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The Westcotes by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch

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but the original owner had simply written in, "Dorothea Westcote, her
book," on the first page, with the date 1687 below, and filled four-and-
twenty of its blank pages with poetry (presumably her favourite pieces),
copied in a highly ornate hand. Presumably also she had wearied of the
work, let the book lie, and coming to it later, turned it upside down
and started with a more useful purpose: for three pages at the end
contained several household recipes in the same writing grown severer,
including "Garland Wine (Mrs. Massiter's Way)" and "A good Cottage Pie
for a Pore Person."

Now the family history left no doubt that in 1687 this Dorothy had been
a bare fifteen years old; and although some of the entries must have
been made later (for at least two of them had not been composed at the
time), the bulk of the poems proved her a sprightly young lady whenever
she transcribed them. Indeed, some were so very free in calling a spade
a spade, that our Dorothea, having annexed the book, years ago, on the
strength of her name, and dipped within, had closed it in sudden virgin
terror and thrust it away at the back of her wardrobe.

There it had lain until disinterred in the hurried search for linen for
Mr. Raoul's wound. Next morning Dorothea was on the point of hiding it
again, when, as she opened the covers idly, her eyes fell on these lines

"But at my back I alwaies hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before me lie
Desarts of vast Eternitie . . ."

She read on. The poem, after all, turned out to be but a lover's appeal
to his mistress to give over coyness and use time while she might; but
Dorothea wondered why its solemn language should have hit her
namesake's fancy, and, turning a few more pages, discovered that this
merry dead girl had chosen and copied out other verses which were more
than solemn. How had she dug these gloomy gems out of Donne, Ford,
Webster, and set them here among loose songs and loose epigrams from
_Wit's Remembrancer_ and the like? for gems they were, though Dorothea
did not know it nor whence they came. Dorothea had small sense of
poetry: it was the personal interest which led her on. To be sure the
little animal (she had already begun to construct a picture of her)
might have secreted these things for no more reason than their beauty,
as a squirrel will pick up a ruby ring and hide it among his nuts.
But why were they, all so darkly terrible? Had she, being young, been
afraid to die? Rather it seemed as if now and then, in the midst of
her mirth, she had paused and been afraid to live.

And in the end she had married a Devonshire squire, which on the face
of it is no darkly romantic thing to do. But it was over the maiden
that our Dorothea pondered, until by and by the small shade took
features and a place in her leisure time: a very companionable shade,
though tantalising; and innocent, though given to mischievously
sportive hints. Dorothea sometimes wondered what her own fate would
have been, with this naughtiness in her young blood--and this

It was sentiment, of course; but it is also a fact that this ghost of
a kinswoman brought help to her. For such a hurt as hers the specific
is to get away from self and look into such human thought as is kindly
yet judicial. Some find this help in philosophy, many more in wise
Dorothea had no philosophy, and no human being to consult; for
admirably as Endymion had behaved, he remained a person with obvious
limits. The General held aloof: she had no reason to fear that he
suspected her secret. And so _Natura inventrix_, casting about for a
cure, found and brought her this companion of her own sex from
between the covers of a book.

I set down the fact merely and its share in Dorothea's recovery.



More than a year had passed when, one February morning, as he left the
breakfast table, Endymion handed Dorothea a slip of paper.

"Do you think we can entertain at dinner next Wednesday? If you can
manage it, I wish these invitations written out and despatched before

"Next Wednesday?" Dorothea's eyebrows went up. Invitations to dine at
Bayfield had always, as we know, been issued just three weeks ahead.

"If it will not inconvenience you," he answered; and his manner added,
as plainly as words, "I beg that you will not press for my reasons."
He was booted already for his ride into Axcester.

Dorothea ran her eye down the list: The Vicomte de Tocqueville, General
Rochambeau. . . . All the prisoners of distinction were included as
well as the chief notables of the neighbourhood, which made it a long
one, even without a full balance of ladies.

She went off to her room at once and penned the letters--twenty-five
in all.

Naturally, this break in the Bayfield custom set speculation going
among the invited; but it is doubtful if Narcissus, any more than
Dorothea, knew the reason of it. And on Wednesday, when the guests
assembled, the only one who might be suspected of sharing Endymion's
secret was (oddly enough) General Rochambeau. The old fellow seemed
ten years younger, and wore an air of sportiveness, almost of raillery,
as he caught his host's eye. The compliments he paid Lady Bateson
across the table were prodigious, and gave that good soul a hazy
sensation of being wafted back to the court of Louis XV, and behaving
brilliantly under the circumstances.

"Really, my dear Mr. Westcote," she protested at length, being a
chartered utterer of indiscretions which (as she delighted to prove)
Endymion would not tolerate in others, but took from her and allowed,
with a magisterial smile, to pass,--"really, I trust you have not
taken off the General's parole, or to-morrow I shall have to lock my
gates for fear of a chaise-and-pair."

"Ah, to-morrow!" the General echoed, turning to Endymion, with a twinkle
of malice in his eye. "But when Mr. Westcote releases us, it will be en
masse; and then, believe me, I shall come with an army, since I
underrate neither the strength of the fortress nor the feeling of the

"That reminds me," put in a Mr. Saxby, of Yeovil, or near by, "we have
heard of no escape or attempts at escape from Axcester this winter. I
congratulate you, Westcote--if the General will not think it

"Reassure yourself, my dear sir." General Rochambeau bowed. "No," he
continued, lifting his eyes for a moment towards Dorothea, "in one way
or another we are rid of our fence-breakers, and the rest must share
the credit with our Commissary."

"And yet the temptation--," began Lady Bateson.

"Is great, Madame, for some temperaments. But the Vicomte, here, and I
have tried to teach our poor compatriots that in resisting it they
fight for France as surely as if they stormed a breach. And, by the
way, I heard a story this morning--if the company would care to hear--"

They begged him to tell it.

"But not if the ladies leave us to our wine." He turned to Dorothea.
"If Miss Westcote will rally and stay her forces, good; for, though it
came to me casually in a letter, it is a tale of the sort which used
to be fashionable in my youth--ah! long before M. le Tocqueville
remembers--and for the telling it demanded an audience of ladies,
which must help me, who am rusty, to recapture the style, if I can."

He pushed back his chair and, crossing his legs, leaned forward and
pushed his fingers across the polished mahogany till they touched the
base of a wine-glass beside his plate. One or two of the guests smiled
at this formal opening. The Vicomte's eyes showed something of
amusement behind their apathy. But all listened.

"My tale, Miss Dorothea, is of a certain M. Benest, who until a few
weeks ago was a prisoner on parole in one of your towns on the south
coast. He had been _chef de hune_ (which, as you know, is chief petty
officer) of the _Embuscade_ frigate, captured by Sir John Warren. In
the action which lost her M. Benest lost a leg, and was placed in an
English hospital, where they gave him a wooden one.

"Now how it came about that on his discharge he was allowed to live in
a town--call it a village, rather--a haven, at any rate--where for
a couple of napoleons he might have found a boat any night of the week
to smuggle him over to Roscoff, is more than I can tell you. It may be
that he had once borne another name than Benest, one to command
privileges: since many of my countrymen, as you know, have found it
prudent in recent years to change their names and take up with
callings below their real rank. There, at any rate, he was; and on the
day after his arrival, he and the Rector of the parish--who was also
a magistrate--took a walk and marked out the bounds together: two
miles along the coast to the east, two miles along the coast to the
west, and two miles up the valley behind the town. At the end of these
two miles the valley itself branched into two and climbed inland, the
road branching likewise; and M. Benest's mark was the signpost at the

"Well, at first he walked little, because of his wooden leg. He had
lodgings with a widow in a white-washed cottage overlooking the
harbour-side, and seemed happy enough there, tending a monster
geranium which grew against the house-wall, or pottering about the
quay and making friends with the children. For the children soon picked
up an affection for him, seeing that he was never too busy to drop his
gardening and come and be umpire at their games of 'tig' or 'prisoners'
bars.' Also he had stories for them, and halfpennies or sweetmeats in
mysterious pockets, and songs which he taught them: _Girofle, girofla_,
and _Compagnons de la Marjolaine_, and _Les Petits Bateaux_--do you
know it?--

"'Papa, les p'tits bateaux
Qui vont sur I'eau,
Ont-ils des jambes?
--Mais oui, petit beta,
S'ils n'en avaient pas, ils n' march'raient pas!'

"In short, M. Benest, with his loose blue coat and three-cornered
naval cap, endeared himself to the children, and through the children
to everyone.

"It was some time before he began to take walks; and I believe he had
been living in the town for six months, when one day, having stumped
up the valley road for a change, and just as he was facing about for
the return journey, he heard a voice in his own language singing to
the air of _Vive Henri Quatre_.

"The voice was shaky and, I dare say, uncertain in its upper notes;
but it fetched M. Benest right-about-face again. He perceived that it
came from the garden of a solitary cottage up the road, a gunshot and
more beyond his signpost. But a tall hedge interrupted his view, and,
though he stared long and earnestly, all he could see that day was a
pea-stick nodding above it.

"He came again, however,--not the next day, but the day after,--and
was rewarded by a glimpse of a white cap with bows which seemed at
that distance of a purplish colour. Its wearer was standing in the
gateway and exchanging a word with the Rector, who had reined up his
horse in the road.

"M. Benest walked home and made inquiries; but his landlady could only
tell him that the cottage was rented by two ladies, sisters,--she had
heard that they came from the West Indies,--who saw nobody, but
wished only to be let alone. One of them, who suffered from an
incurable complaint, was never seen; the other could be seen on fine
days in her garden, where she worked vigorously; and what the pair
lived on was a mystery, for they bought nothing in the town or of
their neighbours.

"On learning this, M. Benest became very cunning indeed. He bought a
fishing rod.

"For I ought to have told you that a stream ran down the valley beside
the road, and it contained trout--perhaps as many as a dozen.
M. Benest had no desire to catch them; but, you see, he was forced to
acquire some show of expertness in order to deceive the wayfarers who
paused and watched him; and in time (I am told) the fish, after being
unhooked once or twice and restored apologetically to the water, came
to enjoy disconcerting him. You must understand that he had no foolish
illusions concerning the white cap and purplish ribbons--the
Mademoiselle Henriette, as he discovered she was called. He only knew
that here were two women, his compatriots, poor certainly, often hungry
perhaps, shipwrecked so close to him upon this corner of (pardon me,
Miss Dorothea) an unfriendly land, yet divided from any comfort he
could bring by fifty yards of road and his word of honour. She must be
of the true blood of France who quavered out _Vive Henri Quatre_ so
resolutely over her digging and hoeing: but the sound of a French voice
might hearten her as hers had heartened him. Therefore he sang lustily
while he angled--which is not good for sport; and when he caught a
fish, broke into paeans addressed less to the captive--with which,
between you and me, he was secretly annoyed--than to an ear unseen,
perhaps a quarter of a mile away.

"But there came a day--how shall I tell it?--when calamity fell upon
the cottage. For some time the farmers up the valley had been missing
sheep. What so easy now as to suspect the two women who were never
known to buy either bread or butcher's meat? You can guess! A rabble
marched up from the town and broke in upon them. It found nothing, of
course; and I am told that at sight of the face of the poor elder
sister it fled back in panic, leaving the place a wreck.

"It so happened that M. Benest had pretermitted his angling, that
afternoon, for a stroll along the cliff: but he heard the news on his
return, from his landlady, while he sat at tea--that is to say, he
heard a part of it, for before the story was out he had set down his
teacup, caught up hat and stick, and stumped out of the house. The most
of the townspeople were indoors at tea, discussing the sensation; the
few he encountered had no greeting from him. He looked neither to the
right nor to the left; had no ears for his friends, the trout, as they
rose at the evening flies. He reached the signpost and--walked past
it! He stumped straight up to the garden gate, which stood ajar, and
pushed it wide with his stick.

"There were signs of trampling on the flower-beds; but--for it was
July--the whole garden blazed with hollyhocks, oeillets, sweet
Williams, sweet peas, above all with that yellow flower--mimulus,
monkey flower, is it not?--which grows so profusely in gardens beside
streams. The air was weighted with scent of the reseda and of the
jasmine which climbed the wall and almost choked the roses.

"The cottage door stood ajar also. He thrust this open too, and for
the first time stood face to face with Mademoiselle Henriette.

"She sat by the kitchen table, with one arm flung across it, and her
body bowed with grief. At her feet lay a trodden bunch of the monkey
flowers: and at the tap-tap of his wooden leg on the threshold she
sprang up and faced him, across the yellow blossoms.

"'Mademoiselle,' he began, 'I have just learnt--but it is an infamy!
_Permettez_--I am French, I also, though you do not know me perhaps.'

"And with that M. Benest stammered and came to a halt, for her eyes
were worse than woeful. They were accusing--yes, accusing _him_. Of
what? _Nom de tonnerre_, what had he done?

"'You, Monsieur! _You_--an officer of France!'

"_'Mais quel rapport y a-t-il?'_

"'Your _parole_, Monsieur!'

"_'Peste!_ I forgot,' said M. Benest, half to himself.

"'Forgot? Forgot your _parole? Mais ecoutez donc! Nous savons souffrir,
nous autres franfaises . . . Et la petite qui meurt--et--et moi qui
mourrai Presqu' a l'heure--mais nous nous en tenons a' ne pas
dishonorer la Patrie a la fin. Ca finira bien, sous-officier--allez-
vous--allez-vous en. Mais allez!'_

"She stamped her foot upon the flowers, and M. Benest turned and fled
from her. Nay, in his haste, taking a short-cut towards the signpost,
he plunged his wooden leg deep in the marsh, and tumbled helpless,
overwhelmed with shame.

"He never passed the signpost again, nor caught another glimpse of
Mademoiselle Henriette's cap. Three days later the Rector broke into
the cottage and discovered her seated, dead and stiff, her hands
stained with digging her sister's grave.

"And the cottage had no new tenant. Only M. Benest continued to eye it
wistfully, as he cast his flies and pondered on his offence, which she
had died without forgiving.

"But one July, two years after her death, a patch of gold appeared on
the marsh below the hedge--a patch of the monkey-flower. Some seeds
had been blown thither, or carried down by the stream.

"Next July the patch had doubled its length.

"'The flowers are travelling towards me,' said M. Benest.

"And year by year the stream brought them nearer. That was a terrible
July for him when they came within two feet of the signpost; but he
would not stretch a hand beyond it.

"'She coquets with her forgiveness, the poor Mademoiselle Henriette.
But I can wait: _'faut pas deshonorer la patrie a la fin!'_

"Before the next July he had made sure of one plant at least on his
side of the signpost; and fished beside it day after day, fearful lest
some animal should browse upon it. But when the happy morning came for
it to open, and M. Benest knelt beside his prize, he drew back a hand.

"'Is it quite open?' he asked. 'Better wait, since all is safe, for the
sun to warm it a little longer.'

"And he waited, until a trout, to remind him, perhaps, took a fly with
a splash beneath his nose. Then, with a start, M. Benest's fingers
closed and snapped off the yellow blossom.

"'She has forgiven me,' said he. Now I can forgive myself.'"

For a moment or two, though his story was ended, the General continued
to toy with the stem of his wine glass. One or two of the guests cried
"Bravo!" But Lady Bateson's eyes were wet, and Dorothea gazed hard for
a while into the polished surface of the mahogany before she recalled
herself, and, with a nod, swept the ladies away to the drawing-room.

Later, in a pause between two songs, the General dropped into a seat
beside her.

"Can you guess who sent me that story?" he asked. "It was M. Raoul;
and he travelled across from Plymouth in the ship with this M. Benest,
who happened to get his exchange at about the same time. It was clever
of him to worm out the story--if, indeed, he did not invent it. But
that young man has genius for pathos."

"I did not know that you corresponded."

"Indeed, nor did I. He chose to write. I may answer; and, again, I may
not. To tell you the truth, I have never been sure if we condemned him
quite justly."

Dorothea found herself able to look straight into the kindly old eyes.

"It was a beautiful story. Did you tell it for me?"

"Yes, Mademoiselle, in thanks and in contrition. We are all prisoners
in this world; but while it is certain you have made fortitude easier
for us, I have suspected that there was a time when I, for one, might
have been bolder and repaid you, but stood aside. Also, I think you no
longer require help."

"No longer, General. But what you say is true: we are all prisoners
here, or sentries at the best." And Dorothea, resting her fan on her
lap, let these lines fall from her, not consciously quoting, but
musing on each word as it fell:

"Brutus and Cato might discharge their souls,
And give them furloughs for another world;
But we, like sentries, are obliged to stand
In starless nights, and wait the appointed hour."

The General stared.

"Ah, Mademoiselle, what poet taught you that?"

"It was a kinswoman," she answered, and caught herself blushing. "I do
not know the author."

* * * * * * * * *

The secret of the Commissary's dinner-party came out early next morning,
when the call came for the prisoners to leave Axcester. And, whenever
Dorothea looked back on this epoch in her life, what she found most
wonderful was the suddenness of its end. As day broke in a drizzle, and
before she was well awake, a troop of dragoons, followed by a company
of the 52nd Regiment of foot, passed the Bayfield gates on the way to
Axcester. The troopers entered the town while the Ting-tang was
sounding, and before the roll could be called the prisoners were
surrounded. Their release had come; and though many had sighed for it
for years, it found them quite unprepared.

Their release had come; but first they must be marched through the
length of the country to Kelso, there to await the formalities of
exchange. At four in the afternoon the infantry marched out with the
first great batch. Early next morning the rest--owners of furniture,
granted a few hours to arrange for its storage or sale--followed their
comrades. There was no cloud of dust upon the road for Dorothea to
watch. They departed in sheets of rain and under the dusk of dawn. She
never again saw General Rochambeau.

It is recorded that in his fifty-seventh year Endymion Westcote married
(but the bride was not Lady Bateson), and that children were born to
him. Narcissus lived on at Bayfield and compiled at his leisure a
_History of Axcester_, which mentions the decoration of the Orange Room
by "a young Frenchman of talent, who has been good enough to assist
the author in a most important work." But Dorothea preferred her
independence and a cottage not far from the bridge, where Endymion's
children might romp as they listed, but never seemed to disturb its
exquisite order.

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