"True." The Collector readjusted his spectacles and returned to his figures. There may have been just a hint of condolence in his accent, for the Riding Officer looked up sharply.
"If you lived in the north, Pennefather, do you know what we should say about you? We should say that you were no very gleg in the uptake."
"I once," answered the Collector, gently, without lifting his head from the ledger, "began to read Burns, but had to give him up on account of the dialect."
Meanwhile, all unaware of these dark suspicions, the Major and his Gallants were perfecting their preparations for the great surprise.
And what preparations! In the heat of them we had almost forgotten the Millennium itself!
For weeks the band had been practising a selection of tunes appropriate (1) to invasions in general and (2) to this particular invasion. There was "Britons, Strike Home!" for instance, and "The Padstow Hobby-horse," and "The Rout it is out for the Blues," slightly amended for the occasion:
"As I was a-walking on Downderry sands, Some dainty fine sport for to view, The maidens were wailing and wringing their hands— Oh, the Rout it is out for the Looes, For the Looes, Oh, the Rout it is out for the Looes."
The very urchins whistled and sang it about the streets. On the other hand, the Major's chivalrous proposal to hymn The George of Looe came to nothing, since Captain Pond could supply him with neither the words nor the air.
"Notwithstanding all my researches," he wrote, "the utmost I can discover is the following stanza which Gunner Israel Spettigew— vulgarly termed Uncle Issy—one of my halest veterans, remembers to have heard sung in his youth:
"'Oh, the George of Looe sank Number One; She then sank Number Two; She finished up with Number Three: And hooray for the George of Looe'!"
"Dammy!" said the Major, "and I dare say that passes for invention over at Looe."
We in Troy were no paupers of invention, at any rate. Take, for example, the Major's plan of campaign. First of all you must figure to yourself a terrain shaped like a triangle—almost an equilateral triangle—with its base resting on the sea. At the western extremity of this base stands Troy; at the eastern, Looe, with Talland Cove a little to this side of it. For western side of the triangle we have the Troy River; and for apex the peaceful village of Lerryn, set in apple-orchards, where the tidal waters end by a narrow bridge. For the eastern side we take, not the Looe River (which doesn't count), but an ancient earthwork, known as the Devil's Hedge, which stretches across country from Looe up to Lerryn. Who built this earthwork, or when he did it, or for what purpose, no one can tell; but the Looe folk will quote you the following distich,—
"One day the Devil, having nothing to do, Built a great hedge from Lerryn to Looe."
Of these things, then (as Herodotus puts it), let so much be said. But thus we get our triangle: the sea coast (base), the Troy River and the Devil's Hedge (sides), meeting at the village of Lerryn (apex) among the orchards.
Now these orchards, you must know, on May mornings when the tide served, were the favourite rendezvous for the lads and maidens of Troy, and even for the middle-aged and married; who would company thither by water, to wash their faces in the dew, and eat cream, and see the sun rise, and afterwards return chorussing, their boats draped with green boughs.
This year the tide, indeed, served for Lerryn: but this year the maidens of Troy, if they would fare thither to pay their vows, must fare alone. Their swains would be bent upon a sterner errand.
So their Commander by secret orders had dictated, and all the town knew of it; also that the landing was to be effected in Talland Cove, and that, if success waited on their arms, supper would be provided at the Sloop Inn, Looe. One hundred and fifty fighting men would go to the assault, in fourteen row-boats, with muffled oars. This number included the band. The residue of thirty men, making up the full strength of the corps, had disappeared from Troy some ten days before, on an errand which will appear hereafter.
But the fair were inconsolable. Almost, for some forty-eight hours— that is to say, after the news leaked out—our Major was the most unpopular man in Troy with them who had ever been his warmest supporters. War was war, no doubt; and women must mourn at home while men imbrued themselves in the gallant strife. But May-day, too, was May-day; and the tides served; and, further, there was this talk about a Millennium, and whatever the Millennium might be (and nobody but the Mayor and the Vicar, unless it were Dr. Hansombody, seemed to know), it was certainly not an occasion on which women ought to be left without their natural protectors. Even the Ambulance Corps was bound for Looe, in eight additional boats. There would be scarce a row-boat left in the harbour, or the ladies might have pulled up to Lerryn on their own account.
The Major suspected these murmurings, yet he kept an unruffled brow: yes, even though harassed with vexations which these ladies could not guess—the possible defection of Hansombody, for instance.
It was not Hansombody's fault: but Sir Felix Felix-Williams, who owned the estate as well as the village of Lerryn, had reason to expect an addition to his family. Dr. Hansombody could not guarantee that he might not be summoned to Pentethy, Sir Felix's mansion, at any moment.
Now, for excellent reasons—which, again, will appear—the Major could not afford to make Sir Felix an enemy at this moment. Besides, these domestic events were the little apothecary's bread and butter.
On the other hand, the absence of a professional man must seriously discredit the role assigned to the Ambulance Corps in any engagement, however bloodless.
"You might," the Major suggested, "nominate half a dozen as deputy or assistant surgeons. You could easily pick out those who have shown most intelligence at your lectures."
"True," agreed the Doctor; "but as yet we have not, in my lectures, advanced so far as flesh-wounds. They would know what to do, I hope, if confronted with frost-bite, snake-bite, sunstroke or incipient croup—from all of which our little expedition will be (under Providence) immune, and I have as yet confined myself to directing them, in all cases which apparently differ from these, to run to the nearest medical man."
"Well, well!" sighed the Major. "Then, if the worst come to the worst and you cannot accompany us, we must rely on the good offices of the enemy. They have no qualified surgeon, I believe: but the second lieutenant, young Couch of Polperro, is almost out of his articles and ready to proceed to Guy's. A clever fellow, too, they tell me."
"You understand that if I fail you, it will be through no want of zeal?"
"My friend"—the Major turned on him with a smile at once magnanimous and tender—"I believe you ask nothing better than to accompany me."
"To the death!" said the Doctor, in a low voice and fervently. Then, after a pause full of emotion, "Your dispositions are all taken?"
"All, I believe. Chinn has drawn up a new will for me, which I have signed, and it lies at this moment in my deed-box. I took the liberty to appoint you an executor."
"You would not ask me to survive you!" (O Friendship! O exemplars of a sterner age! O Rome! O Cato!) "Not to mention," went on the Doctor, "that I must be by five or six years your senior, and in the ordinary course of events—"
Major Hymen dismissed the ordinary course of events with a wave of the hand.
"I ask it as a personal favour."
"It is an honour then, and I accede."
"For the rest, I am keeping that fellow Smellie on the qui vive. For three days past he has been promenading the cliffs with his spy-glass. I would not lightly depreciate any man, but Smellie has one serious fault—he is ambitious."
"Such men are to be found in every walk of life."
"I fear so. Ambition is like to be Smellie's bane. He is jealous of sharing any credit with the Preventive crews, and is keeping them without information. On the other hand he delights in ordering about a military force; which, in a civilian, is preposterous."
"The Dragoons, of course, hate working under his orders: but I shall be surprised if he resist the temptation to call them in and dress himself in a little brief authority. Further, I have word from Polperro that he is getting together a company of the Sea Fencibles. In short, he is playing into our hands."
"But the boats?"
"They are here."
"Here?" The Doctor's eyes grew round with wonder.
The Major swept a hand towards the horizon.
"For two days we have been enjoying a steady southerly breeze. They are yonder, you may be sure—the three of them: and that is where Smellie makes a mistake in not employing the cutter."
"And the long-boats?"
"The long-boats are lying, as they have lain for three weeks past, in Runnells' yard, awaiting repairs. Runnells is a dilatory fellow and has gone no farther than to fill them with water up to the thwarts, to test their stanchness." Here the Major allowed himself to smile. "But Runnells, though dilatory, will launch them after dusk, while the tide suits."
"The tide makes until five o'clock."
"Until five-twenty, to be correct. Before seven o'clock they will be launched."
"You play a bold game, dear friend. Suppose, now, that Smellie had kept the cutter cruising off the coast?"
The Major smiled again, this time with finesse. "The man is ambitious, I tell you. By employing the cutter he might indeed have intercepted the cargo. But he flies at higher game." Here the Major lightly tapped his chest to indicate the quarry. "In generalship, my dear doctor, to achieve anything like the highest success, you must fight with two heads—your own and your adversary's. By putting myself in Smellie's place; by descending (if I may so say) into the depths of his animal intelligence, by interpreting his hopes, his ambitions . . . well, in short, I believe we have weathered the risk. The Mevagissey fleet puts out to the grounds to-night, to anchor and drop nets as usual. With them our friends from Guernsey—shall we say?—will mingle as soon as night is fallen, hang out their riding-lights, lower their nets, and generally behave in a fashion indistinguishable from that of other harvesters of the sea, until the hour when, with lightened hulls and, I trust, in full regimentals (for they carry their uniforms on board) they join us for the Grand Assault."
"But—excuse me—how much does the town know of this programme?"
The Major shrugged his shoulders. "As little as I could manage. I have incurred some brief unpopularity, no doubt, among the fairer portion of our community, who deem that I am denying them their annual May-day jaunt. But never fear. I will explain all to-night, before embarkation."
"They may murmur," answered Dr. Hansombody, "but in their hearts they trust you."
The Major's eyes filled with tears.
"The path of duty is strewn with more than roses at times. I thank you for that assurance, my friend."
They grasped hands in silence.
Troy remembered later—it had reason to remember—through what halcyon weather April passed, that year, into May. For three days a gentle breeze had blown from the south; for three more days it continued, dying down at nightfall and waking again at dawn. Stolen days they seemed: cloudless, gradual, golden; a theft of Spring from Harvest-tide. Unnatural weather, many called it: for the air held the warmth of full summer before the first swallow appeared, and while as yet the cuckoo, across the harbour, had been heard by few.
The after-glow of sunset had lingered, but had faded at length, taking the new moon with it, leaving a night so pale, so clear, so visibly domed overhead, that almost the eye might trace its curve and assign to each separate star its degree of magnitude. Beyond the harbour's mouth the riding-lights of the Mevagissey fishing fleet ran like a carcanet of faint jewels, marking the unseen horizon of the Channel. The full spring tide, soundless or scarcely lapping along shore, fell back on its ebb, not rapidly as yet, but imperceptibly gathering speed. Below the Town Quay in the dark shadow lay the boats—themselves a shadowy crowd, ghostly, with a glimmer of white paint here and there on gunwales, thwarts, stern-sheets. Their thole-pins had been wrapped with oakum and their crews sat whispering, ready, with muffled oars. On the Quay, lantern in hand, the Major moved up and down between his silent ranks, watched by a shadowy crowd.
In that crowd, as I am credibly informed, were gathered—but none could distinguish them—gentle and simple, maiden ladies with their servants or housekeepers, side by side with longshoremen, hovellers, giglet maids, and urchins; all alike magnetised and drawn thither by the Man and the Hour. But the Major recognised none of them. His dispositions had been made and perfected a full week before; how thoroughly they had been perfected might be read in the mute alacrity with which man after man, squad after squad, without spoken command yet in unbroken order, dissolved out of the ranks and passed down to the boats. You could not see that Gunner Tippet, being an asthmatical man, wore a comforter and a respirating shield; nor that Sergeant Sullivan, as notoriously susceptible to the night air, carried a case-bottle and a small basket of boiled sausages. Yet these and a hundred other separate and characteristic necessities had been foreseen and provided for.
Van, mainguard, rearguard, band, ambulance, forlorn hope, all were embarked at length. Lieutenant Chinn saluted, reported the entire flotilla ready, saluted again, and descended the steps with the Doctor (Sir Felix had sent no word, after all). Only the Major remained on the Quay's edge. Overhead rode the stars; around him in the penumbra of the lantern's rays the crowd pressed forward timidly. He turned.
"Fellow-citizens," he said, and his voice trembled on the words, but in an instant was steady again, "you surmise, no doubt, the purpose of this expedition. An invader menaces these shores, the defence of which has been committed to us. Of the ultimate invincibility of that defence I have no doubt whatever; nevertheless, it may expose here and there a vulnerable point. It is to test the alertness of our neighbours of Looe that we abstract ourselves for a few hours from the comforts of home, the society of the fair, in some instances the embraces of our loved ones, and embark upon an element which, to-night propitious, might in other moods have engulfed, if it did not actually force us to postpone, our temerity—" (Here a voice said, "Well done, Major; give 'em Troy!")
"Methinks," continued the Major, elevating his lantern and turning to that part of the crowd whence the interruption had proceeded, "methinks I hear some fair one sigh, 'But why to-night? Why on the eve of May-day, when we are wont to seek one or other of those rural spots, vales, hamlets, remote among our river's lovelier reaches, where annually the tides have mirrored at sunrise our gala companies and the green woods responded to our innocent mirth? Why on this consecrated eve distract our hitherto faithful swains and lead their steps divergent at an angle of something like thirty degrees?' I have reason to believe that some such tender complaints have made themselves audible, and it is painful to me to suffer the imputation of lack of feeling, even from an Aeolian harp. Yet I have suffered it, awaiting the moment to reassure you.
"Yes, ladies, be reassured! We depart indeed for Looe; but we hope, ere dawn, to meet you at Lerryn and be rewarded with your approving smiles. At nine-thirty precisely the three long-boats, Naiad, Nautilus, and Corona, which have lain for some weeks under repair in Mr. Runnells' yard, will pass this Quay and proceed seaward, each manned by an able, if veteran, crew. After a brief trip outside the harbour—to test their stanchness—they will return to the Quay to embark passengers, and start at 2 a.m. on the excursion up the river to our rendezvous at Lerryn. Nay!" the Major turned at the head of the steps and lifted a hand—"I will accept of you no thanks but this, that during the few arduous hours ahead of us we carry your wishes, ladies, as a prosperous breeze behind our banners!"
"Now isn't he a perfect duck?" demanded Miss Sally Tregentil, turning in the darkness and addressing Miss Pescod, whose strongly marked and aquiline features she had recognised in the last far-flung ray of the Major's lantern.
"My good Sarah! You here?" answered Miss Pescod, divided between surprise, disapproval and embarrassment.
"At such a period—a crisis, one might almost say—when the fate of Europe . . . and after all, if it comes to that, so are you."
"For my part—" began Miss Pescod, and ended with a sigh.
"For my part," declared Miss Sally, hardily, "I shall go to Lerryn."
"It used to be great fun. In later years mamma disapproved, but there is (may I confess it?) this to be said for war, that beneath its awful frown—under cover of what I may venture to call the shaking of its gory locks—you can do a heap of things you wouldn't dream of under ordinary circumstances. Life, though more precarious, becomes distinctly less artificial. Two years ago, for instance, lulled in a false security by the so-called Peace of Amiens, I should as soon have thought of flying through the air."
"Has it occurred to you," Miss Pescod suggested, "what might happen if the Corsican, taking advantage to-night of our dear Major's temporary absence—"
"Don't!" Miss Sally interrupted with a shiver. "Oh, decidedly I shall go to Lerryn to-night! On second thoughts it would be only proper."
On the dark waters below them, beyond the Quay, a hoarse military voice gave the command to "Give way!" One by one on the fast-dropping tide the boats, keeping good order, headed for the harbour's mouth. The Major led. O navis, referent . . .
Think, I pray you, of Wolfe dropping down the dark St. Lawrence; of Wolfe and, ahead of him, the Heights of Abraham!
THE BATTLE OF TALLAND COVE.
"Now entertain conjecture of a time When creeping murmur and the poring dark Fills the wide vessel of the universe. . . ."
The avant-garde of the Looe Diehards occupied, and had been occupying for two dark hours—in a sitting posture—the ridge of rock which, on its eastern side, sheltered Talland Cove. One may say, considering the heavy dew and the nature of the ridge—of slate formation and sharply serrated—they had clung to it obstinately. Above them the clear and constellated dome of night turned almost perceptibly around its pole. At their feet the tide lapped the beach, phosphorescent, at the last draught of ebb.
Somewhere in the darkness at the head of the beach—either by the footbridge where the stream ran down, or in the meadow behind it—lay the main body. A few outposts had been flung wide to the westward, and Captain Pond for the second time had walked off to test their alertness and give and receive the password—"Death to the Invader."
"And a more cold-running act of defiance I don't remember to have heard—no, not in all my years of service," said Gunner Israel Spettigew, a cheerful sexagenarian, commonly known as Uncle Issy, discussing it with his comrades on the ridge. "There's a terrible downrightness about that word 'death.' Speaking for myself, and except in the way of business, I wouldn' fling it at a cat."
"'Tis what we must all come to," said Gunner Oke, a young married man, gloomily shifting his seat.
"True, lad, true. Then why cast it up against any man in particular, be he French or English? Folks in glass houses, simmin' to me, shouldn' throw stones."
"I reckon you fellows might find something more cheerful to talk about." Gunner Oke shifted his seat again, and threw a nervous glance seaward.
"William Oke, William Oke, you'll never make a sojer! Now I mind back in 'seventy-nine when the fleets of France an' Spain assembled and come together agen us—sixty-six sail of the line, my billies, besides frigates an' corvettes an' such-like small trade; an' the folks at Plymouth blowing off their alarm-guns, an' the signals flying from Maker Tower—a bloody flag at the masthead an' two blue uns at the outriggers. Four days they laid to, in sight of the assembled multitude of Looe, an' Squire Buller rode down to form us up to oppose 'em. 'Hallo!' says the Squire, catching sight of me. 'Where's your gun? Don't begin for to tell me that a han'some, well-set-up, intelligent chap like Israel Spettigew is for hangin' back at his country's call!' 'Squire,' says I, 'you've a-pictered me to a hair. But there's one thing you've left out. I've been turnin' it over, an' I don't see that I'm fit to die.' 'Why not?' says he. 'I'm not a saved man like them other chaps,' says I. 'I've had a few convictions of sin, but that's as far as it's gone.' 'Tut,' says he, 'have you ever broken the Commandments?' 'What's that?' I asks. 'Why, the things up at the end of the church, inside the rails.' 'I never married my gran'mother, if that's what you mean,' I says. 'That's the Affini-ety Table,' says he, 'but have 'ee ever made to yourself a graven image?' 'Lord, no,' I says, 'I leaves that nigglin' work to the I-talians.' 'Have 'ee honoured your father an' your mother?' 'They took damgood care about that,' says I. 'Well, then, have 'ee ever coveted your neighbour's wife?' 'No,' I says, 'I never could abide the woman.' 'Come, come,' says he, 'did 'ee ever commit murder upon a man?' 'That's a leadin' question from a magistrate,' I says; 'but I don't mind ownin', as man to man, that I never did.' 'Then,' says he, 'the sooner you pitch-to and larn the better.'"
"The bloodthirsty old termigant!"
"'Twas the way of us all in the year 'seventy-nine," the old man admitted modestly. "A few throats up or down—Lord bless 'ee!—we talked of it as calm as William Oke might talk of killin' a pig! And, after all, what's our trade here to-night but battery and murder?"
"But 'tisn' the French we'm expectin'," urged Oke, whose mind moved slowly.
"'Tis the same argyment with these billies from Troy. Troy an' Looe. What's between the two in an ordinary way? A few miles; which to a thoughtful mind is but mud and stones, with two-three churches and a turnpike to keep us in mind of Adam's fall. Why, my own brother married a maid from there!"
"'Tis the Almighty's doin'," said Sergeant Pengelly; "He's hand-in-glove with King George, and, while that lasts, us poor subject fellows have got to hate Bonyparty with all our heart and with all our mind and with all our soul and with all our strength, for richer for poorer, till death us do part, and not to be afraid with any amazement. To my mind, that's half the fun of being a sojer; the pay's small and the life's hard, and you keep ungodly hours; but 'tis a consolation to sit out here 'pon a rock and know you'm a man of blood and breaking every mother's son of the Ten Commandments wi' the Lord's leave."
"What's that!" Gunner Oke gripped the Sergeant's arm of a sudden and leaned forward, straining his ears.
Someone was crossing the track towards them with wary footsteps, picking his way upon the light shingle by the water's edge. Presently a voice, hoarse and low, spoke up to them out of the darkness.
"Hist, there! Silence in the ranks!" The speaker was Captain Pond himself. "A man can hear that old fool Spettigew's cackle half-way across the Cove. They're coming, I tell you!"
"Where, Cap'n? Where?"
"Bare half-a-mile t'other side of Downend Point. Is the first rocket ready?"
"Ay, ay, Cap'n."
"And the flint and steel?"
"Here, between my knees: and Oke beside me, ready with the fuse. Got the fuse, Oke?"
"If—if you p-please, sir—"
"If you p-please, sir, I've chewed up the fuse by mistake!"
"What's he saying?"
"I got it m-mixed up, sir, here in the d-dead darkness with my quid o' baccy—and I th-think I'm goin' to be sick."
"'Tis the very right hand o' Providence, then, that I brought a spare one," spoke up Pengelly. "Here, Un' Issy—you take hold—"
"Everything must follow in order, mind," Captain Pond commanded. "As soon as the first boat takes ground, you challenge: then count five, and up goes the rocket. Eh?" The Captain swung round at the sound of another footstep on the shingle. "Is that you, Clogg? Man, but you made me jump!"
"Captain Pond! Oh, Captain Pond!" stammered the new-comer, who was indeed no other than Mr. Clogg, senior lieutenant of the Diehards.
"Why have you left your post, sir? Don't stand there clinky-clanking your sword on the pebbles—catch it up under your arm, sir: you're making noise enough to scare the dead! Now, then, what have you to report? Nothing wrong with the main body, I hope?"
"A man might call it ghosts"—Mr. Clogg in the darkness passed a sleeve across his clammy brow—"A man might call it ghosts, Captain Pond, and another might set it down to drink. But you know my habits."
"Be quick, man! You've seen something? What is it?"
"Ah, what indeed? You may well ask it, sir: though not if you was to put the Book into my hands at this moment and ask me to kiss it—"
"Clogg," interrupted the Captain, stepping close and gripping him by the upper arm, "will you swear to me you have not been drinking?"
"Yes and no, Captain. That is, it began with my stepping up the valley to the farm for a dollop of hot water—I'd a thimbleful of schnapps in my flask here—and the night turning chilly, and me remembering that Mrs. Nankivel up to the farm was keeping the kettle on the boil, because she promised as much only last night, knowing my stomach to be susceptible. Well, sir, not meaning to be away more'n a moment—as I was going up the meadow, but keeping along the withy-bed, you understand?—and if I hadn't taken that road, more by instinct than anything else—"
"Oh, for Heaven's sake, if you've anything important to say, say it! In another five minutes the boats will be here!"
"I don't know what you'd call 'important,'" answered the Lieutenant, in an aggrieved tone. "As I was telling, I got to where the withy-bed ends at the foot of the orchard below the house. The orchard, as you know, runs down on one side of the stream, and 'tother side there's the grass meadow they call Little Parc. Just at that moment, if you'll believe me, I heard a man sneeze, and 'pon top of that a noise like a horse's bit shaken—a sort of jingly sound, not ten paces off, t'other side of the withies. 'Tis a curious habit of mine—and you may or may not have noticed it—but I never can hear another person sneeze without wanting to sneeze too. Hows'ever, there's a way of stopping it by putting your thumb on your top lip and pressing hard, and that's what I did, and managed to make very little noise; so that it surprised me when somebody said, 'Be quiet, you fool there!' But he must have meant it for the other man. Well, ducking down behind the withies and peeking athurt the darkness, by degrees I made out a picter that raised the very hairs on the back of my neck. Yonder, on the turf under the knap of Little Parc, what do I see but a troop of horsemen drawn up, all ghostly to behold! And yet not ghostly neither; for now and then, plain to these fleshly ears, one o' the horses would paw the ground or another jingle his curb-chain on the bit. I tell you, Captain, I crope away from that sight a good fifty yards 'pon my belly before making a break for the Cove; and when I got back close to the mainguard I ducked my head and skirted round to the track here in search of you: for I wouldn' be one to raise false alarms, not I! But, if you ask my private opinion, 'tis either Old Boney hisself or the Devil, and we'm lost to a man."
"Good Lord!" muttered Captain Pond, half to himself. "Horsemen, you say?"
"Horsemen, Captain—great horsemen as tall as statues. But statues, as I told myself, at this time o' night! 'Tis out of the question, an' we may put it aside once for all."
"Horsemen?" repeated Captain Pond. "There's only one explanation, and Hymen must be warned. But I do think he might have trusted me!"
He turned for a swift glance seaward, and at the same instant one or two voices on the ridge above called alarm. Under the western cliff his eye detected a line of dark shadows stealing towards the shore.
"Until gaining the entrance of the Cove"—so ran the Major's order—"the boats will preserve single file. At Downend Point the leading boat will halt and lie on her oars, dose inshore, while each successor pivots and spreads in echelon to starboard, keeping, as nearly as may be, two fathoms' distance from her consort to port; all gradually, as the shore is approached, rounding up for a simultaneous attack in line. The crews, on leaping ashore, will spread and find touch with one another in two lines, to sweep the beach. A bugle-call will announce the arrival of each boat."
The Major, erect in the bows of the leading boat, glanced over his right shoulder and beheld his line of followers, all in perfect order, extend themselves and close the mouth of the Cove. Ahead of him—ahead but a few yards only—he heard the slack tide run faintly on the shingle. From the dark beach came no sound. Overhead quivered the expectant stars. He lifted his sword-arm, and from point to hilt ran a swift steely glitter.
"Give way, lads! And Saint Fimbar for Troy!"
A stroke of the oars, defiant now, muffled no longer! Two—three strokes, and with a jolt the boat's nose took the beach. The shock flung the Major forward over the bows; and on all fours, with a splash—like Julius Caesar—he saluted the soil he came to conquer. But in an instant he stood erect again, waving his blade.
"Forward! Forward, Troy!"
"I beg your pardon, Hymen," interrupted Captain Pond, quietly but seriously, stepping forth from the darkness. "Yes, yes; that's understood—but see here now—"
"Back, or you are my prisoner!" The Major had scrambled to his feet, and stood waving his sword.
"Hymen!" Captain Pond ran past the Major's guard and caught him by the elbow.
"Hands off, I say! Forward, Troy!" The Major struggled to disengage his sword-arm.
"Hymen, don't be a fool! As a friend now—though you might have taken me into your confidence—"
"Unhand me, Pond! Though you are doing your best to spoil the whole business—"
"Listen to me, I say. The Dragoons—"
But Captain Pond shouted in vain. Bugle after bugle drowned his voice, rending the darkness. From the rocks to the eastward voices answered them, challenging wildly.
"Death to the invader!"
With a whoo-sh a rocket leapt into the air and burst, flooding the beach with light, showing up every furze bush, every stone wall, every sheep-track, on the surrounding cliffs. As if they had caught fire from it, a score of torches broke into flame on the eastward rocks, and in the sudden blaze, under the detonating fire of musketry, the men of Troy could be seen tumbling out of their boats and splashing ankle-deep to the shore.
It was a splendid, a gallant sight. Each man, as he reached terra firma, dropped on one knee, fired deliberately, reloaded, and advanced a dozen paces. Still from the boats behind fresh reinforcements splashed ashore and crowded into the firing-line: while from the eastward rock the vanguard of the Diehards kept up its deadly flanking fire, heedless of the torches that exposed them each and all at plain target-shot to the oncoming host.
Still, amid the pealing notes of the bugles, the Major waved his men forward. Captain Pond, breaking loose from him and facing swiftly towards the Cove-head, with a flourish of his blade called upon his mainguard.
Under the volley that thereupon swept the beach, the invaders did indeed waver for a moment—so closely it resembled the real thing. As the smoke lifted, however, by the murky glare of the torches they were seen to be less demoralised than infuriated. And now, upon the volley's echo, a drum banged thrice, and from a boat just beyond the water's edge the Troy bandsmen crashed out with:
"The Rout it is out for the Looes, For the Looes; Oh, the Rout it is out for the Looes!"
"Forward! Forward, Troy!"
"Steady, the Two Looes! Steady, the Diehards!"
"Form up—form up, there, to the left! Hurray, boys! give 'em the bagginet!"
"Death to Invader! Reload, men! Oh, for your lives, reload! Make ready, all! Prepare! Fire!"
"Mr. Spettigew! Mr. Spettigew!"
"Eh?" Uncle Issy turned as William Oke plucked him by the sleeve. "What's the matter now? Reload, I tell'ee!"
"I—I can't, Mr. Spettigew. I've a-fired off my ramrod!"
"Then you'm a lost man."
"Will it—will it have killed any person, d'ee think?" Oke's teeth rattled like a box of dice as he peered out over the dark and agitated crowd of boats.
"Shouldn' wonder at all."
"I didn' mean to kill any person, Mr. Spettigew!"
"'Tis the sort of accident, Oke, that might happen to anyone in war. At the worst they'll recommend 'ee to mercy. The mistake was your tellin' me."
"You won't inform upon me, Mr. Spettigew? Don't say you'll inform upon me!"
"No, I won't; not if I can help it. But dang it! first of all you swaller the fuse, and next you fire off your ramrod."
"E-everything must have a beginning, Mr. Spettigew."
Uncle Issy shook his head. "I doubt you'll never make a sojer, William Oke. You'm too frolicsome wi' the materials. Listen, there's Pengelly shoutin' for another volley! Right you be, sergeant! Make ready—prepare—Eh? Hallo!"
Why was it that suddenly, at the height of the hubbub, a panic fell upon the bandsmen of Troy? Why did the "Rout for the Looes" cease midway in a bar? What was it that hushed on an instant the shouts, the rallying cries upon the beach, the bugle-calls and challenges, the furious uproar of musketry?
Why, within twenty yards of the Cove-head, in the act of charging upon the serried ranks of Looe's main guard, did Major Hymen face about and with sword still uplifted stare behind him, and continue to stare as one petrified?
What meant that strange light, out yonder by the Cove's mouth, in the rear of his boats?
The light grew and spread until it illuminated every pebble on the beach. The men of Troy, dazzled by the glare of it, blinked in the faces of the men of Looe.
"A trap! A trap!" yelled someone far to the right, and the cry was echoed on the instant by a sound in the rear of the Diehards—a sound yet more terrible—the pounding of hoofs upon hard turf.
Again Captain Pond rushed forward and caught the Major by the elbow.
"The Dragoons!" he whispered. "Run for your life, man!"
But already the ranks of the Diehards had begun to waver; and now, as the oncoming hoofs thundered louder, close upon their rear, they broke. Trojans and men of Looe turned tail and were swept in one commingled crowd down the beach.
"To the water, there! Down to the water, every man of you!"
A voice loud as a bull's roared out the command from the darkness. The Major, still waving his sword, was lifted by the crowd's pressure and swept along like a chip in a tideway. His feet fought for solid earth. Glancing back as he struggled, he saw, high above his shoulder, lit up by the flares from seaward, a line of flashing swords, helmets, cuirasses.
"To the boats!" yelled the crowd.
"To the water! Drive 'em to the water!" answered the stentorian voice, now recognisable as Mr. Smellie's.
The Dragoons, using the flat of their sabres, drove the fugitives down to the tide's edge, nor drew rein until their chargers stood fetlock-deep in water, still pressing the huddled throng around the boats.
"Bring a lantern, there!" shouted the Riding Officer. "And call Hymen! Where is Hymen!"
"I am here!"
The Major had picked himself up out of two feet of water, into which he had been flung on all fours. He was dripping wet, but he still clutched his naked blade, and advancing into the light of the lantern's rays, brought it up to salute with a fine cold dignity.
"I am here," he repeated quietly.
"Well, then, I'm sorry for you, Hymen; but the game's up," said Mr. Smellie.
The Major glanced at him, for a moment only.
"Will someone inform me who commands this troop?" he asked, looking first to right, then to left, along the line of the Dragoons.
"At your service, sir," answered a young officer, pressing his horse forward alongside Mr. Smellie's.
The Major reached out a hand for the lantern. Someone passed it to him obediently; and holding it he scanned the officer up and down amid the dead silence of the crowd.
"Your name, sir?"
"Arbuthnot, sir—Captain Arbuthnot, of the 5th Dragoons."
"Then allow me to ask, Captain Arbuthnot, by what right have you and your troopers assaulted my men?"
"Excuse me," the Captain answered. "I am acting on trustworthy information. The Riding Officer here, Mr. Smellie—"
But here Mr. Smellie himself interposed brusquely.
"You can stow this bluster, Hymen. I've cornered you, and you know it. The flares in the offing yonder came from two preventive boats. Back-door and front I have you, as neat as a rat in a drain; so you may just turn that lantern of yours on the cargo, own up, and sing small."
"To resume our conversation, Captain Arbuthnot," the Major went on. "Upon what information are you and your men taking a part, uninvited, in this evening's—er—proceedings? You must understand, sir, that I put this question as a magistrate."
"To be frank, sir, I am warned that under cover of a feigned attack between your two corps an illicit cargo was to be run here to-night. The Riding Officer's information is precise, and he tells me he is acquainted with the three boats in which the goods have been brought over."
"And more by token, there they are!" exclaimed Mr. Smellie, pointing to three small lugger-rigged craft that lay moored some six or eight fathoms outside the long-boats, with mainmasts unstepped, sails left to lie loose about deck with an artful show of carelessness, and hulls suspiciously deep in the water. He dismounted, caught up a lantern, and scanned them, chuckling in his glee. "See here, Captain, the rogues had their gang-planks out and ready. Now, wait till I've whistled in the preventive crews, and inside of ten minutes you shall see what game these pretty innocents were playing."
He blew his whistle, and a whistle answered from the offing, where the flares continued to blaze.
"Excuse me again," said the Major, ignoring the interruption and still addressing himself to Captain Arbuthnot, "but this is a very serious accusation, sir. If, as you surmise—or rather as your informant surmises—these boats should prove to be laden with contraband goods, the men undoubtedly deserve punishment; and I am the less likely to deprecate it since they have compromised me by their folly. For me, holding as I do the King's commission of the peace, to be involved, however innocently, however unconsciously—"
"Ay," struck in Mr. Smellie again, "it's a devilish awkward business for you, Hymen. But you won't improve it by turning cat-in-the-pan at the last moment, and so I warn you. Come along, lads!" he called to the preventive crews. "We have 'em right and tight this trip. See the three luggers, there, to port of ye?"
"Ay, ay, sir!"
"Tumble aboard, then, and fetch us out a sample of their cargo."
There was a pause. Save for the jingling of the chargers' bits and now and again the clink of scabbard on boot, silence—dead silence— held the beach. Aboard the boats the preventive men could be heard rummaging.
"Found anything?" called out Mr. Smellie.
"Ay, ay, sir!"
"What is it?"
"What did I promise you?" Mr. Smellie turned to Captain Arbuthnot in triumph. "Luxmore!" he called aloud.
"Ay, ay, sir!" came the Chief Boatman's voice in answer.
"There's a plank handy. Roll us a sample or two ashore here, and fetch along chisel and auger."
"If you think it necessary, sir—"
"Do as you're told, man! . . . Ah, here we are!"—as a couple of preventive men splashed ashore, trundling a cask along the plank between them, and up-ended it close by the water's edge.
Captain Arbuthnot had dismounted and, advancing with his arm through his charger's bridle, bent over the cask.
"Devilish queer-smelling brandy!" he observed, drawing back a pace and sniffing.
"It has been standing in the bilge. These fellows never clean out their boats from one year's end to another," said Mr. Smellie, positively. Yet he, too, eyed the cask with momentary suspicion. In shape, in colour, it resembled the tubs in which Guernsey ordinarily exported its eau-de-vie. It was slung, too, ready for carriage, and with French left-handed rope, and yet. . . . It seemed unusually large for a Guernsey tub . . . and unusually light in scantling. . . .
"Shall I spile en, maister?" asked one of the preventive men, producing a large auger.
"No, stave its head in. And fetch a pannikin, somebody. There's good water at the beach-head; and I dare say your men, Captain, won't despise a tot of French liquor after their ride."
The preventive man set his chisel against the inner rim of the cask, and dealt it a short sharp blow with his hammer, a sort of trial tap, to guide his aim. "French liquor?" He sniffed. "Furrin fruit, more like. Phew! Keep back there, and stand by for lavender!"
Crash! . . .
"Ar-r-r-ugh! Oh, merciful Heaven!" Captain Arbuthnot staggered back, clapping thumb and forefinger to his nose.
Mr. Smellie opened his mouth, but collapsed in a fit of retching, as from right and left, and from the darkness all around him, a roar of Homeric laughter woke the echoes of the Cove. Men rolled about laughing. Men leaned against one another to laugh.
Already the preventive men on board the luggers—having been rash enough to prise open some half a dozen casks—had dropped overboard and were wading ashore, coughing and spitting as they came. Amid the uproar Major Hymen kept a perfectly grave face.
"You see, sir," he explained to Captain Arbuthnot, "Mr. Smellie is fond of hunting where there is no fox. So some of my youngsters hit on the idea of providing him with a drag. They have spent a week at least in painting these casks to look like the real thing. . . . I am sorry, sir, that you and your gallant fellows should have been misled by an officious civilian; but if I might suggest your marching on to Looe, where a good supper awaits us, to take this taste out of our mouths—and good liquor too, not contraband, to drown resentment—"
The Captain may surely be pardoned if for the moment even this gentle speech failed to placate him. He turned in dudgeon amid the grinning crowd and was in the act of remounting, but missed the stirrup as his charger reared and backed before the noise of yet another diversion. No one knows who dipped into the cask and flung the first handful over unhappy Mr. Smellie. No one knows who led the charge down upon the boats, or gave the cry to stave in the barrels on board. But in a trice the preventive men were driven overboard and, as they leapt into the shallow water, were caught and held and drenched in the noisome mess; while the Riding Officer, plastered ere he could gain his saddle, ducked his head and galloped up the beach under a torrential shower of deliquescent pilchards.
The Dragoons did not interfere.
"Shall it be for Looe, Captain?" challenged Major Hymen, waving his blade and calling on the Gallants to re-form. And as he challenged, by the happiest of inspirations the band, catching up their instruments, crashed out with:
"Oh, the De'il's awa'— The De'il's awa'— The De'il's awa' wi' th' exciseman!"
"COME, MY CORINNA, COME!"
Miss Marty drew aside her window curtain to watch the rising moon. She could not sleep. Knowing that she would not be able to sleep, she had not undressed.
She gazed out upon the street, dark now and deserted. No light signalled to her from the attic window behind which Dr. Hansombody so often sat late over his books and butterfly cases. He had gone with the others.
She listened. The house was silent save for the muffled snoring of Scipio in his cupboard-bedroom under the stairs. She raised the window-sash gently, leaned out upon the soft spring night, and listened again.
Far down the street, from the purlieus of the Town Quay, her ear caught a murmur of voices—of voices and happy subdued laughter. The maidens of Troy were embarking; and to-morrow would be May morning.
Miss Marty sighed. How long was it since she had observed May morning and its rites? The morrow, too, if the Vicar and the Major were right in their calculations, would usher in the Millennium. But again, what was the Millennium to her? Could it bring back her youth?
She heard the boats draw near and go by. The houses to the left hid them from her: but she leaned out, hearkening to the soft plash of oars, the creak of thole-pins, the girls' voices in hushed chorus practising the simple native harmonies they would lift aloud as they returned after sunrise. She recognised the tune, too; the old tune of "The Padstow Hobby-horse,"—
"Unite and unite, and let us all unite, For summer is a-come in to-day— And whither we are going we will all go in white In the merry merry morning of May.
"Rise up, Master—, and joy you betide, For summer is a-come in to-day— And blithe is the bride lays her down by your side In the merry merry morning of May."
Hushed though the voices were, each word fell distinct on her ear as the boats drew near and passed up the tideway.
"Rise up, Mistress—, all in your smock of silk, For summer is a-come in to-day— And all your body under as white as any milk In the merry merry morning of May."
The voices faded away up the river. Only the lilt of the song came back to her now, but memory supplied the words. Had they not been sung under her window years ago?
"Rise up, Mistress Marty, all out of your bed, For summer is a-come in to-day— Your chamber shall be spread with the white rose and red In the merry merry morning of May.
"O where be the maidens that here now should sing? For summer is a-come in to-day— They be all in the meadows the flowers gathering, In the merry merry morning of May."
What magic was there in this artless ditty that kept Miss Marty lingering awhile with moist eyes ere she closed the window-sash?
"Wh'st! Miss Mar-ty!"
Heavens! Whose voice was that, calling up hoarsely from the shadows? She peered out, but could see nobody. Suddenly her maiden modesty took alarm. What possessed her to be standing here exposed, and exposing the interior of her lighted bed-chamber to view from the street? She ran back in a flurry and blew out the candles; then, returning, put up a hand to draw down the window-sash.
"Wh'st! Miss Mar-ty!"
"Gracious goodness!" After a moment's hesitation she craned out timorously. "Cai Tamblyn . . .?"
"What on earth are you doing there at this time of night?"
"Nonsense. What do I want of a sentry?"
"You never can tell."
"Are you here by the Major's order?"
"Ch't!" answered Cai Tamblyn. "Him!"
"Then go away, please, and let me beg you to speak more respectfully of your master."
"I reckon," said Cai, slowly, "you don't know that, barrin' the nigger under the stairs, this here town's as empty as my hat. Well, a man can but die once, and if the French come, let 'em; that's all I say. Good night, miss."
"The town empty?"
"Males, females and otherwise, down to Miss Jex at the post-office." (Cai Tamblyn nursed an inveterate antipathy for the post-mistress. He alleged no reason for it, save that she wore moustaches, which was no reason at all, and a monstrous exaggeration.) "There's Miss Pescod gone, and Miss Tregentil with her maid."
"But where? Why?"
"Up the river. Gallivantin'. That's what I spoke ye for, just now. Mind you, I don't propose no gallivantin'; but there's safety in numbers, and if you've a mind for it, I've the boat ready by the Broad Slip."
"But what foolishness!"
"Ay," Mr. Tamblyn assented. "That's what I said to the Doctor when he first mentioned it. 'What foolishness,' I said, 'at her time o' life!' But then we never reckoned on the whole town goin' crazed."
"The Doctor?" queried Miss Marty, with a glance down the dark street. "He thinks of everything," she murmured.
There was a pause, during which Mr. Tamblyn somewhat ostentatiously tested the lock of his musket.
"You are not going to frighten me, Cai."
"I—I think an expedition up the river would be very pleasant. If, as you say, Miss Pescod has gone—"
"I must bring Scipio."
"Very well, miss. If the French come, they might think o' looking under the stairs."
Twenty minutes later Miss Marty—escorted by Scipio, who bore a lantern—tiptoed down the street to the Broad Slip, fearful even of her own light footstep on the cobbles.
The Broad Slip—it has since been filled in—was in those days a sort of dock, inset between the waterside houses and running up so close to the street that the vessels it berthed were forced to take in their bowsprits to allow the pack-horse traffic to pass. On its south side a flight of granite steps led down to the water: and at the foot of these (the tide being low) Cai Tamblyn waited with his boat.
"I declare my heart's in my mouth," Miss Marty panted, as she took her seat. Cai directed Scipio to sit amidships, pushed off in silence, and taking the forward thwart, began to pull.
"Now there's a thing," he said after a few strokes with a jerk of his head towards the dark longshore houses, "you don't often see nor hear about outside o' the Bible; a deserted city. Fine pickings for Boney if he only knew."
Miss Marty's thoughts flew back at once to a corner cupboard in the parlour, inlaid with tulips in Dutch marqueterie, and containing the Major's priceless eggshell china. To be sure, if the French landed, she—weak woman that she was—could not defend this treasure. But might not the Major blame her for having abandoned it?
"I—I trust," she hazarded, "that our brave fellows have succeeded in their enterprise. It seemed to me that I heard the sound of distant firing just now."
"If they hadn't, miss, they'd ha' been back afore now. I had my own doubts about 'em, for they're a hair-triggered lot, the Troy Gallants. No fear of their goin' off; but 'tis a matter o' doubt in what direction."
"Your master," said Miss Marty, severely, addressing Cai across Scipio (who for some reason seldom or never spoke in Cai's company)— "your master has the heart of a lion. He would die rather than acknowledge defeat."
"A heart of a lion, miss, if you'll excuse my saying it, is an uncomfortable thing in a man's stomach; an' more especially when 'tis fed up on the wind o' vanity. I've a-read my Bible plumb down to the forbidden books thereof, and there's a story in it called Bel and the Dragon, which I mind keeping to the last, thinkin' 'twas the name of a public-house. 'Tis a terrible warnin' against swollen vittles."
"You are a dreadful cynic, Cai."
"Nothin' of the sort, miss," said Cai, stoutly. "I thinks badly o' most men—that's all."
His talk was always cross-grained, but its volume betrayed a quite unwonted geniality to-night. And half a mile farther, where the dark river bent around Wiseman's Stone, he so far relaxed as to rest on his oars and challenge the famous echo from the wooded cliffs. Somewhat to Miss Marty's astonishment it responded.
"And by night, too! I had no idea!"
"Night?" repeated Mr. Tamblyn, after rowing on for another fifty strokes. He paused as if he had that moment heard, and glanced upward. "'Tis much as ever. The sky's palin' already, and we'll not reach Lerryn by sunrise. I think, miss, if you'll step ashore, this here's as good a place as any. Scipio and me'll keep the boat and turn our backs."
Miss Marty understood. The boat's nose having been brought alongside a ridge of rock, she landed in silence, climbed the foreshore, up by a hazel-choked path to a meadow above, and there, solemnly thrusting her hands into the lush grass, turned to the east and bathed her face in the dew. It is a rite which must be performed alone, in silence; and the morning sun must not surprise it.
"You've been terrible quick," remarked Cai, as she stepped down to the foreshore again in the ghostly light. "You can't have stayed to dabble your feet. Didn't think it wise, I s'pose? And I dare say you're right."
From far ahead of them as they started again, the voices of the singers came borne down the river; and again Miss Marty's memory supplied the words of the song:
"The young men of our town, they might if they wo'ld— For summer is a-comin' in to-day— They might have built a ship and have gilded her with gold In the merry merry morning of May."
"The young men . . . the young men . . . they might if they wo'ld." Ah, Miss Marty, was it only the edge of the morning that heightened the rose on your cheek by a little—a very little—as the sky paled? And now the kingfishers were awake, and the woodlands nigh, and the tide began to gather force as it neared the narrower winding channel. To enter this they skirted a mud-flat, where the day, breaking over the tree-tops and through the river mists, shone on scores upon scores of birds gathered to await it—curlews, sandpipers, gulls in rows like strings of jewels, here and there a heron standing sentry. The assembly paid no heed to the passing boat.
Miss Marty gazed up at the last star fading in the blue. How clear the morning was! How freshly scented beneath the shadow of the woods! Her gaze descended upon the incongruous top-hat and gold-laced livery of Scipio, touched with the morning sunshine. She glanced around her and motioned to Cai Tamblyn to bring the boat to shore by a grassy spit whence (as she knew) a cart-track led alongshore through the young oak coppices to the village.
"And Scipio," she said, turning as she stepped out on the turf, "will like a run in the woods."
She had walked on, maybe a hundred paces, before the absurdity of it struck her. She had been thinking of Mr. Pope's line:
"When wild in woods the noble savage ran."
And at the notion of Scipio, in gilt-laced hat and livery, tearing wildly through the undergrowth in the joy of liberty, she halted and laughed aloud.
She was smiling yet when, at a turning of the leafy lane, she came upon the prettiest innocent sight. On a cushion of moss beside the path, two small children—a boy and a girl—lay fast asleep. The boy's arm was flung around his sister's shoulders, and across his thighs rested a wand or thin pole topped with a May-garland of wild hyacinths, red-robin and painted birds' eggs. A tin cup, brought to collect pence for the garland, glittered in the cart-rut at their feet. It had rolled down the mossy bank as the girl's fingers relaxed in sleep.
They were two little ones of Troy, strayed hither from the merrymaking; and at first Miss Marty had a mind to wake them, seeing how near they lay to the river's brink. But noting that a fallen log safeguarded them from this peril, she fumbled for the pocket beneath her skirt, dropped a sixpence with as little noise as might be into the tin cup, and tiptoed upon her way.
About three hundred yards from the village she met another pair of children; and, soon after, a score or so in a cluster, who took toll of her in pence; for almost everyone carried a garland. And then the trees opened, and she saw before her the village with its cottages, grey and whitewashed, its gardens and orchards, mirrored in the brimming tide, all trembling in the morning light and yet exquisitely still. Far up the river, beyond the village and the bridge, a level green meadow ran out, narrowing the channel; and here beneath the apple-trees—for the meadow was half an orchard—had been set out many lines of white-covered tables, at which the Mayers made innocently merry.
Innocently, did I say? Well, I have known up-country folk before now to be scandalised by some things which we in the Duchy think innocent enough. So let me admit that the three long-boats conveyed something more than the youth and beauty of Troy to that morning's Maying; that when launched from Mr. Runnells' yard they were not entirely what they seemed: that from their trial spin across the bay they returned some inches deeper in the water, and yet they did not leak. Had you perchance been standing by the shore in the half-light as they came up over the shallows, you might have wondered at the number of times they took ground, and at the slowness of the tide to lift and float them. You might have wondered again why, after they emerged from the deep shadow of Sir Felix Felix-Williams' woods upon the southern shore, albeit in shallow water, they seemed to feel their hindrances no longer.
Have you ever, my reader, caught hold of a lizard and been left with his tail in your hands?
Even so easily did these three long-boats shed their false keels, which half an hour later were but harmless-looking stacks of timber among Sir Felix's undergrowth. Half an hour later, had your unwary feet led you to a certain corner of Sir Felix's well-timbered demesne, you might have scratched your head and wondered what magic carpet had transported you into the heart of the Cognac District. And all this was the work of the men of Troy (not being volunteers) who had come either in the long-boats or in the many boats escorting these.
But the women of Troy, being deft with the oar one and all, took the places of the men left behind in the woods, and, singing yet, brought both the long-boats and these other boats safely to Lerryn on the full flood of the tide, and disembarking upon the meadow there, gathered around the tables under the apple-trees to eat bread and cream in honour of May-day, looking all the while as if butter would not melt in their mouths. Between their feasting they laughed a great deal; but either they laughed demurely, being constrained by the unwonted presence of Miss Pescod and other ladies of Troy's acknowledged elite, or Miss Marty as yet stood too far off to hear their voices.
Let us return to Scipio, who, on receiving Miss Marty's permission to wander, had made his way up through the woods in search of the Devil's Hedge, along which, as he knew, his master would be leading back the triumphant Gallants.
Fidelity was ever the first spring of Scipio's conduct. He adored the Major with a canine devotion, and by an instinct almost canine he found his way up to the earthwork and chose a position which commanded the farthest prospect in the direction of Looe. From where he sat the broad hedge dipped to a narrow valley, climbed the steep slope opposite, and vanished, to reappear upon a second and farther ridge two miles away. As yet he could discern no sign of the returning heroes; but his ear caught the throb of a drum beaten afar to the eastward.
Of the Major's two body-servants it might be said that the one spoke seldom and the other never; and again that Cai, who spoke seldom, was taciturn, while Scipio, who spoke never, was almost affable. In truth, the negro's was the habitual silence of one who, loving his fellows, spends all his unoccupied time in an inward brooding, a continual haze of day-dreams.
Scipio's day-dreams were of a piece with his loyalty, a reflection in some sort of his master's glory. He could never—he with his black skin—be such a man; but he passionately desired to be honoured, respected, though but posthumously. And the emblazoned board in the church, appealing as it did to his negro sense of colour, had suggested a way. It is not too much to say that a great part of Scipio's time was lived by him in a future when, released from this present livery, his spirit should take on a more gorgeous one, as "Scipio Johnson, Esquire, late of this Parish," in scarlet twiddles on a buff ground.
He seated himself on the earthwork, and the better to commune with this vision, tilted his gold-laced hat forward over his eyes, shutting out the dazzle of the morning sun. Once or twice he shook himself, being heavy with broken sleep, and gazed across the ridges, then drew up his knees, clasped them, and let his heavy, woolly head drop forward, nodding.
Let us not pursue those stages of conviviality through which the Looe Diehards, having been seen home by the Troy Gallants, arrived at an obligation to return the compliment. Suffice it to say that Major Hymen and Captain Pond, within five minutes of bidding one another a public tearful farewell, found themselves climbing the first hill towards Lerryn with linked arms. But the Devil's Hedge is a wide one and luckily could not be mistaken, even in the uncertain light of dawn.
And, to pass over the minor incidents of that march, I will maintain in fairness (though the men of Troy choose to laugh) that the sudden apparition of a black man seated in the morning light upon the Devil's Hedge was enough to daunt even the tried valour of the Looe Diehards.
"The De'il's awa', the De'il's awa', The De'il's awa' wi' th' exciseman."
The eye notoriously magnifies an object seen upon a high ridge against the skyline; and when Scipio stood erect in all his gigantic proportions and waved both arms to welcome his beloved master, the Diehards turned with a yell and fled. Vainly their comrades of Troy called after them. Back and down the hill they streamed pell-mell, one on another's heels; down to the marshy bottom known as Trebant Water, nor paused to catch breath until they had placed a running brook between them and the Power of Darkness.
For the second time that night the Gallants rolled about and clung one to another in throes of Homeric laughter; laughter which, reverberating, shout on shout, along the ridge and down among the tree-tops, reached even to the meadow far below, where in the sudden hush of the lark's singing the merrymakers paused and looked up to listen.
But wait awhile! They laugh best who laugh last.
BY LERRYN WATER.
"O will you accept of the mus-e-lin so blue, To wear in the morning and to dabble in the dew?" Old Song.
Miss Marty had duly visited the meadow and eaten and paid for her breakfast of bread and cream. But she had eaten it in some constraint, sitting alone. She had never asserted her position as the Major's kinswoman in the eyes of Miss Pescod and the ladies of Miss Pescod's clan, who were inclined to regard her as a poor relation, a mere housekeeper, and to treat her as a person of no great account. On the other hand, the majority of the merrymakers deemed her, no doubt, a stiff stuck-up thing; whereas she would in fact have given much to break through her shyness and accost them. For these reasons, the meal over, she was glad to pay her sixpence and escape from the throng back to the woodland paths and solitude.
The children by this time had grown tired of straying, and were trooping back to the village. Fewer and fewer met her as she followed the shore; the two slumberers were gone from the mossy bank; by and by the procession dried up, so to speak, altogether. She understood the reason when a drum began to bang overhead behind the woods and passed along the ridge, still banging. The Gallants were returning; and apparently flushed with victory, since between the strokes she could hear their distant shouts of laughter.
At one moment she fancied they must be descending through the woods: for a crackling of the undergrowth, some way up the slope, startled and brought her to a halt. But no; the noise passed along the ridge towards the village. The crackling sound must have come from some woodland beast disturbed in his night's lair.
She retraced her way slowly to the spot where she had disembarked; but when she reached it, Cai and the boat had vanished. No matter; Cai was a trustworthy fellow, and doubtless would be back ere long. Likely enough he had pulled across to the farther shore to bear a hand in what Troy euphemistically called the "salvage" of the long-boats' cargoes. Happy in her solitude, rejoicing in her extended liberty, Miss Marty strolled on, now gazing up into the green dappled shadows, now pausing on the brink to watch the water as it swirled by her feet, smooth and deep and flawed in its depths with arrow-lights of sunshine.
She came by and by to a point where the cart-track turned inland to climb the woods and a foot-path branched off from it, skirting a small recess in the shore. A streamlet of clear water, hurrying down from the upland by the Devil's Hedge, here leapt the low cliff and fell on a pebbly beach, driving the pebbles before it and by their attrition wearing out for itself a natural basin. Encountering a low ridge of rock on the edge of the tideway, the stones heaped themselves along it and formed a bar, with one tiny outlet through which the pool trickled continually, except at high spring tides when the river overflowed it.
Now Miss Marty, fetching a compass around this miniature creek, came in due course to the stream and seated herself on a fallen log, to consider. For the ground on the farther side appeared green and plashy, and she disliked wetting her shoes.
Overhead a finch piped. Below her, hidden by a screen of hazel, chattered the fall. Why should she wend farther? She must be greedy of solitude indeed if this sylvan corner did not content her.
And yet. . . . High on the opposite bank there grew a cluster of columbine, purple and rosy pink, blown thither and seeded perhaps from some near garden, though she had heard that the flower grew wild in these woods. Miss Marty gazed at the flowers, which seem to nod and beckon; then at the stream; then at the plashy shore; lastly at her shoes. Her hand went down to her right foot.
She drew off her shoes. Then she drew off her stockings.
By this time she was in a nervous flurry. Almost you may say that she raced across the stream and clutched at a handful of the columbines. In less than a minute she was back again, gazing timorously about her.
No one had seen; nobody, that is to say, except the finch, and he piped on cavalierly. Miss Marty glanced up at him, then at a clearing of green turf underneath his bough, a little to her left. Why not? Why should she omit any of May morning's rites?
Miss Marty picked up her skirts again, stepped on to the green turf, and began to dabble her feet in the dew.
"The morn that May began, I dabbled in the dew; And I wished for me a proper young man In coat-tails of the blue. . . ."
The cry came from afar; indeed, from the woods across the river. Yet as the hare pricks up her ears at the sound of a distant horn and darts away to the covert, so did Miss Marty pause, and, after listening for a second or two, hurry back to the log to resume her shoes and stockings.
Her shoes she found where she had left them, and one stocking on the rank grass close beside them. But where was the other?
She looked to right, to left, and all around her in a panic. Could she have dropped it into the stream in her hurry? And had the stream carried it down the fall?
She drew on one stocking and shoe, and catching up the other shoe in her hand, crept down to explore. The stream leapt out of sight through a screen of hazels. Parting these, she peered through them, to judge the distance between her and the pool and see if any track led down to it. A something flashed in her eyes, and she drew back. Then, peering forward again, she let a faint cry escape her.
On the pebbly bank beside the pool stood a man—Dr. Hansombody—in regimentals. In one hand he held a razor (this it was that had flashed so brightly in the sunlight), in the other her lost stocking. Apparently he had been shaving, kneeling beside the pool and using it for a mirror; for one half of his face was yet lathered, and his haversack lay open on the stones by the water's edge beside his shako and a tin cup under which he had lit a small spirit-lamp; and doubtless, while he knelt, the stream had swept Miss Marty's stocking down to him. He was studying it in bewilderment; which changed to glad surprise as he caught sight of her, aloft between the hazels.
"Hallo!" he challenged. "A happy month to you!"
"Oh, please!" Miss Marty covered her face.
"I'll spread it out to dry on the stones here."
"Please give it back to me. Yes, please, I beg of you!"
"I don't see the sense of that," answered the Doctor. "You can't possibly wear it until it's dry, you know."
"But I'd rather."
"Are you anchored up there? Very well; then I'll bring it up to you in a minute or so. But just wait a little; for you wouldn't ask me to come with half my face unshaven, would you?"
"I can go back. . . . No, I can't. The bank is too slippery. . . . But I can look the other way," added Miss Marty, heroically.
"I really don't see why you should," answered the Doctor, as he resumed his kneeling posture. "Now, to my mind," he went on in the intervals of finishing his toilet, "there's no harm in it, and, speaking as a man, it gives one a pleasant sociable feeling."
"I—have often wondered how it was done," confessed Miss Marty. "It looks horribly dangerous."
"The fact is," said the Doctor, wiping his blade, "I cannot endure to feel unshaven, even when campaigning."
He restored the razor to his haversack, blew out the spirit-lamp, emptied the tin cup on the stones, packed up, resumed his shako, and stood erect.
"My stocking, please!" Miss Marty pleaded.
"It is by no means dry yet," he answered, stooping and examining it. "Let me help you down, that you may see for yourself."
"Oh, I couldn't!"
"Meaning your foot and ankle? Believe me you have no cause to be ashamed of them, Miss Marty," the Doctor assured her gallantly, climbing the slope and extending an arm for her to lean upon.
"Those people—across the water," she protested, with a slight blush and a nod in the direction of the shouting, which for some minutes had been growing louder.
"Our brave fellows—if, as I imagine, the uproar proceeds from them— are pardonably flushed with their victory. They are certainly incapable, at this distance, of the nice observation with which your modesty credits them. Good Lord!—now you mention it—what a racket! I sincerely trust they will not arouse Sir Felix, whose temper— experto crede—is seldom at its best in the small hours. There, if you will lean your weight on me and advance your foot—the uncovered one—to this ledge—Nay, now!"
"But it hurts," said Miss Marty, wincing, with a catch of her breath. "I fear I must have run a thorn into it."
"A thorn?" The Doctor seized the professional opportunity, lifted her bodily off the slope, and lowered her to the beach. "There, now, if you will sit absolutely still . . . for one minute. I command you! Yes, as I suspected—a gorse-prickle!"
He ran to his haversack, and, returning with a pair of tweezers, took the hurt foot between both hands.
"Pray remain still . . . for one moment. There—it is out!" He held up the prickle triumphantly between the tweezers. "You have heard, Miss Marty, of the slave Andrew Something-or-other and the lion? Though it couldn't have been Andrew really, because there are no lions in Scotland—except, I believe, on their shield. He was hiding for some reason in a cave, and a lion came along, and—well, it doesn't seem complimentary even if you turn a lion into a lioness, but it came into my head and seemed all right to start with."
"When I was a governess," said Miss Marty, "I used often to set it for dictation. I had, I remember, the same difficulty you experience with the name of the hero."
"Did you?" the Doctor exclaimed, delightedly. "That is a coincidence, isn't it? I sometimes think that when two minds are, as one might say, attuned—"
"They are making a most dreadful noise," said Miss Marty, with a glance across the river. "Did I hear you say that you were victorious to-night?"
"The Major is a wonderful man."
"Wonderful! As I was saying, when two minds are, as one might say, attuned—"
"He succeeds in everything he touches."
"It is a rare talent."
"I sometimes wonder how, with his greatness—for he cannot but be conscious of it—he endures the restrictions of our narrow sphere. I mean," Miss Marty went on, as the Doctor lifted his eyebrows in some surprise, "the petty business of a country town such as ours."
"Oh," said the Doctor. "Ah, to be sure! . . . I supposed for a moment that you were referring to the—er—terrestrial globe."
He sighed. Miss Marty sighed likewise. Across in the covert of the woods someone had begun to beat a tattoo on the drum. Presently a cornet joined in, shattering the echoes with wild ululations.
"Those fellows will be sorry if Sir Felix catches them," observed the Doctor, anxiously. "I can't think what Hymen's about, to allow it. The noise comes from right under the home-park, too."
"You depreciate the Major!" Miss Marty tapped her bare foot impatiently on the pebbles; but, recollecting herself, drew it back with a blush.
"I do not," answered the Doctor, hotly. "I merely say that he is allowing his men yonder to get out of hand."
"Perhaps you had better go, and, as the poet puts it, 'ride on the whirlwind and direct the storm,'" she suggested, with gentle sarcasm.
The Doctor rose stiffly. "Perhaps, on the whole, I had. Your stocking"—he lifted and felt it carefully—"will be dry in five minutes or so. Shall I direct Cai Tamblyn to bring the boat hither if I pass him on my way?"
She glanced up with a quivering lip.
"Isn't—isn't that a Sulphur Yellow?" she asked, pointing to a butterfly which wavered past them and poised itself for an instant on a pebble by the brink of the pool.
"Eh? By George! so it is." The Doctor caught up his shako and raced off in pursuit. "Steady now! . . . Is he gone? . . . Yes. . . . No, I have him!" he called, as with a swift wave of his arm he brought the shako down smartly on the pebbles and, kneeling, held it down with both hands.
"Where?" panted Miss Marty.
"Here . . . if you will stoop while I lift the brim. . . . Carefully, please. Now!"
Miss Marty stooped, but could not reach low enough to peer under the shako. She dropped on her knees. The Doctor was kneeling already. He showed her how to look, and this brought their cheeks close together. . . .
"Oh!" cried Miss Marty, suddenly.
"I couldn't help it," said the Doctor.
"And—and you have let him escape!" She buried her face in both hands, and broke into a fit of weeping.
"I don't care. . . . Yes, I do!" He caught her hands away from her face and, their hiding being denied her, she leant her brow against his shoulder. With that, his arm crept around her waist.
For a while he let her sob out her emotion. Then, taking her firmly by both wrists, he looked once into her eyes, led her to a seat upon the pebble ridge, and sat himself down beside her.
For a long while they rested there in silence, hand clasped in hand. The uproar across the river had ceased. They heard only the splash of the small waterfall and, in its pauses, the call of bird to bird, mating amid the hazels and the oaks.
They drew apart suddenly, warned by the sound of dipping oars, the creak of thole-pins; and in a few seconds the rower hove into view, pulling up-stream as if for dear life. It was Cai Tamblyn. Catching sight of them, with a sharp exclamation he ceased rowing, held water, and bringing the boat's nose round, headed in for shore.
"You're wanted, quick!" he called to the Doctor. "They sent me off in search of you."
"Hey? What? Has there been an accident?"
Cai brought his boat alongside, glanced at Miss Marty, and lowered his voice.
"'Tis Lady Felix-Williams. These here conquerin' 'eroes of the Major's have swarmed down through the woods an' ran foul of the liquor. The Band in partikler's as drunk as Chloe, an' what with horning and banging under her ladyship's window, they've a-scared her before her time. She's crying out at this moment, and old Sir Felix around in his dressing-gown like Satan let loose. Talk about Millenniums!"
"Good Lord!" Dr. Hansombody caught up his haversack. "The Millennium? I'd clean forgot about it!"
Miss Marty gazed at him with innocent inquiring eyes.
"But—but isn't this the Millennium?" she asked.
GUNNER SOBEY TURNS LOOSE THE MILLENNIUM.
Let us return for a while to Talland Cove, and to the moment when Captain Arbuthnot's Dragoons broke ambush and charged down upon the Gallants.
Of all our company you will remember that Gunner Sobey passed for the readiest man. This reputation he now and instantly vindicated. For happening to be posted on the extreme left in the shadow of the western cliff, and hearing a sudden cry, "The French! The French!" he neither fell back with the rest of the crowd nor foolhardily resisted an enemy whose strength could not yet be measured: but leaping aside, and by great good luck finding foothold on the rocks to his left, he wriggled over the low ledge of the cliff and thence— now clutching at the grass bents or clusters of the sea-pink, now digging his fingers into the turf, but always flat, or nearly flat, on his belly—he wormed his way at incredible speed up the slope, found covert behind a tall furze-bush, and surveyed for a few seconds the scene below him.
The outcries which yet continued, the splashing as of men in desperate struggle at the water's edge, the hoarse words of command, the scurrying lanterns, the gleam of a hundred tossing sabres—all these told their own tale to Gunner Sobey. He arose and ran again; nor drew breath until he had gained the top of the rough brake and flung himself over a stone wall into the dry ditch of a vast pasture field that domed itself far above him against the starry heavens.
Now let it be understood that what lent wings to Gunner Sobey's heels was not cowardice, but an overmastering desire to reach home with all speed. Let no reader mistake for panic what was in truth exceptional presence of mind.
The Major, you must know, had drawn up, some months before, and issued in a General Order, certain Instructions in Case of Invasion—in case, that is to say, the enemy should momentarily break through our coast defence and effect an actual footing. The main body of the Gallants would then, converting itself into a rearguard, cover the town and keep the foe in check, while separate detachments fell back swiftly, each to execute its assigned duty. For example:
Detachments A and B would round up and drive off the cattle.
Detachment C would assist the escape of the women and children.
Detachment D would collect and carry off provisions, and destroy what was left.
Detachment E would set fire to the corn and the hayricks.
Detachment F would horse themselves and ride inland to warn the towns and villages, and make all possible preparations for blowing up the bridges and otherwise impeding the enemy's advance after the rearguard's passage. And so on.
Gunner Sobey, though but a volunteer, possessed that simplicity of intellect which we have come to prize as the first essential in a British soldier. It was not his to reason why; not his to ask how the French had gained a footing in Talland Cove, or how, having gained it, they were to be dislodged. Once satisfied of their arrival, he left them, as his soldierly training enjoined, severely alone. Deplorable as he might deem the occurrence, it had happened; and ipso facto, it consigned him, in accordance with general orders, to Detachment D, with the duties and responsibilities of that detachment. On these then—and at first on these, and these only—he bent his practical, resolute mind. It will be seen if he stopped short with them.
Picking himself up from the dry ditch, intent only on heading for home, he was aware of a dark object on the brink above him; which at first he took for a bramble bush, and next, seeing it move, for a man.
It is no discredit to Gunner Sobey that, taken suddenly in the darkness, and at so hopeless a disadvantage, he felt his knees shake under him for a moment.
"Parley-voo?" he ventured.
The proverb says that a Polperro jackass is surprised at nothing, and this one, which had been browsing on the edge of the ditch, merely gazed.
"I—I ax your pardon," went on Gunner Sobey, still slightly unhinged. "The fact is, I mistook you for another person."
The jackass drew back a little. It seemed to Gunner Sobey to be breathing hard, but otherwise it betrayed no emotion.
"Soh, then! Soh, my beauty!" said Gunner Sobey, and having clambered the ditch, reached out a caressing hand.
The donkey retreated, backing, step by step: and as Gunner Sobey stared a white blaze on the animal's face grew more and more distinct to him.
"Eh? Why, surely—soh, then!—you're Jowter Puckey's naggur? And if so—and I'll be sworn to you, seein' you close—what's become of th' old mare I sold him last Marti'mas?"
The beast still retreated. But Gunner Sobey's wits were now working rapidly. If Jowter Puckey pastured his jackass here, why here then (it was reasonable to surmise) he also pastured the old mare, Pleasant: and if Pleasant browsed anywhere within earshot, why the chances were she would remember and respond to her former master's call.
I repeat that Gunner Sobey was a ready man and a brave. Without pausing to reflect that the French might hear him, he put two fingers in his mouth and whistled into the night.
For a while there came no reply. He had his two fingers in his mouth to repeat the call when, happening to glance at the jackass, he perceived the beast's ears go up and its head slew round towards the ridge. Doubtless it had caught the distant echo of hoofs; for half a minute later a low whinny sounded from the summit of the dark slope, and a grey form came lumbering down at a trot, halted, and thrust forward its muzzle to be caressed.
"Pleasant! Oh, my dear Pleasant!" stammered Gunner Sobey, reaching out a hand and fondling first her nose, then her ears. He could have thrown both arms around her ewe neck and hugged her. "How did I come to sell 'ee?"
To be sure, if he had not, this good fortune had never befallen him.
Neither Gunner Sobey nor the mare—nor, for that matter, the jackass—had ever read the eighteenth book of Homer's Iliad; and this must be their excuse for letting pass the encounter with less eloquence than I, its narrator, might have made a fortune by reporting. For once Gunner Sobey's readiness failed him, under emotion too deep for words. He laid a hand on the mare's withers and heaved himself astride, choosing a seat well back towards the haunches, and so avoiding the more pronounced angles in her framework. Then leaning forward and patting her neck he called to her.
"Home, my beauty! I'll stick on, my dear, if you'll but do the rest. Cl'k!"
She gathered up her infirm limbs and headed for home at a canter.
For a while the jackass trotted beside them; but coming to the gate and dismounting to open it, Gunner Sobey turned him back. Possibly the mare had a notion she was being stolen, for no sooner had her rider remounted than she struck off into a lane on the right hand, avoiding the road to Polperro where her present owner dwelt; and so, fetching a circuit by a second lane—this time to the left— clattered downhill past the sleeping hamlet of Crumplehorn, and breasted the steep coombe and the road that winds up beside it past the two Kellows to Mabel Burrow. Here on the upland she pulled herself together, and reaching out into a gallant stride, started on the long descent towards Troy at a pace that sent the night air whizzing by Gunner Sobey's ears. Past Carneggan she thundered, past Tredudwell; and thence, swinging off into the road for the Little Ferry, still down hill by Lanteglos Vicarage, by Ring of Bells, to the ford of Watergate in the valley bottom, where now a bridge stands; but in those days the foot-passengers crossed by a plank and a hand-rail. Splashing through the ford and choosing unguided the road which bore away to the right from the silent smithy, and steeply uphill to Whiddycross Common, she took it gamely though with fast failing breath. She had been foaled in Troy parish, and marvellously she was proving, after thirty years (her age was no less), the mettle of her ancient pasture. While he owned her, Gunner Sobey—who in extra-military hours traded as a carrier and haulier between Troy and the market-towns to the westward—had worked her late and fed her lean; but the most of us behold our receding youth through a mist of romance, and it may be that old worn-out Pleasant conceived herself to be cantering back to fields where the grass grew perennially sweet and old age was unknown. At any rate, she earned her place this night among the great steeds of romance—Xanthus, Bucephalus, Harpagus, Black Auster, Sleipnir and Ilderim, Bayardo and Brigliadoro, the Cid's Babieca, Dick Turpin's Black Bess; not to mention the two chargers, Copenhagen and Marengo, whom Waterloo was yet to make famous. As she mounted the last rise by Whiddycross Green her ribs were heaving sorely, her breath came in short quick coughs, her head lagged almost between her bony knees; but none the less she held on down the steep hill, all strewn with loose stones, to the ferry slip; and there, dropping her haunches, slid, checked herself almost at the water's edge, and stood quivering.
Billy Bates, the ferryman at Little Ferry, had heard the clatter of hoofs, and tumbled out to unchain his boat; a trifling matter for him, since he habitually slept in his clothes.
"Hallo!" said he, holding his lantern high and taking stock of the gunner's regimentals. "I allowed you'd be a messenger from Sir Felix. They tell me her leddyship is expectin'."
"I pity her then," gasped Gunner Sobey, and waved an arm. "Man, the French be landed, an' the country's ablaze!"
Billy Bates set down his lantern on the slip and ran two trembling hands through his scanty locks.
"If that's so," he answered, "you don't get no boat of mine. There's Hosken's blue boat; you'll find her moored off by a shoreline. Take she if you will; he's a single man."
"Darn your old carcass!" swore Gunner Sobey. "I wish now I'd waited to cross over before tellin' 'ee!"
"I dare say you do. Well, good night, soce. I'm off to tell the old woman."
Man is a selfish animal. As Gunner Sobey hauled Hosken's blue boat to shore, poor Pleasant came down the slip-way and rubbed her muzzle against his sleeve, dumbly beseeching him to fetch the horse-boat that she too might cross. He struck her sharply across the nose, and, jumping aboard, thrust off from the shore.
In telling Miss Marty that the town was deserted, Cai Tamblyn had forgotten the Vicar.
That good man, it is perhaps superfluous to say, had not sought his bed. He was a widower, and had no one to dissuade him from keeping vigil until daybreak. At ten o'clock, therefore, having seen to the trimming of his lamp and dismissed the servants to rest, he lit his study fire, set the kettle upon it, and having mixed himself a bowl of brandy-punch (in the concoction of which all Troy acknowledged him to be an expert), drew his arm-chair close to the genial blaze, and sat alternately sipping his brew and conning for the thousandth time the annotated pamphlet in which he had demonstrated exhaustively, redundantly, irrefutably, beyond possibility of disbelief or doubt, that with the morrow the world's great age must be renewed and the Millennium dawn upon earth.
For an hour and a half, or maybe three-quarters, he sat reading and reassuring himself that the armour of his proof was indeed proof-armour and exposed no chink to assault; and then—
The Vicar was a man of clean conscience and regular habits. He closed his eyes to review the argument. By and by his chin dropped forward on his chest. He slept. He dreamt. His dreams were formless, uneasy; such as one might expect who deserts his bed and his course of habit to sleep upright in an arm-chair. A vague trouble haunted them; or, rather, a presentiment of trouble. It grew and grew; and almost as it became intolerable, a bell seemed to clang in his ears, and he started up, awake, gripping his chair, his brow clammy with a sudden sweat. He glanced around him. The fire was cold, his lamp burned low, his book had fallen to the floor. Was it this that had aroused him? No; surely a bell had clanged in his ears. His brain kept the echo of it yet.
He listened. The clang was not repeated; but gradually his ears became aware of a low murmuring, irregular yet continuous; a sound, it seemed, of voices, yet not of human voices; a moaning, and yet not quite a moaning, but rather what the French would call a mugissement. Yes, it resembled rather the confused lowing of cattle than any other sound known to him. But that was inconceivable. . . .
He stepped to the window-curtains through which the pale dawn filtered; pulled them aside and started back with a cry of something more than dismay. The Vicarage faced upon the churchyard; and the churchyard was filled—packed—with cattle! Oxen and cows, steers, heifers, and young calves; at least thirty score were gathered there, a few hardier phlegmatic beasts cropping the herbage on the graves; but the mass huddled together, rubbing flanks, swaying this way and that in the pressure of panic as corn is swayed by flukes of summer wind.
The Vicar was no coward. Recovering himself, he ran to the passage, caught his hat down from the peg, and flung wide the front door.
A little beyond his gate a lime-tree walk led down through the churchyard to the town. But gazing over the chines of the herd beyond his garden railing, he saw that through this avenue he could not hope to force a passage; it was crowded so densely that dozen upon dozen of the poor brutes stood with horns interlocked, unable to lift or lower their heads.
To the right a line of cottages bounded the churchyard and overlooked it; and between them and the churchyard wall there ran a narrow cobbled lane known as Pease Alley (i.e., pis aller, the Vicar was wont to explain humorously). Through this he might hope to reach the Lower Town and discover some interpretation of the portent. He opened the gate boldly.