Mr. Frank glanced up at the engraving and turned his face away. It was the face of a man taken at unawares, embarrassed, almost afraid. The Vicar, who had been watching him, intending some pleasant remark about the picture, saw at once that something was wrong, and with great tact kept the talk upon some petty act of charity in which he sought to enlist his visitor's help. Mr. Frank listened, gave his promise hurriedly and made his escape. He never entered the Vicarage again.
Eighteen years had passed since Miss Bracy's interview with Bassett; and now, late on a summer afternoon, she and Mr. Frank were pacing the little waterside garden while they awaited their first visitor.
Mr. Frank betrayed the greater emotion, or at any rate the greater nervousness. Since breakfast he had been unable to sit still or to apply himself to any piece of work for ten minutes together, until Miss Bracy suggested the lawn-mower and brought purgatory upon herself. With that lawn-mower all the afternoon he had been "rattling her brain to fiddle-strings"—as she put it—and working himself into a heat which obliged a change of clothes before tea. The tea stood ready now on a table which Deborah had carried out into the garden—dainty linen and silverware, and flowered china dishes heaped with cakes of which only Scotswomen know the secrets. The sun, dropping behind Battery Point, slanted its rays down through the pine-trunks and over the fiery massed plumes of rhododendrons. Scents of jasmine and of shorn grass mingled with the clean breath of the sea borne to the garden wall on a high tide tranquil and clear—so clear that the eye following for a hundred yards the lines of the cove could see the feet of the cliffs where they rested, three fathoms down, on lily-white sand. Miss Bracy adored these clean depths. She had missed much that life could have given; but at least she had found a life comely and to her mind. She had sacrificed much; but at times she forgot how much in contemplating the modest elegance of the altar.
She wore, this evening, a gown of purplish silk, with a light cashmere scarf about her shoulders. Nothing could make her a tall woman; but her grey hair, dressed high a l'imperatrice, gave her dignity at least, and an air of old-fashioned distinction. And she was one of those few and fortunate ladies who never need to worry about the appearance of their cavaliers. Mr. Frank—six feet of him, without reckoning a slight stoop—always satisfied the eye; his grey flannel suit fitted loosely but fitted well; his wide-brimmed straw hat was as faultless as his linen; his necktie had a negligent neatness; you felt sure alike and at once of his bootmaker and his shirtmaker; and his fresh complexion, his prematurely white hair, his strong well-kept hands, completed the impression of cleanliness for its own sake, of a careful physical cult as far as possible removed from foppery.
This may have been in Miss Bracy's mind when she began: "I daresay he will be fairly presentable, to look at. That unfortunate woman had at least an art of dressing—a quiet taste too, quite extraordinary in one of her station. I often wondered where she picked it up."
Mr. Frank winced. Until the news of his wife's death came, a fortnight ago, her name had not been spoken between them for years. That he and his cousin regarded her very differently he knew; but while silence was kept it had been possible to ignore the difference. Now it surprised him that speech should hurt so; and, at the same moment, that his cousin should not divine how sorely it hurt. After all he was the saddest evidence of poor Bassett's "lady-like" tastes.
"I suppose you know nothing of the school she sent him to?" Miss Bracy went on—"King William's, or whatever it is."
"King Edward's," Mr. Frank corrected. "Yes, I made inquiries about it at the time—ten years ago. People speak well of it. Not a public school, of course—at least, not quite; the line isn't so easy to draw nowadays—but it turns out gentlemen."
In her heart Miss Bracy thought him too hopeful; but she said, "He wrote a becoming letter—his hand, by the way, curiously suggests yours; it was quite a nice letter, and agreeably surprised me. I shouldn't wonder if his headmaster had helped him with it and cut out the boyish heroics; for of course she must have taught him to hate us."
"My dear Laura, why in the world—" began Mr. Frank testily.
"Oh, she had spirit!"—the encounter of long ago rose up in Miss Bracy's memory, and she nodded her head with conviction. "Like most of the quiet ones, she had spirit. You don't suppose, I imagine, that she forgave?"
"No." Mr. Frank came to a halt and dug with his heel at a daisy root in the turf. Then using his heel as a pivot he swung himself round in an awkward circle. The action was ludicrous almost, but he faced his cousin again with serious eyes. "But it is not her heart that I doubt," he added gently.
Miss Bracy stared up at him, "My dear Frank, do you mean to tell me that you regret?"
Yes; as a fact he did regret, and knew that he would never cease to regret. He was not a man to nurse malice even for a wrong done to him, still less to live carelessly conscious of having wronged another. He was weak, but incurably just. And more; though self entered last into his regret, he knew perfectly well that the wrong had wrecked him too. His was a career manque: he had failed as a man, and it had broken his nerve as an artist. He was a dabbler now, with—as Heine said of de Musset—a fine future behind him, and none but an artist can tell the bitterness of that self-knowledge. Had he kept his faith with Bassett in spirit as in letter, he might have failed just as decidedly; her daily companionship might have coarsened his inspiration, soured him, driven him to work cheaply, recklessly; but at least he could have accused fate, circumstance, a boyish error, whereas now he and his own manhood shared the defeat and the responsibility. Yes, he regretted; but it would never do to let Laura know his regret. That would be to play the double traitor. She had saved him (she believed) from himself; with utterly wrong-headed loyalty she had devoted her life to this. The other debt was irredeemable, but this at any rate could be paid.
He evaded her question. "My dear," he said, "what was done has been atoned for by her, and is being atoned for by—by us. Let us think of her without bitterness."
Miss Bracy shook her head "I am a poor sort of Christian," she confessed; "and if she has taught this boy to hate us—"
"Mr. Victor Bracy," announced Deborah from the garden-porch behind them, and a tall youth in black stepped past her and came across the turf with a shy smile.
The pair turned with an odd sense of confusion, almost of dismay. They were prepared for the "Victor," but somehow they had not thought of him as bearing their own surname. Mr. Frank had felt the shock once before, in addressing an envelope; but to Miss Bracy it was quite new.
Yet she was the first to recover herself, and, while holding out her hand, took quick note that the boy had Frank's stature and eyes, carried his clothes well, and himself, if shyly, without clumsiness. She could find no fault with his manner of shaking hands; and when he turned to his father, the boy's greeting was the less embarrassed of the two. Mr. Frank indeed had suddenly become conscious of his light suit and bird's-eye neckcloth.
"But how did you come?" asked Miss Bracy. "We sent a cart to meet you— I heard no sound of wheels."
"Yes, I saw it outside the station; but the man didn't recognise me— quite a small crowd came by the train—and of course I didn't recognise him. So I bribed a porter to put my luggage on a barrow and come along with me. Half-way up the hill the cart overtook us—the driver full of apologies. While they transhipped my things I walked on ahead—yes, listen, there it comes; and—Oh, I say, what a lovely spot!"
Miss Bracy was listening—not for the wheels and not to the story, but critically to every word as it came from his lips. "The woman has certainly done wonders," was her unspoken comment. At Victor's frank outburst, however, she flushed with something like real pleasure. She was proud of her cottage and garden, and had even a sort of proprietary feeling about the view.
They sat down around the little tea-table; the boy first apologising for his travel-stains (he was, in fact, as neat as a pin) and afterwards chatting gaily about his journey—not talking too much, but appealing from one to another with a quick deferent grace, and allowing them always the lead. "This is better and better," thought Miss Bracy as she poured tea; and, after a while, "But this is amazing!" He was a thorough child, too, with all his unconscious tact. The scent of a lemon-verbena plant fetched him suddenly to his feet with his eyes bright. "Please let me—" he thrust his face into the bush; "I have never seen it growing like this."
Miss Bracy looked at Mr. Frank. How utterly different it was from their old-maidish expectations! They had pictured the scene a hundred times, and always it included some awkwardly decorous reference to the dead woman. This had been their terror—to do justice to the occasion without hurting the poor boy's feelings—to meet his sullen shyness, perhaps antipathy, with a welcome which somehow excused the past. Yes, the past (they had felt) required excuse to him. And he had made no allusion to his mother, and obviously wished for none. Miss Bracy could not help smiling at the picture of their fears.
The boy turned, caught her smiling, and broke into a jolly laugh at his own absurdity. It echoed in the garden, where no one had laughed aloud for years.
And with that laugh Bassett's revenge began.
For with that laugh they began to love him. They did not—or at any rate Miss Bracy 'did not—know it at the time. For some days they watched him; and he, the unsuspicious one, administered a score of shocks as again and again he took them neatly and decisively at unawares. He had accepted them at once and in entire good faith. They were (with just the right recognition of their seniority) good comrades in this jolliest of worlds. They were his holiday hosts, and it was not for the guest to hint (just yet) at the end of the holiday.
He surprised them at every turn. His father's canvases filled him with admiring awe. "Oh, but I say—however is it done?" As he stood before them with legs a trifle wide, he smoothed the top of his head with a gesture of perplexity. And Mr. Frank, standing at his shoulder with legs similarly spread, used the same gesture—as Miss Bracy had seen him use it a thousand times. Yet the boy had no artistic talent—not so much as a germ. For beauty of line and beauty of colour he inherited an impeccable eye; indeed his young senses were alive to seize all innocent delight,—his quickness in scenting the lemon-verbena bush proved but the first of many instances. But he began and ended with enjoyment; of the artist's impulse to reproduce and imitate beauty he felt nothing. Mr. Frank recognised with a pang that he had failed not only in keeping his torch bright but in passing it on; that the true self which he had missed expressing must die with him barren and untransmitted. The closer he drew in affection, the farther this son of his receded,— receded in the very act of acknowledging his sonship—with a gesture, smilingly imprehensible; with eyes which allured the yearning he baffled, and tied it to the hopeless chase.
Mr. Frank, who worshipped flowers, was perhaps the most ineffective gardener in England. With a trowel and the best intentions he would do more damage in twenty minutes than Miss Bracy could repair in a week. She had made a paradise in spite of him, and he contented himself with assuring her that the next tenant would dig it up and find it paved with good intentions. The seeds he sowed—and he must have sown many pounds' worth before she stopped the wild expense—never sprouted by any chance. "Dormant, my dear Laura—dormant!" he would exclaim in springtime, rubbing his head perplexedly as he studied the empty borders. "When I die, and am buried here, they will all sprout together, and you will have to take a hook and cut your way daily through the vegetation which hides my grave." But Victor, who approached them in the frankest ignorance, seemed to divine the ways of flowers at once. In the autumn he struck cuttings of Miss Bracy's rarest roses; he removed a sickly passion-flower from one corner of the cottage to another and restored it to health within a fortnight. Within a week after his coming he and Miss Bracy were deep in cross-fertilizing a borderful of carnations she had raised from seed. He carried the same natural deftness into a score of small household repairs. He devised new cradles for Miss Bracy's cats, and those conservative animals at once accepted the improvement; he invented a cupboard for his father's canvases; he laid an electric bell from the kitchen beneath the floor of the dining-room, so that Miss Bracy could ring for Deborah by a mere pressure of the foot; and the well-rope which Deborah had been used to wind up painfully was soon fitted with a wheel and balance-weight which saved four-fifths of the labour.
"It beats me where you learned how to do these things," his father protested.
"But it doesn't want learning; it's all so simple—not like painting, you know."
Mr. Frank had been corresponding with the boy's headmaster. "Yes, he is a good fellow," said one of the letters; "just a gentle clear-minded boy, with courage at call when he wants it, and one really remarkable talent. You may not have discovered it, but he is a mathematician; and as different from the ordinary book-made mathematician—from the dozens of boys I send up regularly to Cambridge—as cheese is from chalk. He has a sort of passion for pure reasoning—for its processes. Of course he does not know it; but from the first it has been a pleasure to me (an old pupil of Routh's) to watch his work. 'Style' is not a word one associates as a rule with mathematics, but I can use no other to express the quality which your boy brings to that study. . . ."
"Good Lord!" groaned Mr. Frank, who had never been able to add up his washing bills.
He read the letter to Miss Bracy, and the pair began to watch Victor with a new wonder. They were confident that no Bracy had ever been a mathematician; for an uncle of theirs, now a rector in Shropshire and once of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where for reasons best known to himself he had sought honours in the Mathematical Tripos and narrowly missed the Wooden Spoon, had clearly no claim to the title. Whence in the world did the boy derive this gift? "His mother—" Miss Bracy began, and broke off as a puff of smoke shot out from the fireplace. It was late September; Deborah had lit the fire that morning for the first time since May, and the chimney never drew well at starting. Miss Bracy took the tongs in hand, but she was not thinking of the smoke; neither was Mr. Frank, while he watched her. They were both thinking of the dead woman. The thought of her—the ghost of her—was always rising now between them and her boy; she was the impalpable screen they tried daily and in vain to pierce; to her they had come to refer unconsciously all that was inexplicable in him. And so much was inexplicable! They loved him now; they stretched out their hands to him: behind her he smiled at them, but through or across her their hands could never reach.
As at first they had avoided all allusion to her, and been thankful that the boy's reticence made it easy, so now they grew almost feverishly anxious to discover how he felt towards his mother's memory. They detected each other laying small traps for him, and were ashamed. They held their breath as with an air of cheerful unconsciousness he walked past the traps, escaping them one and all. At first in her irritation Miss Bracy accused him of what she (of all women!) called false pride. "He is ashamed of her. He wishes to forget, and is only too glad that we began by encouraging him." On second thoughts she knew the charge to be undeserved and odious. His obvious simplicity gave it the lie. Moreover she knew that a small water-colour sketch of her in her youth—a drawing of Mr. Frank's—stood on the table in the boy's bedroom. Miss Bracy often dusted that room with her own hands.
"And, Frank," she confessed one day, "he kisses it! I know by the dullness on the glass when I rub it." She did not add that she rubbed it viciously. "I tell you," she insisted, almost with a groan, "he lives with her. She is with him in this house in spite of us; she talks with him; his real existence is with her. He comes out of it to make himself pleasant to us, but he goes back and tells her his secrets."
"Nonsense, Laura," Mr. Frank interrupted testily. "For some reason or other the boy is getting on your nerves. It is natural, after all."
"Natural? Yes, I see: you mean that I'm an old maid, and it's a case of crabbed age and youth."
"My dear Laura, I mean nothing so rude. But, after all, we have been living here a great many years and it is a change."
"Frank, you can be singularly dense at times. Must I tell you in so many words that I am fond of the boy, and if he'd be only as fond of me he might racket the house down and I'd only like him the better for it?"
Mr. Frank rubbed his head, and then with sudden resolution marched out of the house in search of Victor. He found the boy on the roof removing a patent cowl which the local mason had set up a week before to cure the smoky chimney.
"My dear fellow," the father cried up, "you'll break your neck! Come down at once—I have something particular to say to you."
Victor descended with the cowl under his arm. "Do be careful. . . . Doesn't it make you giddy, clambering about in places like that?" Mr. Frank had no head at all for a height.
"Not a bit. . . . Just look at this silly contrivance—choked with soot in three days! The fellow who invented it ought to have his head examined."
"It has made you in a horrible mess," said his father, who took no interest in cowls, but lost his temper in a smoky house.
"I'll run in and have a change and wash."
"No; put the nasty thing down and come into the garden." He opened the gate, and Victor followed, after dipping his hands in the waterfall.
"The fact is, my boy, I've come to a decision. This has been a pleasant time—a very pleasant time—for all of us. We have put off speaking to you about this, but I hope you understand that this is to be your home henceforward; that we wish it and shall be the happier for having you . . ."
Victor had been gazing out over the cove, but now turned and met his father's eyes frankly. "I have a little money," he said. "Mother managed to put by a small sum from time to time, enough to start me in life. She did not tell me until a few days before she died: she knew I wanted to be an engineer."
He said this quite simply. It was the first time he had mentioned his mother. Mr. Frank felt his face flushing.
"But your headmaster tells me it will be a thousand pities if you don't go to Cambridge. I am proposing that you should go there—should matriculate this term. My dear boy"—he laid a hand on Victor's arm—" don't refuse me this. I have no right—perhaps—to insist; but I daresay you can guess what your acceptance would mean to me. You can choose your own career when the time comes. For your sake your mother would have liked this: ask yourself if she would not."
Mr. Frank had not looked forward to pleading like this; yet when it came to the point this seemed his only possible attitude. Victor had removed his gaze, and his eyes were resting now on the green sunny waves rolling in at the harbour's mouth. For almost a minute he kept silence; then—
"Yes, she would advise it," he said. It was as though he had laid the case before an unseen counsellor and waited submissively for the answer. Mr. Frank had gained his end and without trouble: yet he felt a disappointment he could not at once explain. He was the last man in the world to expect a gratitude which he did not deserve; but in the satisfaction of carrying his point he missed something, and surmised what he missed. The boy had not turned to him for the answer, but had turned away and brought it to him. Father and son would never have the deeper joy of taking counsel together heart to heart.
So Victor went up to Trinity, and returned for the Christmas vacation on the heels of an announcement that he had won a scholarship. He had grown more manly and serious, and he smoked a tobacco which sorely tried Miss Bracy's distinguished nose; but he kept the boyish laugh—the laugh which always seemed to them to call invitingly from the door of his soul, "Why don't you enter and read me? The house is clean and full of goodwill—Come!" But though they never ceased trying, they could never penetrate to those inner chambers. Sometimes—though they might be talking of most trivial matters—the appeal would suddenly grow pathetic, almost plangent, "What is this that shuts me off from you? We sit together and love one another: why am I set apart?" Time was when he had seemed to them consciously reticent, almost of set purpose; but now it was they who, looking within the doorway, saw the dead woman standing there with finger on lip.
He made no intimate friends at Cambridge; yet was popular and something of a figure in his College, which had marked him down for high—perhaps the highest—university honours, and was pleasantly astonished to find him also a good cricketer. His good looks attracted men; they asked his name, were told it, and exclaimed, "Bracy? Not the man Trinity is running for Senior Wrangler?" With this double reputation he might have won a host of friends, and his father and Miss Bracy would gladly have welcomed one, in hope that such companionship might exorcise the ghost: but he kept his way, liking and liked by men, yet aloof; with many acquaintances, censorious of none, influenced by none; avoiding when he disapproved, but not judging, and in no haste even to disapprove; easy to approach, and almost eager for goodwill, yet in the end inaccessible.
His first Easter vacation he spent with a reading-party in Cumberland. There he first tasted the "sacred fury" of the mountains and mountain-climbing, and in Switzerland the next August it grew to be a passion. He returned to it again and again, in Cumberland playing at the game with half a dozen fellow-undergraduates whom he had bitten with the mania; but in Switzerland during the Long vacations giving himself over to a glut of it, with only a guide and porter for company— sometimes alone, if he could ever be said to be alone. As in mathematics so in his sport, the cold heights were the mistresses he wooed; the peaks called to him, the rare atmosphere, the glittering wastes. He neither scorned danger nor was daunted by it. Below in the forests he would sing aloud, but the summits held him silent. As an old pastor at Zermatt told Mr. Frank, he would come down from a mountain "like Moses, with his face illumined."
He started on his third visit to Switzerland early in July: in the second week in August Miss Bracy and Mr. Frank were to join him at Chamounix, and thence the three would make a tour together. He started in the highest spirits, and halted at the gate to wave his ice-axe defiantly. . . .
The clergyman who ministered to the little tin English Church boarded at the big hotel, which kept a bedroom and a sitting-room at his disposal. They faced north from the back of the building, which stood against the mountain-side; but the sitting-room had a second window at the corner of the block, and from this the eye went up over a plantation of dark firs to the white snowfields of the Col and the dark jagged wall of the Aiguille du Geant—distant, yet as clear as if stencilled against the blue heaven. It was a delectable vision; but the clergyman, being short-sighted as a mole, had never seen it. He wore spectacles with a line running horizontally across them, and through these he peered at Mr. Frank and Miss Bracy as if uncertain of their distance.
Mr. Frank, in a suit of black, sat at the little round table in the centre of the room, pressing his finger-tips into the soft nap of a gaudy French table-cloth. Miss Bracy stood by the window with her back to the room, but she was listening. She too wore black. The fourth person, at the little clergyman's elbow, was Christian the guide. It was he who spoke, while Mr. Frank dug his fingers deeper, and the clergyman nodded at every pause sympathetically, and both kept their eyes on the table-cloth, the pink and crimson roses of which on their background of buff and maroon were to one a blur only, to the other a pattern bitten on his brain.
"It must have been between noon and one o'clock"—the guide was saying— "when we crossed the Col and began on the rocks. I was leading, of course; the Herr next, and Michel"—this was their porter—"behind. We had halted and lunched at the foot of the rocks. They were nasty, with a coating, for the most part, of thin ice which we must knock away; but not really dangerous. The Herr was silent; not singing—he had been singing and laughing all through the morning—but in high spirits. He kept his breath now for business. I never knew him fatigued; and that day I had to beg him once or twice not to press the pace. Michel was tired, I think, and the wine he had taken earlier had upset his stomach; also he had been earning wages all the winter in England as a gentleman's valet and this was his first ascent for the year, so it may have been that his nerve was wrong.
"The first trouble we had with him was soon after starting on the rocks. We were roped; and at the first awkward place he said, 'If one of us should slip now, we are all lost.' The Herr was annoyed, as I have never seen him; and I too was angry, the more because what he said had some truth, but it was not, you understand, the moment to say it. After this we had no great trouble until we had passed the place where Herr Mummery turned back. About thirty metres from the summit we came to a bit requiring caution; a small couloir filled with good ice but at a slope—so!" Here Christian held his open hand aslant, but Mr. Frank did not lift his eyes. "They anchored themselves and held me while I cut steps—large steps—across it. On the other side there was no good foothold within length of the rope, so I cast off, and the Herr came across in my steps with Michel well anchored. It was now Michel's turn, and having now the extra length of rope brought across by the Herr, I could go higher to a rock and moor myself firmly. The Herr was right enough where he stood, but not to bear any strain; so I told him to cast off that I might look to Michel alone. While he unknotted his rope I turned to examine the rock, and at that instant . . . Michel did not understand, or was impatient to get it over . . . at any rate he started to cross just as the Herr had both hands busy. He slipped at the third step . . . I heard, and turned again in time to see the jerk come. The Herr bent backward, but it was useless: he was torn from his foothold—"
The little clergyman nodded and broke in: "They were found, close together, on a ledge two thousand feet below. Your son, sir, was not much mutilated, though many limbs were broken—and his spine and neck. The bodies were found the next day and brought down. We did all that was possible. Shall I take you and madame to the grave?"
But the guide had not finished. "He fell almost on top of Michel, and the two went spinning down the couloir out of sight. I do not think that Michel uttered any cry: but the Herr, as the strain came and he bent backwards against it, seeking to get his axe free and plant it . . . though that would have been useless . . . the Herr cried once and very loud . . . such a strange cry!—"
"Madame will be glad," interrupted the clergyman again, who had heard Christian's story at the inquest,—"Madame will be glad"—he addressed Miss Bracy, who, as he was dimly aware, had been standing throughout with face averted, staring up at the far-away cliffs. "The young man's last thoughts—"
But Christian was not to be denied. He had told the story a score of times during the last three days, and had assured himself by every evidence that he could tell it effectively. He was something of an egoist, too, and the climax he had in mind was that of his own emotions in recrossing the fatal couloir ropeless, with shaking knees, haunted by the Englishman's last cry.
"Such a strange cry," he persisted. "His eyes were on mine for a moment . . . then they turned from me to the couloir and the great space below, It was then he uttered it, stretching out his hands as the rope pulled him forward—yet not as one afraid. 'Mother!' he cried: just that, and only once—'Mother!'"
Mr. Frank looked up sharply, and turned his head towards Miss Bracy. The clergyman and the guide also had their eyes on her, the latter waiting for the effect of his climax.
"It must be a consolation to you—" the clergyman began to mumble.
But Miss Bracy did not turn. Mr. Frank withdrew his eyes from her and fixed them again on the gaudy tablecloth. She continued to stare up at he clean ice-fields, the pencilled cliffs. She did not even move.
So Bassett was avenged.
THE CAPTURE OF THE _BURGOMEISTER VAN DER WERF.
A REPORTED TALE OF A DUTCHMAN AND A PRIVATEER
Yes, a heap of folks have admired that teapot. Hundreds of pounds we must have been offered for it, first and last, since the night my wife's grandfather, Captain John Tackabird—or Cap'n Jacka, as he was always called—brought it into the family over the back-garden wall, and his funny little wife went for him with the broom-handle. Poor souls, they were always a most affectionate couple, and religious too, but not much to look at; and when he took and died of a seizure in the Waterloo year she wasn't long in following.
Ay, ay—very pleasant in their lives! though not what you would call lovely. I've heard that, through being allowed by his mother to run too soon, Tackabird's legs grew up so bandy, the other children used to drive their hoops between them. And next, at fifteen, what must he do but upset a bee-skip! A bee stung him, and all his hair came off, and for three parts of his natural life be went about as bald as an egg. To cap everything, he'd scarcely began courting when he lost his left eye in a little job with the preventive men; but none of this seemed to make any difference to the woman. Peters her maiden name was—Mary Polly Peters; a little figure with beady black eyes. She believed that all Captain Jacka's defects would be set right in another world, though not to hinder her recognising him; and meantime the more he got chipped about the more she doted on what was left of the man.
Everyone in Polperro respected the couple, for Mary Polly kept herself to herself, and Captain Jacka was known for the handiest man in the haven to run a Guernsey cargo or handle a privateer, and this though he took to privateering late in life, in the service of the "Hand and Glove" company of adventurers. By and by Mr. Zephaniah Job, who looked after these affairs in Polperro—free-trade and privateering both— started a second company called the "Pride of the West," and put Captain Jacka to command their first ship, the old Pride lugger; a very good choice, seeing that for three years together he cleared over forty per cent. on the adventurers' capital.
The more was his disappointment when they built a new lugger, the Unity, one hundred and sixty tons, and Job gave the command to a smart young fellow called Dick Hewitt, whose father held shares in the concern and money to buy votes beside. I've told you how Jacka swallowed his pride and sailed as mate under this Hewitt, and how he managed to heap coals of fire on the company's head. Well that's one story and this is another. I'm telling now of the second boat, when Captain Jacka, or, as you might say, Providence—for what happened was none of his seeking, and the old boy acted throughout as innocent as a sucking-child—left off shaming the company as honest men, and hit them slap in their pockets, where they could feel.
The bottom of the quarrel was that Mr. Job, the agent, took a dislike to Jacka. He was one of your sour, long-jawed sort, a bit of a lawyer, with a temper like Old Nick, and just the amount of decent feeling that makes a man the angrier for knowing he's unjust, especially when the fellow that's hit takes it smiling instead of cursing; and more especially still when he carries but one eye in his head, and be dashed if you can tell whether its twinkling back at you out of pure sweetness of nature or because it sees a joke of its own. I believe Captain Jacka twinkled back on Mr. Job as he twinkled on the rest of the world, willing to be friends and search for the best side of everyone, if he might be allowed. But Mr. Job couldn't be sure of this, and I'm fain to admit the old boy was a trial to him, with his easy-going ways. Job, you see, was a stickler for order; kept his accounts like the Bank of England, all in the best penmanship, with black and red ink, and signed his name at the end with a beautiful flourish in the shape of a swan, all done with one stroke—he having been a school-master in his youth, and highly respected at it until his unfortunate temper made him shy a child out of window, which drove him out of the business, as such things will. In young Dick Hewitt he had a captain to his mind: soap and tidiness and punctuality, and oil and rotten-stone for the very gun-swivels; all the crew touching caps, and nerve and seamanship on top of all. Jacka admired the young spark, for all his boastfulness; for his own part he could do anything with a ship but keep her tidy. "What's the use of giving yourself on-necessary work?" he'd say in his mild manner, if he saw one of his hands coiling a rope or housing a sail neatly. "We may be wantin' it any minute, and then you'll be sorry for labour thrown away." The dirtiness of his decks was a caution, and this was the queerer because in his own parlour you might have eaten your dinner off the floor. "I reckon," he'd explain, "when the Lord made sea and land He meant there should be a difference, and likewise when He made man and woman," and stuck to his untidiness afloat because it made him the gladder to be at home again. Mary Polly, though she lived within forty yards of the sea, and was proud of her husband as any mortal woman, would never step on board a boat. The sight of one (she declared) turned her stomach, and she married their only child to a house-decorator.
All this untidiness was poison to Mr. Job, and it worked inside the man until he was just one simmering pot of wrath, and liable to boil over at the leastest little extra provocation.
One day—it was the tenth of July in the year 'nine; Peter's Tide, and the Upper Town crowded with peep-shows and ranter-go-rounds, and folks keeping the feast—Mr. Job takes a stroll down the quay past the sweet-standings, and cocks his eye over the edge, down upon the deck of the old Pride that was moored alongside and fitting out for a fresh cruise. And there, in the shade of the quay wall, sat old Captain Jacka with a hammer, tap-tapping at a square of tinplate.
"Hullo!" Mr. Job hailed. "Where's the crew?"
"Up riding the hobby-horses, I b'lieve," answered Jacka, as friendly as you please.
"And in thirty-six hours you've engaged to have the Pride ready for sea!"
"She's about ready now," said Jacka, stopping to put a peppermint in his mouth. He had bought a packet off one of the sweet-standings, and spread it on the deck beside him. "Feast-day doesn't come round more than once a year, and I haven't the heart to deny them, with the work so well forward, too." The old fellow fairly beamed across his deck, the raffle of which was something cruel. "There's a fat woman up there, too. I'm told she's well worth seeing."
"You call that dirty mess 'being fit for sea'?" asked Mr. Job, nodding down, but bottling up his anger after a fashion. "Look here, Captain Tackabird, you're a servant of the company; and I'll trouble you to stand up and behave respectful when the company's agent pays you a visit of inspection."
"Cert'nly, Mr. Job." Jacka scrambled up to his feet as mild as milk. "Beg your pardon, sir, I thought you'd just strolled down to pass the time of day."
"And don't flash that plaguey thing in my eyes, as you're doing." For Jacka was standing in the sunshine now, with the tinplate in his hands blazing away like a looking-glass.
"Very well, sir. Perhaps you'll allow me to fetch a hat out of the cabin; for my head feels the heat powerful, being so bald. They do say it twinkles a bit, too, when the sun catches it the right way."
So down he went to the cabin, and up he came again to find Mr. Job with his best coat-tails spread, seated on the carriage of the Pride's stern-chaser.
"Oh, Lord!" he couldn't help groaning.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing, Mr. Job, nothing." The fact was, Jacka had smeared a dollop of honey on that very gun-carriage to keep the wasps off him while he worked. The sweet-standings, you see, always drew a swarm of wasps on feast-days, and the old man never could abide them since his accident with the bee-skip.
Mr. Job sat there with his mouth screwed up, eyeing the whole length of the lugger.
"I'd like to know why you were hammering out that tinplate?" said he. "I can see with my own eyes you've been knocking dents in the deck; but I s'pose that wasn't your only object."
"I reckoned to tack it over this here hole in the bulwarks where the tide swung her up against the quay-end." Captain Jacka showed him the place.
"I'd have let you have a fresh plank if you'd only reported the damage in time."
"Oh," said Jacka, "a scrap of tin will answer just as well—every bit."
"I can't think, Captain Tackabird, how it comes that you've no more regard for appearances. Just look at the Unity, for instance, and how young Hewitt keeps her."
"Born different, I suppose."
"Ay, and if you don't look out you'll end different. Patching a boat with tin!" Mr. Job let out a rasping kind of laugh. "But that's Polperro, all over. Do you know what they tell about you, down to St. Ann's?"—Mr. Job came from St. Ann's—"They say, down there, that every man-child in Polperro is born with a patch in the seat of his—"
Mr. Job stood up and cast a hand behind him, to explain. . . .
"I put it there to keep off the wopses," said Captain Jacka.
"But what did he say?" asked Mary Polly, when her husband brought home the tale.
"First he said, 'I'll make you pay for this.' Well, that was fair enough, for I ought to have warned him; but when I asked the price, and where the stuff could be matched—for 'twas his best suit, you understand—all of a sudden he stamps his foot and lets fly with the most horrible oaths. It fairly creamed my flesh to hear him. He's a man of wrath, my love, and the end of him will be worse than the beginning."
"I daresay; but he'll give you the sack before that happens."
The two poor old souls looked at one another; for Job had control of all the privateering companies in Polperro, and influence enough to starve a man out of the place.
"Lev us take counsel of the Lord," said the old boy, as she knew he would. So down on their knees they went, and prayed together. Jacka even put up a petition for Mr. Job, but Mary Polly couldn't say "Amen" to that.
The next morning Captain Jacka went down to the Pride at the usual hour, but only to find his crew scrubbing decks and Mr. Job ready for him. "There's your marching orders," says the enemy, handing him a paper; "and if you want a character at any time, just come to me, and I'll give you a daisy."
Well, the old chap said no word, but turned about then and there, and back along the quay like a man in a dream. All the way he kept fumbling the document without daring to open it, and when he reached his own door he just sat down on the little low wall outside, laid the cursed thing on his knee, pulled a bandanna out of his breeches pocket, and polished the top of his poor head till it fairly blazed in the eye of the sun.
He was sitting there, dazed and quiet, when the door opened and out came Mary Polly with a rag-mat in her hand, meaning to bang it against the wall, as her custom was.
"Hullo!" says she, stopping short on the threshold. "Back again, like a bad penny?"
"Bad enough, this time," says her husband, without turning round; and drops his head with a groan.
I must say the woman's behaviour was peculiar. For first of all she stepped forward and gave his head a stroking, just as you might a child's, and then she looks up and down the street, and says, "I'm ashamed of 'ee, carryin' on like this for all the public to see. Stick your hands in your pockets," says she.
"What's the use of that?" But he did it.
"Whistle a tune."
"But I can't."
"You can if you try; I've heard you whistlin' 'Rule Britannia' scores of times, or bits of it. Now I'm goin' to beat this mat and make believe to be talkin' to 'ee. At the very first sound old Mrs. Scantlebury'll poke her head out, she always does. So you go on whistlin', and don't mind anything I say. There'll be no peace in life for us after she gets wind you've been sacked; and just now I want a little time to myself to relieve my feelin's."
So Jacka started to whistle, feeling mighty shy, and Mary Polly picked up the mat.
"I wish," says she to the mat, "you was Mr. (whang) Zephaniah (whang) Job (whang). I do dearly wish for my life you was Mr. (whang) Zephaniah (whang) Job (whang). I'd take your ugly old head with its stivery grey whiskers and I'd (bang, whang)—I'd (bang, whang)—I'd treat you like this here mat, and lay you down for folks to wipe their shoes upon, Mr. (whang) Zephaniah (whang) Job (whang)."
"When Britain first at Heaven's command," whistled Jacka; and the Widow Scantlebury, two doors up the street, was properly taken in. An hour later, when the news of Jacka's dismissal was all over the town, she had to sit down and consider. "I see'd him come up the street"—this was how she told the story, being the sort of woman that never knows where the truth ends—"just as Mary Polly was shaking out her mat. He came up like a whipped dog, stuck his hands in his pockets and started to whistle, for all the world like a whipped dog, you understand? Any fool could see the man had something on his mind and wanted to break it gentle. But not she! Went on banging the mat, if you'll believe me, till my flesh ached to see a woman so dull-minded. Of course it wasn' no business of mine, tho' you would think, after living with a man thirty years—" and so on, and so on.
But when Mary Polly had relieved her feelings, and the two old souls were in the kitchen with the door shut behind them, they came very near to breaking down. You see, Captain Jacka had followed the trade in Polperro all his days, and his heart was in it till Mr. Job pulled him up by the roots. He and Mary Polly had saved a little, and looked forward to leaving it to their only child—my wife's mother, that was; and anyway it wasn't enough to maintain them, let be that to touch a penny of it would have burnt their fingers. No; Captain Jacka must find a new billet.
But in a month or so, when folks had given up sympathising—for Mary Polly hated to be pitied, and gave them no encouragement—he saw plain enough that there was no billet for him in a small place like Polperro where Mr. Job ruled the roost. Before Christmas his mind was made up; and early in Christmas week he said good-bye to his wife, marched up to Four Turnings with his kit on his back, and shipped on board Boutigo's Two-Horse Conveyance for Falmouth.
There was a Mr. Rogers living at Falmouth who had been a shareholder in the old "Hand and Glove" company, but had sold out over some quarrel with Mr. Job; and to him Jacka applied.
"I'm told that seamen are scarce, sir," says he. "I was wondering if you could find me a berth anywhere, for I've 'arned forty per cent. for my employers before now, and could do it again, but for a man of my unfortunate looks 'tis hard to get a start."
Mr. Rogers tapped the desk with his ruler, like one considering. "Why have they turned you out?" he asked. "Anything professional?"
"How could I help Mr. Job's sitting down on a lump of honey? I put it to you, sir, as a business man."
"I'm sure I don't know," said Mr. Rogers. "Let's have the story."
So out it all came. "He's a man of wrath," said Captain Jacka, "and he'll be sorry for it when he comes to die."
"There's one or two," said Mr. Rogers, "would like to hurry that reckoning a bit. Well, well, I can make shift to fit you up with something for a week or two, and maybe by that time there'll be an opening aboard one of the Packets. Just now, in Christmas week, business is slack enough, but what do you say to going mate on a vessel as far as the Downs?"
"Nothing I should like better," says Jacka.
"You'd better have a look at her first," says Mr. Rogers.
So he takes Jacka off to the Market Strand, calls for a waterman's wherry, and inside of ten minutes they were being pulled out to the Roads.
"There's your ship," says Mr. Rogers, as they pushed out beyond the old dock into Carrick Roads.
Jacka opened first his eyes and then his mouth. The vessel was a kind of top-sail schooner, but with a hull there was no mistaking, the more by token that the tide was swinging her stern-on, and showing him a pair of windows picked out in red paint, with shutter-boards and brass hinges shining.
"Mr. Rogers," he said, "I han't read the Sherborne Mercury lately, but is—is the war over?"
"No, nor likely to be."
"But, Mr. Rogers, sir, either that there ship is a Dutchman or else I be."
"Look at her flag, you old fool."
"Never see'd the like of it."
"That's the flag of the Principality of Nibby-Gibby. Ever heard of it?"
"Can't say I have."
"No more did I till the day before yesterday, and I won't swear I've got it right yet. But 'tis somewhere up the Baltic I understand. That there ship—her name, by the way, is the Burgomeister Van der Werf—is bound up Channel with sugar from Jamaica—with a licence. Maybe you folks up to Polperro don't know what that means?"
"I only know that, if I'd ran across her in the old Pride, I'd have clapped a crew on board and run her into a British port and no questions asked."
Says Mr. Rogers, "If that's the way you Polperro men keep abreast of Board of Trade regulations, it strikes me you might have done worse than lose your billet with the Pride of the West."
In the time left before the waterman brought them alongside, Mr. Rogers explained, as well as he could, the new system (as it was then) of licences; by which the Government winked at neutral vessels carrying goods into the enemy's ports, in spite of the blockade, and bringing us back Baltic timber for shipbuilding.
"But a Dutchman isn' no neutral," Captain Jacka objected.
"I did hear," said Mr. Rogers, stroking his chin and looking sideways, "that these licences have their market-price, and that in Amsterdam just now it's seven hundred rix-dollars."
"Well-a-well, if the Board of Trade's satisfied," says Jacka, "it's not for the likes of me to object. But if I was a Christian ruler I should think twice afore invitin' such a deal of hard swearin'."
"You'll find Captain Cornelisz a Lutheran," Mr. Rogers assured him, "and a very sociable fellow, with the little English he can muster."
Well, to make my story short, Jacka stepped on board and found the Dutch skipper monstrous polite and accommodating, though terrible sleepy, the reason being that, his mate falling sick at Kingston of the yellow fever, he had been forced to navigate his vessel home single-handed. He owned up, too, that he had a poor head for ciphering, so that 'twas more by luck than good management he'd hit off the Channel at all. At any rate he was glad enough of a chance to shift off responsibility and take a sound nap, and inside of half an hour the bargain was struck over a glass of hot schnapps. Mr. Rogers shook hands and put off for shore again, and a boat went with him to fetch Jacka's kit, which he'd left in the office.
At six o'clock the Van der Werf weighed anchor and headed out under easy canvas. The wind outside was almost dead contrary, E. by N. and half E., and blowing a little under half a gale, but the skipper seemed in a hurry, and Jacka didn't mind.
"She's a good boat by all seeming," said he as they cleared St. Anthony's light; "but she wants a sea-way. I reckon, sir, you'd better stay on deck for a tack or two, till I find how she comes about. I'm accustomed, you see, to something a bit sharper in the bows, and just at first that may tempt me to run it too fine."
"Who wants you to run it fine at all?" asked Captain Cornelisz.
"Well, naturally you'll work it in short tacks and hug the English side pretty close."
"Short tacks? Not a bit of it; tide'll be running up strong by time we're out in deep water. Put her right across for France, keep her pretty full—she won't bear pinching—and let her rip."
"Chasse-marees are pretty thick, I'm told, once you get near t'other side, 'specially between Morlaix and Guernsey, let alone a chance of dropping across a French cruiser."
"My good man, I've been stopped twice on this voyage already by French cruisers: once off Brest, and the second time about fifty miles this side of Ushant."
"You don't tell me!" says Jacka. "How the dickens did they let you go?"
"Well," answers the Dutchman, "I took the precaution of fitting myself with two sets of papers. Oh," says he, as Jacka lets out a low whistle, "it's the ordinary thing in our line of business. So you just do as I tell you and make the boards as long as you please, for I'm dropping with sleep in my boots. Keep the ship going, and if you sight anyone that looks like trouble just give me a hail down the companion, for I can talk to any frigate, British or French."
With that he bundled away below, and Jacka, after a word or two with the man at the helm, to make sure they understood enough of each other's lingo, settled down with his pipe for the night's work.
The wind held pretty steady, and the Van der Werf made nothing of the cross-seas, being a beamy craft and fit for any weather in a sea-way. Jacka conned her very careful, and decided there was no use in driving her; extra sail would only fling up more water without improving her speed. So he jogged along steady, keeping her full and by, and letting her take the seas the best way she liked them. Towards morning he even began to doze a bit, till warned by a new motion of the ship that she wasn't doing her best. He opened his eyes and shouted—
"Up with your helm, ye lubber! Hard up, I tell ye, and keep her full!"
A pretty heavy spray at that moment came over the bow and took him fair in the face, and he stumbled aft in none too sweet a temper. Then he saw what had happened: the fresh hand at the wheel had dozed off where he stood and let the Van der Werf run up in the wind. The fellow was little more than a boy, and white in the face with want of sleep. Captain Jacka was always a kind-hearted man. Said he, as he flung the spokes round, and the Van der Werf began to pay off: "Look here, my lad, if you can't keep a better eye open, I'll take a trick myself. So go you forward and stow yourself somewheres within call."
With that he took the helm, and glad of it, to keep himself awake; and so held her going till daybreak.
By eight in the morning, just as the light began creeping, and Jacka was calculating his whereabouts, he lifted his eye over the weather-bow, and—
"Hullo!" he sings out. "What's yonder to windward?"
The lad he'd relieved jumps up from where he'd been napping beside the bitts, and runs forward. But, whatever he sang out, Jacka paid no attention; for by this time his own one eye had told him all he wanted to know, and a trifle more; and he clutched at the wheel for a moment like a man dazed. Then, I believe, a sort of heavenly joy crept over his face, mixed with a sort of heavenly cunning.
"Call up the crew," he ordered. "I'm going to put her about. The whole crew—every man-Jack of them!"
By the time the men tumbled up, Jacka had his helm up, and the Van der Werf, with sheets pinned, was leaning to it and knocking up the unholiest sputter.
"All right, my lads. Don't stand glazing at me like stuck pigs. Stand by to slacken sheets. I'm going to gybe her."
Well, they obeyed, though not a man of them could guess what he was after. Over went the big mainsail with a jerk that must have pitched Captain Cornelisz clean out of his bunk below; for half a minute later he comes puffing and growling up the companion and wanting to know in his best Dutch if this was the end of the world, and if not, what was it?
"That's capital," says Jacka, "for I was just about stepping down to call you. See that lugger, yonder?" He jerked his thumb over his shoulder at a speck in the grey from which the Van der Werf was now running at something like nine knots an hour.
"I know that lugger, and we're running away from her."
"Pack of stuff!" says Captain Cornelisz, or Dutch to that effect. "D'ee want to be told a dozen times that this is a licensed ship?" And he called for his flag, to hoist it.
"Oh, drop your fancy pocket-handkerchiefs, and listen to reason, that's a dear man! O' course I know you carry a licence; but the point is— the lugger don't know. O' course I'm running away from her, by your leave; but the point is—she can run and reach three miles to our two. And lastly, o' course you're master here, and can do what you please; but, if you're not pressed for time, there's money in it, and you shan't say I didn't give you the chance."
Captain Cornelisz eyed Jacka for a full minute, and then a dinky little smile started in one eye and spread till it covered the whole of his wide face.
"You're a knowing one," said he.
"Was never considered so," answered Jacka, very modest.
"She's put about and after us," said the skipper, after a long stare over his right shoulder.
"She'll have us in less than three hours. There's one thing to be done, and that's to stow me somewheres out of the way; for if anyone on board of her catches sight of me, the game's up. S'pose we try the lazarette, if you have such a place. I like fresh air as a rule, but for once in a while I don't mind bein' squoze; and, as lazarettes go, yours ought to be nice and roomy."
"You shall have a bottle of Hollands for company," promised Captain Cornelisz.
So the hatch was pulled up, and down Jacka crept and curled himself up in the darkness. The Dutchman provisioned him there with a bottle of strong waters and a bag of biscuits, and—what's more—called down to him so long as was prudent and kept him informed how the chase was going.
By this time the lugger—which I needn't tell you was Mr. Zephaniah Job's pet Unity, with Captain Dick Hewitt commanding—was closing down on the Van der Werf, overhauling her hand-over-fist. Down in the lazarette Jacka had scarcely finished prising the cork out of his bottle of Hollands when he heard the bang of a gun. This was the lugger's command to round-to and surrender; and the old boy, who had been vexing himself with fear that some cruiser might drop in and spoil sport, put the bottle to his mouth and drank Mr. Job's very good health.
"For I think," says he to himself, with a chuckle, "I can trust Cap'n Dick Hewitt to put his foot into this little mess just as deep as it will go."
With that, being heavy after his night's watch, he tied up his chin in his bandanna handkerchief to keep him from snoring, curled round, and dropped off to sleep like a babe.
Well, sir, Cap'n Dick Hewitt brought-to his prize, as he reckoned her; and when he came aboard and sized up the cargo and the Unity's luck, as he reckoned it, his boastfulness was neither to hold nor to bind. No such windfall had been picked up for the Pride of the West during the four years he'd been in the company's service. He scarce stayed to give a glance at the Van der Werf's papers, though Captain Cornelisz was ready for him with the wrong set. "I guess," says he, "you'll spare yourself the trouble to pretend you ain't a Dutchman"; and when the skipper flung his arms about and began to jabber like a play-actor, 'twas "All right, Mynheer; we'll talk about that at Falmouth. Look here, boys," he sings out to his boarding party, "we've something here too good to be let out of sight. My idea is to reach back for Polperro in company, and let Mr. Job and the shareholders have a view of her before taking her round to Falmouth. It won't cost us three hours extra," says he, "and a little bit of a flourish is excusable under the circumstances."
So up for Polperro they bore, half a dozen men from the lugger working the Van der Werf, and old Captain Jacka asleep in her lazarette till roused out of his dreams by the rattle as they cast anchor half a cable's length outside the haven. The tide was drawing to flood and the evening dusking down, and in sails Captain Dick in the Unity as big as bull's beef, and shouts his news to all the loafers on the quay.
"But come and take a look at her for yourself," says he to Mr. Job, who had stepped down with his best telescope.
Job put off that evening in something like a flutter of spirits; for to tell the truth half a dozen of the shareholders had been cutting up rough over his treatment of Jacka, and here was an answer for them, and proof that he'd been right in preaching up Dick Hewitt to be worth ten of the old man.
Alongside he comes in the Unity's boat, steps aboard, and makes a polite leg to Captain Cornelisz, with any amount of sham sympathy in his eye.
"Dear, dear," says he, "this is a very unfort'nit business for you, Cap'n What's-your-name! In time of war I s'pose such things must happen; but I can't help feelin' sorry for you," says he.
"I was thinkin' to reckon the damage at six hundred pounds," says the Dutch skipper, meek as you please.
"Hey?" says Mr. Job.
"Well, sir, I likes to be reasonable; but it's a question of missing the convoy, and under the circumstances—case of illegal detention at the best—you won't consider six hundred pounds out of the way. Of course," says he, "I haven't been allowed to study your lugger's papers, so it may be flat piracy. But if your skipper had taken the trouble to study mine—"
"What in thunder is he telling about?" demanded Mr. Job.
"Only this, sir," answered Captain Cornelisz, smiling very sweet, and pulling out his licence from his side-pocket, he read, "'And the said vessel has our protection while bearing any flag except the French, and notwithstanding the documents accompanying the said vessel and cargo may represent the same to be destined to any neutral or hostile port, or to whomsoever such property may appear to belong.' The wording you see, sir, is very particular, and under the circumstances I can't say less than six hundred pounds; but, of course, if you oblige me to take it to the courts, there's your papers to be considered, which may raise the question of piracy."
Just an hour later, when Mr. Job had returned to shore in the devil's own temper to call a hasty meeting of his shareholders—and Captain Hewitt along with him, with his tail between his Legs—Captain Cornelisz raised the trap of the lazarette.
"I'm thinking a little fresh air's no more than you deserve," said he.
"But where are we, in this world?" asked Jacka.
"So well as I can learn, 'tis a place called Polperro."
Jacka chuckled. "Seen anything of a party called Job?"
"He's to bring me six hundred pounds before morning," answered the Dutchman, lighting his pipe. "And see here—I'm a fair-dealin' man, and I own I owe you a good twenty of it. You shall have it when you leave the ship, and I'll chance making it right with the owners."
"Very good of you, to be sure," allowed Jacka.
"But that isn't all. I owe you something on my own account, and if there's any small favour I can do you, in reason—"
"Well, since you put it so friendly, I'd like an hour or so ashore."
"Ashore? What, to-night?"
"It's my home, you see," Jacka explained; "and my old woman lives there."
"You don't say so? Well, you shall be put ashore as soon as you please. Anything else?"
"I see'd a very pretty teapot and sugar basin in your cabin yestiddy. I don't know if you set any particular store by them; but if you don't, my old woman's terrible fond of china, and you can deduct it out of the twenty pounds, it you like."
"Shouldn't think of it," says Captain Cornelisz; "they're best Nankin, and they're yours. Anything else?"
"Well, if I might ask the loan of a pair of your breeches till to-morrow. They seem to me a bit fuller in the seat than mine, and let alone being handy to carry the china in, they'll be a kind of disguise. For, to tell the truth, I don't want to be seen in Polperro streets to be mixed up with this business, and my legs be so bandy that in any ordinary small clothes there's no mistaking me, even in the dark."
So the Van der Werf's boat landed Jacka that night in pitch darkness half a mile west of the haven, where a ridge of rock gives shelter from the easterly swell. And just half an hour later, as Mary Polly turned in her sleep, she heard a stone trickle down the cliff at the back of the cottage and drop thud! into the yard under her window. She sat bolt upright in bed. "There's some villain of a thief after my Minorca's eggs," said she.
Another stone trickled and fell. Like the woman of spirit she was, she jumped out of bed, crept downstairs to the kitchen, picked up the broom, and listened, with her hand on the latch of the back-door.
She heard the scrape of a toe-plate on the wall outside.
This was too much. "You mean, sneakin', snivellin', pilferin', egg-stealin' highwayman!" cries she, and lets fly.
Well, sir, the sugar basin was scat to atoms, but the teapot, as you see, didn' suffer more than a chip. The wonder was, she stayed her hand at the second stroke, old Jacka being in no position to defend himself or explain. In later days when she invited her friends to tea, she used to put it down to instinct. "Something warned me," she'd say. But that's how the teapot came into our family.
KING O' PRUSSIA.
REPORTED TALE OF A SMUGGLER, A REVENUE CUTTER, AND AN OFFICIOUS MINISTER.
You have heard tell, of course, of Captain John Carter, the famous smuggler of Prussia Cove, and his brothers Harry, Francis, and Charles, and Captain Will Richards, "Tummels," Carpenter Hosking, Uncle Billy, and the rest of the Cove boys; likewise of old Nan Leggo and Bessie Bussow that kept the Kiddlywink there? Well, well, I see our youngsters going to school nowadays with their hair brushed, and I hear them singing away inside the classroom for all the world as if they were glad to grow up and pay taxes; and it makes me wonder if they can be the children of that old-fangled race. Sometimes I think it's high time for me to go. There was a newspaper fellow down here when the General Walker came ashore, and, after asking a lot of questions, he put the case in a nutshell. "You're a link with the past," he said; "that's what you are." I don't know if he invented the expression, or if he picked it up somewhere and used it on me, but it's a terrible clever one.
You mustn't think I'm boasting. I never knew Captain John; he died in the year 'seven, and I wasn't born for twelve months after. But I've shaken hands with Captain Harry—the one who was taken prisoner by the French, and came near to losing his head. He spent his latter years farming at Rinsey and local preaching; a very earnest man. He gave me my first-class ticket—that was in the late twenties, and not long before his death. And Captain Will Richards I knew well; he took over the business after Captain John, and lasted down to the Crimea year. I carried the coffin; eighty-five his age was, according to the plate on it; but, of course, the business had come to an end long before.
Everybody calls it Prussia Cove in these days. The visitors ask for Prussia Cove, and go and crane their heads over. You know the place?— just east of Cuddan Point. It's three coves really; Pisky's Cove, Bessie's Cove, and Prussia. The first has no good landing, but plenty of good caves; east of that comes Bessie's, where the Kiddlywink stood, with a harbour cut in the solid rock, and a roadway, and more caves; and east of that, with a point and a small island dividing them, comes Prussia, where John Carter had his house. Before his time it was called Porthleah, but he got the nickname "King o' Prussia" as a boy, and it stuck to him, and now it sticks to the old place. The visitors crane their heads over (for you must do that to count the vessels in the harbour right underneath you), and ask foolish questions, and get answered with a pack of lies. There's an old tale for one, about a fellow who heard that the real King of Prussia had been defeated by Napoleon Bonaparte. "Ah," says he, "I'm sorry for that man. Misfortunes never come single; not more'n six weeks ago he lost three hundred keg of brandy, by information, so I'm told." All nonsense! Porthleah never lost but one keg in all John Carter's time, and that was a leaky one in a pool at Pisky's which the custom-house fellows sniffed as they went by. To be sure, one day when the King was away from home, the collector came round from Penzance, seized a cargo, and carried it off to the Custom House store. What did Carter do when he came home and heard about it? He had agreed to deliver the goods by a certain day, his character for honest business was at stake and he wasn't going to disappoint his customers. So he rode into Penzance that night, broke open the Custom House store, and rode back with all his kegs; nothing else, mind you. When the officers next morning discovered what had happened, they allowed at once this was Carter's work, because he was an honest man and wouldn't take anything that didn't belong to him.
But the tale they tell oftenest is about the battery he kept on Enys Point, and how he opened fire with it upon His Majesty's vessel; and I want you to have the rights of that as I had it from Captain Will Richards himself. To hear folks speak you would think the King just opened fire and blazed away for the fun of it; whereas, with all his daring, he was the quietest, most inoffensive man in the trade, if only you let him alone. Mr. Wearne, the collector, understood this, and it was not by his fault either that the firing came about, but all through an interfering woman and a preacher who couldn't mind his own business.
It began in this way. Bessie Bussow had a sister-in-law married and living over here in Ardevora—Ann Geen was the name of her—a daughter of Kitty Lemal. (You've heard tell of Kitty Lemal and her eight daughters, and her stocking full of guineas? No? Well there's another story for you one of these days.) This Ann was the youngest of the eight, and married John Geen latish in life, just in time to bring him a boy before he left her a widow; and after her mother Kitty died she and the boy lived together in the old house at Carne Glaze—Ugnes House they used to call it. The boy, being the son of old parents, was a lean, scrag-necked child, with a lollopping big head, too clever for his years. He had the Lemals' pluck inside him though, for all his unhandy looks; and, of course, his mother thought him a nonesuch.
Well, with all the country talking about John Carter and his doings, you may fancy that every boy in Ardevora wanted to grow up in a hurry and be off to Prussia Cove a-smuggling. It took young Phoby Geen (his real name was Deiphobus) as bad as the rest. He had been over to the Cove with his mother on a visit to Bessie Bussow, and there in the Kiddlywink the King had patted him on his big head and given him a shilling. After that the boy gave his mother no peace. She, poor soul, wanted to make a preacher of him, and wouldn't hear of his going; but often, after he had turned fifteen, she would be out of bed ten times of a night and listening at his door to make sure he hadn't run off in the dark.
I told you the boy was clever; and this is how he gained his end. There had always been a tale that the Ugnes House was haunted—the ghost being old Reginald Bottrell, Kitty Lemal's father, a very respectable sea-captain, who died in his bed with no reason whatever for being uncomfortable in the next world. Still, "walk" he did, or was said to; and one fine day the boy came to his mother with a pretty tale. It went that, the evening before, he and his young cousin, Arch'laus Bryant, had been lying stretched on their stomachs before the fire in the big room—he reading the Pilgrim's Progress by the light of the turves, and Arch'laus listening. The boys were waiting for their supper, and for Mrs. Geen to come back from her Saturday's shopping. Happening to look up as he turned a page, Phoby saw, on the steps which led down into the room, a brisk, stout little gentleman, dressed in a long, cutaway coat, black velvet waistcoat and breeches, black ribbed stockings, and pump shoes tied with a bow. He twinkled with brass or gilt buttons—one row down the coat and two rows down the waistcoat—and each button was stamped with a pattern of flowers. His head was bald, except for a bit of hair at the back; he had no hat; and when he turned, after closing the door behind him, Phoby took notice that his belly was round and as tight as a drum. The boy denied being frightened; "the gentleman," he said, "was most pleasant-looking in all his features. I didn't take 'en for a sperat, but for somebody come to see mother. I stood up and said, 'Good eveling, sir. Mother'll be back in a minute or two if you'll take a seat.'" "I'm not come for she, but for thee," he said; "Deiphobus Geen, idle no longer. Arise, take my advice, and go a-smuggling." And with that he vanished through the door.
The boy pitched this tale to his mother, and Arch'laus backed him up, adding that the ghost had turned to him and said, "Thou, too, Arch'laus in a year's time shall be a smuggler—p'r'aps sooner." He told this to his father and got strapped for it. But Mrs. Geen came of a family that believed in ghosts. The boy's tale described his grandfather to a hair—which was not wonderful considering how often she had talked to Phoby about the old man. At any rate, after being in two minds for a week she gave way, after a fashion, and allowed Phoby to run over to Prussia Cove to his aunt, Bessie Bussow; and Bessie—who loved spirit— had him apprenticed to Hosking, the Cove carpenter. Pretty carpenter's work Hosking was likely to teach him!
Now, after the way of women, the deed was no sooner done than Mrs. Geen began to repent it. She knew very well that her dear boy would run into danger; but she kept her trouble to herself until there arrived at Ardevora a new Methodist preacher called Meakin. In those days John Wesley himself used to pay us a visit pretty well every August or September, but this year, for some reason or other, he gave us an extra revival, and sent down this Meakin to us at the beginning of June. For a very good reason he was never sent again.
He started very well indeed. You couldn't call him much to look at; he had a long pair of legs which seemed differently jointed to yours and mine; no shoulders nor stomach to speak of, no-coloured hair, and a glazing, watery eye. But the wonder began when you heard his voice. It filled his clothes out suddenly like one of those indiarubber squeakers the children blow at Whitsun Fair; and coming from a man whose looks were all against him, it made you feel humble-minded for having been so quick to judge. I think he had found out the value of this kind of surprise and went about neglecting his appearance on purpose.
As I say, he started very well. He preached at the Stennack on Saturday, and next day near the market-place, "for the sake," he said, "of those who could not climb the hill"—though, to be sure, they needn't have left their doors to hear him a mile off. There was a tidy gathering—farm-carts and market-carts and gigs from all parts of the country round—almost as many as if he had been John Wesley himself. He preached again at five o'clock in the evening, and so fired up Mrs. Geen that by ten next morning she was down at Nance's house, where he lodged, laying all her trouble before him.
Mr. Meakin heard her out, and then took a line which altogether surprised her. He seemed to care less for the danger her Phoby was running than for the crime he was committing. Yes; he called it a crime!
"As a Christian woman," he said, "you must know his soul's in danger. What in comparison with that does his body matter?"
Mrs. Geen hadn't any answer for this, so what she said was, "My Phoby 've never given me a day's trouble since his teething." And then, seeing the preacher was upset, and wishing to keep things as pleasant as possible, she went on, "I don't see no crime in learning to be a carpenter."
"By your own showing," said Mr. Meakin, "he is in danger of being led into smuggling by wild companions."
"Nothing wild about John Carter," she held out. "A married man and as steady as you could wish to see; a man with convictions of sin, as I know, an' two of his brothers saved. You couldn' hear a prettier preacher than Charles. And John, he always runs a freight most careful. I never heard of any wildness at all in connection with he—not a whisper."
The preacher fairly stamped, and began tapping the palm of his hand with his forefinger.
"But the smuggling, ma'am—that's what I call your attention to! The smuggling itself is not only a crime but a sin; every bit as much a sin as the violence and swearing which go with it."
"No swearing at all," said Ann Geen. "You don't know John Carter, or you wouldn' suggest such a thing. Every man that swears in his employ is docked sixpence out of his pay. My sister-in-law keeps the money in a box over her chimney-piece, and they drink it out together come Christmas."
By this the preacher was fairly dancing. "Woman!" he shouted, soon as he could recover his mouth-speech.
"I'm no such thing!" said she, up at once and very indignant. "And your master, John Wesley, would never have said it."
The preacher took a gulp and tried a quieter tack. "I beg your pardon, ma'am," says he, "but you seemed to be wilfully misunderstanding me. Let us confine ourselves to smuggling," says he.
"Very well," says she; "I'm agreeable."
"I tell you, then, that it's a sin; it's defrauding the King just as much as if you dipped your hand into His Majesty's pocket"—"I shouldn' dream of being so familiar," said Mrs. Geen, but he didn't hear her— "and if you'll permit me, I'll explain how that is," he said.
"Well," she allowed, folding the shawl about her which she always wore in the hottest weather; "you can say what you mind to about it, so long as you help me get my Phoby back. That's what I come for."
I daresay, now, you've sometimes heard it brought up against us in these parts that we're like the men of Athens, always ready to listen to any new thing. The preacher took up his parable then and there; and being, as I say, an able man in spite of his looks, within half an hour he had actually convinced the woman that there was something to be ashamed of in smuggling. And as soon as he'd done that, nothing would satisfy her but to hire the pony-cart from the George and Dragon and drive the preacher to Prussia Cove the very next day to rescue her boy from these evil companions. "'Twould be a great thing to convince John Carter," she said, "and a feather in your cap. And even if you don't, the place is worth seeing, and he usually kills a pair of ducks for visitors."
So early the next day (Tuesday, June 4), away they started; and, the day being hot and the pony slow, arrived at Bessie Bussow's about four o'clock. 'Tis a pretty peaceable spot on a June afternoon, with the sun dropping out to sea and right against your eyes; and this day the Cove seemed more peaceable than ordinary—the boats at anchor, no sound of work at all, and scarcely a sign of life but the smoke from Bessie Bussow's chimney.
"Where's my boy?" was the first question Mrs. Geen put to her sister-in-law after the two women had kissed each other.
"Out seaning," answered Bessie, as prompt as you please. "But most likely he'll be home some time to-night. The master's got a new sean-boat, and all the boys be out working her. There's not a soul left in the Cove barring the master himself and Uncle Billy."
"Well, I'm glad of my life the boy's at such innocent work; but I've come to see John Carter and take him away. The preacher here says that smuggling is a sin and the soul's destruction; he's quite sure of it in his own mind, and whiles there's any doubt I don't want my Phoby to risk it."
"Aw?" said Bessie. "I'd dearly like to hear how he makes that out. But I han't got time to be talking just now. You'd best take him across and let him try to persuade John Carter, while I get your room ready. I saw John going towards his house ten minutes ago, and I'se warn he'll offer the preacher a bed and listen to all he's got to say."
So, having stabled the pony, Mrs. Geen and the preacher walked over to Carter's house together. They found the King in his kitchen-parlour, divided between his accounts and a mug of cider, and he made them welcome, being always fond of preachers and having a great respect for Ann Geen because of her family.
There was a great heap of shavings in the fire-place, for the room was a sunny one, facing south by west. But the King told her where to find some tea that had never paid duty, and she took off her bonnet and boiled the kettle in the kitchen at the back, and it wasn't till they'd drunk a cup that she explained what had brought her, and called on the preacher to wrestle.
Captain John listened very politely, or seemed to, and nodded his head at the right time; but he couldn't help being a bit absent-minded. Fact was, he expected a cargo home that very evening, and didn't feel so easy about it as usual. Up to now he had always run his stuff in goodish-sized vessels—luggers or cutter-rigged craft running up to fifty or sixty tons as we should reckon now. But Captain Will Richards had taken a great fancy to the Cawsand plan of using light-built open row-boats or, as you might say, galleys, pulling eight oars, and put together to pass for sean-boats. After the war, when there was no longer any privateering, vessels like Captain Carter's, carrying eighteen or twenty guns apiece, couldn't pretend to be other than smugglers or pirates, and then these make-belief sean-boats came into use everywhere. But just now they were a novelty. The King, persuaded by Richards, ordered one down from Cawsand, and had already used it once or twice to meet his larger craft somewhere in a good offing and tranship their cargoes. By this he could run his kegs ashore at any state of the tide, leaving the empty vessels to be watched or overhauled by the Customs' fellows.
But this time—the weather being fine and settled, and the winds light— he was trying a faster game, and had sent the sean-boat right across channel to Roscoff, keeping his sailing-craft in harbour. It would be dark before nine, no moon till after mid-night, and by all calculations the boat ought to make the cove between ten and eleven, after lying well outside and waiting her chance. It all seemed promising enough, but somehow the King couldn't be quite easy.
However, he listened quietly, and the preacher talked away for one solid hour, until Uncle Billy Leggo (who had been keeping watch all the afternoon) came knocking at the door. "You'll excuse me a minute," said the King, and went outside to hear the report. The weather had been flat calm all day, with a slow ground-swell running into the cove, but with the cool of the evening a light off-shore breeze had sprung up, and Uncle Billy had just seen the Revenue cutter stealing out from Penzance.
"Botheration!" said Captain Carter, and fined himself sixpence. Then he went back to the parlour, and the preacher started afresh.
Twice again before supper came Uncle Billy with news of the cutter's movements, and the second time there could be no mistaking them, for she was dodging back and forth and lying foxy around Cuddan Point.
All through supper the preacher talked on and on, and the King ate without knowing what he was eating. He couldn't afford to lose this cargo; yet Mr. Collector Wearne meant business this time, and would collar the boat to a certainty unless she were warned off. But to show a light from the coast meant a hundred pounds fine or twelve months' hard labour. The King slewed round in his chair and looked at the great pile of shavings in the fireplace. A hundred pounds fine with the chance of burning the house-thatch about his ears!
Supper over, he and his guests turned their chairs towards the fireplace. The King took flint and steel and struck a match; lit his pipe, and stared at the shavings; then dropped the light on the floor, ground it out with his heel, and puffed away thoughtfully. The preacher went on talking.
"Render unto Caesar . . . tribute to whom tribute is due. That applies to King George to-day every bit so much as it did to Caesar."
"Caesar and King George be two different persons," said Captain John, stopping his pipe with his thumb.
"The principle's the same."
"I don't see it," said the captain. "I read my Bible, and it says that Caesar ordered the whole world to be taxed. Now that's sense. Caesar didn't go niggling away with a duty on silk here and another on brandy there and another on tea and another on East Indy calicoes. Mind you, I've got no personal feeling against King George; but it does annoy me to see a man calling hisself King of England and making money in these petty ways."
"It's his birthday to-day," put in Mrs. Geen; "though I didn't remember it till I saw the flag on Ardevora church-tower this morning."
"Is it? Then we'll drink his health, ma'am, to show there's no animosity." Captain John fetched a bottle of brandy and glasses and mixed drinks for his guests. Then he took his seat, reached out for flint and steel again, and says he very quietly—
"I wish the boys were at home. We'd have a bonfire."
"Up to Walsall—that's where I come from," said the preacher, "we always kept up His Majesty's birthday with a bonfire and fireworks. But you don't seem so loyal in these parts."
"Fireworks? Did you now?" Captain John set down the tinder-box and rubbed his chin. "Well," said he, going to a cupboard, and glancing up on his way at the tall clock, "as it happens I've a rocket or two here— though to be sure it seems like a waste, with nobody left in the Cove to see or raise so much as a cheer."
"It's the spirit of the thing that counts," said the preacher.
"They've lain here so long," Captain John went on in a sort of musing way, "they may be mildewed, for all I know."
"You leave that to me," said the preacher; "I knows all about fireworks. There don't seem nothing wrong about this one," he said, taking it and fingering the fuse. "May I have a try with 'em?"
"Try, and welcome. I don't understand these things for my part: I only know they takes up a lot of room in the cupboard, and I'll be glad to see the last of 'em."
So out into the night they three went together. But when they had the rocket fixed, Captain John was taken that poorly he had to come back and sit in the chair, and rub his thighs and his stomach. And when, sitting there, he heard the rocket go up, whoosh! he had to rub them the harder.
"It went off capital!" called the preacher, popping his head in at the door. "Can't us try another?" And now Captain John had to rub his eyes before turning to him. "Take the lot," he said, and pushed the whole bundle into the preacher's hands. "Aw, if King George had a few more friends like you! Take the lot of 'em, loyal man!" He fairly thrust him out to door, and had to lean a hand there before he could follow, feeling weak all over to think of Collector Wearne and his men, and what their faces must be like, down in the Revenue cutter; but he had no time to taste the fun of it properly, for just then he heard Bessie Bussow's voice outside asking questions all of a screech. The first rocket had fetched her over hot-foot and agog, and the captain had to run out and stop her tongue, and send her home with Ann Geen. But they didn't go till the preacher had touched off every single rocket, stepping back as they went whoosh! whoosh! and waving his hat and crying, "God save the King!" "God save the King!" cried Captain John after him, and Bessie stood wondering if the end of the world had come, or the master had gone clean out of his wits.
The captain used to try and explain it afterwards when he told the story. "You've seen a woman in hysterics," he'd say, "and you know how a man feels when he wants to drop work and go on the drink for a week. Well, 'twasn' exactly one or t'other with me, but a little like both. I'm a level-headed tradesman, and known for such, but if ever that chap walks into my house again, I'll be wise, and go straight out by the back door and put myself under restraint."
After the women had gone, he took the fellow back to the kitchen, and sat putting questions to him in a reverent sort of voice, and eyeing him as awesome as Billy Bennett when he hooked the mermaid, until the poor creature talked himself sleepy, and asked to be shown to his room. Captain Carter saw him to bed, came downstairs to the parlour again, and spread himself on the sofa for forty winks; for between the boat dodging out to sea and the pack-horses waiting ready up at Trenowl's farm above the hill, there was no going to bed for him that night.
He had been sleeping maybe for two hours, when a whistle fetched him to his feet and out of the door like a scout. 'Twas nothing more nor less than the boys' arrival signal, and this was what had happened.
When the preacher's first rocket went off, the collector, down on board the cutter, was taking his bit of supper in the cabin. At the sound of it he rushed up the companion, and found all his crew on deck with their necks cricked back, barring one man, who that moment popped his head up through the fore-hatchway. "What on earth was that?" he asked. "A rocket, sir," said the chief boatman; "just sent up from Prussia Cove." Mr. Wearne couldn't find his breath for a moment; but when he did, 'twas to say, "Very well, John Carter. I've a-got you this time, my dandy! I don't quite understand how you come to be such a fool. But that rocket costs you a hundred pounds, and if I'm not mistaken I'll have your cargo 'pon top of it."
The breeze still blew pretty steady, and he gave orders to stand out into the bay, get an offing, and keep a sharp look-out as the moon rose. He knew that all Carter's ordinary craft, except the sean-boat, were quiet at anchor at Bessie's Cove; but he reckoned that the boat had gone out this time to meet and unload a stranger. He never dreamed she would be crossing all the way to Roscoff and back on her own account. He knew, too, that Carter had a "spot" near Mousehole to fall back upon when a landing at Prussia Cove couldn't be worked. So he stood out to put the cutter on a line commanding both places, which, with the soldier's wind then blowing, was easy enough; and as she pushed out her nose past Cuddan Point the whole sky began to bang with rockets.
This puzzled him fairly, as Carter knew it would. And it puzzled the Cove boys in the sean-boat as they lay on their oars about three miles from shore and discussed the first warning. But in one of the flashes Captain Harry Carter, who was commanding, spied the cutter's sails quite plain under the dark of the land, plain enough to see that she was running out free. He knew that he couldn't have been seen by her in the heave of the swell, for the sean-boat lay pretty low with her heavy cargo, and he'd given her a lick of grey paint at Roscoff by way of extra precaution. So, thought he, "A signal's a signal; but brother John doesn't know what I know. Let the cutter stand out as she's going, and we'll nip in round the tail of her. She can't follow into the Cove, with her draught, even if she spies us; and by daybreak we'll have the best part of the cargo landed." And so he did, muffling oars and crossing over a mile to southward of the cutter, and after that way-all! and pull for the Cove.
The preacher at John Carter's, and Mrs. Geen at Bessie Bussow's, both woke early next morning. But Mrs. Geen was first by a good hour, and what pulled the preacher out of bed was the sound of guns. He put his head out of window, and could hardly believe it was the peaceful place he'd come upon last evening. The beach swarmed with men like emmets. Near up, by high-water mark, men were unloading a long-boat for dear life—some passing kegs, others slinging them to horses, others running the horses up the cliff under his window. At first he thought it must be their trampling had woke him out of sleep, but the next moment bang! the room shook all about him, a cloud of smoke drifted up towards him from the Enys Point, and through it, while 'twas clearing, he saw John Carter and another man run to the battery and begin to load again, with Mrs. Geen behind them waving a rammer, and dancing like a paper-woman in a cyclone. Below the mouth of the Cove tossed a boatload of men, pulling and backing with their heads ducked, their faces on a level with their shoulders, and all turned back towards the battery, while a big red-faced man stood up in the stern-sheets shaking his fist and dancing almost as excitedly as Mrs. Geen. Still farther out, a fine cutter lay rocking on the swell, her bosom swinging and sails shaking in the flat calm.
The preacher dragged on his clothes somehow, tore out of the house and down to the Point as fast as legs would carry him. "Wha—what's the meanin' of this?" he screeched, rushing up to Captain John, who was sighting one of his three little nine-pounders.
"Blest if I know!" said the captain. "We was a peaceable lot enough till you and Mrs. Geen came a-visiting; but you two would play Hamlet's ghost with a Quaker meeting."
"It's my Phoby—they're after my Phoby!" screamed Mrs. Geen, and then she turned on the fellow behind Captain John; it was Hosking, once a man-of-war's man, and now supposed to be teaching her boy the carpentry trade. "This is what you bring en to, is it? You deceiver, you! You bare-faced villain!" (The man had a beard as big as a furze bush.) "Look at the poor lamb up there loadin' the hosses, and to think I bore and reared en for this! If you let one of they fellows lay hands on my Phoby I'll scratch out ivery eye in your head . . ."
"Stand by, Tim," says the captain quietly. "Drat the boat! If she keeps bobbiting about like that I shall hit her, sure 'nuff!" Bang! went the little gun, and kicked backwards clean over its carriage. The shot whizzed about six feet above the boat, and plunged into the heaving swell between it and the cutter. "Bit too near, that. I don't want to hurt Roger Wearne, though he do make such tempting, ugly faces."
"But what do they want? What are they after?" stuttered the preacher.
"They're after my Phoby!" cried Mrs. Geen.
"Not a bit of it," said Captain John good-humouredly. "From all I can see it's the preacher here they want to collar."
"Me!" screams the poor man—"me!"
"Well, if you will go letting off rockets. I dunno what it costs up to Walsall, or wherever you come from, but down in these parts 'tis a hundred pound or twelve calendar months."
The preacher turned white and began to shake all of a sudden like a leaf. "But I didn't mean—I had no idea—you don't intend to tell me—" he stammered.
"Here, Tummels!" Captain John hailed a man who came running down to lend a hand with the guns. "Take the preacher here and fix him on one of the horses; sling a keg each side of him if he looks like tumbling off. Sorry to hurry you, sir," he explained; "but 'tis for your good. You must clear out of this before the officers get sight of your face, and I don't know how much longer I can frighten 'em off. When you get up to Trenowl you can cast loose and run, and it mayn't be time wasted if you make up an alibi as you go along. It don't seem hospitable, I grant ee, but as a smuggler you're too enterprising for this little out-o'-the-way cove."
Tummels led the preacher away in too much of a daze to answer. He opened his mouth, but at that moment bang! went Hosking with another of the guns. By and by Captain John let out a chuckle as he saw the poor man moving up the cliff track, swaying between two kegs and clutching at his horse's mane every time Tummels smacked the beast on the rump. The horse he rode was almost the last. By seven o'clock the boys had cleared the whole of their cargo, and still the preventive boat hung in the mouth of the Cove, pulling and backing and waiting for the chance Captain John never allowed them.
You see, Captain Harry, having dodged in behind the cutter without being spied, had a pretty start with the unloading. When day broke, Mr. Wearne, finding no sean-boat or suspicious craft in sight, and allowing that there was no fear of another attempt before nightfall, had stood down again for Prussia Cove, meaning to send in a boat (for the cutter drew too much water) and have it out with Captain Carter about the rockets. You can fancy his face when he came abreast the entrance and found the boys working like a hive of bees. As for resistance, the King always swore he hadn't an idea of it till Mrs. Geen put it into his head. The battery was never intended for more than show. "She's a wonderful woman," he declared; but he had a monstrous respect for all the Lemals. "Blood in every one of 'em," he said.
But, of course, the fun wasn't finished yet. Soon after seven, and after the last of the cargo had been salved under their eyes, the preventive men drew off. By a quarter past eight Wearne had worked the cutter in as close as he dared, and then opened fire with his guns. The first shot struck the 'taty-patch in front of Carter's house; the second plunked into the water not fifteen yards from the gun's muzzle. In the swell running she could make no practice at all, though she kept it up till midday. The boys behind the battery ran out and cheered whenever one flew extra wide, and this made Wearne mad. Will Richards, Tummels, and young Phoby Geen posted themselves in shelter behind the captain's house, and whenever a shot buried itself in the soft cliff one of them would run with a tubbal and dig it out. All this time Uncle Bill Leggo, having finished loading up the kegs, was carting water from the stream on the beach to the kitchen garden above the house, and his old sister Nan leading the horses (for it was a two-horse job). Richards called to him to leave out, it was too dangerous. "Now there," said Uncle Bill, "I've been thinkin' of Nan and the hosses this brave while!"
At noon Wearne ceased firing, and sent off a boat towards Penzance. The Cove boys still held the battery; and the two parties had their dinners, lit their pipes and studied each other all the long after-noon. But towards five o'clock a riding company arrived to help the law, and opened a musket fire on the rear of the battery from the hedge at the top of the hill. The game was up now. The boys scattered and took shelter in Bessie Bussow's house, and Captain John, having hoisted a flag of truce, waited for Wearne and his boat with all the calmness in life.
"A pretty day's work this!" was the collector's first word as he stepped ashore.
"Amusin' from first to last," agreed Captain John in his cordial way.
Says the collector slowly, "Well, tastes differ. You may be right, of course, but we'll begin at the beginning, and see how it works out. First, then, at nine forty-five last night you showed an unauthorised light for the purpose of cheating the revenue. Cost of that caper, one hundred pounds."
"Be you talkin' of the rockets?"
"'Course I be."
"Well then, I didn't fire them, nor anyone belongin' to the Cove. I didn't set anyone to fire them, and they waren't fired to warn anybody. Let alone I have proof they was sent up by a Methody preacher to relieve his feelin's. You've known me too long, Roger Wearne, to think me fool enough to waste a whole future joy over so simple a business as warnin' a boat."
"What are you tellin' me?"
"The truth, as I always do; and I advise you to believe it, or 'twon't be the first time you've seen too far into a brick wall."
Wearne knew well enough what Captain John meant. Just a year before he had paid a surprise visit to the Cove, ferreted out a locked shed and asked to be shown what was inside. The King refused. "It held nothing," he said, "but provisions for his brother Henry's vessel." Of course Wearne couldn't believe this; a locked store in Prussia Cove was much too sure a thing. So first he argued, and then he broke the door open, and, sure enough, found innocent provisions inside just as he'd been promised. Next morning the shed was empty. "Didn' I warn 'ee," said John, "against breaking in that door and leaving my property exposed. Now I'll have to make 'ee pay for it;" and pay for it Wearne did.
"All I know," the captain went on, "is that a Methody preacher paid me a visit last night, with the objic (so far as I can make out, for things have been movin' so fast I hadn't time to question en as I wished) o' teachin' me what was due to King George. In pursooance o' which—it being His Majesty's birthday—he took and fired a dozen rockets I keep on the off-chance of wantin' one of these days to signal the Custom House at Penzance. I own 'twas a funny thing to do, but folks takes their patriotism different. I daresay, now, you didn't even remember 'twas His Majesty's birthday."
Wearne tried a fresh tack. "We'll take that yarn later on," he said. "You can't deny a cargo was run this morning."