Part 5 out of 6
shepherd kept scolding all the while, and with vigour, using his brief
authority which no one--not even his master--attempted to dispute.
While this was going on two farm-boys from the rearmost boat had run up
the hill, and by and by returned, each cracking a whip and leading a
pair of horses harnessed to a lumbering hay-wagon. All scrambled on
board, romping and calling to Tilda and Arthur Miles to follow their
example; and so, leaving the shepherd to follow with his collected
flock, the procession started, the horses plunging at the first steep
rise from the beach.
Half-a-dozen children had collected on the beach and ran with them,
cheering, up the hill, and before the cottage doorways three or four
women, wives and widows, stood to watch the procession go by.
These (someone told Tilda) were all the inhabitants left, their men-folk
having sailed away west and north a month ago for the fishery.
"Wish 'ee well, Farmer Tossell!" cried one or two. "Sheep all right, I
"Right as the bank, my dears!" called back the old patriarch, waving a
whip he had caught from one of the farm-boys. "The same to you, an'
many of 'em!"
They mounted the hill at a run, and when the horses dropped to a walk
Farmer Tossell explained to Arthur Miles, who had been thrust forward
into a seat--or rather perch--beside him, that this bringing home of the
sheep from Holmness was a great annual event, and that he was lucky, in
a way, to have dropped in for it.
"The whole family turns out--all but the Old Woman an' Dorcas. Dorcas
is my eldest. They're t'home gettin' the supper. A brave supper
you'll see, an' the preacher along with it. I dunno if you 're saved.
. . . No? P'r'aps not, at your age. I was never one for hurryin' the
children; bruisin' the tender flax, as you might say. . . But you
mustn't be upset if he _alloods_ to you. . . . A very powerful man, when
you're used to 'en. So you've a message for Miss Sally? Know her?"
The boy had to confess that he did not.
"Curious!" the farmer commented. "She's one of the old sort, is Miss
Sally. But you can't get over to Culvercoombe to-night: to-morrow
we'll see. . . . What's your name, by the way?"
"And your sister's?"
"She's called Tilda; but she--she isn't really--"
Farmer Tossell was not listening.
"You'll have to sleep with us to-night. Oh," he went on,
misinterpreting the boy's glance behind him (he was really seeking for
Tilda, to explain), "there's always room for one or two more at Inistow:
that's what you might call our motto; and the Old Woman dotes on
children. She ought to--havin' six of her own, besides nine of my first
The wagon had reached a short break in the ascent--you might liken it to
a staircase landing--where the road ran level for about fifty yards
before taking breath, so to speak, for another stiff climb. Here a
by-road led off to the right, and here they turned aside.
The road ran parallel, or roughly parallel, with the line of the cliffs,
between low and wind-trimmed hedges, over which, from his perch beside
Farmer Tossell, the boy looked down across a narrow slope of pasture to
the sea. The fog had lifted. Away and a little above the horizon the
sun was dropping like a ball of orange flame in a haze of gold; and
nearer, to the right of the sunset, lay the Island as if asleep on the
waves, with glints of fire on the pointed cliffs at its western end, and
all the rest a lilac shadow resting on the luminous water.
He gazed, and still gazed. He heard no longer, though the farmer was
speaking. There was indeed some excuse, for the young men and girls
had started another hymn, and were singing with all their voices.
But he did not even listen.
The road rose and dipped. . . . They came to a white-painted gate, which
one of the young men sprang down to open. The last glow of the sunset
fell on its bars, and their outline repeated itself in dazzling streaks
on the sky as the horses wheeled to the left through the gateway, and
the boy turned for a last look. But Holmness had disappeared. A brown
ridge of stubble hid it, edged and powdered with golden light.
Turning from the sea, the wagons followed a rutted cart-track that wound
downhill in a slow arc between an orchard hedge and an open meadow
dotted with cattle. High beyond the orchard rose a cluster of elms,
around which many rooks were cawing, and between the elms a blue smoke
drifted. There too the grey roof of the farmhouse crept little by
little into sight; and so they came to a second gate and the rick-yard;
and beyond the ricks was a whitewashed doorway, where a smiling elderly
woman stood to welcome them. This was Mrs. Tossell, forewarned many
minutes since by their singing.
She had come straight from preparing the feast, and her face was yet
flushed with the heat of the kitchen fire. The arrival of the extra
mouths to be fed did not put her out in the least. But she looked the
children over with eyes at once benevolent and critical--their clothes
and their faces--and said frankly that they wanted a wash, which was
only too evident, the _Evan Evans_ being a peculiarly grimy boat, even
for a collier.
"The sooner the better," agreed Tilda with the utmost alacrity.
"Well, and I'm glad you take it like that," said their hostess, nodding
approval. She called "Hepsy! Hepsy!" and an elderly serving-woman
answered the summons. "Run, Hepsy, and fill the wash-house boiler," she
Within twenty minutes two long wash-trays stood ready and steaming--one
for Tilda in the wash-kitchen itself, the other for Arthur Miles in a
small outhouse adjoining; and while the children revelled in this
strange new luxury, Mrs. Tossell bethought her of certain garments in a
press upstairs--a frock and some underclothing long since outgrown by
Sabina, a threadworn shirt and a suit that had formerly habited Obed,
her youngest, all preserved and laid away on the principle (as she put
it) that "Store is no Sore."
It was Chrissy, the pretty girl, who carried his clean garments to
Arthur Miles; and he, being caught naked in the wash-tub, blushed
furiously. But Chrissy was used to brothers, and took stock of him
"My!" she exclaimed, "what pretty white skin you've got!" And with that
her quick eyes noted the mark on his shoulder. "Well, I never--but
"What's funny?" asked the boy.
"I'll tell you later, in the kitchen," she promised, and went off to
The kitchen was of noble size--far larger even than the refectory at
Holy Innocents' Orphanage--and worthy of the feast Mrs. Tossell had
arrayed there to celebrate the sheep-bringing. The table, laden with
hot pies, with dishes of fried rasher and hog's-puddings,
black-puddings, sausages, with cold ham and cold ribs of beef, with
apple tarts, junkets, jellies, syllabubs, frumenties, with mighty
tea-pots and flagons of cider, ran close alongside the window-seat where
the children were given their places, and whence, turning their heads,
they looked out upon a garden set with clipped box-trees, and bordered
with Michaelmas daisies, and upon a tall dove-cote of many holes and
ledges crowded with pigeons settling down to their night's rest. On the
outside of the table ran an unbacked bench, and at top and bottom stood
two ample elbowed chairs for the farmer and his wife; but Mrs. Tossell
had surrendered hers to a black-coated man whom all addressed as
"Minister," though in talk among themselves they spoke of him rather as
The Rounder. Before the company sat he delivered a long grace with much
unction. Tilda--a child of the world, and accustomed to take folks as
she found them--eyed him with frank curiosity; but in Arthur Miles his
black coat and white tie awoke a painful association of ideas, and for a
while the child sat nervous and gloomy, without appetite to eat . . .
Tilda for once was unobservant of him. The Minister, with his long thin
neck, straggling black beard, weak, eloquent mouth and black, shining
eyes--the eyes of a born visionary--failed, as well they might, to
suggest a thought of Dr. Glasson. She was hungry, too, and her small
body glowing deliciously within her clean garments. Amid all this
clatter of knives and forks, these laughing voices, these cheerful,
innocent faces, who could help casting away care?
Now and again her eyes wandered around the great kitchen--up to the
oaken roof, almost black with age, and the hams, sides of bacon, bundles
of potherbs, bags of simples, dangling from its beams; across to the
old jack that stretched athwart the wall to the left of the fireplace--a
curious apparatus, in old times (as Chrissy explained to her) turned by
a dog, but now disused and kept only as a relic; to the tall settle on
the right with the bars beneath the seat, and behind the bars (so
Chrissy averred) a couple of live geese imprisoned, and quietly sitting
on their eggs amid all this uproar; to the great cave of the fireplace
itself, hung with pothooks and toothed cramps, where a fire of logs
burned on a hearthstone so wide that actually--yes, actually--deep in
its recess, and behind the fire, were set two smoke-blackened seats, one
in each farther angle under the open chimney.
Before the feast had been twenty minutes in progress the farmer looked
up and along the table and called for lights. His eyes, he explained,
were not so young as they had been. Roger--tallest of the young men--
jumped up and lit two oil-lamps that hung from the beams. The lamps had
immense reflectors above them, made of tin; but they shone like silver,
and Tilda took them for silver.
"That's cheerfuller!" shouted Farmer Tossell with a laugh of great
contentment, and fell-to again.
But as the light wavered and anon grew steady, Chrissy leaned over
Tilda, touched Arthur Miles on the shoulder, and pointed to the wall
opposite. Tilda stared also, following the direction of her finger.
The lamp-light, playing on the broad chimney-piece with its brass
candlesticks and china ornaments, reached for a yard or so up the wall,
and then was cut off by the shadow of the reflectors. But in that
illuminated space, fronting the children, stood out a panel of plaster,
moulded in high relief, overlaid with a wash of drab-coloured paint.
The moulding was of a coat-of-arms--a shield surrounded by a foliated
pattern, and crossed with the same four diamond device as was tattooed
on Miles Arthur's shoulder--this with two antlered stags, collared, with
hanging chains for supporters; above it a cap of maintenance and a
stag's head coupe for crest; and beneath a scroll bearing some words
which Tilda could not decipher. She glanced at Chrissy, alert at once
and on the defensive. She had recognised the four diamonds, but all the
rest was a mere mystery to her.
"He's got just that mark on his shoulder," said Chrissy, meeting her
gaze and nodding towards the shield.
"Has he?" said Tilda disingenuously.
But she was jealous already, and by habit distrustful of her sex.
"Didn't you know? I noticed it, just now, when he was stripped. And I
thought for a moment . . . you two coming and asking for Sir Miles.
. . . But I'm always supposing some secret or other. Mother says it
comes of muzzing my head with books, and then putting two and two
together and making 'em five. . . . It's fanciful, of course"--here
Chrissy sighed--"things don't happen like that in real life. . . . But
there's always been stories about Sir Miles; and when I saw the mark--it
_is_ queer, now--"
But Tilda kept a steady face, her eyes fixed on the escutcheon.
"What does it mean?" she asked. "I don't know about these things."
"Why it's Sir Miles's coat-of-arms; of the Chandons, that is. Inistow
Farm used to belong to them--belonged to them for hundreds of years,
right down to the time Miss Sally bought it. Father farmed it under
them for thirty years before that, and his father, and his grandfather,
and his great-greats--back ever so long. He was terribly put out when
it changed hands; but now he says 'Thank the Lord' when he talks of it."
"Changed hands?" Tilda found herself echoing.
"Yes. Inistow has belonged to Miss Sally these five years now. I
thought maybe you'd be knowing all about her and Sir Miles--coming like
this and inquiring for them. She's a good one, is Miss Sally; but when
a woman sees a man poor--well, of course, that's her revenge."
"Is--is Sir Miles _poor?_"
Tilda's hopes were tottering, falling about her, she hardly knew how or
why. Vaguely she had been building up a fabric of hope that she was
helping Arthur Miles home to a splendid inheritance. Such things
happened, almost as a matter of course, in the penny fiction to which
her reading had been exclusively confined. To be sure, they never
happened--they were wildly unlikely to happen--in the world of her own
limited experience. But in the society to which the boy belonged by his
gentle manners and his trick of speech, which could only come as a
birthright--in that rarefied world where the ladies wore low gowns, with
diamonds around their necks, and the gentlemen dined in fine linen with
wide shirt-fronts--all life moved upon the machinery of romance.
The books said so; and after that romance she had been pursuing, by
degrees more consciously, from fugitive hints almost to certainty that a
few hours would give it into her grasp. And now--
"Is--is he poor?" she repeated. She could not understand it.
The story-books always conducted the long-lost heir to rank and wealth
in the end.
"Well, he don't _spend_ money, they say," answered Chrissy. "But nobody
knows for certain. His tenants never see him. He's always abroad:
he's abroad now--"
This was worse and worse.
"Or else shut up at Meriton--that's the great house--with a lot of nasty
chemicals, trying to turn copper pennies into gold, they say."
Tilda caught at this hope.
"P'r'aps 'e'll manage it, one of these days."
"That's silly. Folks have been trying it for hundreds of years, and
it'll never be done."
"And 'Olmness? 'As Miss Sally bought 'Olmness too?"
"No; he wouldn't part with it, for some reason. But father rents the
grazing from him; same as before, when th' island belonged to Inistow
Farm. There's a tale--"
But Tilda was not to hear the tale, for just now Mrs. Tossell pushed
back her chair, and at her signal the feast ended. All left the table,
and exchanged their benches for the settle or for chairs which they drew
in a wide semicircle around the fireplace. Across the warm chord of
this semicircle the sheep-dogs, stretched before the blaze, looked up
lazily, and settled themselves to doze again. 'Dolph, lying a little
apart (for they declined to take notice of him), copied their movements
in an ingratiating but not very successful attempt to appear bred to the
Tilda remarked that the company took their new positions with some
formality. The shepherd alone comported himself carelessly, slouching
around to the back of the fire, where he lit a clay pipe from the embers
and seated himself on one of the ingle-ends, so that his tobacco smoke
had a clear passage up the chimney. Then, almost before the children
knew what was happening, the Minister gave out a hymn.
All sang it lustily, and when it was ended all dropped on their knees.
The Minister broke into prayer--at first in smooth, running sentences,
formal thanksgivings for the feast just concluded, for the plenty of
seedtime and harvest, for the kindly fruits of the earth, with
invocations of blessing upon the house and the family. But by and by,
as these petitions grew more intimate, his breath came in short gasps.
"O the Blood!" he began to cry; "the precious Blood of Redemption!"
And at intervals one or other of his listeners answered "Amen!"
"Hallelujah!" Tilda wondered what on earth it was all about; wondered
too--for she knelt with her back to the great fireplace--if the shepherd
had laid by his pipe and was kneeling among the ashes. Something in the
Minister's voice had set her brain in a whirl, and kept it whirling.
"Glory! Glory! The Blood! Glory be for the Blood!"
And with that, of a sudden the man was shouting a prayer for _her_--for
her and Arthur Miles, "that these two lambs also might be led home with
the flock, and sealed--sealed with the Blood, with the precious Blood,
with the ever-flowing Blood of Redemption--"
Her brain seemed to be spinning in a sea of blood . . . Men and women,
all had risen from their knees now, and stood blinking each in the
other's faces half-stupidly. The Minister's powerful voice had ceased,
but he had set them going as a man might twirl a teetotum; and in five
or six seconds one of the men--it was Roger, the young giant--burst
forth with a cry, and began to ejaculate what he called his
"experience." He had been tempted to commit the Sin without Pardon; had
been pursued by it for weeks, months, when alone in the fields; had been
driven to wrestle with it in hollows and waste places, Satan always at
his ear whispering to him to say the words of blasphemy, to cross the
line, to have rest of mind though it were in damnation. To Tilda this
was all mere gibberish, but to the youth and to his hearers all real and
deadly earnest. His words came painfully, from a dry throat; the effort
twisted him in bodily contortions pitiful to see; the sweat stood on
his handsome young forehead--the brow of a tortured Apollo. And the
circle of listeners bent forward to the tale, eager, absorbed, helping
out his agony with groans and horrified murmurs. They held their
breath, and when he reached the crisis, and in a gush of words related
his deliverance--casting up both arms and drawing one long shuddering
breath--they could almost see the bonds burst on the muscles of his
magnificent chest, and broke afresh into exultant cries: "Glory!"
"Hallelujah!" "The Blood--the Blood!" while the shepherd in the
ingle-nook slowly knocked out the ashes of his pipe against the heel of
his boot. He was a free-thinker, an ex-Chartist, and held himself aloof
from these emotions, though privileged, as an old retainer, to watch
them. His face was impassive as a carved idol's.
The young giant dropped back into his chair, and doubtless a second
spiritual gust was preparing to shake the company--you could feel it in
the air--when Godolphus intervened. That absurd animal, abashed by a
series of snubbings, probably saw a chance to rehabilitate himself.
For certain during the last few minutes he had been growing excited,
sitting up with bright eyes, and opening and shutting his mouth as in a
dumb effort at barking. Now, to the amazement of all, including the
sheep-dogs, he lifted himself upon his hind legs and began to gyrate
Everyone stared. In the tension nobody yet laughed, although Tilda,
throwing a glance toward the chimney-corner, saw the shepherd's jaw
relax in a grin. Her head yet swam. She felt a spell upon her that
must be broken now or never.
"'Dolph!" she called, and wondered at the shrill sound of her own voice.
"'Dolph!" She was standing erect, crooking her arm. The dog dropped on
his fore-paws, crouched, and sprang through the hoop she made for him;
crouched, sprang back again, alighted, and broke into a paean of
Tilda was desperate now. With a happy inspiration she waved her hand to
the ancient jack against the wall, and 'Dolph sprang for it, though he
understood the command only. But he was a heavy dog, and as the rusty
machine began to revolve under his weight, his wits jumped to the
meaning of it, and he began to run like a turnspit demented.
The Minister had arisen, half-scandalised, on the point of calling for
silence; but his eyes fell on Tilda, and he too dropped back into his
chair. The child had raised both arms, and was bending her body
back--back--until her fingers touched the hem of her skirt behind her.
Her throat even sank out of view behind her childish bust. The
shepherd's pipe dropped, and was smashed on the hearthstone. There was
a silence, while still Godolphus continued to rotate. Someone broke it,
suddenly gasping "Hallelujah!"
"Amen! Tis working--'tis working!"
In despite of the Minister, voice after voice took up the clamour.
Farmer Tossell's louder than any. And in the height of the fervour
Tilda bent her head yet lower, twisted her neck sideways, and stared up
at the ring of faces from between her ankles!
THE HUNTED STAG.
"_Three hundred gentlemen, able to ride,
Three hundred horses as gallant and free,
Beheld him escape on the evening tide
Far out till he sank in the Severn Sea . . .
The stag, the runnable stag._"--JOHN DAVIDSON.
Early next morning the two children awoke in clean beds that smelt
deliciously of lavender. The feeling was so new to them and so
pleasant, that for a while they lay in luxurious ease, gazing out upon
so much of the world as could be seen beyond the window--a green
hillside scattered with gorse-bushes, sheeted with yellowing brake-fern
and crossed by drifting veils of mist: all golden in the young sunshine,
and all framed in a tangle of white-flowered solanum that clambered
around the open casement. Arthur Miles lay and drank in the mere beauty
of it. How should he not? Back at the Orphanage, life--such as it
was--and the day's routine had always taken care of themselves; he had
accepted, suffered them, since to change them at all lay out of his
power. But Tilda, after a minute, sat upright in her bed, with knees
drawn up beneath the bedclothes and hands clasped over them.
"This is a good place," she announced, and paused. "_An'_ decent
people, though rummy." Then, as the boy did not answer, "The best thing
we can do is stay 'ere, if they'll let us."
"Stay here?" he echoed. There was surprise in the echo and dismay.
"But why should we stay here?"
She had yet to break it to him that Sir Miles Chandon was abroad, and
would (so Miss Chrissy had told her) almost certainly remain abroad for
months to come. She must soften the blow.
"W'y not?" she repeated. "They're kind 'ere. If they'll keep us we can
look about an' make inquiries."
"But we must get to the Island."
"The Island? Oh, yes, I dessay we'll get there sometime or another.
What're you doin'?" she asked, for he had leapt out of bed and run to
"Looking for it."
But the Island was not visible. This gable of the house fronted a steep
coombe, which doubtless wound its way to the sea, since far to the right
a patch of sea shone beyond a notch in the enfolding slopes.
"It'll stay there, don't you fret," Tilda promised. "'Wish I could be
as sure that _we'd_ stay _'ere_: though, far as I can see, we're safe
enough for a few days. The old lady's puzzled about me. I reckon she
don't attend circuses--nor the Minister neither--an' that Child-Acrobat
turn fairly fetched 'em. They set it down to the 'fects of grace. I
'eard them talkin' it over, an' that was 'ow the Minister put it--
whatever 'e meant."
"Well, but wasn't it?"
Arthur Miles had come back from the window, and stood at the foot of the
bed in a nightshirt many sizes too large for him.
"Wasn't it _wot?_"
"Hadn't--hadn't it anything to do with the praying?"
"Garn!" Tilda chuckled. "But I'm glad it took _you_ in too.
The foolishness was my overdoin' it with 'Dolph. Dogs don't 'ave any
religion, it seems; and it rattled 'em a bit, 'is be'avin' like a person
that 'ad just found salvation. The Minister talked some science about
it to Mother Tossell--said as 'ow dogs 'adn't no souls but a 'eap of
_sympathy_; and it ended by 'er 'avin' a good cry over me when she
tucked me up for the night, an' sayin' as after all I might be a brand
plucked from the burnin'. But it didn' take in Miss Chrissy, as I could
tell from the look in 'er eyes."
Whatever Miss Chrissy's doubts may have been, she chose a curious and
perhaps a subtle method of expressing them. After breakfast she took
Tilda to her room, and showed her a small volume with a cloth binding
printed over with blue forget-me-nots and a gilt title, _The Lady's
Vade-Mecum, or How to Shine in Society_. It put forth a preface in
which a lady, who signed herself "One of the Upper Ten Thousand" but
gave no further clue to her identity, undertook (as she put it)
"to steer the aspirant through the shoals and cross-currents which beset
novitiate in the _haut-ton_;" and Miss Chrissy displayed the manual
shyly, explaining that she had bought it in Taunton, and in a foolish
moment. "It flies too high for me. It says, under 'Cards,' that no
lady who respects herself would talk about the 'Jack of Spades'; but
when I played _Fives and Sevens_ at the last harvest supper but one, and
started to call him a Knave, they all made fun of me till I gave it up."
She opined, nevertheless, that Tilda would find some good reading in it
here and there; and Tilda, sharp as a needle, guessed what Miss Chrissy
meant--that a study of it would discourage an aspirant to good society
from smiling up at it between her ankles. She forgave the divined
intention of the gift, for the gift itself was precisely what her soul
had been craving. She borrowed it for the day with affected
nonchalance--Tilda never gave herself away--and hugged the volume in her
pocket as she and Arthur Miles and 'Dolph explored the coombe's downward
windings to the sea.
A moor stream ran down the coombe, dodging and twisting between the
overlaps of the hills, and ended in a fairy waterfall, over which it
sprang some thirty feet to alight on a beach of clean-washed boulders.
Close beside the edge of the fall stood a mud-walled cottage, untenanted
and roofless, relic of a time when Farmer Tossell's father had
adventured two or three hundred pounds in the fishery, and kept a man
here with two grown sons to look after his nets. Nettles crowded the
doorway, and even sprouted from crevices of the empty window sockets.
Nettles almost breast-high carpeted the kitchen floor to the
hearthstone. Nettles, in fact--whole regiments of nettles--had taken
possession and defended it. But Tilda, with the book in her pocket,
decided that here was the very spot for her--a real house in which to
practise the manners and deportment of a real lady, and she resolved to
borrow or steal a hook after dinner and clear the nettles away.
Farmer Tossell had promised the children that on the morrow he would
(as he put it) ride them over to Miss Sally's house at Culvercoombe, to
pay a call on that great gentlewoman; to-morrow being Sunday and his day
of leisure. But to-day he was busy with the sheep, and the children had
a long morning and afternoon to fill up as best they might.
Arthur Miles did not share Tilda's rapture over the ruined cottage, and
for a very good reason. He was battling with a cruel disappointment.
All the way down the coombe he had been on the look-out for his Island,
at every new twist and bend hoping for sight of it; and behold, when
they came here to the edge of the beach, a fog almost as dense as
yesterday's had drifted up Channel, and the Island was invisible.
Somewhere out yonder it surely lay, and faith is the evidence of things
not seen; but it cost him all his fortitude to keep back his tears and
play the man.
By and by, leaning over the edge of the fall, he made a discovery that
almost cheered him. Right below, and a little to the left of the rocky
pool in which the tumbling stream threw up bubbles like champagne, lay a
boat--a boat without oars or mast or rudder, yet plainly serviceable,
and even freshly painted. She was stanch too, for some pints of water
overflowed her bottom boards where her stern pointed down the beach--
collected rain water, perhaps, or splashings from the pool.
The descent appeared easy to the right of the fall, and the boy
clambered down to examine her. She lay twenty feet or more--or almost
twice her length--above the line of dried seaweed left by the high
spring tides. Arthur Miles knew nothing about tides; but he soon found
that, tug as he might at the boat, he could not budge her an inch.
By and by he desisted and began to explore the beach. A tangle of
bramble bushes draped the low cliff to the right of the waterfall, and
peering beneath these, he presently discovered a pair of paddles and a
rudder, stored away for safety. He dragged out one of the paddles and
carried it to the boat, in the stern-sheets of which he made his next
find--five or six thole-pins afloat around a rusty baler. He was now as
well equipped as a boy could hope to be for an imaginary voyage, and was
fixing the thole-pins for an essay in the art of rowing upon dry land,
when Tilda, emerging from the cottage (where the nettles stung her legs)
and missing him, came to the edge of the fall in a fright lest he had
tumbled over and broken his neck. Then, catching sight of him, she at
once began to scold--as folks will, after a scare.
"Come down and play at boats!" the boy invited her.
"Shan't!" snapped Tilda. "Leave that silly boat alone, an' come an'
play at houses."
"Boats aren't silly," he retorted; "not half so silly as a house without
"A boat out of water--bah!"
Here Tilda was forced to stoop and rub her calves, thus in one moment
demonstrating by word and action how much she had to learn before
qualifying to shine in Society.
So for the first time the two children quarrelled, and on the first day
that invited them to cast away care and be as happy as they listed.
Arthur Miles turned his back upon Tilda, and would not budge from his
boat; while Tilda seated herself huffily upon a half-decayed log by the
cottage doorway, with 'Dolph beside her, and perused _The Lady's
Vade-Mecum_. "A hostess," she read, "should make her preparations
beforehand, and especially avoid appearing _distraite_ during the
progress of dinner. . . . Small blunders in the service should either be
ignored, or, at the worst, glided over with a laughing apology. . . .
A trace too much of curacao in the _salade d'oranges_ will be less
easily detected and, if detected, more readily pardoned, than the
slightest suspicion of _gene_ on the part of the presiding goddess. . .
In England it is customary to offer sherry with the soup, but this
should not be dispensed lavishly. Nursed by a careful butler
(or parlour-maid, as the case may be), a single bottle will sherry
twelve guests, or, should the glasses be economical, thirteen. Remember
the Grecian proverb, 'Meden agan,' or 'In all things moderation.'"
All this Tilda read in a chapter which started with the sentence,
"A dinner is a Waterloo which even a Napoleon may lose; and it is with
especial care, therefore, almost with trepidation, that we open this
chapter. We will assume that our pupil has sufficiently mastered those
that precede it; that she is apparelled for the fray, her frock modest
but _chic_, her _coiffure_ adequate . . .'" This was going too fast.
She harked back and read, under _General Observations_, that "It is the
hall-mark of a lady to be sure of herself under all circumstances," and
that "A lady must practise self-restraint, and never allow herself to
"And I'm showin' temper at this moment! Oh, 'Dolph"--she caught the dog
close to her in a hug--"the lot we've got to learn!"
'Dolph might have answered that he for his part was practising
self-restraint, and practising it hard. He loved his mistress before
all the world, but he had no opinion of books, and would have vastly
preferred to be on the beach with Arthur Miles, nosing about the boat or
among the common objects of the seashore.
By this time Arthur Miles, too, was feeling lonely and contrite.
On their way back to dinner--signalled by the blowing of a horn in the
farm-place--he ranged up beside Tilda and said gently, "I'm sorry," upon
which, to her astonishment, Tilda's eyes filled with tears. She herself
could not have said it; but somehow it was just by differing from her
and from other folks that this boy endeared himself.
The reconciliation made them both very happy, and after dinner--to which
the whole family, the shepherd and half a dozen labourers assembled, so
that Tilda marvelled how, even with a fireplace so ample, Mrs. Tossell
managed to cook for them all--Arthur Miles boldly approached Chrissy and
got her to persuade her sweetheart, Festus, to lend him a hook.
Armed with this, the children retraced their steps down the coombe.
The fog had lifted a little, and in the offing Holmness loomed out
dimly, with a streak of golden light on the water beyond its westernmost
cliffs. But the boy nerved himself; he would not loiter to gaze at it,
but strode into the cottage and began hacking with great fierceness at
the nettles, which Tilda--her hands cased in a pair of old pruning
gloves--gathered in skirtfuls and carried out of door. Godolphus, in
his joy at this restored amity, played at assisting Arthur Miles in his
onslaught, barking and leaping at the nettles, yet never quite closely
enough to endanger his sensitive nose.
They had been engaged thus for half an hour, perhaps, when they heard a
horn sounded far up the coombe. It had not the note of Mrs. Tossell's
dinner-horn; it seemed to travel, too, from a distance beyond the farm,
and as Tilda listened, it was followed by a yet fainter sound, as of
many dogs baying or barking together. 'Dolph heard it, yapped
excitedly, and made a dash out through the doorway. But, when Tilda
followed, the sounds had died away. The coombe was silent save for the
chatter of the fall and the mewing of an army of sea-gulls up the vale,
where, on the farthest slope in sight, young Roger paced to and fro with
a team of horses breaking up the stubble.
Tilda whistled 'Dolph back and fell to work again, filling her lap with
nettles; but the load was scarcely complete before the dog, who had been
whimpering and trembling with excitement, made another dash for the
open, his yells all but drowning a thud of hooves with which a dark body
hurled itself past the doorway, between the children and the sunshine,
and so leapt clear for the beach over the fall.
Tilda, running to the doorway, saw the animal leap, but in so quick a
flash that she noted nothing but its size, and mistook it for a
riderless, runaway horse. Then as it appeared again and with three
bounds cleared the beach and plunged into the sea, she knew that it was
no horse but a huge stag--even such a stag as she had seen portrayed on
menagerie posters--a huge Exmoor stag leaping dark against the sun, but
with a flame along the russet-gold ridge of his back and flame tipping
his noble antlers as he laid them back and breasted the quiet swell of
The hounds were close upon him. Not until they were close had he
quitted his hide-hole in the stream, where for the last time he had
broken the scent for them. This was the third stream he had used since
they had tufted him out of the wood where through the summer he had
lorded it, thirty-five miles away; and each stream had helped him, and
had failed him in the end. He had weakened the scent over stony ridges,
checked it through dense brakes of gorse, fouled and baffled it by
charging through herds of cattle and groups of hinds of his own race
couching or pasturing with their calves; for the stag-hunting season was
drawing close to its end, and in a few weeks it would be the hinds'
turn. But the hinds knew that their peril was not yet, and, being as
selfish as he, they had helped him but little or not at all. And now
his hour was near.
For even while the children gazed after him the hounds came streaming
down the coombe in a flood, with a man on a grey horse close behind
them; and behind him, but with a gap between, a straggling line of
riders broke into sight, some scarlet-coated, others in black or in
tweeds. The man on the grey horse shouted up the hill to Roger, who had
left his team and was running. Away over the crest above him two
labourers hove in sight, these also running at full speed. And all--
hounds, horses, men--were pouring down the coombe towards the beach.
The hounds swept down in a mass so solid and compact that Tilda dragged
Arthur Miles into the doorway, fearful of being swept by them over the
edge of the fall. Past the cottage they streamed, down over the grassy
cliff, and across the beach. 'Dolph, barking furiously by the edge of
the waves, was caught and borne down by the first line of them--borne
down and rolled over into the water with no more ceremony than if he had
been a log. They did not deign to hurt him, but passed on swimming, and
he found his feet and emerged behind them, sneezing and shaking himself
and looking a fool. He was, as we know, sensitive about looking a fool;
but just then no one had time to laugh at him.
The riders had arrived, and reined up, crowding the ledge before the
cottage, and the most of them stood raising themselves in their
stirrups, gazing after the stag that now, with little more than his
antlers visible like a bleached bough moving on the flood, swam strongly
out into the golden mist still cloaking the Island. Moment by moment he
out-distanced the wedge-shaped ripple where the heads of the tired pack
bobbed in pursuit; for here, as always in water, the deer held the
advantage, being able to float and rest at will while the hound must
always ply his forelegs or sink. The huntsman, however, judged it
impossible that he could reach Holmness. He and a dozen gentlemen had
dismounted, clambered down beside the fall, and were dragging the boat
down the beach to launch her, when Roger and the two labourers burst
through the throng and took charge; since to recover a deer that takes
to the sea means a guinea from the hunt. And the boat was necessary
now, for as the Inistow men launched her and sprang aboard the leading
hounds realised that their quarry could not be headed, or that their
remaining strength would scarcely carry them back to shore, and gave up
the chase. By this the hunted stag gained another respite, for as the
rowers pulled in his wake they had to pause half a dozen times and haul
on board a hound that appeared on the point of sinking.
At the last moment the huntsman had leapt into the stern-sheets of the
boat. He had his knife ready, and the rowers too had a rope ready to
lasso the stags' antlers when they caught up with him. Ashore the
huddled crowd of riders watched the issue. The children watched with
them; and while they watched a sharp, authoritative voice said, close
above Tilda's ear--
"They won't reach him now. He'll sink before they get to him, and I'm
glad of it. He's given us the last and best run of as good a season as
either of us can remember--eh, Parson?"
Tilda looked up with a sudden leap of the heart. Above her, on a raw
roan, sat a strong-featured lady in a bottle-green riding-habit, with a
top hat--the nap of which had apparently being brushed the wrong way--
set awry on her iron-grey locks.
The clergyman she addressed--a keen-faced, hunting parson, elderly,
clean-shaven, upright as a ramrod on his mud-splashed grey--answered
half to himself and in a foreign tongue.
"Latin, hey? You must translate for me."
"A pagan sentiment, ma'am, from a pagan poet . . . If I were Jove, that
stag should sleep to-night under the waves on a coral bed. He deserves
"Or, better still, swim out to Holmness and reign his last days there, a
The Parson shook his head as he gazed.
"They would be few and hungry ones, ma'am, on an island more barren than
Ithaca; no shady coverts, no young ash shoots to nibble, no turnip
fields to break into and spoil . . . Jove's is the better boon, by your
"And, by Jove, he has it! . . . Use your eyes, please; yours are better
than mine. For my part, I've lost him."
They sat erect in their saddles, straining their gaze over the sea.
"It's hard to say--looking straight here against the sun, and with all
this fog drifting about--"
But here a cry, breaking almost simultaneously from a score of riders,
drew his attention to the boat.
"Yes, the boat--they have ceased pulling. He must have sunk!"
"God rest his bones--if a Christian may say it."
"Why not, ma'am?"
But as he turned to her the lady turned also, bending down at a light
eager touch on her stirrup.
"Oh, ma'am! . . . Oh, Miss Sally!"
Miss Sally stared down into the small upturned face.
"Eh? . . . Now where in the world have I seen _you_ before? Why, mercy,
if it ain't the child Elphinstone ran over!"
"_Many a green isle needs must be . . . _"--SHELLEY.
The boat had given up its search, and returned to shore. The hunt had
wound back up the coombe in a body, and thence homeward in the failing
light over the heather, breaking up into small parties as their ways
parted, and calling good nights after the best run of the season.
But Miss Sally and Parson Chichester sat talking in the best parlour at
Inistow, and still sat on while the level sunset shone blood-red through
the geraniums on the window-ledge, and faded and gave place to twilight.
They had heard the children's story; had turned it inside out and upside
down, cross-questioning them both; and had ended by dismissing them for
the time. To-morrow, Miss Sally promised, Farmer Tossell should be as
good as his word, and ride them over to Culvercoombe, where perhaps she
might have a few more questions to put to them. For the present she and
Mr. Chichester had enough to talk over.
The interview had lasted a good hour, and Arthur Miles was glad to
regain his liberty. The boy's manner had been polite enough, but
constrained. He had stripped and shown the mark on his shoulder; he had
answered all questions truthfully, and Miss Sally's readily--with the
Parson he had been less at home--but he had managed to convey the
impression that he found the whole business something of a bore; and,
indeed, he asked himself, Where was the point of it? If only, instead
of asking questions, they would take him to the Island now! . . .
But when he would have followed Tilda from the room, she took hold of
him, pushed him out, and closing the door upon him, turned back and
walked up to the two elders where they sat.
"You mus'n' judge Arthur Miles by to-day," she pleaded, meeting the
amused, expectant twinkle in Miss Sally's eye. "'E didn't show at 'is
best--along of _'im_."
She nodded towards the Parson.
"Eh, to be sure," said Mr. Chichester, "what you may call my _locus
standi_ in this affair is just nothing at all. If the child had
demanded my right to be putting questions to him, 'faith, I don't know
what I could have answered."
"It ain't that at all," said Tilda, after considering awhile.
"It's your bein' a clergyman. 'E's shy of clergymen. If ever you'd
seen Glasson you wouldn' wonder at it, neither."
"I'd like to persuade him that the clergy are not all Glassons.
Perhaps you might ask him to give me a chance, next time?"
"Oh, _you?_" Tilda answered, turning in the doorway and nodding gravely.
"_You're_ all right, o' course. W'y, you sit a hoss a'most well enough
for a circus!"
"That child is a brick," laughed Miss Sally as the door closed.
"At this moment," said Mr. Chichester, "I should be the last man in the
world to dispute it. Her testimonial was not, perhaps, unsolicited;
still, I never dreamed of one that tickled my secret vanity so happily.
I begin to believe her story, and even to understand how she has carried
through this amazing anabasis. Shall we have the horses saddled?"
He rang the bell. Mrs. Tossell answered it, bringing with her a tray of
cold meats, apple tart, syllabubs, glasses, and a flagon of home-made
cider. Yes, to be sure, they might have their horses saddled; but they
might not go before observing Inistow's full ritual of hospitality.
Miss Sally plied (as she put it) a good knife and fork, and the Parson
was hungry as a hunter should be. They ate, therefore, and talked
little for a while: there would be time for talk on the long homeward
ride. But when, in Homer's words, they had put from them the desire of
meat and drink, and had mounted and bidden Mrs. Tossell farewell, Parson
Chichester reopened the conversation.
"You believe the child's story, then?"
"Why, of course; and so must you. Man alive, truth was written all over
"Yes, yes; I was using a fashion of speech. And the boy?"
"Is Miles Chandon's son. On that too you may lay all Lombard Street to
a china orange." In the twilight Miss Sally leaned forward for a moment
and smoothed her roan's mane. "You know the history, of course?"
"Very little of it. I knew, to be sure, that somehow Chandon had made a
mess of things--turned unbeliever, and what not--"
"Is that all?" Miss Sally, for all her surprise, appeared to be
slightly relieved. "But I was forgetting. You're an unmarried man: a
wife would have taught you the tale and a hundred guesses beside.
Of all women in the world, parsons' wives are the most inquisitive."
Mr. Chichester made no reply to this. She glanced at him after a pause,
and observed that he rode with set face and looked straight ahead
between his horse's ears.
"Forgive me," she said. "When folks come to our time of life without
marrying, nine times out of ten there has been a mess; and what I said a
moment since is just the flippant talk we use to cover it up. By 'our
time of life' I don't mean, of course, that we're of an age, you and I,
but that we've fixed our fate, formed our habits, made our beds and must
lie in 'em as comfortably as we can manage. . . . I was a girl when
Miles Chandon came to grief; you were a grown man--had been away for
years, if I recollect, on some missionary expedition."
"In north-east China."
"To be sure, yes; and, no doubt, making the discovery that converting
Chinamen was as hopeless a business as to forget Exmoor and the
"I had put my hand to the plough--"
"--and God by an illness gently released it. I have heard . . . Well,
to get back to Miles Chandon. . . . He was young--a second son, you'll
remember, and poor at that; a second lieutenant in the Navy, with no
more than his pay and a trifling allowance. The boy had good
instincts," said Miss Sally with a short, abrupt laugh. "I may as well
say at once that he wanted to marry me, but had been forced to dismiss
Again she paused a moment before taking up the story.
"Well, his ship--the _Pegasus_--was bringing him home after two years on
the Australian station. . . . Heaven help me! I'm an old sportswoman
now, and understand something of the male animal and his passions.
In those days I must have been--or so it strikes me, looking back--a
sort of plain-featured Diana; 'chaste huntress'--isn't that what they
called her? At any rate, the story shocked, even sickened, me a little
at the time. . . . It appears that the night before making Plymouth
Sound he made a bet in the wardroom--a bet of fifty pounds--that he'd
marry the first woman he met ashore. Pretty mad, was it not?--even for
a youngster coming home penniless, with no prospects, and to a home he
hated; for his father and mother were dead, and he and his elder brother
Anthony had never been able to hit it off. . . . On the whole, you may
say he got better than he deserved. For some reason or other they
halted the _Pegasus_ outside the Hamoaze--dropped anchor in Cawsand Bay,
in fact; and there, getting leave for shore, the young fool met his fate
on Cawsand quay. She was a coast-guard's daughter--a decent girl, I've
heard, and rather strikingly handsome. I'll leave it to you what he
might have found if he'd happened to land at Plymouth. . . . He got more
than half-drunk that night; but a day or two later, when the ship was
paid off, he went back from Plymouth to Cawsand, and within a week he
had married her. Then it turned out that fate had been nursing its
stroke. At Sidmouth, on the second day of the honeymoon, a redirected
telegram reached him, and he learnt that by Anthony's death Meriton was
his, and the title with it. He left his bride at once, and posted up to
Meriton for the funeral, arriving just in time; and there I saw him, for
we all happened to be at Culvercoombe for the shooting, and women used
to attend funerals in those days. . . . No one knew of the marriage; but
that same evening he rode over to Culvercoombe, asked for a word with me
in private, and told me the whole story--pluckily enough, I am bound to
say. God knows what I had expected those words in private to be; and
perhaps in the revulsion of learning the truth I lashed out on him.
. . . Yes, I had a tongue in those days--have still, for that matter;
not a doubt but I made him feel it. The world, you see, seemed at an
end for both of us. I had no mother to help me, and my brother
Elphinstone's best friend wouldn't call him the man to advise in such a
business. Moreover, where was the use of advice? The thing was done,
past undoing. . . Oh," Miss Sally went on, "you are not to think I
broke my heart over it. As I've tried to explain, I was disgusted
rather: I loathed the man, and--and--well, this is not the history of
Sally Breward, so once more we'll get back to Miles Chandon. . . . He
rode off; but he didn't ride back to Sidmouth. In his rage he did a
thing that, I now see, was far baser than his original folly. I saw it
as soon as my mind cleared; but--since this is a confession of a sort--
I didn't see it at the time, for I hated the woman. He wrote her a
letter; stuck a cheque inside, I dare say--he was brute enough just
then; and told her she might claim her price if she chose, but that he
would never see her again. . . . She went back to her coast-guard
"It would seem," said Mr. Chichester gravely, as she paused for a while,
"that he did not even supply her with alimony--that is, if the child's
story be true."
"Probably she refused to accept any. I think we must suppose that, in
justice to her--and to him. Let me finish my confession. . . .
I thought I could never endure to look on the woman; I have never, as a
fact, set eyes on her. I don't know that she ever knew of my existence.
If we meet, t'other side of the grave, there'll be a deal to be
discussed between us before we straighten things out; but I'll have to
start by going up and introducing myself and telling her that, in the
end, she beat me. . . . Yes, parson, you'll hardly believe it, but one
day, finding myself in Plymouth, I took a boat from Admiral's Hard, and
crossed over to Maker Parish to make inquiries. This was two years
later, and she had gone--moved with her father (God help her, like me
she hadn't a mother) to some station on the east coast--the folk in
Cawsand and Kingsand couldn't tell me where. But they told me a child
had been born; which was new to me. They weren't sure that it was
alive, and were wholly vague about the father--called him Chandon, to be
sure, but supposed the name to be spelt with an 'S' as pronounced; told
me he was an officer in the Navy, reputed to be an earl's son. Gossip
had arrived no nearer. She was respectable, all agreed; no doubt about
her marriage lines; and the register confirmed it, with the right
spelling--the marriage and, ten months later, the boy's christening.
Arthur Miles was the name. That is all, or almost all. It seems that
towards the end of his time there her father became maudlin in his wits;
and the woman--her maiden name had been Reynolds, Helen Reynolds--relied
for help and advice upon an old shipmate of his, also a coast-guard,
called Ned Commins. It was Ned Commins they followed when he was moved
to the east coast, the father being by this time retired on a pension.
And that is really all. I was weary, ashamed of my curiosity, and
followed the search no further."
"You must follow it now," said Parson Chichester quietly.
"What do you propose as the first step?"
"Why, to ride to Meriton to-morrow, and get Miles Chandon's address.
He's somewhere in the South of France. It's ten years or so since we
parted, that evening of the funeral; but a telegram from me will fetch
him, or I am mistaken."
"Let me save you some trouble. To-morrow is Sunday, and my parishioners
will be glad enough to escape a sermon at Morning Service. Let me cut
the sermon and ride over to Meriton, get the address and bring it to
Culvercoombe. I ought to reach there by three in the afternoon, but the
precise hour does not matter, since in these parts there's no
telegraphing before Monday."
"That's a good neighbourly offer, and I'll accept it," answered Miss
Sally. "I could ride over to Meriton myself, of course. But Tossell
has promised to bring the children to Culvercoombe in the early
afternoon, and this will give you an excuse to be present. Some
questions may occur to you between this and then; and, anyway, I'd like
to have you handy."
No more was said. They parted, having come to a point where the rising
moon showed their paths lying separate across the moor. Their lonely
homes lay eight miles apart. Even by daylight one unaccustomed to the
moor could hardly have detected the point where the track divided in the
smothering heather. But these two could have found it even in the dark;
being hunters both, and children of the moor, born and bred.
Had they known it, even while they talked together, something was
happening to upset their plans for the morrow, and for days to come.
The children, as they left the parlour, had been intercepted by Mrs.
Tossell with the information that tea was ready for them in the kitchen.
"Wot, another meal?" said Tilda.
Twenty-four hours ago a world that actually provided too much to eat
would have been inconceivable by her. But already the plenty of Inistow
was passing from a marvel into a burden. It seemed to her that the
great kitchen fire never rested, as indeed it seldom did. Even when the
house slept, great cauldrons of milk hung simmering over the hot wood
Tea over, the children started once again for their waterfall; and this
time in haste, for the hollow of the coombe lay already in shadow, and
soon the yellow evening sunlight would be fading on its upper slopes.
Arthur Miles hungered for one clear view of his Island before nightfall;
Tilda was eager to survey the work accomplished that afternoon in the
cottage; while 'Dolph scampered ahead and paused anon, quivering with
excitement. Who can say what the dog expected? Perchance down this
miraculous valley another noble stag would come coursing to his death;
and next time 'Dolph would know how to behave, and would retrieve his
reputation--to which, by the way, no one had given a thought. But dogs
can be self-conscious as men.
Lo! when they came to the ledge above the fall, Holmness was visible,
vignetted in a gap of the lingering fog, and standing so clear against
the level sunset that its rocky ledges, tipped here and there with
flame, appeared but a mile distant, or only a trifle more. He caught
his breath at sight of it, and pointed. But Tilda turned aside to the
cottage. This craze of his began to annoy her.
She was yet further annoyed when he joined her there, ten minutes later,
and appeared to pay small attention, if he listened at all, to her plans
for to-morrow, before the ride to Culvercoombe. There could be no more
nettle-clearing to-day. Dusk was gathering fast, and in another hour
the moon would rise. So back once more they fared, to find Mrs.
Tossell busily laying supper; and close after supper came prayer, and
bedtime on the stroke of nine.
An hour later Tilda--who slept, as a rule, like a top--awoke from uneasy
dreams with a start, and opened her eyes. A flood of moonlight poured
in at the window, and there in the full ray of it stood Arthur Miles,
The boy let drop the window-curtain, and came across to her bed.
"Are you awake?" he whispered. "Get up and dress--we can do it easily."
"There's a tank just under the window--with a slate cover: we can lower
ourselves down to it from the sill, and after that it's not six feet to
"What's up with you?" She raised herself, and sat rubbing her eyes.
"Oh, get yer clothes off an' go back to bed! Walkin' in yer sleep you
"If you won't come with me, I'm going alone."
"Eh?" She stared at him across the moon-ray, for he had gone back to the
window and lifted the curtain again. "But _where_ in the world?"
"'Olmness? . . . It's crazed you are."
"I am not crazed at all. It's all quite easy, I tell you--easy and
simple. They've left the boat afloat--I've found out how to get to
her--and the night is as still as can be. . . . Are you coming?"
"You'll be drowned, I tell you--drowned or lost, for sure--"
"Are you coming?"
He did not reason with her, or she would have resisted. He spoke very
calmly, and for the first time she felt his will mastering hers.
One thing was certain--she could not let him go alone. . . . She threw
back the bedclothes, slipped out, and began to dress, protesting all the
while against the folly of it.
To reach the ground was mere child's-play, as he had promised. From the
broad window-ledge to the slate tank was an easy drop, and from the tank
they lowered themselves to a gravelled pathway that led around this
gable of the house. They made the least possible noise, for fear of
awakening the farm-dogs; but these slept in an out-house of the great
farmyard, which lay on the far side of the building. Here the moon
shone into a diminutive garden with box-bordered flower-beds, and half a
dozen bee-skips in row against a hedge of privet, and at the end of the
gravelled walk a white gate glimmering.
Arthur Miles tip-toed to the gate, lifted its latch very cautiously, and
held it aside for Tilda to pass. They were free.
"Of all the madness!" she muttered as they made for the coombe.
The boy did not answer. He knew the way pretty well, for this was their
fourth journey. But the moonlight did not reach, save here and there,
the hollows through which the path wound, and each step had to be
"Look 'ere," she essayed again after a while, "I won't say but this is a
lark, if on'y you'll put that nonsense about 'Olmness out of yer mind.
We can go down to the cottage an' make believe it's yer ancesteral
"Wh'st!" he commanded sharply, under his breath.
She listened. Above the murmur of the stream her ears caught a soft
pattering sound somewhere in the darkness behind.
"What is it?" She caught at his arm.
"I don't know. . . . Yes I do. 'Dolph?--is it 'Dolph? Here then--
And sure enough 'Dolph came leaping out of the darkness, heaven knows
by what instinct guided. 'Dolph, too wise to utter a single bark, but
springing to lick their hands, and fawning against their legs.
The dog's presence put new courage into Tilda, she scarcely knew why,
and henceforth she followed more confidently. With a stumble or two,
but no serious mishap, they groped their way down the coombe, and coming
to the ledge, saw the beach spread at their feet in the moonlight and
out on the water the dark boat heaving gently, a little beyond the edge
of the waves' ripple. The tide had receded since their last visit, and
Arthur Miles knew nothing about tides. But he had discovered the trick
of the boat's moorings. The farm-men, returning from their pursuit of
the stag, had dropped a small anchor attached to a shore-line, by which
at high-water they could draw her in and thus save themselves the
present labour of hauling her up the steep beach. But the weather being
fair, they had suffered high-water to pass, and let her ride out the
night as she lay.
Arthur Miles knew the bush to which the shore-end of the line was
attached, and scrambling down beside the fall, found it easily and
untied it. As a fact (of which, however, he was quite unaware), he had
very little time to lose. In another twenty minutes the boat's keel
would have taken ground immovably. He ran down the beach, coiling the
slack of the line as he went; tugged at the anchor, which yielded
readily; found it; and almost at the same moment heard the boat's nose
grate softly on the pebbles. The beach shelved steeply, and her stern
lay well afloat; nor was there any run of sea to baffle him by throwing
her broadside-on to the stones. He hurried Tilda aboard.
She clambered over the thwarts to the stern-sheets, 'Dolph sprang after
her, and then with the lightest push the boy had her afloat--so easily
indeed that she had almost slid away, leaving him; but he just managed
to clutch the gunwale close by the stem and to scramble after.
He seized an oar at once and thrust off. Next came the difficult job of
working her round and pointing her nose for the sea. Of rowing he knew
nothing at all, nor could Tilda help him. He could but lift the clumsy
oar, and ply it with the little skill he had learnt on the voyage down
Avon, as one plies a canoe-paddle. Even to do this he was forced to
stand erect in the stern-sheets: if he sat, the awkward pole would
over-weight his strength completely. But the boy had a native sense of
watermanship, and no fear at all; and the boat, being a stable old tub,
while taxing all his efforts, allowed a margin for mistakes. Little by
little he brought her round, and paddled her clear of the cove into
Even then he might have desisted. For although the moon, by this time
high aloft behind his right shoulder, shone fair along the waterway to
the Island, the grey mass of which loomed up like the body of a
sea-monster anchored and asleep in the offing, he soon discovered that
his own strength would never suffice to drive the boat so far.
But almost on the moment of this discovery he made two others; the
first, that the tide--or, as he supposed it, the current--set down and
edged the boat at every stroke a little towards the Island, which lay,
in fact, well down to the westward of the cove, and by half a mile
perhaps; the second, that out here a breeze, hitherto imperceptible, was
blowing steadily off the land. He considered this for a while, and then
ordered Tilda, who by this time was shivering with cold, to pull up the
V-shaped bottom-board covering the well in the stern and fix it upright
in the bows. She did this obediently, and, so placed, it acted as a
Seeing that she still shivered, he commanded her to take the other oar,
seat herself on a thwart forward, and do her best to work it as they had
seen the farm-hands pulling after the stag. Again she obeyed, and he
fixed the thole-pins for her, and lifted the oar into place between
them. But with the first stroke she missed the water altogether, and
with the next caught a crab, which checked the boat dead. This would
never do; so, and still to busy her and keep her warm with exercise,
rather than in hope of help from her, he instructed her to stand with
her face to the bows, and push with the oar as she had seen him pushing.
He expected very little from this; but Tilda somehow caught the knack
after a few strokes, and for half a mile it helped them greatly.
By this time they were both warm enough, but desperately tired. So far
as they could judge, half of the distance was accomplished. They could
certainly not work back against the breeze blowing more and more freshly
off the land.
With a little steering on the boy's part they might even have trusted to
this breeze to carry them the rest of the way, had it not been for the
ebb tide. This too had steadily increased in strength, and now, unless
a miracle happened, would sweep them far to the westward of their goal.
Hitherto they had been working their oars one on each side of the boat.
Now Tilda shifted hers across, and they pushed together; but all in
vain. The tide steadily forced them sideways. They were drifting past
the westernmost end of the Island, and the Island still lay more than a
For the next ten minutes neither spoke; and it may stand to Tilda's
credit that she uttered no reproach at all. At slow intervals she
lifted the oar and pushed with it; but she had none of the boy's native
instinct for managing it, and her strokes grew feebler. At length she
lifted the heavy shaft a little way, and let it fall with a thud on the
gunwale. She could do no more, and the face she turned to him in the
moonlight was white with fatigue.
"I just _can't_," she panted. "It's dead beat I am."
"Lie down," he commanded, pointing to the bottom boards. "Here--take my
He picked his jacket up from the stern-sheets and tossed it to her.
His face was white and wearied almost as hers, yet, strange to say,
quite cheerful and confident, although patently every second now was
driving the boat down Channel, and wider of its goal. For a moment it
appeared that she would resist. But, as she caught the coat, weakness
overcame her, her knees gave way, and she dropped in a huddled heap.
'Dolph ran to her with a sharp whine, and fell to licking the hand and
wrist that lay inert across the thwart. The touch of his tongue revived
her, and by and by she managed to reach out and draw his warm body close
to her, where he was content to lie, reassured by the beating of her
The boy spread his jacket over her, and went aft again. He did not
resume his paddling, for this indeed was plainly useless. Already on
his right hand the Island was slipping, or seemed to be slipping, away
into darkness. But he did not lose it, for after a while the climbing
moon stood right above it, linking it to the boat by a chain of light
that rippled and wavered as if to mock him.
But he was not mocked. He had faith all the while. He longed for the
secret by which that shining chain could be hauled upon, by which to
follow up that glittering pathway; but he never doubted. By whatever
gods might be, he had been brought thus far, and now sooner or later the
last miracle was bound to happen. He had been foolish to struggle so,
and to wear Tilda out. He would sit still and wait.
And while he sat there and waited he began, of a sudden and at unawares,
to sing to himself. It was the same tuneless chant that had taken
possession of him by Harvington-on-Avon; but more instant now and more
confident, breaking from him now upon the open sea, with moon and stars
above him. Tilda did not hear it, for she slept. He himself was hardly
conscious of it. His thoughts were on the Island, on the miracle that
was going to happen. He did not know that it had already begun to
happen; that the tide was already slackening; nor, had he marked it,
would he have understood. For almost an hour he sang on, and so slipped
down in the stern-sheets and slept.
By and by, while he slept, the tide reached its ebb and came stealing
back, drawing with it a breeze from the south-west.
He awoke to a sound which at first he mistook for the cawing of rooks--
there had been many rooks in the trees beyond the wall of Holy
Innocents, between it and the Brewery. But, gazing aloft, he saw that
these were sea-gulls, wheeling and mewing and making a mighty pother.
And then--O wonder!--as he rubbed his eyes he looked up at a tall
cliff, a wall of rock rising sheer, and a good hundred feet from its
base where the white water was breaking. The boat had drifted almost
within the back-draught, and it was to warn him that the gulls were
"The Island! The Island!"
He caught up his oar and called to Tilda. She struggled up sleepily,
and gasped at the sight.
"You must take an oar and help!" he called. "There must be a landing
near, if we work her round the point--"
And, sure enough, around the point they opened a small cove, running
inwards to a narrow beach of shingle. A grassy gully wound up from the
head of the cove, broadening as it trended to the left, away from the
tall rocks of the headland; and at the sight of this 'Dolph began
barking furiously, scaring fresh swarms of sea-birds from their
They were in quiet water here, and in less than two minutes--the boy
steering--the boat's stem grated softly on the shingle and took ground.
'Dolph sprang ashore at once, but the children followed with some
difficulty, for they were cold and stiff, and infinitely weary yet.
It seemed to them that they had reached a new world: for a strange light
filled the sky and lay over the sea; a light like the sheen upon grey
satin, curiously compounded of moonlight and dawn; a light in which the
grass shone a vivid green, but all else was dim and ghostly.
Scarcely knowing what they did, they staggered up the beach a little
way, and flung themselves down on the shingle.
Two hours passed before Arthur Miles awoke. The sun had climbed over
the low cliff to the eastward of the cove, and shone on his lids.
It seemed to him that his feet were lying in water.
So indeed they were, for the tide had risen and .was running around his
ankles. But while he sat up, wondering at this new marvel, Tilda gave a
cry and pointed.
The boat had vanished.
"_Be not afraid; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not._"--THE TEMPEST.
"Well," said Tilda dolefully, "I guess that about settles us!"
The boy, his hands thrust into his breeches' pockets, stared over the
sea for a while.
"I don't see that it matters much," he answered at length, withdrawing
his gaze. "You know well enough we could never have worked her back
"Oh, indeed? And 'ow are we goin' to pick up our vittles? I don't know
what _you_ feel like, but I could do with breakfast a'ready."
"Perhaps 'Dolph can catch us a rabbit," he suggested hopefully after a
pause. "I heard Roger say last night that Holmness swarmed with
"Rabbits?" said Tilda with scorn. "D'yer know 'ow to skin one if we
"No, I don't," he confessed.
"And when he's skinned, there's the cookin'; and we 'aven't so much as a
box of matches. . . . That's the worst of boys, they 're so
"Well, then, we can hunt for gulls' eggs."
"That's better; if," she added on an afterthought, "gulls 'appen to lay
eggs at this time of year--which I'll bet they don't."
"Look here," said the boy severely, "we haven't searched yet.
What's the use of giving in before we've _tried?_ Nobody starves on the
Island, I tell you; and--and I can't bear your talking in this way.
It isn't _like_ you--"
"I can't _'elp_ it," owned poor Tilda with a dry sob.
"--breaking down," he continued, "just when we've reached, and all the
rest is going to happen just as the book says."
"It's certain." He pulled out the tattered, coverless volume. "Why, I
do believe"--he said it with a kind of grave wonder--"you're hankering
after that silly cottage!"
"Of course I am," she confessed defiantly, for he exasperated her.
"We'd promised to ride over an' see Miss Sally this afternoon, an' I
wanted to spend the 'ole mornin' learnin' 'ow to be a lady. . . .
I don't get _too_ much time for these little things."
The protest was weak enough, and weakly uttered. Until the moment of
embarking on this expedition Tilda had been throughout their wanderings
always and consciously the leader--her will the stronger, her's to
initiate and to guide. But now he stuck his hands deeper into his
"That's all very well," he replied; "but you can't get to Miss Sally's
to-day. So who's unpractical now? Let's find the cave first, and have
breakfast; and then, if you're tired of exploring, you can sit on
cushions all day, and read your book and learn how to be a princess--
which is ever so much higher than an ordinary lady."
"Cave? _Wot_ cave? _Wot_ breakfast? _Wot_ cushions? Oh, I do
believe, Arthur Miles, you've gone stark starin' mad!"
"Why," he reasoned with her, "on a seashore like this there are bound to
be caves; the only trouble will be to find the right one. And as for
breakfast, it was you that talked about it just now."
His persistence, his gentleness, the careful lucidity of his craze drove
her fairly beside herself.
"Oh," she cried again, "if you ain't mad, then I must be, or elst I'm
sickenin' for it! It don't much matter, any'ow. We got to starve 'ere
an' die, an' the sooner the better."
She walked across the beach to a smooth slab of rock and seated herself
sullenly, with her eyes on the distant mainland. They were misty with
tears of anger, of despair. But he could not see them, for she had
resolutely turned her back on him. Had she broken down--had she uttered
one sob even--the boy would have run to her side. As it was, he gazed
at her sorrowfully. . . . She had lost her temper again, and it spoiled
everything. But the spell of the Island was on him. Above, in the
sunlight, the green gully wound upward and inland, inviting him; and
here on the shingle at his feet sat 'Dolph and looked up at him, with
eyes that appealed for a ramble. The dog's teeth chattered, and small
suppressed noises worked in his throat.
"Very well," called the boy, "I am going, and you can sit there or
follow, as you like."
He swung on his heel and set forth, 'Dolph scampering ahead and barking
so wildly that the noise of it scared the birds again in flock after
flock from their ledges.
On the ridge the boy halted for a moment and looked down. But Tilda sat
stubbornly on her rock, still with her back turned.
She had pulled out her book, the _Lady's Vade-Mecum_, but only for a
pretence. She did not in the least want to read, nor could her eyes
just now have distinguished a word of the text. She was wholly
miserable; and yet, curiously enough, after the first minute her misery
did not rest on despair, or at any rate not consciously. She was
wretched because the boy had broken away and gone without her, and
'Dolph with him--'Dolph, her own dog. They were ungrateful. . . .
Had not everything gone right so long as they had obeyed her? While
now--They would find out, of course. Even Arthur Miles would begin to
feel hungry after a while, and then--'Dolph might keep going for a time
on rabbits, though as a circus-dog he was not clever at sport.
Yes, she had a right to be indignant. She had lost command for a
moment, and Arthur Miles had straightway led her into this trap. . . .
This was all very well, but deep down beneath the swellings of
indignation there lurked a thought that gradually surmounted them,
working upwards until it sat whispering in her ear. . . . They were in a
tight place, no doubt, . . . but was she behaving well? Now that the
mess was made and could not be unmade, where was the pluck--where was
even the sense--of sitting here and sulking? Had she stuck it out, why
then at the end she could have forgiven him, and they would have died
together. . . . She stared forlornly at the book, and a ridiculous
mocking sentence stared back at her: "It is often surprising into what
tasty breakfast dishes the cunning housewife will convert the least
promising materials." In a gust of temper she caught up the book and
hurled it from her.
And yet . . . with all these birds about, there must surely be eggs.
She had not a notion how gulls' eggs tasted. Raw eggs! they would
certainly be nasty; but raw eggs, after all, will support life.
Moreover, deliverance might come, and before long. The Tossells, when
they found the boat missing, would start a search, and on the Island
there might be some means of signalling. How could she be forgiven, or
forgive herself, if the rescuers arrived to find Arthur Miles dead and
With that a dreadful apprehension seized her, and she stood erect,
listening. . . . She had let him go alone, into Heaven knew what perils.
He was searching along the cliffs, searching for a cave, and very likely
for gulls' eggs on the way. . . . What easier than to slip and break his
neck? She listened--listened. But the sound of 'Dolph's barking had
long ago died away. . . . Oh, if he were dead, and she must search the
Island alone for him!
Poor child! for the moment her nerve deserted her. With a strangling
sob she ran towards the beach-head, and began to clamber up the low
cliff leading to the gully.
"Til-da! Hi! Til-da!"
From the ledge of the cliff she stared up, and with another sob.
High on the ridge that closed the gully stood Arthur Miles, safe and
sound. He was waving both arms.
"I've found it!" he called.
"The House." He came running down to meet her as she scrambled her way
up the gully. "It's not a Cave, but a House." They met, both panting.
"You were right, after all," he announced, and in a voice that shook
with excitement. He had forgotten their quarrel; he had no room for
remembrance of it; sheer joy filled him so full. "It's not a Cave, but
a House; and with _such_ things to eat!"
"Things to eat?" she echoed dully, and for an instant her heart sank
again at the suspicion that after all he was mad, and here was another
proof of it. But her eyes were fixed on something he held out in his
hand. "What's that you've got?"
"Marmalade--real marmalade! And a spoon too--there are heaps of spoons
and cups and glasses, and a fire ready laid. And--see here--biscuits!"
He produced a handful from his pocket. "I brought these things along
because you said you were hungry."
Still incredulous, distrusting her eyes, Tilda watched him dip out a
small spoonful of marmalade and spread it on the biscuit. She took it
and ate, closing her eyes. The taste was heavenly.
"Oh, Arthur Miles, where are we?"
"Why, on the Island. Didn't I tell you it was going to be all right?"
He said it in mere elation, without a hint of reproach.
"I'm so sorry."
"Sorry? What is there to be sorry about? Come along."
They climbed the turfy slope in silence, Tilda too deep in amaze for
speech. By and by she asked irrelevantly--
"Where is 'Dolph?"
"Eh? 'Dolph? He was with me five minutes ago. Off chasing rabbits, I
expect. He has missed catching about two dozen already."
"Isn't that his bark? Listen . . . away to the right."
They stood still for a while.
"Sounds like it," said the boy; "and yet not exactly like."
"It's 'Dolph, and he's in some sort of trouble. That's not 'is usual
"We'd best see what it is, I suppose, and fetch him along."
Arthur Miles struck aside from the line they had been following, and
moved after the sound, not without reluctance. "It may be only a
vision," he said gravely. "Remember the hounds that ran after Caliban
and the others?"
But as they trended towards the edge of the cliffs the barking grew
louder, and was recognisably 'Dolph's; and so they came to a wide
shelving amphitheatre of turf overgrown with furze and blackthorn.
It curved almost as smoothly as the slope of a crater, and shelved to a
small semi-circular bay. There, on the edge of the tide, danced 'Dolph
yelping; and there, knee-deep in water, facing him with lowered head,
stood a magnificent stag--yes, the stag of yesterday! When Arthur Miles
caught at Tilda's arm and proclaimed this, at first she doubted. But he
pointed to the antlers, glinting bright in the sunshine. He did not
know the names for them, but whereas the left antler bore brow, bay,
tray, and three on top, the top of the right antler, by some
malformation, was not divided at all, and even a child could see this
and guess it to be unusual. He was a noble stag nevertheless. The sun
shone down on his russet-gold flanks as he stood there fronting the dog
with his deadly brow-points. And 'Dolph kept to the edge of the water,
leaping forward a little and anon leaping back, and at each leap
emitting a futile yelp.
The children stared, wondering how he could have driven so noble a
quarry; until, as Arthur Miles called down, he lifted his head and gazed
up at them for a moment. Then he turned slowly, as it were
disdainfully, and they divined the truth--that the long swim of
yesterday had broken his gallant strength, and he had come down to the
beach to die. He turned and lurched heavily down into deep water, laid
himself gently afloat, and struck out as if heading for the main.
But the main and his own heathery moors lay far distant, a blue-grey
line in the haze to the southward. Perhaps his spirit regained them as
his body slowly sank. The children watched it sink until only the
antlers showed above water like a forked bough adrift on the tideway.
They drifted so for a few seconds; then dipped out of sight, and were
The children stood for a full minute gazing at the water where he had
disappeared. Then Arthur Miles whistled to 'Dolph, who came bounding up
the slope, and together all three struck inland again, but in silence.
They were awed by the Island and its wonders.
The Island, as they climbed to its grassy chine, gradually revealed
itself as a hill of two peaks, united by a long saddle-back. The most
of this upland consisted of short turf, with here and there a patch of
stones. In all the prospect was no single tree, scarcely a furze-bush
even--the furze grew only on the southern slopes, low down; and Tilda
strained her eyes vainly for sight of the House.
But in the very dip of the saddle was a gully, much like the one by
which they had ascended, but steeper and dipping to the north. Before
they reached it, before she could detect it even, Arthur Miles pointed
to where it lay; and they had scarcely turned aside to follow it before
a chimney--a genuine red-brick chimney--rose into sight above the dying
A minute later, and she was looking down on a broad slated roof, on a
building of one story, stuck here in a notch of the gully, and in the
lee of almost every wind that could blow. Its front faced her as she
descended. It had a deep, red-tiled verandah, and under the verandah a
line of windows, close-shuttered all but one. This one stood next to
the front door, on the right.
The boy, still leading, ran down the sloping path to the door, and
lifted the latch. Tilda halted just within the threshold, and looked
The kitchen, on which the door opened, was well furnished, with an open
hearth, and a fire laid ready there, and even a row of saucepans
twinkling above the mantel-shelf.
Arthur Miles waved a hand around, and pointed to another door at the end
of the kitchen.
"There's a heap of rooms in there. I didn't stay to search. But look
He unhitched a card which hung above the mantel-shelf. On it was
"The provisions here are left for any mariners who may
find themselves shipwrecked on this Island. All such
are welcome to make use of what accommodation they find
here. Casual visitors will kindly respect the intention
with which this house is kept open, and will leave the
place strictly as they find it."
"(Signed) MILES CHANDON, Bart."
From the next room came the sound of a window opened and a shutter
thrown wide, and Tilda's voice announced--
"Well, I never! Beds!"
"Beds--_and_ sheets--_and_ blankets." Tilda reappeared in the doorway.
"A 'ole reel 'ouse! But why?--and 'ow in the world?"
Arthur Miles held out the card.
"It's for sailors shipwrecked here."
Tilda studied the notice.
"And we 're shipwrecked! Well, if this ain't the loveliest. A reel
'ouse, with reel beds an' sorsepans!"
Her jaw dropped.
"An' I flung that blessed book away just as it was tellin' about
GLASSON IN CHASE.
"_Prospero: Hey, Mountain, hey!
Ariel: Silver, there it goes, Silver!_"--THE TEMPEST.
Like most men of fifty or thereabouts, and like every man who finds
himself at that age a bachelor rector of a remote country parish,
Parson Chichester had collected a number of small habits or
superstitions--call them which you will: they are the moss a sensible
stone gathers when it has ceased rolling. He smoked a pipe in the house
or when he walked abroad, but a Manila cheroot (he belonged to the age
of cheroots) when he rode or drove; and he never rode on a Sunday, but
either walked or used a dog-cart. Also by habit--or again, if you
please, superstition--he preached one sermon, not necessarily a new one,
To-day he had broken through this last custom, but observed the others.
After an abbreviated Morning Service he lit a cheroot, climbed into his
dog-cart, and drove off towards Meriton at a brisk pace, being due to
perform his errand there and report himself at Meriton by three in the
afternoon. For luncheon he carried a box of sandwiches and a flask of
whisky and water. His horse--a tall, free-stepping bay, by name
Archdeacon--was, properly speaking, a hunter, and the Parson, in driving
as in riding him, just rattled him along, letting him feel the rein but
seldom, or never using it to interfere with his pace.
The entrance gates at Meriton are ancient and extremely handsome,
wrought of the old iron of East Sussex, and fashioned, somewhere in the
mid-eighteenth century, after an elaborate Florentine pattern--tradition
says, by smiths imported from Italy. The pillars are of weather-stained
marble, and four in number, the two major ones surrounded by antlered
stags, the two minor by cressets of carved flame, symbolising the human
soul, and the whole illustrating the singular motto of the Chandons,
"_As the hart desireth._" On either side of the gates is a lodge in the
Ionic style, with a pillared portico, and the lodges are shadowed by two
immense cedars, the marvel of the country-side.
But to-day the lodges stood empty, with closed doors and drawn blinds--
the doors weather-stained, the blinds dingy with dust. Weeds overgrew
the bases of the pillars, and grass had encroached upon all but a narrow
ribbon scored by wheel-ruts along the noble drive. Parson Chichester
pulled up, and was about to dismount and open the gates for himself,
when he caught sight of a stranger coming afoot down the drive; and the
stranger, at the same moment catching sight of the dog-cart, waved a
hand and mended his pace to do this small service.
"Much obliged to you," nodded Parson Chichester pleasantly, after a
sharp and curious scrutiny. For the stranger was a parson too by his
dress--a tall, elderly man with grey side-whiskers and a hard, square
mouth like the slit of a letter-box. The clergy are always curious
about one another by a sort of freemasonry, and Parson Chichester knew
every beneficed clergyman in the diocese and most of the unbeneficed.
But who could this be? And what might be his business at Meriton, of
The stranger acknowledged his thanks with a slight wave of the hand.
"A fine day. I am happy to have been of service."
It was curious. Each paused for a second or so as if on the point of
asking a question; each waited for the other to speak; then, as nothing
came of it, each bowed again, and thus awkwardly they parted.
Parson Chichester drove on with a pucker between the eyebrows and a
humorous twitch in the corners of his mouth. So when two pedestrians,
strangers, meet and politely attempt to draw aside but with misdirected
_chasses_ that leave them still confronting one another, they disengage
at length and go their ways between irritation and amusement.
Meriton, one of "the stately homes of England," is a structure in the
Palladian style, injudiciously built on the foundations of an older
house dating from the fifteenth century, when sites were chosen for the
sake of a handy supply of water, and with little regard to view or even
to sunshine. It occupies a cup of the hills, is backed by a dark
amphitheatre of evergreen trees, and looks across a narrow valley. The
farther slope rises abruptly, and has been converted into a park, so to
speak, against its will. The stream that flows down the valley bottom
has likewise been arrested by art and forced to form a lake with a
swannery; but neither lake nor swannery is entirely convincing. It was
not, however, its architect's fault that to Parson Chichester the place
looked much more stately than homelike, since every window in its really
noble facade was shuttered and sightless.
The great entrance porchway lay at the back of the house, in the gloom
of a dripping cliff. Here the Parson climbed down and tugged at an iron
bell-handle. The bell sounded far within the house, and was answered
pretty promptly by the butler, a grizzled, ruddy-faced man, who (it was
understood) had followed Sir Miles out of the Service, and carried
confirmation of this in the wrinkles about his eyes--those peculiar,
unmistakable wrinkles which are only acquired by keeping look-out in
many a gale of wind.
"Ah? Good morning, Matters!" said Parson Chichester. "Sorry to disturb
you, but I've driven over to ask for Sir Miles's address."
"Certainly, sir. That's curious too," added Mr. Matters half to
himself. "His address . . . yes, to be sure, sir, I'll write it down
for you. But you must let me get you something in the way of luncheon
after your drive. Sir Miles would be annoyed if you went away without--
though, the house being closed, you'll pardon deficiencies. As for the
"I hope I know how to stable him," struck in the Parson. "But I won't
stay--thank you all the same. I've eaten my sandwiches on the road, and
couldn't make a second meal if you paid me. What's curious, by the
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
"I am quoting you. 'Curious,' you said."
"Ah, to be sure, sir. Well, less than half an hour ago there was a
stranger here--a clergyman too--putting the very same question."
"I met him at the lodge gates. Oldish man, grey whiskers, mouth like a
"That's him, sir."
"It's a coincidence, certainly. The more remarkable, I guess, because
Meriton nowadays is not much infested with parsons. 'Wonder who he was,
and what he wanted?"
"He would not give his name, sir. He wanted the address."
"You gave it to him?"
"I did not, sir."
"Was he annoyed?"
"He was, sir; very much annoyed. He said words to himself, which unless
Parson Chichester laughed.
"If you had refused _me_, you 'd have heard 'em quite distinctly."
"Yes, sir. The address is, Grand Hotel, Monte Carlo. I heard from Sir
Miles only yesterday. You understand, sir, that as a rule he does not
choose for everyone to know his movements."
"I do, and am obliged by your confidence. I want it for Miss Sally
Breward; and, if this reassures you, I shall give it to her and to no
"I thank you, sir; it was unnecessary. But I may tell you, sir, that
Sir Miles has a very high opinion of Miss Sally, as I happen to know."
"We all have, Matters. . . . Well, I have what I came for, and will be
driving back to Culvercoombe with it. So good day, and thank you!"
"I thank _you_, sir."
Mr. Matters bowed.
Parson Chichester turned Archdeacon, and put him at his best trotting
speed--by a single hint from the reins, no whip needed. This time he
had to descend and open the lodge gates for himself. A mile and a half
beyond them the road crossed one of the many high brows of the moor, and
here on the rise he discerned a black-habited figure trudging along the
He recognised the stranger at once, and reined up as he overtook him.
"Good day again, sir! Can I offer you a lift?"
"I thank you," said the stranger. "I am bound for a place called
"Why, and so am I! So you must give me the pleasure."
"You are exceedingly kind."
He clambered up, not very skilfully, and the dog-cart bowled on again.
For a while the two kept silence. Then Parson Chichester made an
"You don't belong to these parts?" he asked.
"No. . . . Pardon my curiosity, but are you a friend of Miss Breward's?"
"I believe she would allow me to say 'yes.' By the way, hereabouts we
call her Miss Sally. Everyone does--even the butler at Meriton, with
whom I was speaking just now."
"Indeed? . . . I am wondering if you would presently add to your
kindness by giving me an introduction to her? Trust me," he went on,
staring down the road ahead and answering Parson Chichester's quick
glance without seeming to perceive it, "you will incur no
responsibility. I am not a mendicant priest, and only ask her to favour
me with an address, which I believe she can easily give."
The stranger's somewhat grim mouth relaxed a little at the corners.
"The English language," he said, "is full of distracting homonyms. I am
not asking her for a sermon, but to be directed where a certain
gentleman resides--at present, I have reason to believe, abroad--where,
for instance, a letter will reach him."
"Sir Miles Chandon?"
"Precisely. You have hit it. . . . But, to be sure, you were talking
just now with his butler. A worthy fellow, I dare say, though
suspicious of strangers."
Parson Chichester felt pretty much of a fool, and the more annoyed
because unable to detect anything offensive in the tone of the rebuke--
if, indeed, a rebuke had been implied.
"Folk in these parts see few strange faces," he said lamely.
"It was the kinder of you to offer me a lift. I had heard, by the way,
that Sir Miles's butler did not come from these parts, but was a
"That is so."
Mr. Chichester felt that he was getting very markedly the worst of this
conversation, and decided to let it drop. But just as he had arrived at
this decision the stranger faced around and asked--
"Perhaps _you_ know Sir Miles's present address?"
At this point-blank question Mr. Chichester's face grew very red indeed.
He had brought it on himself. Denial was useless.
"Perhaps I do," he answered. "But you were going to ask Miss Sally for
it, and we will leave it to her."
"Quite right," the stranger assented. "Here is my own card, though it
will convey nothing to you."
But it conveyed a great deal. Parson Chichester reached across with his
disengaged right hand, took the card and read--
The Reverend Purdie J. Glasson, LL.D.,
Holy Innocents' Orphanage,
The words danced before his eyes. Imagine some unskilled player pitted
against an expert at cards, awake at one moment to his weakness, and the
next overwhelmingly aware that his opponent, by an incredible blunder,
is delivered into his hands. The elation of it fairly frightened Mr.
Chichester, and he so far forgot himself as to take up his whip and
administer a sharp flick on Archdeacon's shoulder--an outrage which the
good horse, after an instant of amazement, resented by a creditable
attempt to bolt. This was probably the best that could have happened.
It gave the Parson a job he understood, and for five minutes effectually
prevented his speaking.
They had almost reached the entrance gate of Culvercoombe before he
reduced the affronted horse to a trot, and Doctor Glasson, who had been
clutching the rail of the dog-cart in acutest physical terror, had no
nerve as yet to resume the conversation. A lodge-keeper ran out and
opened the gate (service under Miss Sally was always alert), and they
rolled smoothly down the well-gravelled drive through an avenue of
A couple of aged mastiff bitches--mothers in their time, and now
great-grandmothers, of a noble race--lay sunning themselves before the
house-porch. They recognised the parson's dog-cart and heaved
themselves up, wagging their tails to welcome a respected, if rare,
visitor; but growled at sight of his companion. Their names were
Tryphena and Tryphosa.
Parson Chichester alighted and rang the bell, after handing the reins to
Doctor Glasson with an apology.
"I'll get the groom sent round in a moment," he explained, and to the
butler who opened the door, "Miss Sally is expecting me, eh, Butts?"
"In the yellow drawing-room, y'r worship."
The Parson was a magistrate, and, for no known reason, Butts always
addressed him as such.
"Very well, I'll find my way to her. Send someone around to take the
dog-cart, and as soon as he comes, take this gentleman inside until your
mistress rings. Understand?"
"I understand, y'r worship."
"Then be as brisk as you can, for the horse is fresh to-day."
"He 'as aperiently been workin' hisself into a lather, y'r worship,"
said Butts. "Which I 'ave noticed, sir, your 'abit--or, as I may say,
your custom--of bringin' 'im in cool."
But Parson Chichester had left him, and was making his way across the
hall to the yellow drawing-room, which he entered with little ceremony.
Miss Sally rose to receive him. She had been sitting in its oriel
window with a small table before her, and on the table a Bible. This
was her rule on a Sunday afternoon, and every Sunday after luncheon she
donned a pair of spectacles. Butts, who knew her habits to a hair,
brought the spectacles once a week and laid the book open at his
favourite passages. For aught it mattered, he might have opened it
"You're pretty punctual," said Miss Sally. "Before your time, if
"Yes; the horse bolted, or tried to," Mr. Chichester explained.
"Guess whom I've brought with me."
"Not Miles Chandon?"
"No; he's at Monte Carlo. His address, the Grand Hotel. Guess again."
"Don't be foolish and waste time. The children may be arriving at any
"You must keep 'em out of the way, then."
"Because I've brought him."
"'Him'? You'll excuse me--"
"Glasson?" Her eyes opened wide. "You've brought Glasson? Well, I must
say you're clever."
"On the contrary, I've been infernally stupid. I met him coming down
the drive from Meriton. He had been pumping Matters for Sir Miles's
present address--which he didn't get. What's his game, do you think?"
"That crossed my mind too. He seems a deep one, and I don't like his