Nicky-Nan promised. (He and the Penhaligons had separate keys of the main door.) He watched the good woman as she hurried on her way, tying her bonnet-strings as she went.
It occurred to him that, leg or no leg, he felt lonely, and would be all the better for a stroll. So, having fetched his stick and locked the house-door behind him, he dandered down towards the Quay. The street was empty, uncannily silent. "It's queer now," thought Nicky-Nan, "what a difference childern make to a town, an' you never noticin' it till they're gone." All the children had departed—the happy little Wesleyans to climb on board the waggons, the small Church of England minority to watch them, and solace their envy with expectation of their own Treat, a more select one, promised for this-day-fortnight. Then would be their turn, and some people would live to be sorry that they went to Chapel. But a fortnight is a long time, and weather in the West is notoriously uncertain. Of course you cannot eat your cake and have it: but Mrs Penhaligon arrived just in time to stop a fight between 'Bert and Matthey Matthew's ugly boy, who sang in the Church choir, and hoped it would rain. (Odium theologicum.)
The most of the mothers had departed also, either to "assist" at the Treat or to watch the embarkation: while those of the men whom the War had not claimed had tramped it over to Troy, which six weeks ago—and long before the idea of a European War had occurred to any one—had advertised a small regatta for Bank Holiday, with an afternoon's horse-racing.
The tunding of the drum up the valley seemed to Nicky-Nan to emphasise the loneliness all about him. But down by the Quay-head he came in sight of Policeman Rat-it-all (so named from his only and frequent expletive), seated on a bollard and staring up at the sky.
Nicky-Nan hesitated: hung, indeed, for a moment, on the edge of flight. This was Bank Holiday, and until to-morrow's sunrise a constable was powerless as Satan in a charmed circle. Still, the man might have the ejectment order in his pocket—would, if not already furnished with it, almost certainly know about it. On the other hand there was a chance—it might be worth while—to discover how much Rat-it-all knew. Forewarned is forearmed. Moreover, when your country is at war, and silence holds the city, there is great comfort in a chat. Nicky-Nan advanced with a fine air of nonchalance.
"Lookin' at the sky?" said he. "Wind's back in the nor'-west again. Which, for settled weather, I'd rather it took off-shore a bit later in the afternoon. It'll last though, for all that, I shoudn' wonder."
Policeman Rat-it-all withdrew his gaze from the firmament.
"I wasn' thinkin' of the wind," said he. "I take no account of the elements, for my part. Never did; and now never shall—havin' been born up to Bodmin, where the prison is."
"Oh!" said Nicky-Nan suspiciously. "What's it like?"
"Bodmin?" Policeman Rat-it-all seemed to reflect for a moment. "Well, I wouldn't just say it's altogether like any place in particular. There's a street, of course, . . . and there's the prison, and the barracks, and an asylum where they keep the lunatics, and a workhouse and what-not. But if you put to me, in so many words, what it's like—"
"I—I meant the prison," explained Nicky-Nan; that being the only feature of Bodmin in which he felt any instant concern.
"It's a place," answered Policeman Rat-it-all with painful lucidity, "where they shut people up. Sometimes there's an execution. But not often; not very often; once in a while, as you might say. There's a monument, too,—upon a hill they call the Beacon. I'm very fond of Bodmin. It's the County Town, you know; and with these little things going on, in one way and another, why, that enlarges the mind."
"Does it so?" asked Nicky-Nan, a trifle puzzled.
"It do indeed," the constable assured him with conviction. "Take me, now, at this present moment, for instance. You comes upon me suddent, and what do you catch me doin'? You catches me,"—here his voice became impressive—"you catches me lookin' up at the sky. And why am I lookin' up at the sky? It is to say to you, 'Nicholas Nanjivell, the wind is sot in the sou'-west?'"
"Not if you expect me to believe 'ee. 'Tisn' a point off north-an-by-west."
"—Or," the constable continued, lifting a hand, "is it to say to you, 'It is sot in the north-west,' as the case may be? Or is it I was wastin' the day in idleness, same as some persons I could mention in the Force if there wasn' such a thing as discipline? Not so. I was lookin' up in the execution of my duty. An' what do you suppose I was lookin' for?"
"I'm sure I can't tell 'ee," answered Nicky-Nan after a painful effort at guessing. "It couldn' be for obscene language; nor yet for drunks."
Policeman Rat-it-all leant forward and touched him on the top button of his waistcoat.
"Zepp-a-lins!" he said mysteriously.
"Oh!"—Nicky-Nan's brow cleared—"You mean them German balloon things the papers make so much fuss about."
"Die-rigitable," added Rat-it-all. "That's the point."
"Well? . . . Have 'ee seen any?" Nicky-Nan lifted his gaze skyward.
"I won't go so far as to say that I've seen anything answerin' to that description knockin' about—not up to the present. But these are times when a man must keep his eyes liftin' if he doesn' want Old England to be taken with what the newspapers call a Bolt from the Blue."
"I've come across the expression," said Nicky-Nan.
"Well, what I say is, Down here, in this corner of the world—though, mind you, I'm not sayin' anything against it—you don't reelise things: you reely don't. Now I come from Bodmin, as I think I must have told you."
"Where you see the soldiers goin' about with the stripes down their trowsers: but they've done away with that except for the Yeomanry (which is black, or dark blue, I forget which), and that's how you know the difference. So your mind gets enlarged almost without your knowin' it, and you feel what's at stake."
"I wonder you didn' want to enlist," said Nicky-Nan.
"I did: but I was too tall—too tall and too strong," sighed the policeman, bending his arm and causing his biceps to swell up mountainously. "You haven't a notion how strong I am—if, for instance, I took it into my head to catch you up and heave you over the Quay here. Yes, yes, I am wonderfully well made! And on top of that, Mother picked up some nonsense against soldiering off a speaker at a Pleasant Sunday Afternoon. There was nothing for it but the Force. So here I AM. But give me the wings of a dove, and I'd join the Royal Flyin' Corps to-morrow, where they get higher pay because of the risk, same as with the submarines. If you ask me, every Englishman's post at this moment is in the firing line."
Nicky-Nan winced, and changed the subject in haste.
"Well, it must be a great consolation to have such strength as yours," he said pleasantly. "But I wonder—with nothing else doin', and on a Bank Holiday too—you could manage to stay away from the School Treat."
"Rat it all!" broke out the constable, and checked himself. "I thought I was igsplaining to you," he went on as one who reasons patiently with an infant, "that a man has to think of something above an' beyond self in these days."
"I never found time to think out the rights an' wrongs o' warfare, for my part," said Nicky-Nan.
"Ah, I daresay not." Policeman Rat-it-all blew out his chest. "It's a deep subject," he added, wagging his head solemnly. "A very deep subject; and I quite understand your not having time for it lately. How about that Ejectment Order?"
Nicky-Nan jumped like a man shot. "Ha—have you got the—the thing about 'ee?" he twittered. "Don't tell me that Pamphlett has got 'em to send it down? . . . But there, you can't do anything on a Bank Holiday, anyway."
"Have I got the thing about me?" echoed the policeman slowly. "You talk as if 'twas a box o' matches. . . . Well, I may, or I mayn't; but anyways I've followed the case before Petty Sessions; and if you haven't a leg to stand on, the only thing is to walk out peaceably. Mind, I'm puttin' it unofficial, as between friends."
"And what if I don't?"
"Then, rat it all!—I mean," the constable corrected himself to a tolerant smile and gazed down on his mighty hands and arms—"then I got to put you into the street."
Nicky-Nan leaned on his stick and the stick shook with his communicated fury. "Try it—try it—try it!" he blazed out. "Try it, you Bodmin fathead!"
He shuffled away, nodding his head with wrath. He roamed the cliff-paths for an hour, pausing now and again to lean his back against an out-cropping mass of rock and pass the back of his hand across his eyes, that at first were bloodshot with fury. He had a great desire to kill Policeman Rat-it-all. As his passion died down and he limped forward, to pause and again limp forward, his gait and the backward cast of his eye were not unlike those of a hunted hare.
He reached the house door at nightfall, just as Mrs Penhaligon came shepherding her offspring home down the dusky street, 'Biades had yielded to the sleep of exhaustion, and lay like a log in his mother's arms. 'Bert, for no other reason than that he had tired himself out, was sulky and uncommunicative. But 'Beida—whose whole manner ever changed when once she had been persuaded into fine clothes—wore an air of sustained gentility.
"Squire Tresawna keeps seven gardeners," she reported. "He has three motor-cars and two chauffeurs. The gardeners keep the front lawn so short with their mowing-machines that 'Biades couldn't possibly have made the front of his blouse in the mess it is unless he had purposely crawled on his stomach to lower me in the eyes of all. When it got to a certain point I pretended to have no connection with him. There was nothing else to do. Then he felt sorry and wanted to hug me in front of everybody. . . . Oh, thank you . . . yes, I've enjoyed myself very much! Mrs Tresawna wears a toque: but I suppose that when you get to a certain position you can carry on with toques long after every one else has given them up. She has two maids; one of them in a grey velours dress that must have been one of Mrs Tresawna's cast-offs, for it couldn't possibly have come out of her wages; though, by the fit, it might have been made for her."
A little before ten o'clock Nicky-Nan climbed the stairs painfully to his bedroom, undressed in part, and lay down—but not to sleep. For a while he lay without extinguishing the candle—his last candle. He had measured it carefully, and it reached almost to an inch beyond the knuckle of his forefinger. It would last him a good two hours at least, perhaps three.
He lay for a while almost luxuriously, save for the pain in his leg, and watched the light flickering on the rafters. They had a few more days to abide, let Pamphlett's men be never so sharp: but this was his last night under them. His enemies—some of them until this morning unsuspected—were closing in around him. They had him, now, in this last corner.
But that was for to-morrow. The very poor live always on the edge of to-morrow; and for that reason the night's sleep, which parts them from it, seems a long time.
After all, what could his enemies do to him? If he sat passive, the onus would rest on them. If Policeman Rat-it-all flung him into the street, why then in the street he would sit, to the scandal of Polpier. If, on the other hand, Government claimed him for a deserter, still Government would have to fetch a cart to convey him to jail: his leg would not allow him to walk. Of wealth and goods God Almighty had already eased him. Cantat vacuus . . . He slid a hand under the bed-clothes and rubbed the swelling on his leg, softly, wondering if condemned men felt as little perturbed—or some of them—on the eve of execution.
He ceased rubbing and lay still again, staring up at the play of light on the rafters. Fine old timbers they were . . . solid English oak. Good old families they had sheltered in their time; men and women that feared God and honoured the King—now all gone to decay in churchyard, all as cold as homeless fellows. The Nanjivells had been such a family, and now—what would his poor old mother think of this for an end? Yet it was the general fate. Pushing men, your Pamphletts, rise in the world. Old families go down, . . . it couldn't be worked else. If he had only been born with push, now! If it could only be started over again, . . . if he had been put to a trade, instead of being let run to sea—
He broke off to wonder at the different things the old beams had looked down upon. Marriages, births—and deaths. The Old Doctor (he knew) had died in the fore-room, for convenience—the room where the Penhaligons slept: and even so, the family had been forced to lift the coffin in and out of the window, because of that twist in the stairs. There wasn't that difficulty with people's coming into the world. No doubt in its time this room must have seen a mort of births too. . . . And the children? All gone, the same way! Drizzle o' rain upon churchyard graves. . . . "And you, too,"—with a flicker of his closing eyelids threatening the flicker on the beams— "you, too, doomed, my billies! Pamphlett'll take me to-morrow, you the day after; as in time the Devil'll take him and his!"
Nicky-Nan rolled over on his side and, perceiving the candle to be burnt down to a short inch, hastily blew it out. Almost in the act of relaxing the elbow on which he had raised himself for this effort he dropped asleep to his pillow.
For three hours he lay like a log. Then his troubled brain began to reassert itself. At about two in the morning he sat bolt upright in his bed. For twenty minutes or so he had been thinking rather than dreaming, yet with his thought held captive by sleep.
He reached for his matchbox and struck a light. . . . The whole world was after him, hunting him down, tearing down the house above his head! . . . Well, he would go down with the house. Pamphlett, or Government, might take his house: but there was the old hiding-cupboard to the right of the chimney-breast. . . .
When they summoned him to-morrow, he would have vanished. Only by uncovering his last shelter should they discover what was left of him. He would perish with the house.
He lit the candle and carried it to the cupboard; opened this, and peered into the well at his feet: lifted one of the loose bottom-boards, and, holding himself steady by a grip on the scurtain, thrust a naked leg down, feeling into vacancy.
The ball of his foot touched some substance, hard and apparently firm. He supposed it to be a lower ceiling of the hole, and, after pressing once or twice to make sure, put all his weight upon it.
With a creak and a rush of masonry the whole second flooring of the cupboard gave way beneath him, leaving his invalid leg dangling, in excruciating pain. But that the crook of his elbow caught across the scurtain (shooting darts as of fire up the jarred funny-bone), he had made a part of the avalanche, the noise of which was enough to wake the dead. Luckily, too, he had set his candle on the planching floor, just wide of the cupboard entrance, and it stood burning as though nothing had happened.
With pain which surely must be worse than any pain of death, he heaved himself back and on to the bedroom floor again. The cascade of plaster, timber, masonry, must (he judged) have shot itself straight down into his parlour below.
He picked up the candle, and warily—while his leg wrung him with torture at every step—crept down the stairs to explore.
The parlour door opened inwards. He thrust it open for a short way quite easily. Then of a sudden it jammed: but it left an aperture through which he could squeeze himself. He did so, and held the candle aloft.
While he stared, first at a hole in the ceiling, then at the "scree" which had broken through it and lay spread, fan-shaped, on the solid floor at his feet, he heard a footstep, and Mrs Penhaligon's voice in the passage without.
"Mr Nanjivell! Is that Mr Nanjivell?"
"Oh, what has happened?"
"Nothing, ma'am. Only a downrush of soot in the chimney," answered Nicky-Nan, gasping: for the heap of dust and mortar at his feet lay scattered all over with golden coins!
"But the noise was terrible. I—I thought for sure it must be the Germans," came in Mrs Penhaligon's voice.
"Nothing of the sort. You exaggerate things," answered Nicky-Nan, commanding his voice. "A rush of soot down the chimney, that's all. I've been expectin' it for weeks."
"You mustn't mind my bein' easily alarmed—left alone as I be with a family—"
"Not in the least, ma'am." Nicky-Nan resolutely closed the door and lifted his candle to confirm the miracle.
The candle, which had been guttering, shot up one last flame and died on a flicker of gold.
"QUID NON MORTALIA PECTORA . . ."
A moment later Nicky-Nan took a step to the door, half-repentant, on an impulse to call Mrs Penhaligon back and bid her fetch a candle. God knows how much of subsequent trouble he might have spared himself by obeying that impulse: for Mrs Penhaligon was a woman honest as the day; and withal had a head on her shoulders, shrewd enough—practised indeed—in steering the clumsy male mind for its good.
But, as we have recorded, Nicky-Nan, having suffered in early life from a woman, had been turned to a distrust of the sex; a general distrust which preoccupied with its shadow the bright exception that, on a second thought, he was ready enough to recognise in Mrs Penhaligon.
This second thought came too late, however. He took one step towards the door, guided by the glimmer, beneath it, of her retreating candle. His hand even fumbled for the latch, and found it. But a sudden shyness seized him and he drew back. He heard her footsteps creaking on the party-stairs: heard the sound of her door softly closed, then the sound of a bolt thrust home in its socket; and turned to face darkness.
His brain worked quite clearly. He guessed well enough what had happened. In his youth he had often listened, without taking note of their talk, while his elders debated how it came about that the Old Doctor had left, beyond some parcels of real estate—cottage property for the most part, the tenants of which were notoriously lax in paying their rents—but a very few personal effects. There were book debts in an inordinate mass; and the heirs found an inordinate difficulty in collecting them, since the inhabitants of Polpier—a hardy sea-faring race—had adopted a cheerful custom of paying for deliverance from one illness when they happened (if ever they did) to contract another: and this custom they extended even to that branch of medical service which by tradition should be rewarded in ready money. ("I always," explained a Polpier matron, "pays 'en ver one when I engages 'en ver the next; an' the laast I'll never pay ver"— and she never did.) On top of this, Polpier folk argued that doctoring wasn't, like property, a gift which a man could pass on to his heirs, and most certainly not if they happened to be—as they were—a corn-factor and an aged maiden sister of independent but exiguous means. "As I look at it," some one put this argument, on the Quay, "th' Old Doctor's mastery was a thing to hisself, and a proper marvel at that. Us brought nothin' into the world, my sons an' us can't carry nothin' out: but that don't mean as you can leave it behind—leastways, not when it takes the form of professional skill. . . . Why, put it to yourselves. Here's th' old man gone up for his reward: an' you can hear th' Almighty sayin', 'Well done, thou good an' faithful servant.'"—"Amen," from the listeners.— "Yes, an' 'The labourer is worthy of his hire,' and what not. 'Well, then,' the Lord goes on, flatterin'-like, 'what about that there talent I committed to 'ee? For I d' know you're not the sort to go hidin' it in a napkin.' An' d' 'ee reckon th' old chap'll be cuttin' such a figure as to own up, 'Lord, I left it to a corn-merchant'? Ridic'lous to suppose! . . . The Lord giveth, an' the Lord taketh away. . . . With cottage property, I grant 'ee, 'tis another thing. Cottage property don't go on all-fours."
Nicky-Nan, then, guessed well enough what had happened. Almost in a flash he had guessed it.
He had surprised the Old Doctor's secret, hidden all these years. Folks used to make hoards of their money in the bygone days, when Napoleon threatened to invade us and deposit banks were scarce. And the Doctor, by all that tradition told, was never a man to break a habit once formed. For more than the span of two generations this wealth had lain concealed; and now he—he, Nicholas Nanjivell—was a rich man, if only he played his cards well!
With how sure an instinct he had clung to the old house!—had held on to this relic of a past gentility to which by rights he belonged!
He was a rich man now, and would defy Pamphlett and all his works—
How pleasant it is to have money, heigho! How pleasant it is to have money!—
if only he knew how much!
And yet . . . Although philosophers in all ages have descanted on the blessings of Hope, and the part played by Imagination in making tolerable the business of living—so that men in the mass not only carry life through with courage but will turn and fight desperately for it, like stags at bay—it is to be doubted if one in ten ever guesses how constantly he is sustained by this spirit scorning the substance, gallantly blind, with promises lifting him over defeat. I dare to say that, save for the strength of hope it put into him, this wealth, so suddenly poured at Nicky-Nan's feet, doubled his discomfort, physical and mental.
Of his physical discomfort, just now, there could be no question. He could not find courage to leave his trove and climb the stairs back to his bedroom. Some one might rob him while he slept, and— horror!—he would never even know of how much he had been robbed. The anguish in his leg forbade his standing sentry: the night wanted almost three hours of dawn. Shirt and trousers were his only garments.
He knelt and groped on the stone floor to a corner clear of the fallen rubbish. On his way his fingers encountered a coin and clutched it—comfort, tangible proof that he had not been dreaming. He seated himself in the corner, propping his back there, and fell to speculating—sensing the coin in his palm, fingering it from time to time.
The Old Doctor had always, in his lifetime, been accounted a well-to-do man. . . . Very likely he had started this hoard in Bonaparte's days, and had gone on adding to it in the long years of peace. . . . It would certainly be a hundred pounds. It might be a thousand. One thousand pounds!
But no—not so fast! Put it at a hundred only, and daylight would be the unlikelier to bring disappointment. The scattered coins he had seen by that one brief flash of the candle danced and multiplied themselves before his eyes like dots of fire in the darkness. Still he resolutely kept their numbers down to one hundred.
A hundred pounds! . . . Why, that, or even fifty, meant all the difference in life to him. He could look Pamphlett in the face now. He would step down to the Bank to-morrow, slap seven sovereigns down on the counter—but not too boldly; for Pamphlett must not suspect— and demand the change in silver, with his receipt. Full quittance— he could see Pamphlett's face as he fetched forth the piece of paper and made out that quittance, signing his name across a postage stamp.
Not once in the course of his vision-building did it cross Nicky-Nan's mind that the money was—that it could be—less than legitimately his. Luck comes late to some men; to others, never. It had come late to him, yet in the nick of time, as a godsend. His family and the Old Doctor's had intermarried, back along, quite in the old days; or so he had heard. . . . Nicky-Nan knew nothing of any law about treasure-trove. Wealth arrived to men as it befell or as they deserved; and, any way, "findings was keepings." His notion of other folks' concern in this money reached no further than a vague fear of folks in general—that they might rob him or deprive him of it in some way. He must go to work cautiously.
Thus out of despair Fortune lifted him and began to install him in fear.
He must go to work very cautiously. Being all unused to the possession of money, but accustomed to consider it as a weapon of which fortunate men obtained a hold to employ it in "besting" others less fortunate, he foresaw endless calls upon his cunning. But this did not forbid his indulging in visions in which—being also at bottom good-natured—he pictured himself as playing the good genius in his native town, earning general gratitude, building in a large-handed way the new pier that was so badly needed, conferring favours right and left, departing this life amid the mourning of the township, perchance (who could tell?) surviving for the wonder of generations to come in a carved statue at the Quay-head. He had observed, in the ports he had visited abroad, such statues erected in memory of men he had never heard tell of. It would be a mighty fine thing—though a novelty in Polpier—to have one's memory kept alive in this fashion. . . . He would lord it in life too, as became a Nanjivell—albeit the last of the race. To the Penhaligon family he would be specially kind. . . . Upon other deserving ones he would confer surprising help by stealth. . . . He wished now that, in spite of experience, he had married and begotten children—an heir at least. It would be a fine thing to restore the stock to a prospect of honour. He wondered that in the past he had never realised his plain duty in this light and taken the risk. As it was, the old name could only be preserved in a commonalty's gratitude.
The flagged floor galled him cruelly; for he was of lean build. Shift his posture or his weight as he might, after a few seconds' ease his haunch-pins were pressing again upon the pavement, with no cushion of flesh but a crushed nerve or two that kept telephoning misery to his knee and fetching fierce darts of pain for response. A quick succession of these, running into one as though a red-hot iron had been applied under the thigh, searing it to the very bone, stabbed suddenly into his brain with a new terror. He had forgotten the anonymous letter and its threat!
He was a rich man now. The business of a rich man was to stay at home and preserve his riches while making use of them-like Pamphlett. Who in this world ever heard of a rich man being hauled off to serve in the Navy as a common seaman? The thing was unprecedented. He could buy himself out; at the worst by paying up the money he had drawn.
Yes, but this would involve disclosing his wealth, and the source of it. . . . He was terribly afraid of publicity. He had enemies, as the letter proved: he suspected that the law itself might be another enemy—you could never predict which side the law would take—and between them, if they got to know his secret, they would despoil him. . . . On the other hand if, covering his secret, he opposed but a passive resistance, they might carry him off to jail, and then all this money would be laid bare to the world. Intolerable exposure!
He must hide it. . . . He must count it, and then—having staved off Pamphlett—hide it tomorrow with all speed and cunning. When would the dawn come?
The sun, in the longitude of Polpier, was actually due to rise a few minutes before five o'clock. But Polpier (as I have told) lies in a deep cleft of the hills. Nicky-Nan's parlour looked out on a mere slit at the bottom of that cleft; and, moreover, the downfall of plaster blocked half the lower portion of its tiny dirty window.
What with one hindrance and another, it was almost a quarter past five before daylight began to glimmer in the parlour. It found him on his knees—not in prayer, nor in thanksgiving, but eagerly feeling over the grey pile of rubbish and digging into it with clawed fingers.
An hour later, with so much of daylight about him as the window permitted, he was still on his knees. Already he had collected more than a hundred golden coins, putting them together in piles of twenty.
The dawn had been chilly: but he was warm enough by this time. Indeed, sweat soaked his shirt; beads of sweat gathered on his grey eyebrows, and dripped, sometimes on his hands, sometimes on the pile of old plaster—greyish-white, and fine almost as wood-ash—into which they dug and dug, tearing the thin lathes aside, pouncing on each coin brought to the surface.
Once only—though the kneeling cost him torture, and the sweat came no less from anguish than from exertion—did he pause and straighten himself up to listen. Upstairs the Penhaligon children had awakened with the daylight and were talking—chirruping like sparrows—before they left their beds—
Hey! now the day dawis; The joly cock crawis . . .
—but Nicky-Nan toiled on in his dim parlour, collecting wealth.
By eight o'clock he had picked up and arranged—still in neat piles of twenty—some eight hundred coins of golden money. His belly was fasting: but he had forgotten the crust in the cupboard. Had he not here enough to defray a king's banquet?
Some one tapped on the door. Nicky-Nan, startled, raised himself upright on his knees and called in a tremor—
As he staggered up and made for the door, to press his weight against it, Mrs Penhaligon spoke on the other side.
"The postman, with a letter for you! I'll fetch it in, if you wish: but the poor fellow 'd like a clack, I can see."
It jumped to his tongue to bid her fetch and pass it in to him under the door. The outside of a letter would not tell her much, and anyhow would excite less curiosity than his own corporal envelope, begrimed as it was just now with dust and plaster and cobwebs. But the end of her message alarmed him with misgivings more serious. "Why should Lippity-Libby want a clack with him? . . . Just for gossip's sake?—or to convey a warning?" Lippity-Libby knew, or averred that he knew, the author of yesterday's anonymous letter. . . .
"Tell him I'll be out in a moment!"
Nicky-Nan beat his hands together softly to rid them of the worst of the plaster, then smoothed them briskly down his chest in a hasty effort to remove the cobwebs that clung there. The result—two damning smears on the front of his shirt—was discouraging.
He opened the door with great caution, peered out into the passage, and found to his great relief that Mrs Penhaligon, that discreet woman, had withdrawn to her own premises.
He would have reconnoitred farther, but in the porch at the end of the passage Lippity-Libby stood in plain view, with the street full of sunshine behind him. So Nicky-Nan contented himself with closing the door carefully and hasping it.
"If," began Lippity-Libby, "you go on gettin' letters at the rate o' one a day, there's only two ways to it. Either you'll practise yourself not to keep the King's postman waitin', or you'll make it up afterwards in the shape of a Christmas-box. . . . I ought in fairness to tell you," Lippity-Libby added, "that there is a third way— though I hate the sight of it—and that's a letter-box with a slit in the door. Parson Steele has one. When I asked en why, he laughed an' talked foolish, an' said he'd put it up in self-defence. Now, what sort o' defence can a letter-box be to any man's house? And that was six months afore the War, too!"
"Another letter for me?" Nicky-Nan hobbled forward, blinking against the sunlight.
"'Ho-Haitch-Hem-Hess'—that means 'On His Majesty Service'; post-mark, Troy. . . . Hullo!—anything wrong wi' the house?"
Nicky-Nan understood. "What's that to you?" he asked curtly.
"I don' know how it should happen," mused Lippity-Libby after a pause of dejection; "but the gettin' of letters seems to turn folks suspicious-like all of a sudden. You'd be surprised the number that puts me the very question you've just asked. An' they tell me that 'tis with money the same as with letters. I read a tract one time, about a man that found hisself rich of a sudden, and instead o' callin' his naybours together an' sayin' 'Rejoice with me,' what d'ye think he went an' did?"
"Look here," said Nicky-Nan, eyeing the postman firmly. "If you're hidin' something behind this clack, I'll trouble you to out with it."
"If you don't want the story, you shan't have it," said Lippity-Libby, aggrieved. "'Tis your loss, too; for it was full of instruction, an' had a moral at the end in different letterin'. . . . You're upset this mornin', that's what you are: been up too early an' workin' too hard at that plasterin' job, whatever it is." The little man limped back into the roadway and cricked his head back for a gaze up at the chimneys. "Nothing wrong on this side, seemin'ly. . . . Nor, nor there wasn't any breeze o' wind in the night, not to wake me. . . . Anyways, you're a wonderful forgivin' man, Nicholas Nanjivell."
"Why, to be up betimes an' workin' yourself cross, plasterin' at th' old house, out o' which—if report's true—you'll be turned within a week."
"Don't you listen to reports; no, nor spread 'em. Here, hand me over my letter. . . . 'Turn me out,' will they? Go an' tell 'em they can't do it—not if they was to bring all the king's horses and all the king's men!"
"And they be all gone to France. There! there! As I said to myself only last night as I got into bed—'What a thing is War!' I said, 'an' o' what furious an' rummy things consistin'—marches to an' fro, short commons, shootin's of cannon, rapes, an' other bloodthirsty goin's-on; an' here we be in the midst thereof! That's calkilated to make a man think.' . . . But I must say," said Lippity-Libby, eyeing the sky aloft, "the glass is goin' up stiddy, an' that's always a comfort."
As the old man took his departure, Nicky-Nan broke the seal of his letter, opened it, and read—
To Nicholas Nanjivell, R.N.R., Polpier.
Troy, August 3rd, 1914.
I am advised that you have failed to join the Royal Naval Reserve Force called into Active Service under the Act 22 and 23 Vict. c. 40; nor have you reported yourself at the Custom-House, St Martin's, Cornwall, as required on the Active Service Paper, R.V. 53, duly delivered to you.
Before filling up your description on Form R.V. 26a (R.N.R. Absentees and Deserters) I desire that you will let me know the cause of your non-compliance with H.M. summons; and, if the cause be sickness or other disablement, that you will forward a medical certificate immediately, as evidence of same, to
Joshua Johns, Registrar, Royal Naval Reserve.
BUSINESS AS USUAL.
"Business as usual!" said Mr Pamphlett heartily to his clerk Mr Hendy, as he let himself in at 9.40 by the side door of the Bank. Mr Hendy lived on the premises, which his wife served as caretaker, with a "help" to do the scrubbing.
Mr Hendy, always punctual, stood ready in the passage, awaiting his master. He received Mr Pamphlett's top-hat and walking-stick, helped him off with his black frock-coat, helped him on with the light alpaca jacket in which during the hot weather Mr Pamphlett combined banking with comfort.
"Business as usual!" said Mr Pamphlett, slipping into the alpaca. "That's the motto. Old England's sound, Hendy!"
"Yes, sir: leastways, I hope so."
"Sound as a bell. It's money will put us through this, Hendy, as it always has. We mayn't wear uniforms"—Mr Pamphlett smoothed down the alpaca over his stomach—"but we're the real sinews of this War."
Mr Hendy—a slight middle-aged man, with fluffy straw-coloured hair which he grew long above his ears, to compensate for the baldness of his cranium—answered that he was glad Mr Pamphlett took it in so hearty a fashion, but for his part, if it wasn't for the Missus, he was dying to enlist and have a slap at the Germans. Mr Pamphlett laughed and entered his private office. Here every morning he dealt with his correspondence; while Hendy, in the main room of the Bank, unlocked the safe, fetched out the ready cash and the ledgers, and generally made preparations before opening the door for business on the stroke of ten.
Five or six letters awaited Mr Pamphlett. One he recognised by envelope and handwriting as a missive from headquarters: and he opened it first, wondering a little, pausing, as he broke the seal, to examine the post-marks. "Yesterday had been Bank Holiday. . . . But, to be sure, in these times the Head Office would very likely be neglecting Bank Holidays, the clerks working at high pressure. . . ."
But no: the London post-mark bore date "Aug. 1." The letter had been received and delivered at Polpier on the 2nd, and had been lying in the bank letter-box for two whole days. He broke the seal in some trepidation: for he had spent the last sixty hours or so of national emergency on a visit with Mrs Pamphlett to her brother-in-law, a well-to-do farmer, who dwelt some twelve miles inland. Here Mr Pamphlett, after punctual and ample meals, had gently stimulated digestion with hot brandy-and-water (which never comes amiss, even in August, if you happen to be connected with farming and have duly kept the Sabbath), and had sat with one leg crossed over the other, exchanging—rather by his composed bearing than in actual words— confidence in Britain's financial stability against confidence in her agriculture. His presence had somewhat eased a trying situation at Lawhilly Farm, where his young fool of a nephew—an only son, too— fired by the war, had gone so far as to distress his parents with talk of enlisting.
"Business as usual!" had been Mr Pamphlett's advice to the young man. "There was, for a day or two—I won't deny it—a certain—er— tendency to what I may call nervousness in the City. Can we wonder at it, holding as we do so many—er—threads?" Mr Pamphlett held up his two hands, and spread them as though they contained a skein of wool to be unwound. "But the Chancellor of the Exchequer took steps. Opposed as I am in a general way to the present Government, I am free to admit that, at this juncture, the Chancellor of the Exchequer realised his responsibilities and—er—took steps. Markets may—er— fluctuate for some weeks to come—may, as I would put it, exhibit a certain amount of—er—unsteadiness. But we shall tide that over, easily—as I am advised, quite easily. Great Britain's credit is solid; that's the word, solid: and if that—er—solidarity holds true of our monetary system with"—here Mr Pamphlett expanded and contracted his fingers as if gathering gossamers—"its delicate and far-reaching complexities. . . That was an excellent duck, James," said he, turning to his brother-in-law. "I don't remember when I've tasted a better."
"Maria believes in basting, I thank God," said his brother-in-law, Farmer Pearce acknowledging the compliment. "'Tis a more enterprisin' life you lead by the sea, if your business calls you that way. You pick up more money—which is everything in these days—and you see the ships and yachts going to and fro, and so forth. But you can't breed ducks for table. Once they get nigh to tidal water, though it be but to the head of a creek, the flesh turns fishy, and you can't prevent it. We must set it down to Natur', I suppose. But inland ducks for me!"
"Maria has a great gift with the stuffing, too. . . . You're spoilt, Ebenezer—and so too is Obed here—up in this fat of the land, though you don't know it. Eh?" said Mr Pamphlett sharply as his nephew Obed, who had been sitting by and listening sulkily, made an impatient movement,—"But as I was going on to say, if we, that hold (as I may put it) the threads of commerce in these times, believe in sitting solid, why surely the same applies—only more so—to agriculture."
"Which is the backbone of Old England," interposed Farmer Pearce, "an' always has been."
"There's two ends to most backbones," put in young Obed, who had been tracing patterns with his fingers on the surface of the mahogany table. "And I don't pretend to have the cleverer one. But I don't want the other to be kicked into doin' summat; which is what'll happen to us farmin' chaps if we don't start enlistin'."
"The aggericultural community," persisted his father, who had picked up that resonant term at meetings of the Farmers' Union, "is, an' always has been, the backbone of England."
"Then 'tis time we showed it, in the Yeomanry."
"I wish you'd hold your tongue on that word; when you know your mother never hears it spoke but she wakes me up at night with the palpitations. . . . We be showin' it, I tell 'ee. We be doin' something for our country in this here crisis. Why, didn' Squire Tresawna ride over but yesterday an' commandeer Tory an' Pleasant?— that's my two best waggon-hosses," the farmer explained to his brother-in-law. "An' didn' he say as most likely he'd be over again, inside a fortni't, after light draught hosses for the Artillery? I don't murmur, for my part. We must all be prepared to make sacrifices in these times. But all I say is, you can't pick up draught hosses—light or heavy—off a greengrocer, nor yet off a bird-fancier; an' the man who says you can, I'll tell him to his face he's no better than a liar," concluded Farmer Pearce, suddenly growing crimson in the face, and smiting the table with unnecessary heat.
"If the hosses be goin', why should the men linger?" young Obed urged. "An' I don't see what you sacrificed either, over Tory an' Pleasant; for you told me yourself the Squire gave a very fair price for 'em."
"Well, an' I should hope so! You don't reckon as I was goin' to make Government a present of 'em, do 'ee?—a man rated up to the ears, as I be!" Here he glanced nervously at his brother-in-law, who (as a town-dweller) held the monstrous belief that farmers enjoyed their share, and even a little more, of relief from rating, and had more than once shown argumentative fight on this subject in the piping times of peace. But Mr Pamphlett tactfully ignored the challenge.
"Listen to me, Obed," he put in. "By what I hear from London, as well as what I read in the papers, the most serious question before this country just now is to maintain—or, as I might put it, to keep up—an adequate supply of foodstuffs. To which end," pursued Mr Pamphlett, in the weighty periods of the "leading article" from which he had gathered this information, "it appears to us—I mean, to me— that our agricultural friends would be well advised, at this juncture, in considering the advisability, as well as the feasibility, of restoring a quantity of their pasture-land to an arable condition, and cultivating it as such. The Board of Agriculture, it is understood, will shortly issue a circular—er—on these lines. Now you cannot effect the change thus indicated without labour—"
"That there Board of Agriculture," put in the farmer, "is always settin' up to know us farmers' business better than we d'know it ourselves. Grow wheat—must we? All very well, an' for my country's good I'm willin' enough, provided it can be done at a profit. Will Government guarantee that? . . . No, brother Pamphlett: what you say about your callin', I says about mine. 'Business as usual'— that's my word: an' let Obed here be a good son to his mother an' bide at home, defyin' all the Germans in Christendom."
Mr Pamphlett, then, had spent his week-end in rural comfort, and with the consciousness of being useful—a steadying influence in a household threatened by youthful restlessness, which (Heaven knew) might so easily turn to recklessness. His wife, too, was devotedly attached to her sister, whose heart had always been liable to palpitations. But he realised at sight of the letter, which had been lying so long in the box, that a phrase is not everything: that "business as usual," while it might serve as a charm or formula against panic in the market-place, and even sustain in private many a doubting soul accustomed to take things on trust, was an incantation something less than adequate to calm the City of London, or the Bank directors and their confidential clerks, who maybe had been working in a frenzy through Sunday and Bank Holiday in their closed offices at headquarters. For a moment Mr Pamphlett realised this, and it gave him a scare. In the act of opening the letter he cast his eyes around on the chance that a telegram had followed the letter, demanding to know the cause that took him from his post at this crisis. But there was no telegram. The envelope held two enclosures. He scanned them hurriedly: the blood came back to his face, and he was a man again.
The first enclosure merely acknowledged, in conventional words, the receipt of certain returns posted by him last Friday. The second ran—
New Bank Premises: Polpier Branch.
Dear Sir,—With reference to the above, the Board has had under consideration your letter of the 23rd ult.; and directs me to say that, in the present unsettled situation abroad, and the consequent need of strict watchfulness over capital expenditure (however small), it may be wise to defer the issuing of tenders, as suggested by you, until further notice. The Board has, in its confidence, entrusted you with almost complete discretion in this matter; and possibly you may find it difficult, at this juncture, to delay matters as suggested. If so, please advise.— Yours faithfully, Walter P. Schmidt, Managing Director.
So that was all right! It might defer building operations, but it need not defer his dealing with Nanjivell, his own tenant, who paid nothing. He could turn Nanjivell out, and then—well, whenever the Bank chose to start building, the Directors (having gone so far) would no doubt consider the length of time the premises had been standing idle.
His brow cleared. He opened the next letter, with the handwriting of which he was familiar enough. One Retallack, a speculative builder, suggested a small increase on his overdraft, offering security. This would not do, in War time. Mr Pamphlett dealt with it at once—
Dear Sir,—You are doubtless aware that the outbreak of a European War compels the Banking Houses to look jealously after all advances, or extensions of credit, even the smallest.
It is not so much a question of declining this new request on your part as of reconsidering very carefully the present position of your account. I will satisfy myself concerning this and advise you without delay.—I am, dear sir, yours faithfully, Alfred Pamphlett, Manager.
"Business as usual"—Mr Pamphlett repeated it many times to himself as he went through the rest of his correspondence. His spirit—in revulsion after his brief scare—soared almost to gaiety. He walked into the main room of the Bank as Hendy started to pull the door-bolts.
"We don't open for business to-day, Hendy."
Hendy had shown himself flatly incapable of understanding the Moratorium; what it was or how it worked. Mr Pamphlett, for his part, was uncertain about the details. But he explained them to Hendy.
Then he returned to his private office, pausing by the rack in the passage to draw from the tail pocket of his frock-coat there a folded copy of The Western Morning News. There was something furtive in his action: he would have started guiltily had he been surprised in it, even by the meek Hendy.
Business—well, business could not be altogether as usual in these times. As a rule Mr Pamphlett read his paper through, before and during breakfast, and left it at home for Mrs Pamphlett to scan the births, deaths, and marriages, the "wanteds," the Court Circular, and any report there might happen to be of a colliery explosion (she specialised in colliery explosions: they appealed to her as combining violent death with darkness) before interviewing the cook. But to-day, with all Europe in the melting-pot—so to speak—Mr Pamphlett had broken his rule. He craved to know the exact speed at which Russia was "steam-rolling." There was a map in the paper, and it might repay study.
Before studying the map his eye fell on a paragraph headed "Rise in Prices." He paused and spent some time over this.
He was still conning it when the door opened, and Hendy appeared. Mr Pamphlett muttered "Consols," and refolded the newspaper hastily.
"Nanjivell is here to see you, sir: at the side door. 'Says he must speak to you in private."
"Oh . . . confound Nanjivell! I've had enough of that man. . . . Very well; but tell him I can't spare a moment over five minutes."
Hendy ushered in Nicky-Nan, who hobbled forward to the table, hat in hand.
"Good-morning, Nanjivell!" said Mr Pamphlett.
"Another plea, I suppose?—when you had my word on Saturday that I'd done with you."
"Then what is it? . . . For I hardly suppose 'tis to pay up—rent and arrears."
"One—two—three—four—five—six—seven!" Nicky-Nan dived in his pocket for the fistful of coins, picked them out carefully, and laid them one by one on the table. "I'll take the change an' a receipt, if you please."
"How came you by this money?" asked the Bank Manager, after a pause, staring at the gold.
"What the hell is that to you?" demanded Nicky-Nan.
For a moment Mr Pamphlett made no reply. Then he leaned forward and picked up one of the coins.
"I asked," he said, "because one of these happens to be a guinea-piece—a spade guinea, and scarcely worn at all."
"'Tis as good as a sovereign's worth, hey?"
"Certainly: worth more in fact."
"I'll trust 'ee for the difference then," said Nicky-Nan. "As for how I came by it, I came by it honest, an' that's enough. A man o' my family may have a bit o' hoard put by—by his forefathers."
"I see," said Mr Pamphlett thoughtfully. "Hendy shall make out the receipt. But this doesn't include costs of the ejectment order, you know."
"I'll bring 'em to-morrow, if you'll let me know the amount."
"Hendy shall give you a note of it. . . No—to be fair, the ejectment order still stands against you. I have power to turn you out to-morrow."
"But you won't!"
"If you use that tone with me, my man, I certainly will. If you take your receipt and clear out, I may relent so far as to give you a short grace."
When Nicky-Nan had taken his leave, Mr Pamphlett picked up the spade guinea and considered it curiously. It had a beautifully sharp impression, and might have been minted yesterday. He thought it would go very well on his watch-chain.
Then he opened the paper again, sought out the paragraph headed "Rise in Prices," and read it through, pausing now and again to pencil a note or two on the back of an envelope.
On his way homeward in the dinner-hour he called at Mrs Pengelly's shop and gave that good woman an order for groceries. The size of it almost caused her to faint. It ran into double figures in pounds sterling.
"Business as usual!" repeated Mr Pamphlett to himself complacently, as he pursued his way up the hill.
THE BROKEN PANE
During his interview with Mr Pamphlett, Nicky-Nan had been in a fever to get back to his parlour. It had no lock to the door, and goodness knew what the Penhaligon children might not be up to in these holiday times. Also he could not rid his mind of a terror that his wealth might prove, after all, to be fairy gold, and vanish in air.
It was a relief in a way to find that Mr Pamphlett, after ringing each coin on his table, had accepted the seven pieces for currency. But this business of the spade-guinea raised a new scare to agitate him.
In a confused way he remembered that in building the coins into piles he had found some of them to be broader than others, so that their edges overlapped, and that for symmetry he had sorted these broader pieces out and stacked them apart. Of the last ten he had made a mixed pile,—four broad coins at the base, six narrower ones above; and from this he had taken, purely by chance, the seven topmost to pay his debt—that is to say, six sovereigns and one guinea-piece. Luck had stood his friend. A pretty business, had he gone to the banker with seven of those old-fashioned guineas!
Mr Hendy had handed him five shillings and fourpence change with his quittance, and on his way home he made a detour to hobble into Mr Gedye's shop—"S. Gedye, Ironmonger and Ship-Chandler"—and purchase two staples, a hasp, and a stout padlock, with key.
Mr Gedye, selecting these articles with a care that was slow torture to his customer, opined that the weather was settled at last, and trusted it would assist the Russians in mobilising. The slower Mr Gedye became, the more ardently he repeated an expression of hope that the Russians would hurry up.
"Once they get going—" said Mr Gedye, and pulled out a drawerful of staples so far that it upset and spilled its contents in an avalanche on the dark floor behind the counter. "I knew a ship's captain once, a Russian that married a woman over to Troy and would go to sleep for a week on end every time he came home from a voyage. His wife would wake him up and give him tea: that was all he took—tea without milk, between the sheets. He had been a Radical over in his own country, and the Radical agent over to Troy got wind o' this an' took steps to naturalise him. It took seven years. . . . But put him on deck in a gale o' wind and a better skipper (I'm told) you wouldn' meet in a day's march. When he got up an' dressed, he'd dander down to the butcher's an' point to the fatty parts of the meat with the end of his walking-stick, which was made out of a shark's backbone, if you ever! In my experience, a very quiet nation until roused. . . . Well, the Kaiser's done it this time—and a padlock, I think you said? An uncomfortable man—that's my opinion of him, and I've never seen cause to change it. Now, for a padlock, here is one I can thoroughly recommend, with two keys, so that you can lose one and still have the other, which is often a convenience. Yu'll be lockin' up your 'taty-patch, Mr Nanjivell, against the Germans? Well, a very proper precaution."
"One can't be too careful in these times," said Nicky-Nan with feigned artlessness.
"No, indeed! Anything I can do for 'ee in the way of barbed wire?"
"No, I thank 'ee." Nicky-Nan's eyes had been wandering around the shop. "But I'll take this small sieve, now I come to think on it."
"Certainly, Mr Nanjivell. One-an'-three. Shall I send it for 'ee? No?—an' nothing further to-day? Then one-an'-three and one is two-an'-three, an' two two's four, two-an'-seven, screws and staples two two's, two-an'-eleven. If you ask my opinion we're in for settled weather."
Nicky-Nan's business had taken time—some twenty minutes in excess of his calculations, as a glance at the sky informed him. (He carried no watch.) He hurried home in a twitter of nervousness, which increased as he drew near to his front door. In the passage he stumbled against a pail of water, all but upsetting it, and swore under his breath at his evil luck, which had deferred Mrs Penhaligon's weekly scrubbing to Tuesday (Bank Holiday being a dies non).
On entering the parlour he drew a breath of relief. No one had visited it, to disturb it. The threadbare tablecloth rested as he had spread it, covering the piles of gold; the tattered scrap of carpet, too, hiding (so far as it might) the scree of fallen rubbish.
On this rubbish, after assuring himself that his treasure was safe, he fell to work with the sieve; making as little noise as might be, because by this time Mrs Penhaligon had begun operations on the brick flooring of the passage. Mrs Penhaligon's father had been a groom in Squire Tresawna's service, and she had a trick of hissing softly while she scrubbed, as grooms do in washing-down and curry combing their horses. He could hear the sound whenever her brush intromitted its harsh whoosh-whoosh and she paused to apply fresh soap. So they worked, the man and the woman—both kneeling—with the thin door between.
Nicky-Nan felt no weariness as yet. He used his coal-scraper to fill the sieve, and shook the fine powdery lime into one heap, and gently tilted the coarse residuum upon another, after searching it carefully over. At the end of an hour's labour he had added two guinea-pieces and nine sovereigns to his collection.
He vaguely remembered having been told—long ago by somebody—that sovereigns had first come into use back in the last century, not long after the battle of Waterloo; that in more ancient times gold had been paid in guineas; that guineas were then worth much more than their face value, because of the great amount of paper money; that Jews went about buying them up for twenty-three or twenty-four shillings; that, over at Troy, a Jew had been murdered and robbed of a lot of these coins by the landlord of a public-house.
He reasoned from this—and rightly, no doubt—that the Old Doctor had started his hoard in early life, when Boney was threatening to invade us; and had kept up the habit in later and more prosperous years, long after the currency had been changed. That would account for the sovereigns being so many and the guineas by comparison so few.
He was aching sorely in back and reins: his leg, too, wanted ease. . . . He would take a rest and spend it in examining the window, by which alone he could get rid of the rubbish without courting inquiry. It was his only postern gate.
It had not been opened for many years—never, indeed, in the time of his tenancy. Door and fireplace had provided between them all the ventilation he was conscious of needing.
It cost him three minutes to push up the lower sash. He managed to open it some ten inches, and then, as a protest against this interference with its gradual decay, the sash-cord broke. He heard with a jump of the heart the weight thud down behind the woodwork: then, as he groped hastily behind him for a brick, to prop the sash, it came down with a run, and closed its descent with a jar that shook out two of its bottle panes to drop into the water that rushed below. Prompt upon this came a flutter and scurry of wings in water, and a wild quacking, as a bevy of ducks dashed for shore.
A casement window was thrust open on the far side of the stream. A woman's voice shrilled—
"That's you, is it? Oh, yes—you Penhaligon children! You needn' clucky down an' hide—an' after breakin' Mr Nanjivell's windows, that hasn' sixpence between hisself an' heaven, to pay a glazier!"
(But it was Mr Nanjivell himself who cowered down out of sight, clutching the woodwork of the window-sill with wealth behind him surpassing the dreams of avarice.)
"Proper young limbs you be," the voice went on. "With no father at home to warm 'ee!"—
(Let this not be mistaken for a tribute to Mr Penhaligon's parental kindness, good father though he was. To "warm" a child in Polpier signifies to beat him with a strap.)
"And him in danger of submarines, that snatch a man before his Maker like a snuff of a candle, while you can find no better way of employing your holidays than scatterin' other folks' glass to the danger o' my ducks! You just wait till I've wiped my arms, here, and I'll be round to tell your mother about 'ee!"
Nicky-Nan had recognised the voice at once. It belonged to Mrs Climoe, possibly the champion virago of Polpier, and a woman of her word—a woman who never missed an opportunity to make trouble. Her allusion to wiping her arms before action he as swiftly understood. The window across the stream belonged to Mrs Climoe's wash-kitchen. Again he cursed the luck that had interposed Bank Holiday and adjourned the washing operations of Polpier.
But he must defend himself: for Mrs Climoe never promised anything which—if it happened to be unpleasant—she did not punctually perform. With swift cunning he snatched up his parcel of staples and screws, caught at a poker, and made a leap for the door.
Here luck aided him. Mrs Penhaligon had finished her scrubbing and carried her pail out to the porch. There she met Mrs Climoe's first accost, and it surprised her beyond measure: for her children were down upon the Quay playing. By rights they should have returned half an hour before: it was, indeed, close upon dinner-time. But she had been in the passage for a whole hour, with just an interval now and then for a dive into the kitchen to see how the pasties were cooking. She felt morally sure that they could not have returned without her knowing it. They usually made her so exceedingly well aware of their return.
Under Mrs Climoe's onslaught of accusation she wheeled about in bewilderment, at the sound of hammering, to perceive Nicky-Nan at the end of the passage, driving a staple into his doorpost with blows of a poker.
"There now! What did I tell you?" persisted Mrs Climoe, attempting to thrust herself past.
"This is my house," retorted Mrs Penhaligon, bravely heading her off. "If my children—but I could take my oath, here afore th' Almighty—"
"You ask Mr Nanjivell! Why d'ee reckon he's puttin' a lock on his doorway, 'nless 'tis to prevent what I'm tellin' you from happenin' again?"
Mrs Penhaligon stared about her. She went to the kitchen, she passed through the kitchen to the inner room. . . . No children! She came down the passage and close behind Nicky-Nan (who continued to hammer hypocritically), she gazed up the stairway and called "'Bert!" "'Beida!" "You naughty children—come down this moment!" Still no answer.
She turned upon Nicky-Nan. "If they're really here and have been breakin' your glass—"
"You never heard no complaint from me, ma'am," answered Nicky-Nan, still intent on fixing his staple.
"Oh!" interposed Mrs Climoe viciously, "if you two are colleaguin' already to hush something up, the affair lies between you, of course. It seems odd to me, Maria Penhaligon, an' your proper husband not two days gone to the wars. But if Nicholas Nanjivell, here, chooses to play father to the fatherless an' cover up the sins of the children that go an' break his parlour windows afore my very eyes, well, 'tisn't for me to say more than I hope no harm'll come of it."
She was preparing to say more. If she said more, Nicky-Nan did not hear it. For at this moment the three Penhaligon children broke in at the porch, burst past Mrs Climoe, and clung to their mother, clamouring for dinner.
In the hubbub Nicky-Nan meanly slipped back to his den, closed the door, and dragged two chairs against it. Then he took a worn tea-tray and propped it against the window, blocking the broken panes. It seemed to him that the world had suddenly grown full of eyes, peering upon him from every side.
THE VICAR'S MISGIVINGS.
Mrs Steele, the Vicar's wife—a refined, shy little woman, somewhat austere in self-discipline and her own devotional exercises, but incapable of harsh judgment upon any other living soul—had spent Bank Holiday in writing letters and addressing them (from a list drawn up in long consultation with her husband) to "women-workers" of all denominations in the parish, inviting them to meet in the Vicarage drawing-room at 3.30 P.M. on Wednesday, to discuss "what steps (if any) could be taken to form sewing-parties, ambulance classes, &c.," and later to partake of afternoon tea.
The list was a depressing one, and not only because it included the names of Mrs Polsue and Miss Oliver. "It makes my heart sink," Mrs Steele confessed. "I hadn't realised till now, dear, how lonely we are—after five years, too—in this parish. Three out of every four are Nonconformists. It seems absurd, my taking the chair," she added wistfully. "Most likely they will wonder—even if they don't ask outright—what business I have to be showing the lead in this way."
The Vicar kissed his wife. "Let them wonder. And if they ask—but they won't, being west-country and well-mannered—I shall be here to answer."
"I wish you would answer them before they start to ask. That would be running no risks. A few words from you, just to explain and put them at their ease—"
He laughed. "Cunning woman!" said he, addressing an invisible audience. "She means, 'to put her at her ease,' by my taking over the few well-chosen remarks expected of the chairwoman. . . . My dear, I know you will be horribly nervous, and it would be easy enough for me to do the talking. But I am not going to, and for two reasons. To begin with, you will do it better—"
"My dear Robert!"
"Twice as effectively—and all the more effectively if you contrive to break down. That would conciliate them at once; for it would be evident proof that you disliked the job."
"I don't quite see."
"The religion of these good people very largely consists in shaping their immortal souls against the grain: and I admire it, in a sense, though on the whole it's not comparable with ours, which works towards God by love through a natural felicity. Still, it is disciplinary, and this country will have great use for it in the next few months. To do everything you dislike, and to do it thoroughly, will carry you quite a long way in war-time. The point at which Protestantism becomes disreputable is when you so far yield to loving your neighbour that you start chastising his sins to the neglect of your own. I have never quite understood why charity should begin at home, but I am sure that discipline ought to: and I sometimes think it ought to stay there."
"That Mrs Polsue has such a disapproving face! . . . I wonder she ever brought herself to marry."
"If you had only been following my argument, Agatha, you would see that probably she had no time for repugnance, being preoccupied in getting the poor fellow to do what he disliked. . . . Secondly—"
"Oh! A sermon!"
"Secondly," pursued the Vicar with firmness, "this War is so great a business that, to my mind, it just swallows up—effaces—all scruples and modesties and mock-modesties about precedence and the like. If any one sees a job that wants doing, and a way to put it through, he will simply have no time to be humble and let another man step before him. The jealousies and the broken pieces of Etiquette can be left to be picked up after the smoke has cleared away; and by that time, belike, they will have cleared away with the smoke. Do you remember that old story of Hans Andersen's, about the gale that altered the signboards? Well, I prophesy that a good many signboards will be altered by this blow, up and down England, perhaps even in our little parish. If it teach us at all to see things as they are, we shall all be known, the rest of our lives, for what we proved ourselves to be in 1914."
"I saw in this morning's paper," said Mrs Steele, "that over at Troy they have an inn called the King of Prussia, and the Mayor and Corporation think of changing its name."
"Yes," said her husband gravely; "the Kaiser wrote to the Town Clerk suggesting the Globe as more appropriate: but the Town Council, while willing to make some alteration, is divided between the Blue Boar and the Boot. . . . But that reminds me. If I am to attend your meeting, let us call in the Wesleyan Minister as a set-off. There's nothing makes a Woman's Meeting so womanly as a sprinkling of ministers of religion."
"Robert, you are talking odiously, and you know it. I hate people to be satirical or sarcastic. To begin with, I never understand what they mean, so that I am helpless as well as uncomfortable."
The Vicar had taken a step or two to the bay-window, where, with hands thrust within his trouser-pockets, he stood staring gloomily out on the bright flower-beds that, next to the comeliness and order of her ministering to the Church—garnishing of the altar, lustration of the holy vessels, washing and mending of vestments,—were the pride of Mrs Steele's life.
"See how the flowers, as at parade, Under their colours stand display'd: Each regiment in order grows, That of the tulip, pink, and rose.— O thou, that dear and happy Isle, The garden of the world erstwhile, Thou Paradise of the four seas Which Heaven planted us to please, But, to exclude the world, did guard With wat'ry, if not flaming, sword; Unhappy! shall we never more That sweet militia restore? When gardens only had their towers, And all the garrisons were flowers. . . ."
He murmured Marvell's lines to himself and, with a shake of the shoulders coming out of his brown study, swung round to the writing-table again.
"Dear, I beg your pardon! . . . The truth is, I feel savage with myself: and, being a condemned non-combatant, I vented it on the most sensitive soul I could find, knowing it to be gentle, and taking care (as you say) to catch and render it helpless." He groaned. "Yes, yes—I am a brute! Even now I am using that same tone which you detest. You do right to detest it. But will it comfort you a little to know that when a man takes that tone, often enough it's because he too feels helpless as well as angry? 'Mordant' is the word, I believe: which means that the poor fool bites you to get his teeth into himself."
She rose from her writing-chair and touched him by the arm.
"Robert!" she appealed.
"Oh, yes—'What is the matter with me?' . . . Nothing—or, in other words, Everything—that is to say, this War."
"It's terrible, of course; but I don't see—" She broke off. "Is it the War itself that upsets you, or the little we can do to help? If that's your trouble, why, of course it was silly of me to worry you just now about my being nervous of facing these people. But we're only at the beginning—"
"Agatha!" The Vicar drew a hand from his pocket, laid it on his wife's shoulder, and looked her in the eyes. "Don't I know that, if the call came, you would face a platoon? It's I who am weak. This War—" He stared out of the window again.
"It is a just War, if ever there was one. . . . Robert, you don't doubt that, surely! Forced on us—Why, you yourself used to warn me, when I little heeded, that the Germans were preparing it, that 'the Day' must come sooner or later: for they would have it so."
"That's true enough."
"So positive about it as you were then, proving to me that their Naval Estimates could spell nothing else! . . . And now that it has come, what is the matter with us? Have we provoked it? Have we torn up treaties? Had you, a week ago—had any one we know-the smallest desire for it?"
"Before God, we had not. The English people—I will swear to it, in this corner of the land—had no more quarrel with the Germans than I have with you at this moment. Why, we saw how the first draft—the Naval Reservists—went off last Sunday. In a kind of stupor, they were. But wars are made by Governments, Agatha; never by peoples."
"And our Government—much as I detest them for their behaviour to the Welsh Church—our Government worked for peace up to the last."
"I honestly believe they did. I am sure they did . . . up to the last, as you say. The question is, Were they glad or sorry when they didn't bring it off?"
"I am trying—as we shall all have to try—to look at things as they are. This trouble has been brewing ever since the South African War, . . . and for ten years at least Germany has been shaping up for a quarrel which we have hoped to decline. On a hundred points of preparation they are ready and we are not; they have probably sown this idle nation with their spies as they sowed France before 1870: they make no more bones about a broken oath or two to-day than they made about forging the Ems telegram. They are an unpleasant race,— the North Germans, at least—and an uncivilised—"
"They make the most appalling noises with their soup. . . . Do you remember that German baron at the table d'hote at Genoa?"
"The point is that, with all their thoroughness in plotting, they have no savoir faire; they are educated beyond the capacity of their breeding; and the older, lazier, civilised nations have—as the saying is—caught the barbarian stiff. It is—as you choose to look at it—a tragedy of tactlessness or a triumph of tact; and for our time, anyway, the last word upon the Church of Christ—call it Eastern or Western, Roman, Lutheran, or Anglican."
Mrs Steele looked at her husband earnestly. "If you believe that—"
"But I do believe it," he interrupted.
"If you believe that," she persisted, "I can understand your doubting, even despairing over a hundred things. . . . But below it all I feel that you are angry with something deeper."
"With something in yourself."
"Yes, you're right," he answered savagely. "You shall know what it is," said he, on the instant correcting himself to tenderness, "when I've taken hat and stick and gone out and wrestled with it."
As luck would have it, on his way down the hill he encountered Mr Hambly, and delivered his message.
"The notion is that we form a small Emergency Committee. Here at home, in the next few weeks or months, many things will want doing. For the most important, we must keep an eye on the wives and families whose breadwinners have gone off to fight; see that they get their allotments of pay and separation allowances; and administer as wisely as we can the relief funds that are already being started. Also the ladies will desire, no doubt, to form working-parties, make hospital shirts, knit socks, tear and roll lint for bandages. My wife even suggests an ambulance class; and I have written to Mant, at St Martin's, who may be willing to come over (say) once a week and teach us the rudiments of 'First Aid' on the chance—a remote one, I own— that one of these days we may get a boat-load of wounded at Polpier. I'll admit, too, that all these preparations may well strike you as petty, and even futile. But they may be good, anyhow, for our own souls' health. They will give us a sense of helping."
Mr Hambly took off his spectacles and wiped them, for his eyes were moist. "Do you know," said he, smiling, "that I was on my way to visit you with a very similar proposal? . . . Now, as you are a good thirty years younger than I, and, moreover, have been springing downhill while I have been toiling laboriously up—" He glanced down at his club foot.
—"That I took duty for you and did the long-windedness," put in the Vicar with a laugh. "And I haven't quite finished yet. The idea is (I should add) that, as in politics, so with our religious differences, we all declare a truce of God. In Heaven's name let us all pull together for once and forget our separation of creeds!"
The Minister rubbed his eyes gently; for the trouble, after all, seemed to be with them and not with his spectacles.
"And I ought to add," said he, "that the first suggestion of such a Committee came from the ladies of my congregation. The only credit I can claim is for a certain obstinacy in resisting those who would have confined the effort to our Society. . . . Most happily I managed to prevail—and it was none the easier because I happen just now to be a little out of odour with some of the more influential members of what I suppose must be termed my 'flock.'"
"Yes: I heard that your sermon last Sunday had caused a scandal. What was it you said? That, in a breakdown of Christianity like the present, we might leave talk of the public-houses and usefully consider Sunday closing of churches and chapels—or something of the sort."
"Was it in that form the report reached you?" the Minister asked with entire gravity. "There is an epigrammatist abroad in Polpier, and I have never been able to trace him—or her. But it is the truth—and it may well have leaked out in my discourse—that I feel our services to have lost their point and our ministrations their savour. . . . I—I beg your pardon," he corrected himself: "I should have said 'my ministrations.'"
"Not at all. . . . Do you suppose I have not been feeling with you— that all our business has suddenly turned flat, stale, unprofitable?"
"It is a natural discouragement. . . . Let us own it to none until we have found our hearts again. I see now that even that hint of it in my sermon was a momentary lapse of loyalty. Meanwhile I clutch on this proposal of yours. It will give us all what we most want—a sense of being useful."
The Vicar stepped back a pace and eyed him. Then, on an impulse—
"Hambly," he said, "you have to hear Confession. I am going to tell you something I have kept secret even from my wife. . . . I have written to the Bishop asking his permission to volunteer for service."
"May God bring you safely back, my friend! If I were younger. . . . And the Army will want chaplains."
"But I am not offering myself as a chaplain."
"I am asking leave to fight. . . . Don't stare, man; and don't answer me until you have heard my reasons. Well, you have read your newspaper and must have noted how, all over Britain, the bishops, clergy, and ministers of all denominations are turning themselves into recruiting sergeants and urging men to fight. You note how they preach this War as a War in defence of Law, in defence of Right against Might, a War for the cause of humanity, a War for an ideal. In to-day's paper it has even become a War against War. . . . Well, if all this be true, why should I as a priest be denied my share in the crusade? Why should I be forbidden to lay down my life in what is, to these people, so evidently my Master's service? Why should it be admirable—nay, a fundamental of manhood—in Tom and Dick and Harry to play the Happy Warrior life-size, but reprehensible in me? Or again, look at it in this way.—You and I, as ministers of the Gospel, have gone about preaching it (pretty ineffectively, to be sure) for a Gospel of Peace. Well now, if these fellows are right, it turns out that we have been wrong all the time, and the sooner we make amends, by carrying a gun, the better. Any way—priest or no priest—I have in me certain scruples which deter me from telling Tom or Dick or Harry to take a gun and kill a man, and from scolding him if he is not quick about it, while I myself am not proposing to take the risk or earn the undying honour— or the guilt—whichever it may be."
"My mind moves slowly," said the Minister after a pause, during which the Vicar drew breath. "And often, when confronted in a hurry with an argument which I dislike but see no present way to controvert, I fall back for moral support on the tone of the disputant. . . . I have a feeling at this moment that you are in the wrong, somewhere and somehow, because you are talking like an angry man."
"So my wife assured me, half an hour ago. . . . Then let me put it differently and with a sweet reasonableness. If this War be a Holy War, why may I not share actively in it? Or on what principle, if the military use of weapons be right for a layman, should it be wrong for a clergyman? What differentiates us?"
"In a vague way," said the Minister, "I see that a great deal may differentiate you. Suppose, now, I were to ask what separates you from a layman, that you should have a right, which you deny him, to pronounce the Absolution. You will answer me, and in firm faith, that by a laying-on of hands you have inherited—in direct succession from the Apostles—a certain particular virtue. You know me well enough by this time to be sure that, while doubting your claim, I respect its sincerity. . . . It is a claim, at least, which has silently endured through some hundreds of generations of men, to reassert itself quietly, times and again, after many hundreds of accesses of human madness. . . . I do not press the validity of my mission, which derives what sanction it may merely from a general spiritual tradition of the race. But yours is special, you say; by it you are consecrated, separated, reserved. Then if you are reserved to absolve men of their sins, may you not be rightly reserved against sharing in their combats?"
"I am hot," the Vicar acknowledged; "and in my heat the most I can manage is sarcasm. But I have the grace to hope that in process of time I shall acquire the sweeter temper of irony."
A dull thud shook the atmosphere overhead, and was followed some four seconds later by another and louder reverberation. The two men, startled for a moment, smiled as they collected their thoughts. "That means security, not danger."
"Gun-practice. We were warned of it by advertisement in this morning's paper. A 9.4-inch gun, by the sound of it—and there goes another! A battle-cruiser at least!—Shall we walk out to the cliffs for a sight of her?"
THE THREE PILCHARDS.
"Boo-oom!" echoed Un' Benny Rowett on the Quay, mocking the noise of the cannonade. "War—bloody war, my hearties! There goes a hundred pound o' taxpayers' money; an' there go all our pilchards for this season, the most promisin' in my recollection."
"He'll be tellin' us," suggested a humourist, "that the British Navy is firin' on pilchards, in the hope there may be a submarine somewhere amongst 'em."
"I never rose to the height o' puttin' myself into the enemy's mind," retorted Un' Benny; "which they tell me, in the newspapers, is the greatest art o' warfare. I be a modest man, content with understandin' pilchards; and if you'd ever taken that trouble, Zack Mennear—Boo-oom! there it goes again!—you'd know that, soon as they hear gunfire, or feel it—for their senses don't tally with mine, or even with yours—plumb deep the fish sink. Th' Old Doctor used to preach that, when sunk, they headed back for Americy; but seein' as they sunk, and out o' reach o' net, I never could see the matter was worth pursooin'. The point is, you an' me'll find ourselves poorer men by Christmas. And that's War, and it hits us men o' peace both ways. Boo-oom!—plunk goes one hundred pounds o' money to the bottom o' the sea; an' close after it goes the fish! You may take my word— 'tis first throwin' away the helve and then the hatchet. I could never see any sense in War, for my part; an' I remember bein' very much impressed, back at the bye-election, by a little man who came down uninvited in a check ulster and a straw hat. The Liberal Committee disowned him, and he was afterwards taken up an' give three months at Quarter Sessions for payin' his board an' lodgin' somewhere with a fancy cheque. But he was most impressive, even convincing while he lasted; and I remember to this day what he told us about the South African War. 'That War, my friends,' he said, 'has cost us, first an' last, two hundred an' fifty millions of money—and 'oo paid for it? You an' me.' Boo-oom! once more! That's the way the money goes,—an', more by token, here comes Pamphlett to know what the row's about, an' with the loose cash, I'se wage, fairly skipping in his trouser-pockets."
Sure enough, Mr Pamphlett, as the cannonade shook the plate-glass windows of his bank, had started up in some alarm, and was sallying forth to seek reassurance. For again the inner sheet of the newspaper, with its reports of the mobilisation of armies and of embassies taking flight from various European capitals, had engaged all his attention, and he had missed the advertisement columns.
On his way to ask news of the group of fishermen at the Quay-head he hurried—and almost without observing him—past Nicky-Nan; who likewise had hobbled forth to discover the meaning of the uproar, and, having discovered it, had retired to seat himself on the bollard outside the "Three Pilchards" and nurse his leg. "What's this firing about?" asked Mr Pamphlett, arriving in a high state of perspiration. "I—I gather, from the cool way you men are taking it, that there's no cause for alarm?"
Now Un' Benny, who found it hard as a rule to bear ill-will toward any living creature, very cordially disliked Mr Pamphlett—as indeed did most of the men on the Quay. But whereas the dislike of nine-tenths of Polpier was helpless as the toad's resentment of the harrow—since the banker held the strings of sundry Fishing Companies, and was a hard taskmaster—Un' Benny, with a few chosen kinsmen, had preserved his independence.
"The kings o' the earth rise up together, sir," answered Un' Benny very deliberately; "an' by consikence the little fishes take hidin'. 'Tis a poor look-out for our callin'—a wisht poor job altogether! Fishers and apostles always stood in together, an' War's the ruination o' both. What with the Gospel gone scat, an' no dividends this side o' Christmas—"
"I asked you," interrupted Mr Pamphlett, "what that firing means, out there? It's friendly, of course? A British battleship?"
"As to that," replied Un' Benny, slowly ruminating, "I wouldn' call it friendly in any man to let off a big-inch gun at anything. That's not the word I'd choose. And I don't grant 'ee that there's no danger because we men, as you call us"—here Un' Benny distributed the emphasis delicately—"happen to be takin' it cool. But if you ask my opinion, she's a first-class cruiser; an' you hit it off when you asked, 'What's this firin' about?' 'Firin' about,' that's of it, as I reckon; and aboard of her, belike, the boys that left us o' Sunday, takin' a little practice to get their hands in. But there! A guess is a guess; and if you're anxious about it, and'll step into my boat, sir, we'll put out and make sure."
Mr Pamphlett ignored this proposal. He turned on the other men. "It's a fine day, anyhow," he said; "and the wind turning nor'-westerly. If sure she's only a cruiser at practice, why are you fellows loafing in harbour?"
"As for that"—Un' Benny intercepted the question blandly—"they can answer for their-selves, them that's under obligation to 'ee. But you started on me, an' so I'll be polite an' lead off. In th' first place, with all this tow-row, the fish be all gone to bottom; there's not one'll take hook by day nor net by night. An' next, with a parcel o' reservists pickin' up the gunnery they've forgot, for a week or so the firin' is apt to be flippant. Yes, Mr Pamphlett, you can go back to your business an' feel all the easier in mind every time a bangin' great shell makes ye bob up an' down in your chair. 'Tis a fine thing to stand here an' feel we've a Navy protectin' us all; but don't send these poor fellows out to be protected too near." Un' Benny's eyes twinkled a moment. "It does 'em good, too, to take a rest now an' then, an' smoke a pipe, an' praise the Lord that made 'em Englishmen."
Mr Pamphlett detested Un' Benny's conversation. It always struck him as significantly meaningless. Again he addressed himself to the other men.
"What Rowett says about the fish is true enough, I dare say. When they hear all this noise—"
But Un' Benny took him up, blandly as before. "There's a man, down to Mevegissey," he said, "that holds 'tis no question of hearin', or of what you and I do call hearin'. Accordin' to him the fish have a sixth sense, denied to ordinary Christians—"
"I don't want to hear what this or that fool says at Mevegissey—"
"He's a County Councillor," murmured Un' Benny. "But, to be sure, it don't follow."
"What I say," pursued Mr Pamphlett, shaking a forefinger at the group, "is that Rowett may be his own master, but the rest of you mustn't take it into your heads that because our country happens to be at war you've an excuse to be idle. 'Business as usual'—that's my motto: and I doubt if Rowett here will find you a better-paying one, however long you listen to him." On secure ground now, Mr Pamphlett faced about, challenging the old man.
"Heigh?" said Un' Benny with a well-affected start of surprise. "There now!—and I was allowin' you'd had enough o' my chatter. 'Business as usual'"—he looked closely at Mr Pamphlett, and so let his gaze travel down the street, till it rested meditatively on the Bank doorway. "'Business as usual' . . . aye to be sure! Well, well!"
There was nothing in this upon which Mr Pamphlett could retort. So, after wagging his forefinger again at the group of men, he turned and left them.
On his way back he came face to face with Nicky-Nan, still solitary and seated on his bollard; and pulled up before him.
"Oh, by the way, Nanjivell!—I hope you understand that the ejectment order still holds, and that I can take possession of the premises at any time?"
"That's as may be," answered Nicky-Nan slowly. "You tell me so, and I hear you."
"I tell you so, and it's the law. . . . But I've no wish to be hard, even after the trouble you've given me; and moreover this War may— er—tend to interpose some delay in one or two small matters I was—er—projecting. 'Business as usual' is, and has been—as I have just been telling those fellows yonder—my motto since the early days of the crisis "—Mr Pamphlett could not accurately remember when he had first come upon that headline in his newspaper—"'Business as usual,' but with—er—modifications, of course. As I remember, I told you yesterday that, if you behave yourself, I may relent so far as to give you a short grace."
"Thank 'ee," said Nicky-Nan. "I'm behavin' myself—that's to say, so far as I know."
"But I want to make one or two points very clear to you. In the first place, what I'm about to say is strictly without prejudice?" Mr Pamphlett paused, upon a note of interrogation.
"I don't rightly know what that means. But no matter: since you're sayin' it and I'm not."
"Secondly, if I give you yet a few weeks' grace, it is on condition that you bring me your rent regularly from this time forward."
"Thirdly, you are to understand plainly that, as I have the power and the right, so I shall use my own convenience, in ordering you to quit. Happen this War will last a long time."
"Then 'tis an ill wind that blows good to nobody."
"Happen it may be a short one. Or again, even if it lasts, I may change my mind and decide to start work on the premises at once. There may be a depression in the building trade, for example, and even putting in hand a small job like that would help to restore public confidence."
"You may give any dam reason you please to yourself," said Nicky-Nan uncompromisingly, "so long as you don't start palmin' it 'pon me. I paid Hendy the costs o' the order this morning—which is not to say that I promise 'ee to act on it. Whatever your reason may be, the point is you don't propose turnin' me out till further notice—hey?"