Part 3 out of 5
how our pursuers happened to be so well posted. For a good fortnight
and more--in fact, since my escape across the ford at Huerta--I could
remember nothing that we had done to give the French the slightest
inkling that we were watching them or, indeed, were anywhere near. And
yet the affair suggested no casual piece of scouting, but a deliberate
plan to entrap somebody of whose neighbourhood they were aware.
"Nor was this perplexity at all unravelled by the general officer to
whose tent they at once conveyed me--a little round white-headed man,
Ducrot by name. He addressed me at once as Captain McNeill, and seemed
vastly elated at my capture.
"'So we have you at last!' he said, regarding me with a jocular smile
and a head cocked on one side, pretty much after the fashion of a
thrush eyeing a worm. 'But, excuse me, after so much finesse it was a
"Now _finesse_ is not a word which I should have claimed at any time
for my methods,[A] and I cast about in my memory for the exploit to
which he could be alluding.
[Footnote A: NOTE BY MANUEL MCNEILL.--Here the captain, in his hurry
to pay me a compliment, does himself some injustice. _Finesse_, to be
sure, was not generally characteristic of his methods, but he used it
at times with amazing dexterity, as, for instance, the latter part
of this very adventure will prove, if I can ever prevail on him to
narrate it. On the whole I should say that he disapproved of _finesse_
much as he disapproved of swearing, but had a natural aptitude for
"'It is the mistake of clever men,' continued General Ducrot sagely,
'to undervalue their opponents; but surely after yesterday the
commonest prudence might have warned you to put the greatest possible
distance between yourself and Sabugal.'
"'Sabugal?' I echoed.
"'Oh, my dear sir, _we_ know. It was amusing--eh!--the barber's shop?
I assure you I laughed. It was time for you to be taken; for really,
you know, you could never have bettered it, and it is not for an
artist to wind up by repeating inferior successes.'
"For a moment I thought the man daft. What on earth (I asked myself)
was this nonsense about Sabugal and a barber's shop? I had not been
near Sabugal; as for the barber's shop it sounded to me like a piece
out of the childish rigmarole about cutting a cabbage leaf to make
an apple pie. Some fleeting suspicion I may have had that here was
another affair in which you and I had again managed to get confused;
but if so the suspicion occurred only to be dismissed. A fortnight
before you had left me on your way south to Badajoz, and you will
own that to connect you with something which apparently had happened
yesterday in a barber's shop in Sabugal was to overstrain guessing.
Having nothing to say, I held my tongue; and General Ducrot put on a
more magisterial air. He resented this British phlegm in a prisoner
with whom he had been graciously jocose and fell back on his national
belief that we islanders, though occasionally funny, are so by force
of eccentricity rather than by humour.
"'I do not propose to deal with you myself,' he announced. 'At
one time and another, sir, you have done our cause an infinity of
mischief, and I prefer that the Duke of Ragusa should decide your
fate. I shall send you therefore to Sabugal to await his return.'
"This gave me my first intimation that Marmont was neither in Sabugal
nor with his main army. That same afternoon they marched me off to the
town and set me under guard in a house next door to his headquarters.
"Marmont returned from Celorico (if my memory serves me) on the
afternoon of the 17th. I was taken before him at once. He treated
me with the greatest apparent kindness, hoped I had suffered no
ill-usage, and wound up by inviting me to dinner. A couple of hours
later I was escorted to headquarters, where, on entering the room
where he received his guests, I found him in conversation with a young
staff officer who wore his arm in a sling.
"The marshal turned to me at once, and very gaily. 'I understand,'
said he with a smile, 'that I have no need to introduce you to Captain
"I looked from him to the young officer in some bewilderment, and saw
in a moment that Captain de Brissac was certainly not less bewildered
"'But Monsieur le Marechal--but this is not the man!'
"'Not the man?'
"'Most decidedly not. The man of whom I spoke was dark and not above
middle height. He spoke Portuguese like a native, and belonged to a
class altogether different. It would be impossible for this gentleman
to disguise himself so.'
"For a moment Marmont seemed no less puzzled than we. Then he broke
out laughing again.
"'Ah! of course; that will have been Captain McNeill's servant--the
poor fellow who was killed,' he added more gravely. 'I am told, sir,
that this servant shared and furthered most of your adventures?'
"'He did indeed, M. le Marechal,' said I; 'but excuse me if I am at a
"The Duke interrupted me by laughing again and laying a hand on my
shoulder as an orderly announced dinner. 'Rest easy, my friend, we
know of all your little tricks.' And at table he amused himself and
more and more befogged me by a precise account of my haunts and
movements. How I had kept a barber's shop in Sabugal under his very
nose; what disguises I used (and you know that I never used a disguise
in my life); how my servant had assisted M. de Brissac in a duel and
afterwards escaped in his uniform--with much more, and all of it news
to me. My astonished face merely excited his laughter; he set it down
to my eccentricity. But after dinner, when M. de Brissac had taken his
departure, Marmont crossed his handsome legs and came to business.
"'Sir,' said he, 'I am going to pay you a compliment. We have suffered
heavily through your cleverness; and although Lord Wellington may
choose to call you a scouting officer, you must be aware (and will
forgive me for reminding you) that I might well be excused for calling
you by an uglier name.'
"You may be sure I did not like this. You may also remember how at
Huerta on the occasion of our first meeting the question of _disguise_
came up between us, and how I assured you that to me, with my Scottish
face and accent, a disguise would be worse than useless. Well, that
was true enough so far as it went; but I fear that in my anxiety not
to offend your feelings I spoke less than the whole truth, for I have
always held that in our business as soon as a man resorts to disguise
his work ceases to be legitimate scouting. It may be no less
justifiable and even more useful, but it is no longer scouting. I
admit the distinction to be a nice one;[A] and I have sometimes asked
myself, when covering my uniform with my dark riding cloak, 'What,
after all, is a disguise?' Nevertheless, I had always observed it,
and standing before Marmont now in His Majesty's scarlet, which (as I
might have told him) I had never discarded either to further a plan
or to avoid a danger, I put some constraint on myself to listen in
silence on the merest off-chance that my silence might help an affair
with which the marshal assumed my perfect acquaintance, while I could
only surmise that somehow you were mixed up in it, and therefore
presumably it aimed at some advantage to our arms. I did keep silence,
however, though without so much as a bow to signify that I assented.
[Footnote A: NOTE BY MANUEL MCNEILL.--I should think so indeed! To me
the moral difference, say, between hiding in a truss of hay and hiding
under a wig is not worth discussing outside a seminary.]
"'But you are a gentleman,' Marmont continued, 'and I propose to treat
you as one. You will be sent in safe custody to France, and beyond
this I propose to take no revenge on you--but upon one condition.'
"'The condition is you give me your parole that on your journey
through Spain to France you not only make no effort to escape, but
will not consent to be rescued should the attempt be made by any of
the _partidas_ in hope of reward.'
"I considered this for a moment. 'That is not a small thing to
require, since Wellington may be reasonably expected to offer a round
price for my recapture.'
"The marshal laughed not too pleasantly. 'Truly,' said he, 'I have
heard that Scotsmen are hard bargainers. But considering that I could
have you shot out of hand for a spy, I believed I was offering you
"Well, that was unfortunately true; so after a few seconds' pause I
answered, 'Monsieur le Duc, by imposing these terms on me you at any
rate pay me a handsome compliment. I accept it and give you my word.'
"Upon this parole, then, on the 19th I began my journey towards France
and captivity, escorted only by M. Gerard, a young lieutenant of
dragoons, and one trooper. The rest you know."
(_Conclusion of Captain McNeill's Statement_.)
As I have said, the bare news of my kinsman's capture and of poor
Jose's death reached me at Celorico on the 16th, late in the evening.
Knowing that Lord Wellington was by this time well on his way
northward, and believing that for more than one reason the captain's
fate would concern him deeply--feeling, moreover, some compunction at
the toils I had all innocently helped to wind about an honest man--I
at once sought and obtained leave from General Wilson to ride
southward to meet the Commander-in-Chief with the tidings, and if
necessary solicit his help in a rescue. The captain (on this point the
messenger was precise) had been taken to Sabugal to await Marmont's
return. I did not know that Marmont was actually at that moment on his
way thither, but I thought him at least likely to be returning very
soon. To be sure he might decide to shoot Captain Alan out of hand. My
recent performances gave him a colourable excuse, unless the prisoner
could disassociate himself from these and prove an _alibi_, which
under the circumstances and without the help of Jose's evidence he
could scarcely hope to do. I built, however, some faith on Marmont's
known humanity, of which in his pursuit of the militia he had just
given striking proof. The longer I weighed the chances the more
certain I became that Marmont would treat him as an ordinary prisoner
of war and send him up to France under escort.
Why, then (the reader may ask), did I lose time in seeking Lord
Wellington instead of making my way at once to the north and doing my
best to incite the _partidas_ to attempt a rescue somewhere on the
road north of Burgos, or even between Valladolid and Burgos? My answer
is that such an affair would certainly turn on the question of money.
The French held the road right away to the Pyrenees, not so strongly
perhaps as to forbid hope, but strongly enough to make an attempt upon
it risky in the extreme. The bands of Mendizabal, Mina, and Merino
were kept busy by Generals Bonnet and Abbe; for a big convoy they
might be counted on to exert themselves, but for a single prisoner
they as certainly had no time to spare without the incitement of such
a reward as only the Commander-in-Chief could offer.
Accordingly I made my way south to Castello Branco and reached it on
the 18th, to find Lord Wellington arrived there and making ready to
push on as soon as overtaken by the bulk of his troops. I had always
supposed him to cherish a peculiar liking for my kinsman, but was
fairly astonished by the emotion he showed.
"Rescued? Of course he must be rescued!" He broke off to use (I must
confess) some very strong words upon Trant's design against Marmont
and the tomfoolery, as he called it, which had taken me into Sabugal,
and left a cloud of suspicion hanging over "the best scouting officer
in my service; the only man of the lot, sir, who knows his business."
Lord Wellington could, when he lost his temper, be singularly unjust.
I strove to point out that my "tomfoolery" in Sabugal had as a matter
of fact put a stop to the very scheme of General Trant's which he
condemned. He cut me short by asking if I proposed to argue with him.
"Ride back, sir. Choose the particular blackguard who can effect your
purpose, and inform him that on the day he rescues Captain McNeill I
am his debtor for twelve thousand francs."
The speech was ungracious enough, but the price more than I had dared
to hope for. Feeling pretty sure that in his lordship's temper a word
of thanks would merely invite him to consign my several members to
perdition, I bowed and left him. Twenty minutes later I was on the
road and galloping north again.
Before starting from Celorico I had sent the peasant who brought news
of Captain Alan's plight back to Sabugal with instructions to discover
what more he could, and bring his report to Bellomonte on my northward
road not later than the 20th. On the afternoon of the 19th when I rode
into that place I could hear no news of him. But late in the evening
he arrived with word that "the great McNeill" had been sent off under
escort towards Salamanca. Of the strength of that escort he could tell
me nothing, and had very wisely not stayed to inquire; he had picked
up the news from camp gossip and brought it at once, rightly judging
that time was more valuable to me just now than detailed information.
His news was doubly cheering; it assured me that my kinsman still
lived, and also that by riding to secure Lord Wellington's help I had
not missed my opportunity. Yet there was need to hurry, for I had not
only to fetch a long circuit by difficult paths before striking the
road to the Pyrenees,--I had to find the _partidas_, persuade them,
and get them on to the road ahead of their quarry.
I need not describe my journey at length. I rode by Guarda, Almeida,
Ledesma, keeping to the north of the main road, and travelling, not by
day only, but through the better part of each night. Beyond the ford
of Tordesillas, left for the while unguarded, I was in country where
at any moment I might stumble on the guerilla bands, or at least get
news of them. The chiefs most likely for my purpose were "the three
M's"--the curate Merino, Mina and Mendizabal. Of these, the curate was
about the biggest scoundrel in Spain. I learned on my way that having
lately taken about a hundred prisoners near Aranda, he had hanged the
lot, sixty to avenge three members of the local junta put to death by
the French, and the rest in proportion of ten for every soldier of his
lost in the action. From dealing with such a blackguard I prayed to be
spared. And by all accounts Mina ran him close for brutal ferocity. I
hoped, therefore, for Mendizabal, but at Sedano I heard that Bonnet,
after foiling an attack by him on a convoy above Burgos, had beaten
him into the Asturias, where his scattered bands were now shifting as
best they could among the hills. Merino was in no better case, and
my only hope rested on Mina, who after a series of really brilliant
operations, helped out by some lucky escapes, had on the 7th with
five thousand men planted himself in ambush behind Vittoria, cut up
a Polish regiment, and mastered the same enormous convoy which had
escaped the curate and Mendizabal at Burgos, releasing no less than
four hundred Spanish prisoners and enriching himself to the tune of
a million francs, not to speak of carriages, arms, stores, and a
quantity of church plate.
This was no cheerful hearing, since so much in his pocket must needs
lessen the attractiveness of my offer of twelve thousand francs. And,
indeed, when I found him in his camp above the road a little to the
east of Salvatierra his first answer was to bid me go to the devil.
Although for months he had only supported his troops on English money
conveyed through Sir Howard Douglas, this ignorant fellow snapped his
dirty fingers at the mention of Wellington and, flushed with a casual
triumph, had nothing but contempt for the allied troops who were
saving his country while he and his like wasted themselves on futile
raids. I can see him now as he sat smoking and dangling his legs on a
rock in the midst of his unwashed staff officers.
"For an Englishman," he scoffed, "I won't say but twelve thousand
francs is a high price to pay. Unfortunately, it is no price for my
troops to earn. Here am I expecting at any moment a convoy which is
due from the Valencia side, and Lord Wellington asks me to waste my
men and miss my chance for the sake of a single redcoat. He must be a
Said I, nettled, "For a Spaniard you have certainly acquired a rare
suit of manners. But may I suggest that their rarity will scarcely
prove worth the cost when your answer comes to Lord Wellington's
He glared at me for a moment, during which no doubt he weighed the
temptation of shooting me against the probable risk. Then his features
relaxed into a grin, and withdrawing the chewed cigarette from his
teeth he spat very deliberately on the ground. "The interview," he
announced, "is ended."
I took my way down the hillside in no gay mood. I had travelled far;
my nerves were raw with lack of sleep. I judged myself at least a day
ahead of any convoy with which the captain could be travelling, even
though it had moved with the minimum of delay. But where in the next
two days was I to find the help which Mina had refused? To be sure I
had caught up at Sedano a flying rumour that the curate Merino had
eluded Bonnet, broken out of the Asturias, and was again menacing the
road above Burgos. I had come across no sign of him on my way, yet
could hit on no more hopeful course than to hark back along the road
on the chance of striking the trail of a man who as likely as not was
a hundred miles away.
It was about nine in the morning when Mina gave me his answer, and at
three in the afternoon I was scanning the road towards Miranda de Ebro
from a hill about a mile beyond Arinez (the same hill, in fact, where
General Gazan's centre lay little more than a year afterwards on the
morning of the battle of Vittoria). I had been scanning the road
perhaps for ten minutes when my heart gave a jump and my hand, I
am not ashamed to confess, shook on the small telescope. To the
south-west, between me and Nanclares three horsemen were advancing at
a walk, and the rider in the middle wore a scarlet jacket.
It took me some seconds to get my telescope steady enough for a second
look, and with that I wheeled my horse, struck spur and posted back
towards Salvatierra as fast as the brute would carry me through the
I reached Mina's camp again at nightfall, and found the chief seated
exactly as I had left him, still smoking and still dangling his legs.
Were it not that he now wore a cloak against the night air I might
have supposed him seated there all day without stirring, and the guard
who led me to him promised with a grin that I was dangerously near one
of those peculiar modes of death which his master passed his amiable
leisure in inventing.
At the sight of me Mina's eyebrows went up and he chuckled, "Indeed,"
said he, "it has been a dull day, and I have been regretting that I
let you off so easily this morning."
"This morning," I said, "I made you an offer of twelve thousand
francs. You replied that you considered it too little for the services
of your army. Perhaps it was; but you will admit it to be pretty fair
pay for the services of a couple of men."
"Hullo!" He eyed me sharply. "What has happened?"
"That," I answered, "is my secret. Lend me a couple of men, say, for
forty-eight hours. In return, on producing this paper, you receive
twelve thousand francs; that is, as soon as Lord Wellington has
assured himself on my report that you received the paper from me and
did as I requested."
"Two men? This begins to look like business."
"It _is_ business," said I curtly. "To your patriotism I should not
have troubled to appeal a second time."
He warned me to keep a civil tongue in my head; but I knew my man, and
within half-an-hour I rode out of his camp with two of his choicest
ruffians, one beside me and one ahead to guide me through the
Now at Vittoria the road towards Irun and the frontier runs almost due
north for some distance and then bends about in a rough arc towards
the east. Another road runs almost due east from Vittoria to Pamplona.
The first road would certainly be taken by my kinsman and his escort:
Mina's camp lay above the second: but, a little way beyond, at
Alsasua, a third road of about five leagues joins the two, and by this
short cut I was certain of heading off our quarry.
There was no call to hurry. If, as I judged likely, the party meant to
sleep the night at Vittoria, I had almost twenty-four hours in hand.
So we rode warily, on the look-out for French vedettes, and reaching
Beasain a little before two in the morning took up a comfortable
position on the hillside above the junction of the roads.
At dawn we shifted into better shelter--a shepherd's hut, dilapidated
and roofless--and eked out a long day with tobacco and a greasy pack
of cards. A few bullock carts passed along the road below us, the
most of them bound westward, and perhaps half-a-dozen peasants on
mule-back. At about four in the afternoon a French patrol trotted by.
As the evening drew on I began to feel anxious.
A little before sunset I sent off one of my ruffians--Alonso
something-or-other (I forget his magnificent surname)--to scout
along the road. He had been gone half-an-hour when his fellow, Juan
Gallegos, flung down his cards in the dusk--the more readily perhaps
because he held a weak hand--and pricked up his ears.
"Horses!" he whispered, and after a pause nodded confidently. "Three
We picked up our muskets and crept down towards the road. Halfway down
we met Alonso ascending with the news. Yes, there were three horsemen
on this side of Zumarraga and coming at a trot. One of them wore a red
"Be careful, then, how you pick them off. The man in red must not be
hurt; the money depends on that."
They nodded. Night was now falling fast, yet not so fast but that as
the horsemen came up I could distinguish Captain Alan. He was riding
on the left beside the young French officer, the orderly about six
yards behind. As they came abreast of us Juan let fly, and the
orderly's horse pitched forward at once and fell, flinging his man,
who struck the road and lay either stunned or dead. At the noise of
the report the other horses shied violently and separated, thus giving
us our chance without danger to the prisoner. Alonso and I fired
together, and rushed out upon the officer, who groaned in the act of
wheeling upon us. One of the bullets had shattered his sword arm.
Within the minute we had him prisoner, the captain not helping us at
"What is this?" he demanded in Spanish, peering at me out of the dusk
and breaking off to quiet his frightened horse. "What is this, and who
"Well, it looks like a rescue," said I; "and I am your kinsman, Manus
McNeill, and have been at some pains to effect it."
"You!" he peered at me. "I thank you," said he, "but you have done a
bad evening's work. I am on parole, as a man so clever as you might
have guessed by the size of my escort."
"We will talk of that later," I answered, and sent Juan and Alonso off
to examine the fallen trooper. "Meanwhile the man here has fainted.
Oblige me by helping him a little way up the hill, or by leading his
horse while I carry him. The road here is not healthy."
Captain Alan followed in silence while I bore my burden up to the hut.
Having tethered the horses outside, he entered and stood above me
while I lit a lantern and examined the young officer's wound.
"Nothing serious," I announced, "a fracture of the forearm and maybe a
splintered bone. I can fix this up in no time."
"You had better leave it to me and run," my kinsman answered. "This
M. Gerard is an amiable young man and a friend of mine, and I charge
myself to see him safe to Tolosa to-night. What are you doing?"
"Searching for his papers."
"I forbid it."
"_Alain mhic Neill_," said I, "you are not yet the head of our clan."
And I broke the seal of a letter addressed to the Governor of Bayonne.
"Ah! I thought as much," I added, having glanced over the missive. "It
seems, my dear kinsman, that my knowledge of the Duke of Ragusa goes
a bit deeper than yours. Listen to this: 'The prisoner I send you
herewith is one Captain McNeill, a spy and a dangerous one, who has
done infinite mischief to our arms. I have not executed him on the
spot out of respect to something resembling an uniform which he wears.
But I desire you to place him at once in irons and send him up to
Paris, where he will doubtless suffer as he deserves' ..."
Captain Alan took the paper from me and perused it slowly, biting his
upper lip the while. "This is very black treachery," said he.
"It acquits you at any rate."
"Of my parole?" He pondered for a moment; then, "I cannot see that it
does," he said. "If the Duke of Ragusa chooses to break an implied
bond with me it does not follow that I can break an explicit promise
"No? Well, I should have thought it did."
At once my kinsman put on that stiff pedantic tone which had irritated
me at Huerta. "I venture to think," said he, "that no McNeill would
say so unless he had been corrupted by traffic with the Scarlet
"Scarlet grandmother!" I broke out. "You seem to forget that I have
ridden a hundred leagues to effect this rescue, for which, by the way,
Lord Wellington offers twelve thousand francs. I have promised them to
the biggest scoundrel in Spain; but because he happens to be even a
bigger scoundrel than the Duke of Ragusa must I break my bond with him
and let you go to be shot for the sake of your silly punctilio?"
I spoke with heat, and bent over the groaning officer. My kinsman
rubbed his chin. "What you say," he replied, "demands a somewhat
complicated answer, or rather a series of answers. In the first
place, I thank you sincerely for what you have done, and not the less
sincerely because I am going to nullify it. I shall, perhaps, not
cheat myself by believing that a clansman's spirit went some way to
help your zeal"--here I might well have blushed in truth, for it had
not helped my zeal a peseta. "I thank Lord Wellington, too, for the
extravagant price he has set upon my services, and I beg you to convey
my gratitude to him. As for being shot, I might answer that my parole
extends only to the Pyrenees; but I consider myself to have extended
it tacitly to my young friend here, who has treated me with all
possible consideration on the journey; and I shall go to Bayonne."
He spoke quietly and in the most matter-of-fact voice. But I have
often thought since of his words; and often when I call up the figure
of Marmont in exile at Venice, where, as he strode gloomily along the
Riva dei Schiavoni, the very street urchins pointed and cried after
him, "There goes the man who betrayed Napoleon!" I call up and
contrast with it the figure of this humble gentleman of Scotland in
the lonely hut declining simply and without parade to buy his life at
the expense of a scruple of conscience.
"But," he continued, "I fancy I may persuade M. Gerard at least to
delay the delivery of that letter, in which case I see my way at
least to a chance of escape. For the rest, these _partidas_ have been
promised twelve thousand francs for a service which they have duly
rendered. My patrimony is not a rich one, but I can promise that this
sum, whether I escape or not, shall be as duly paid. Hush!" he ended
as I sprang to my feet, and Juan and Alonso appeared in the doorway
supporting the trooper, who had only been stunned after all.
"We did not care to kill him," Juan explained blandly, "until we had
the senor's orders."
"You did rightly," I answered, and glanced at my kinsman. His jaw was
set. I pulled out a couple of gold pieces for each. "An advance on
your earnings," said I. "My orders are that you leave the trooper here
with me, ride back instantly to your chief, report that your work has
been well done and successfully, and the money for which he holds
an order shall be forwarded as soon as I return and report to Lord
Wellington in Beira."
In the course of an eventful life John Penaluna did three very rash
To begin with, at seventeen, he ran away to sea.
He had asked his father's permission. But for fifty years the small
estate had been going from bad to worse. John's grandfather in the
piping days of agriculture had drunk the profits and mortgaged
everything but the furniture. On his death, John's father (who had
enlisted in a line regiment) came home with a broken knee-pan and a
motherless boy, and turned market-gardener in a desperate attempt to
rally the family fortunes. With capital he might have succeeded. But
market-gardening required labour; and he could neither afford to hire
it nor to spare the services of a growing lad who cost nothing but his
keep. So John's request was not granted.
A week later, in the twilight of a May evening, John was digging
potatoes on the slope above the harbour, when he heard--away up the
first bend of the river--the crew of the _Hannah Hands_ brigantine
singing as they weighed anchor. He listened for a minute, stuck his
visgy into the soil slipped on his coat, and trudged down to the
Two years passed without word of him. Then on a blue and sunny day
in October he emerged out of Atlantic fogs upon the Market Strand at
Falmouth: a strapping fellow with a brown and somewhat heavy face,
silver rings in his ears, and a suit of good sea-cloth on his back. He
travelled by van to Truro, and thence by coach to St. Austell. It was
Friday--market day; and in the market he found his father standing
sentry, upright as his lame leg allowed, grasping a specimen
apple-tree in either hand. John stepped up to him, took one of the
apple-trees, and stood sentry beside him. Nothing was said--not a
word until John found himself in the ramshackle market-cart, jogging
homewards. His father held the reins.
"How's things at home?" John asked.
"Much as ever. Hester looks after me."
Hester was John's cousin, the only child of old Penaluna's only
sister, and lately an orphan. John had never seen her.
"If I was you," said he, "I'd have a try with borrowed capital. You
could raise a few hundreds easy. You'll never do anything as you'm
"If I was you," answered his father, "I'd keep my opinions till they
was asked for."
And so John did, for three years; in the course of which it is to
be supposed he forgot them. When the old man died he inherited
everything; including the debts, of course. "He knows what I would
have him do by Hester," said the will. It went on: "Also I will not
be buried in consicrated ground, but at the foot of the dufflin
apple-tree in the waste piece under King's Walk, and the plainer the
better. In the swet of thy face shalt thou eat bread, amen. P.S.--John
knows the tree."
But since by an oversight the will was not read until after the
funeral, this wish could not be carried out. John resolved to attend
to the other all the more scrupulously; and went straight from the
lawyer to the kitchen, where Hester stood by the window scouring a
"Look here," he said, "the old man hasn' left you nothing."
"No?" said Hester. "Well, I didn't expect anything." And she went on
with her scouring.
"But he've a-left a pretty plain hint o' what he wants me to do."
He hesitated, searching the calm profile of her face. Hester's face
was always calm, but her eyes sometimes terrified him. Everyone
allowed she had wonderful eyes, though no two people agreed about
their colour. As a matter of fact their colour was that of the sea,
and varied with the sea. And all her life through they were searching,
unceasingly searching, for she knew not what--something she never had
found, never would find. At times, when talking with you, she would
break off as though words were of no use to her, and her eyes had to
seek your soul on their own account. And in those silences your soul
had to render up the truth to her, though it could never be the truth
she sought. When at length her gaze relaxed and she remembered and
begged pardon (perhaps with a deprecatory laugh), you sighed; but
whether on her account or yours it was impossible to say.
John looked at her awkwardly, and drummed with one foot on the limeash
"He wanted you to marry me," he blurted out. "I--I reckon I've wanted
that, too ... oh, yes, for a long time!"
She put both hands behind her--one of them still grasped the
polishing-cloth--came over, and gazed long into his face.
"You mean it," she said at length. "You are a good man. I like you. I
suppose I must."
She turned--still with her hands behind her--walked to the window, and
stood pondering the harbour and the vessels at anchor and the rooks
flying westward. John would have followed and kissed her, but divined
that she wished nothing so little. So he backed towards the door, and
"There's nothing to wait for. 'Twouldn't do to be married from the
same house, I expect. I was thinking--any time that's agreeable--if
you was to lodge across the harbour for awhile, with the
Mayows--Cherry Mayow's a friend of yours--we could put up the banns
and all shipshape."
He found himself outside the door, mopping his forehead.
This was the second rash thing that John Penaluna did.
It was Midsummer Eve, and a Saturday, when Hester knocked at the
Mayows' green door on the Town Quay. The Mayows' house hung over the
tideway, and the _Touch-me-not_ schooner, home that day from Florida
with a cargo of pines, and warped alongside the quay, had her foreyard
braced aslant to avoid knocking a hole in the Mayows' roof.
A Cheap Jack's caravan stood at the edge of the quay. The Cheap Jack
was feasting inside on fried ham rasher among his clocks and mirrors
and pewter ware; and though it wanted an hour of dusk, his assistant
was already lighting the naphtha-lamps when Hester passed.
Steam issued from the Mayows' doorway, which had a board across it
to keep the younger Mayows from straggling. A voice from the steam
invited her to come in. She climbed over the board, groped along the
dusky passage, pushed open a door and looked in on the kitchen, where,
amid clouds of vapour, Mrs. Mayow and her daughter Cherry were washing
the children. Each had a tub and a child in it; and three children,
already washed, skipped around the floor stark naked, one with a long
churchwarden pipe blowing bubbles which the other two pursued. In the
far corner, behind a deal table, sat Mr. Mayow, and patiently tuned a
fiddle--a quite hopeless task in that atmosphere.
"My gracious!" Mrs. Mayow exclaimed, rising from her knees; "if it
isn't Hester already! Amelia, get out and dry yourself while I make a
cup of tea."
Hester took a step forward, but paused at a sound of dismal bumping on
the staircase leading up from the passage.
"That's Elizabeth Ann," said Mrs. Mayow composedly, "or Heber, or
both. We shall know when they get to the bottom. My dear, you must be
perishing for a cup of tea. Oh, it's Elizabeth Ann! Cherry, go and
smack her, and tell her what I'll do if she falls downstairs again.
It's all Matthew Henry's fault." Here she turned on the naked urchin
with the churchwarden pipe. "If he'd only been home to his time--"
"I was listening to Zeke Penhaligon," said Matthew Henry (aged eight).
"He's home to-day in the _Touch-me-not_."
"He's no good to King nor country," said Mrs. Mayow.
"He was telling me about a man that got swallowed by a whale--"
"Go away with your Jonahses!" sneered one of his sisters.
"It wasn't Jonah. This man's name was Jones--_Captain_ Jones, from
Dundee. A whale swallowed him; but, as it happened, the whale had
swallowed a cask just before, and the cask stuck in its stomach. So
whatever the whale swallowed after that went into the cask, and did
the whale no good. But Captain Jones had plenty to eat till he cut his
way out with a clasp-knife--"
"How _could_ he?"
"That's all you know. Zeke _says_ he did. A whale always turns that way
up when he's dying. So Captain Jones cut his way into daylight, when,
what does he see but a sail, not a mile away! He fell on his knees--"
"How could he, you silly? He'd have slipped."
But at this point Cherry swept the family off to bed. Mrs. Mayow,
putting forth unexpected strength, carried the tubs out to the
back-yard, and poured the soapy water into the harbour. Hester, having
borrowed a touzer,[A] tucked up her sleeves and fell to tidying the
kitchen. Mr. Mayow went on tuning his fiddle. It was against his
principles to work on a Saturday night.
[Footnote A: _Tout-serve_, apron.]
"Your wife seems very strong," observed Hester, with a shade of
reproach in her voice.
"Strong as a horse," he assented cheerfully. "I call it wonnerful
after what she've a-gone through. 'Twouldn' surprise me, one o' these
days, to hear she'd taken up a tub with the cheeld in it, and heaved
cheeld and all over the quay-door. She's terrible absent in her mind."
Mrs. Mayow came panting back with a kettleful of water, which she set
to boil; and, Cherry now reappearing with the report that all the
children were safe abed, the three women sat around the fire awaiting
their supper, and listening to the voice of the Cheap Jack without.
"We'll step out and have a look at him by-and-by," said Cherry.
"For my part," Mrs. Mayow murmured, with her eyes on the fire, "I
never hear one of those fellers without wishing I had a million of
money. There's so many little shiny pots and pans you could go on
buying for ever and ever, just like Heaven!"
She sighed as she poured the boiling water into the teapot. On
Saturday nights, when the children were packed off, a deep peace
always fell upon Mrs. Mayow, and she sighed until bed-time, building
castles in the air.
Their supper finished, the two girls left her to her musings and
stepped out to see the fun. The naphtha-lamps flared in Hester's face,
and for a minute red wheels danced before her eyes, the din of a gong
battered on her ears, and vision and hearing were indistinguishably
blurred. A plank, like a diving-board, had been run out on trestles in
front of the caravan, and along this the assistant darted forwards and
backwards on a level with the shoulders of the good-humoured crowd,
his arms full of clocks, saucepans, china ornaments, mirrors, feather
brushes, teapots, sham jewellery. Sometimes he made pretence to slip,
recovered himself with a grin on the very point of scattering his
precious armfuls; and always when he did this the crowd laughed
uproariously. And all the while the Cheap Jack shouted or beat his
gong. Hester thought at first there were half-a-dozen Cheap Jacks at
least--he made such a noise, and the mirrors around his glittering
platform flashed forth so many reflections of him. Trade was always
brisk on Saturday night, and he might have kept the auction going
until eleven had he been minded. But he had come to stay for a
fortnight (much to the disgust of credit-giving tradesmen), and
cultivated eccentricity as a part of his charm. In the thickest of the
bidding he suddenly closed his sale.
"I've a weak chest," he roared. "Even to make your fortunes--which is
my constant joy and endeavour, as you know--I mustn't expose it too
much to the night air. Now I've a pianner here, but it's not for sale.
And I've an assistant here--a bit worn, but he's not for sale neither.
I got him for nothing, to start with--from the work'us" (comic protest
here from the assistant, and roars of laughter from the crowd)--"and I
taught him a lot o' things, and among 'em to play the pianner. So as
'tis Midsummer's Eve, and I see some very nice-lookin' young women a
tip-tapping their feet for it, and Mr. Mayow no further away than next
door, and able to play the fiddle to the life--what I say is, ladies
and gentlemen, let's light up a fire and see if, with all their
reading and writing, the young folks have forgot how to dance!"
In the hubbub that followed, Cherry caught Hester by the arm and
"Why I clean forgot 'twas Midsummer Eve! We'll try our fortun's
afterwards. Aw, no need to look puzzled--I'll show 'ee. Here, feyther,
feyther!..." Cherry ran down the passage and returned, haling forth
Mr. Mayow with his fiddle.
And then--as it seemed to Hester, in less than a minute--empty
packing-cases came flying from half-a-dozen doors--from the cooper's,
the grocer's, the ship-chandler's, the china-shop, the fruit-shop, the
"ready-made outfitter's," and the Cheap Jack's caravan; were seized
upon, broken up, the splinters piled in a heap, anointed with naphtha
and ignited almost before Mr. Mayow had time to mount an empty barrel,
tune his "A" string by the piano, and dash into the opening bars of
the Furry Dance. And almost before she knew it, Hester's hands were
caught, and she found herself one of the ring swaying and leaping
round the blaze. Cherry held her left hand and an old waterman her
right. The swing of the crowd carried her off her feet, and she had
to leap with the best. By-and-by, as her feet fell into time with the
measure, she really began to enjoy it all--the music, the rush of the
cool night air against her temples, even the smell of naphtha and the
heat of the flames on her face as the dancers paused now and again,
dashed upon the fire as if to tread it out, and backed until
the strain on their arms grew tense again; and, just as it grew
unbearable, the circular leaping was renewed. Always in these pauses
the same face confronted her across the fire: the face of a young man
in a blue jersey and a peaked cap, a young man with crisp dark hair
and dark eyes, gay and challenging. In her daze it seemed to Hester
that, when they came face to face, he was always on the side of the
bonfire nearest the water; and the moon rose above the farther hill as
they danced, and swam over his shoulder, at each meeting higher and
It was all new to her and strange. The music ceased abruptly, the
dancers unclasped their hands and fell apart, laughing and panting.
And then, while yet she leaned against the Mayows' door-post, the
fiddle broke out again--broke into a polka tune; and there, in front
of her stood the young man in the blue jersey and peaked cap.
He was speaking. She scarcely knew what she answered; but, even while
she wondered, she had taken his arm submissively. And, next, his arm
was about her and she was dancing. She had never danced before; but,
after one or two broken paces, her will surrendered to his, her body
and its movements answered him docilely. She felt that his eyes were
fixed on her forehead, but dared not look up. She saw nothing of the
crowd. Other dancers passed and re-passed like phantoms, neither
jostling nor even touching--so well her partner steered. She grew
giddy; her breath came short and fast. She would have begged for a
rest, but the sense of his mastery weighed on her--held her dumb.
Suddenly he laughed close to her ear, and his breath ruffled her hair.
"You dance fine," he said. "Shall us cross the fire?"
She did not understand. In her giddiness they seemed to be moving in a
wide, empty space among many fires, nor had she an idea which was the
real one. His arm tightened about her.
"Now!" he whispered. With a leap they whirled high and across the
bonfire. Her feet had scarcely touched ground before they were off
again to the music--or would have been; but, to her immense surprise,
her partner had dropped on his knees before her and was clasping her
about the ankles. She heard a shout. The fire had caught the edge of
her skirt and her frock was burning.
It was over in a moment. His arms had stifled, extinguished the flame
before she knew of her danger. Still kneeling, holding her fast, he
looked up, and their eyes met. "Take me back," she murmured, swaying.
He rose, took her arm, and she found herself in the Mayows' doorway
with Cherry at her side. "Get away with you," said Cherry, "and leave
her to me!" And the young man went.
Cherry fell to examining the damaged skirt. "It's clean ruined," she
reported; "but I reckon that don't matter to a bride. John Penaluna'll
not be grudging the outfit. I must say, though--you quiet ones!"
"What have I done?"
"Done? Well, that's good. Only danced across the bonfire with young
Zeke Penhaligon. Why, mother can mind when that was every bit so good
as a marriage before parson and clerk!--and not so long ago neither."
"You go upstairs backwards," said Cherry an hour later. "It don't
matter our going together, only you mustn't speak a word for ever so.
You undress in the dark, and turn each thing inside out as you take
it off. Prayers? Yes, you can say your prayers if you like; but to
yourself, mind. 'Twould be best to say 'em backwards, I reckon; but I
never heard no instructions about prayers."
"Why, then you go to sleep and dream of your sweetheart."
"Oh! is that all?"
"Plenty enough, _I_ should think! I dessay it don't mean much to you;
but it means a lot to me, who han't got a sweetheart yet an' don't
know if ever I shall have one."
So the two girls solemnly mounted the stairs backwards, undressed in
the dark, and crept into bed. But Hester could not sleep. She lay for
an hour quite silent, motionless lest she should awake Cherry, with
eyes wide open, staring at a ray of moonlight on the ceiling, and from
that to the dimity window-curtains and the blind which waved ever so
gently in the night breeze. All the while she was thinking of the
dance; and by-and-by she sighed.
"Bain't you asleep?" asked Cherry.
"Nor I. Can't sleep a wink. It's they children overhead: they 'm up to
some devilment, I know, because Matthew Henry isn't snoring. He always
snores when he's asleep, and it shakes the house. I'll ha' gone to
see, only I was afeard to disturb 'ee. I'll war'n' they 'm up to some
may-games on the roof."
"Let me come with you," said Hester.
They rose. Hester slipped on her dressing-gown, and Cherry an old
macintosh, and they stole up the creaking stairs.
"Oh, you anointed limbs!" exclaimed Cherry, coming to a halt on the
The door of the children's garret stood ajar. On the landing outside a
short ladder led up to a trapdoor in the eaves, and through the open
trapway a broad ray of moonlight streamed upon the staircase.
"That's mother again! Now I know where Amelia got that cold in her
head. I'll war'n' the door hasn't been locked since Tuesday!"
She climbed the ladder, with Hester at her heels. They emerged through
the trap upon a flat roof, where on Mondays Mrs. Mayow spread her
family "wash" to dry in the harbour breezes. Was that a part of the
"wash" now hanging in a row along the parapet?
No; those dusky white objects were the younger members of the Mayow
family leaning over the tideway, each with a stick and line--fishing
for conger Matthew Henry explained, as Cherry took him by the ear; but
Elizabeth Jane declared that, after four nights of it, she, for her
part, limited her hopes to shannies.
Cherry swept them together, and filed them indoors through the trap
in righteous wrath, taking her opportunity to box the ears of each.
"Come'st along, Hester."
Hester was preparing to follow, when she heard a subdued laugh. It
seemed to come from the far side of the parapet, and below her. She
drew her dressing-gown close about her and leaned over.
She looked down upon a stout spar overhanging the tide, and thence
along a vessel's deck, empty, glimmering in the moonlight; upon
mysterious coils of rope; upon the dew-wet roof of a deck-house; upon
a wheel twinkling with brass-work, and behind it a white-painted
taffrail. Her eyes were travelling forward to the bowsprit again,
when, close by the foremast, they were arrested, and she caught her
There, with his naked feet on the bulwarks and one hand against the
house-wall, in the shadow of which he leaned out-board, stood a man.
His other hand grasped a short stick; and with it he was reaching
up to the window above him--her bedroom window. The window, she
remembered, was open at the bottom--an inch or two, no more. The man
slipped the end of his stick under the sash and prised it up quietly.
Next he raised himself on tiptoe, and thrust the stick a foot or so
through the opening; worked it slowly along the window-ledge, and
hesitated; then pulled with a light jerk, as an angler strikes a fish.
And Hester, holding her breath, saw the stick withdrawn, inch by inch;
and at the end of it a garment--her petticoat!
"How dare you!"
The thief whipped himself about, jumped back upon deck, and stood
smiling up at her, with the petticoat in his hand. It was the young
sailor she had danced with.
"How dare you? Oh, I'd be ashamed!"
"Midsummer Eve!" said he, and laughed.
"Give it up at once!" She dared not speak loudly, but felt herself
trembling with wrath.
"That's not likely." He unhitched it from the fish-hook he had spliced
to the end of his stick. "And after the trouble I've taken!"
"I'll call your captain, and he'll make you give it up."
"The old man's sleeping ashore, and won't be down till nine in the
morning. I'm alone here." He stepped to the fore-halliards. "Now I'll
just hoist this up to the topmast head, and you'll see what a pretty
flag it makes in the morning."
He turned his back and began to bend the petticoat on the halliards.
"No, no ... please ... it's cruel!"
He could hear that she was crying softly; hesitated, and faced round
"There now ... if it teases you so. There wasn' no harm meant. You
shall have it back--wait a moment!"
He came forward and clambered out on the bowsprit, and from the
bowsprit to the jib-boom beneath her. She was horribly afraid he would
fall, and broke off her thanks to whisper him to be careful, at which
he laughed. Standing there, and holding by the fore-topmast stay, he
could just reach a hand up to the parapet, and was lifting it, but
"No," said he, "I must have a kiss in exchange."
"Please don't talk like that. I thank you so much. Don't spoil your
"You've spoilt my joke. See, I can hoist myself on the stay here. Bend
over as far as you can, I swear you shall have the petticoat at once,
but I won't give it up without."
"I can't. I shall never think well of you again."
"Oh, yes, you will. Bend lower."
"Don't!" she murmured, but the moonlight, refracted from the water
below, glimmered on her face as she leaned towards him.
"Lower! What queer eyes you've got. Do you know what it means to kiss
over running water?" His lips whispered it close to her ear. And with
that, as she bent, some treacherous pin gave way, and her loosely
knotted hair fell in dark masses across his face. She heard him laugh
as he kissed her in the tangled screen of it.
The next moment she had snatched the bundle and sprung to her feet and
away. But as she passed by the trapdoor and hurriedly retwisted her
hair before descending, she heard him there, beyond the parapet,
Three weeks later she married John Penaluna. They spent their
honeymoon at home, as sober folks did in those days. John could spare
no time for holiday-making. He had entered on his duties as master of
Hall, and set with vigour about improving his inheritance. His first
step was to clear the long cliff-garden, which had been allowed to
drop out of cultivation from the day when he had cast down his mattock
there and run away to sea. It was a mere wilderness now. But he fell
to work like a navvy.
He fought it single-handed. He had no money hire extra labour, and
apparently had lost his old belief in borrowed capital, or perhaps had
grown timid with home-keeping. A single labourer--his father's old
hind--managed the cows and the small farmstead. Hester superintended
the dairy and the housework, with one small servant-maid at her beck
and call. And John tackled the gardens, hiring a boy or two in the
fruit-picking season, or to carry water in times of drought. So they
lived for two years tranquilly. As for happiness--well, happiness
depends on what you expect. It was difficult to know how much John
Penaluna (never a demonstrative man) had expected.
As far as folks could judge, John and Hester were happy enough. Day
after day, from sunrise to sunset, he fought with Nature in his small
wilderness, and slowly won--hewing, digging, terracing, cultivating,
reclaiming plot after plot, and adding it to his conquests. The slope
was sunny but waterless, and within a year Hester could see that his
whole frame stooped with the constant rolling of barrels and carriage
of buckets and waterpots up and down the weary incline. It seemed to
her that the hill thirsted continually; that no sooner was its thirst
slaked than the weeds and brambles took fresh strength and must be
driven back with hook and hoe. A small wooden summer-house stood in
the upper angle of the cliff-garden. John's father had set it there
twenty years before, and given it glazed windows; for it looked down
towards the harbour's mouth and the open sea beyond. Before his death
the brambles grew close about it, and level with the roof, choking the
path to it and the view from it. John had spent the best part of a
fortnight in clearing the ground and opening up the view again. And
here, on warm afternoons when her house work was over, Hester usually
sat with her knitting. She could hear her husband at work on the
terraces below; the sound of his pick and mattock mingled with the
clank of windlasses or the tick-tack of shipwrights' mallets, as she
knitted and watched the smoke of the little town across the water, the
knots of idlers on the quay, the children, like emmets, tumbling
in and out of the Mayows' doorway, the ships passing out to sea or
entering the harbour and coming to their anchorage.
One afternoon in midsummer week John climbed to his wife's
summer-house with a big cabbage-leaf in his hand, and within the
cabbage-leaf a dozen strawberries. (John's strawberries were known by
this time for the finest in the neighbourhood.) He held his offering
in at the open window, and was saying he would step up to the house
for a dish of cream; but stopped short.
"Hullo!" said he; for Hester was staring at him rigidly, as white as a
ghost. "What's wrong, my dear?" He glanced about him, but saw nothing
to account for her pallor--only the scorched hillside, alive with the
noise of grasshoppers, the hot air quivering above the bramble-bushes,
and beyond, a line of sunlight across the harbour's mouth, and a
schooner with slack canvas crawling to anchor on the flood-tide.
"You--you came upon me sudden," she explained.
"Stupid of me!" thought John; and going to the house, fetched not only
a dish of cream but the tea-caddy and a kettle, which they put to
boil outside the summer-house over a fire of dried brambles. The tea
revived Hester and set her tongue going. "'Tis quite a picnic!" said
John, and told himself privately that it was the happiest hour they
had spent together for many a month.
Two evenings later, on his return from St. Austell market, he happened
to let himself in by the door of the walled garden just beneath the
house, and came on a tall young man talking there in the dusk with his
"Why, 'tis Zeke Penhaligon! How d'ee do, my lad? Now, 'tis queer, but
only five minutes a-gone I was talkin' about 'ee with your skipper,
Nummy Tangye, t'other side o' the ferry. He says you'm goin' up for
your mate's certificate, and ought to get it. Very well he spoke of
'ee. Why don't Hester invite you inside? Come'st 'long in to supper,
Zeke followed them in, and this was the first of many visits. John was
one of those naturally friendly souls (there are many in the world)
who never go forth to seek friends, and to whom few friends ever come,
and these by accident. Zeke's talk set his tongue running on his own
brief _Wanderjahre_. And Hester would sit and listen to the pair with
heightened colour, which made John wonder why, as a rule, she shunned
company--it did her so much good. So it grew to be a settled thing
that whenever the _Touch-me-not_ entered port a knife and fork awaited
Zeke up at Hall, and the oftener he came the pleasanter was John's
Three years passed, and in the summer of the third year Captain Nummy
Tangye, of the _Touch-me-not_, relinquished his command. Captain
Tangye's baptismal name was Matthias, and Bideford, in Devon, his
native town. But the _Touch-me-not_, which he had commanded for
thirty-five years, happened to carry for figurehead a wooden
Highlander holding a thistle close to his chest, and against his thigh
a scroll with the motto, _Noli Me Tangere_, and this being, in popular
belief, an effigy of the captain taken in the prime of life, Mr.
Tangye cheerfully accepted the fiction with its implication of
Scottish descent, and was known at home and in various out-of-the-way
parts of the world as Nolim or Nummy. He even carried about a small
volume of Burns in his pocket; not from any love of poetry, but to
demonstrate, when required, that Scotsmen have their own notions of
Captain Tangye owned a preponderance of shares in the _Touch-me-not_,
and had no difficulty in getting Zeke (who now held a master's
certificate) appointed to succeed him. The old man hauled ashore to a
cottage with a green door and a brass knocker and a garden high
over the water-side. In this he spent the most of his time with a
glittering brass telescope of uncommon length, and in the intervals of
studying the weather and the shipping, watched John Penaluna at work
across the harbour.
The _Touch-me-not_ made two successful voyages under Zeke's command,
and was home again and discharging beside the Town Quay, when, one
summer's day, as John Penaluna leaned on his pitchfork beside a heap
of weeds arranged for burning he glanced up and saw Captain Tangye
hobbling painfully towards him across the slope. The old man had on
his best blue cut-away coat, and paused now and then to wipe his brow.
"I take this as very friendly," said John.
Captain Tangye grunted. "P'rhaps 'tis, p'rhaps 'tisn'. Better wait a
bit afore you say it."
"Stay and have a bit of dinner with me and the missus."
"Dashed if I do! 'Tis about her I came to tell 'ee."
"Yes?" John, being puzzled, smiled in a meaningless way.
"Zeke's home agen."
"Yes; he was up here two evenin's ago."
"He was here yesterday; he'll be here again to-day. He comes here too
often. I've got a telescope, John Penaluna, and I sees what's goin'
on. What's more, I guess what'll come of it. So I warn 'ee--as a
friend, of course."
John stared down at the polished steel teeth of his pitchfork,
glinting under the noonday sun.
"As a friend, of course," he echoed vaguely, still with the
meaningless smile on his face.
"I b'lieve she means to be a good 'ooman; but she's listenin' to
'en. Now, I've got 'en a ship up to Runcorn. He shan't sail the
_Touch-me-not_ no more. 'Tis a catch for 'en--a nice barquentine, five
hundred tons. If he decides to take the post (and I reckon he will) he
starts to-morrow at latest. Between this an' then there's danger, and
'tis for you to settle how to act."
A long pause followed. The clock across the harbour struck noon, and
this seemed to wake John Penaluna up. "Thank 'ee," he said. "I think
I'll be going in to dinner. I'll--I'll consider of it. You've took me
"Well, so long! I mean it friendly, of course."
"Of course. Better take the lower path; 'tis shorter, an' not so many
stones in it."
John stared after him as he picked his way down the hill; then fell to
rearranging his heaps of dried rubbish in an aimless manner. He had
forgotten the dinner-hour. Something buzzed in his ears. There was no
wind on the slope, no sound in the air. The shipwrights had ceased
their hammering, and the harbour at his feet lay still as a lake. They
were memories, perhaps, that buzzed so swiftly past his ears--trivial
recollections by the hundred, all so little, and yet now immensely
It was Hester, standing at the top of the slope and calling him. He
stuck his pitchfork in the ground, picked up his coat, and went slowly
in to dinner.
Next day, by all usage, he should have travelled in to market: but he
announced at breakfast that he was too busy, and would send Robert,
the hind in his stead. He watched his wife's face as he said it. She
certainly changed colour, and yet she did not seem disappointed. The
look that sprang into those grey eyes of her was more like one of
relief, or, if not of relief, of a sudden hope suddenly snatched at;
but this was absurd, of course. It would not fit in with the situation
At dinner he said: "You'll be up in the summer-house this afternoon? I
shouldn't wonder if Zeke comes to say good-bye. Tangye says he've got
the offer of a new berth, up to Runcorn."
"Yes, I know."
If she wished, or struggled, to say more he did not seem to observe
it, but rose from his chair, stooped and kissed her on the forehead,
and resolutely marched out to his garden. He worked that afternoon in
a small patch which commanded a view of the ferry and also of the road
leading up to Hall: and at half-past three, or a few minutes later,
dropped his spade and strolled down to the edge of his property, a low
cliff overhanging the ferry-slip.
Zeke, as he stepped out of the ferry-boat, looked with some confusion
on his face. He wore his best suit, with a bunch of sweet-william in
"Come to bid us good-bye, I s'pose? We've heard of your luck. Here,
scramble up this way if you can manage, and shake hands on your
Zeke obeyed. The climb seemed to fluster him; but the afternoon was a
hot one, in spite of a light westerly breeze. The two men moved side
by side across the garden-slope, and as they did so John caught sight
of a twinkle of sunshine on Captain Tangye's brass telescope across
They paused beside one of the heaps of rubbish. "This is a fine thing
for you, Zeke."
"Ay, pretty fair."
"I s'pose we sha'n't be seein' much of you now. 'Tis like an end of
old times. I reckoned we'd have a pipe together afore partin'." John
pulled out a stumpy clay and filled it. "Got a match about you?"
Zeke passed him one, and he struck it on his boot. "There, now," he
went on, "I meant to set a light to these here heaps of rubbish this
afternoon, and now I've come out without my matches." He waited for
the sulphur to finish bubbling, and then began to puff.
Zeke handed him half-a-dozen matches.
"I dunno how many 'twill take," said John. "S'pose we go round together
and light up. 'Twont' take us a quarter of an hour, an' we can talk by
Ten minutes later, Captain Tangye, across the harbour, shut his
telescope with an angry snap. The smoke of five-and-twenty bonfires
crawled up the hillside and completely hid John Penaluna's garden--hid
the two figures standing there, hid the little summer-house at the top
of the slope. It was enough to make a man swear, and Captain Tangye
John Penaluna drew a long breath.
"Well, good-bye and bless 'ee, Zeke. Hester's up in the summer-house.
I won't go up with 'ee; my back's too stiff. Go an' make your adoos to
her; she's cleverer than I be, and maybe will tell 'ee what we've both
got in our minds."
This was the third rash thing that John Penaluna did.
He watched Zeke up the hill, till the smoke hid him. Then he picked up
his spade. "Shall I find her, when I step home this evening? Please
And he did. She was there by the supper-table? waiting for him. Her
eyes were red. John pretended to have dropped something, and went back
for a moment to look for it. When he returned, neither spoke.
Years passed--many years. Their life ran on in its old groove.
John toiled from early morning to sunset, as before--and yet not quite
as before. There was a difference, and Captain Tangye would, no doubt,
have perceived it long before had not Death one day come on him in an
east wind and closed his activities with a snap, much as he had so
often closed his telescope.
For a year or two after Zeke's departure, John went on enlarging his
garden-bounds, though more languidly. Then followed four or five years
during which his conquests seemed to stand still. And then little by
little, the brambles and wild growth rallied. Perhaps--who knows?--the
assaulted wilderness had found its Joan of Arc. At any rate, it stood
up to him at length, and pressed in upon him and drove him back. Year
by year, on one excuse or another, an outpost, a foot or two, would
be abandoned and left to be reclaimed by the weeds. They were the
assailants now. And there came a time when they had him at bay, a
beaten man, in a patch of not more than fifty square feet, the centre
of his former domain. "Time, not Corydon," had conquered him.
He was working here one afternoon when a boy came up the lower path
from the ferry, and put a telegram into his hands. He read it over,
thought for a while, and turned to climb the old track towards the
summer-house, but brambles choked it completely, and he had to fetch a
circuit and strike the grass walk at the head of the slope.
He had not entered the summer-house for years, but he found Hester
knitting there as usual; and put the telegram into her hands.
"Zeke is drowned." He paused and added--he could not help it--"You'll
not need to be looking out to sea any more."
Hester made as if to answer him, but rose instead and laid a hand on
his breast. It was a thin hand, and roughened with housework. With the
other she pointed to where the view had lain seaward. He turned. There
was no longer any view. The brambles hid it, and must have hidden it
for many years.
"Then what have you been thinkin' of all these days?"
Her eyes filled; but she managed to say, "Of you, John."
"It's with you as with me. The weeds have us, every side, each in our
corner." He looked at his hands, and with sudden resolution turned and
"Where are you going?"
"To fetch a hook. I'll have that view open again before nightfall, or
my name's not John Penaluna."
CAPTAIN DICK AND CAPTAIN JACKA
A REPORTED TALE OF TWO FRIGATES AND TWO LUGGERS
I dare say you've never heard tell of my wife's grandfather, Captain
John Tackabird--or Cap'n Jacka, as he was always called. He was a
remarkable man altogether, and he died of a seizure in the Waterloo
year; an earnest Methody all his days, and towards the end a highly
respected class-leader. To tell you the truth, he wasn't much to look
at, being bald as a coot and blind of one eye, besides other defects.
His mother let him run too soon, and that made his legs bandy. And
then a bee stung him, and all his hair came off. And his eye he lost
in a little job with the preventive men; but his lid drooped so, you'd
hardly know 'twas missing. He'd a way, too, of talking to himself as
he went along, so that folks reckoned him silly. It was queer how that
maggot stuck in their heads; for in handling a privateer or a Guernsey
cargo--sink the or run it straight--there wasn't his master in
Polperro. The very children could tell 'ee.
I'm telling of the year 'five, when the most of the business in
Polperro--free-trade and privateering--was managed (as the world
knows) by Mr. Zephaniah Job. This Job he came from St. Ann's--by
reason of his having shied some person's child out of a window in
a fit of temper--and opened school at Polperro, where he taught
rule-of-three and mensuration; also navigation, though he only
knew about it on paper. By-and-by he became accountant to all the
free-trade companies and agent for the Guernsey merchants; and at last
blossomed out and opened a bank with 1_l_. and 2_l_. notes, and bigger
ones which he drew on Christopher Smith, Esquire, Alderman of London.
Well, this Job was agent for a company of adventurers called the
"Pride o' the West," and had ordered a new lugger to be built for them
down at Mevagissey. She was called the _Unity_, 160 tons (that would
be about fifty as they measure now), mounting sixteen carriage guns
and carrying sixty men, nice and comfortable. She was lying on the
ways, ready to launch, and Mr. Job proposed to Cap'n Jacka to sail
over to Mevagissey and have a look at her.
Cap'n Jacka was pleased as Punch, of course. He'd quite made up his
mind he was to command her, seeing that, first and last, in the
old _Pride_ lugger, he had cleared over 40 per cent, for this very
Company. So they sailed over and took thorough stock of the new craft,
and Jacka praised this and suggested that, and carried on quite as if
he'd got captain's orders inside his hat--which was where he usually
carried them. Mr. Job looked sidelong down his nose--he was a leggy
old galliganter, with stiverish grey hair and a jawbone long enough to
make Cap'n Jacka a new pair of shins--and said he, "What do'ee think
"Well," said Jacka, "any fool can see she'll run, and any fool can see
she'll reach. I reckon she'll come about as fast as th' old _Pride_,
and if she don't sit nigher the wind than the new revenue cutter it'll
be your sailmaker's fault."
"That's a first-class report," said Mr. Job. "I was thinking of
offering you the post of mate in her."
Cap'n Jacka felt poorly all of a sudden. "Aw," he asked, "who's to be
"The Company was thinkin' of young Dick Hewitt."
"Aw," said Cap'n Jacka again, and shut his mouth tight. Young Dick
Hewitt's father had shares in the Company and money to buy votes
"What do'ee think?" asked Mr. Job, still slanting his eye down his
"I'll go home an' take my wife's opinion," said Cap'n Jacka.
So when he got home he told it all to his funny little wife that he
doted on like the apple of his one eye. She was a small, round body,
with beady eyes that made her look like a doll on a pen-wiper; and she
said, of course, that the Company was a parcel of rogues and fools
"Young Dick Hewitt is every bit so good a seaman as I be," said Cap'n
"He's a boaster."
"So he is, but he's a smart seaman for all."
"I declare if the world was to come to an end you'd sit quiet an'
never say a word."
"I dessay I should. I'd leave you to speak up for me."
"Baint'ee goin' to say _nothin_', then?"
"Iss; I'm goin' to lay it before the Lord."
So down 'pon their knees these old souls went upon the limeash, and
asked for guidance, and Cap'n Jacka, after a while, stretched out
his hand to the shelf for Wesley's Hymns. They always pitched a hymn
together before going to bed. When he'd got the book in his hand he
saw that 'twasn't Wesley at all, but another that he never studied
from the day his wife gave it to him, because it was called the "Only
Hymn Book,"[A] and he said the name was as good as a lie. Hows'ever,
he opened it now, and came slap on the hymn:--
[Footnote A: Probably "Olney."]
_Tho' troubles assail and dangers affright,
If foes all should fail and foes all unite,
Yet one thing assures us, whatever betide,
I trust in all dangers the Lord will provide_.
They sang it there and then to the tune of "O all that pass by," and
the very next morning Cap'n Jacka walked down and told Mr. Job he was
ready to go for mate under young Dick Hewitt.
More than once, the next week or two, he came near to repenting; for
Cap'n Dick was very loud about his promotion, especially at the Three
Pilchards; and when the _Unity_ came round and was fitting--very slow,
too, by reason of delay with her letters of marque--he ordered Cap'n
Jacka back and forth like a stevedore's dog. "There was to be no 'nigh
enough' on _this_ lugger"--that was the sort of talk; and oil and
rotten-stone for the very gun-swivels. But Jacka knew the fellow, and
even admired the great figure and its loud ways. "He's a cap'n, anyhow,"
he told his wife; "'twon't be 'all fellows to football' while he's in
command. And I've seen him handle the _Good Intent_, under Hockin."
Mrs. Tackabird said nothing. She was busy making sausages and setting
down a stug of butter for her man's use on the voyage. But he knew she
would be a disappointed woman if he didn't contrive in some honest way
to turn the tables on the Company and their new pet. For days together
he went about whistling "Tho' troubles assail ... "; and the very
night before sailing, as they sat quiet, one each side of the hearth,
he made the old woman jump by saying all of a sudden, "Coals o' fire!"
"What d'ee mean by that?" she asked.
"Nothin'. I was thinkin' to myself, and out it popped."
"Well, 'tis like a Providence! For, till you said that, I'd clean
forgot the sifter for your cuddy fire. Mustn't waste cinders now that
you're only a mate."
Being a woman, she couldn't forego that little dig; but she got up
there and then and gave the old boy a kiss.
She wouldn't walk down to the quay, though, next day, to see him off,
being certain (she said) to lose her temper at the sight of Cap'n
Dick carrying on as big as bull's beef, not to mention the sneering
shareholders and their wives. So Cap'n Jacka took his congees at his
own door, and turned, half-way down the street, and waved a good-bye
with the cinder-sifter. She used to say afterwards that this was
The _Unity_ ran straight across until she made Ushant Light; and after
cruising about for a couple of days, in moderate weather (it being the
first week in April) Cap'n Dick laid her head east and began to nose
up Channel, keeping an easy little distance off the French coast. You
see, the Channel was full of our ships and neutrals in those days,
which made fat work for the French privateers; but the Frenchies' own
vessels kept close over on their coast; and even so, the best our boys
could expect, nine times out of ten when they'd crossed over, was to
run against a _chasse-maree_ dodging between Cherbourg and St. Malo or
Morlaix, with naval stores or munitions of war.
However, Cap'n Dick had very good luck. One morning, about three
leagues N.W. of Roscoff, what should he see but a French privateering
craft of about fifty tons (new measurement) with an English trader in
tow--a London brig, with a cargo of all sorts, that had fallen behind
her convoy and been snapped up in mid-channel. Cap'n Dick had the
weather-gauge, as well as the legs of the French _chasse-maree_. She
was about a league to leeward when the morning lifted and he first
spied her. By seven o'clock he was close, and by eight had made
himself master of her and the prize, with the loss of two men only and
four wounded, the Frenchman being short-handed, by reason of the crew
he'd put into the brig to work her into Morlaix.
This was first-rate business. To begin with, the brig (she was called
the _Martha Edwards_, of London) would yield a tidy little sum for
salvage. The wind being fair for Plymouth, Cap'n Dick sent her into
that port--her own captain and crew working her, of course, and thirty
Frenchmen on board in irons. And at Plymouth she arrived without any
Then came the _chasse-maree_. She was called the _Bean Pheasant_,[A]
an old craft and powerful leaky; but she mounted sixteen guns, the
same as the _Unity_, and ought to have made a better run from her;
but first, she hadn't been able to make her mind to desert her prize
pretty well within sight of port; and in the second place her men had
a fair job to keep her pumps going. Cap'n Dick considered, and then
turned to old Jacka.
[Footnote A: Probably _Bienfaisant_.]
"I'm thinking," said he, "I'll have to put you aboard with a prize
crew to work her back to Polperro."
"The Lord will provide," said Jacka, though he had looked to see a
little more of the fun.
So aboard he went with all his belongings, not forgetting his wife's
sausages and the stug of butter and the cinder-sifter. Towards the end
of the action about fifteen of the Johnnies had got out the brig's
large boat and pulled her ashore, where, no doubt, they reached, safe
and sound. So Jacka hadn't more than a dozen prisoners to look after,
and prepared for a comfortable little homeward trip.
"I'll just cruise between this and Jersey," said Cap'n Dick; "and at
the week-end, if there's nothing doing, we'll put back for home and
So they parted; and by half-past ten Cap'n Jacka had laid the _Bean
Pheasant's_ head north-and-by-west, and was reaching along nicely for
home with a stiff breeze and nothing to do but keep the pumps going
and attend to his eating and drinking between whiles.
The prize made a good deal of water, but was a weatherly craft for all
that, and on this point of sailing shipped nothing but what she took
in through her seams; the worst of the mischief being forward, where
her stem had worked a bit loose with age and started the bends. Cap'n
Jacka, however, thought less of the sea--that was working up into a
nasty lop--than of the weather, which turned thick and hazy as the
wind veered a little to west of south. But even this didn't trouble
him much. He had sausages for breakfast and sausages for dinner, and,
as evening drew on, and he knew he was well on the right side of the
Channel, he knocked out his pipe and began to think of sausages for
Just then one of the hands forward dropped pumping, and sang out that
there was a big sail on the starboard bow. "I b'lieve 'tis a frigate,
sir," he said, spying between his hands.
So it was. She had sprung on them out of the thick weather. But now
Cap'n Jacka could see the white line on her and the ports quite plain,
and not two miles away.
"What nation?" he bawled.
"I can't make out as she carries any flag. Losh me! if there bain't
Sure as I'm telling you, another frigate there was, likewise standing
down towards them under easy canvas, on the same starboard tack a mile
astern, but well to windward of the first.
"Whatever they be," said Cap'n Jacka, "they're bound to head us off,
and they're bound to hail us. I go get my tea," he said; "for, if
they're Frenchmen, 'tis my last meal for months to come."
So he fetched out his frying-pan and plenty sausages and fried away
for dear life--with butter too, which was ruinous waste. He shared
round the sausages, two to each man, and kept the _Bean Pheasant_ to
her course until the leading frigate fired a shot across her bows,
and ran up the red-white-and-blue; and then, knowing the worst, he
rounded-to as meek as a lamb.
The long and short of it was that, inside the hour the dozen Frenchmen
were free, and Cap'n Jacka and his men in their place, ironed hand
and foot; and the _Bean Pheasant_ working back to France again with a
young gentleman of the French navy aboard in command of her.
But 'tis better be lucky born, they say, than a rich man's son. By
this time it was blowing pretty well half a gale from sou'-sou'-west,
and before midnight a proper gale. The _Bean Pheasant_ being kept head
to sea, took it smack-and-smack on the breast-bone, which was her
leakiest spot; and soon, being down by the head, made shocking weather
of it. 'Twas next door to impossible to work the pump forward. Towards
one in the morning old Jacka was rolling about up to his waist as he
sat, and trying to comfort himself by singing "Tho' troubles assail,"
when the young French gentleman came running with one of his Johnnies
and knocked the irons off the English boys, and told them to be
brisk and help work the pumps, or the lugger--that was already hove
to--would go down under them.
"But where be you going?" he sings out--or French to that effect. For
Jacka was moving aft towards the cuddy there.
Jacka fetched up his best smuggling French, and answered: "This here
lugger is going down. Any fool can see that, as you're handling her.
And I'm going down on a full stomach."
With that he reached an arm into the cuddy, where he'd stacked his
provisions that evening on top of the frying-pan. But the labouring of
the ship had knocked everything there of a heap, and instead of the
frying-pan he caught hold of his wife's cinder-sifter.
At that moment the Frenchman ran up behind and caught him a kick.
"Come out o' that, you old villain, and fall in at the after pump!"
"Aw, very well," said Jack, turning at once--for the cinder-sifter had
given him a bright idea; and he went right aft to his comrades. By
this time the Frenchmen were busy getting the first gun overboard.
They were so long that Jacka's boys had the after-pump pretty well to
themselves, and between spells one or two ran and fetched buckets,
making out 'twas for extra baling; and all seemed to be working like
niggers. But by-and-by they called out all together with one woeful
voice, "The pump is chucked! The pump is chucked!"
At this all the Frenchmen came running, the young officer leading, and
crying to know what was the matter.
"A heap of cinders got awash, sir," says Jacka. "The pump's clogged
wi' em, and won't work."
"Then we're lost men!" says the officer; and he caught hold by the
foremast, and leaned his face against it like a child.
This was Jacka's chance. "'Lost,' is it? Iss, I reckon you _be_
lost!--and inside o' ten minutes, unless you hearken to rayson. Here
you be, not twenty mile from the English coast, as I make it, and with
a fair wind. Here you be, three times that distance and more from any
port o' your own, the wind dead on her nose, and you ram-stamming the
weak spot of her at a sea that's knocking the bows to Jericho. Now,
Mossoo, you put her about, and run for Plymouth. She may do it. Pitch
over a couple of guns forr'ad, and quit messing with a ship you don't
understand, an' I'll warn she _will_ do it."
The young Frenchy was plucky as ginger. "What! Take her into Plymouth,
and be made prisoner. I'll sink first!" says he.
But you see, his crew weren't navy men to listen to him; and they had
wives and families, and knew that Cap'n Jacka's was their only chance.
In five minutes, for all the officer's stamping and morblewing they
had the _Bean Pheasant_ about and were running for the English coast.
Now I must go back and tell you what was happening to the _Unity_ in
all this while. About four in the afternoon Cap'n Dick, not liking the
look of the weather at all, and knowing that, so long as it lasted, he
might whistle for prizes, changed his mind and determined to run back
to Polperro, so as to re-ship Cap'n Jacka and the prize crew almost
as soon as they arrived. By five o'clock he was well on his way, the
_Unity_ skipping along quite as if she enjoyed it; and ran before the
gale all that night.
Towards three in the morning the wind moderated, and by half-past four
the gale had blown itself out. Just about then the look-out came to
Cap'n Dick, who had turned in for a spell, and reported two ships'
lights, one on each side of them. The chances against their being
Frenchmen, out here in this part of the Channel, were about five to
two; so Cap'n Dick cracked on; and at daybreak--about a quarter after
five--found himself right slap between the very two frigates that had
called Jacka to halt the evening before.
One was fetching along on the port tack, and the other on the weather
side of him, just making ready to put about. They both ran up the
white ensign at sight of him; but this meant nothing. And in a few
minutes the frigate to starboard fired a shot across his bows and
hoisted her French flag.
Cap'n Dick feigned to take the hint. He shortened sail and rounded at
a nice distance under the lee of the enemy--both frigates now lying-to
quite contentedly with their sails aback, and lowering their boats.
But the first boat had hardly dropped a foot from the davits when
he sung out, "Wurroo, lads!" and up again went the _Unity's_ great
lug-sail in a jiffy. The Frenchmen, like their sails, were all aback;
and before they could fire a gun the _Unity_ was pinching up to
windward of them, with Cap'n Dick at the helm, and all the rest of the
crew flat on their stomachs. Off she went under a rattling shower from
the enemy's bow-chasers and musketry, and was out of range without
a man hurt, and with no more damage than a hole or two in the
mizzen-lug. The Frenchmen were a good ten minutes trimming sails and
bracing their yards for the chase; and by that time Cap'n Dick had
slanted up well on their weather bow. Before breakfast-time he was
shaking his sides at the sight of seven hundred-odd Johnnies vainly
spreading and trimming more canvas to catch up their lee-way (for at
first the lazy dogs had barely unreefed courses after the gale, and
still had their topgallant masts housed). Likely enough they had work
on hand more important than chasing a small lugger all day; for at
seven o'clock they gave up and stood away to the south-east, and left
the _Unity_ free to head back homeward on her old course.
'Twas a surprising feat, to slip out of grasp in this way, and past
two broadsides, any gun of which could have sent him to the bottom;
and Cap'n Dick wasn't one to miss boasting over it. Even during the
chase he couldn't help carrying on in his usual loud and cheeky way,
waving good-bye to the Mossoos, offering them a tow-rope, and the
like; but now the deck wasn't big enough to hold his swagger, and in
their joy of escaping a French prison, the men encouraged him, so that
to hear them talk you'd have thought he was Admiral Nelson and Sir
Sidney Smith rolled into one.
By nine o'clock they made out the Eddystone on their starboard bow;
and a little after---the morning being bright and clear, with a nice
steady breeze--they saw a sail right ahead of them, making in for
Plymouth Sound. And who should it be but the old _Bean Pheasant_, deep
as a log! Cap'n Dick cracked along after her, and a picture she was as
he drew up close! Six of her guns had gone; her men were baling in two
gangs, and still she was down a bit by the head, and her stern yawing
like a terrier's tail when his head's in a rabbit-hole. And there at
the tiller stood Cap'n Jacka, his bald head shining like a statue of
fun, and his one eye twinkling with blessed satisfaction as he cocked
it every now and then for a glance over his right shoulder.
"Hullo! What's amiss?" sang out Cap'n Dick, as the _Unity_ fetched
"Aw, nothin', nothin'. 'Tho' troubles assail an' dangers'--Stiddy
there, you old angletwitch!--She's a bit too fond o' smelling the
wind, that's all."
As a matter of fact she'd taken more water than Jacka cared to think
about, now that the danger was over.
"But what brings 'ee here? An' what cheer wi' _you?_" he asked.
This was Cap'n Dick's chance. "I've had a run between two French
frigates," he boasted, "in broad day, an' given the slip to both!"
"Dear, now!" said Cap'n Jacka. "So have I--in broad day, too. They
must ha' been the very same. What did 'ee take out of 'em?"
"Take! They were two war frigates, I tell 'ee!"
"Iss, iss; don't lose your temper. All I managed to take was this
young French orcifer here; but I thought, maybe, that you--having a
Jacka chuckled a bit; but he wasn't one to keep a joke going for
"Look-y-here, Cap'n," he said; "I'll hear your tale when we get into
dock, and you shall hear mine. What I want 'ee to do just now is to
take this here lugger again and sail along in to Plymouth with her as
your prize. I wants, if possible, to spare the feelin's of this young
gentleman, an' make it look that he was brought in by force. For so he
was, though not in the common way. An' I likes the fellow, too, though
he do kick terrible hard."
* * * * *
They do say that two days later, when Cap'n Jacka walked up to his own
door, he carried the cinder-sifter under his arm; and that, before
ever he kissed his wife, he stepped fore and hitched it on a nail
right in the middle of the wall over the chimney-piece, between John
Wesley and the weather-glass.
THE POISONED ICE
We were four in the _patio_. And the _patio_ was magnificent, with a
terrace of marble running round its four sides, and in the middle a
fountain splashing in a marble basin. I will not swear to the marble;
for I was a boy of ten at the time, and that is a long while ago.
But I describe as I recollect. It was a magnificent _patio_, at all
events, and the house was a palace. And who the owner might be, Felipe
perhaps knew. But he was not one to tell, and the rest of us neither
knew nor cared.
The two women lay stretched on the terrace, with their heads close
together and resting against the house wall. And I sat beside them
gnawing a bone. The sun shone over the low eastern wall upon the
fountain and upon Felipe perched upon the rim of the basin, with his
lame leg stuck out straight and his mouth working as he fastened a
nail in the end of his beggar's crutch.
I cannot tell you the hour exactly, but it was early morning, and the
date the twenty-fourth of February, 1671. I learnt this later. We in
the _patio_ did not bother ourselves about the date, for the world had
come to an end, and we were the last four left in it. For three weeks
we had been playing hide-and-seek with the death that had caught and
swallowed everyone else; and for the moment it was quite enough for
the women to sleep, for me to gnaw my bone in the shade, and for
Felipe to fasten the loose nail in his crutch. Many windows opened on
the _patio_. Through the nearest, by turning my head a little, I could
see into a noble room lined with pictures and heaped with furniture
and torn hangings. All of it was ours, or might be, for the trouble of
stepping inside and taking possession. But the bone (I had killed a
dog for it) was a juicy one, and I felt no inclination to stir. There
was the risk, too, of infection--of the plague.
"Hullo!" cried Felipe, slipping on his shoe, with the heel of which he
had been hammering. "You awake?"
I put Felipe last of us in order, for he was an old fool. Yet I must
say that we owed our lives to him. Why he took so much trouble and
spent so much ingenuity in saving them is not to be guessed: for the
whole city of Panama comprehended no two lives more worthless than old
Dona Teresa's (as we called her) and mine: and as for the Carmelite,
Sister Marta, who had joined our adventures two days before, she, poor
soul, would have thanked him for putting a knife into her and ending
But Felipe, though a fool, had a fine sense of irony. And so for
three weeks Dona Teresa and I--and for forty-eight hours Sister Marta
too--had been lurking and doubling, squatting in cellars crawling on
roofs, breaking cover at night to snatch our food, all under Felipe's
generalship. And he had carried us through. Perhaps he had a soft
corner in his heart for old Teresa. He and she were just of an age,
the two most careless-hearted outcasts in Panama; and knew each
other's peccadilloes to a hair. I went with Teresa. Heaven knows in
what gutter she had first picked me up, but for professional ends I
was her starving grandchild, and now reaped the advantages of that
"How can a gentleman sleep for your thrice-accursed hammering?" was my
answer to Felipe Fill-the-Bag.
"The city is very still this morning," he observed, sniffing the air,
which was laden still with the scent of burnt cedar-wood. "The English
dogs will have turned their backs on us for good. I heard their bugles
at daybreak; since then, nothing."
"These are fair quarters, for a change."
He grinned. "They seem to suit the lady, your grandmother. She has not
groaned for three hours. I infer that her illustrious sciatica is no
longer troubling her."
Our chatter awoke the Carmelite. She opened her eyes, unclasped her
hand, which had been locked round one of the old hag's, and sat up
blinking, with a smile which died away very pitiably.
"Good morning, Senorita," said I.
She bent over Teresa, but suddenly drew back with a little "Ah!" and
stared, holding her breath.
"What is the matter?"
She was on her knees, now; and putting out a hand, touched Teresa's
skinny neck with the tips of two fingers.
"What is the matter?" echoed Felipe, coming forward from the fountain.
"She is dead!" said I, dropping the hand which I had lifted.
"Jesu--" began the Carmelite, and stopped: and we stared at one
another, all three.
With her eyes wide and fastened on mine, Sister Marta felt for the
crucifix and rope of beads which usually hung from her waist. It was
gone: but her hands fumbled for quite a minute before the loss came
home to her brain. And then she removed her face from us and bent
her forehead to the pavement. She made no sound, but I saw her feet
"Come, come," said Felipe, and found no more to say.
I can guess now a little of what was passing through her unhappy mind.
Women are women and understand one another. And Teresa, unclean and
abandoned old hulk though she was, had stood by this girl when she
came to us flying out of the wrack like a lost ship. "Dear, dear,
dear"--I remembered scraps of her talk--"the good Lord is debonair,
and knows all about these things. He isn't like a man, as you might
say": and again, "Why bless you, He's not going to condemn you for a
matter that I could explain in five minutes. 'If it comes to that,' I
should say--and I've often noticed that a real gentleman likes you all
the better for speaking up--'If it comes to that, Lord, why did
You put such bloody-minded pirates into the world?' Now to my
thinking"--and I remember her rolling a leaf of tobacco as she said
it--"it's a great improvement to the mind to have been through the
battle, whether you have won or lost; and that's why, when on earth,
He chose the likes of us for company."
This philosophy was not the sort to convince a religious girl: but I
believe it comforted her. Women are women, as I said; and when the
ship goes down a rotten plank is better than none. So the Carmelite
had dropped asleep last night with her hand locked round Teresa's: and
so it happened to Teresa this morning to be lamented, and sincerely
lamented, by one of the devout. It was almost an edifying end; and the
prospect of it, a few days ago, would have tickled her hugely.
"But what did she die of?" I asked Felipe, when we had in delicacy
withdrawn to the fountain, leaving the Carmelite alone with her grief.
He opened his mouth and pointed a finger at it.
"But only last evening I offered to share my bone with her: and she
told me to keep it for myself."
"Your Excellency does not reason so well as usual," said Felipe,
without a smile on his face. "The illustrious defunct had a great
affection for her grandchild, which caused her to overlook the
ambiguity of the relationship--and other things."
"But do you mean to say--"
"She was a personage of great force of character, and of some virtues
which escaped recognition, being unusual. I pray," said he, lifting
the rim of his rusty hat, "that her soul may find the last peace!
I had the honour to follow her career almost from the beginning. I
remember her even as a damsel of a very rare beauty: but even then as
I say, her virtues were unusual, and less easily detected than her
failings. I, for example, who supposed myself to know her thoroughly,
missed reckoning upon her courage, or I had spent last night in
seeking food. I am a fool and a pig."
"And consequently, while we slept--"
"Excuse me, I have not slept."
"You have been keeping watch?"
"Not for the buccaneers, my Lord. They left before daybreak. But the
dogs of the city are starving, even as we: and like us they have taken
to hunting in company. Now this is a handsome courtyard, but the gate
does not happen to be too secure."
I shivered. Felipe watched me with an amiable grin.
"But let us not," he continued, "speak contemptuously of our
inheritance. It is, after all, a very fair kingdom for three. Captain
Morgan and his men are accomplished scoundrels, but careless:
they have not that eye for trifles which is acquired in our noble
profession, and they have no instinct at all for hiding-places. I
assure you this city yet contains palaces to live in, linen and silver
plate to keep us comfortable. Food is scarce, I grant, but we shall
have wines of the very first quality. We shall live royally. But,
alas! Heaven has exacted more than its tithe of my enjoyment. I had
looked forward to seeing Teresa in a palace of her own. What a queen
she would have made, to be sure!"
"Are we three the only souls in Panama?"
Felipe rubbed his chin. "I think there is one other. But he is a
philosopher, and despises purple and linen. We who value them, within
reason, could desire no better subject." He arose and treated me to
a regal bow. "Shall we inspect our legacy, my brother, and make
arrangements for the coronation?"
"We might pick up something to eat on the way," said I.
Felipe hobbled over to the terrace. "Poor old ----," he muttered,
touching the corpse with his staff, and dwelling on the vile word with
pondering affection. "Senorita," said he aloud, "much grief is not
good on an empty stomach. If Juan here will lift her feet--"
We carried Dona Teresa into the large cool room, and laid her on a
couch. Felipe tore down the silken hangings from one of the windows
and spread them over her to her chin, which he tied up with the yellow
kerchief which had been her only headgear for years. The Carmelite
meanwhile detached two heavy silver sconces from a great candelabrum
and set them by her feet. But we could find no tinder-box to light the
candles--big enough for an altar.
"She will do handsomely until evening," said Felipe, and added under
his breath, "but we must contrive to fasten the gate of the _patio_."
"I will watch by her," said Sister Marta.
Felipe glanced at us and shook his head. I knew he was thinking of
the dogs. "That would not do at all, Senorita. 'For the living, the
living,' as they say. If we live, we will return this evening and
attend to her; but while my poor head remains clear (and Heaven knows