E-text prepared by Lionel Sear
ARTHUR THOMAS QUILLER-COUCH.
1895 This e-text was prepared from a reprint of a version published in 1895.
The stories in this volume made their first appearance in England as follows: "The Roll-Call of the Reef" in The Idler; "The Looe Die-hards" in The Illustrated London News, where it was entitled "The Power o' Music"; "Jetsom" and "The Bishop of Eucalyptus" in The Pall Mall Magazine; "Visitors at the Gunnel Rock" in The Strand Magazine; "Flowing Source" in The Woman at Home; and the rest, with one exception, in the friendly pages of The Speaker.
THE ROLL-CALL OF THE REEF.
THE LOOE DIE-HARDS.
MY GRANDFATHER, HENDRY WATTY.
THE BISHOP OF EUCALYPTUS.
VISITORS AT THE GUNNEL ROCK.
LETTERS FROM TROY—
I. THE FIRST PARISH MEETING. II. THE SIMPLE SHEPHERD.
I. THE LEGEND OF SIR DINAR. II. "FLOWING SOURCE".
I. A YOUNG MAN'S DIARY. II. THE CAPTAIN FROM BATH.
"What is the use of it?" the Poet demanded peevishly—it was New Year's Day in the morning. "People don't read my poetry when I have gone to the trouble of writing it!"
"The more shame to them," said his wife.
"But, my dear, you know you never read it yourself."
"Oh, that is altogether different. Besides you are improving, are you not?" She asked it a trifle anxiously, but the question set him off at once.
"In twenty years' time—" he began eagerly.
"—The boy will be at college." She laid down her needle and embroidery and, gazing into the fire, let her hands lie idle in her lap.
"You might think of me."
"I thought," she answered, "you were doing that."
"Of yourself, then."
"In twenty years' time—" She broke off with the faintest possible sigh.
The Poet jumped up and went to his writing-desk. "That reminds me," he said, and produced a folded scrap of paper. "I wrote it last night. It's a sort of a little New Year's present—you need not read it, you know."
"But I will": and she took the paper and read—
UPON NEW YEAR'S EVE
Now winds of winter glue Their tears upon the thorn, And earth has voices few, And those forlorn.
And 'tis our solemn night When maidens sand the porch, And play at Jack's Alight With burning torch,
Or cards, or Kiss i' the Ring— While ashen faggots blaze, And late wassailers sing In miry ways.
Then, dear my wife, be blithe To bid the New Year hail And welcome—plough, drill, scythe, And jolly flail.
For though the snows he'll shake Of winter from his head, To settle, flake by flake, On ours instead;
Yet we be wreathed green Beyond his blight or chill, Who kissed at seventeen And worship still.
We know not what he'll bring: But this we know to-night— He doth prepare the Spring For our delight.
With birds he'll comfort us, With blossoms, balms, and bees, With brooks, and odorous Wild breath o' the breeze.
Come then, O festal prime! With sweets thy bosom fill, And dance it, dripping thyme, On Lantick hill.
West wind, awake! and comb Our garden, blade from blade— We, in our little home, Sit unafraid.
—"Why, I quite like it!" said she.
THE ROLL-CALL OF THE REEF.
"Yes, sir," said my host the quarryman, reaching down the relics from their hook in the wall over the chimney-piece; "they've hung there all my time, and most of my father's. The women won't touch 'em; they're afraid of the story. So here they'll dangle, and gather dust and smoke, till another tenant comes and tosses 'em out o' doors for rubbish. Whew! 'tis coarse weather."
He went to the door, opened it, and stood studying the gale that beat upon his cottage-front, straight from the Manacle Reef. The rain drove past him into the kitchen, aslant like threads of gold silk in the shine of the wreckwood fire. Meanwhile by the same firelight I examined the relics on my knee. The metal of each was tarnished out of knowledge. But the trumpet was evidently an old cavalry trumpet, and the threads of its parti-coloured sling, though frayed and dusty, still hung together. Around the side-drum, beneath its cracked brown varnish, I could hardly trace a royal coat-of-arms, and a legend running—Per Mare per Terram—the motto of the Marines. Its parchment, though coloured and scented with wood-smoke, was limp and mildewed; and I began to tighten up the straps—under which the drumsticks had been loosely thrust—with the idle purpose of trying if some music might be got out of the old drum yet.
But as I turned it on my knee, I found the drum attached to the trumpet-sling by a curious barrel-shaped padlock, and paused to examine this. The body of the lock was composed of half a dozen brass rings, set accurately edge to edge; and, rubbing the brass with my thumb, I saw that each of the six had a series of letters engraved around it.
I knew the trick of it, I thought. Here was one of those word-padlocks, once so common; only to be opened by getting the rings to spell a certain word, which the dealer confides to you.
My host shut and barred the door, and came back to the hearth.
"'Twas just such a wind—east by south—that brought in what you've got between your hands. Back in the year 'nine it was; my father has told me the tale a score o' times. You're twisting round the rings, I see. But you'll never guess the word. Parson Kendall, he made the word, and locked down a couple o' ghosts in their graves with it; and when his time came, he went to his own grave and took the word with him."
"Whose ghosts, Matthew?"
"You want the story, I see, sir. My father could tell it better than I can. He was a young man in the year 'nine, unmarried at the time, and living in this very cottage just as I be. That's how he came to get mixed up with the tale."
He took a chair, lit a short pipe, and unfolded the story in a low musing voice, with his eyes fixed on the dancing violet flames.
"Yes, he'd ha' been about thirty year old in January, of the year 'nine. The storm got up in the night o' the twenty-first o' that month. My father was dressed and out long before daylight; he never was one to 'bide in bed, let be that the gale by this time was pretty near lifting the thatch over his head. Besides which, he'd fenced a small 'taty-patch that winter, down by Lowland Point, and he wanted to see if it stood the night's work. He took the path across Gunner's Meadow—where they buried most of the bodies afterwards. The wind was right in his teeth at the time, and once on the way (he's told me this often) a great strip of ore-weed came flying through the darkness and fetched him a slap on the cheek like a cold hand. But he made shift pretty well till he got to Lowland, and then had to drop upon his hands and knees and crawl, digging his fingers every now and then into the shingle to hold on, for he declared to me that the stones, some of them as big as a man's head, kept rolling and driving past till it seemed the whole foreshore was moving westward under him. The fence was gone, of course; not a stick left to show where it stood; so that, when first he came to the place, he thought he must have missed his bearings. My father, sir, was a very religious man; and if he reckoned the end of the world was at hand— there in the great wind and night, among the moving stones—you may believe he was certain of it when he heard a gun fired, and, with the same, saw a flame shoot up out of the darkness to windward, making a sudden fierce light in all the place about. All he could find to think or say was, 'The Second Coming—The Second Coming! The Bridegroom cometh, and the wicked He will toss like a ball into a large country!' and being already upon his knees, he just bowed his head and 'bided, saying this over and over.
"But by'm-by, between two squalls, he made bold to lift his head and look, and then by the light—a bluish colour 'twas—he saw all the coast clear away to Manacle Point, and off the Manacles, in the thick of the weather, a sloop-of-war with top-gallants housed, driving stern foremost towards the reef. It was she, of course, that was burning the flare. My father could see the white streak and the ports of her quite plain as she rose to it, a little outside the breakers, and he guessed easy enough that her captain had just managed to wear ship, and was trying to force her nose to the sea with the help of her small bower anchor and the scrap or two of canvas that hadn't yet been blown out of her. But while he looked, she fell off, giving her broadside to it foot by foot, and drifting back on the breakers around Carn du and the Varses. The rocks lie so thick thereabouts, that 'twas a toss up which she struck first; at any rate, my father couldn't tell at the time, for just then the flare died down and went out.
"Well, sir, he turned then in the dark and started back for Coverack to cry the dismal tidings—though well knowing ship and crew to be past any hope; and as he turned, the wind lifted him and tossed him forward 'like a ball,' as he'd been saying, and homeward along the foreshore. As you know, 'tis ugly work, even by daylight, picking your way among the stones there, and my father was prettily knocked about at first in the dark. But by this 'twas nearer seven than six o'clock, and the day spreading. By the time he reached North Corner, a man could see to read print; hows'ever, he looked neither out to sea nor towards Coverack, but headed straight for the first cottage— the same that stands above North Corner to-day. A man named Billy Ede lived there then, and when my father burst into the kitchen bawling, 'Wreck! wreck!' he saw Billy Ede's wife, Ann, standing there in her clogs, with a shawl over her head, and her clothes wringing wet.
"'Save the chap!' says Billy Ede's wife, Ann. 'What d' 'ee mean by crying stale fish at that rate?'
"'But 'tis a wreck, I tell 'ee. I've a-zeed 'n!'
"'Why, so 'tis,' says she, 'and I've a-zeed 'n too; and so has everyone with an eye in his head.'
"And with that she pointed straight over my father's shoulder, and he turned; and there, close under Dolor Point, at the end of Coverack town, he saw another wreck washing, and the point black with people, like emmets, running to and fro in the morning light. While he stood staring at her, he heard a trumpet sounded on board, the notes coming in little jerks, like a bird rising against the wind; but faintly, of course, because of the distance and the gale blowing—though this had dropped a little.
"'She's a transport,' said Billy Ede's wife, Ann, 'and full of horse soldiers, fine long men. When she struck they must ha' pitched the hosses over first to lighten the ship, for a score of dead hosses had washed in afore I left, half an hour back. An' three or four soldiers, too—fine long corpses in white breeches and jackets of blue and gold. I held the lantern to one. Such a straight young man!'
"My father asked her about the trumpeting.
"'That's the queerest bit of all. She was burnin' a light when me an' my man joined the crowd down there. All her masts had gone; whether they carried away, or were cut away to ease her, I don't rightly know. Anyway, there she lay 'pon the rocks with her decks bare. Her keelson was broke under her and her bottom sagged and stove, and she had just settled down like a sitting hen—just the leastest list to starboard; but a man could stand there easy. They had rigged up ropes across her, from bulwark to bulwark, an' beside these the men were mustered, holding on like grim death whenever the sea made a clean breach over them, an' standing up like heroes as soon as it passed. The captain an' the officers were clinging to the rail of the quarter-deck, all in their golden uniforms, waiting for the end as if 'twas King George they expected. There was no way to help, for she lay right beyond cast of line, though our folk tried it fifty times. And beside them clung a trumpeter, a whacking big man, an' between the heavy seas he would lift his trumpet with one hand, and blow a call; and every time he blew, the men gave a cheer. There' (she says)'—hark 'ee now—there he goes agen! But you won't hear no cheering any more, for few are left to cheer, and their voices weak. Bitter cold the wind is, and I reckon it numbs their grip o' the ropes, for they were dropping off fast with every sea when my man sent me home to get his breakfast. Another wreck, you say? Well, there's no hope for the tender dears, if 'tis the Manacles. You'd better run down and help yonder; though 'tis little help that any man can give. Not one came in alive while I was there. The tide's flowing, an' she won't hold together another hour, they say.'
"Well, sure enough, the end was coming fast when my father got down to the point. Six men had been cast up alive, or just breathing—a seaman and five troopers. The seaman was the only one that had breath to speak; and while they were carrying him into the town, the word went round that the ship's name was the Despatch, transport, homeward bound from Corunna, with a detachment of the 7th Hussars, that had been fighting out there with Sir John Moore. The seas had rolled her farther over by this time, and given her decks a pretty sharp slope; but a dozen men still held on, seven by the ropes near the ship's waist, a couple near the break of the poop, and three on the quarter-deck. Of these three my father made out one to be the skipper; close by him clung an officer in full regimentals—his name, they heard after, was Captain Duncanfield; and last came the tall trumpeter; and if you'll believe me, the fellow was making shift there, at the very last, to blow 'God Save the King.' What's more, he got to 'Send us victorious' before an extra big sea came bursting across and washed them off the deck—every man but one of the pair beneath the poop—and he dropped his hold before the next wave; being stunned, I reckon. The others went out of sight at once, but the trumpeter—being, as I said, a powerful man as well as a tough swimmer—rose like a duck, rode out a couple of breakers, and came in on the crest of the third. The folks looked to see him broke like an egg at their feet; but when the smother cleared, there he was, lying face downward on a ledge below them; and one of the men that happened to have a rope round him—I forget the fellow's name, if I ever heard it—jumped down and grabbed him by the ankle as he began to slip back. Before the next big sea, the pair were hauled high enough to be out of harm, and another heave brought them up to grass. Quick work; but master trumpeter wasn't quite dead; nothing worse than a cracked head and three staved ribs. In twenty minutes or so they had him in bed, with the doctor to tend him."
"Now was the time—nothing being left alive upon the transport—for my father to tell of the sloop he'd seen driving upon the Manacles. And when he got a hearing, though the most were set upon salvage, and believed a wreck in the hand, so to say, to be worth half a dozen they couldn't see, a good few volunteered to start off with him and have a look. They crossed Lowland Point; no ship to be seen on the Manacles, nor anywhere upon the sea. One or two was for calling my father a liar. 'Wait till we come to Dean Point,' said he. Sure enough, on the far side of Dean Point, they found the sloop's mainmast washing about with half a dozen men lashed to it—men in red jackets—every mother's son drowned and staring; and a little farther on, just under the Dean, three or four bodies cast up on the shore, one of them a small drummer-boy, side-drum and all; and, near by, part of a ship's gig, with 'H.M.S. Primrose' cut on the stern-board. From this point on, the shore was littered thick with wreckage and dead bodies—the most of them Marines in uniform; and in Godrevy Cove, in particular, a heap of furniture from the captain's cabin, and amongst it a water-tight box, not much damaged, and full of papers; by which, when it came to be examined next day, the wreck was easily made out to be the Primrose, of eighteen guns, outward bound from Portsmouth, with a fleet of transports for the Spanish War—thirty sail, I've heard, but I've never heard what became of them. Being handled by merchant skippers, no doubt they rode out the gale and reached the Tagus safe and sound. Not but what the captain of the Primrose (Mein was his name) did quite right to try and club-haul his vessel when he found himself under the land: only he never ought to have got there if he took proper soundings. But it's easy talking.
"The Primrose, sir, was a handsome vessel—for her size, one of the handsomest in the King's service—and newly fitted out at Plymouth Dock. So the boys had brave pickings from her in the way of brass-work, ship's instruments, and the like, let alone some barrels of stores not much spoiled. They loaded themselves with as much as they could carry, and started for home, meaning to make a second journey before the preventive men got wind of their doings and came to spoil the fun. But as my father was passing back under the Dean, he happened to take a look over his shoulder at the bodies there. 'Hullo,' says he, and dropped his gear: 'I do believe there's a leg moving!' And, running fore, he stooped over the small drummer-boy that I told you about. The poor little chap was lying there, with his face a mass of bruises and his eyes closed: but he had shifted one leg an inch or two, and was still breathing. So my father pulled out a knife and cut him free from his drum—that was lashed on to him with a double turn of Manilla rope—and took him up and carried him along here, to this very room that we're sitting in. He lost a good deal by this, for when he went back to fetch his bundle the preventive men had got hold of it, and were thick as thieves along the foreshore; so that 'twas only by paying one or two to look the other way that he picked up anything worth carrying off: which you'll allow to be hard, seeing that he was the first man to give news of the wreck."
"Well, the inquiry was held, of course, and my father gave evidence; and for the rest they had to trust to the sloop's papers: for not a soul was saved besides the drummer-boy, and he was raving in a fever, brought on by the cold and the fright. And the seamen and the five troopers gave evidence about the loss of the Despatch. The tall trumpeter, too, whose ribs were healing, came forward and kissed the Book; but somehow his head had been hurt in coming ashore, and he talked foolish-like, and 'twas easy seen he would never be a proper man again. The others were taken up to Plymouth, and so went their ways; but the trumpeter stayed on in Coverack; and King George, finding he was fit for nothing, sent him down a trifle of a pension after a while—enough to keep him in board and lodging, with a bit of tobacco over.
"Now the first time that this man—William Tallifer, he called himself—met with the drummer-boy, was about a fortnight after the little chap had bettered enough to be allowed a short walk out of doors, which he took, if you please, in full regimentals. There never was a soldier so proud of his dress. His own suit had shrunk a brave bit with the salt water; but into ordinary frock an' corduroys he declared he would not get—not if he had to go naked the rest of his life; so my father, being a good-natured man and handy with the needle, turned to and repaired damages with a piece or two of scarlet cloth cut from the jacket of one of the drowned Marines. Well, the poor little chap chanced to be standing, in this rig-out, down by the gate of Gunner's Meadow, where they had buried two score and over of his comrades. The morning was a fine one, early in March month; and along came the cracked trumpeter, likewise taking a stroll.
"'Hullo!' says he; 'good mornin'! And what might you be doin' here?'
"'I was a-wishin',' says the boy, 'I had a pair o' drum-sticks. Our lads were buried yonder without so much as a drum tapped or a musket fired; and that's not Christian burial for British soldiers.'
"'Phut!' says the trumpeter, and spat on the ground; 'a parcel of Marines!'
"The boy eyed him a second or so, and answered up: 'If I'd a tab of turf handy, I'd bung it at your mouth, you greasy cavalryman, and learn you to speak respectful of your betters. The Marines are the handiest body of men in the service.'
"The trumpeter looked down on him from the height of six foot two, and asked: 'Did they die well?'
"'They died very well. There was a lot of running to and fro at first, and some of the men began to cry, and a few to strip off their clothes. But when the ship fell off for the last time, Captain Mein turned and said something to Major Griffiths, the commanding officer on board, and the Major called out to me to beat to quarters. It might have been for a wedding, he sang it out so cheerful. We'd had word already that 'twas to be parade order, and the men fell in as trim and decent as if they were going to church. One or two even tried to shave at the last moment. The Major wore his medals. One of the seamen, seeing I had hard work to keep the drum steady— the sling being a bit loose for me and the wind what you remember— lashed it tight with a piece of rope; and that saved my life afterwards, a drum being as good as a cork until 'tis stove. I kept beating away until every man was on deck; and then the Major formed them up and told them to die like British soldiers, and the chaplain read a prayer or two—the boys standin' all the while like rocks, each man's courage keeping up the others'. The chaplain was in the middle of a prayer when she struck. In ten minutes she was gone. That was how they died, cavalryman.'
"'And that was very well done, drummer of the Marines. What's your name?'
"'Mine is William George Tallifer, trumpeter, of the 7th Light Dragoons—the Queen's Own. I played "God Save the King" while our men were drowning. Captain Duncanfield told me to sound a call or two, to put them in heart; but that matter of "God Save the King" was a notion of my own. I won't say anything to hurt the feelings of a Marine, even if he's not much over five-foot tall; but the Queen's Own Hussars is a tearin' fine regiment. As between horse and foot, 'tis a question o' which gets the chance. All the way from Sahagun to Corunna 'twas we that took and gave the knocks—at Mayorga and Rueda, and Bennyventy.' (The reason, sir, I can speak the names so pat is that my father learnt 'em by heart afterwards from the trumpeter, who was always talking about Mayorga and Rueda and Bennyventy.) 'We made the rear-guard, under General Paget, and drove the French every time; and all the infantry did was to sit about in wine-shops till we whipped 'em out, an' steal an' straggle an' play the tom-fool in general. And when it came to a stand-up fight at Corunna, 'twas the horse, or the best part of it, that had to stay sea-sick aboard the transports, an' watch the infantry in the thick o' the caper. Very well they behaved, too; 'specially the 4th Regiment, an' the 42nd Highlanders an' the Dirty Half-Hundred. Oh, ay; they're decent regiments, all three. But the Queen's Own Hussars is a tearin' fine regiment. So you played on your drum when the ship was goin' down? Drummer John Christian, I'll have to get you a new pair o' drum-sticks for that.'
"Well, sir, it appears that the very next day the trumpeter marched into Helston, and got a carpenter there to turn him a pair of box-wood drum-sticks for the boy. And this was the beginning of one of the most curious friendships you ever heard tell of. Nothing delighted the pair more than to borrow a boat off my father and pull out to the rocks where the Primrose and the Despatch had struck and sunk; and on still days 'twas pretty to hear them out there off the Manacles, the drummer playing his tattoo—for they always took their music with them—and the trumpeter practising calls, and making his trumpet speak like an angel. But if the weather turned roughish, they'd be walking together and talking; leastwise, the youngster listened while the other discoursed about Sir John's campaign in Spain and Portugal, telling how each little skirmish befell; and of Sir John himself, and General Baird and General Paget, and Colonel Vivian, his own commanding officer, and what kind of men they were; and of the last bloody stand-up at Corunna, and so forth, as if neither could have enough.
"But all this had to come to an end in the late summer; for the boy, John Christian, being now well and strong again, must go up to Plymouth to report himself. 'Twas his own wish (for I believe King George had forgotten all about him), but his friend wouldn't hold him back. As for the trumpeter, my father had made an arrangement to take him on as a lodger as soon as the boy left; and on the morning fixed for the start, he was up at the door here by five o'clock, with his trumpet slung by his side, and all the rest of his kit in a small valise. A Monday morning it was, and after breakfast he had fixed to walk with the boy some way on the road towards Helston, where the coach started. My father left them at breakfast together, and went out to meat the pig, and do a few odd morning jobs of that sort. When he came back, the boy was still at table, and the trumpeter standing here by the chimney-place with the drum and trumpet in his hands, hitched together just as they be at this moment.
"'Look at this,' he says to my father, showing him the lock; 'I picked it up off a starving brass-worker in Lisbon, and it is not one of your common locks that one word of six letters will open at any time. There's janius in this lock; for you've only to make the rings spell any six-letter word you please, and snap down the lock upon that, and never a soul can open it—not the maker, even—until somebody comes along that knows the word you snapped it on. Now, Johnny here's goin', and he leaves his drum behind him; for, though he can make pretty music on it, the parchment sags in wet weather, by reason of the sea-water getting at it; an' if he carries it to Plymouth, they'll only condemn it and give him another. And, as for me, I shan't have the heart to put lip to the trumpet any more when Johnny's gone. So we've chosen a word together, and locked 'em together upon that; and, by your leave, I'll hang 'em here together on the hook over your fireplace. Maybe Johnny'll come back; maybe not. Maybe, if he comes, I'll be dead an' gone, an' he'll take 'em apart an' try their music for old sake's sake. But if he never comes, nobody can separate 'em; for nobody beside knows the word. And if you marry and have sons, you can tell 'em that here are tied together the souls of Johnny Christian, drummer of the Marines, and William George Tallifer, once trumpeter of the Queen's Own Hussars. Amen.'
"With that he hung the two instruments 'pon the hook there; and the boy stood up and thanked my father and shook hands; and the pair went forth of the door, towards Helston.
"Somewhere on the road they took leave of one another; but nobody saw the parting, nor heard what was said between them. About three in the afternoon the trumpeter came walking back over the hill; and by the time my father came home from the fishing, the cottage was tidied up and the tea ready, and the whole place shining like a new pin. From that time for five years he lodged here with my father, looking after the house and tilling the garden; and all the while he was steadily failing, the hurt in his head spreading, in a manner, to his limbs. My father watched the feebleness growing on him, but said nothing. And from first to last neither spake a word about the drummer, John Christian; nor did any letter reach them, nor word of his doings.
"The rest of the tale you'm free to believe, sir, or not, as you please. It stands upon my father's words, and he always declared he was ready to kiss the Book upon it before judge and jury. He said, too, that he never had the wit to make up such a yarn; and he defied anyone to explain about the lock, in particular, by any other tale. But you shall judge for yourself.
"My father said that about three o'clock in the morning, April fourteenth of the year 'fourteen, he and William Tallifer were sitting here, just as you and I, sir, are sitting now. My father had put on his clothes a few minutes before, and was mending his spiller by the light of the horn lantern, meaning to set off before daylight to haul the trammel. The trumpeter hadn't been to bed at all. Towards the last he mostly spent his nights (and his days, too) dozing in the elbow-chair where you sit at this minute. He was dozing then (my father said), with his chin dropped forward on his chest, when a knock sounded upon the door, and the door opened, and in walked an upright young man in scarlet regimentals.
"He had grown a brave bit, and his face was the colour of wood-ashes; but it was the drummer, John Christian. Only his uniform was different from the one he used to wear, and the figures '38' shone in brass upon his collar.
"The drummer walked past my father as if he never saw him, and stood by the elbow-chair and said:
"'Trumpeter, trumpeter, are you one with me?'
"And the trumpeter just lifted the lids of his eyes, and answered, 'How should I not be one with you, drummer Johnny—Johnny boy? The men are patient. 'Till you come, I count; while you march, I mark time; until the discharge comes.'
"'The discharge has come to-night,' said the drummer, 'and the word is Corunna no longer'; and stepping to the chimney-place, he unhooked the drum and trumpet, and began to twist the brass rings of the lock, spelling the word aloud, so—C-O-R-U-N-A. When he had fixed the last letter, the padlock opened in his hand.
"'Did you know, trumpeter, that when I came to Plymouth they put me into a line regiment?'
"'The 38th is a good regiment,' answered the old Hussar, still in his dull voice. 'I went back with them from Sahagun to Corunna. At Corunna they stood in General Fraser's division, on the right. They behaved well.'
"'But I'd fain see the Marines again,' says the drummer, handing him the trumpet; 'and you—you shall call once more for the Queen's Own. Matthew,' he says, suddenly, turning on my father—and when he turned, my father saw for the first time that his scarlet jacket had a round hole by the breast-bone, and that the blood was welling there—'Matthew, we shall want your boat.'
"Then my father rose on his legs like a man in a dream, while they two slung on, the one his drum, and t'other his trumpet. He took the lantern, and went quaking before them down to the shore, and they breathed heavily behind him; and they stepped into his boat, and my father pushed off.
"'Row you first for Dolor Point,' says the drummer. So my father rowed them out past the white houses of Coverack to Dolor Point, and there, at a word, lay on his oars. And the trumpeter, William Tallifer, put his trumpet to his mouth and sounded the Revelly. The music of it was like rivers running.
"'They will follow,' said the drummer. 'Matthew, pull you now for the Manacles.'
"So my father pulled for the Manacles, and came to an easy close outside Carn du. And the drummer took his sticks and beat a tattoo, there by the edge of the reef; and the music of it was like a rolling chariot.
"'That will do,' says he, breaking off; 'they will follow. Pull now for the shore under Gunner's Meadow.'
"Then my father pulled for the shore, and ran his boat in under Gunner's Meadow. And they stepped out, all three, and walked up to the meadow. By the gate the drummer halted and began his tattoo again, looking out towards the darkness over the sea.
"And while the drum beat, and my father held his breath, there came up out of the sea and the darkness a troop of many men, horse and foot, and formed up among the graves; and others rose out of the graves and formed up—drowned Marines with bleached faces, and pale Hussars riding their horses, all lean and shadowy. There was no clatter of hoofs or accoutrements, my father said, but a soft sound all the while, like the beating of a bird's wing, and a black shadow lying like a pool about the feet of all. The drummer stood upon a little knoll just inside the gate, and beside him the tall trumpeter, with hand on hip, watching them gather; and behind them both my father, clinging to the gate. When no more came, the drummer stopped playing, and said, 'Call the roll.'
"Then the trumpeter stepped towards the end man of the rank and called, 'Troop-Sergeant-Major Thomas Irons!' and the man in a thin voice answered 'Here!'
"'Troop-Sergeant-Major Thomas Irons, how is it with you?'
"The man answered, 'How should it be with me? When I was young, I betrayed a girl; and when I was grown, I betrayed a friend; and for these things I must pay. But I died as a man ought. God save the King!'
"The trumpeter called to the next man, 'Trooper Henry Buckingham!' and the next man answered, 'Here!'
"'Trooper Henry Buckingham, how is it with you?'
"'How should it be with me? I was a drunkard, and I stole, and in Lugo, in a wine-shop, I knifed a man. But I died as a man should. God save the King!'
"So the trumpeter went down the line; and when he had finished, the drummer took it up, hailing the dead Marines in their order. Each man answered to his name, and each man ended with 'God save the King!' When all were hailed, the drummer stepped back to his mound, and called:
"'It is well. You are content, and we are content to join you. Wait yet a little while.'
"With this he turned and ordered my father to pick up the lantern, and lead the way back. As my father picked it up, he heard the ranks of dead men cheer and call, 'God save the King!' all together, and saw them waver and fade back into the dark, like a breath fading off a pane.
"But when they came back here to the kitchen, and my father set the lantern down, it seemed they'd both forgot about him. For the drummer turned in the lantern-light—and my father could see the blood still welling out of the hole in his breast—and took the trumpet-sling from around the other's neck, and locked drum and trumpet together again, choosing the letters on the lock very carefully. While he did this he said:
"'The word is no more Corunna, but Bayonne. As you left out an 'n' in Corunna, so must I leave out an 'n' in Bayonne.' And before snapping the padlock, he spelt out the word slowly—'B-A-Y-O-N-E.' After that, he used no more speech; but turned and hung the two instruments back on the hook; and then took the trumpeter by the arm; and the pair walked out into the darkness, glancing neither to right nor left.
"My father was on the point of following, when he heard a sort of sigh behind him; and there, sitting in the elbow-chair, was the very trumpeter he had just seen walk out by the door! If my father's heart jumped before, you may believe it jumped quicker now. But after a bit, he went up to the man asleep in the chair, and put a hand upon him. It was the trumpeter in flesh and blood that he touched; but though the flesh was warm, the trumpeter was dead.
"Well, sir, they buried him three days after; and at first my father was minded to say nothing about his dream (as he thought it). But the day after the funeral, he met Parson Kendall coming from Helston market: and the parson called out: 'Have 'ee heard the news the coach brought down this mornin'?' 'What news?' says my father. 'Why, that peace is agreed upon.' 'None too soon,' says my father. 'Not soon enough for our poor lads at Bayonne,' the parson answered. 'Bayonne!' cries my father, with a jump. 'Why, yes'; and the parson told him all about a great sally the French had made on the night of April 13th. 'Do you happen to know if the 38th Regiment was engaged?' my father asked. 'Come, now,' said Parson Kendall, 'I didn't know you was so well up in the campaign. But, as it happens, I do know that the 38th was engaged, for 'twas they that held a cottage and stopped the French advance.'
"Still my father held his tongue; and when, a week later, he walked into Helston and bought a Mercury off the Sherborne rider, and got the landlord of the 'Angel' to spell out the list of killed and wounded, sure enough, there among the killed was Drummer John Christian, of the 38th Foot.
"After this, there was nothing for a religious man but to make a clean breast. So my father went up to Parson Kendall and told the whole story. The parson listened, and put a question or two, and then asked:
"'Have you tried to open the lock since that night?'
"'I han't dared to touch it,' says my father.
"'Then come along and try.' When the parson came to the cottage here, he took the things off the hook and tried the lock. 'Did he say 'Bayonne'? The word has seven letters.'
"'Not if you spell it with one 'n' as he did,' says my father.
"The parson spelt it out—B-A-Y-O-N-E. 'Whew!' says he, for the lock had fallen open in his hand.
"He stood considering it a moment, and then he says,' I tell you what. I shouldn't blab this all round the parish, if I was you. You won't get no credit for truth-telling, and a miracle's wasted on a set of fools. But if you like, I'll shut down the lock again upon a holy word that no one but me shall know, and neither drummer nor trumpeter, dead nor alive, shall frighten the secret out of me.'
"'I wish to gracious you would, parson,' said my father.
"The parson chose the holy word there and then, and shut the lock back upon it, and hung the drum and trumpet back in their place. He is gone long since, taking the word with him. And till the lock is broken by force, nobody will ever separate those twain."
THE LOOE DIE-HARDS.
Captain Pond, of the East and West Looe Volunteer Artillery (familiarly known as the Looe Die-hards), put his air-cushion to his lips and blew. This gave his face a very choleric and martial expression.
Nevertheless, above his suffused and distended cheeks his eyes preserved a pensive melancholy as they dwelt upon his Die-hards gathered in the rain below him on the long-shore, or Church-end, wall. At this date (November 3, 1809) the company numbered seventy, besides Captain Pond and his two subalterns; and of this force four were out in the boat just now, mooring the practice-mark—a barrel with a small red flag stuck on top; one, the bugler, had been sent up the hill to the nine-pounder battery, to watch and sound a call as soon as the target was ready; a sixth, Sergeant Fugler, lay at home in bed, with the senior lieutenant (who happened also to be the local doctor) in attendance. Captain Pond clapped a thumb over the orifice of his air-cushion, and heaved a sigh as he thought of Sergeant Fugler. The remaining sixty-four Die-hards, with their firelocks under their great-coats, and their collars turned up against the rain, lounged by the embrasures of the shore-wall, and gossiped dejectedly, or eyed in silence the blurred boat bobbing up and down in the grey blur of the sea.
"Such coarse weather I hardly remember to have met with for years," said Uncle Israel Spettigew, a cheerful sexagenarian who ranked as efficient on the strength of his remarkable eyesight, which was keener than most boys'. "The sweep from over to Polperro was cleanin' my chimbley this mornin', and he told me in his humorous way that with all this rain 'tis so much as he can do to keep his face dirty—hee-hee!"
Nobody smiled. "If you let yourself give way to the enjoyment of little things like that," observed a younger gunner gloomily, "one o' these days you'll find yourself in a better land like the snuff of a candle. 'Tis a year since the Company's been allowed to move in double time, and all because you can't manage a step o' thirty-six inches 'ithout getting the palpitations."
"Well-a-well, 'tis but for a brief while longer—a few fleeting weeks, an' us Die-hards shall be as though we had never been. So why not be cheerful? For my part, I mind back in 'seventy-nine, when the fleets o' France an' Spain assembled an' come up agen' us—sixty-six sail o' the line, my sonnies, besides frigates an' corvettes to the amount o' twenty-five or thirty, all as plain as the nose on your face: an' the alarm guns goin', up to Plymouth, an' the signals hoisted at Maker Tower—a bloody flag at the pole an' two blue 'uns at the outriggers. Four days they laid to, an' I mind the first time I seed mun, from this very place as it might be where we'm standin' at this moment, I said 'Well, 'tis all over with East Looe this time!' I said: 'an' when 'tis over, 'tis over, as Joan said by her weddin'.' An' then I spoke them verses by royal Solomon—Wisdom two, six to nine. 'Let us fill oursel's wi' costly wine an' ointments,' I said: 'an' let no flower o' the spring pass by us. Let us crown oursel's wi' rosebuds, afore they be withered: let none of us go without his due part of our voluptuousness'—"
"Why, you old adage, that's what Solomon makes th' ungodly say!" interrupted young Gunner Oke, who had recently been appointed parish clerk, and happened to know.
"As it happens," Uncle Issy retorted, with sudden dignity—"as it happens, I was ungodly in them days. The time I'm talkin' about was August 'seventy-nine; an' if I don't mistake, your father an' mother, John Oke, were courtin' just then, an' 'most too shy to confide in each other about havin' a parish clerk for a son."
"Times hev' marvellously altered in the meanwhile, to be sure," put in Sergeant Pengelly of the "Sloop" Inn.
"Well, then," Uncle Issy continued, without pressing his triumph, "''Tis all over with East Looe,' I said, 'an' this is a black day for King Gearge,' an' then I spoke them verses o' Solomon. 'Let none of us,' I said, 'go without his due part of our voluptuousness'; and with that I went home and dined on tatties an' bacon. It hardly seems a thing to be believed at this distance o' time, but I never relished tatties an' bacon better in my life than that day—an' yet not meanin' the laste disrespect to King Gearge. Disrespect? If his Majesty only knew it, he've no better friend in the world than Israel Spettigew. God save the King!"
And with this Uncle Issy pulled off his cap and waved it round his head, thereby shedding a moulinet of raindrops full in the faces of his comrades around.
This was observed by Captain Pond, standing on the platform above, beside Thundering Meg, the big 24-pounder, which with four 18-pounders on the shore-wall formed the lower defences of the haven.
"Mr. Clogg," he called to his junior lieutenant, "tell Gunner Spettigew to put on his hat at once. Ask him what he means by taking his death and disgracing the company."
The junior lieutenant—a small farmer from Talland parish—touched his cap, spread his hand suddenly over his face and sneezed.
"Hullo! You've got a cold."
"No, sir. I often sneezes like that, and no reason for it whatever."
"I've never noticed it before."
"No, sir. I keeps it under so well as I can. A great deal can be done sometimes by pressing your thumb on the upper lip."
"Ah, well! So long as it's not a cold—" returned the Captain, and broke off to arrange his air-cushion over the depressed muzzle of Thundering Meg. Hereupon he took his seat, adjusted the lapels of his great-coat over his knees, and gave way to gloomy reflection.
Sergeant Fugler was at the bottom of it. Sergeant Fugler, the best marksman in the Company, was a hard drinker, with a hobnailed liver. He lay now in bed with that hobnailed liver, and the Doctor said it was only a question of days. But why should this so extraordinarily discompose Captain Pond, who had no particular affection for Fugler, and knew, besides, that all men—and especially hard drinkers—are mortal?
The answer is that the East and West Looe Volunteer Artillery was no ordinary Company. When, on the 16th of May, 1803, King George told his faithful subjects, who had been expecting the announcement for some time, that the Treaty of Amiens was no better than waste paper, public feeling in the two Looes rose to a very painful pitch. The inhabitants used to assemble before the post-office, to hear the French bulletins read out; and though it was generally concluded that they held much falsehood, yet everybody felt misfortune in the air. Rumours flew about that a diversion would be made by sending an army into the Duchy to draw the troops thither while the invaders directed their main strength upon London. Quiet villagers, therefore, dwelt for the while in a constant apprehension, fearing to go to bed lest they should awake at the sound of the trumpet, or in the midst of the French troops; scarcely venturing beyond sight of home lest, returning, they should find the homestead smoking and desolate. Each man had laid down the plan he should pursue. Some were to drive off the cattle, others to fire the corn. While the men worked in the fields, their womankind—young maids and grandmothers, and all that could be spared from domestic work—encamped above the cliffs, wearing red cloaks to scare the Frenchmen, and by night kept big bonfires burning continually. Amid this painful disquietude of the public mind "the great and united Spirit of the British People armed itself for the support of their ancient Glory and Independence against the unprincipled Ambition of the French Government." In other words, the Volunteer movement began. In the Duchy alone no less than 8,362 men enrolled themselves in thirty Companies of foot, horse, and artillery, as well out of enthusiasm as to escape the general levy that seemed probable—so mixed are all human actions.
Of these the Looe Company was neither the greatest nor the least. It had neither the numerical strength of the Royal Stannary Artillery (1,115 men and officers) nor the numerical eccentricity of the St. Germans Cavalry, which consisted of forty troopers, all told, and eleven officers, and hunted the fox thrice a week during the winter months under Lord Eliot, Captain and M.F.H. The Looe Volunteers, however, started well in the matter of dress, which consisted of a dark-blue coat and pantaloons, with red facings and yellow wings and tassels, and a white waistcoat. The officers' sword-hilts were adorned with prodigious red and blue tassels, and the blade of Captain Pond's, in particular, bore the inscription, "My Life's Blood for the Two Looes!"—a legend which we must admit to be touching, even while we reflect that the purpose of the weapon was not to draw its owner's life-blood.
As a matter of mere history, this devoted blade had drawn nobody's blood; since, in the six years that followed their enlistment, the Looe Die-hards had never been given an opportunity for a brush with their country's hereditary foes. How, then, did they acquire their proud title?
It was the Doctor's discovery; and perhaps, in the beginning, professional pride may have had something to do with it; but his enthusiasm was quickly caught up by Captain Pond and communicated to the entire Company.
"Has it ever occurred to you, Pond," the Doctor began, one evening in the late summer of 1808, as the two strolled homeward from parade, "to reflect on the rate of mortality in this Company of yours? Have you considered that in all these five years since their establishment not a single man has died?"
"Why the deuce should he?"
"But look here: I've worked it out on paper, and the mean age of your men is thirty-four years, or some five years more than the mean age of the entire population of East and West Looe. You see, on the one hand, you enlist no children, and on the other, you've enlisted several men of ripe age, because you're accustomed to them and know their ways—which is a great help in commanding a Company. But this makes the case still more remarkable. Take any collection of seventy souls the sum of whose ages, divided by seventy, shall be thirty-four, and by all the laws of probability three, at least, ought to die in the course of a year. I speak, for the moment, of civilians. In the military profession," the Doctor continued, with perfect seriousness, "especially in time of war, the death-rate will be enormously heightened. But"—with a flourish of the hand— "I waive that. I waive even the real, if uncertainly estimated, risk of handling, twice or thrice a week and without timidity or particular caution, the combustibles and explosives supplied us by Government. And still I say that we might with equanimity have beheld our ranks thinned during these five years by the loss of fifteen men. And we have not lost a single one! It is wonderful!"
"War is a fearful thing," commented Captain Pond, whose mind moved less nimbly than the Doctor's.
"Dash it all, Pond! Can't you see that I'm putting the argument on a peace footing? I tell you that in five years of peace any ordinary Company of the same size would have lost at least fifteen men."
"Then all I can say is that peace is a fearful thing, too."
"But don't you see that at this moment you're commanding the most remarkable Company in the Duchy, if not in the whole of England?"
"I do," answered Captain Pond, flushing. "It's a responsibility, though. It makes a man feel proud; but, all the same, I almost wish you hadn't told me."
Indeed at first the weight of his responsibility counteracted the Captain's natural elation. It lifted, however, at the next Corporation dinner, when the Doctor made public announcement of his discovery in a glowing speech, supporting his rhetoric by extracts from a handful of statistics and calculations, and ending, "Gentlemen, we know the motto of the East and West Looe Volunteer Artillery to be 'Never Say Die!' but seeing, after five years' trial of them, that they never do die, what man (I ask) will not rejoice to belong to such a Company? What man would not be proud to command it?"
After this, could Captain Pond lag behind? His health was drunk amid thunders of applause. He rose: he cast timidity to the winds: he spoke, and while he spoke, wondered at his own enthusiasm. Scarcely had he made an end before his fellow-townsmen caught him off his feet and carried him shoulder high through the town by the light of torches. There were many aching heads in the two Looes next morning; but nobody died: and from that night Captain Pond's Company wore the name of "The Die-hards."
All went well at first; for the autumn closed mildly. But with November came a spell of north-easterly gales, breeding bronchial discomfort among the aged; and Black Care began to dog the Commander. He caught himself regretting the admission of so many gunners of riper years, although the majority of these had served in His Majesty's Navy, and were by consequence the best marksmen. They weathered the winter, however; and a slight epidemic of whooping-cough, which broke out in the early spring, affected none of the Die-hards except the small bugler, and he took it in the mildest form. The men, following the Doctor's lead, began to talk more boastfully than ever. Only the Captain shook his head, and his eyes wore a wistful look, as though he listened continually for the footsteps of Nemesis—as, indeed, he did. The strain was breaking him. And in August, when word came from headquarters that, all danger of invasion being now at an end, the Looe Volunteer Artillery would be disbanded at the close of the year, he tried in vain to grieve. A year ago he would have wept in secret over the news. Now he went about with a solemn face and a bounding heart. A few months more and then—
And then, almost within sight of goal, Sergeant Fugler had broken down. Everyone knew that Fugler drank prodigiously; but so had his father and grandfather, and each of them had reached eighty. The fellow had always carried his liquor well enough, too. Captain Pond looked upon it almost as a betrayal.
"I don't know what folks' constitutions are coming to in these days," he kept muttering, on this morning of November the 3rd, as he sat on the muzzle of Thundering Meg and dangled his legs.
And then, glancing up, he saw the Doctor coming from the town along the shore-wall, and read evil news at once. For many of the Die-hards stopped the Doctor to question him, and stood gloomy as he passed on. It was popularly said in the two Looes, that "if the Doctor gave a man up, that man might as well curl up his toes then and there."
Catching sight of his Captain on the platform, the Doctor bent his steps thither, and they were slow and inelastic.
"Tell me the worst," said Captain Pond.
"The worst is that he's no better; no, the worst of all is that he knows he's no better. My friend, between ourselves, it's only a question of a day or two."
Silence followed for half a minute, the two officers avoiding each other's eyes.
"He has a curious wish," the Doctor resumed, still with his face averted and his gaze directed on the dull outline of Looe Island, a mile away. "He says he knows he's disgracing the Company: but he's anxious, all the same, to have a military funeral: says if you can promise this, he'll feel in a way that he's forgiven."
"He shall have it, of course."
"Ah, but that's not all. You remember, a couple of years back, when they had us down to Pendennis Castle for a week's drill, there was a funeral of a Sergeant-Major in the Loyal Meneage; and how the band played a sort of burial tune ahead of the body? Well, Fugler asked me if you couldn't manage this Dead March, as he calls it, as well. He can whistle the tune if you want to know it. It seems it made a great impression on him."
"Then the man must be wandering! How the dickens can we manage a Dead March without a band?—and we haven't even a fife and drum!"
"That's what I told him. I suppose we couldn't do anything with the church musicians."
"There's only one man in the Company who belongs to the gallery, and that's Uncle Issy Spettigew: and he plays the bass-viol. I doubt if you can play the Dead March on a bass-viol, and I'm morally certain you can't play it and walk with it too. I suppose we can't borrow a band from another Company?"
"What, and be the mock of the Duchy?—after all our pride! I fancy I see you going over to Troy and asking Browne for the loan of his band. 'Hullo!' he'd say, 'I thought you never had such a thing as a funeral over at Looe!' I can hear the fellow chuckle. But I wish something could be done, all the same. A trifle of pomp would draw folks' attention off our disappointment."
Captain Pond sighed and rose from the gun; for the bugle was sounding from the upper battery.
"Fall in, gentlemen, if you please!" he shouted. His politeness in addressing his Company might be envied even by the "Blues."
The Doctor formed them up and told them off along the sea-wall, as if for inspection. "Or-der arms!" "Fix bayonets!" "Shoul-der arms!" Then with a glance of inquiry at his Captain, who had fallen into a brown study, "Rear rank, take open order!"
"No, no," interposed the Captain, waking up and taking a guess at the sun's altitude in the grey heavens. "We're late this morning: better march 'em up to the battery at once."
Then, quickly re-forming them, he gave the word, "By the left! Quick march!" and the Die-hards swung steadily up the hill towards the platform where the four nine-pounders grinned defiance to the ships of France.
As a matter of fact, this battery stood out of reach of harm, with the compensating disadvantage of being able to inflict none. The reef below would infallibly wreck any ship that tried to approach within the point-blank range of some 270 yards, and its extreme range of ten times that distance was no protection to the haven, which lay round a sharp corner of the cliff. But the engineer's blunder was never a check upon the alacrity of the Die-hards, who cleaned, loaded, rammed home, primed, sighted, and blazed away with the precision of clockwork and the ardour of Britons, as though aware that the true strength of a nation lay not so much in the construction of her fortresses as in the spirit of her sons.
Captain Pond halted, re-formed his men upon the platform, and, drawing a key from his pocket, ordered Lieutenant Clogg to the store-hut, with Uncle Issy in attendance, to serve our the ammunition, rammers, sponges, water-buckets, etc.
"But the door's unlocked, sir," announced the lieutenant, with something like dismay.
"Unlocked!" echoed the Doctor.
The Captain blushed.
"I could have sworn, Doctor, I turned the key in the lock before leaving last Thursday. I think my head must be going. I've been sleeping badly of late—it's this worry about Fugler. However, I don't suppose anybody—"
A yell interrupted him. It came from Uncle Issy, who had entered the store-hut, and now emerged from it as if projected from a gun.
"THE FRENCH! THE FRENCH!"
For two terrible seconds the Die-hards eyed one another. Then someone in the rear rank whispered, "An ambush!" The two ranks began to waver—to melt. Uncle Issy, with head down and shoulders arched, was already stumbling down the slope towards the town. In another ten seconds the whole Company would be at his heels.
The Doctor saved their reputation. He was as pale as the rest; but a hasty remembrance of the cubic capacity of the store-hut told him that the number of Frenchmen in ambush there could hardly be more than half a dozen.
"Halt!" he shouted; and Captain Pond shouted "Halt!" too, adding, "There'll be heaps of time to run when we find out what's the matter."
The Die-hards hung, still wavering, upon the edge of the platform.
"For my part," the Doctor declared, "I don't believe there's anybody inside."
"But there is, Doctor! for I saw him myself just as Uncle Issy called out," said the second lieutenant.
"Was it only one man that you saw?" demanded Captain Pond.
"That's all. You see, it was this way: Uncle Issy stepped fore, with me a couple of paces behind him thinking of nothing so little as bloodshed and danger. If you'll believe me, these things was the very last in my thoughts. Uncle Issy rolls aside the powder-cask, and what do I behold but a man ducking down behind it! 'He's firing the powder,' thinks I, 'and here endeth William George Clogg!' So I shut my eyes, not willing to see my gay life whisked away in little portions; though I feared it must come. And then I felt Uncle Issy flee past me like the wind. But I kept my eyes tight till I heard the Doctor here saying there wasn't anybody inside. If you ask me what I think about the whole matter, I say, putting one thing with another, that 'tis most likely some poor chap taking shelter from the rain."
Captain Pond unsheathed his sword and advanced to the door of the hut. "Whoever you be," he called aloud and firmly, "you've got no business there; so come out of it, in the name of King George!"
At once there appeared in the doorway a little round-headed man in tattered and mud-soiled garments of blue cloth. His hair and beard were alike short, black, and stubbly; his eyes large and feverish, his features smeared with powder and a trifle pinched and pale. In his left hand he carried a small bundle, wrapped in a knotted blue kerchief: his right he waved submissively towards Captain Pond.
"See now," he began, "I give up. I am taken. Look you."
"I think you must be a Frenchman," said Captain Pond.
"Right. It is war: you have taken a Frenchman. Yes?"
"A spy?" the Captain demanded more severely.
"An escaped prisoner, more like," suggested the Doctor; "broken out of Dartmoor, and hiding there for a chance to slip across."
"Monsieur le Lieutenant has guessed," the little man answered, turning affably to the Doctor. "A spy? No. It is not on purpose that I find me near your fortifications—oh, not a bit! A prisoner more like, as Monsieur says. It is three days that I was a prisoner, and now look here, a prisoner again. Alas! will Monsieur le Capitaine do me the honour to confide the name of his corps so gallant?"
"The Two Looes."
"La Toulouse! But it is singular that we also have a Toulouse—"
"Hey?" broke in Second Lieutenant Clogg.
"I assure Monsieur that I say the truth."
"Well, go on; only it don't sound natural."
"Not that I have seen it"—("Ha!" commented Mr. Clogg)—"for it lies in the south, and I am from the north: Jean Alphonse Marie Trinquier, instructor of music, Rue de la Madeleine quatr '-vingt-neuf, Dieppe."
"Instructor of music?" echoed Captain Pond and the Doctor quickly and simultaneously, and their eyes met.
"And Directeur des Fetes Periodiques to the Municipality of Dieppe. All the Sundays, you comprehend, upon the sands—poum poum! while the citizens se promenent sur la plage. But all is not gay in this world. Last winter a terrible misfortune befell me. I lost my wife—my adored Philomene. I was desolated, inconsolable. For two months I could not take up my cornet-a-piston. Always when I blew—pouf!—the tears came also. Ah, what memories! Hippolyte, my— what you call it—my beau-frere, came to me and said, 'Jean Alphonse, you must forget.' I say, 'Hippolyte, you ask that which is impossible.' 'I will teach you,' says Hippolyte: 'To-morrow night I sail for Jersey, and from Jersey I cross to Dartmouth, in England, and you shall come with me.' Hippolyte made his living by what you call the Free Trade. This was far down the coast for him, but he said the business with Rye and Deal was too dangerous for a time. Next night we sailed. It was his last voyage. With the morning the wind changed, and we drove into a fog. When we could see again, peste!—there was an English frigate. She sent down her cutter and took the rest of us; but not Hippolyte—poor Hippolyte was shot in the spine of his back. Him they cast into the sea, but the rest of us they take to Plymouth, and then the War Prison on the moor. This was in May, and there I rest until three days ago. Then I break out—je me sauve. How? It is my affair: for I foresee, Messieurs, I shall now have to do it over again. I am sot. I gain the coast here at night. I am weary, je n'en puis plus. I find this cassine here: the door is open: I enter pour faire un petit somme. Before day I will creep down to the shore. A comrade in the prison said to me, 'Go to Looe. I know a good Cornishman there—'"
"And you overslept yourself," Captain Paul briskly interrupted, alert as ever to protect the credit of his Company. He was aware that several of the Die-hards, in extra-military hours, took an occasional trip across to Guernsey: and Guernsey is a good deal more than half-way to France.
"The point is," observed the Doctor, "that you play the cornet."
"It is certain that I do so, monsieur; but how that can be the point—"
"And instruct in music?"
"Do you know the Dead March?"
M. Trinquier was unfeignedly bewildered.
Said Captain Pond: "Listen while I explain. You are my prisoner, and it becomes my duty to send you back to Dartmoor under escort. But you are exhausted; and notwithstanding my detestation of that infernal tyrant, your master, I am a humane man. At all events, I'm not going to expose two of my Die-hards to the risks of a tramp to Dartmoor just now—I wouldn't turn out a dog in such weather. It remains a question what I am to do with you in the meanwhile. I propose that you give me your parole that you will make no attempt to escape, let us say, for a month: and on receiving it I will at once escort you to my house, and see that you are suitably clothed, fed, and entertained."
"I give it willingly, M. le Capitaine. But how am I to thank you?"
"By playing the Dead March upon the cornet-a-piston and teaching others to do the like."
"That seems a singular way of showing one's gratitude. But why the Dead March, monsieur? And, excuse me, there is more than one Dead March. I myself, par exemple, composed one to the memory of my adored Philomene but a week before Hippolyte came with his so sad proposition."
"I doubt if that will do. You see," said Captain Pond, lifting his voice for the benefit of the Die-hards, who by this time were quite as sorely puzzled as their prisoner, "we are about to bury one of our Company, Sergeant Fugler—"
"Ah! he is dead?"
"He is dying," Captain Pond pursued, the more quickly since he now guessed, not without reason, that Fugler was the "good Cornishman" to whose door M. Trinquier had been directed. "He is dying of a hobnailed liver. It is his wish to have the Dead March played at his burying."
"He whistled the tune over to me," said the Doctor; "but plague take me if I can whistle it to you. I've no ear: but I'd know it again if I heard it. Dismal isn't the word for it."
"It will be Handel. I am sure it will be Handel—the Dead March in his Saul."
"In his what?"
"In his oratorio of Saul. Listen—poum, poum, prrr, poum—"
"Be dashed, but you've got it!" cried the Doctor, delighted; "though you do give it a sort of foreign accent. But I daresay that won't be so noticeable on the key-bugle."
"But about this key-bugle, monsieur? And the other instruments?—not to mention the players."
"I've been thinking of that," said Captain Pond. "There's Butcher Tregaskis has a key-bugle. He plays 'Rule Britannia' upon it when he goes round with the suet. He'll lend you that till we can get one down from Plymouth. A drum, too, you shall have. Hockaday's trader calls here to-morrow on her way to Plymouth; she shall bring both instruments back with her. Then we have the church musicians—Peter Tweedy, first fiddle; Matthew John Ede, second ditto; Thomas Tripconey, scorpion—"
"Serpent," the Doctor corrected.
"Well, it's a filthy thing to look at, anyway. Israel Spettigew, bass-viol; William Henry Phippin, flute; and William Henry Phippin's eldest boy Archelaus to tap the triangle at the right moment. That boy, sir, will play the triangle almost as well as a man grown."
"Then, monsieur, take me to your house. Give me a little food and drink, pen, ink, and paper, and in three hours you shall have la partition."
Said the Doctor, "That's all very well, Pond, but the church musicianers can't march with their music, as you told me just now."
"I've thought of that, too. We'll have Miller Penrose's covered three-horse waggon to march ahead of the coffin. Hang it in black and go slow, and all the musicianers can sit around inside and play away as merry as grigs."
"The cover'll give the music a sort of muffly sound; but that," Lieutenant Clogg suggested, "will be all the more fitty for a funeral."
"So it will, Clogg; so it will. But we're wasting time. I suppose you won't object, sir, to be marched down to my house by the Company? It's the regular thing in case of taking a prisoner, and you'll be left to yourself as soon as you get to my door."
"Not at all," said M. Trinquier amiably.
"Then, gentlemen, fall in! The practice is put off. And when you get home, mind you change your stockings, all of you. We're in luck's way this morning, but that's no reason for recklessness."
So M. Trinquier, sometime Director of Periodical Festivities to the Municipality of Dieppe, was marched down into East Looe, to the wonder and delight of the inhabitants, who had just recovered from the shock of Gunner Spettigew's false alarm, and were in a condition to be pleased with trifles. As the Company tramped along the street, Captain Pond pointed out the Town Hall to his prisoner.
"That will be the most convenient place to hold your practices. And that is Fugler's house, just opposite."
"But we cannot practise without making a noise."
"I hope not, indeed. Didn't I promise you a big drum?"
"But in that case the sick man will hear. It will disturb his last moments."
"Confound the fellow, he can't have everything! If he'd asked for peace and quiet, he should have had it. But he didn't: he asked for a Dead March. Don't trouble about Fugler. He's not an unreasonable man. The only question is, if the Doctor here can keep him going until you're perfect with the tune."
And this was the question upon which the men of Looe, and especially the Die-hards, hung breathless for the next few days. M. Trinquier produced his score; the musicianers came forward eagerly; Miller Penrose promised his waggon; the big drum arrived from Plymouth in the trader Good Intent, and was discharged upon the quay amid enthusiasm. The same afternoon, at four o'clock, M. Trinquier opened his first practice in the Town Hall, by playing over the air of the "Dead Marching Soul"—(to this the popular mouth had converted the name)—upon his cornet, just to give his pupils a general notion of it.
The day had been a fine one, with just that suspicion of frost in the air which indicates winter on the warm south-western coast. While the musicians were assembling the Doctor stepped across the street to see how the invalid would take it. Fugler—a sharp-featured man of about fifty, good-looking, with blue eyes and a tinge of red in his hair—lay on his bed with his mouth firmly set and his eyes resting, wistfully almost, on the last wintry sunbeam that floated in by the geraniums on the window-ledge. He had not heard the news. For five days now he expected nothing but the end, and lay and waited for it stoically and with calm good temper.
The Doctor took a seat by the bed-side, and put a question or two. They were answered by Mrs. Fugler, who moved about the small room quietly, removing, dusting and replacing the china ornaments on the chimneypiece. The sick man lay still, with his eyes upon the sunbeam.
And then very quietly and distinctly the notes of M. Trinquier's key-bugle rose outside on the frosty air.
The sick man started, and made as if to raise himself on his elbow, but quickly sank back again—perhaps from weakness, perhaps because he caught the Doctor's eye and the Doctor's reassuring nod. While he lay back and listened, a faint flush crept into his face, as though the blood ran quicker in his weak limbs; and his blue eyes took a new light altogether.
"That's the tune, hey?" the Doctor asked.
"That's the tune."
"Dismal, ain't it?"
"Ay, it's that." His fingers were beating time on the counterpane.
"That's our new bandmaster. He's got to teach it to the rest, and you've got to hold out till they pick it up. Whew! I'd no idea music could be so dismal."
"Hush 'ee, Doctor, do! till he've a-done. 'Tis like rain on blossom." The last notes fell. "Go you down, Doctor, and say my duty and will he please play it over once more, and Fugler'll gi'e 'em a run for their money."
The Doctor went back to the Town Hall and delivered this encore, and M. Trinquier played his solo again; and in the middle of it Mr. Fugler dropped off into an easy sleep.
After this the musicians met every evening, Sundays and weekdays, and by the third evening the Doctor was able to predict with confidence that Fugler would last out. Indeed, the patient was strong enough to be propped up into a sitting posture during the hour of practice, and not only listened with pleasure to the concerted piece, but beat time with his fingers while each separate instrument went over its part, delivering, at the close of each performance, his opinion of it to Mrs. Fugler or the Doctor: "Tripconey's breath's failin'. He don't do no sort o' justice by that sarpint." Or: "There's Uncle Issy agen! He always do come to grief juss there! I reckon a man of sixty-odd ought to give up the bass-viol. He ha'n't got the agility."
On the fifth evening Mrs. Fugler was sent across to the Town Hall to ask why the triangle had as yet no share in the performance, and to suggest that William Henry Phippin's eldest boy, Archelaus, played that instrument "to the life." M. Trinquier replied that it was unusual to seek the aid of the triangle in rendering the Dead March in Saul. Mr. Fugler sent back word that, "if you came to that, the whole thing was unusual, from start to finish." To this M. Trinquier discovered no answer; and the triangle was included, to the extreme delight of Archelaus Phippin, whose young life had been clouded for a week past.
On the sixth evening, Mr. Fugler announced a sudden fancy to "touch pipe."
"Hey?" said the Doctor, opening his eyes.
"I'd like to tetch pipe. An' let me light the brimstone mysel'. I likes to see the little blue flame turn yellow, a-dancin' on the baccy."
"Get 'n his pipe and baccy, missis," the Doctor commanded. "He may kill himself clean-off now: the band'll be ready by the funeral, anyway."
On the three following evenings Mr. Fugler sat up and smoked during band practice, the Doctor observing him with a new interest. The tenth day, the Doctor was called away to attend a child-birth at Downderry. At the conclusion of the cornet solo, with which M. Trinquier regularly opened practice, the sick man said—
"Wife, get me out my clothes."
"Get me out my clothes."
"You're mad! It'll be your death."
"I don't care: the band's ready. Uncle Issy got his part perfect las' night, an' that's more'n I ever prayed to hear. Get me out my clothes an' help me downstairs."
The Doctor was far away. Mrs. Fugler was forced to give in. Weeping, and with shaking hands, she dressed him and helped him to the foot of the stairs, where she threw open the parlour door.
"No," he said, "I'm not goin' in there. I'll be steppin' across to the Town Hall. Gi'e me your arm."
Thomas Tripconey was rehearsing upon the serpent when the door of the Town Hall opened: and the music he made died away in a wail, as of a dog whose foot has been trodden on. William Henry Phippin's eldest son Archelaus cast his triangle down and shrieked "Ghosts, ghosts!" Uncle Issy cowered behind his bass-viol and put a hand over his eyes. M. Trinquier spun round to face the intruder, baton in one hand, cornet in the other.
"Thank 'ee, friends," said Mr. Fugler, dropping into a seat by the door, and catching breath: "you've got it very suent. 'Tis a beautiful tune: an' I'm ha'f ashamed to tell 'ee that I bain't a-goin' to die, this time."
Nor did he.
The East and West Looe Volunteer Artillery was disbanded a few weeks later, on the last day of the year 1809. The Corporations of the Two Boroughs entertained the heroes that evening to a complimentary banquet in the East Looe Town Hall, and Sergeant Fugler had recovered sufficiently to attend, though not to partake. The Doctor made a speech over him, proving him by statistics to be the most wonderful member of the most wonderful corps in the world. The Doctor granted, however—at such a moment the Company could make concessions—that the Die-hards had been singularly fortunate in the one foeman whom they had been called upon to face. Had it not been for a gentleman of France the death-roll of the Company had assuredly not stood at zero. He, their surgeon, readily admitted this, and gave them a toast, "The Power of Music," associating with this the name of Monsieur Jean Alphonse Marie Trinquier, Director of Periodic Festivities to the Municipality of Dieppe. The toast was drunk with acclamation. M. Trinquier responded, expressing his confident belief that two so gallant nations as England and France could not long be restrained from flinging down their own arms and rushing into each other's. And then followed Captain Pond, who, having moved his audience to tears, pronounced the Looe Die-hards disbanded. Thereupon, with a gesture full of tragic inspiration, he cast his naked blade upon the board. As it clanged amid the dishes and glasses, M. Trinquier lifted his arms, and the band crashed out the "Dead Marching Soul," following it with "God Save the King" as the clock announced midnight and the birth of the New Year.
"But hallo?" exclaimed Captain Pond, sinking back in his chair, and turning towards M. Trinquier. "I had clean forgot that you are our prisoner, and should be sent back to Dartmoor! And now the Company is disbanded, and I have no one to send as escort."
"Monsieur also forgets that my parole expired a fortnight since, and that my service from that hour has been a service of love!"
M. Trinquier did not return to Dartmoor. For it happened, one dark night early in the following February, that Mr. Fugler (now restored to health) set sail for the island of Guernsey upon a matter of business. And on the morrow the music-master of Dieppe had become but a pleasing memory to the inhabitants of the Two Looes.
And now, should you take up Mr. Thomas Bond's History of East and West Looe, and read of the Looe Volunteers that "not a single man of the Company died during the six years, which is certainly very remarkable," you will be not utterly incredulous; for you will know how it came about. Still, when one comes to reflect, it does seem an odd boast for a company of warriors.
MY GRANDFATHER, HENDRY WATTY.
'Tis the nicest miss in the world that I was born grandson of my own father's father, and not of another man altogether. Hendry Watty was the name of my grandfather that might have been; and he always maintained that to all intents and purposes he was my grandfather, and made me call him so—'twas such a narrow shave. I don't mind telling you about it. 'Tis a curious tale, too.
My grandfather, Hendry Watty, bet four gallons of eggy-hot that he would row out to the Shivering Grounds, all in the dead waste of the night, and haul a trammel there. To find the Shivering Grounds by night, you get the Gull Rock in a line with Tregamenna and pull out till you open the light on St. Anthony's Point; but everybody gives the place a wide berth because Archelaus Rowett's lugger foundered there, one time, with six hands on board; and they say that at night you can hear the drowned men hailing their names. But my grandfather was the boldest man in Port Loe, and said he didn't care. So one Christmas Eve by daylight he and his mates went out and tilled the trammel; and then they came back and spent the fore-part of the evening over the eggy-hot, down to Oliver's tiddly-wink, to keep my grandfather's spirits up and also to show that the bet was made in earnest.
'Twas past eleven o'clock when they left Oliver's and walked down to the cove to see my grandfather off. He has told me since that he didn't feel afraid at all, but very friendly in mind, especially towards William John Dunn, who was walking on his right hand. This puzzled him at the first, for as a rule he didn't think much of William John Dunn. But now he shook hands with him several times, and just as he was stepping into the boat he says, "You'll take care of Mary Polly, while I'm away." Mary Polly Polsue was my grandfather's sweetheart at that time. But why he should have spoken as if he was bound on a long voyage he never could tell; he used to set it down to fate.
"I will," said William John Dunn; and then they gave a cheer and pushed my grandfather off, and he lit his pipe and away he rowed all into the dead waste of the night. He rowed and rowed, all in the dead waste of the night; and he got the Gull Rock in a line with Tregamenna windows; and still he was rowing, when to his great surprise he heard a voice calling:
"Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty!"
I told you my grandfather was the boldest man in Port Loe. But he dropped his two paddles now, and made the five signs of Penitence. For who could it be calling him out here in the dead waste and middle of the night?
"Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! drop me a line."
My grandfather kept his fishing-lines in a little skivet under the stern-sheets. But not a trace of bait had he on board. If he had, he was too much a-tremble to bait a hook.
"HENDRY WATTY! HENDRY WATTY! drop me a line, or I'll know why!"
My poor grandfather by this had picked up his paddles again, and was rowing like mad to get quit of the neighbourhood, when something or somebody gave three knocks—thump, thump, thump!—on the bottom of the boat, just as you would knock on a door. The third thump fetched Hendry Watty upright on his legs. He had no more heart for disobeying, but having bitten his pipe-stem in half by this time—his teeth chattered so—he baited his hook with the broken bit and flung it overboard, letting the line run out in the stern-notch. Not halfway had it run before he felt a long pull on it, like the sucking of a dog-fish.
"Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! pull me in."
Hendry Watty pulled in hand over fist; and in came the lead sinker over the notch, and still the line was heavy; be pulled and he pulled, and next, all out of the dead waste of the night, came two white hands, like a washerwoman's, and gripped hold of the stern-board; and on the left of these two hands, on the little finger, was a silver ring, sunk very deep in the flesh. If this was bad, worse was the face that followed—a great white parboiled face, with the hair and whiskers all stuck with chips of wood and seaweed. And if this was bad for anybody, it was worse for my grandfather, who had known Archelaus Rowett before he was drowned out on the Shivering Grounds, six years before.
Archelaus Rowett climbed in over the stern, pulled the hook with the bit of pipe-stem out of his cheek, sat down in the stern-sheets, shook a small crayfish out of his whiskers, and said very coolly—
"If you should come across my wife—"
That was all my grandfather stayed to hear. At the sound of Archelaus's voice he fetched a yell, jumped clean over the side of the boat and swam for dear life. He swam and swam, till by the bit of the moon he saw the Gull Rock close ahead. There were lashin's of rats on the Gull Rock, as he knew: but he was a good deal surprised at the way they were behaving: for they sat in a row at the water's edge and fished, with their tails let down into the sea for fishing-lines: and their eyes were like garnets burning as they looked at my grandfather over their shoulders.
"Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! You can't land here—you're disturbing the pollack."
"Bejimbers! I wouldn' do that for the world," says my grandfather: so off he pushes and swims for the mainland. This was a long job, and 'twas as much as he could do to reach Kibberick beach, where he fell on his face and hands among the stones, and there lay, taking breath.
The breath was hardly back in his body, before he heard footsteps, and along the beach came a woman, and passed close by to him. He lay very quiet, and as she came near he saw 'twas Sarah Rowett, that used to be Archelaus's wife, but had married another man since. She was knitting as she went by, and did not seem to notice my grandfather: but he heard her say to herself, "The hour is come, and the man is come."
He had scarcely begun to wonder over this, when he spied a ball of worsted yarn beside him that Sarah had dropped. 'Twas the ball she was knitting from, and a line of worsted stretched after her along the beach. Hendry Watty picked up the ball and followed the thread on tiptoe. In less than a minute he came near enough to watch what she was doing: and what she did was worth watching. First she gathered wreckwood and straw, and struck flint over touchwood and teened a fire. Then she unravelled her knitting: twisted her end of the yarn between finger and thumb—like a cobbler twisting a wax-end—and cast the end up towards the sky. It made Hendry Watty stare when the thread, instead of falling back to the ground, remained hanging, just as if 'twas fastened to something up above; but it made him stare more when Sarah Rowett began to climb up it, and away up till nothing could be seen of her but her ankles dangling out of the dead waste and middle of the night.
"HENDRY WATTY! HENDRY WATTY!"
It wasn't Sarah calling, but a voice far away out to sea.
"HENDRY WATTY! HENDRY WATTY! send me a line."
My grandfather was wondering what to do, when Sarah speaks down very sharp to him, out of the dark:
"Hendry Watty! Where's the rocket apparatus? Can't you hear the poor fellow asking for a line?"
"I do," says my grandfather, who was beginning to lose his temper; "and do you think, ma'am, that I carry a Boxer's rocket in my trousers pocket?"
"I think you have a ball of worsted in your hand," says she. "Throw it as far as you can."
So my grandfather threw the ball out into the dead waste and middle of the night. He didn't see where it pitched, or how far it went.
"Right it is," says the woman aloft. "'Tis easy seen you're a hurler. But what shall us do for a cradle? Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty!"
"Ma'am to you," says my grandfather.
"If you've the common feelings of a gentleman, I'll ask you kindly to turn your back; I'm going to take off my stocking."
So my grandfather stared the other way very politely; and when he was told he might look again, he saw she had tied the stocking to the line and was running it out like a cradle into the dead waste of the night.
"Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! Look out below!"
Before he could answer, plump! a man's leg came tumbling past his ear and scattered the ashes right and left.
"Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! Look out below!"
This time 'twas a great white arm and hand, with a silver ring sunk tight in the flesh of the little finger.
"Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! Warm them limbs!"
My grandfather picked them up and was warming them before the fire, when down came tumbling a great round head and bounced twice and lay in the firelight, staring up at him. And whose head was it but Archelaus Rowett's, that he'd run away from once already, that night?
"Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! Look out below!"
This time 'twas another leg, and my grandfather was just about to lay hands on it, when the woman called down:
"Hendry Watty! catch it quick! It's my own leg I've thrown down by mistake!"
The leg struck the ground and bounced high, and Hendry Watty made a leap after it. . . .
And I reckon it's asleep he must have been: for what he caught was not Mrs. Rowett's leg, but the jib-boom of a deep-laden brigantine that was running him down in the dark. And as he sprang for it, his boat was crushed by the brigantine's fore-foot and went down under his very boot-soles. At the same time he let out a yell, and two or three of the crew ran forward and hoisted him up to the bowsprit and in on deck, safe and sound.
But the brigantine happened to be outward-bound for the River Plate; so that, what with one thing and another, 'twas eleven good months before my grandfather landed again at Port Loe. And who should be the first man he sees standing above the cove but William John Dunn?
"I'm very glad to see you," says William John Dunn.
"Thank you kindly," answers my grandfather; "and how's Mary Polly?"
"Why, as for that," he says, "she took so much looking after, that I couldn't feel I was keeping her properly under my eye till I married her, last June month."
"You was always one to over-do things," said my grandfather.
"But if you was alive an' well, why didn' you drop us a line?"
Now when it came to talk about "dropping a line" my grandfather fairly lost his temper. So he struck William John Dunn on the nose— a thing he had never been known to do before—and William John Dunn hit him back, and the neighbours had to separate them. And next day, William John Dunn took out a summons against him.
Well, the case was tried before the magistrates: and my grandfather told his story from the beginning, quite straightforward, just as I've told it to you. And the magistrates decided that, taking one thing with another, he'd had a great deal of provocation, and fined him five shillings. And there the matter ended. But now you know the reason why I'm William John Dunn's grandson instead of Hendry Watty's.
Where Gerennius' beacon stands High above Pendower sands; Where, about the windy Nare, Foxes breed and falcons pair; Where the gannet dries a wing Wet with fishy harvesting, And the cormorants resort, Flapping slowly from their sport With the fat Atlantic shoal, Homeward to Tregeagle's Hole— Walking there, the other day, In a bight within a bay, I espied amid the rocks, Bruis'd and jamm'd, the daintiest box, That the waves had flung and left High upon an ivied cleft. Striped it was with white and red, Satin-lined and carpeted, Hung with bells, and shaped withal Like the queer, fantastical Chinese temples you'll have seen Pictured upon white Nankin, Where, assembled in effective Head-dresses and odd perspective, Tiny dames and mandarins Expiate their egg-shell sins By reclining on their drumsticks, Waving fans and burning gum-sticks. Land of poppy and pekoe! Could thy sacred artists know— Could they distantly conjecture How we use their architecture, Ousting the indignant Joss For a pampered Flirt or Floss, Poodle, Blenheim, Skye, Maltese, Lapped in purple and proud ease— They might read their god's reproof Here on blister'd wall and roof; Scaling lacquer, dinted bells, Floor befoul'd of weed and shells, Where, as erst the tabid Curse Brooded over Pelops' hearse, Squats the sea-cow, keeping house, Sibylline, gelatinous. Where is Carlo? Tell, O tell, Echo, from this fluted shell, In whose concave ear the tides Murmur what the main confides Of his compass'd treacheries! What of Carlo? Did the breeze Madden to a gale while he, Curl'd and cushion'd cosily, Mixed in dreams its angry breathings With the tinkle of the tea-things In his mistress' cabin laid? —Nor dyspeptic, nor dismay'd, Drowning in a gentle snore All the menace of the shore Thunder'd from the surf a-lee. Near and nearer horribly,— Scamper of affrighted feet, Voices cursing sail and sheet, While the tall ship shook in irons— All the peril that environs Vessels 'twixt the wind and rock Clawing—driving? Did the shock, As the sunk reef split her back, First arouse him? Did the crack Widen swiftly and deposit Him in homeless night? Or was it, Not when wave or wind assail'd, But in waters dumb and veil'd, That a looming shape uprist Sudden from the Channel mist, And with crashing, rending bows Woke him, in his padded house, To a world of alter'd features? Were these panic-ridden creatures They who, but an hour agone, Ran with biscuit, ran with bone, Ran with meats in lordly dishes, To anticipate his wishes? But an hour agone! And now how Vain his once compelling bow-wow! Little dogs are highly treasured, Petted, patted, pamper'd, pleasured: But when ships go down in fogs, No one thinks of little dogs.
Ah, but how dost fare, I wonder, Now thine Argo splits asunder, Pouring on the wasteful sea All her precious bales, and thee? Little use is now to rave, Calling god or saint to save; Little use, if choked with salt, a Prayer to holy John of Malta. Patron John, he hears thee not. Or, perchance, in dusky grot Pale Persephone, repining For the fields that still are shining, Shining in her sleepless brain, Calling "Back! come back again!" Fain of playmate, fain of pet— Any drug to slay regret, Hath from hell upcast an eye On thy fatal symmetry; And beguiled her sooty lord With his brother to accord For this black betrayal. Else Nereus in his car of shells Long ago had cleft the waters With his natatory daughters To the rescue: or Poseidon Sent a fish for thee to ride on— Such a steed as erst Arion Reached the mainland high and dry on. Steed appeareth none, nor pilot! Little dog, if it be thy lot To essay the dismal track Where Odysseus half hung back, How wilt thou conciliate That grim mastiff by the gate? Sure, 'twill puzzle thee to fawn On his muzzles three that yawn Antrous; or to find, poor dunce, Grace in his six eyes at once— Those red eyes of Cerberus.
Daughters of Oceanus, Save our darling from this hap! Arethusa, spread thy lap, Catch him, and with pinky hands Bear him to the coral sands, Where thy sisters sit in school Carding the Milesian wool:— Clio, Spio, Beroe, Opis and Phyllodoce,— Pass by these, and also pass Yellow-haired Lycorias; Pass Ligea, shrill of song— All the dear surrounding throng; Lay him at Cyrene's feet There, where all the rivers meet: In their waters crystalline Bathe him clean of weed and brine, Comb him, wipe his pretty eyes, Then to Zeus who rules the skies Call, assembling in a round Every fish that can be found— Whale and merman, lobster, cod, Tittlebat and demigod:— "Lord of all the Universe, We, thy finny pensioners, Sue thee for the little life Hurried hence by Hades' wife. Sooner than she call him her dog, Change, O change him to a mer-dog! Re-inspire the vital spark; Bid him wag his tail and bark, Bark for joy to wag a tail Bright with many a flashing scale; Bid his locks refulgent twine, Hyacinthian, hyaline; Bid him gambol, bid him follow Blithely to the mermen's 'holloa!' When they call the deep-sea calves Home with wreathed univalves. Softly shall he sleep to-night, Curled on couch of stalagmite, Soft and sound, if slightly moister Than the shell-protected oyster. Grant us this, Omnipotent, And to Hera shall be sent One black pearl, but of a size That shall turn her rivals' eyes Greener than the greenest snake Fed in meadow-grass, and make All Olympus run agog— Grant for this our darling dog!"
Musing thus, the other day, In a bight within a bay, I'd a sudden thought that yet some Purpose for this piece of jetsom Might be found; and straight supplied it. On the turf I knelt beside it, Disengaged it from the boulders, Hoisted it upon my shoulders, Bore it home, and, with a few Tin-tacks and a pot of glue, Mended it, affix'd a ledge; Set it by the elder-hedge; And in May, with horn and kettle, Coax'd a swarm of bees to settle. Here around me now they hum; And in autumn should you come Westward to my Cornish home, There'll be honey in the comb— Honey that, with clotted cream (Though I win not your esteem As a bard), will prove me wise, In that, of the double prize Sent by Hermes from the sea, I've Sold the song and kept the bee-hive.
As Boutigo's Van (officially styled the "Vivid") slackened its already inconsiderable pace at the top of the street, to slide precipitately down into Troy upon a heated skid, the one outside passenger began to stare about him with the air of a man who compares present impressions with old memories. His eyes travelled down the inclined plane of slate roofs, glistening in a bright interval between two showers, to the masts which rocked slowly by the quays, and from thence to the silver bar of sea beyond the harbour's mouth, where the outline of Battery Point wavered unsteadily in the dazzle of sky and water. He sniffed the fragrance of pilchards cooking and the fumes of pitch blown from the ship-builders' yards; and scanned with some curiosity the men and women who drew aside into doorways to let the van pass.
He was a powerfully made man of about sixty-five, with a solemn, hard-set face. The upper lip was clean-shaven and the chin decorated with a square, grizzled beard—a mode of wearing the hair that gave prominence to the ugly lines of the mouth. He wore a Sunday-best suit and a silk hat. He carried a blue band-box on his knees, and his enormous hands were spread over the cover. Boutigo, who held the reins beside him, seemed, in comparison with this mighty passenger, but a trivial accessory of his own vehicle.
"Where did you say William Dendle lives?" asked the big man, as the van swung round a sharp corner and came to a halt under the signboard of "The Lugger."
"Straight on for maybe quarter of a mile—turn down a court to the right, facin' the toll-house. You'll see his sign, 'W. Dendle, Block and Pump Manufacturer.' There's a flight o' steps leadin' 'ee slap into his workshop."
The passenger set his band-box down on the cobbles between his ankles and counted out the fare.
"I'll be goin' back to-night. Is there any reduction on a return journey?"
"No, sir; 'tisn' the rule, an' us can't begin to cheapen the fee wi' a man o' your inches."
The stranger apparently disliked levity. He stared at Boutigo, picked up his band-box, and strode down the street without more words.
By the red and yellow board opposite the tollhouse he paused for a moment or two in the sunshine, as if to rehearse the speech with which he meant to open his business. A woman passed him with a child in her arms, and turned her head to stare. The stranger looked up and caught her eye.
"That's Dendle's shop down the steps," she said, somewhat confused at being caught.
"Thank you: I know."
He turned in at the doorway and began to descend. The noise of persistent hammering echoed within the workshop at his feet. A workman came out into the yard, carrying a plank.
"Is William Dendle here?"
The man looked up and pointed at the quay-door, which stood open, with threads of light wavering over its surface. Beyond it, against an oblong of green water, rocked a small yacht's mast.
"He's down on the yacht there. Shall I say you want en?"
"No." The stranger stepped to the quay-door and looked down the ladder. On the deck below him stood a man about his own age and proportions, fitting a block. His flannel shirt hung loosely about a magnificent pair of shoulders, and was tucked up at the sleeves, about the bulge of his huge forearms. He wore no cap, and as he stooped the light wind puffed back his hair, which was grey and fine.
"Hi, there—William Dendle!"
"Hullo!" The man looked up quickly.
"Can you spare a word? Don't trouble to come up—I'll climb down to you."
He went down the ladder carefully, hugging the band-box in his left arm.
"You disremember me, I dessay," he began, as he stood on the yacht's deck.
"Well, I do, to be sure. Oughtn't to, though, come to look on your size."
"Samuel Badgery's my name. You an' me had a hitch to wrestlin', once, over to Tregarrick feast."
"Why, o' course. I mind your features now, though 'tis forty years since. We was standards there an' met i' the last round, an' I got the wust o't. Terrible hard you pitched me, to be sure: but your sweetheart was a-watchin' 'ee—hey?—wi' her blue eyes."
Samuel Badgery sat down on deck, with a leg on either side of the band-box.
"Iss: she was there, as you say. An' she married me that day month. How do you know her eyes were blue?"