The White Wolf and Other Fireside Tales
by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
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"In the first week of August—to be precise, on the 4th—I reached Polreen Cove, and found lodging at the small inn. The spot and the people so pleased me that I engaged my rooms for a week. At the week's end I had decided to stay for a month. I stayed for almost two months.

"Well, as luck would have it, I had not been in Polreen three nights before there happened the first burglary within the memory of its oldest inhabitant—if burglary it was. I incline to think that Mrs. Giddy, the general dealer, had left her shop-door unbolted, and that the culprit, after removing the bell—the door had two flaps, and the bell, hung on a half-coil of metal, was fitted to a socket inside the lower flap—had quietly walked in and made his choice. This choice was a peculiar one— six bars of yellow soap, a cullender, some tallow candles, a pair of alpaca boots, a pair of braces, several boxes of matches, an uncertain amount of cheese, a dozen pocket-handkerchiefs, a coloured almanack, three of Mrs. Giddy's brass weights, and the bell. He was detected two months later at Bristol, in the act of using one of the handkerchiefs, which illustrated the descent of Moses from Mount Sinai; and four other handkerchiefs were found in his possession, together with Mrs. Giddy's brass weights. He had disposed of the rest of the booty, and proved to be a stowaway who had been turned out of a Cardiff schooner on Penzance quay, penniless and starving. Nothing further was proved against him, and it still puzzles me how he made his way through the length of Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset, on the not very nutritious spoils of Mrs. Giddy's shop.

"For the moment he got clear away. Not a soul in Polreen had set eyes on him, and as he entered the village by night so he departed.

"I know now that the excitement in the Cove was intense; that for weeks afterwards the women carried their silver teaspoons and chinaware to bed with them; and I should explain that the housewives of Polreen are inordinately proud of their teaspoons and chinaware—heirlooms which mark the only degrees of social importance recognised among the inhabitants of that happy Cove. A family there counts its teaspoons as our old nobility counted its quarterings; a girl is judged to have made a good, bad, or indifferent match by the number of teaspoons she 'marries into'; and the extreme act of disinheritance is symbolised, not by the testamentary shilling, nor by erasing a name from the Family Bible, but by alienating the family plate-basket. In short, teaspoons are to the Covers what the salt-cellar was to the ancient Latin races.

"But at the time, though I could not help observing symptoms of suppressed excitement, the Cove behaved with an outward calm which struck me as highly creditable. To be sure, the men seemed to spend an extravagant amount of their time in the tap-room of the inn, which happened to be immediately beneath my sitting-room. Hour after hour the sound of their muffled conversation ascended to me through the planching, as I sat and studied—Dumas, I think. Low, monotonous, untiring, it lasted from breakfast-time until nine o'clock at night, when it ceased abruptly, the company dispersed, and each man went home to reassure and protect his wife. I suppose some liquor was required to start this conversation and keep it going, just as seamen use a bucketful of water to start a ship's pump; but I must admit that during my whole stay at Polreen I never saw an inhabitant who could be described as the worse for drink.

"I did not know that this assemblage in the tap-room was unusual and clean contrary to the men's habits, and therefore may be excused for not guessing its significance. Nor was I familiar enough with Polreen to note an even more frequent change in the atmosphere and routine of its daily life. When the weather is fine, down there, the men put out to sea and the women go about their work with smiles. When it blows, the women go about their work, but resignedly and in a temper, which the men avoid by ranging up shoulder to shoulder along the wall by the lifeboat house, and gazing with approval at the weather; with approval, because it relieves them of the fatigue of argument. But should the day break doubtfully, and the men incline to give themselves the benefit of the doubt, then, indeed, you will learn who are masters of the Cove. For in extreme cases the women will even invade the 'randivoo,' and shrill is the noise of battle until the weather declares unmistakably for one side or the other. Does it refuse to declare itself? Then I can promise you that half an hour will see the men routed and straggling down the beach to their boats, arching their backs and ducking their heads, may be, under the parting volley.

"But, as I say, I did not know Polreen and its ways. It awoke no wonder in me to see the bulk of its male population ranged like statues, day after day, and from dawn till eve, against the wall by the lifeboat house, talking little (or ceasing, at any rate, to talk when I approached), smoking much, conning a serene sky, and the dimples spread on the sea by a gentle nor'-westerly breeze. At intervals one or two would leisurely fall out of the line and saunter towards the inn, leaving their places to others as leisurely sauntering from the inn. It did, indeed, occur to me to wonder how they earned their living, for during the first fortnight, beyond the occasional hauling of a crab-pot, I saw no evidence at all of labour. It was on the tip of my tongue, once or twice, to question them; but, though polite, they clearly had no wish to be communicative.

"I found great difficulty in hiring a boat and the services of its owner. I wished to be rowed along the coast; to try for pollack; to inspect some of Polreen's famous caves. The men were polite again; but one boat leaked badly, another had been pulled up for the carpenter to insert a new strake, a third was too heavy, the owner of a fourth could not leave his business—it wouldn't pay him! At length I patched up a bargain with an old fisherman named Udy—or rather Old Tom Udy, to distinguish him from his son, who was Young Tom. He owned the most ramshackle old boat in the Cove: if the others were out of repair, his was manifestly beyond it. I took my life in my hands and struck the bargain.

"'When do 'ee want her?'

"'Now, at once,' said I; 'or as soon as you have had your dinner.'

"He went back to the company by the lifeboat house. He reminded me of some ancient king consulting a company of stone gods. They looked at him, and he looked at them. I suppose a word or two was said; half a dozen of them spat reflectively; nobody moved. Old Tom Udy came down the beach again; we embarked and pushed off, and the row of expressionless faces watched us from the shore.

"In silence we visited the famous caverns. As we emerged from the last of these I essayed some casual talk. To tell the truth, I was beginning to feel the want of it, and of course I began on the first topic of local interest—the burglary.

"'The odd thing to me,' said I, 'is that you seem to have no particular suspicions.'

"'I'd rather you didn' talk of it,' said Old Tom Udy. 'I got my living to get, and 'tis a day's journey to Bodmin. Tho' you musn' think,' he added, 'that we bear any gridge.'

"'It seems to me that you men in the Cove treat the whole affair very lightly.'

"'Iss, tha's of it,' he assented. 'Mind you, tisn' right, Seemin' to me 'tis a terrible thought. Here you be, for the sake of argument, a Christian man, and in beauty next door to the angels, and the only use you make of it is to steal groceries. You don't think I'm putting it too strong?'

"' Not a bit.'

"'Well, I'm glad o' that, because, since you ask me, as a professing Christian, I cudn' say any less. But you musn' think we bear any gridge.'

"'I'm sure I wonder you don't. And the police still have no clue?'

"'The police? You mean Sammy Crego, the constable? Why, I've knawed en from a boy—pretty thing if any person in Polreen listened to he! No: us han't failed so low yet as to mind anything the constable says.'

"'Then the whole affair is as much a mystery as ever?'

"'Now, look 'ee here; I don't want to tell nothin' more about it. A still tongue makes a wise head; an' there's a pollack on the end of your line.'

"The wind stuck in the north-west, and day after day the regal summer weather continued. I grew tired of hauling in pollack, and determined to have a try for the more exciting conger. The fun of this, as you know, does not begin till night-fall, and it was seven o'clock in the evening, or thereabouts, when we pushed off from the beach. By eight we had reached the best grounds and begun operations. An hour passed, or a little more, and then Old Tom Udy asked when I thought of returning.

"'Why, bless the man,' said I, 'we've not had a bite yet!'

"He glanced at me furtively while he lit a pipe. 'I reckoned, maybe, you might have business ashore, so to speak.'

"'What earthly business should I have in Polreen at this hour?'

"'Aw, well . . . you know best . . . no affair o' mine. 'Tis a dark night, too.'

"'All the better for conger, eh?'

"'So 'tis.' He seemed about to say more, but at that moment I felt a long pull on the line, and for an hour or two the conger kept us busy.

"It must have been a week later, at least (for the moon was drawing to the full), that I pulled up the blind of my sitting-room a little before mid-night, and, ravished by the beauty of the scene (for, I tell you, Polreen can be beautiful by moonlight), determined to stroll down to the beach and smoke my last pipe there before going to bed. The door of the inn was locked, no doubt; but, the house standing on the steep slope of the main street, I could step easily on to the edge of the water-barrel beneath my window and lower myself to the ground.

"I did so. Just as I touched solid earth I heard footsteps. They paused suddenly, and, glancing up the moonlit road, I descried the gigantic figure of Wesley Truscott, the coxswain of the lifeboat. He must have seen me, for the light on the whitewashed front of the inn was almost as brilliant as day. But, whatever his business, he had no wish to meet me, for he dodged aside into the shadow of a porch, and after a few seconds I heard him tip-toeing up the hill again.

"I began to have my doubts about Polreen's primitive virtues. Certainly the village, as it lay bathed in moonlight, its whitewashed terraces and glimmering roofs embowered in dark clusters of fuchsia and tamarisk, seemed to harbour nothing but peace and sleeping innocence. An ebbing tide lapped the pebbles on the beach, each pebble distinct and glistening as the water left it. Far in the quiet offing the lights of a fishing-fleet twinkled like a line of jewels through the haze.

"Half-way down the beach I turned for a backward look at the village.

"Now the wall by the lifeboat house looks on the Cove. Its front is turned from the village and the village street, and can only be seen from the beach. You may imagine my surprise, then, as I turned and found myself face to face with a dozen tall men, standing there upright and silent.

"'Good Heavens!' I cried, 'what is the matter? What brings you all here at this time of night?'

"If I was surprised, they were obviously embarrassed. They drew together a little, as if to avoid observation. But the moon shone full on the wall, affording them not a scrap of shadow.

"For a moment no one answered. Then I heard mutterings, and, as I stepped up, one of the elder men, Archelaus Warne by name, was pushed forward.

"'We wasn' expectin' of you down here,' he stammered, after clearing his throat.

"'No reason why you should,' said I.

"'We done our best to keep out o' your way—never thinkin' you'd be after the boats,'—he nodded towards the boats drawn up on the beach at our feet.

"'I'm afraid I don't understand you in the least.'

"'Well, you see, 'tis a kind o' club.'

"'Indeed?' said I, not in the least enlightened.

"'Iss;' he turned to his companions. 'I s'pose I'd better tell en?' They nodded gravely, and he resumed. 'You see, 'tis this way: ever since that burglary there's no resting for the women. My poor back is blue all over with the cloam my missus takes to bed. And ha'f a dozen times a night 'tis, 'Arch'laus, I'm sartin I hear some person movin'— Arch'laus, fit an' take a light and have a look downstairs, that's a dear!' An' these fellows'll tell 'ee 'tis every bit so bad with they. 'Tis right enough in the daytime, so long as the women got us 'ithin hail, but by night there's no peace nor rest.'

"One or two husbands corroborated.

"'Well, now—I think 'twas the third night after this affair happened— I crep' downstairs for the fifth time or so just to ease the old woman's mind, and opens the door, when what do I see but Billy Polkinghorne here, sittin' on his own doorstep like a lost dog. 'Aw,' says I, 'so thee'rt feelin' of it, too!' 'Feelin' of it!' says he, 'durned if this isn' the awnly place I can get a wink o' sleep!' 'Come'st way long to Wall-end and tetch pipe,' says I. Tha's how it began. An' now, ever since Billy thought 'pon the plan of settin' someone, turn an' turn, to watch your window, there's nothin' to hurry us. Why, only just as you came along, Billy was saying, 'Burglary!' he says, 'why, I han't been so happy in mind since the Indian Queen came ashore!''

"'Watch my window? Why the—' And then, as light broke on me, 'Look here,' I said, 'you don't mean to tell me you've been suspecting me of the burglary all this time!'

"'You musn' think,' said Archelaus Warne, 'that we bear any gridge.'"

"Well," the Judge concluded, "as I told you, the thief was apprehended a week or two later, and my innocence established. But, oddly enough, some thirty years after I had to try a case at the Assizes here, in which Archelaus Warne (very old and infirm) appeared as a witness, I recognised him at once, and, when I sent for him afterwards and inquired after my friends at Polreen, his first words were, 'There now—I wasn' so far wrong, after all! I knawed you must be mixed up with these things, wan way or 'nother.'"


Let those who know my affection for Troy consider what my feelings were, the other day, when on my return from a brief jaunt to London I alighted at the railway station amid all the tokens of a severe and general catastrophe. The porter who opened the door for me had a bandaged head. George the 'bus driver carried his right arm in a sling, but professed himself able to guide his vehicle through our tortuous streets left-handed. I had declined the offer, and was putting some sympathetic question, when a procession came by. Four children of serious demeanour conveyed a groaning comrade on a stretcher, while a couple more limped after in approved splints. I stopped them, of course. The rearmost sufferer—who wore on his shin-bone a wicker trellis of the sort used for covering flower-plots, and a tourniquet, contrived with a pebble and a handkerchief, about his femoral artery— informed me that it was a case of First Aid to the Injured, which he was rendering at some risk to his own (compound) fracture.

"It's wonderful," said George, with a grin, "what crazes the youngsters will pick up."

Thereupon the truth came out. It appeared that during my absence a member of the Ambulance Association of St. John of Jerusalem had descended upon the town with a course of lectures, and the town had taken up the novelty with its usual spirit.

I said a course of lectures; but in Troy we are nothing if not thoroughgoing, and by this time (so George informed me) three courses were in full swing. The railway servants and jetty-men (our instructor's earliest pupils) had arrived at restoring animation to the apparently drowned; while a mixed class, drawn from the townsfolk generally, were learning to bandage, and the members of our Young Women's Christian Association had attended but two lectures and still dallied with the wonders of the human frame.

George told me all about it on our way through the town—for I had consented to be driven on condition that he removed his arm from the sling, and he could not deny this to an old friend (as I make free to call myself). Besides, he was bursting to talk. To be sure, he slipped it back for a few moments as we breasted the hill beyond the post-office and his horses dropped to a walk. I fancy that he glanced at me apologetically; but since there was comparatively little danger hereabouts I thought it more delicate to look the other way.

"And the Chamber of Commerce has not protested?" I asked.

We call it the "Chamber of Commerce" for euphony's sake. It is in fact an association which keeps an eye upon the Parish Council, Harbour Board, and Great Western Railway, and incites these bodies to make our town more attractive to visitors. It consists mainly of lodging-house keepers, and has this summer prevailed on the Railway Company to issue cheap Saturday market tickets to Plymouth—a boon which the visitor will soon learn (if we may take our own experience as a test) to rank high among the minor comforts of life.

No; the Chamber of Commerce had not protested. And yet it occurred to me more than once during the next few days that strangers attracted to Troy by its reputation as a health resort must have marvelled as they walked our streets, where cases of sunstroke, frost-bite, snake-bite, and incipient croup challenged their pity at every corner. The very babies took their first steps in splints, and when they tumbled were examined by their older playmates, and pronounced to be suffering from apoplexy or alcoholic poisoning, as fancy happened to suggest. I believe that a single instruction in the Association's Handbook— carefully italicised there, I must admit—alone saved our rising generation. It ran: "Unless perfectly sure that the patient is intoxicated, do not give the emetic."

To be sure, we left these extravagances to the children. But childhood, after all, is a relative term, and in Troy we pass through it to sober age by nice gradations; which take time. Already a foreign sailor who had committed the double imprudence of drinking heavily at the Crown and Anchor, and falling asleep afterwards on the foreshore while waiting for his boat, was complaining vigorously, through his Vice-Consul, of the varieties of treatment practised upon his insensible body; and only the difficulty of tracing five Esmarch bandages in a town where five hundred had been sold in a fortnight averted a prosecution. I was even prepared for a visit from Sir Felix Felix-Williams, our worthy Squire, who seldom misses an opportunity of turning our local enthusiasms to account, and sometimes does me the honour to enlist my help; but scarcely for the turn his suggestions took.

"You are, of course, interested in this movement?" he began.

"I have to be, seeing that I live in the midst of it."

"You have joined the Ambulance Class, I hear."

"Do you think I would neglect a precaution so obvious? Until their enthusiasm abates, I certainly shall range myself among the First-Aiders rather than the Injured."

"My idea was, to strike while the iron is hot."

"Oh," said I, "a town with so many in the fire—"

"And I thought, perhaps, if we could manage to connect it in some way with the Primrose League—"

"But what can it have to do with the Primrose League?" I asked stiffly. I will admit now to a slight prejudice against the Ambulance business— due perhaps to the lecturer's having chosen to start it in my absence.

Sir Felix was disappointed, and showed it. "Why, it was you," he reminded me, "who helped us last year by setting the widows to race for a leg of mutton."

"I was a symbolist in those days. And, excuse me, Sir Felix, it was not last year, but the year before. Last year we had the surrender of Cronje at Paardeberg, with the widows dressed up as Boer women."

"Is that so? I thought we had Cronje two years ago, but no doubt you are right. Now I thought that, with our Primrose fete coming on, and everybody just now taking such an interest in the Empire—"

"To be sure!" I cried. "'First Aid to the Empire'—it will look well on the bills."

Sir Felix rubbed his hands together—a trick of his when he is pleased. "It's an idea, eh?"

"A brilliant one."

"Well, but you haven't heard all." He looked at me almost slyly. "It occurred to me, that while—er—associating this enthusiasm of ours with the imperial idea, we might at the same time do a good turn for ourselves. You think that permissible?"

"Permissible? For what else does an empire exist?"

"Quite so. As I was saying to Lady Williams, only this morning, we must bring home to less thoughtful persons a sense of its beneficence. Now it occurs to me: why go on subscribing to these great public Nursing Funds, in which our mite is a mere drop in the ocean, when by sending up a nurse from our own town—she would, of course, be a member of the League—not only should we have the satisfaction of knowing that our help is effective, but the young woman would be earning a salary and supporting herself?"

"Admirable!" said I. "It would look so much better in the papers too."

"You see, we have at this moment a score of young women, all natives of the town and members of the League, undergoing instruction from our lecturer. After the course there will be an examination; and then, with the lecturer's help—and the advice, if I might suggest it, of Lady Williams, who can tell him if the candidate's family be respectable and deserving—we can surely select a young person to do us credit."

Sir Felix took his departure in the cheerfullest temper, and I record his suggestion as one eminently worthy of his head and his heart, although subsequent events have, alas! brought it to nought. I doubt if we shall send up a nurse from Troy; indeed, I doubt if there will even be an examination.

Last evening the Young Women's Christian Association attended its sixth Ambulance lecture. The subject—roller bandaging—being a practical one, a small boy was had in, set on the platform, and bandaged in sight of the audience—plain bandaged, reverse bandaged, figure-of-eight bandaged, bandaged on forefinger, thumb, hand, wrist and forearm, elbow, shoulder, knee, ankle, foot. He declares that he enjoyed himself thoroughly. After each demonstration the young women took a turn and practised with such assiduity that an hour slipped pleasantly away. The bandages were applied, the spirals neatly stitched, and the stitches promptly snipped for the next pupil to begin. An occasional prick with the needle evoked no more than a playful remonstrance from the boy and a ripple of laughter from the fair executants. At length, alas! Miss Sophy Rabling, in snipping her bandage from the boy's foot, fumbled and drove a point of the scissors sharply into his toe.

With a howl he caught at his foot, from which one or two drops of blood were trickling. And the sight of it so affected Miss Sophy that she dropped upon the platform in a swoon. A class-mate in the body of the hall almost instantly followed her example.

The lecturer, I am bound to say, behaved admirably. So far was he from losing his head, that he instantly seized on the accident to turn it to account.

"First aid!" he cried. "Subject: Fainting. Patient No. 1, head to be pressed down below her knees and kept there for a few minutes. Patient No. 2, to be extended on the floor, care being taken to keep head and body level. A form being handy, we could, as an alternative, have hung Patient No. 1 over it, head downwards."

But at this point, unfortunately, the humour of the situation became too much for Miss Gertrude Hansombody, another of the students. She began to titter, went on to laugh uncontrollably, then to clench her hands and sob.

"Subject: Hysterics!" called the lecturer. "Treatment: Be firm with the patient, hold her firmly by the wrists and threaten her with cold water—"

He spoke to empty benches. The rest of his pupils had escaped from the room and were now on their way home, and running for dear life.

I do not expect that St. John of Jerusalem will figure prominently in our Primrose fete. My reason for saying so is an urgent letter just received from Sir Felix, who wishes to confer with me in the course of the day.


We are not litigious in Troy, and we obey the laws of England cheerfully if we sometimes claim to interpret them in our own way. I leave others to determine whether the Chief Constable's decision, that one policeman amply suffices for us, be an effect or a cause, but certain it is that we rarely trouble any court, and almost never that of Assize.

This accounts in part for the popular interest awakened by the suit of Cox versus Pretyman, heard a few days ago at the Bodmin Assizes. I say "in part," because the case presented (as the newspapers phrase it) some unusual features, and differed noticeably from the ordinary Action for Breach of Promise. "No harm in that," you will say? Indeed no; and we should have regarded it as no more than our due but for an apprehension that the conduct alleged against the defendant concerned us all by compromising the good name of our town.

At any rate, last Wednesday found the streets full of citizens hurrying to the railway station, and throughout the morning our stationmaster had difficulty in handling the traffic. The journey to Bodmin is not a long one as the crow flies, but, as our carpenter, Mr. Hansombody, put it, "we are not crows, and, that being the case, naturally resent being packed sixteen in a compartment." Mr. Hansombody taxed the Great Western Company with lack of foresight in not running excursion trains, and appealed to me to support his complaint. I argued (with the general approval of our fellow-travellers) that there was something heartless in the idea of an excursion to listen to the recital of a woman's wrongs, especially of Miss Cox's, whom we had known so long and esteemed. Driven from this position, Mr. Hansombody took a fresh stand on the superiority of the old broad-gauge carriages; and this, since it raised no personal question, we discussed in very good humour while we unpacked and ate our luncheons.

In the midst of our meal a lady at the far end of the compartment heaved a sigh and ejaculated "Poor thing!"—which at once set us off discussing the case anew. We agreed that such conduct as Pretyman's was fortunately rare amongst us. We tried to disclaim him—no easy matter, since his father and mother had been natives of Troy, and he had spent all his life in our midst. The lady in the corner challenged Mr. Hansombody to deny that our town was deteriorating—the rising generation more mischievous than its parents, and given to mitching from school, and cigarette smoking, if not to worse.

Now this was a really damaging attack, for Mr. Hansombody not only presides over our School Board, but has a son in the tobacco business. He met it magnificently. "He would dismiss (he said) the cigarette question as one upon which—Heaven knew with how little justice!—he might be suspected of private bias; but on the question of truancy he had something to say, and he would say it. To begin with, he would admit that the children in Troy played truant; the percentage of school attendance was abnormally low. Yes, he admitted the fact, and thanked the lady for having called attention to it, since it bore upon the subject now uppermost in our minds. He had here"—and he drew from his pocket a magazine article—"some statistics to which he would invite our attention. They showed the average school attendance in Cornwall to be lower than in any county of England or Wales. But"—and Mr. Hansombody raised his forefinger—"the same statistician in the very same paper proves the average of criminal prosecutions in Cornwall to be the lowest in England and Wales."

"And you infer—" I began as he paused triumphantly.

"I infer nothing, sir. I leave the inference to be drawn by our faddists in education, and I only hope they'll enjoy it."

Well, apart from its bearing on Mr. Hansombody's position as Chairman of our Board (which we forbore to examine), this discovery consoled us somewhat and amused us a great deal until we reached Bodmin, when we hurried at once to the Assize Court.

I have said that the action, Cox v. Pretyman, was for damages for Breach of Promise of Marriage. Both parties are natives and parishioners of Fowey, and attend the same place of worship. The plaintiff, Miss Rebecca Cox, earns her living as a dressmaker's assistant; the defendant is our watch-maker, and opened a shop of his own but a few months before approaching Miss Cox with proposals of marriage. This was fifteen years ago. I may mention that some kind of counter-claim was put in "for goods delivered"; the goods in question being a musical-box and sundry small articles for parlour amusement, such as a solitaire-tray, two packs of "Patience" cards, a race-game, and the like. But the defendant did not allege that these had been sent or accepted as whole or partial quittance of his contract to marry, and I can only suppose that he pleaded them in mitigation of damages. Miss Cox asked for one hundred and fifty pounds.

Her evidence was given in quiet but resolute tones, and for some time disclosed nothing sensational. The circumstances in which Mr. Pretyman had sued for and obtained the promise of her hand differed in no important particular from those which ordinarily attend the fiancailles of respectable young persons in Troy; and for twelve years his courtship ran an even course. "After this," asserted Miss Cox, "his attentions cooled. He was friendly and kind enough when we met, and still talked of enlarging his shop-front and marrying in the near future. But his visits were not frequent enough to be called courting." Of late, though living in the same street, she had only seen him on Sundays; and even so he would be occupied almost all the day and evening with services, Sunday school, prayer-meetings, and occasional addresses. At length she taxed him with indifference, and, finding his excuses unsatisfactory, was persuaded by her friends to bring the present action. She liked the man well enough; but for the last two or three years "his heart hadn't been in it. He didn't do any proper courting."

Defendant's counsel (a young man) attempted in cross-examination to lead Miss Cox to reveal herself as an exacting young woman.

"Do you assert that at length you came to see nothing of defendant during the week?"

"Only through the shop window as I went by to my work. And of late, when he saw me coming, he would screw a magnifying glass in his eye and pretend to be busy with his watch-making. I believe he did it to avoid looking at me, and also because he knew I couldn't bear him with his face screwed up. It makes such a difference to his appearance."

"Gently, gently, Miss Cox! You must not give us your mere suppositions. Now, did he never pay you a visit, or take you for a walk, say on Wednesdays? That would be early-closing day, I believe."

"Never for the last three years, sir, after he became a Freemason. Wednesdays was lodge-night."

"Well then, on Saturday, after shop hours?"

"Yes, he used to come on Saturdays, till he was made a Forester. The Foresters meet every Saturday evening."

"Mondays then, or Tuesdays? We haven't exhausted the week yet, Miss Cox."

"No, sir. Mondays he was a Rechabite and went to tent. Tuesdays he would be an Ancient Druid—"

"Gently! On Mondays, you say, he was a Rechabite and went to tent. What is a Rechabite? And what does he do in a tent?"

Plaintiff (dissolving in tears): "Ah, sir, if I only knew!"

Here the Judge interposed. A Rechabite, he believed, went to a tent, or habitation, for the purpose (among others) of abstaining from alcoholic drinks.

Plaintiff (briskly): "But, my lord, you wouldn't call that proper courting!"

Defendant's counsel had taken this opportunity to resume his seat. But counsel for the plaintiff now arose, with a smile, to re-examine.

"Did Mr. Pretyman walk out with you on Thursday evenings?"

"Oh no, sir. On Thursday evenings Mr. Pretyman was an Oddfellow."

"I think we have only to account for Fridays," said his lordship, after consulting his notes.

"On Fridays, my lord, Mr. Pretyman was an Ancient Buffalo."

"An Ancient Buffalo?"

"Yes, my lord (sobbing). I don't know what it means, but that was the last straw."

"The first question for the jury to determine," said his lordship, a little later, "is whether an affianced young woman, as such, has a right to expect from her betrothed such attentions as may reasonably be taken as earnest of his desire to fulfil his contract within a reasonable time. In the present instance, the fact that the contract was made does not stand in doubt; it is not disputed. Now arises a second question. Can a man who is on weekdays a Freemason, a Rechabite, an Oddfellow, a Forester, an Ancient Druid, and an Ancient Buffalo, and on Sundays (as I gather) a Yarmouth Bloater—"

"Plymouth Brother, my lord," plaintiff's counsel corrected.

"I beg your pardon—a Plymouth Brother. I say, can a man who after his betrothal voluntarily preoccupies himself with these multifarious functions be held—I will not say to have disqualified himself for that willing exchange of confidence which is the surest guarantee of lasting happiness between man and wife—but to have raised such obstacles to the fulfilment of the original contract as reasonably warrant the accusation of mala fides?"

Well, the jury held that he could; for without troubling to leave the box they gave their verdict for the plaintiff, and assessed the damages at one hundred pounds.

Towards the close of the case we all felt ashamed of Pretyman. His defence had been weak; it struck us as almost derisory; and Mr. Hansombody agreed with me in a whisper that under similar circumstances he or I could have made a better fight for it. The fellow had shown no sport. We blushed for our town.

But Troy has a knack of winning its races on the post. Judgment, as the phrase goes, was on the point of being entered accordingly, when the defendant looked up towards the Bench with a sudden, happy smile.

"Here, wait a minute!" he said. "I have a question to put to his lordship."

"Eh?" said the Judge. "Certainly. What is it?"

"I want to know, my lord, if I can claim the benefit of the First Offenders Act?"

The train on the return journey was worse crowded than ever; but nobody minded. For we had managed to give plaintiff and defendant a compartment to themselves.


When the Grand Duke Ferdinand of Carinthia travelled in state to wed the Princess Sophia of Ysselmonde, he did so by land, and for two reasons; the first being that this was the shortest way, and the second that he possessed no ships. These, at any rate, were the reasons alleged by his Chancellor, to whom he left all arrangements. For himself, he took very little interest in the marriage beyond inquiring the age of his bride. "Six years," was the answer, and this seemed to him very young, for he had already passed his tenth birthday.

The Pope, however, had contrived and blessed the match; so Ferdinand raised no serious objection, but in due course came to Ysselmonde with his bodyguard of the famous Green Carinthian Archers, and two hundred halberdiers and twelve waggons—four to carry his wardrobe, and the remaining eight piled with wedding presents. On the way, while Ferdinand looked for birds' nests, the Chancellor sang the praises of the Princess Sophia, who (he declared) was more beautiful than the day. "But you have never seen her," objected Ferdinand. "No, your Highness, and that is why I contented myself with a purely conventional phrase;" and the Chancellor, who practised finesse in his odd moments, began to talk of the sea, the sight of which awaited them at Ysselmonde. "And what is the sea like?" "Well, your Highness, the sea is somewhat difficult to describe, for in fact there is nothing to compare with it." "You have seen it, I suppose?" "Sire, I have done more; for once, while serving as Ambassador at Venice, I had the honour to be upset in it."

With such converse they beguiled the road until they reached Ysselmonde, and found the sea completely hidden by flags and triumphal arches. And there, after three days' feasting, the little Grand Duke and the still smaller Princess were married in the Cathedral by the Cardinal Archbishop, and the Pope's legate handed them his master's blessing in a morocco-covered case, and as they drove back to the Palace the Dutchmen waved their hats and shouted "Boo-mp!" but the Carinthian Archers cried "Talassio!" which not only sounded better, but proved (when they obligingly explained what it meant) that the ancestors of the Grand Duke of Carinthia had lived in Rome long before any Pope.

On reaching the Palace the bride and bridegroom were taken to a gilded drawing-room, and there left to talk together, while the guests filled up the time before the banquet by admiring the presents and calculating their cost. Ferdinand said, "Well, that's over;" and the Princess said, "Yes,"—for this was their first opportunity of conversing alone.

"You're a great deal better than I expected," said Ferdinand reassuringly. Indeed, in her straight dress sewn with seed-pearls and her coif of Dutch lace surmounted with a little crown of diamonds, the Princess looked quite beautiful; and he in his white satin suit, crossed with the blue ribbon of St. John Nepomuc, was the handsomest boy she had ever seen. "Besides," he added, "my Chancellor says you are hereditary High Admiral of the Ocean—it's in the marriage settlement; and that would make up for a lot. Where is it?"

"The Ocean?" She felt very shy still. "I have never seen it, but I believe it's somewhere at the bottom of the garden."

"Suppose we go and have a look at it?" She was about to say that she must ask leave of her governess, but he looked so masterful and independent that she hadn't the courage. It gave her quite a thrill as he took her hand and led her out through the low window to the great stone terrace. They passed down the terrace steps into a garden ablaze with tulip beds in geometrical patterns; at the foot ran a yew hedge, and beyond it, in a side-walk, they came upon a scullion boy chasing a sulphur-yellow butterfly. The Grand Duke forgot his fine manners, and dropped his bride's hand to join in the chase; but the boy no sooner caught sight of him than he fled with a cry of dismay and popped into an arbour. There, a minute later, the bride and bridegroom found him stooping over a churn and stirring with might and main.

"What are you stirring, boy?" asked Ferdinand.

"Praised be the Virgin!" said the boy, "I believe it's an ice-pudding for the banquet. But they shouldn't have put the ice-puddings in the same arbour as the fireworks; for, if your Highness will allow me to say so, you can't expect old heads on young shoulders."

"Are the fireworks in our honour too?"

"Why, of course," the scullion answered; "everything is in your honour to-day."

This simplified matters wonderfully. The children passed on through a gate in the garden wall and came upon a clearing beside a woodstack; and there stood a caravan with its shafts in the air. A woman sat on the tilt at the back, reading, and every now and then glancing towards two men engaged in deadly combat in the middle of the clearing, who shouted as they thrust at one another with long swords.

The little Princess, who, except when driven in her state-coach to the Cathedral, had never before strayed outside the garden, turned very pale and caught at her husband's hand. But he stepped forward boldly.

"Now yield thee, caitiff, or thine hour has come!" shouted one of the fighters and flourished his blade.

"Sooner I'll die than tum te tum te tum!" the other answered quite as fiercely.

"Slave of thine become," said the woman from the caravan.

"Thank you. Sooner I'll die than slave of thine become!" He laid about him with fresh vigour.

"Put down your swords," commanded Ferdinand.

"And now tell me who you are."

"We are Valentine and Orson," they answered.

"Indeed?" Ferdinand had heard of them, and shook hands affably. "Then I'm very glad to make your acquaintance."

"And," said they, "we are rehearsing for the performance at the Palace to-night in your Highnesses' honour."

"Oh, so this is in our honour too?"

"To be sure," said the woman; "and I am to dress up as Hymen and speak the Epilogue in a saffron robe. It has some good lines; for instance—"

'Ye Loves and Genial Hours, conspire To gratify this Royal Pair With Sons impetuous as their Sire, And Daughters as their Mother fair!'

"Thank you," said Ferdinand. "But we are very busy to-day and must take one thing at a time. Can you tell us the way to the sea, please?"

The woman pointed along a path which led to a moss-covered gate and an orchard where the apple-blossom piled itself in pink clouds against the blue sky: as they followed the path they heard her laughing, and looked back to see her still staring after them and laughing merrily, while Valentine and Orson leaned on their swords and laughed too.

The orchard was the prettiest in the whole world. Blackbirds played hide-and-seek beneath the boughs, blue and white violets hid in the tall grass around the boles, and the spaces between were carpeted with daisies to the edge of a streamlet. Over the streamlet sang thrushes and goldfinches and bull-finches innumerable, and their voices shook down the blossom like a fall of pink snow, which threatened to cover even the daisies. The Grand Duke and the Princess believed that all this beauty was in their honour, no less than the chorus of the bells floating across the tree-tops from the city.

"This is the best of all," said Ferdinand as they seated themselves by the stream. "I had no idea marriage was such fun. And they haven't even forgotten the trout!" he cried, peering over the brink.

"Can you make daisy-chains?" asked the Princess timidly.

He could not; so she taught him, feeling secretly proud that there was something he could learn of her. When the chain was finished he flung it over his neck and kissed her. "Though I don't like kissing, as a rule," he explained.

"And this shall be my wedding present," said she.

"Why, I brought you six waggon-loads!—beauties—all chosen by my Chancellor."

"But he didn't make or choose this one," said Sophia, "and I like this one best." They sat silent for a moment. "Dear me," she sighed, "what a lot we have to learn of each other's ways!"

"Hullo!" Ferdinand was staring down the glade. "What's that line at the end there, across the sky?"

Sophia turned. "I think that's the sea—yes, there is a ship upon it."

"But why have they hung a blue cloth in front of it?"

"I expect that's in our honour too."

They took hands and trotted to the end of the orchard; and there, beyond the hedge, ran a canal, and beyond the canal a wide flat country stretched away to the sea,—a land dotted with windmills and cattle and red-and-white houses with weathercocks,—a land, too, criss-crossed with canals, whereon dozens of boats, and even some large ships, threaded their way like dancers in and out of the groups of cattle, or sailed past a house so closely as almost to poke a bowsprit through the front door. The weather-cocks spun and glittered, the windmills waved their arms, the boats bowed and curtseyed to the children. Never was such a salutation. Even the blue cloth in the distance twinkled, and Ferdinand saw at a glance that it was embroidered with silver.

But the finest flash of all came from a barge moored in the canal just below them, where a middle-aged woman sat scouring a copper pan.

"Good-day!" cried Ferdinand across the hedge. "Why are you doing that?"

"Why, in honour of the wedding, to be sure. 'Must show one's best at such times, if only for one's own satisfaction." Then, as he climbed into view and helped Sophia over the hedge, she recognised them, and, dropping her pan with a clatter, called on the saints to bless them and keep them always. The bridal pair clambered down to the towpath, and from the towpath to her cabin, where she fed them (for they were hungry by this time) with bread and honey from a marvellous cupboard painted all over with tulips: in short, they enjoyed themselves immensely.

"Only," said Ferdinand, "I wish they hadn't covered up the sea, for I wanted a good look at it."

"The sea?" said the barge-woman, all of a shiver. Then she explained that her two sons had been drowned in it. "Though, to be sure," said she, "they died for your Majesty's honour, and, if God should give them back to me, would do so again."

"For me?" exclaimed Sophia, opening her eyes very wide.

"Ay, to be sure, my dear. So it's no wonder—eh?—that I should love you."

By the time they said good-bye to her and hurried back through the orchard, a dew was gathering on the grass and a young moon had poised herself above the apple-boughs. The birds here were silent; but high on the stone terrace, when they reached it, a solitary one began to sing. From the bright windows facing the terrace came the clatter of plates and glasses, with loud outbursts of laughter. But this bird had chosen his station beneath a dark window at the corner, and sang there unseen. It was the nightingale.

They could not understand what he sang. "It is my window," whispered Sophia, and began to weep in the darkness, without knowing why; for she was not miserable in the least, but, on the contrary, very, very happy. They listened, hand in hand, by a fountain on the terrace. Through the windows they could see the Papal legate chatting at table with the King, Sophia's father, and the Chancellor hobnobbing with the Cardinal Archbishop. Only the Queen of Ysselmonde sat at the table with her wrists on the arms of her throne and her eyes looking out into the darkness, as though she caught some whisper of the bird's song. But the children knew that he sang for them, not for her; for he told of all the adventures of the day, and he told not as I am telling them, but so beautifully that the heart ached to hear. Yet his song was of two words only. "Young—young—young! Love love—love!"—the same words over and over.

A courtier came staggering out from the banqueting-hall, and the bird flew away. The children standing by the fountain watched him as he found the water and dipped his face in it, with a groan. He was exceedingly drunk; but as he lifted his head he caught sight of them in the moonlight and excused himself.

"In your Highnesses' honour," he assured them: "'been doing my best."

"Poor man!" said Sophia. "But how loyal!"


At Madeira seven of us were added to the first-class passengers of the Cambuscan, homeward bound from Cape Town; and even so the company made a poor muster in the saloon, which required a hundred and seventy feet of hurricane-deck for covering. Those were days—long before the South African War, before the Jameson Raid even—when every ship carried out a load of miners for the Transvaal, and returned comparatively empty, though as a rule with plenty of obviously rich men and be-diamonded ladies.

But every tide has its backwash; and it so happened that the Cambuscan held as many second and third-class passengers as she could stow. They were—their general air proclaimed it—the failures of South African immigration; men and women who had gone out too early and given up the struggle just when the propitious moment arrived. Seediness marked the second-class; the third-class came from all parts, from the Cape to Pietermaritzburg, but they might have conspired to assemble on the Cambuscan as a protest against high hopes and dreams of a promised land. The protest, let me add, was an entirely passive one. They stood aloof, watching the flashy gaieties of the hurricane-deck from their own sad penumbra—a dejected, wistful, whispering throng. "They simply don't occur," one of the be-diamonded ladies remarked to me, and went on to praise the U— Line for arranging it so. With nightfall—or a trifle later—they vanished; and at most, when the time came for my last pipe before turning in, two or three figures would be left pacing there forward, pacing and turning and pacing again. I wondered who these figures were, and what their thoughts. They and the sleepers hived beneath them belonged to another world—a world driven with ours through wave and darkness, urged by the same propellers, controlled by the same helmsman, separated only by thin partitions which the touch of a rock would tear down like paper; yet, while the partitions stood, separated as no city separates its rich and poor. Only on Sundays did these two worlds consent to meet. They had, it appeared, a common God, and joined for a few minutes once a week in worshipping Him.

The be-diamonded lady, however, was not quite accurate. Once, and once only—it was the second day out from Madeira—the third-class passengers did "occur," to the extent of organising athletic sports, and even (with the captain's leave) of levying prize-money from the saloon-deck. Some four or five of us, when their delegate approached, were lounging beneath the great awning and listening, or pretending to listen, to the discourse of our only millionaire, Mr. Olstein. As usual, he recited his wrongs; and, as usual, the mere recital caused him to perspire. The hairs on the back of his expostulatory hand bristled with indignation, the diamonds on his fingers flashed with it. We had known him but two days and were passing weary of him, but allowed him to talk. He apostrophised the British Flag—his final Court of Appeal, he termed it—while we stared out over the waters.

"We love it," he insisted. "We never see it without a lump in our throats. But we ask ourselves, How long is this affection to count for nothing? What are we to get in return?"

No one answered, perhaps because no one knew. My thoughts had flown forward to a small riverside church in England, and a memorial window to one whose body had been found after Isandlwhana with the same flag wrapped around it beneath the tunic. This was his reward.

"Hey? What's this?" Mr. Olstein took the subscription list, fitted his gold-rimmed glasses and eyed the delegate over the paper. "Athletic sports? Not much in your line, I should say."

"No, sir;" and while the delegate bent his eyes a bright spot showed on either cheek. He was a weedy, hollow-chested man, about six feet in height, with tell-tale pits at the back of the neck, and a ragged beard evidently grown on the voyage. "I'm only a collector, with the captain's permission."

"I see." Mr. Olstein pulled out a sovereign. "I don't put this on you, mind; I can tell a consumptive with half an eye. See here"—he appealed to us—"this is just what we suffer from. You fellows with lung trouble flock to a tepid hole like Madeira, while the Cape would cure you in half the time: why, the voyage itself only begins to be decent after you get south! But you won't see it; and the people who do see it are just the sort who don't pay us when they come, and damage us when they go back,—hard cases, sent out to pick up a living as well as their health, who get stranded and hurry home half-cured."

A young Briton in the deck-chair next to mine rose and walked off abruptly, while I fumbled for a coin, ashamed to meet the collector's eye.

"Hullo!" Mr. Olstein grinned at me. "Our friend's in a hurry to dodge the subscription list."

But the young Briton turned and intercepted the collector as he moved towards the next group.

"It's your sovereign," said I, "that seems to be overlooked."

Mr. Olstein saw it at his elbow and re-pocketed it. "Well, if he hasn't the sense to pick it up, I've some more than to whistle him back. But that'll show you the sort of fool we send out to compete with Germans and suchlike. It's enough to make a man ashamed of his country."

This happened on a Saturday morning, and in the afternoon we attended the sports—a depressing ceremony. The performers went through their contests, so to speak, with bated breath and a self-consciousness which, try as we might, poisoned our applause and made it insufferably patronising. Their backers would pluck up heart and encourage them loudly with Whitechapel catch-words, and anon would hush their voices in uneasy shame. Our collector, brave by fits in his dignity as steward, would catch the eye of a saloon-deck passenger and shrink behind the enormous rosette which some wag had pinned upon him.

Next day I made an opportunity to speak with him, after service. It needed no pressing to extract his story, and he told it with entire simplicity. He was a Cockney, and by trade had been a baker in Bermondsey. "A wearing trade," he said. "The most of us die before forty. You'd be surprised." But he had started with a sound constitution, and somehow persuaded himself, in spite of warnings, that he was immune. At thirty-two he had married. "A deal later than most," he explained—and had scarcely been married three months before lung trouble declared itself. "I had a few pounds put by, having married so late; and it seemed a duty to Emily to give myself every chance: so we packed up almost at once and started for South Africa. It was a wrench to her, but the voyage out did us both all the good in the world, she being in a delicate state of health, and the room in Bermondsey not fit for a woman in that condition." The baby was born in Cape Town, five months after their landing. "But they've no employment for bakers out there," he assured me. "We found trade very low altogether, and what I picked up wasn't any healthier than in London. Emily disliked the place, too; though she'd have stayed gladly if it had been doing me any good. And so back we're going. There's one thing: I'm safe of work. My old employer in Bermondsey has promised that all right. And the child, you see, sir, won't suffer. There's no consumption, that I know of, in either of our families; and Emily, you may be sure, will see he's not brought up to be a baker."

He announced it in the most matter-of-fact way. He was going back to England to die—to die speedily—and he knew it. "I should like you to see our baby, sir," he added. "He weighs extraordinary, for his age. My wife comes from the North of England—a very big-boned family; and he's British, every ounce of him, though he was born in South Africa."

But the wife took a chill on entering the Bay, and remained below with the child; nor was it until the day we sighted England that I saw the whole family together.

We were to pick up the Eddystone; and as this was calculated to happen at sunset, or a little after, the usual sweepstake on the saloon-deck aroused a little more than the usual excitement. For the first glimpse, whether of lighthouse or light, would give the prize to the nearest guesser. If we anticipated sunset, the clearness of the weather would decide between two pretty close shots: if we ran it fine, the lamp (which carries for seventeen miles and more) might upset those who staked on daylight even at that distance from the mark. Our guesses had been tabulated, and the paper pinned up in the smoking-room.

They allowed a margin of some twenty-five knots on the twenty-four hours' run—ranging, as nearly as I can recollect, from three hundred and thirty-five to three hundred and sixty; and the date being the last week of March, and sunset falling close on half-past six, a whole nebula of guesses surrounded that hour, one or two divided only by a few seconds.

A strong head-wind met us in the Channel, and the backers of daylight had almost given up hope; but it dropped in the late afternoon, and by the log we were evidently in for a close finish. Mr. Olstein had set his watch by the ship's chronometer, and consulted it from minute to minute. He stood by me, binocular in hand, and grew paler with excitement as sunset drew on and the minutes scored off the guesses one by one from the list. His guess was among the last, but not actually the last by half a dozen.

We had reached a point when five minutes disposed of no less than nine guesses. The weather was dull: no one could tell precisely if the sun had sunk or not. We were certainly within twenty miles of the rock, and by the Nautical Almanack, unless our chronometer erred, the light ought to flash out within sixty seconds. If within forty the man sang out from the crow's-nest, Mr. Olstein would lose; after forty he had a whole minute and a half for a clear win.

The forty seconds passed. Mr. Olstein drew a long breath of relief. "But why the devil don't they light up?" he demanded after a moment. "I call you to witness what the time is by our chronometer. I'll have it tested as soon as I step ashore, and if it's wrong I'll complain to the Company; if it's not, I'll send the Trinity House a letter'll lay those lighthouse fellows by the heels! Punctuality, sir, in the case of shipping—life or death—"

The cry of the man in the crow's-nest mingled with ours as a spark touched the north-eastern horizon almost ahead of us—trembled and died—shone out, as it seemed, more steadily—and again was quenched.

Mr. Olstein slapped his thigh. He had won something like ten pounds and was a joyous millionaire. "That makes twice in four voyages," he proclaimed.

I congratulated him and strode forward. A group of third-class passengers had gathered by the starboard bow. They, too, had heard the cry. To all appearance they might have been an ordinary Whitechapel crowd, and even now they scarcely lifted their voices; but they whispered and pointed.

"The Eddystone!"

I singled out my friend the baker. Before I could reach him he had broken from the group. I hailed him. Without seeming to hear, he disappeared down the fore-companion. But by and by he emerged again, and with a baby in his arms. Evidently he had torn it from its cot. His wife followed, weak and protesting.

The child, too, raised a wail of querulous protest; but he hugged it to him, and running to the ship's side held it aloft.

"England, baby!"

It turned its head, seeking the pillow or its mother; and would not look, but broke into fresh and louder wailing.


He hugged it afresh. God knows of what feeling sprang the tears that fell on its face and baptized it. But he hushed his voice, and, lifting the child again, coaxed it to look—coaxed it with tears streaming now, and with a thrill that would not be denied—

"England, baby—England!"


In the kingdom of Illyria there lived, not long ago, a poor wood-cutter with three sons, who in time went forth to seek their fortunes. At the end of three years they returned by agreement, to compare their progress in the world. The eldest had become a lawyer, and the second a merchant, and each of these had won riches and friends; but John, the youngest, who had enlisted in the army, could only show a cork leg and a medal.

"You have made a bad business of it," said his brothers. "Your medal is worthless except to a collector of such things, and your leg a positive disadvantage. Fortunately we have influence, and since you are our brother we must see what we can do for you."

Now the King of Illyria lived at that time in his capital, in a brick palace at the end of the great park. He kept this park open to all, and allowed no one to build in it. But the richest citizens, who were so fond of their ruler that they could not live out of his sight, had their houses just beyond the park, in the rear of the Palace, on a piece of ground which they called Palace Gardens. The name was a little misleading, for the true gardens lay in front of the Palace, where children of all classes played among the trees and flower-beds and artificial ponds, and the King sat and watched them, because he took delight in children, and because the sight of them cheered his only daughter, who had fallen into a deep melancholy. But the rich citizens clung to it, for it gave a pleasant neighbourly air to their roadway, and showed what friendliness there was between the monarch of Illyria and his people.

At either end you entered the roadway (if you were allowed) by an iron gate, and each gate had a sentry-box beside it, and a tall beadle, and a notice-board to save him the trouble of explanation. The notice ran—

PRIVATE.—The Beadle has orders to refuse admittance to all Waggons, Tradesmen's Carts, Hackney Coaches, Donkeys, Beggars, Disorderly Characters, or Persons carrying Burdens.

A sedentary life had told so severely upon one of the two beadles that he could no longer enter his box with dignity or read his newspaper there with any comfort. He resigned, and John obtained the post by his brothers' interest, in spite of his cork leg.

He had now a bright green suit with scarlet pipings, a gold-laced hat, a fashionable address, and very little to do. But the army had taught him to be active, and for lack of anything better he fell into deep thinking. This came near to bringing him into trouble. One evening he looked out of his sentry-box and saw a mild and somewhat sad-featured old gentleman approaching the gate.

"No admittance," said John.

"Tut, tut!" said the old gentleman. "I'm the King."

John looked at the face on his medal, and sure enough there was a resemblance. "But, all the same, your Majesty carries a burden,"—here he pointed to the notice-board,—"and the folks along this road are mighty particular."

The King smiled and then sighed heavily.

"It's about the Princess, my daughter," said he; "she has not smiled for a whole year."

"I'll warrant I'd make her," said John.

"I'll warrant you could not," said the King. "She will never smile again until she is married."

"Then," answered John, "speaking in a humble way, as becomes me, why the dickens alive don't you marry her up and get done with it?"

The King shook his head.

"There's a condition attached," said he. "Maybe you have heard of the famous haunted house in Puns'nby Square?"

"I've always gone by the spelling, and pronounced it Ponsonby," said John.

"Well, the condition is that every suitor for my daughter's hand must spend a night alone in that house; and if he survives and is ready to persevere with his wooing, he must return a year later with his bride and spend the night of his marriage there."

"And very handy," said John, "for there's a wedding-cake shop at the corner."

The King sighed again.

"Unhappily, none survive. One hundred and fifty-five have undertaken the adventure, and not a man of them but has either lost his wits or run for it."

"Well," said John, "I've been afraid of a great many men—"

"That's a poor confession for a soldier," put in the King.

"—when they all happened to come at me together. But I've never yet met the ghost that could frighten me; and if your Majesty will give me the latch-key I'll try my luck this very night."

It could not be done in this free-and-easy way; but at eight o'clock, after John had visited the Palace and taken an oath in the Princess's presence (which was his first sight of her), he was driven down to the house beside the Lord Chamberlain, who admitted him to the black front hall, and, slamming the door upon him, scuttled out of the porch as quickly as possible and into his brougham.

John struck a match, and as he did so heard the carriage roll away. The walls were bare, and the floor and great staircase ahead of him carpetless. As the match flickered out he caught a glimpse of a pair of feet moving up the stairs; that was all—only feet.

"I'll catch up with the calves on the landing, maybe," said he; and, striking another match, he followed them up.

The feet turned aside on the landing and led him into a room on the right. He paused on the threshold, drew a candle from his pocket, lit it, and stared about him. The room was of great size, bare and dusty, with crimson hangings, gilt panels, and one huge gilt chandelier, from which and from the ceiling and cornice long cobwebs trailed down like creeping plants. Beneath the chandelier a dark smear ran along the boards. The feet crossed it towards the fireplace; and as they did so, John saw them stained with blood. They reached the fire-place and vanished.

Scarcely had this happened, before the end of the room opposite the window began to glow with an unearthly light. John, whose poverty had taught him to be economical, promptly blew out his candle. A moment later two men entered, bearing a coffin between them. They rested it upon the floor and, seating themselves upon it, began to cast dice. "Your soul!" "My soul!" they kept saying in hollow tones, according as they won or lost. At length one of them—a tall man in a powdered wig, with a face extraordinarily pale—flung a hand to his brow, rose and staggered from the room. The other sat waiting and twirling his black moustache, with an evil smile. John, who by this time had found a seat in a far corner, thought him the most poisonous-looking villain he had ever seen; but as the minutes passed and nothing happened, he turned his back to the light and pulled out a penny-dreadful. His literary taste was shocking, and when it came to romance he liked the incidents to follow one another with great rapidity.

He was interrupted by a blood-curdling groan, and the first ruffian broke into the room, dragging by its grey locks the body of an old man. A young girl followed, weeping and protesting, with dishevelled hair, and behind her entered a priest with a brazier full of glowing charcoal. The girl cast herself forward on the old man's body, but the two scoundrels dragged her from it by force. "The money!" demanded the dark one; and she drew from her bosom a small key and cast it at his feet. "My promise!" demanded the other, and seized her by the wrist as the priest stepped forward. "Quick! over this coffin—man and wife!" She wrenched her hand away and thrust him backward. The priest retreated to the brazier and drew out a red-hot iron.

John thought it about time to interfere.

"I beg your pardon," said he, stepping forward; "but I suppose you really are ghosts?"

"We are unhallowed souls," answered the dark man impressively, "who return to blight the living with the spectacle of our awful crimes."

"Meaning me?" asked John.

"Ay, sir; and to destroy you to-night if you contract not, upon your soul, to return with your bride and meet us here a twelvemonth hence."

"H'm!" said John to himself, "they are three to one; and, after all, it's what I came for. I suppose," he added aloud, "some form of document is usual in these cases?"

The dark man drew out pen and parchment.

"Hold forth your hand," he commanded; and as John held it out, thinking he meant to shake it over the bargain, the fellow drove the pen into his wrist until the blood spurted. "Now sign!"

"Sign!" said the other villain.

"Sign!" said the lady.

"Oh, very well, miss. If you're in the swindle too, my mind is easier," said John, and signed his name with a flourish. "But a bargain is a bargain, and what security have I for your part in it?"

"Our signature!" said the priest terribly, at the same moment pressing his branding-iron into John's ankle. A smell of burnt cork arose as John stooped and clapped his hand over the scorched stocking. When he looked up again his visitors had vanished; and a moment later the strange light, too, died away.

But the coffin remained for evidence that he had not been dreaming. John lit a candle and examined it.

"Just the thing for me," he exclaimed, finding it to be a mere shell of pine-boards, loosely nailed together and painted black. "I was beginning to shiver." He knocked the coffin to pieces, crammed them into the fireplace, and very soon had a grand fire blazing, before which he sat and finished his penny-dreadful, and so dropped off into a sound sleep.

The Lord Chamberlain arrived early in the morning, and, finding him stretched there, at first broke into lamentations over the fate of yet another personable young man; but soon changed his tune when John sat up, and, rubbing his eyes, demanded to be told the time.

"But are you really alive? We must drive back and tell his Majesty at once!"

"Stay a moment," said John. "There's a brother of mine, a lawyer, in the city. He will be arriving at his office about this time, and you must drive me there; for I have a document here of a sort, and must have it stamped, to be on the safe side."

So into the city he was driven beside the Lord Chamberlain, and there had his leg stamped and filed for reference; and, having purchased another, was conveyed to the Palace, where the King received him with open arms.

He was now a favoured guest at Court, and had frequent opportunities of seeing and conversing with the Princess, with whom he soon fell deeply in love. But as the months passed and the time drew near for their marriage, he grew silent and thoughtful, for he feared to expose her, even in his company, to the sights he had witnessed in the haunted house.

He thought and thought, until one fine afternoon he snapped his fingers suddenly, and after that went about whistling. A fortnight before the day fixed for the wedding he drove into the city again—but this time to the office of his other brother, the merchant.

"I want," he said, "a loan of a thousand pounds."

"Nothing easier," said his brother. "Here are eight hundred and fifty. Of the remainder I shall keep fifty as interest for the first year at five per cent., and the odd hundred should purchase a premium of insurance for two thousand pounds, which I will retain as security against accidents."

This seemed not only fair but brotherly. John pocketed his eight hundred and fifty pounds, shook his creditor affectionately by the hand, and hurried westward.

The marriage was celebrated with great pomp; and in the evening the King, who had been shedding tears at intervals throughout the ceremonies, accompanied his daughter to the haunted house. The Princess was pale. John, on the contrary, who sat facing her father in the state-coach, smiled with a cheerfulness which, under the circumstances, seemed a trifle ill-bred. The wedding-guests followed in twenty-four chariots. Their cards of invitation had said "Two to five-thirty p.m.," and it was now eight o'clock; but they could not resist the temptation to see the last of "the poor dear thing," as they agreed to call the bride.

The King sat silent during the drive; he was preparing his farewell speech, which he meant to deliver in the porch. But arriving and perceiving a crowd about it, and also, to his vast astonishment, a red baize carpet on the perron, and a butler bowing in the doorway with two footmen behind him, he coughed down his exordium, and led his daughter into the hall amid showers of rice and confetti. The bridegroom followed; and so did the wedding-guests, since no one opposed them.

The hall and staircase were decorated with palms and pot-plants, flags and emblems of Illyria; and in the great drawing-room—which they entered while John persuaded the King to a seat—they found many rows of morocco-covered chairs, a miniature stage with a drop representing the play-scene in Hamlet, a row of footlights, a boudoir-grand piano, and a man seated at the keyboard whom they recognised as a performer in much demand at suburban dances.

The company had scarcely seated itself, before a strange light began to illuminate that end of the room at which the stage stood, and immediately the curtain rose to the overture of M. Offenbach's Orphee aux Enfers, the pianist continuing with great spirit until a round of applause greeted the entrance of the two spectral performers.

Its effect upon them was in the highest degree disconcerting. They set down the coffin, and, after a brief and hurried conference in an undertone, the black-mustachioed ghost advanced to the footlights, singled out John from the audience, and with a terrific scowl demanded to know the reason of this extraordinary gathering.

"Come, come, my dear sir," answered John, "our contract, if you will study it, allows me to invite whom I choose; it merely insists that my bride and I must be present, as you see we are. Pray go on with your part, and assure yourself it is no use to try the high horse with me."

The dark ghost looked at his partner, who shuffled uneasily.

"I told you," said he, "we should have trouble with this fellow. I had a presentiment of it when he came to spend the night here without bringing a bull-dog. That frightening of the bull-dog out of his wits has always been our most effective bit of business."

Hereupon the dark ghost took another tone.

"Our fair but unfortunate victim has a sore throat to-night," he announced. "The performance is consequently postponed;" and he seated himself sulkily upon the coffin, when the limelight-man from the wings promptly bathed him in a flood of the most beautiful rose-colour. "Oh, this is intolerable!" he exclaimed, starting to his feet.

"It is not first-rate, I agree," said John, "but, such as it is, we had better go through with it. Should the company doubt its genuineness, I can go around afterwards and show the brand on the cork." Here he tapped the leg, which he had been careful to bring with him.

Before this evidence of contract the ghosts' resistance collapsed. They seated themselves on the coffin and began the casting of dice; the performance proceeded, but in a half-hearted and perfunctory manner, notwithstanding the vivacious efforts of the limelight-man.

The tall ghost struck his brow and fled from the stage. There were cries of "Call him back!" But John explained that this was part of the drama, and no encores would be allowed; whereupon the audience fell to hissing the villain, who now sat alone with the most lifelike expression of malignity.

"Oh, hang it!" he expostulated after a while, "I am doing this under protest, and you need not make it worse for a fellow. I draw the line at hissing."

"It's the usual thing," explained John affably.

But when the ghostly lady walked on, and in the act of falling on her father's body was interrupted by the pianist, who handed up an immense bouquet, the performers held another hurried colloquy.

"Look here," said the dark-browed villain, stepping forward and addressing John; "what will you take to call it quits?"

"I'll take," said John, "the key which the lady has just handed you. And if the treasure is at all commensurate with the fuss you have been making about it, we'll let bygones be bygones."

Well, it did; and John, having counted it out behind the curtain, came forward and asked the pianist to play "God save the King"; and so, having bowed his guests to the door, took possession of the haunted house and lived in it many years with his bride, in high renown and prosperity.


"Photograph all the prisoners? But why?" demanded Sir Felix Felix-Williams. Old Canon Kempe shrugged his shoulders; Admiral Trewbody turned the pages of the Home Secretary's letter. They sat at the baize-covered table in the Magistrates' Room—the last of the Visiting Justices who met, under the old regime, to receive the Governor's report and look after the welfare of the prisoners in Tregarrick County Gaol.

"But why, in the name of common-sense?" Sir Felix persisted.

"I suppose," hazarded the Admiral, "it helps the police in identifying criminals."

"But the letter says 'all the prisoners.' You don't seriously tell me that anyone wants a photograph to identify Poacher Tresize, whom I've committed a score of times if I've committed him once? And perhaps you'll explain to me this further demand for a 'Composite Photograph' of all the prisoners, male and female. A 'Composite Photograph!'—have you ever seen one?"

"No," the Admiral mused; "but I see what the Home Office is driving at. Someone has been persuading them to test these new theories in criminology the doctors are so busy with, especially in Italy."

"In Italy!" pish'd Sir Felix Felix-Williams.

"My dear Sir Felix, science has no nationality." The Admiral was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and kept a microscope to amuse his leisure.

"It has some proper limits, I should hope," Sir Felix retorted. It annoyed him—a Chairman of Quarter Sessions for close upon twenty years—to be told that the science of criminology was yet in its infancy; and he glanced mischievously at the Canon, who might be supposed to have a professional quarrel with scientific men. But the Canon was a wary fighter and no waster of powder and shot.

"Well, well," said he, "I don't see what harm it can do, or what good. If the Home Secretary wants his Composite Photograph, let him have it. The only question is, Have we a photographer who knows how to make one? Or must we send the negatives up to Whitehall?"

So the Visiting Justices sent for the local photographer and consulted him. And he, being a clever fellow, declared it was easy enough— a mere question of care in superimposing the negatives. He had never actually made the experiment; his clients (so he called his customers) preferring to be photographed singly or in family groups. But he asked to be given a trial, and suggested (to be on the safe side) preparing two or three of these composite prints, between which the Justices might choose at their next meeting.

This was resolved, and the resolution entered in the minutes; and next day the photographer set to work. Some of the prisoners resisted and "made faces" in front of the camera, squinting and pulling the most horrible mouths. A female shoplifter sat under protest, because she was not allowed to send home for an evening gown. But the most consented obediently, and Jim Tresize even asked for a copy to take home to his wife.

The Admiral (who had married late in life) resided with his wife and young family in a neat villa just outside the town, where his hobby was to grow pelargoniums. The photographer passed the gate daily on his way to and from the prison, and was usually hailed and catechised on his progress.

His patience with the recalcitrant prisoners delighted the Admiral, who more than once assured his wife that Smithers was an intelligent fellow and quite an artist in his way. "I wonder how he manages it," said Mrs. Trewbody. "He told baby last autumn that a little bird would fly out of the camera when he took off the cap, and everyone allows that the result is most lifelike. But I don't like the idea, and I think it may injure his trade."

The Admiral could not always follow his wife's reasoning. "What is it you dislike?" he asked.

"Well, it's not nice to think of oneself going into the same camera he has been using on those wretched prisoners. It's sentiment, I daresay; but I had the same feeling when he stuck up Harry's photograph in his showcase at the railway station, among all kinds of objectionable persons, and I requested him to remove it."

The Admiral laughed indulgently, being one of those men who find a charm, even a subtle flattery, in their wives' silliness.

"I agree with you," he said, "that it's not pleasant to be exposed to public gaze among a crowd of people one would never think of knowing. I don't suppose it would actually encourage familiarity; at the same time there's an air of promiscuity about it—I won't say disrespect— which, ahem! jars. But with the prisoners it's different,—my attitude to them is scientific, if I may say so. I look upon them as a race apart, almost of another world, and as such I find them extremely interesting. The possibility of mixing with them on any terms of intimacy doesn't occur. I am aware, my dear," he wound up graciously, "that you women seldom understand this mental detachment, being by nature unscientific, and all the more charming for your prejudices."

At the next meeting of Justices Smithers the photographer presented himself, and produced his prints with a curious air of diffidence.

"I have," he explained, "brought three for your Worships' selection, and can honestly assure your Worships that my pains have been endless. What puzzles me, however, is that although in all three the same portraits have been imposed, and in the same order, the results are surprisingly different. The cause of these differences I cannot detect, though I have gone over the process several times and step by step; but out of some two dozen experiments I may say that all the results answer pretty closely to one or another of these three types." Mr. Smithers, who had spent much time in rehearsing this little speech, handed up photograph No. 1; and Sir Felix adjusted his spectacles.

"Villainous!" he exclaimed, recoiling.

The Canon and the Admiral bent over it together.

"Most repulsive!" said the Admiral.

"Here indeed,"—the Canon was more impressive,—"here indeed is an object-lesson in the effects of crime! Is it possible that to this Man's passions can degrade his divinely inherited features? Were it not altogether too horrible, I would have this picture framed and glazed and hung up in every cottage home in the land."

"My dear fellow," interrupted Sir Felix, "we cannot possibly let this monstrosity go up to Whitehall as representative of the inmates of Tregarrick Gaol! It would mean an inquiry on the spot. It would even reflect upon us. Ours is a decent county, as counties go, and I protest it shall not, with my consent, be injured by any such libel."

Mr. Smithers handed up photograph No. 2.

"This looks better," began Sir Felix; and with that he gave a slight start, and passed the photograph to the Canon. The Canon, too, started, and stole a quick glance at Sir Felix: their eyes met.

"It certainly is singular"—stammered Sir Felix. "I fancied—without irreverence—But you detected it too?" he wound up incoherently.

"May I have a look?" The Admiral peered over the Canon's hand, who, however, did not relinquish the photograph but turned on Smithers with sudden severity.

"I presume, sir, this is not an audacious joke?"

"I assure your Worship—" protested the photographer. "I had some thoughts of tearing it up, but thought it wouldn't be honest."

"You did rightly," the Canon answered; "but, now that we have seen it, I have no such scruple." He tore the print across, and across again. "Even in this," he said, with a glance at the Admiral, who winced, "we may perhaps read a lesson, or at least a warning, that man's presumption in extending the bounds of his knowledge—or, as I should prefer to call it, his curiosity—may—er—bring him face to face with—"

But the Canon's speech tailed off as he regarded the torn pieces of cardboard in his hand. He felt that the others had been seriously perturbed and were not listening: he himself was conscious of a shock too serious for that glib emollient—usually so efficacious—the sound of his own voice. He perceived that it did not impose even on the photographer. An uncomfortable silence fell on the room.

Sir Felix was the first to recover. "Put it in the waste-paper basket: no, in the fire!" he commanded, and turned to Smithers. "Surely between these two extremes—"

"I was on the point of suggesting that your Worships would find No. 3 more satisfactory," the photographer interrupted, forgetting his manners in his anxiety to restore these three gentlemen to their ease. His own discomfort was acute, and he overacted, as a man will who has unwittingly surprised a State secret and wishes to assure everyone of his obtuseness.

Sir Felix studied No. 3. "This appears to me a very ordinary photograph. Without being positively displeasing, the face is one you might pass in the street any day, and forget."

"I hope it suggests no—no well-known features?" put in the Canon nervously.

"None at all, I think: but see for yourself. To me it seems—although hazy, of course—the kind of thing the Home Office might find helpful."

"It is less distinct than the others." The Admiral pulled his whiskers.

"And for that reason the more obviously composite—which is what we are required to furnish. No, indeed, I can find nothing amiss with it, and I think, gentlemen, if you are agreed, we will forward this print."

No. 3 was passed accordingly, the photographer withdrew, and the three Justices turned to other business, which occupied them for a full two hours.

But, I pray you, mark the sequel.

Mr. Smithers, in his relief and delight at the Magistrates' approbation, hurried home, fished out a copy of No. 3, exposed it proudly in his shop window, and went off to the Packhorse Inn for a drink.

Less than an hour later, Mrs. Trewbody, having packed her family into the jingle for their afternoon's ride with Miss Platt, the governess, strolled down into the town to do some light shopping; and, happening to pass the photographer's window, came to a standstill with a little gasp.

A moment later she entered the shop; and Mrs. Smithers, answering the shop bell, found that she had taken the photograph from the window and was examining it eagerly.

"This is quite a surprise, Mrs. Smithers. A capital photograph! May I ask how many copies my husband ordered?"

"I'm not aware, ma'am, that the Admiral has ordered any as yet; though I heard Smithers say only this morning as he hoped he'd be pleased with it."

"I think I can answer for that, although he is particular. But I happen to know he disapproves of these things being exposed in the window. I'll take this copy home with me, if I may. Has your husband printed any more?"

"Well no, ma'am. There was one other copy; but Lady Felix-Williams happened to be passing just now, and spied it, and nothing would do but she must take it away with her."

"Lady Felix-Williams?" Mrs. Trewbody stiffened with sudden distrust. "Now, what would Lady Felix-Williams want with this?"

"I'm sure I can't tell you, ma'am: but she was delighted. 'A capital likeness,' she said; 'I've never seen a photograph before that caught just that expression of his.'"

"I should very much like to know what she has to do with his expression," Mrs. Trewbody murmured to herself, between wonder and incipient alarm. But she concealed her feelings, good lady; and, having paid for her purchase, carried it home in her muff and stuck it upright against one of the Sevres candlesticks on her boudoir mantel-shelf.

And there the Admiral discovered it three-quarters of an hour later. He came home wanting his tea; and, finding the boudoir empty, advanced to ring the bell. At that moment his eyes fell on Smithers' replica of the very photograph he had passed for furtherance to the Home Secretary. He picked it up and gave vent to a long whistle.

"Now, how the dickens—"

His wife appeared in the doorway, with Harry, Dicky, and Theophila clinging to her skirts, fresh from their ride, and boisterous.

"My dear Emily, where in the world did you get hold of this?"

He held the photograph towards her at arm's length, and the children rushed forward to examine it.

"Papa! papa!" they shouted together, capering around it. "Oh, mammy, isn't it him exactly?"


He was a happy boy, for he lived beside a harbour, and just below the last bend where the river swept out of steep woodlands into view of the sea. A half-ruined castle, with a battery of antiquated guns, still made-believe to protect the entrance to the harbour, and looked across it upon a ridge of rocks surmounted by a wooden cross, which the Trinity pilots kept in repair. Between the cross and the fort, for as long as he could remember, a procession of ships had come sailing in to anchor by the great red buoy immediately beneath his nursery window. They belonged to all nations, and hailed from all imaginable ports; and from the day his nurse had first stood him upon a chair to watch them, these had been the great interest of his life. He soon came to know them all—French brigs and chasse-marees, Russian fore-and-afters, Dutch billyboys, galliots from the East coast, and Thames hay-barges with vanes and wind-boards. He could tell you why the Italians were deep in the keel, why the Danes were manned by youngsters, and why these youngsters deserted, although their skippers looked, and indeed were, such good-natured fellows; what food the French crews hunted in the seaweed under the cliff, and when the Baltic traders would be driven southward by the ice. Once acquainted with a vessel, he would recognise her at any distance, though by what signs he could no more tell than we why we recognise a friend.

On his seventh birthday he was given a sailing boat, on condition that he learned to read; but, although he kept by the bargain honestly, at the end of a month he handled her better than he was likely to handle his book in a year. He had a companion and instructor, of course— a pensioner who had left the Navy to become in turn fisherman, yachtsman, able seaman on board a dozen sailing vessels, and now yachtsman again. His name was Billy, and he taught the boy many mysteries, from the tying of knots to the reading of weather-signs; how to beach a boat, how to take a conger off the hook, how to gaff a cuttle and avoid its ink. . . . In return the boy gave him his heart, and even something like worship.

One fine day, as they tacked to and fro a mile and more from the harbour's mouth, whiffing for mackerel, the boy looked up from his seat by the tiller. "I say, Billy, did you speak?"

Billy, seated on the thwart and leaning with both arms on the weather gunwale, turned his head lazily. "Not a word this half-hour," he answered.

"Well now, I thought not; but somebody, or something—spoke just now." The boy blushed, for Billy was looking at him quizzically. "It's not the first time I've heard it, either," he went on; "sometimes it sounds right astern, and sometimes close beside me."

"What does it say?" asked Billy, re-lighting his pipe.

"I don't know that it says anything, and yet it seems to speak out quite clearly. Five or six times I've heard it, and usually on smooth days like this, when the wind's steady."

Billy nodded. "That's right, sonny; I've heard it scores of times. And they say. . . . But, there, I don't believe a word of it."

"What do they say?"

"They say that 'tis the voice of drowned men down below, and that they hail their names whenever a boat passes."

The boy stared at the water. He knew it for a floor through which he let down his trammels and crab-pots into wonderland—a twilight with forests and meadows of its own, in which all the marvels of all the fairy-books were possible; but the terror of it had never clouded his delight.

"Nonsense, Billy; the voice I hear is always quite cheerful and friendly—not a bit like a dead man's."

"I tell what I'm told," answered Billy, and the subject dropped.

But the boy did not cease thinking about the voice; and some time after he came, as it seemed, upon a clue. His father had set him to read Shakespeare; and, taking down the first of twelve volumes from the shelf, he began upon the first play, The Tempest. He was prepared to yawn, but the first scene flung open a door to him, and he stepped into a new world, a childish Ferdinand roaming an Isle of Voices. He resigned Miranda to the grown-up prince, for whom (as he saw at a glance, being wise in the ways of story-books) she was eminently fitted. It was in Ariel, perched with harp upon the shrouds of the king's ship, that he recognised the unseen familiar of his own voyaging. "O spirit, be my friend—speak to me often!" As children will, he gave Prospero's island a local habitation in the tangled cliff-garden, tethered Caliban in the tool-shed, and watched the white surf far withdrawn, or listened to its murmur between the lordly boles of the red-currant bushes. For the first time he became aware of some limitations in Billy.

He had long been aware of some serious limitations in his nurse: she could not, for instance, sail a boat, and her only knot was a "granny." He never dreamed of despising her, being an affectionate boy; but more and more he went his own way without consulting her. Yet it was she who—unconsciously and quite as if it were nothing out of the way— handed him the clue.

A flagstaff stood in the garden on a grassy platform, half-way down the cliff-side, and the boy at his earnest wish had been given charge of it. On weekdays, as a rule he hoisted two flags—an ensign on the gaff, and a single code-flag at the mast-head; but on Sundays he usually ran up three or four, and with the help of the code-book spelt out some message to the harbour. Sometimes, too, if an old friend happened to take up her moorings at the red buoy below, he would have her code-letters hoisted to welcome her, or would greet and speed her with such signals as K.T.N., "Glad to see you," and B.R.D., or B.Q.R., meaning "Good-bye," "A pleasant passage." Skippers fell into the habit of dipping their flags to him as they were towed out to sea, and a few amused themselves while at anchor by pulling out their bags of bunting and signalling humorous conversations, though their topmasts reached so near to the boy's platform that they might with less labour have talked through a speaking-trumpet.

One morning before Christmas six vessels lay below at the buoy, moored stem to stem in two tiers of three; and, after hoisting his signal (C.P.B.H. for "Christmas Eve"), he ran indoors with the news that all six were answering with bushes of holly at their topmast heads, while one—a Danish barquentine—had rove stronger halliards and carried a tall fir-tree at the main, its branches reaching many feet above her truck.

"Christmas is Christmas," said his nurse. "When I was young, at such times there wouldn't be a ship in the harbour without its talking-bush."

"What is a talking-bush?" the boy asked.

"And you pretend to be a sailor! Well, well—not to know what happens on Christmas night when the clocks strike twelve!"

The boy's eyes grew round. "Do—the—ships—talk?"

"Why, of course they do! For my part, I wonder what Billy teaches you."

Late that evening, when the household supposed him to be in bed, the boy crept down through the moonlit garden to the dinghy which Billy had left on its frape under the cliff. But for their riding-lights, the vessels at the buoy lay asleep. The crews of the foreigners had turned in; the Nubian, of Runcorn, had no soul on board but a night-watchman, now soundly dozing in the forecastle; and the Touch-me-not was deserted. The Touch-me-not belonged to the port, and her skipper, Captain Tangye, looked after her in harbour when he had paid off all hands. Usually he slept on board; but to-night, after trimming his lamp, he had rowed ashore to spend Christmas with his family—for which, since he owned a majority of the shares, no one was likely to blame him. He had even left the accommodation-ladder hanging over her side, to be handy for boarding her in the morning.

All this the boy had noted; and accordingly, having pushed across in the dinghy, he climbed the Touch-me-not's ladder and dropped upon deck with a bundle of rugs and his father's greatcoat under his arm.

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