Part 3 out of 9
"That's my revenge. He'll understand."
OLD DING-DONG HOMEWARD-BOUND
The light was ebbing fast, and old Ding-dong with it.
All was silence and a few pale stars.
The old seaman began to wander.
Scenes near, scenes far, drifted across his fading mind. Now he was
a tiny lad babbling in broadest dialect to his mother at the washing-tub;
now he was a pit boy yelling at Susannah, the one-eyed pit pony; anon
he was on the spar-deck of the Don, holding by the hand the father
of the boy who now held his.
Then there came a silence, and out of it the words, clean and quiet:
"I'm the old man Nelson never forgave for doin of his dooty."
His brain seemed to clear. He began to tell a story half to himself,
half to the stars--the story of the incident of his life.
"A'ter the Nile [Footnote: It was after the battle of the Nile, on
his return to Naples, that Nelson succumbed to the fascination of Lady
Hamilton.] it were--when we got back to Naples. Things got bad, very
bad. At last Tom Troubridge wrote to him--I saw the letter. Tom and
he'd been very thick--till then. Things got worse. It was in the papers
and all. Somebody had to tackle him. Nobody durst--only old Ding-dong."
The wind gathered round to listen. A few curious stars pricked the
darkness above. The old man's voice was gaining strength as he went on.
"So I goes aboord the _Vanguard_, and there in his own state-room
I says the thing that had to be said and I says it straight."
Kit was listening intently. The strange blurred voice coming to his
out of the darkness moved him to his deeps.
"Ooop joomps Nelson, raving mad. 'My God, Hardin!' he screams--'Ger
off o my ship!--_Ger off o my ship!_ GER OFF O MY SHIP!'
"'Pardon, my lord,' says I. 'I've done my dooty as a man, though I
may have exceeded it as a sailor!'
"He called me a blanky pit boy.
"'A pit boy I was, my lord,' says I, 'and not ashamed on it; and
powder-monkey to Hawke afoor your lordship was born. For nigh on
fifty years I've touched the King's pay, and ate the King's salt.
I'm the Father o this fleet, and all for the Service, as the sayin
is. And I can't stand by and see the first officer in the British Navy
lowerin himself in the eyes of Europe without a word.'"
The darkness hushed; the moon stared; the stars crept closer.
"He struck me. Nelson struck me in the mug. I wiped the blood away
with my cuff. 'That's not the Nelson I know, my lord,' says I, and
stumps out. And I never seen him from that day to this."
The boy could hear the old man's breath fluttering in the darkness.
"He was mad, ye see. She'd gone to his head; and she's stayed there
ever since. Mad--as a man. As a sailor he's still Nelson--the first
seaman afloat, ever was, or will be."
There was a thrill in the fading voice; a thrill of devotion
to the man who had destroyed him.
"So he broke me, Nelson did, and I don't blame him: discipline is
discipline, all said. Told the Admiralty they could choose between
him and me--between Lord Nelson of the Nile, that is, and old
Ding-dong, who'd climbed to the quarter-deck through the
hawse-holes.... So they chose."
The sea rustled; the night was sprinkled with stars.
"But I've paid him now," ended the old man comfortably. "Reck'n I've
paid him now."
Kit had heard the tale with puzzled but passionate interest.
"What was it all about, sir?" he asked at last in awed voice.
"Why; what it's always about," grunted the other. "One o them gals."
He coughed faintly.
"Thank the Lord there's been nobbut one woman in ma life, and that's
the one a man can't help.
"What did I want with a pack?--trashy wives?... Nay. Fear God; fight
to a finish; and steer clear o them gals--that's been old Ding-dong's
rule o life: and it's the whole duty of a British seaman."
The old man's hand stirred in the boy's.
"In ma breech-pocket you'll find a Noo Testament and the Articles o
War--all my readin these forty year; and all a sailor needs. Take em
and study em. It'll pay you. Happen they run a bit athwart here and
there; but that makes no odds, if you keep your head. There's always
light enough to steer by if your heart's right. 'Christ's my compass,'
your father'd say. 'He don't deviate.'"
The old man lay back, his eyes shut, the light on his uplifted face.
About him was stillness, hushed waters, and the moon a silver bubble.
In the quiet cove, beneath the quiet stars, after sixty years of
storm, his soul was slipping away into the Great Quiet.
"I like layin here," came the ghostly voice. "So calm-like a'ter
The cold fingers grew stiff; the eyes closed.
Kit laid a hand on the old man's forehead, and stroked his hair.
"I'm a-coomin," came a tiny chuckle as of a sleepy child--"Billy's
Seaward something flapped.
The boy turned.
At first he thought the Angel of Death was hovering over the white
waters on sable wings.
Then he recognised what he saw for the flag on the splintered mizzen
of the _Tremendous_ saluting solemnly the dying seaman.
Old Ding-dong saw it too.
He raised his head. The moonlight was on his face, and the hand in
"Them's my colours," he whispered. "I never struck em."
THE GAP GANG
THE LAST OF A BRITISH SEAMAN
The dawn-wind blowing chilly on the boy's skin roused him.
All night he had slept like a child far from the world and its
terrible distresses. The weary body had brought peace to the worn
mind. The two had merged in sleep, neither demanding aught of the
other except to feed and to refresh.
He was coming to himself with a sore throat and a shiver.
His bed was hard; the bed-clothes had slipped off. He tried to pull
them round him. His groping hand found nothing but impossible lumps,
and stuff that trickled between his fingers. Why was he naked? where
was his night-shirt? and what was this small hard thing he clutched in
With a puzzled frown he opened his eyes.
Overhead rose a dim white wall, a thin curtain swaying before it. At
first he took it for the white-washed wall of his attic at home, the
lace-curtains at the head of the bed blowing in the wind. Then a
slow-winged shadow, passing between him and the ceiling with puling
cry, startled him to the truth.
The memories surged back on him. He knew.
That white wall sheer above him was the cliff; that swaying curtain
was the mist; that passing shadow a sea-bird. The hard something he
was clutching so jealously was the scent-bottle; this still thing at
his side was--
The thought stabbed him awake. He sat up with a start.
About him drifted a white and waving mist. It shrouded him, chilly as
a winding-sheet. There was no shore, no sea--only a hiss and rustle in
the silence; and this still thing at his feet.
"Sir!" he gasped.
The still thing did not answer him.
The body leapt to his feet. He was alone; alone for ever in a blank
universe where nothing was--but the still thing!
A sodden heap of clothes caught his eye. Last night; he had doffed
them, dripping as they were, and slept naked beside _that,_ his
head pillowed on a chalk boulder. The huddle of clothes, sprawling
there so unconcerned, comforted him. _They_ weren't afraid:
_they_ took it calmly enough. Hang it! he was as good a man as
And after all the old man was dead; and so long as he stayed dead the
boy didn't mind. It was the chance of his coming to life again, of his
stirring, winking an eye-lid, speaking, that he feared.
At length he dared to look at the old man's face. A sand-fly was
crawling on his nose. The boy sighed. He wasn't quite alone then: the
fly was there, and the fly was alive. His courage returned to him with
a leap. He flicked the fly off with joyful indignation. They knew no
reverence, these beastly little beasts! The old man lay upon his back, a
rusty stream running down his white shorts. The salt had dried in
scurfy ridges on hair and face. His head had slipped off Kit's coat;
the little tail of neat-tied hair peeped from beneath; the eyes, wide-
open, stared skyward.
Kit closed them; and the action cost him more than all his valours of
the day before. Almost he expected to hear the old man's harsh voice--
The deed done, it seemed to the boy as if his action had eased the
dead man. The look of strain on the set and yellowing face passed. The
old man was tired: he had done with the world; he would shut his eyes
for ever on it. The kind wrinkles, deep-puckered about his mouth,
seemed to gather into a smile.
Lying there with set mouth, and stubborn chin, in death, as in life,
he was old Ding-dong still.
Kit could not bury the old man: he had no tools. He could not stay
with him: time pressed. What he could, he did with the tenderness of a
woman, and the respect of a midshipman for the bravest of the brave.
He arranged the body orderly, straightening the legs and pulling down
As he did so, he felt something bulky in the flaps. He looked. It was
a little old leather-bound New Testament, sea-soaked; and between the
leaves of it the Articles of War.
The book fell open at the fly-leaf. On it three names were written,
each in a different hand.
A bracket bound the three, and opposite the bracket, in the same hand
as the first name, the words,
_England and Duty_.
The date was a week before St. Vincent.
The fly-leaf turned. On the back of it, in the great vague hand of a
_bili from mother
_be a good boy_.
Kit read the inscription with full throat. In his chest, awaiting him
at the Bridge at Newhaven, there was such another book, with such
another inscription, from such another mother--given him the night
before his setting out on his life's voyage, she sitting on his bed
with rather a rainy smile.
The old man had left him that little sea-worn book with his last
breath; but he could not take it, perhaps the last gift from mother to
son. It had seen the old man through his life; in it were to be found
the Fighting Instructions which had led him on through fifty years of
battle to the last great Victory; in death the two should not be
He laid the book on the old man's breast, and his sword beside him, as
he remembered his mother had done when Uncle Jacko Gordon died.
What more could he do?
It seemed an ill thing to desert the old man; to leave him alone among
the sea-birds. Yet he must.
Putting his arm round the other, he raised his head; then thrust a
boulder between the dead man's shoulders to prop him.
A moment he knelt beside the old Commander with closed eyes. Then he
bent and kissed the chill forehead.
"Good-bye, sir," he said in breaking voice, and rising to his feet
Old Ding-dong was left alone: his back against the white cliffs for
which he had lived and died; his head with a skyward cock; his gaze
seaward to where, when the mists rose with the morning, he would see
the Colours of his Country waving above those waters that he, and his
peers, had made hers for ever.
The old man asked no more.
Tired now, he wished to be alone with his sword, his Bible, and his
KIT STARTS ON HIS MISSION
The boy blew his nose, and set off along the foot of the cliff, the
scent-bottle in his hand.
Beneath the chalk boulders that strewed the bottom of the cliff, weird
in the white gloom, a band of shingle ran like a road before him. He
took it, the shingle crunching beneath his feet.
The tide was rising: he could hear its stealthy rustle beneath him. He
must reach the Head and round it before the water; and how far off the
ultimate point might be, he did not know, and could not see.
Once round it, if he had understood the old man aright, the cliffs
fell away. There he would climb them; and he hoped to be on the top of
the Downs before the mist rolled away and the frigate, were she still
lying off the wreck, could send boats to search the beach.
He was very hungry; but his heart soared. Youth, the great healer, had
done its work. Already the terrors of that fierce yesterday, the
tendernesses of that solemn night, were far away.
He laboured on as rapidly as the backward drag of the shingle would
permit; at every stride clutching the scent-bottle to make sure of it.
His was a tremendous mission.
Yet surely it was not for the first time he had set out on such an
errand? alone, journeying through perilous lands, the fate of the
world on his shoulders. No, no, no. Somewhere, somewhen.... He had
forgotten; yet somehow he remembered.
Well, he had won through then: he must have--else he would not be here
now. Yet not in this little life, these fifteen years of home-
experience. Death then, perhaps a thousand deaths, must have
intervened between him--and him. Such a strange mystery!--What was the
answer to it?--Was death a sham? was there no such thing?--did He, the
real He, go on for ever not merely in heaven, as the parsons affirmed,
but on earth? was this life of his One, One reiterated, One to
Everlasting, a tide ebbing and flowing between the night of Time and
the day of Eternity? these recurring deaths only barriers blocking off
terms of his Eternal Self?
Digging his toes into the shingle, he marched on, his heart strangely
uplifted, the sense of his immortality strong on him.
And besides, the darkness and danger lay behind. Discretion, sharp
eyes, and a nimble pair of feet should do the rest. Above all, his
experience of the last thirty-six hours had given him confidence, the
mother of success. He began to be aware of his own power. Action had
revealed him to himself. Responsibility now confirmed him. The boy was
merging in the man with extraordinary swiftness. There was in his soul
an aweful joy, the joy of dawn, the dawn of holy manhood.
Rejoicing in his newly found strength, he laboured on gallantly. With
luck, he would be in Lewes before the coach left; in London before
night; and at Merton before Nelson sat down to breakfast to-morrow
His, his, his, to save Nelson!
And O, mother? would not her heart be proud?
The mist grew thin before him, as though lace curtain after lace
curtain was being swept back by unseen hand. The sun, the colour of a
shilling, and as round, glimmered above the horizon. At his feet he
could distinguish the sea silvery-twinkling; and not a hundred yards
away the Head, bluff as a wall, loomed before him.
His heart leapt.... Hurrah!... Once round that....
He began to run with noisy feet.
A shadow stooping on the edge of the tide sprang up.
"_Hell_!" came a sudden scream.
FAT GEORGE & CO.
Kit's heart brought up with an appalling jerk.
He dropped behind a boulder.
A filthy little scarecrow of a man, trousers rolled about his knee,
was standing in the sea, holding some one by the hand not ten yards
In the mist Kit thought at first that he was paddling with a child.
Then he saw his mistake. The scarecrow was holding a bare arm by the
hand. That arm thrust up horribly from the water: the body to which it
belonged was beneath the surface. Between his dirty teeth the man held
a knife. His business was obvious. He was spoiling the dead.
A huge fellow with a tawny beard spread fan-like on his chest strolled
round the Head, a musket beneath his arm.
"What, Dingy! got the jumps aboard again?" he growled.
"I thart I yeard a chap a-walkin," trembled the scarecrow.
He let the dead man's hand flop into the water.
"Plenty o chaps--not much walkin," chirped a voice of one unseen.
A treble laugh greeted the sally.
Round the Head a boat came paddling.
In it was a man fat as a sow, and not unlike one. Honey-coloured
ringlets hung down to his neck. He had slits for eyes, and the great
face, dough-like, was set in an ogreish smile.
Kit saw before him in the flesh the worst of the nightmare imaginings
of his nursery days. He began to dither like a monkey in the presence
of a snake. There was a horror of the unnatural about the man that
turned him faint. Here was Mammon, Mammon in the flesh; and so close
that the boy could smell him.
"Belike it's Black Diamond come after you, Jow!" wheezed the fat man--
"to pay you for what you done to him night afore last." The shrill
voice, squeezing from that vat-like carcass, added to the terror of
'"Twarn't me, I tall you!" screamed the scarecrow.
"It were you, Fat George; and now you're for puttin it on me."
The fat man backwatered in-shore; the smile set and horrible on his
"None o that, my lad, if you please," he husked--"that's to say if
you're wishful to stay friends with George--ole George, who don't
Dingy Joe began to whimper.
"I suppose it were me flashed my knife on the Gentleman too?"
The fat man leaned on his oars.
"Now," he said with manly frankness, "that _were_ me. Every man
answers for his own work in this gang, and none needn't go short. I
faced the Gentleman plucky, didn't I, Bandy?"
"You faced him plucky from behind," chirped the voice of the man
Hoarse laughter from behind the Head told that the shaft had gone
Fat George held a deprecating hand to heaven.
"Now eark to that, my God!" he squeaked. "I risk my blessed neck for
em. I'm the only man o the lot got the guts to stand up to him. I
tells him straight, I says--'We've lost our leader and our lugger in
your service, my lord,' says I, 'and now you got to--well square
"'--well square it!'" snorted the giant. "That's a pretty way to talk
to a gentleman, ain't it?"
Fat George pointed a derisive finger at him.
"Can't forget he was a gamekeeper!" he tittered. "Touch his at and
all, didn't you, Red Beard?"
"And wish I'd never stopped touchin it!" shouted the giant. "Blasted
young fool that I were!--Thought I'd take a short cut to fortune, same
as the rest.--And where's it landed me?"
He swept his hand around.
"Heark to Red Beard!" giggled Fat George. "Quite the Methody man,
A gust of passion darkened the giant's face. He surged through the
water towards the boat.
"--well square it!" he foamed. "I'll--well square _you_, you lump o
lard with the heart of a maggot!" He stopped, steadying down to a
"And he would ha--well squared it only for you messin about with that
blasted knife o your'n be'ind him."
"He would ha--well squared it only for you knockin the blasted knife
up!" shrilled the fat man. "That's the best _you_ can do. Pretty
set for a man to be 'sociated with."
He bent over his hand; his locks fell about his face; and he rocked to
and fro like a weeping woman.
The sound of angry voices brought others trooping round the Head. Some
slopped along in the water, others trailed along the edge. The eyes of
all were down, hunting for prey.
Kit, watching them with shuddering heart, recalled that passage in his
mother's favourite Sunday book where Christian, at the mouth of Hell,
heard a company of fiends coming to meet him.
He found himself envying Christian. An honest fiend was an honest
fiend; but these were men! It was their humanity, the sense of his
kinship with them, that seemed to make his heart collapse.
And their names!
Toadie, the squat brute, with the front teeth; Whitey, the albino,
peering and prying; One-eye, Humpy, Bandy and the rest--all labelled
like dogs from some physical deformity.
Once and for all they slew in the boy's mind the Romance of Crime. Now
he understood what the old Book meant about the Wages of Sin. Death
indeed; death in life. He read it in their faces. Yes; it was all
true. These men _had_ done evil, and they _had_ come forth
unto the Resurrection of Damnation.
And not so very long ago he had wished to be one such!--a highwayman,
a smuggler, a gentlemanly villain of some sort, very devil-may-care
and gallant, robbing the rich, helping the poor, waving a scented
handkerchief to the ladies as he rode to Tyburn, debonair to the last.
Now he was face to face with criminals in real life. And what was
their distinguishing feature?--_Filth_.
They had not shaved for days, nor washed for years. The stink of them
blew off the clean sea towards him. It seemed to his imagination that
the water curdled with disgust as the brutes slushed through it.
A phrase of his laughing mother's occurred to him--_no soap, no
soul_. True too.
He would have given all he had for a look at one clean-fleshed, clear-
eyed Englishman, smelling of earth and honest tobacco.
"Listen to im!" grumbled Red Beard. "Might be Cock o the Gang the way
he carries on."
The fat man tossed back his locks.
"All mighty fine!" he shrilled. "But if you'd follow'd me, where'd you
be now?--why back in Boulon. And cause you didn't, where are you?--why
hung up on a dead foul leeshore: Diamond dead, lugger gone, the hue-
and-cry up after you--"
"And our only ope in eaven," chimed in Bandy of the chirpy voice.
"And how'd stickin the Gentleman elp us?" grumbled the brutal Toadie.
"I'd stuck him fast enough if I'd twigged that!"
Fat George leaned forward.
"What's the reward out agin him?--Thousand guineas, ain't it?"
"Go on!--We'd never ha took him alive. You know his hackle."
"Ah!" interposed the fat man, "but what d'ye think his corpse'd ha
been worth to the British Government? him _and_ the papers on
him, to say nothin o pickins for pore men, what nobody needn't know
nothin about--them rings, that pin, and the bundle o notes in his
tail-pocket." He combed his fingers through his locks. "What'd that ha
been worth? I'll tell you." He wagged a fat finger. "A free pardon to
h'every man h'all round, a free pass back to Boulon--"
"And the thanks o Parlyment for what we done to the crew o the
_Curlew_!" piped Bandy.
"It's God's truth, I'm talkin!" screamed the fat man. "And there's the
man what stood between you and it!" He flung a fat hand at Red Beard.
The giant turned.
"What, sell him!" he drawled. "Sell the man that made you; that
trusted you; that never turned his back on a rat yet--much less a
pal." He spat into the sea curling at his feet. "What was it old
Diamond says?--'We're all--traitors,' says he, poor old horse; 'but we
are men, only Fat George. And he's a--sow without a soul."
A murmur of approval ran round.
"You're right, Red Beard."
"The Genelman were a genelman."
"That he were!" came a chorus from the maingy crew.
"Gentleman!" put in Bandy. "He were better. He were a--lord. I ought
to know seein I rode for one--afore my misfortune."
The boat had drifted sea-ward, the fat man giving an occasional sly
Suddenly he flung back into the oars.
"Ave it your own way," he sang out. "Ole George ain't good enough for
you, I see. I'll say good-day."
The giant jerked his musket to his shoulder.
"Come in!" he thundered. "Or I'll plug a hole through that great
paunch o your'n."
The fat man saw himself covered. He paddled back, grinning ghastly.
"Avast there, Red Beard!" he tittered. "You're that asty. Can't you
take a little joke?"
"I can take one o your little jokes about as easy as you can take one
o my little bullets in the belly," rumbled the giant. "Come in now.
Get out o that boat. You'd sell us as you sold the Gentleman. That bit
o wood's all that stands atween us and Kingdom Come."
"Easy all," chimed in Bandy Dick. "Only one thing's sure in our
present interestin sitiwation; and that is if we don't ang together,
we'll ang separate."
Crouched behind the boulder, Kit listened.
Surely they must hear his heart! It was thumping so that he took his
hand off the boulder before him lest it should betray him by its
Black Diamond!--Fat George!--the Gentleman!
There could be no question as to the identity of these kites. They
were the Gap Gang, and in desperate plight. Their lugger was gone, and
their leader dead. At sixes and sevens among themselves, they had
quarrelled with the only man who might somehow have saved them. Behind
them lay the gallows; before them the sea--and nothing to cross it in
but the lugger's long-boat, and that water-logged.
Their condition was desperate; but what about his own?
He could not round the Head. They stood between him and his goal.
Could he go back along the bay? He glanced back at the line of
headlands, shimmering in the sun. The tide in places already lapped
the foot of the cliff. And even as he pondered, a chill something
startled his feet. He looked down. It was the water, stealing in upon
him, quiet as a cat. He could not stay where he was. To do so was to
There was but one thing for it--to climb.
He glanced up. Things were not so hopeless as he had feared. The mists
were drifting seaward. He could see the dark crest of grass rimming
the cliff-edge above him.
Thank heaven!--this was no longer the blank and aweful wall, hundreds
of feet high and sheer as a curtain, which he had found above him last
night. The cliff must have fallen away towards the point. That dark
crest of grass, shivering in the wind, was not so far away; and the
cliff itself was by no means sheer.
The tide was already lapping the point. The smugglers had drifted away
before it. He could hear their voices on the other side. Now was his
On tiptoe he crept off the betraying shingle, and began to climb, the
scent-bottle in his mouth.
A recent fall of cliff helped him, making a ramp. Up it he went, a
tiny trickle of dislodged shale dribbling away beneath his feet.
At the top of the fall a mat of weeds had grown. On this he stayed.
The cliff arched out blue-white over him like the inside of a shell.
There was no hope there.
He looked about him. On his right a narrow ledge, grass-grown,
trickled darkly across the face of the cliff, inclining upwards and
out of sight. It would give him foothold, and no more.
He took it tremblingly, sidling along, his face pressed close to the
cliff, his hands finding finger-hold on the ridges and irregularities
above his head.
The track led up and up. He dared not look down: all there was sheer
now, he knew, and the sea lapping among the dead bones of the cliff.
He could not look up: to have done so, he must have craned backwards;
and little thing as that might seem, it would have been enough to
upset his balance on that skimpy track.
Up and up he sidled to the noise of trickling chalk, his eyes glued to
the white and callous cliff. His hands were damp and chill; his back
set against nothingness; his long eyelashes swept the chalk-surface.
He had a sense that the cliff was swelling itself to thrust him off.
It was alive; it was hostile. The leer he detected in the great blank
face pressed against his own roused his anger. He clung the more
tenaciously because of it, snarling back. G-r-r!--it shouldn't beat
All the same his fingers were getting tired and sore. He was
whimpering as he went. The great horror was overwhelming him. He shut
his mind against it: still it crept in. Head swirled: brain lost grip
of body: all was dissipation.
The voice of one of the Gang rose to his ears. It steadied him;
recalling all that hung on him ... old Ding-dong's trust ... Nelson
The track led round a corner--and ran away into nothing.
Retreat along that path or headlong death--these seemed his
alternatives. Of the two the latter appeared just then least horrible,
as swifter, and more certain: he had no need to look down to make sure
Biting his nails, he listened to his own breathing. A tiny shell had
become incrusted in the great blind face, so close to his own. Putting
out his tongue, he licked it, and hardly knew he had.
Suddenly he saw his mother. She was sitting in her particular little
low chair beside the fire in the Library, reading aloud a favourite
passage from her favourite Sunday book, Gwen sprawling at her feet.
_To go back is nothing but Death_, came the familiar voice, pure
and tranquil; _to go forward is fear of Death, and life everlasting
beyond it. I will yet go forward_.
The book snapped softly; his mother's eyes lifted to his as she
_I will yet go forward_.
Yes, if there's a way!
On his right, some ten feet distant, a little table-land of grass
projected from the face of the cliff--the green top of a flying
buttress, as it were.
Once there he could at least lie down and recover himself. And, unless
he was mistaken, the cliff above there was no longer sheer.
But how to get there?--a ten-foot jump to be attempted off one leg at
a stand and sideways.
Half-way between him and the plateau a bush with feathery green plumes
grew out of a crevice overhead. Those green plumes stirred deliciously
in the breeze; the little stem, thick as his wrist, and reddish of
hue, thrust out sturdily over the sea. It was three feet out of reach,
and above him.
He scanned the distance. Without wings he certainly could not do it.
A butterfly settled on a purple sea-thistle close to his head. It
poised there with fanning wings, so languid, so unconcerned. _It_
A bitter anger surged up in the boy's heart. It was sitting there
flopping its wings out of swagger--to show it had them. He'd teach it
He put up his thumb to crush it.
Then he remembered himself. He must be just in this that might be his
last moment on earth. After all the butterfly couldn't help itself. It
was made that way; and perhaps it didn't mean it. To kill it was
spiteful--worthy of a girl, worthy of Gwen, as he would have told her
had she been present. That would get Gwen into one of her states. His
eyes twinkled, and grew haggard again.
He observed the butterfly with extraordinary intensity. Its body and
wings were the colour of the sea; the undersides of the wings a
silvery-brown. The face was white, with large black eyes, and long
antennae. Lovely furry down clothed body, thighs, and lower wings. On
the nose two tiny horns stuck up....
He would have given all he possessed to be that butterfly just then.
Yet after all--could the butterfly venture for his country?--and would
he if he could?
Suddenly the boy's soul broke through the darkness shrouding it, and
bubbled up, a sea of twinkling, tumbling light. Standing there,
clawing the cliff, death at his feet, Eternity within touch of him, he
At the crisis his humour, heaven's best gift, had saved him.
_I will yet go forward._
A knob of chalk, swelling out of the side of the cliff, caught his
eye. He saw it, and too wise to pause for thought, sprang. His foot
touched the knob. He thrust back. As he thrust, it gave beneath him,
and fell with a resounding splash into the sea.
But it had done its work; and he was swinging with one hand on the
stem of the green-plumed bush....
Curiously familiar this swinging in space with fluttering heart....
Was it only in dreams?...
The splash of the falling boulder set the gulls screaming.
"_There!_" shrilled a voice, faint and far beneath. "_What did
I tell you?_"
"_Take the boat, Red Beard, and have a look._"
Kit, swinging, heard the dip of oars. Another second and the boat
would be round the Head, and he, hanging there, black against the
white cliff, as easy to kill as a fly on a window-pane.
He reached up his left arm, swung once and again, and loosed his hold.
He flung through the air, the sea glancing sickeningly miles below,
and landed on hands and knees on the green carpet.
_Hallowed be Thy Name._
_"There's nowt here,"_ called a voice from below. _"A fall of
the cliff belike."_
The boat put back.
Kit stayed on hands and knees on the grass plateau, his forehead bowed
to the ground in attitude of prayer.
He was sick with humility and thankfulness.
Already the boy began to have that sense which distinguishes the great
man from the herd, swinging him over obstacles to others
insurmountable, the sense that God is with him, and therefore he
A fly was buzzing somewhere near. It comforted him amazingly. It was
earthy and every-day, that solid buz-z-z-z; reminding him of the
kitchen at home, fat Maria kneading dough, and the smell of fly-
papers. It steadied him as a feast of bread and meat steadies a man
heady with long fasting.
Rolling over on his back, he lay flat, panting.
How good it was to feel the earth beneath him once more! Faithful old
thing! she wouldn't give way beneath her child. He hammered her with
his heels; he patted her with his hands; he wriggled his shoulders
into her: all massive, all motherly, all good.
Turning on his side, he kissed her.
A while he lay there, arms and legs wide, eyes shut, breathing in
security and peace. Angels fanned him; strong arms held him up. Yes,
yes. It was all true. He _was_ loved.
The sea rustled beneath him, flowing on and on. How happy it was in
its work! He could have listened to it for ever. The sun, labouring
too, was climbing upwards in a shroud of glory. It stared him fiercely
in the face, bidding him rise and get to business.
He sat up and looked round.
It was as he had thought. He was on a flying buttress of the cliff, at
his feet a floor of water, silvery-ruffled.
On his right cathedral cliffs blocked out the light. Mighty-towering,
they made a white and awful gloom between him and heaven. The shadow
of them darkened his heart. Crouching fly-like there, he cowered as he
peered up at them. They were terrible: so stern, so white, so
inexorable. Had he wronged them?--They seemed to stand over him in
fearful and affronted majesty. Yet with the awe there came a pride,
the pride of possession. They were his, these tremendous battlements;
they were England's. With what a high and massive steadfastness they
challenged France! Surely they knew themselves impregnable.
Beneath him the sea, a vast plain of silver-blue, merged in a sky
white as diamonds. The one drifted, the other was still; the one
sparkled, the other shone: for the rest there was no distinction, no
dividing line. Each ran into the other; and all was splendid with
light and life.
Below, those dark dead men still scavenged on the edge of the tide. He
could have dropped a pebble on them. Dingy Joe's whine floated up to
"_This cove's rings won't come off._"
"_Ain't you got a knife, then?_" growled the brutal Toadie--
"_talks like a Miss._"
"_Say! look at this chap's lady-bird._"
Bandy Dick held something aloft.
"_He won't want no lady-bird no more. She'll ave to get another
Followed filthiest jests on women ... love.... Such love!
Pah!--Were they men?--The beasts were purer.
The boy straight from his own white home and gayhearted mother
sickened as he heard.
Hell?--What need of Hell hereafter for these men, when they had
plunged into it on earth?
The words of a greater than Bunyan rang in his ears--
_Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin._
Servants! slaves rather; slaves of themselves.
From his perch in the high heavens the boy looked down on them as an
angel may look down on souls in torment.
An aweful anger seized his heart. He longed to do God's work for Him--
"_Vengeance is mine_," came a voice. "_I will repay._"
He started back, amazed.
Had he spoken? had the Lord?
The lightning words flashed down out of the heavens on the self-damned
Dingy Joe flung up a ghastly face, screamed, and falling on his knees
in the water, began to babble about his Redeemer.
Fat George took to his heels. Furiously he splashed along, yellow
locks flopping. Kit could hear him snorting as he ran. All his life
the fat man had been running away from God, the Great Enemy; and still
He was there. Some day He would catch him--Fat George never doubted
that ... some day ... but not while he had legs.
How should he know that as he ran, God ran with him?
The others huddled together like thunder-frightened cattle. Bandy Dick
cocked a scared snook, while Red Beard was man enough to loose his
musket at the zenith.
"_Not yet, Governor!_" he shouted with a roaring laugh--"_not
Fools!--they were living in the Hell they feared. Their punishment was
_now_. They had long been damned. While they lived God, the
Avenger, would punish them inexorably. When they died, God, the
merciful Saviour, would take them and make them clean.
Death, the death they feared and fled from, would be their Salvation,
as it is every man's.
_I will yet go forward._
Kit turned to a reconsideration of his enterprise.
The top was far yet, but the cliff was no longer sheer; a precipitous
slope rather, patched with grass.
On hands and knees he set out. The grass trickled down like a dark
torrent from above, cutting as it were a channel between two bastions,
sheer on either side of him, and naked as the moon.
Up that dark trickle he climbed, and the sun climbed with him.
The grass gave him hand-hold. The chalk was rough and shale-like. He
dug knees and toes into it. There was a constant dribble of stuff away
from beneath his feet, and once a little land-slide, slithering
Beneath was nothing but a shining waste, waiting for him. He rather
felt than saw it: for he dared not look down. He must think of what
lay above. Therein was his hope. He clung to it, as he clung to the
The sun blazed on his back. The sweat trickled down his face. He kept
his mind to his work, and his nose to the cliff. A bee with an orange
tail sucked at a purple thistle. Butterflies chased, loved, and sipped
all round him. O for Gwen, and her killing-bottle!
Up and up; the sun fierce upon his back; the earth bulging beneath his
nose, the splash and ripple of the sea growing fainter and more faint
Blue above him, blue beneath, blue in his brain, blue everywhere, save
for this dull leprous white beneath his nose--blue emptiness, calling
him, clutching him, waiting for him. Would it never end?
Once he looked up.
He was climbing into heaven.
The cliff bluffed up into the sky. He could see the bearded crest dark
against the light. Up there a pair of kestrels floated--two living
cross-bows bent above him. They were almost transparent and very
still: a tremble of the wings, a turn of the broad steering tail, a
motion of the blunt head, a swoop and a sway and a glint of russet
They had wings too! Everything in the world had wings but himself, the
only one who really needed them.
Once he slipped, and hung sprawling over Eternity. The grass, tough as
wire, and wound about his hands, stood his friend. He recovered
On again with battering heart. The top was not far now.
Hope began to flutter in his breast. It seemed to heave him upwards.
The way grew steeper and more steep. The stream of grass, faithful so
far, ended abruptly five feet below the top. Those feet were sheer,
the chalk darkening to the blackness of soil, and the crest of grass
making a rusty _chevaux-de-frise_ at the summit.
Cautiously he crept on, his hands feeling the blank wall. Now his
fingers touched the top.
He drew himself up.
His struggling toes found some sort of foot-hold. The wind blew on his
wet forehead. His eyes were on a level with the summit.
He could see over.
A man was sitting by the edge.
Kit could have stroked his back.
THE MAN ON THE CLIFF
THE GENTLEMAN BOWS
The man was babbling French and weeping; weeping over a dead woman.
So much was clear.
His back was against the light. He wore no hat; and here and there a
hair caught the sun and flashed like the sword of a fairy.
The dead girl must be lying with her head in his lap.
Unaware of anybody by, the young man poured out his heart: the dead
woman was his little one, his darling of the chestnut hair, his petite
There was something so desolate about the grief of man, perched up
there between sea and sky, nobody near but a floating sea-gull, that
Kit almost wept to hear him.
But he had his own affairs to think about.
The man was a Frenchman: therefore an enemy.
What should he do?
As often happens, the question was decided for him.
Suddenly the projection on which his feet had found resting-place gave
A lurch, and he was dangling at arms' length. His toes could find no
foothold. To drop even an inch or two was certain death: for he would
land on a slope almost sheer; and the impetus must carry him--down--
"Sir!" he gasped.
A face flashed over the cliff, eagle-beaked and beautiful.
A young man knelt above him.
"Hullo!" he said in voice of quiet amusement, peering down at the boy
beneath him. "May I ask what you are doing here?"
If he was a Frenchman, he spoke English without a trace of accent.
"Hanging on for dear life!" gurgled Kit, the scent-bottle between his
The young man broke into a ripple of boyish laughter.
"Flew so far: then the wings gave out, eh?"
He rose to his feet, and Kit saw he was wearing buck-skin breeches and
Bending, he grasped the boy's wrists.
"One--two--and--h'up she comes!"
He staggered back, and fell with a gay laugh, the boy on top of him.
"Thank you," said Kit between his teeth. "Let go my wrists, please."
The man, lying on his back, smiled up at him.
How strong he was! how young! and how handsome!
Tears still bedewed his lashes, and his eyes had the sparkle and
colour of the sword he wore at his side.
"What have you got between those nice milk-teeth of yours, Little
"Nothing for you," stammered the boy. "That is--only eggs. I've been
birds-nesting. Let go, please. I must get home. I'm late. I'll get
into a row as it is."
The other loosed his wrists suddenly; a long arm swept about him; the
thumb and forefinger of a hand like a steel-vice pressed his jaws
"Parrdon," said a voice, half tender, half teasing, the roll of the r
for the first time betraying an alien strain.
Perforce the boy must open.
The scent-bottle rolled out upon the grass, and trundled towards the
Lithe as a panther, the young man pounced and snatched it.
As he did so, Kit leapt on his back.
"Give it up or I dirk!" he panted.
For all answer the man fell back on top of him with the merriest
The boy's breath was shaken out of him. Two hands loosed his; and he
was left gasping on his back.
"I say! did I hurt you?" came an anxious voice.
Kit scrambled to his feet.
"Give it up!" he cried passionately, thrusting out a hand. "It was
given me. It's a trust."
"It's only eggs," the other reminded him, twinkling.
"I don't care what it is!" cried the boy. "It's mine!"
He was almost in tears, stamping his foot, much as in old days when
Gwen, a born tease, had stolen his woolly bear, and refused to give it
The man made him feel like a baby--he, a King's officer.
"Forgive me," replied the other. "It is mine."
"Finding's keeping, I suppose!" sneered the boy, ablaze. "You take it
by brute force--you steal it--and it's yours! And I daresay you call
yourself a gentleman!"
"When I said it was mine," replied the other with the grave tenderness
of a gentleman dealing with an angry woman, "I meant it was mine. It
was given me by a lady. These are her initials on the stopper--E.H.,
d'you see?--If I was to surrender this bottle to you, two things would
happen. My work of weeks past would be undone, and a noble woman would
be hung unjustly." He put the bottle into his pocket. "And now to
prove to you that it really is mine I will tell you what it contains,
shall I?--A letter on tissue paper signed A. F. Is it not so?"
The flames in the boy's soul were beaten back.
"How d'you know?" sullenly.
"I wrote it."
Breathing through his nostrils, Kit eyed him.
"Then you're the Gentleman."
The young man bowed with an action that was altogether French.
THE DEAD WOMAN
He stood bareheaded in the sun in long black riding-coat and muddied
boots and breeches.
"What's that red riband in your button-hole?" asked the boy in a kind
"That! that's the Legion of Honour." He came a step forward. "Put your
finger on it. That little bit of riband once lay upon the heart of
The boy began to tremble. That tiny square of red from which he could
not take his eyes had once throbbed to the heart-beats of the Arch-
"D'you know him?"
"Little Boney!" laughing. "Yes, I know him."
The boy listened without hearing. It was all too dreamlike.
"D'you--d'you like him?"
The other chuckled.
"_Like_ him?--I don't know that I exactly _like_ him. You
see he's not what you and I should call a gentleman. Still he serves
me, so I serve him."
The boy's thumb was to his mouth, baby-like. All his anger had passed.
He was gazing at the other with brooding admiration.
This was the man who had kept three counties agog these two months
He was an enemy, but O! he was a hero.
Strangely young too, almost a boy; tall and slight as his own sword,
the grey eyes big under dark brows, the face sun-golden and lean
almost to gauntness.
"How _did_ you do it?" murmured the boy.
The other's eyes clouded; the lids fell.
"I could not have done it but for her," he said.
Then for the first time the boy remembered the dead woman.
But it was no dead woman the Gentleman was standing over now; it was a
chestnut mare, the sun glistening on a coat that shone like a girl's
hair. She lay along the turf with lank neck, belly exposed, and shoes
flashing; strangely pathetic as a horse seen in such position always
There was not a stain of sweat on her coat, not a trace of froth about
her muzzle. A plain snaffle bridle lay beside her. Her head was bare
and fine as a lady's; the eyes wide, the nostrils still.
Strangely like somehow, mare and man; and about both faces something
of the length and strength of the eagle.
There was one marked difference. In the man life still rippled
gloriously; the mare was quiet for ever.
Born to the saddle as to the sea, the boy's eye ran over her.
"What a beauty!" he gasped.
"I couldn't have attempted it but for her," replied the other quietly.
"When the Emperor asked me to undertake it--'Sire,' I said, 'if I may
take my Bonnet Rouge!'... I tell you," he cried, turning almost
fiercely on the boy, "I've left Merton as the first star peeped, and
seen the sun rise out of the sea from here!... But I forgot...."
A cold shadow swept over him. Kit could feel the change--it was like
passing from day to night; and it chilled the boy's heart.
Up there in the lonely stillness, sea beneath, heaven above, earth
around, the two faced each other.
All the laughter had ebbed from the man's being. He was still and cold
as his sword.
"D'you know what is in here?" tapping the scent-bottle.
His eyes, frosty now, seemed to bore down to the boy's soul.
Kit froze too.
"Because if you will give me your word that you do not know, I will
let you go."
Those eyes of his were terrible.
"Will you give me your word?"
The boy was pale as ice.
Death in cold blood here on the quiet hillside--death like a pig's in
a sty.... Ugh!...
"No, thank you."
"Then prepare to meet your Maker."
He turned and fiddled with a pistol, snapped it, cursed in an
undertone, and thrust it back in his pocket.
Then he turned again.
The boy stood before him with dark eyes. Slight as a lily, and the
colour of one, he seemed to sway in the breeze.
"Give me your word not to speak of what you know till after Thursday
next--and you may go."
The boy shook his head.
The man flashed the hue of lightning.
"Then I must."
An arm swept about the boy. A hand at his waist was fumbling for his
For a second the lad struggled: then he felt himself helpless as a
rabbit in a python's grip, and lay back quite still.
Once face to face with God, his heart calmed strangely.
There was a horrible breathing in his ear.
A face, all eyes, was bending over him.
"_My God_! _how like a girl he is_!" came a far whisper.
"Go on, please, and don't insult me," gurgled the boy. And as he said
it, his mind flashed back to Gwen: Gwen with her pride of sex,
standing before him, fists closed, challenging him to fight--"cad!"
"What are you chuckling about?"
"Gwen--my sister.... She thinks a girl's as good as a boy.... Go on."
The hand upon his forehead quitted its hold.
"I can't," said the Gentleman.
The arm about the boy relaxed.
Kit stood up.
"Thank you," he said, and readjusted his collar.
The Gentleman rippled off into laughter.
THE HOLLOW IN THE COOMBE
For the first time Kit glanced round him.
On the top of the cliff, they were by no means on the top of the
Downs. A great dun wave of earth, patched with gorse, surged up into
the sky before him.
It flopped and flowed down to the edge of the cliff, swelling up round
and steep towards the brow, a quarter of a mile back from the sea. He
was standing at the foot of a prominent shoulder, curving away above
him. On the right was a deep coombe, the hill at the blind-end of it
sheer-seeming. On his left the jagged edge of the cliff ran up and up
and out of sight. Beneath him the sea was a sparkling plain.
The Gentleman was kneeling beside his dead. He closed her eyes, and
kissed the cold muzzle.
_"Adieu, ma mie,_" he whispered. "_L'Irlande n'oubliera
Then he put on his hat, and braved the sunshine.
"Take my arm, Little Chap."
So the two faced the hill.
A question bubbled to the lad's lips. At last it blurted out.
"How did they catch you, sir?"
"They didn't catch me. They murdered her."
The arm within the boy's trembled, but the voice continued quietly.
"Yesterday I had words with some old friends of mine in the Gap
yonder. We parted in a hurry, and I rode up to the Head to watch the
He flashed his grey eyes on the boy.
"You were in it, weren't you?"
The other drew a sighing breath.
"I'd have given all I had to have been there....
"From noon to sundown I watched the fight, and never stirred. My body
was asleep. I was aware of nothing but those three black dots, miles
beneath me on that plain of silver, spurting flame at each other.
Bonnet Rouge grazed beside me. And when she heard the guns, she
neighed, shaking her bridle. For she loved brave men and War, and knew
it too. Yes, she led the Green Brigade at Marengo."
He came to a halt.
"When they came right under the cliff, I couldn't see from the top. So
I came down here."
He lifted his face to the sun.
"And that was how they caught me--cornered me here--while I was
watching--the sea on all sides but one--and they on that."
His face was dusky now.
"Her whinny was the first thing that woke me. I turned to see her
coming towards me at a stumbling canter--like a hurt child running to
His eyes were shut, his voice strangely still.
"They'd run her through--a lady--who thought them friends."
A great vein stood out blue on his temple.
"I wouldn't have believed it of an Englishman."
He sighed profoundly.
"But they paid for it."
Slanting off the shoulder, he led down towards the coombe on his
The boy on his arm was trembling.
In the deep bosom of the coombe was a green hollow.
On the brink they paused. Above them a lark sang.
A little circle of men lay round the saucer in the sun, the flies upon
their faces. In front of the others a big man sprawled across a great
He flung forward over the saddle-bow, face down. One fat hand was
crumpled on the turf. His bob-wig had slipped awry.
There was no mistaking that bald red neck with the crease across it.
It was Big Jerry Ram, the riding-officer.
The Gentleman toed the body.
"It was this carrion. 'Got you this time, sir,' said he, grinning his
fat beef-steak British grin. 'Clipped your wings at last, I guess.'
"I said nothing. I was mad....
"He was a brave man--an extraordinarily brave man. You English, you
are brave. But he was no soldier. He rode at me alone, handling that
sabre of his like a flail. We'd hardly crossed blades before he knew
his fate. 'You've got me, sir,' said he, splashing about with his
sword. I said nothing. 'Maybe I hadn't ought to ha stuck her,' he
gasped. He wasn't whining. He wasn't that sort. He knew he had to have
it. 'It was tit for tat: your blood-mare--my old Robin. 'Tain't
Christian, but 'tis sweet.' Then as he saw it coming--in a kind of
scream--'Through the heart if you're a gentleman, sir.'... So much I
permitted him. You see he was brave."
Kit's brow was dank. The man's calm terrified him.
"The others gave little trouble. They'd sabres; but only one had a
pistol, and it wouldn't go off--English-like....
"Then they formed a rallying group. Yes, they formed a rallying group.
You see they were afraid....
"It was no good. I walked round them with my pistols."
Shuddering, the boy saw it all: the group of ghastly men, back to back
in the hollow; silence, butterflies, and Death in breeches and boots
"Then they broke. They couldn't run: I could. I would have spared
them, mud that they were--but for her.
"You see," his voice was still again, "I loved her."
He dreamed, his eyes upon the hills.
"Yes," he said, "I was terrible."
ON THE TOP OF THE WORLD
The Gentleman led up the shoulder of the hill, the tails of his long
riding-coat flapping about his legs.
Kit, panting behind, admired him as he had never admired even Uncle
Jacko. The man seemed to know no fear, striding rapidly on, his enemy
True, the boy's dirk still flashed in the other's hand; but the lad
had his jack-knife; and his eyes dwelt on the place where he could
plant it home and home in that black back--there by the seam, where it
was a little worn.
And the man had the scent-bottle!
Surely a fellow would be justified....
"Now's your chance, Little Chap!" came the gay voice.
Kit, betrayed to his own soul, sniggered and put the dark thought away
with shuddering disgust.
The man was a gentleman, the man trusted him. Once he had saved his
life; and once spared it. Should he pay his debt with the jack-knife?
The long-striding figure went up the hill as though on wings.
Kit clambered at his spurs.
Escape he knew was vain. As well might a canary attempt to escape a
The scabbard of the other's sword poking and peeping between his tails
caught the boy's eye and fascinated it. It had seen plenty that sword,
he would bet! What tales it could tell!
How he should like to know!...
"Have you ever fought a duel?" he blurted out.
"Used to a bit. Not now."
"Why?--d'you think it wrong?"
The other flung back a merry laugh.
"No, my little Puritan. I gave it up, because it gave me up. You see,
I never quite met my match with the small-sword. Or rather I did meet
my match once, but the beggar wouldn't fight."
"Do tell," panted Kit, scenting a story.
"It was in Egypt--during the occupation. He was said to be the finest
sword in the British Army--Abercromby's Black Cock, they called him.
He'd a standing challenge out against any man of ours who'd take it
up. Killed seven of our fellows in seven days, a man a morning, in
single combat, between the outpost lines--all fair and square and
according to Cocker, and the staffs of both Armies looking on. Sounds
like a legend, don't it?--The eighth day I appeared to do battle with
him. I was twenty-one at the time, and looked seventeen. It was to
have been the great day of my life--and was the bitterest. Directly he
saw me--'I don't fight with children,' says he, high and mighty as a
turkey-cock, and turned on his heel. I wept." He laughed joyously at
"Curious how small the world is," he continued. "Five years passed--
five years full of things. Then one fine day, a few weeks back, I was
over yonder at Birling Gap, waiting for a friend, when who should come
strolling round the corner, smelling of roast beef and Old England,
but my old friend of the curly pate and ruddy cheeks. I'd a minute or
two to spare. So I introduced myself, and we adjourned to the beach at
"What happened that time?" asked the boy keenly.
"Why, Fat George!" replied the other. "And deuced lucky for Master
Black Cock too. You see, he was fat and scant o breath."
They had climbed to the top of the world.
It lay spread before them, wide and wonderful; head in the heavens,
feet in the sea miles beneath on every side.
On the brow beside them the blackened skeleton of a building stood up
stark against the light.
The charred stump of a flag-staff pricked up out of the turf. On the
scorched grass lay a singed red flag and tattered pendant.
"What's this?" whispered Kit.
The ghastly desolation of the ruins amid the sea of light and living
green appalled him. Moreover he smelt death.
"Signal-station," said the Gentleman, hurrying by. "Black Diamond
stormed it at dusk on Saturday night--just before I came along. They
took it and burnt the men inside. Black Diamond did the storming--Fat
George the burning, he and old Toadie."
"Brutes!" hissed Kit.
"I don't much care for Fat George and old Toadie myself," replied the
Gentleman, rather white. "They seem to me scarcely--what shall I say?
--_spirituels_.... Black Diamond was quite a different pair of
shoes. A curious nature--three parts sheer devil, one part pure
gentleman. I could tell you some strange tales about him."
They had turned their backs on the dark scene.
Before them the land rolled away, fold upon fold, the sea encircling
Big Jerry's coombe lay vast and vault-like beneath them on the right,
certain dark specks in the centre of it.
They were not sheep, those specks: Kit knew what they were.
Over the shoulder of the coombe, a great flat bay, the sea white along
the brown edge of it, swept away scimitar-wise into the mist.
The Gentleman stopped, his hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Pevensey Bay! That is where the first Frenchman who ever conquered
England landed. Hastings yonder! Battle Abbey over there!--my name on
its Roll. Such a wonderful old Church!"
He stopped abruptly.
A ship, lying inshore beneath him, tiny on the plain of sea, had
caught his eye.
He flashed round on the boy.
"What nationality?" fiercely, and with pointing finger.
Kit knew at a glance. Even at that distance the ship had something of
the dishevelled appearance of a virago after a street-fight. She was
A hand clutched his throat. Eyes of steel pierced him to the heart.
"Frenchman or English? tell, or take the consequences!"
"I couldn't tell you that," choking.
A python arm swept about him.
A face smiled into his.
"I knew you wouldn't. And I wouldn't have liked you if you had. But--"
The boy snapped his eyes. After all he couldn't blame the man!
It was no quick stab that he felt, no maddening darkness that drowned
him; but a swift forward thrust that shot him down the slope of the
It was steep as the roof of a house. Down he pelted, headlong, his
legs attempting to catch up his falling body. In vain: head over
heels, rolling, bumping, tumbling, a ripple of mocking laughter
There was no danger, he knew. The bottom of the coombe was flat as a
floor, the cliff running athwart it a quarter of a mile away.
At last he fetched up, battered and breathless.
Above him he could see the figure of the Gentleman tiny against the
"Forgive me, Little Chap," came a far voice. "I am in a hole, and have
to get out as best I can. _Il faut que je file_. Here is your
His arm swung. Something flashed in the sky, fell, always flashing,
and stuck in the hillside above him, quivering there.
It was the boy's dirk.
ABERCROMBY'S BLACK COCK
THE FLAG OF HIS COUNTRY
The Gentleman had gone, and the scent-bottle with him.
The boy stood on a track that ran among the gorse, and looked about
The wind was at his back, and the sun on his cheek. Above him the
brow, rough with gorse, swelled up against the light.
He rushed up the hill into the sky.
On the top, he hunted the landscape with anxious eyes. There was
nothing to be seen; no round but the zig-a-zig of the heartless
grasshoppers, merry all about him, and the thunder of his own heart.
He swung round. About him, above him, below him, dumb earth, blind
sea, deaf heaven.
What was his agony to them?
His hopes died, and he with them. Here was the end of his mission and
the end of him.
Old Ding-dong had trusted him--and now!
Mother believed in him--and now!
There would be no Lewes before breakfast; no London before night; no
Nelson to-morrow morning.
A jackdaw chuckled overhead; a far sheep bleated; a great beetle, with
black wing-cases flung back, roared by.
For the rest, all was silence and despair.
He had hoped greatly; he had tried hard; and failed utterly.
Above all he had not eaten for twenty-four hours.
The boy sat down and wept.
About him in the turf the grasshoppers kept up their accursed zig-a-
zig. Little cads! At least they might be gentlemen enough not to crack
their jokes just now.
The thought tickled him. He began to smile. Plucking a grass-blade, he
smote one of his annoyers across the tail. It hopped gloriously. The
boy laughed, and rose to his feet, his heart rising with him.
After all he had done his best. Now he must get to Lewes and make his
About him the turf was bare and brown. Here a patch of tall thistles,
hoary-crowned, stood out among grey bents. There a clump of gorse and
bramble darkened the turf.
Before him a sea of long smooth hills, billow behind billow, rolled in
on him out of Infinity. It seemed to him that a giant wind had crept
beneath the carpet of green and lifted it. Smooth as water it flowed
down to the sea on every side. There were no trees, no hedges, no
habitations. It was the loneliest land he had ever seen, and one of
the loveliest. Here Earth, the Woman, rounded and beautiful, reclined
at her ease before him, naked as God had made her. How different she
was from that savagely shaggy man-land in the North whence he sprang!
But for a haystack like a hive on a far ridge, a fold in a hollow, and
the hillsides patched here and there with plough, it might have been
an uninhabited land.
Here he was alone with the Eternal.
A poet to the heart, the boy's soul rose within him. For the moment he
forgot his troubles. He was walking on the back of the world, his head
in heaven. Beneath him rose the sea, sheer as a wall. The sight of it,
dropped from heaven, as it seemed, filled him with awe. It was so
near, and yet so far.
The breeze had fallen; all was still. He could hear the rustle of the
tide, and the chuckle of jackdaws. Overhead a raven flapped by with
Horror of loneliness swept upon the boy. He shrank into his body. The
windows of his spirit shut with a bang. Night came down.
All was darkness, mortality, and fear.
Somewhere at the bottom of the coombe beneath lay that ring of still
things. Behind rose the blackened skeleton of the signal-station--and
heaven knew what inside! He glanced back fearfully. They weren't after
He took to his heels, and ran, screaming.
A familiar face greeted him. In a flash he recognised it--a meadow-
brown come all the way from Northumberland to comfort him. That was
beautiful of the meadow-brown, it was Christian of the meadow-brown,
seeing the war to the death that he and Gwen had waged against it at
The butterfly gave its message to the boy's heart and settling on a
blue flower, began to sip leisurely. Dash it!--the meadow-brown wasn't
afraid. Need he be?
His soul took charge again with a smile.
Over there on the left that sheer white bluff, thrusting out into the
sea, would be Seaford Head.
Beyond it lay Newhaven; behind it somewhere Lewes. To get there he had
only to keep along the highlands.
He held on at a steady jog-trot. The grass sparkled with dew; mushroom
bulbs shoved through the turf at his toes; above him and beneath all
He crossed a shoulder, threading the gorse; skirted the edge of
another huge coombe, troughed out beneath him; passed an ancient
withered elder, squatting crone-like on the brow, and climbed a knoll
that rose up bald out of the gorse.
He topped the crest, and stopped suddenly. A little dewy-eyed pond,
blue as the sky, was staring at him out of a saucer of green.
In a moment he was on his knees at the edge of it, and drinking
greedily. Then he took off his coat and laid it on the edge of the
saucer to dry.
That done he flung himself on his back to think.
After all there was no hurry. Young as he was, he knew his England
well enough to know the reception that awaited him at Lewes. He could
see them about him, that cluster of Army officers, as he told his
story--stonily incredulous, grimly silent, some sniggering, others
jeering openly. The boy's head had been turned by his first brush!--
You'd only to look at him to see his sort--the romantic sort, commonly
called liars! Great eyes like a girl! What did a chap with eyes like
that want in the Service?--Scent-bottle--loss of the _Tremendous_
--kidnapping Nelson! Lorlumme, what a yarn!
A clamour of feet close by startled his heart. He leapt up, expecting
But no: it was a patter-footed multitude of sheep, who welled in
staring yellow flood over the edge of the saucer and down to the pond.
Behind them stalked Abraham, a black and white bobtail at heel.
The patriarch wore a slouch-hat and old cloak, loose as a cloud. A
wild beard flamed all about him; and in his hand was a long crook. He
stood on the rim of the saucer and looked down at his drinking flock.
Kit expected him to raise his hands and bless somebody. Instead he
spat luxuriously, and addressed his dog in gibberish.
"Ge ou tha go!" he growled, and only the dog knew he was being desired
to get out of that gorse.
Kit watched the man placidly. Instinct, which is inherited experience,
reassured him. There was nothing to be feared from this chap, and
nothing to be got from him. Abraham was shaggy, he was unintelligible,
he was harmless.
In his few days' experience of life, the boy had already learned one
great truth: that every man is exactly what he _looks_. The face
always reveals or betrays. And in this face, wild with the wildness of
storms and skies, there was nothing but the stupid innocence of one of
his own sheep.
The man threw at the boy one shy glance of a woodland creature, and
then ignored him. Another moment and he was stalking on his way, with
floating cloak, tall crook, dog at heel, a mass of yellow backs
rippling along in front of him.
The boy stood on the rim of the saucer and looked down.
Dim green lowlands lay beneath him, spurs of the Downs thrusting out