"What are you doin' to him?" demanded 'Beida, her colour coming back with a rush.
Mr Pamphlett had slewed about on his knees. "Here, you cut and run!" he commanded sharply. But his posture did not lend itself to authority, and he showed some embarrassment.
"What are you doin' to him?" the child demanded again.
"He've had a fit," explained Builder Gilbert, holding out the ewer. "Here, run downstairs and fetch up some more water, if you want to be useful."
'Beida stared at the ewer. She transferred her gaze to Rat-it-all and his patient: then, after a shiver, to Mr Pamphlett. She had courage. Her eyes grew hard and fierce.
"Is that why Mr Pamphlett's pokin' his nose into a cupboard?"
"Rat it all!" the constable ejaculated, casting a glance over his shoulder and dipping a hand wide of the basin.
"Fetch up some water, my dear," suggested Builder Gilbert. "When a man's in a fit 'tis no time to ask questions, as you'll learn when you grow up." Again he proffered the ewer.
'Beida ignored it. "When a man's in a fit, do folks help by pokin' their noses into his cupboards?" she demanded again, not removing her eyes from Mr Pamphlett.
"Pack that child out!" commanded Mr Pamphlett, standing up and addressing Rat-it-all. "Do you hear me?"
"I hear, sir," answered Rat-it-all. "But situated as I be—" He cast a helpless glance at the child, who seemed to grow in stature as, lifting her forefinger and pointing it at Mr Pamphlett, she advanced into the room and shrilled—
"You've come to steal his money, the three of 'ee! An' you can't take me in nor frighten me, not one of 'ee!"
The high treble voice, or the word "money," or both, fetched Nicky-Nan back to consciousness. He opened his eyes and groaned.
"The money—where's the money?" he muttered. His eyes opened wider. Then of a sudden his brain cleared. He sat up with a wild cry, almost a scream; and, thrusting Rat-it-all backwards with all the force of one hand, with the other groped on the floor for his walking-staff—which lay, however, a couple of yards from him and close by Mr Pamphlett's feet.
"My money!—Rogues! Cheats!—" He broke down and put a hand to his head in momentary faintness. "Where be I?" Then taking his hand away and catching sight of the blood on it, he yelled out "Murder! Where's my money? Murder! Thieves!"
"Hush 'ee, Mister Nanjivell." 'Beida dropped on her knees beside him. "Hush 'ee now, co! Here, let me take the towel an' bathe your poor head," she coaxed him. "You've had a fall, an' cut yourself— that's what happened. An' these men weren't murderin' 'ee, nor shan't while I am here. No, nor they han't stole your money, neither—though I won't say they weren't tryin'."
He submitted, after a feeble convulsive struggle. "Where's my money?" he persisted.
"Your money's all right. Safe as if 'twas in the Bank—safer, I reckon," she added, with an unfriendly glance at Mr Pamphlett.
"What money is this you're talking about?" asked that gentleman, stepping forward. He had no children of his own: and when he spoke to children (which was not often) his tone conveyed that he thought very little of them. He used that tone now: which was sheer blundering folly: and he met his match.
"The money you were huntin' for," answered 'Beida, quick as thought.
"You mustn't speak to me like that. It's naughty and—er— unbecoming."
"Why? Weren't you lookin' for it?" Her eyes sought Rat-it-all and questioned him.
Mr Pamphlett made haste before his ally could speak. "The Policeman was acting in the execution of his duty." This was a fine phrase, and it took 'Beida aback, for she had not a notion what it meant. But while she sought for a retort, Mr Pamphlett followed up his advantage, to crush her, and blundered again. "You don't understand that, eh?"
"Not rightly," she admitted.
"Then don't you see how foolish it is for little girls to mix themselves in grown-up people's affairs? A policeman has to do many things in what is called the execution of his duty, For instance," continued Mr Pamphlett impressively, "sometimes he takes little girls when they're naughty, and locks them up."
"Fiddlestick!" said 'Beida with a sigh of relief. "Now I know you're gassin'. . . . Just now you frightened me with your talk of executions, which is what they do to a man when he's murdered some person: and o' course if Nicky—if Mr Nanjivell had been doin' anything o' that sort—which he hasn', o' course. . . . But when you go on pretendin' as Rat-it-all can lock me up, why then I see your game. Tryin' to frighten me, you are, because I'm small."
"If you were a child of mine," threatened Mr Pamphlett, very red in the gills, "do you know what I'd do to you?"
"No," replied 'Beida; "I can't think. . . . But I reckon 'twould be something pretty mean. Oh, I'm sick an' tired of the gentry!—if you call yourself gentry. First of all you turn Father an' Mother out to find a new home. An' then, as if that wasn' enough, you must come nosin' in after Mr Nanjivell's small savin's. . . . Gentry!" she swung round upon Builder Gilbert. "Here, Mr Gilbert, you're neither gentry nor perlice. When I tell you about Miss Charity Oliver, that calls herself a lady! What must she do but, happenin' on 'Biades— that's my younger brother, an' scarce turned four—outside o' Mrs Pengelly's, with a bit of gold money in his hand that Mr Nanjivell gave to him in a moment o' weakness,—what must she do (an' callin' herself a lady, no doubt, all the while) but palm off two bright coppers on him for a swap? . . . That's a fact," 'Beida wound up, dabbing the towel gently, but with an appearance of force, against Nicky-Nan's temple, "for I got it out o' the child's own mouth, an' work enough it was. That's your gentry!"
"Hey?" Nicky-Nan pushed her hand aside. "What's this you're tellin', now?"
"Ask him!" she answered, nodding towards Mr Pamphlett. "He knows all about it, an' 'tis no use for him to pretend he don't."
"Me give your small brother—?" began Nicky, but broke off with a groan and felt his brow again. "Oh, where's the head or tail to this? Where's the sense? . . . Give me my money—that's all I ask. Stop talkin' all of 'ee, an' fetch me what you've stole, between 'ee, an' leave me alone!"
Mr Pamphlett shifted his ground. "You're right, Nanjivell. What's become of your money?—that's the main point, eh?"
"O' course 'tis the main point," growled Nicky. "Though I'm damned if I see how it consarns you."
"Maybe I can enlighten you by-and-by. For the present you want to know what has become of the money: and I've a strong suspicion this child can tell us, if she chooses to confess. If not—" he raised a minatory forefinger and shook it at 'Beida—"well, it's fortunate I brought the constable, who will know how to act."
"Will I?" said Rat-it-all, scratching his head.
"No, you won't," 'Beida answered him stoutly, and turned again to Nicky-Nan.
"Mr Nanjivell," she pleaded, "tell me—didn't you find these three turnin' your room inside out?"
"'Course I did." Nicky-Nan cast a malignant glance around.
"Was they doin' it with your leave?"
"'Course they wasn't. Why, look at the state o' my head!"
"You cut it yourself, fallin' against the scurtin'-board by the cupboard," put in Builder Gilbert.
'Beida noted his nervousness.
"You say so!" she rapped on him. "Maybe when Mr Nanjivell has you up before Squire Tresawna, you'll all swear to it in league." Again she turned to Nicky. "Struck your head, did you?—fallin' against the cupboard, when they was huntin' for your money: which they can't deny. Did you want Mr Pamphlett to find your money?"
"Him?" said Nicky-Nan bitterly. "Him? as I wouldn' trust not ha'f so far as a man could fling him by his eyebrows!"
"Well, I've got your savin's—'Bert an' me, every bit of it—stowed an' put away where they can't find it, not if they hunted for weeks. I came upstairs to tell about it, and where we've stowed it. Now be you goin' to put 'Bert and me to prison for that?"
"My dear"—Nicky-Nan spread out his hands—"not if you was a thief an' had really stole it, I wouldn'. But behavin', as you have, like an angel slap out o' Heaven—" He staggered up and confronted Mr Pamphlett. "Here, you clear out o' this!" he threatened, pointing to the door. "You're done, my billies. Tuck your tails atween your legs an' march!"
"A moment, if you please," put in Mr Pamphlett suavely. "You will allow that, not being accustomed to little girls and not knowing therefore how a pert child should properly be chastised and brought to book, I have been uncommonly patient with this one. But you are mistaken, the pair of you, in taking this line with me: and your mistake, though it comes from ignorance of the law, may happen to cost you both pretty dearly." He paused, while Nicky-Nan and 'Beida exchanged glances.
"Don't you heed him," said 'Beida encouragingly. "He's only gassin' again." But she faced up for a new attack.
"I have reason to believe," continued Mr Pamphlett, ignoring her and wagging his forefinger at Nicky; "I have evidence going far to convince me that this money of which we are talking is not yours at all: that you never earned it by your own labour, nor inherited it, nor were left it in any legitimate way. In other words, you were just lucky enough to find it."
"What's that to you?"
"It concerns me to this extent. By the-common law of England all such money, so discovered, belongs to the Crown: though I understand it is usually shared equally among the Crown, the finder, and the lord of the manor on which it was hidden. Therefore by concealing your knowledge of this money you are illegally defrauding His Majesty, and in fact (if you found it anywhere in Polpier) swindling me, who own the manor rights of Trebursey and Trethake, which together cover every square inch of this town. I bought them from Squire Tresawna these ten years since. And"—he turned upon 'Beida— "any one who hides, or helps to hide, such money is an accomplice, and may go to prison for it. Now what have you to say?"
But Mr Pamphlett had missed to calculate Nicky-Nan's recklessness and the strength of old hatred.
"'Say'?" Nicky shook with passion. "I say you're tellin' up a parcel o' lies you can't prove. Do I step into your dam Bank an' ask where you picked up the coin?—No? Well then, get out o' this an' take your Policeman with 'ee. Fend off, I say!" he snapped, as Rat-it-all touched him by the arm.
"No offence, Mr Nanjivell," said the Policeman coaxingly. "But merely as between naybours, if I might advise. Mr Pamphlett is a very powerful gentleman: or, as I might put it better, he has influence, unknown to you or me, an' knowledge—"
"He's a very powerful skunk."
"'Beida! . . . 'Beida!" called a voice from the foot of the stairs. 'Beida, after a start of joy, answered with the Penhaligon war-whoop, as her brother came charging up.
"Have you told him?" burst in young 'Bert, and drew back at gaze, a foot within the threshold.
"Yes, I've told him," answered 'Beida. "No, you needn' stare so," she went on hurriedly, catching him on the edge of confusion. "It'll be all right if you just answer up an' tell the truth. . . . When we was movin' this afternoon, you an' me took Mr Nanjivell's savin's away, the last thing—didn' we?"
"Then what have you done with them?" thundered Mr Pamphlett.
"Don't you answer him that," said 'Beida sweetly. "But answer everything else. An' don't you be afraid of him. I ben't."
"What d'ee want me to tell?" asked 'Bert, a trifle uneasily.
"Everything: 'cept you may leave out 'Biades. He's but a child o' four, an' don't count."
"Well," said 'Bert, addressing Mr Pamphlett—and his face, though pale, was dogged—"if 'Beida's willin', I'd as lief get it off my mind. . . . The first thing, sir, was P'liceman Rat-it-all's comin' to me, Tuesday evenin': an' he said to me, 'What be you doin' to occupy yourself as a Boy Scout, now that this here coast-watchin's off?'—"
"I didn' say 'off,'" interrupted Rat-it-all. "I didn' use no such low and incorrect expression. My words was 'Now that this here coast-watchin' has come to a ontimely end.'"
"I dessay that was the way you put it," 'Bert admitted. "When you starts talkin' Lun'on, all I can follow is the sense—an' lucky if that."
"Bodmin," corrected Rat-it-all modestly. "I don't pretend to no more than the Provinces as yet: though Lord knows where I may end."
"Get on with the story, boy," Mr Pamphlett commanded.
"Well, sir, I owned to him that I was left pretty well at a loose end, with nothin' on hand but to think out how to do a Kind Action every day, as is laid down in the Scout Rules: and it may come easy enough to you, sir," added 'Bert with unconscious irony, "but I got no invention. An' his manner bein' so friendly, I told him as how I was breakin' my heart for a job. 'Would 'ee like to catch a Spy—a real German one?' says he. 'Get along with 'ee, pullin' my leg!' says I. 'I ben't pullin' your leg,' says he. 'I be offerin' what may turn out to be the chance o' your life, if you're a smart chap an' want promotion.' 'What is it?' said I. 'Well, I mention no names,' said he, 'but you live in the same house with Nicholas Nanjivell.' 'We're turnin' out this week,' said I. 'All the more reason why you should look slippy an' get to work at once,' says he. Then I told him, sir," went on 'Bert, gathering confidence from the sound of his own voice, "that I was fair sick o' plannin' to do Kind Actions, which was no business of anybody's in War time, and a bad let-down after coast-watchin'. 'But,' said I,"—here he turned upon Nicky-Nan—"'if 'tis a Kind Action for Mr Nanjivell, I'd as lief do it upon him as upon anybody: for you might almost call him one o' the family,' I said. 'Kind Action?' says he. 'I don't want you to do him no kinder action than to catch him out for a German spy. I name no names,' says he, 'but from information received, he's in the Germans' pay, an' Mrs Polsue is ready to swear to it.'"
Nicky-Nan gripped his walking-staff and stood erect, as if to spring on Mr Pamphlett. But of a sudden the enormity of the charge seemed to overcome him, and he passed a hand over his eyes.
"That's the second time," he muttered. "An' me, that—God help me!— scarce bothered myself about its bein' a War at all: bein' otherwise worried, as you'd know, sir." His straight appeal to his inveterate enemy had a dignity more convincing than any violent repudiation. But Mr Pamphlett waved it aside.
"Let the boy tell his story. . . . Well, boy, and what was your answer to the constable?"
"I told him," said 'Bert stolidly, "to get along for a silly fat-head. Didn't I, now?" 'Bert appealed to the recipient of that compliment to confirm its textual accuracy.
"He did so," corroborated Rat-it-all. "He is right to that extent. Which it gave me such a poor opinion of the whole Boy Scout movement that I've treated it thenceforth as dirt beneath my feet. There was a time when I thought pretty tolerably of Baden-Powell. But when it comes to fat-heads—"
"But you see, sir," 'Bert went on, "this put me in mind that I'd seen Rat-it-all for two days past behavin' very silly behind walls an' fuzz-bushes, an' 'most always in the wake o' Nicky-Nan—of Mr Nanjivell, I mean: which I'd set it down that it was a game between 'em, an' Mr Nanjivell just lendin' himself for practice, havin' time on his hands. First along I'd a mind to join in an' read the man one or two Practical Hints out o' the sixpenny book; for worse shadowin' you couldn' see. But when it turned out he was doin' it in earnest against Mr Nanjivell I allowed as I'd give him a taste o' the real article, which is what they call 'Scoutin' for Scouts' in the Advanced Course; whereby he called on Mr Gilbert here, yesterday afternoon; an' Mr Gilbert's back parlour window bein' open because o' the hot weather, and me bein' behind the water-butt at the corner—"
"You tarnation imp!" exclaimed the builder.
"Which," continued 'Bert stolidly, "he was askin' if he reckoned by chance th' Old Doctor's House had any secret hidin' places, an' would he oblige the landlord Mr Pamphlett by comin' along to-morrow an' bringin' a hammer? Which I went straight home an' borryed mother's, an'—an'—"
"An' you've told quite enough," put in 'Beida. "By no means," objected Mr Pamphlett. "What have you children done with the money?"
"Oh," said 'Beida wearily, "we're back on the old question, are we?"
But here Nicky-Nan broke in. "Mr Pamphlett," he said, "you tell that, as landlord, you've a right to walk in an' see to the repairs. Very well. I don't know the law: but I doubt if the law, when I look it up, 'll say that the said landlord has power to bring along a Bobby and a Speckilative Builder. It may be so, o' course. Any way, you've taken it so, an' walked in; an' the next thing you'll do is Walk Out." He pointed with his staff to the door. "Me—a German spy! Forth the three of 'ee!"
Mr Pamphlett saw no way but to comply. "You will hear more of this, Nanjivell," he threatened, turning about in the doorway.
"Gas, again!" said 'Beida. Nicky-Nan stood silent, pointing. The retreat was not dignified.
"But, o' course," said 'Beida, "the bottom of it all was 'Biades."
"He'd caught up with some chatter about your bein' a spy. Oh, bless your soul, everybody's talkin' about it!" she assured Nicky-Nan cheerfully. "But little pitchers have the longest ears; an' mother an' me bein' so busy with the packin', he got ahead of us. He's a clivver child, too, but"—'Beida shook her head—"I'm harried in mind about 'en. Quite in a tricksy way he wormed it out o' mother what a spy was, an' how the way to go to work was to s'arch his cupboards; an' then quick as snuff he started 'pon yours, not sayin' a word to anybody. Pretty clivver for four years' old—an' what's clivverer, he found the money too!"
"Damn the young viper! . . . No, I asks your pardon. Bless his tender heart, I s'pose I ought to say, seein' as how providential—"
"You can put it which way you like. I dessay God A'mighty has the right an' wrong of it clear; an' 'Bert an' I allowed we'd leave 'Biades to a Higher Power after we'd made him sensible, on the seat of his breeches, of the way his conduc' appealed to us. For I take shame to own it, Mr Nanjivell, but at sight o' that boundless gold Satan whispered in the poor mite's ear, an' he started priggin'. . . . The way we found it out was, he came home from Mrs Pengelly's stinkin' o' peppermints: an' when we nosed him an' asked how he came to be favoured so, all he could say on the ground hop was that he'd met a shinin' Angel unexpected in Cobb's Ally: an' the Angel had stopped him and pulled out a purse an' said, 'Alcibiades Penhaligon, the Lord has been much interested of late in your goin's-out an' your comin's-in, an' what a good boy you've a-been. Here is 2d. for you in gold o' the purest water. Go thou an' carry it to Our good friend Missis Pengelly, who will doubtless reckernise and exchange it in peppermint cushions.' Which was too thin. So we were forced to beat him till the truth came out. An' then he brought us here, an' showed what he'd a-found: an' with the furnitcher movin' an' mother so busy, 'Bert and I managed the rest. We weren't goin' to let that Pamphlett snatch it. If you'll come around by Aun' Bunney's back-garden into Mother's kitchen you shall count it out, every penny."
"'Bert," said Nicky-Nan after a pause, "you've done a Kind Action this day, if you never do another."
"But the clivverness started with 'Biades," insisted 'Beida. "I hope you'll bear that in mind, though I say nothing against the child's sinfulness."
"You're the best friends, all three, I ever met in this world," said Nicky-Nan gratefully.
On his homeward road, and half-way up the hill, Mr Pamphlett at the same moment turned, looked aloft, and accused Providence.
"What blisters me," said Mr Pamphlett to the welkin, "is the thought that I subscribed no less than two guineas to the Boy Scouts Movement!"
ENLIGHTENMENT, AND RECRUITING.
"Was there ever a woman on this earth so tried?" demanded Mrs Penhaligon, lifting her eyes to two hams and a flitch of bacon she had just suspended from the rafters, and invoking them as Cleopatra the injurious gods. "As if 'twasn' enough to change the best kitchen in all Polpier for quarters where you can't swing a cat, but on top of it I must be afflicted with a child that's taken wi' the indoors habit; and in the middle of August month, too, when every one as means to grow up a comfort to all concerned is out stretchin' his legs an' makin' himself scarce an' gettin' a breath o' nice fresh air into his little lungs."
"What's lungs?" asked 'Biades.
"There was a boy in the south of Ireland somewhere," his mother answered, collecting a few wash-cloths she had hung to dry on the door of the cooking apparatus, "as took to his bed with nothing the matter at the age o' fourteen. Next day, when his mother called him to get up, he said he wasn't took very well. An' this went on, day after day, until now he's forty years old an' the use of his limbs completely gone from him. That's a fact, for I read it on the newspaper with names an' dates, and only three nights ago I woke up dreamin' upon that poor woman, workin' her fingers to the bone an' saddled with a bed-riding son. Little did I think at the time—"
Mrs Penhaligon broke off and sighed between desperation and absent-mindedness.
"I like this stove," answered 'Biades. "It's got a shiny knob on the door, 'stead of a latch."
"How the child does take notice! . . . Yes, a nice shiny knob it is, and if you won't come out to the back-yard an' watch while I pin these things on the clothes-line, you must stay here an' study your disobedient face in it. The fire's out, so you can't tumble in an' be burnt to a coal like the wicked children in Nebuchadnezzar: which is a comfort, so far as it goes. Nor I can't send you out to s'arch for your sister, wi' the knowledge that it'll surely end in her warmin' your little sit-upon. . . . I'd do it myself, this moment,"— the mother grew wrathful only to relent,—"if I could be sure you weren't sickenin' for something. You're behavin' so unnatural." She eyed him anxiously. "If it should turn out to be a case o' suppressed measles, now, I'd hate to go to my grave wi' the thought that I'd banged 'em in."
So Mrs Penhaligon, having picked up her clothes, issued forth into the sunlight of the back-yard. 'Biades watched her through the narrow kitchen window. He watched her cunningly.
As soon as he saw her busy with the clothes-pegs, Master 'Biades crept to a small iron door in the wall, a foot or two from the range, and stealthily lifted the latch. The door opened on a deep, old-fashioned oven, disused since the day when the late Mrs Bunney (misguided woman) had blocked up her open hearth with a fire-new apparatus.
The child peered ("peeked" as they say in Polpier) into the long narrow chamber, so awesomely dark at its far end, and snatched a fearful joy. In that cavity lay the treasure. Gold—untold gold!
He thrust his head into the aperture, and gloated. But it was so deep that even when his eyes became used to the darkness he could see nothing of the hoard. He wanted to gloat more.
Tingling premonitions ran down his small spine; thrills that, reaching the region of the lower vertebrae, developed an almost painful activity. . . . None the less, 'Biades could never tell just how or at what moment his shoulders, hips, legs, found themselves inside the oven; but in they successively went, and he was crawling forward into the pitch-gloom on hands and knees, regretting desperately (and too late) that he had forgotten to sneak a box of matches, when afar behind him he heard a sound that raised every hair on the nape of his young neck—the lifting of the back-door latch and the letting-in of voices.
"You never did!" said the voice of 'Bert.
"Leave me to tell her," said the voice of 'Beida. "The way you're goin', she'll have the palpitations afore you begin. . . . Mother, dear—if you'll but take a seat. Is't for the tenth or the twelfth time we'm tellin' 'ee that father's neither killed nor wounded?"
"Then what is it, on earth?" demanded the voice of Mrs Penhaligon. "An' why should Mr Nanjivell be followin' you, of all people? An' where's my blessed latest, that has been a handful ever since you two left me, well knowin' the straits I'm put to?"
"If I'm introodin', ma'am—" said the voice of Nicky-Nan.
"Oh, no . . . not at all, Mr Nanjivell!—so long as you realise how I'm situated. . . . An' whoever left that oven door open, I'll swear I didn't."
'Beida stepped swiftly to the oven, swung the door wide enough to allow a moment's glance within, and shut with a merciless clang.
She lifted her voice. "Mebbe," she announced, "'twas I that left it on the hasp before runnin' out. I was thinkin' what a nice oven 'twas, an' how much better if you wanted to make heavy-cake in a hurry, to celebrate our movin'-in. 'Bert agreed with me when I told him," she continued, still lifting her voice, "and unbeknown to you we cut an' fetched in a furze-bush, there bein' nothin' to give such a savour to bread, cake, or pie. So if you're willin', Mother, we'll fire it up while Mr Nanjivell tells his business."
"What's that?" asked Mrs Penhaligon, sitting erect, as her ears caught the sound of a howl, muffled but prolonged.
'Beida set her back firmly against the oven. "Bread takes longer than cakes," she announced, making her voice carry. "Cakes is soonest over. We might try the old place first with a heavy cake, if Mr Nanjivell don't mind waitin' for a chat, an' will excuse the flavour whatever it turns out."
"We're bewitched!" cried Mrs Penhaligon starting to her feet as the wailing was renewed, with a faint tunding on the iron door.
'Beida flung it open. "Which I hope it has been a lesson to you," she began, thrusting herself quickly in front of the aperture, and heading off the culprit before he could clamber out and run to his mother's lap. "No, you don't! The first thing you have to do, to show you're sorry, is to creep back all the way you can go, an' fetch forth what you can find at the very end."
"You won't shut the door on me again?" pleaded 'Biades.
"That depends on how slippy you look. I make no promises," answered 'Beida sternly. "'Twas you that first stole Mr Nanjivell's money, and if you ben't doin' it again, well I can only say as appearances be against him—eh, 'Bert?"
"Fetch it out, you varmint!" 'Bert commanded.
"But I don't understand a word of this!" protested the mother. "My precious worm! What for be you two commandin' him to wriggle up an' down an oven on his tender little belly like a Satan in Genesis, when all the time I thought he'd taken hisself off like a good boy, to run along an' mess his clothes 'pon the Quay. . . . Come 'ee forth, my cherub, an' tell your mother what they've a-been doin' to 'ee? . . . Eh? Why, what's that you've a-got clinched in your hand?"
"Sufferin's!" sobbed 'Biades, still shaken by an after-gust of fright.
"Sufferin's!" echoed 'Beida excitedly. "Real coined an' golden sufferin's! Unclinch your hand, 'Biades, an' show the company!"
As the child opened his palm, Mrs Penhaligon fell back, and put out a hand against the kitchen table for support.
"The good Lord in Heaven behear us! . . . Whose money be this, an' where dropped from?"
"There piles of it—" panted 'Beida.
"Lashin's of it—" echoed 'Bert.
"An' it all belongs to Mr Nanjivell, that we used to call Nicky-Nan, an' wonder if we could get a pair o' father's old trousers on to him with a little tact—an' him all the while as rich as Squire Tresawna!"
"—Rich as Squire Tresawna an' holy Solomon rolled into one," corroborated 'Bert, nodding vigorously. "Pinch it 'tween your fingers, mother, if you won't believe."
But to her children's consternation Mrs Penhaligon, after a swift glance at the gold, turned about on Nicky-Nan as he backed shamefacedly to the doorway, and opened on him the vials of unintelligible fury.
"What d'ee mean by it?" she demanded. "As if I hadn' suffered enough in mind a'ready, but you must come pokin' money into my oven and atween me an' my children! Be you mad, or only wicked? Or is it witchcraft you'd be layin' on us? . . . Take up your gold, however you came by it, an' fetch your shadow off my doorstep, or I'll—" She advanced on poor Nicky-Nan, who backed out to the side gate and into the lane before her wrath, and found himself of a sudden taken on both flanks: on the one by Mrs Climoe, who had spied upon his visit and found her malicious curiosity too much for her; on the other by gentle old Mr Hambly returning from a stroll along the cliffs.
"Hullo! Tut—tut—what is this?" exclaimed Mr Hambly. "A neighbours' quarrel, and between folks I know to be so respectworthy? . . . Oh, come now—come, good souls!"
"A little nigher than naybours, Minister," put in Mrs Climoe. "That is if you had eyes an' ears in your head."
Nicky-Nan swung about on her: but she rested a hand on either hip and was continuing. "'Naybours,' you said, sir? 'Naybours'? Him accused by public talk for a German spy—"
"Hush, Mrs Climoe! Of all the Commandments, ma'am, the one most in lack of observance hereabouts, to my observation, is that which forbids bearing false witness against a neighbour. To a charitable mind that includes hasty witness."
"There's another, unless I disremember," snapped Mrs Climoe, "that forbids 'ee to covet your naybour's wife."
While Mr Hambly sought for a gentle reproof for this, Mrs Penhaligon, pale of face, rested a hand against her gate-post, and said she very gently but in a white scorn—
"What is this talk of naybours, quarrelin' or comfortin' or succourin' or bearin' witness? There be naybours, an'"—she pointed a finger at Mrs Climoe—"there be livers-by. Now stroll along, the lot of 'ee, and annoy somebody else that lives unprotected!"
She said it so quietly and decisively, standing motionless, that Lippity-Libby, coming around the corner of the lane with paste-pot and brush, and with a roll of bills tucked in his armpit, mistook the group for a chance collection of cheerful gossips. He drew up, lowered his pail, and began in a business-like way to slap paste upon the upper flap of a loft-door across the way, chatting the while over his shoulder.
"Good evenin', naybours! Now what (says you to yourselves) might I be carryin' here under my arm in the cool o' the day. Is it a Bye-Law? No, it is not a Bye-Law. Or is it a Tender? No, it is not a Tender. Or is it a Bankrup' Stock, or a Primrose Feet, or at the worst a Wesleyan Anniversary? Or peradventure is it a Circus? . . . Sold again! 'Tis a Recruitin' Meetin', an' for Saturday."
Having slapped on the paste, he unfolded a bill and eyed it critically.
"'YOUR KING AND COUNTRY WANT YOU.'—That's pretty good for Polpier, eh? Flatterin', one might almost say."
His cheerfulness held the group with their passions arrested. Nicky-Nan turned about and stared at the placard as Lippity-Libby smoothed it over the paste, whistling.
At that moment Un' Benny Rowett, hands in trouser-pockets, came dandering along. He, too, taking the geniality of every one for granted, halted, spread his legs wide and conned the announcement.
"Oh!" said he after a pause, wheeling about. "Still harpin' on they Germans? Well, Mr Hambly, sir, I don't know how it strikes you, but I'm sick an' tired of them dismal blackguards."
"I can't bear it," said Mrs Steele, walking to and fro in her drawing-room. She ceased wringing her handkerchief, and came to a halt confronting the Vicar, who stood moodily leaning an arm on the mantelshelf.
"I believe," he answered after a pause, "you would find it worse to bear in a month or so if I hadn't offered."
"Why didn't you consult me?"
"I wrote to the Bishop—"
"The 'Bishop!' Well . . . what did he advise?"
"Oh, of course he temporised. . . . Yes, I know what you are going to say. My consulting him was a momentary throw-back of loyalty. The official Churches—Roman Catholic, Greek, Anglican, the so-called Free—are alike out of it in this business. Men in England, France, Russia—Germany and Austria, too—are up against something that really matters."
"What can matter comparable with the saving of a soul?"
"Losing it, sweetheart; or, better still, forgetting it—just seeing your job and sticking it out. It is a long, long way to Tipperary, every Tommy knows; and what (bless him!) he neither knows nor recks about is its being a short cut to Heaven."
"Robert, will you tell me that our Faith is going down in this horrible business?"
"Certainly not, my dear. But I seem to see that the Churches are going down. After all, every Church—even the Church Catholic—is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Where I've differed from four out of five of my clerical brethren (oh, drat the professional lingo!)—from the majority of the clergy hereabouts, is that while they look on the Church and its formularies as something even more sacred than the Cross itself, I have believed in it as the most effective instrument for teaching the Cross." Mr Steele pulled a wry mouth. "At this moment I seem to be the bigger fool. They may be right: the Church may be worth a disinterested idolatry: but as a means to teach mankind the lesson of Christ it has rather patently failed to do its business. Men are not fools: or rather they are fools, but not fools enough in the long-run to pay for being taught to be foolish. They pay us ministers of religion, Agatha, a tidy lot of money, if you take all Europe over: and we are not delivering the goods. In their present frame of mind they will soon be discovering that, for any use we are, they had better have saved the cash and put it into heavy artillery."
"All we have lived, worked, hoped for in this parish—we two, almost alone—"
"And now," said the Vicar ruefully, "I am leaving you quite alone. Yes, you have a right to reproach me. . . . Old Pritchard, from St Martin's, will take the duty. His Vicar will be only too glad to get rid of him."
"Oh, don't let us talk of that silly old man!" said Mrs Steele impatiently. "And as for reproaches, Robert, I have only one for you—that you did this without consulting me."
"Yes, I know: but you see, Agatha—"
"No, I do not see." She faced him, her eyes swimming. "I might have argued a little—have cried a little. But why—oh, why, Robert?—did you deny me the pride to say in the end, 'Go, and God bless you'?"
The Recruiting Meeting was held in the Council Schoolroom, on Saturday evening, at 7 o'clock. [Public meetings in Polpier are invariably fixed for Saturday, that being the one week-night when the boats keep home.] Schoolmaster Rounsell and his daughter (back from her holiday) had decorated the room, declining outside assistance. It was a rule of life with Schoolmaster Rounsell and his daughter to be very stiff against all outside assistance. They took the line that as State-employed teachers of the young,—that is to say, Civil Servants,—they deserved more social respect than Polpier habitually showed them. In this contention, to be sure, they were wholly right. Their mistake lay in supposing that in this dear land of ours prejudice can be removed by official decree, or otherwise than by the slow possession of patience, tact, and address. Mr Rounsell, however, was less stiff than usual, since the Vicar had asked him to second a vote of thanks at the end of the meeting. He and his daughter spent a great part of the afternoon in arranging the platform and decorating the back wall with a Union Jack, two or three strings of cardpaper-flags that had not seen the light since Coronation Day, and a wall-map of Europe with a legend below it in white calico letters upon red Turkey twill,—"DO GOOD AND FEAR NOT." It had served to decorate many occasions and was as appropriate to this as to any of them.
By 6.45 the room was crowded with an audience numbering two hundred and more. They sat very quietly in the odour of the evil-smelling oil lamps, expectant of oratory. For Squire Tresawna (who pleaded an attack of gout as an excuse for not attending) had not only assured the committee of his personal sympathy, but at his own cost had engaged a speaker recommended by a political association (now turned non-political) in London. There was promise of oratory, and every Cornish audience loves oratory.
In the Squire's absence Farmer Best took the chair. Punctually at seven o'clock he mounted the platform, followed by the orator from London (a florid gentleman in a frock-coat and dingy white waistcoat), the Vicar, Mr Hambly, Mr Pamphlett, Dr Mant, and Mr Rounsell. As they entered, Miss Rounsell, seated at the piano at the far end of the platform, struck the opening chords of "God Save the King." It seemed to take the audience by surprise: but they shuffled to their feet and, after a few bars, sang the anthem very creditably.
When they had settled themselves, Farmer Best opened the meeting.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, Naybours all," he said,—"I don't suppose these here proceedin's will conclude much afore ten o'clock: after which it'll take me the best part of an hour to get home; an' what with one thing and another I doubt it'll be far short o' midnight afore my missus gets me to bed. Whereby, knowin' my habits, you'll see that I reckon this to be summat more than an ord'nary occasion: the reason bein', as you know, that pretty well the hull of Europe's in a state o' War: which, when such a thing happens, it behoves us. I'll say no more than that, as Britons, it behoves us. It was once said by a competent observer that Britons never, never—if Miss Rounsell will oblige?"
This was a rehearsed effect. Miss Rounsell, taking her cue, struck the key-board, and as Miss Charity Oliver (in the front row) testified next morning, "the effect was electric." All sprang to their feet and sang the chorus of Rule, Britannia! till the windows shook.
"Thenk 'ee, friends," continued Farmer Best, as the tumult and the singers subsided. "There's no more to say but that most of 'ee's heard tell, in one way or another at some time of his life, of Armygeddon. Well, this here's of it; an' if you ask my opinion o' that fellow they call the Kaiser, I say I wouldn' sleep in his bed for a million o' money. And with these few remarks I will no longer stand between 'ee and Mr Boult, who is a speaker all the way from London, an' will no doubt give us a Treat an' persuade many of our young friends in front to join up."
Mr Boult arose amid violent applause. He pulled the lappels of his frock-coat together. He spoke, and from the first moment it was clear that he held at command all the tricks of the hired orator. He opened with an anecdote from the life of President Garfield, and a sentimental application that made the Vicar wince. He went on to point out, not unimpressively, that Armageddon ("as you, sir, have so aptly and so strikingly termed it") had actually broken upon the world. Farmer Best, flattered by this acknowledgment of copyright in the word, smiled paternally.
"It has burst like a thunderstorm upon the fields of Belgium; but the deluge it discharges is a deluge of blood intermingled with human tears. And where, my friends, is Belgium? How far distant lie these trodden and wasted fields, these smoking villages, these harvests where men's bodies crush the corn and their blood pollutes the food they planted to sustain it? Listen: those fields lie nearer London than does your little village: men are dying—yes, and women and little children are being massacred—far nearer London than you are peacefully sitting at this moment."
"Come!" thought the Vicar, "this fellow is talking sense after all, and talking it rather well." Mr Rounsell stood up and pointed out the positions of Liege and Polpier on the wall-map, and their relative distances from London. A moment later the Vicar frowned again as Mr Boult launched into a violent—and as it turned out, a lengthy—invective against the German Emperor; with the foulness of whose character and designs he had, it seemed, been intimately acquainted for a number of years. "Who made the War?" "Who had been planning it and spying for the opportunity to gratify his unbridled lust of power?" "Who would stand arraigned for it before the awful tribunal of God?" &c. The answer was "the Kaiser," "the Kaiser," "the Kaiser Wilhelm"—Mr Boult pronounced the name in German and threw scorn into it.
—"Which," mused the Vicar, "is an argument ad invidiam; and, when one comes to think of it, rather a funny one. The man is still talking sense, though: only I wish he'd talk it differently."
Then for a quarter of an hour Mr Boult traced the genesis of the War, with some ability but in special-pleader style and without a particle of fairness. He went on to say that he, personally, was not in favour of Conscription. [As a matter of fact he had spoken both for and against Compulsory Service on many public platforms.] He believed in the Voluntary Principle: and looking on the many young men gathered in the body of the hall, and more particularly at the back ["excellent material" he called them, too], he felt convinced there would be no hanging back that night; but to-morrow, or, rather, Monday, when he returned to London he would be able to report that the heart of Polpier was sound and fired with a resolve to serve our common country. Mr Boult proceeded to make the Vicar writhe in his seat by a jocular appeal to "the young ladies in the audience" not to walk-out with any young man until he had clothed himself in khaki. He wound up with one of his most effective perorations, boldly enlisting John Bright and the Angel of Death; and sat down amid tumultous applause. It takes all sorts to make a world, and this kind of speech.
Farmer Best called upon the Vicar.
"I wish," said Mr Steele, "to add just a word or two to emphasise one particular point in Mr Boult's speech; or, rather, to put it in a somewhat different light. And I shall be brief, lest I spoil the general effect on your minds of his very powerful appeal.
"I address myself to the women in this room. . . . With you the last word lies, as it rightly should. It is to you that husband, son, brother, wooer, will turn for the deciding voice to say, 'Go, help to save England—and may God prosper and guard you'; because it is your heart that makes the sacrifice, as it is your image the man will carry away with him; because the England he goes to defend shapes itself in his mind as 'home,' as the one most sacred spot, though it be but a cottage, in which his imagination or his memory installs you as queen; in which your presence reigns, or is to reign.
"Do you realise your strength, O ye women? . . . The age of chivalry is not dead. Nothing so noble that has once so nobly taken hold of men's minds can ever die, though the form of it may change. Now the doctrine of chivalry was this, for the Man and the Woman—
"For the man, that every true soldier went forth as a knight:"
'And no quarrell a knight he ought to take But for a Truth or for a Woman's sake.'
"And our soldiers to-day fight for both: for the truth that Right is better than Might, and for the sake of every woman who reigns or shall reign in an English home; that not only shall she be safeguarded from the satyr and the violator, but that she shall be secured in every inch of dignity she has known in our days; as queen at the hearth where her children obey her, and in her doorway to which the merchants of all the earth bring their wares.
"For the Woman, chivalry taught that she, who cannot herself fight, is always the Queen of Tournay, the president of the quarrel, the arbitress between the righteous and the unrighteous cause, the dispenser of reward to him who fights the good fight. . . . So, and as each one of you is the braver to speak the word—'Go, though it break my heart: and God bring you safely home to me!'—she shall with the heavenlier right tender her true soldier his crown when he returns and kneels for a blessing on his victory."
When the speeches were ended and Farmer Best arose to invite intending recruits to step up to the platform, Mr Boult had an unhappy inspiration. "If you'll excuse me, Mr Chairman," he suggested, "there's a way that I tried this day week in Holloway with great effect. . . . I take out my watch an' count ten, very slowly, giving the young men the chance who shall rush up before the counting is over. It acted famously at Holloway."
"Oh, very well," said Farmer Best doubtfully, taken off his guard. "The gen'leman from London," he announced, "will count ten slowly, an' we're to watch out what happens. He says it acted very well at Holloway last week."
On the instant, as Mr Boult drew out his watch, the audience hushed itself, as for a conjuring seance. Mr Hambly passed a hand over his brow, and sighed.
"One—two—three—" counted Mr Boult, and a mortuary silence descended on all.
"Pray on, brother Boult! 'Tis workin', 'tis workin'," squeaked up a mock-religious voice from the back.
Some one tittered audibly, and the strain broke in a general shout of laughter. Old men, up to now profoundly serious, lay back and held their sides. Old women leaned forward and searched for their handkerchiefs, their bonnets nodding. Mr Boult pocketed his watch, and under his breath used ferocious language.
"I don't wonder!" said Farmer Best with a forced attempt at sympathy. Then he, too, broke down and cast himself back in his chair haw-hawing.
There was a sudden stir in the crowd at the back, and young Obed Pearce came thrusting his way through the press.
"Well—I don't care who laughs, but I'm one!" growled young Obed, half defiantly, half sullenly, and tossed his cap on to the platform like a challenger in a wrestling ring.
"And I'm another!" announced the clear quiet voice of Seth Minards, thrilling the room as the hush fell.
"Aw, 'tis Seth!" "Seth's a beautiful speaker once he gets goin'." "But what's the meanin'?" "Seth, of all the boys!" "Let Seth speak!"
"Ha! What did I promise you?" proclaimed Mr Boult triumphantly, reaching down a hand. "Here, clamber up to the platform, my lad, an' give 'em a talk. . . . You can talk, they're saying. Strike while the iron's hot."
Seth took his hand and vaulted to the platform; but dropped it on the instant and turned to the meeting. "I come here, friends," he announced, "because Mr Obed's offered himself, an' I don't see no way but I must go too. . . . That's it: I don't agree wi' the ha'af that's been said to-night, but I don't see no other way. We've got to go, because—" his voice sank here, as though he were communing with himself: it could scarcely be heard, "—because—" he swung about upon the elders on the platform and swept them with an accusing finger. "We've got to go because you've brought this thing about, or have let it come about! It don't matter to me, much. . . . But we've to wipe up the mess: an' if the young men must go an' wipe it up, an' if for them there's never to be bride-ale nor children, 'tis your doin' an' the doin' o' your generation all over Europe. A pretty tale, too, when up to a fortni't ago your talk was o' peace an' righteousness! . . . Forgi'e me, Mr Best . . . I'll fight well enough, maybe, when it comes to't. But why were we brought up one way, to be tortured turnin' our conscience to another?"
There were no other recruits. "A great disappointment," said Mr Boult. "That earnest young fool spoilt it all."
"He made the best speech of the evening," answered the Vicar.
"Well, anyway he's enlisted. He'll find the Army a fine discipline for the tongue."
"Indeed," said the Vicar viciously. "I did not know that you had experience of the Service."
As Seth Minards thrust his way out of the insufferably stuffy room, in the porchway he felt a hand laid on his shoulder; and, turning about, recognised Nicky-Nan by the dim starlight.
"God bless 'ee, my son!" said Nicky heartily, to his utter surprise. "I can't stay to talk now, havin' to force my way in an' catch Dr Mant. But maybe we'll both be seein' this War from to-morrow; an' maybe we'll meet in it, or maybe we will not. But you've let in light 'pon an older skull than your own; an' I thank 'ee, an' I'll pray th' Almighty every night on my knees that you may fight well an' be preserved through it all, to come home an' testify."
THE FIRST THREE.
Mr Pamphlett had breakfasted, and had gone upstairs to put on his frock-coat and array himself for Divine service.
The servant girl announced Mr Nanjivell.
"Sorry to trouble 'ee, sir, and upon such a day," said Nicky-Nan, drawing up his sound leg to "attention," as his enemy entered the parlour: "but my business won't wait. I saw Doctor Mant after the meetin' last night, an' this mornin' I was up early an' had a talk wi' the Minister—wi' Mr Hambly. The upshot is, that time presses."
"I do not usually discuss business on the Sabbath," said Mr Pamphlett stiffly.
"O' course not. Who would?" Nicky-Nan agreed. "But the upshot is that you an' me havin' been not what you might call friends—"
"I am due at Divine service in less than an hour. State your business," commanded Mr Pamphlett.
"And I am due away, sir, in about that time. Will you look at this paper?" Nicky-Nan laid on the table a half-sheet of notepaper scribbled over with figures in pencil. "Look over that, if you please; or put it off till you come back from Chapel, if you will: but by that time I shall be gone. You'll find my address in Plymouth at the foot."
"If you'd kindly explain—"
"Mrs Penhaligon has the money. I've spoke to Dr Mant: who says I can be put right, an' the operation, with board and lodging, will be covered by ten pound. I've taken ten pound, as accounted for on the paper."
Mr Pamphlett picked up the paper, and felt for his pince-nez.
"Still I don't understand."
"No, you wouldn't. I'm trustin' 'ee—that's what it comes to. I've had a talk with Mr Hambly besides; and he and Dr Mant'll look after my interests. . . . You see, I did find a hoard o' money in the Old Doctor's House, an' stuck to it, not knowin' the law. On the paper, too, you'll see what I've used of it—every penny accounted for. Mr Hambly says that anyway the law gives me a share far beyond anything I've used. So I leave it atween 'ee, to see fair play for me if ever I come back. If I don't, I've left it to the Penhaligon children; an' Mr Hambly an' Dr Mant'll see fair play for them. . . . But you understand, sir"—Nicky-Nan dived into his left trouser-pocket and showed a palmful of coins—"I've taken ten pound, for the operation an' sundries."
Mr Pamphlett studied the paper for a moment.
"But, my good man—since you say that you have taken Mr Hambly into your confidence—"
"Oh, well—you will be back, doubtless, in a few days' time; and then we can talk. This—this is very—er—honest of you."
"It may be. As for bein' back in a few days' time, if the War should be over in a few days' time you may expect me. I hope it won't. God forgive me for sayin' so, but I'll be more comfortable there. . . . Ay, d'ee hear me, Mr Pamphlett? More comfortable than here amidst women's tongues an' clerkly men's devices, an', what's worse, even the set-up whisperin' o' children. God forgive 'em an' forgive you! I'm a Polpier man, an' the last o' my stock; but I'll come back, if at all, to finish in Polpier with credit."
"This represents a considerable sum of money," said Mr Pamphlett, conning the paper, and with a note, which he could not suppress, of elation in his voice.
"Ay; does it not?" said Nicky-Nan scornfully. "Well, I leave 'ee at home, to prove how honest you can contrive to be with it. D'ee see? . . . There's boys, like your nephew, young Obed Pearce, as goes to fight for their conscience; an' there's boys, like young Seth Minards, as goes to fight despite their conscience; but for me, that am growin' elderly, I go, maybe with a touch o' the old country, in contempt o' my kind."
Mr Pamphlett had seated himself at the table, and with his golden pencil-holder was at work on the paper making calculations. Nicky-Nan, going out, turned in the doorway and lifted his hand to the old remembered naval salute.
A couple of hours later, having given them a two-miles' lift on the way, Nicky-Nan at the cross-roads dropped young Seth and young Obed to take their way to the inland barracks. He was for the coast-road, with the hospital and the operating-theatre at the end of it. If Heaven willed, he might eventually be of some service on the heave of the sea, as they in their youth and their strength assuredly would be in the land campaign.
As his hired trap jolted on, at a twist of the road before it bore straight-eastwardly, he caught sight of their diminishing figures side by side and already a goodish way off on a rise of the inland road. It did not occur to them to turn on the chance of sighting him and waving a hand. The two were comrades already, sharing talk, on this their first stage towards the battlefields of Flanders.