paused again, this time in some astonishment; for she had risen, and now with no fear in her eyes—only scorn.
"Go on," she commanded.
"Well," concluded Roger grimly, "where you fought me as my father's wife he fought for dirty pay, and where you cheated me he lead you into cheating. Therefore, if I caught him, he'd die no such easy death. Isn't that enough?"
"I thank you," she said, and her eyes seemed to lighten as they looked into his. "You are a violent man, but not vile—as some. You have gone deep, and you meant to kill me to-morrow—or is it to-night? But I mean to save you from that."
"I think not, mistress."
"I think 'yes,' stepson—that is, if you believe that, killing me, you will kill also your father's child!"
For a moment he did not understand. His eyes travelled over her as she stood erect, stretching out her hands.
Suddenly his head sank. He did not cry out, though he knew—as she knew— that the truth of it had killed him. Not for one moment—it was characteristic of him—did he doubt. In her worst enemy she found, in the act of killing him, her champion against the world.
He groped for the door, unlocked it, and passed out.
In the kitchen he spoke to Jane the cook, who ran and escorted Mrs. Stephen, not without difficulty, up to her own room.
Roger remained as she left him, staring into the fire.
He served the supper himself, explaining Jane's absence by a lie. Towards midnight the volunteers began to arrive, dropping in by ones and twos; and by four in the morning, when Roger withdrew to his attic to snatch a few hours' sleep, the garrison seemed likely to resume its old strength. The news of the widow's capture exhilarated them all. Even those who had come dejectedly felt that they now possessed a hostage to play off, as a last card, against the law.
That night Roger Stephen, in his attic, slept as he had not slept for months, and awoke in the grey dawn to find Trevarthen shaking him by the shoulder.
"Hist, man! Come and look," said Trevarthen, and led him to the window. Roger rubbed his eyes, and at first could see nothing. A white sea-fog covered the land and made the view a blank; but by-and-by, as he stared, the fog thinned a little, and disclosed, two fields away, a row of blurred white tents, and another row behind it.
"How many do you reckon?" he asked quietly.
"Soldiers? I put 'em down at a hundred and fifty."
"And we've a bare forty."
"Fifty-two. A dozen came in from Breage soon after five. They're all posted."
"A nuisance, this fog," said Roger, peering into it. Since the first assault he and his men had levelled the hedge across the road, so that the approach from the fields lay open, and could be swept from the loopholes in the courtlage wall.
"I don't say that," answered Trevarthen cheerfully. "We may find it help us before the day is out. Anyway, there's no chance of its lifting if this wind holds."
"I wonder, now, the fellow didn't try a surprise and attack at once."
"He'll summon you in form, depend on't. Besides, he has to go gently. He knows by this time you hold the woman here, and he don't want her harmed if he can avoid it."
"Ah!" said Roger. "To be sure—I forgot the woman."
While the two men stood meditating a moan sounded in the room below. It seemed to rise through the planking close by their feet.
Trevarthen caught Roger by the arm. "What's that? You haven't been hurting her? You promised—"
"No," Roger interrupted, "I haven't hurt her, nor tried to. She's sick, maybe. I'll step down and have a talk with Jane."
On the landing outside Mrs. Stephen's room the two men shook hands, and Trevarthen hurried down to go the round of his posts in the out-buildings. They never saw one another again. Roger hesitated a moment, then tapped at the door.
After a long pause Jane opened it with a scared face. She whispered with him, and he turned and went heavily down the stairs; another moan from within followed him.
At the front door Malachi met him, his face twitching with excitement. The Sheriff (said he) was at the gate demanding word with Master Stephen.
For the moment Roger did not seem to hear. Then he lounged across the courtlage, fingering and examining the lock of his musket, with ne'er a glance nor a good morning for the dozen men posted beside their loopholes. Another half-dozen waited in the path for his orders; he halted, and told them curtly to march upstairs and man the attic windows, whence across the wall's coping their fire would sweep the approach from the fields; and so walked on and up to the gate, on which the Sheriff was now hammering impatiently.
"Who's there?" he demanded.
"Are you Roger Stephen?" answered the Sheriff's voice.
"Roger Stephen of Steens—ay, that's my name."
"Then I command you to open to me, in the name of King George."
"What if I don't?"
"Then 'twill be the worse for you and the ignorant men you're misleading. I'll give you five minutes to consider your answer."
"You may have it in five seconds. What you want you must come and take. Anything more?"
"Yes," said the Sheriff, "I am told that you have taken violent possession of the plaintiff in this suit. I warn you to do her no hurt, and I call upon you to surrender her."
Roger laughed, and through the gate it sounded a sinister laugh enough. "I doubt," said he, "that she can come if she would."
"I warn you also that any agreement or withdrawal of claim which you may wrest from her or force her to sign will under the circumstances be not worth the paper 'tis written on."
Roger laughed again. "I never thought of such a thing. I leave such dirty tricks to your side. Go back with ye, Master Sheriff, and call up your soldiers, if you must."
They tell that the first assault that day came nearest to succeeding. The Sheriff had provided himself with scaling ladders, and, concentrating his attack on the front, ordered his storming party to charge across the road. They came with a rush in close order, and were checked, at the point where the hedge had been levelled, by a withering fire from the loopholes and attic windows. Four men dropped. Two ladders reached the walls, one of them carried by a couple of men, who planted it, and then, finding themselves unsupported, ran back to the main body. Six men with the second ladder reached the wall, dropping a comrade on the way, and climbed it. The first man leapt gallantly down among the defenders and fell on the flags of the courtlage, breaking his ankle. The second, as he poised himself on the coping, was picked off by a shot from the attics and toppled backwards. The others stood by the foot of the ladder bawling for support.
But the momentary dismay of the main body had been fatal. Each man at the loopholes had two guns, and each pair an attendant to reload for them. Before the soldiers could pull themselves together a second volley poured from the loop-holes, and again three men dropped. One or two belated shots followed the volley, and a moment later the captain in command, as he waved his men forward, let drop his sword, clenched his fists high above him, and fell headlong in the roadway across their feet. Instinct told them that the course to which he had been yelling them on was, after all, the safest—to rush the road between two volleys and get close under the wall. Once there, they were safe from the marksmen, who could not depress their guns sufficiently to take aim. And so, with a shout, at length they carried the road; but too late to recover the first ladder, the foot of which swung suddenly high in air. This ladder was a tall one, overtopping the wall by several feet; and Pascoe, remembering the wain-rope lying beneath the ash tree, had run for it, cleverly lassoed its projecting top, and, with two men helping, jerked it high and dragged it inboard with a long slide and a crash.
There were now about a hundred soldiers at the foot of the wall, and the fate of Steens appeared to be sealed, when help came as from the clouds. Throughout the struggle forms had been flitting in the rear of the soldiers. The fog had concealed from the Sheriff that he was fighting, as his predecessor had fought, within a ring of spectators many hundreds in number; and to-day not a few of these spectators had brought guns. It is said that in the hottest of the fray Trevarthen broke out from the rear of Steens and marshalled them. Certain it is that no sooner were the soldiers huddled beneath the wall than a bullet sang down the road from the north, then another, then a volley; and as they faced round in panic on this flanking fire, another volley swept up the road from the south and took them in the rear.
They could see no enemy. Likely enough the enemy could not see them. But, packed as they were, the cross-fire could not fail to be deadly. The men in the courtlage had drawn back towards the house as the ladder began to sway above the wall. They waited, taking aim, but no head showed above the coping. They heard, and wondered at, the firing in the road: then, while still they waited, one by one the ladders were withdrawn.
The soldiers, maddened by the fire, having lost their captain, and being now out of hand, parted into two bodies and rushed, the one up the other down the road, to get at grips with their new assailants. But it is ill chasing an invisible foe, and a gun is easily tossed over a hedge. After pursuing maybe for quarter of a mile they met indeed two or three old men, innocent-looking but flushed about the face, sauntering towards the house with their hands in their pockets; and because their hands when examined were black and smelt of gunpowder, these innocent-looking old men went back in custody to the post where the bugles were sounding the recall. The soldiers turned back sullenly enough, but presently quickened their pace as a yellow glare in the fog gave the summons a new meaning. Their camp was ablaze from end to end!
This was a bitter pill for the Sheriff. He had come in force, determined to prove to the rebels that they had a stronger man than Sir James Tillie to deal with, and he had failed even more ignominiously. He cursed the inhabitants of West Cornwall, and he cursed the fog; but he was not a fool, and he wasted no time in a wild-goose chase over an unknown country where his men could not see twenty yards before them. Having saved what he could of the tents and trodden out the embers, he consulted with the young lieutenant now in command and came to two resolutions: to send to Pendennis Castle for a couple of light six-pounders, and, since these could not arrive until the morrow, to keep the defence well harassed during the remaining hours of daylight, not attempting a second assault in force, but holding his men in shelter and feeling around the position for a weak point.