Part 6 out of 6
"Did he say anything?" Pritchard asked.
"The sum total of 'is conversation from 7.45 P.M. till 11.15 P.M. was
'Let's have another.' Thus the mornin' an' the evenin' were the first day,
as Scripture says.... To abbreviate a lengthy narrative, I went into Cape
Town for five consecutive nights with Master Vickery, and in that time I
must 'ave logged about fifty knots over the ground an' taken in two gallon
o' all the worst spirits south the Equator. The evolution never varied.
Two shilling seats for us two; five minutes o' the pictures, an' perhaps
forty-five seconds o' Mrs. B. walking down towards us with that blindish
look in her eyes an' the reticule in her hand. Then out walk--and drink
till train time."
"What did you think?" said Hooper, his hand fingering his waistcoat
"Several things," said Pyecroft. "To tell you the truth, I aren't quite
done thinkin' about it yet. Mad? The man was a dumb lunatic--must 'ave
been for months--years p'raps. I know somethin' o' maniacs, as every man
in the Service must. I've been shipmates with a mad skipper--an' a lunatic
Number One, but never both together I thank 'Eaven. I could give you the
names o' three captains now 'oo ought to be in an asylum, but you don't
find me interferin' with the mentally afflicted till they begin to lay
about 'em with rammers an' winch-handles. Only once I crept up a little
into the wind towards Master Vickery. 'I wonder what she's doin' in
England,' I says. 'Don't it seem to you she's lookin' for somebody?' That
was in the Gardens again, with the South-Easter blowin' as we were makin'
our desperate round. 'She's lookin' for me,' he says, stoppin' dead under
a lamp an' clickin'. When he wasn't drinkin', in which case all 'is teeth
clicked on the glass, 'e was clickin' 'is four false teeth like a Marconi
ticker. 'Yes! lookin' for me,' he said, an' he went on very softly an' as
you might say affectionately. '_But?_ he went on, 'in future, Mr.
Pyecroft, I should take it kindly of you if you'd confine your remarks to
the drinks set before you. Otherwise,' he says, 'with the best will in the
world towards you, I may find myself guilty of murder! Do you understand?'
he says. 'Perfectly,' I says, 'but would it at all soothe you to know that
in such a case the chances o' your being killed are precisely equivalent
to the chances o' me being outed.' 'Why, no,' he says, 'I'm almost afraid
that 'ud be a temptation,'
"Then I said--we was right under the lamp by that arch at the end o' the
Gardens where the trams came round--'Assumin' murder was done--or
attempted murder--I put it to you that you would still be left so badly
crippled, as one might say, that your subsequent capture by the police--to
'oom you would 'ave to explain--would be largely inevitable.' 'That's
better,' 'e says, passin' 'is hands over his forehead. 'That's much
better, because,' he says, 'do you know, as I am now, Pye, I'm not so sure
if I could explain anything much.' Those were the only particular words I
had with 'im in our walks as I remember."
"What walks!" said Hooper. "Oh my soul, what walks!"
"They were chronic," said Pyecroft gravely, "but I didn't anticipate any
danger till the Circus left. Then I anticipated that, bein' deprived of
'is stimulant, he might react on me, so to say, with a hatchet.
Consequently, after the final performance an' the ensuin' wet walk, I kep'
myself aloof from my superior officer on board in the execution of 'is
duty as you might put it. Consequently, I was interested when the sentry
informs me while I was passin' on my lawful occasions that Click had asked
to see the captain. As a general rule warrant officers don't dissipate
much of the owner's time, but Click put in an hour and more be'ind that
door. My duties kep' me within eyeshot of it. Vickery came out first, an'
'e actually nodded at me an' smiled. This knocked me out o' the boat,
because, havin' seen 'is face for five consecutive nights, I didn't
anticipate any change there more than a condenser in hell, so to speak.
The owner emerged later. His face didn't read off at all, so I fell back
on his cox, 'oo'd been eight years with him and knew him better than boat
signals. Lamson--that was the cox's name--crossed 'is bows once or twice
at low speeds an' dropped down to me visibly concerned. 'He's shipped 'is
court-martial face,' says Lamson. 'Some one's goin' to be 'ung. I've never
seen that look but once before when they chucked the gun-sights overboard
in the _Fantastic_.' Throwin' gun-sights overboard, Mr. Hooper, is the
equivalent for mutiny in these degenerate days. It's done to attract the
notice of the authorities an' the _Western Mornin' News_--generally by a
stoker. Naturally, word went round the lower deck an' we had a private
over'aul of our little consciences. But, barrin' a shirt which a second-
class stoker said 'ad walked into 'is bag from the marines flat by itself,
nothin' vital transpired. The owner went about flyin' the signal for
'attend public execution,' so to say, but there was no corpse at the
yardarm. 'E lunched on the beach an' 'e returned with 'is regulation
harbour-routine face about 3 P. M. Thus Lamson lost prestige for raising
false alarms. The only person 'oo might 'ave connected the epicycloidal
gears correctly was one Pyecroft, when he was told that Mr. Vickery would
go up country that same evening to take over certain naval ammunition left
after the war in Bloemfontein Fort. No details was ordered to accompany
Master Vickery. He was told off first person singular--as a unit---by
The marine whistled penetratingly.
"That's what I thought," said Pyecroft. "I went ashore with him in the
cutter an' 'e asked me to walk through the station. He was clickin'
audibly, but otherwise seemed happy-ish.
"'You might like to know,' he says, stoppin' just opposite the Admiral's
front gate, 'that Phyllis's Circus will be performin' at Worcester
to-morrow night. So I shall see 'er yet once again. You've been very
patient with me,' he says.
"'Look here, Vickery,' I said, 'this thing's come to be just as much as I
can stand. Consume your own smoke. I don't want to know any more.'
"'You!' he said. 'What have you got to complain of?--you've only 'ad to
watch. I'm _it_,' he says, 'but that's neither here nor there,' he says.
'I've one thing to say before shakin' 'ands. Remember,' 'e says--we were
just by the Admiral's garden-gate then--'remember, that I am _not_ a
murderer, because my lawful wife died in childbed six weeks after I came
out. That much at least I am clear of,' 'e says.
"'Then what have you done that signifies?' I said. 'What's the rest of
"'The rest,' 'e says, 'is silence,' an' he shook 'ands and went clickin'
into Simons Town station."
"Did he stop to see Mrs. Bathurst at Worcester?" I asked.
"It's not known. He reported at Bloemfontein, saw the ammunition into the
trucks, and then 'e disappeared. Went out--deserted, if you care to put it
so--within eighteen months of his pension, an' if what 'e said about 'is
wife was true he was a free man as 'e then stood. How do you read it off?"
"Poor devil!" said Hooper. "To see her that way every night! I wonder what
"I've made my 'ead ache in that direction many a long night."
"But I'll swear Mrs. B. 'ad no 'and in it," said the Sergeant unshaken.
"No. Whatever the wrong or deceit was, he did it, I'm sure o' that. I 'ad
to look at 'is face for five consecutive nights. I'm not so fond o'
navigatin' about Cape Town with a South-Easter blowin' these days. I can
hear those teeth click, so to say."
"Ah, those teeth," said Hooper, and his hand went to his waistcoat pocket
once more. "Permanent things false teeth are. You read about 'em in all
the murder trials."
"What d'you suppose the captain knew--or did?" I asked.
"I never turned my searchlight that way," Pyecroft answered unblushingly.
We all reflected together, and drummed on empty beer bottles as the
picnic-party, sunburned, wet, and sandy, passed our door singing "The
Honeysuckle and the Bee."
"Pretty girl under that kapje," said Pyecroft.
"They never circulated his description?" said Pritchard.
"I was askin' you before these gentlemen came," said Hooper to me,
"whether you knew Wankies--on the way to the Zambesi--beyond Buluwayo?"
"Would he pass there--tryin' to get to that Lake what's 'is name?" said
Hooper shook his head and went on: "There's a curious bit o' line there,
you see. It runs through solid teak forest--a sort o' mahogany really--
seventy-two miles without a curve. I've had a train derailed there twenty-
three times in forty miles. I was up there a month ago relievin' a sick
inspector, you see. He told me to look out for a couple of tramps in the
"Two?" Pyecroft said. "I don't envy that other man if----"
"We get heaps of tramps up there since the war. The inspector told me I'd
find 'em at M'Bindwe siding waiting to go North. He'd given 'em some grub
and quinine, you see. I went up on a construction train. I looked out for
'em. I saw them miles ahead along the straight, waiting in the teak. One
of 'em was standin' up by the dead-end of tke siding an' the other was
squattin' down lookin' up at 'im, you see."
"What did you do for 'em?" said Pritchard.
"There wasn't much I could do, except bury 'em. There'd been a bit of a
thunderstorm in the teak, you see, and they were both stone dead and as
black as charcoal. That's what they really were, you see--charcoal. They
fell to bits when we tried to shift 'em. The man who was standin' up had
the false teeth. I saw 'em shinin' against the black. Fell to bits he did
too, like his mate squatting down an' watchin' him, both of 'em all wet in
the rain. Both burned to charcoal, you see. And--that's what made me ask
about marks just now--the false-toother was tattooed on the arms and
chest--a crown and foul anchor with M.V. above."
"I've seen that," said Pyecroft quickly. "It was so."
"But if he was all charcoal-like?" said Pritchard, shuddering.
"You know how writing shows up white on a burned letter? Well, it was like
that, you see. We buried 'em in the teak and I kept... But he was a friend
of you two gentlemen, you see."
Mr. Hooper brought his hand away from his waistcoat-pocket--empty.
Pritchard covered his face with his hands for a moment, like a child
shutting out an ugliness.
"And to think of her at Hauraki!" he murmured--"with 'er 'air-ribbon on my
beer. 'Ada,' she said to her niece... Oh, my Gawd!"...
"On a summer afternoon, when the honeysuckle blooms,
And all Nature seems at rest,
Underneath the bower, 'mid the perfume of the flower,
Sat a maiden with the one she loves the best----"
sang the picnic-party waiting for their train at Glengariff.
"Well, I don't know how you feel about it," said Pyecroft, "but 'avin'
seen 'is face for five consecutive nights on end, I'm inclined to finish
what's left of the beer an' thank Gawd he's dead!"
BELOW THE MILL DAM
"OUR FATHERS ALSO"
By--they are by with mirth and tears,
Wit or the works of Desire--
Cushioned about on the kindly years
Between the wall and the fire.
The grapes are pressed, the corn is shocked--
Standeth no more to glean;
For the Gates of Love and Learning locked
When they went out between.
All lore our Lady Venus bares
Signalled it was or told
By the dear lips long given to theirs
And longer to the mould.
All Profit, all Device, all Truth
Written it was or said
By the mighty men of their mighty youth.
Which is mighty being dead.
The film that floats before their eyes
The Temple's Veil they call;
And the dust that on the Shewbread lies
Is holy over all.
Warn them of seas that slip our yoke
Of slow conspiring stars--
The ancient Front of Things unbroke
But heavy with new wars?
By--they are by with mirth and tears.
Wit or the waste of Desire--
Cushioned about on the kindly years
Between the wall and the fire.
BELOW THE MILL DAM
"Book--Book--Domesday Book!" They were letting in the water for the evening
stint at Robert's Mill, and the wooden Wheel where lived the Spirit of the
Mill settled to its nine hundred year old song: "Here Azor, a freeman,
held one rod, but it never paid geld. _Nun-nun-nunquam geldavit_. Here
Reinbert has one villein and four cottars with one plough--and wood for
six hogs and two fisheries of sixpence and a mill of ten shillings--_unum
molinum_--one mill. Reinbert's mill--Robert's Mill. Then and afterwards
and now--_tunc et post et modo_--Robert's Mill. Book--Book--Domesday
"I confess," said the Black Rat on the crossbeam, luxuriously trimming his
whiskers--"I confess I am not above appreciating my position and all it
means." He was a genuine old English black rat, a breed which, report
says, is rapidly diminishing before the incursions of the brown variety.
"Appreciation is the surest sign of inadequacy," said the Grey Cat, coiled
up on a piece of sacking.
"But I know what you mean," she added. "To sit by right at the heart of
"Yes," said the Black Rat, as the old mill shook and the heavy stones
thuttered on the grist. "To possess--er--all this environment as an
integral part of one's daily life must insensibly of course ... You see?"
"I feel," said the Grey Cat. "Indeed, if _we_ are not saturated with the
spirit of the Mill, who should be?"
"Book--Book--Domesday Book!" the Wheel, set to his work, was running off
the tenure of the whole rape, for he knew Domesday Book backwards and
forwards: "_In Ferle tenuit Abbatia de Wiltuna unam hidam et unam virgam
et dimidiam. Nunquam geldavit_. And Agemond, a freeman, has half a hide
and one rod. I remember Agemond well. Charmin' fellow--friend of mine. He
married a Norman girl in the days when we rather looked down on the
Normans as upstarts. An' Agemond's dead? So he is. Eh, dearie me! dearie
me! I remember the wolves howling outside his door in the big frost of Ten
Fifty-Nine.... _Essewelde hundredum nunquam geldum reddidit_. Book! Book!
"After all," the Grey Cat continued, "atmospere is life. It is the
influences under which we live that count in the long run. Now, outside"--
she cocked one ear towards the half-opened door--"there is an absurd
convention that rats and cats are, I won't go so far as to say natural
enemies, but opposed forces. Some such ruling may be crudely effective--I
don't for a minute presume to set up my standards as final--among the
ditches; but from the larger point of view that one gains by living at the
heart of things, it seems for a rule of life a little overstrained. Why,
because some of your associates have, shall I say, liberal views on the
ultimate destination of a sack of--er--middlings don't they call them----"
"Something of that sort," said the Black Rat, a most sharp and sweet-
toothed judge of everything ground in the mill for the last three years.
"Thanks--middlings be it. _Why_, as I was saying, must I disarrange my fur
and my digestion to chase you round the dusty arena whenever we happen to
"As little reason," said the Black Rat, "as there is for me, who, I trust,
am a person of ordinarily decent instincts, to wait till you have gone on
a round of calls, and then to assassinate your very charming children."
"Exactly! It has its humorous side though." The Grey Cat yawned. "The
miller seems afflicted by it. He shouted large and vague threats to my
address, last night at tea, that he wasn't going to keep cats who 'caught
no mice.' Those were his words. I remember the grammar sticking in my
throat like a herring-bone."
"And what did you do?"
"What does one do when a barbarian utters? One ceases to utter and
removes. I removed--towards his pantry. It was a _riposte_ he might
"Really those people grow absolutely insufferable," said the Black Rat.
"There is a local ruffian who answers to the name of Mangles--a builder--
who has taken possession of the outhouses on the far side of the Wheel for
the last fortnight. He has constructed cubical horrors in red brick where
those deliciously picturesque pigstyes used to stand. Have you noticed?"
"There has been much misdirected activity of late among the humans. They
jabber inordinately. I haven't yet been able to arrive at their reason for
existence." The Cat yawned.
"A couple of them came in here last week with wires, and fixed them all
about the walls. Wires protected by some abominable composition, ending in
iron brackets with glass bulbs. Utterly useless for any purpose and
artistically absolutely hideous. What do they mean?"
"Aaah! I have known _four_-and-twenty leaders of revolt in Faenza," said
the Cat, who kept good company with the boarders spending a summer at the
Mill Farm. "It means nothing except that humans occasionally bring their
dogs with them. I object to dogs in all forms."
"Shouldn't object to dogs," said the Wheel sleepily.... "The Abbot of
Wilton kept the best pack in the county. He enclosed all the Harryngton
Woods to Sturt Common. Aluric, a freeman, was dispossessed of his holding.
They tried the case at Lewes, but he got no change out of William de
Warrenne on the bench. William de Warrenne fined Aluric eight and
fourpence for treason, and the Abbot of Wilton excommunicated him for
blasphemy. Aluric was no sportsman. Then the Abbot's brother married ...
I've forgotten her name, but she was a charmin' little woman. The Lady
Philippa was her daughter. That was after the barony was conferred. She
rode devilish straight to hounds. They were a bit throatier than we breed
now, but a good pack: one of the best. The Abbot kept 'em in splendid
shape. Now, who was the woman the Abbot kept? Book--Book! I shall have to
go right back to Domesday and work up the centuries: _Modo per omnia
reddit burgum tunc--tunc--tunc_! Was it _burgum_ or _hundredum_? I shall
remember in a minute. There's no hurry." He paused as he turned over
silvered with showering drops.
"This won't do," said the Waters in the sluice. "Keep moving."
The Wheel swung forward; the Waters roared on the buckets and dropped down
to the darkness below.
"Noisier than usual," said the Black Rat. "It must have been raining up
"Floods maybe," said the Wheel dreamily. "It isn't the proper season, but
they can come without warning. I shall never forget the big one--when the
Miller went to sleep and forgot to open the hatches. More than two hundred
years ago it was, but I recall it distinctly. Most unsettling."
"We lifted that wheel off his bearings," cried the Waters. "We said, 'Take
away that bauble!' And in the morning he was five mile down the valley--
hung up in a tree."
"Vulgar!" said the Cat. "But I am sure he never lost his dignity."
"We don't know. He looked like the Ace of Diamonds when we had finished
with him.... Move on there! Keep on moving. Over! Get over!"
"And why on this day more than any other," said the Wheel statelily. "I am
not aware that my department requires the stimulus of external pressure to
keep it up to its duties. I trust I have the elementary instincts of a
"Maybe," the Waters answered together, leaping down on the buckets. "We
only know that you are very stiff on your bearings. Over, get over!"
The Wheel creaked and groaned. There was certainly greater pressure upon
him that he had ever felt, and his revolutions had increased from six and
three-quarters to eight and a third per minute. But the uproar between the
narrow, weed-hung walls annoyed the Grey Cat.
"Isn't it almost time," she said plaintively, "that the person who is paid
to understand these things shuts off those vehement drippings with that
screw-thing on the top of that box-thing."
"They'll be shut off at eight o'clock as usual," said Rat; "then we can go
"But we shan't be shut off till ever so late," said the Waters gaily. "We
shall keep it up all night."
"The ineradicable offensiveness of youth is partially compensated for by
its eternal hopefulness," said the Cat. "Our dam is not, I am glad to say,
designed to furnish water for more than four hours at a time. Reserve is
"Thank goodness!" said the Black Rat. "Then they can return to their
"Ditches!" cried the Waters; "Raven's Gill Brook is no ditch. It is almost
navigable, and _we_ come from there away." They slid over solid and
compact till the Wheel thudded under their weight.
"Raven's Gill Brook," said the Rat. "_I_ never heard of Raven's Gill."
"We are the waters of Harpenden Brook--down from under Callton Rise. Phew!
how the race stinks compared with the heather country." Another five foot
of water flung itself against the Wheel, broke, roared, gurgled, and was
"Indeed," said the Grey Cat, "I am sorry to tell you that Raven's Gill
Brook is cut off from this valley by an absolutely impassable range of
mountains, and Callton Rise is more than nine miles away. It belongs to
another system entirely."
"Ah yes," said the Rat, grinning, "but we forget that, for the young,
water always runs uphill."
"Oh, hopeless! hopeless! hopeless!" cried the Waters, descending open-
palmed upon the Wheel "There is nothing between here and Raven's Gill
Brook that a hundred yards of channelling and a few square feet of
concrete could not remove; and hasn't removed!"
"And Harpenden Brook is north of Raven's Gill and runs into Raven's Gill
at the foot of Callton Rise, where ilex trees are, and _we_ come from
there!" These were the glassy, clear waters of the high chalk.
"And Batten's Ponds, that are fed by springs, have been led through
Trott's Wood, taking the spare water from the old Witches' Spring under
Churt Haw, and we--we--_we_ are their combined waters!" Those were the
Waters from the upland bogs and moors--a porter-coloured, dusky, and foam-
"It's all very interesting," purred the Cat to the sliding waters, "and I
have no doubt that Trott's Woods and Bott's Woods are tremendously
important places; but if you could manage to do your work--whose value I
don't in the least dispute--a little more soberly, I, for one, should be
"Book--book--book--book--book--Domesday Book!" The urged Wheel was fairly
clattering now: "In Burgelstaltone a monk holds of Earl Godwin one hide
and a half with eight villeins. There is a church--and a monk.... I
remember that monk. Blessed if he could rattle his rosary off any quicker
than I am doing now ... and wood for seven hogs. I must be running twelve
to the minute ... almost as fast as Steam. Damnable invention, Steam! ...
Surely it's time we went to dinner or prayers--or something. Can't keep up
this pressure, day in and day out, and not feel it. I don't mind for
myself, of course. _Noblesse oblige_, you know. I'm only thinking of the
Upper and the Nether Millstones. They came out of the common rock. They
can't be expected to----"
"Don't worry on our account, please," said the Millstones huskily. "So
long as you supply the power we'll supply the weight and the bite."
"Isn't it a trifle blasphemous, though, to work you in this way?" grunted
the Wheel. "I seem to remember something about the Mills of God grinding
'slowly.' _Slowly_ was the word!"
"But we are not the Mills of God. We're only the Upper and the Nether
Millstones. We have received no instructions to be anything else. We are
actuated by power transmitted through you."
"Ah, but let us be merciful as we are strong. Think of all the beautiful
little plants that grow on my woodwork. There are five varieties of rare
moss within less than one square yard--and all these delicate jewels of
nature are being grievously knocked about by this excessive rush of the
"Umph!" growled the Millstones. "What with your religious scruples and
your taste for botany we'd hardly know you for the Wheel that put the
carter's son under last autumn. You never worried about _him_!"
"He ought to have known better."
"So ought your jewels of nature. Tell 'em to grow where it's safe."
"How a purely mercantile life debases and brutalises!" said the Cat to the
"They were such beautiful little plants too," said the Rat tenderly.
"Maiden's-tongue and hart's-hair fern trellising all over the wall just as
they do on the sides of churches in the Downs. Think what a joy the sight
of them must be to our sturdy peasants pulling hay!"
"Golly!" said the Millstones. "There's nothing like coming to the heart of
things for information"; and they returned to the song that all English
water-mills have sung from time beyond telling:
There was a jovial miller once
Lived on the River Dee,
And this the burden of his song
For ever used to be.
Then, as fresh grist poured in and dulled the note:
I care for nobody--no not I,
And nobody cares for me.
"Even these stones have absorbed something of our atmosphere," said the
Grey Cat. "Nine-tenths of the trouble in this world comes from lack of
"One of your people died from forgetting that, didn't she?" said the Rat.
"One only. The example has sufficed us for generations."
"Ah! but what happened to Don't Care?" the Waters demanded.
"Brutal riding to death of the casual analogy is another mark of
provincialism!" The Grey Cat raised her tufted chin. "I am going to sleep.
With my social obligations I must snatch rest when I can; but, as our old
friend here says, _Noblesse oblige_.... Pity me! Three functions to-night
in the village, and a barn dance across the valley!"
"There's no chance, I suppose, of your looking in on the loft about two.
Some of our young people are going to amuse themselves with a new sacque-
dance--best white flour only," said the Black Rat.
"I believe I am officially supposed not to countenance that sort of thing,
but youth is youth. ... By the way, the humans set my milk-bowl in the
loft these days; I hope your youngsters respect it."
"My dear lady," said the Black Rat, bowing, "you grieve me. You hurt me
inexpressibly. After all these years, too!"
"A general crush is so mixed--highways and hedges--all that sort of thing
--and no one can answer for one's best friends. _I_ never try. So long as
mine are amusin' and in full voice, and can hold their own at a tile-
party, I'm as catholic as these mixed waters in the dam here!"
"We aren't mixed. We _have_ mixed. We are one now," said the Waters
"Still uttering?" said the Cat. "Never mind, here's the Miller coming to
shut you off. Ye-es, I have known--_four_--or five is it?--and twenty
leaders of revolt in Faenza.... A little more babble in the dam, a little
more noise in the sluice, a little extra splashing on the wheel,
"They will find that nothing has occurred," said the Black Rat. "The old
things persist and survive and are recognised--our old friend here first
of all. By the way," he turned toward the Wheel, "I believe we have to
congratulate you on your latest honour."
"Profoundly well deserved--even if he had never--as he has---laboured
strenuously through a long life for the amelioration of millkind," said
the Cat, who belonged to many tile and outhouse committees. "Doubly
deserved, I may say, for the silent and dignified rebuke his existence
offers to the clattering, fidgety-footed demands of--er--some people. What
form did the honour take?"
"It was," said the Wheel bashfully, "a machine-moulded pinion."
"Pinions! Oh, how heavenly!" the Black Rat sighed. "I never see a bat
without wishing for wings."
"Not exactly that sort of pinion," said the Wheel, "but a really ornate
circle of toothed iron wheels. Absurd, of course, but gratifying. Mr.
Mangles and an associate herald invested me with it personally--on my left
rim--the side that you can't see from the mill. I hadn't meant to say
anything about it--or the new steel straps round my axles--bright red, you
know--to be worn on all occasions--but, without false modesty, I assure
you that the recognition cheered me not a little."
"How intensely gratifying!" said the Black Rat. "I must really steal an
hour between lights some day and see what they are doing on your left
"By the way, have you any light on this recent activity of Mr. Mangles?"
the Grey Cat asked. "He seems to be building small houses on the far side
of the tail-race. Believe me, I don't ask from any vulgar curiosity."
"It affects our Order," said the Black Rat simply but firmly.
"Thank you," said the Wheel. "Let me see if I can tabulate it properly.
Nothing like system in accounts of all kinds. Book! Book! Book! On the
side of the Wheel towards the hundred of Burgelstaltone, where till now
was a stye of three hogs, Mangles, a freeman, with four villeins, and two
carts of two thousand bricks, has a new small house of five yards and a
half, and one roof of iron and a floor of cement. Then, now, and
afterwards beer in large tankards. And Felden, a stranger, with three
villeins and one very great cart, deposits on it one engine of iron and
brass and a small iron mill of four feet, and a broad strap of leather.
And Mangles, the builder, with two villeins, constructs the floor for the
same, and a floor of new brick with wires for the small mill. There are
there also chalices filled with iron and water, in number fifty-seven. The
whole is valued at one hundred and seventy-four pounds.... I'm sorry I
can't make myself clearer, but you can see for yourself."
"Amazingly lucid," said the Cat. She was the more to be admired because
the language of Domesday Book is not, perhaps, the clearest medium wherein
to describe a small but complete electric-light installation, deriving its
power from a water-wheel by means of cogs and gearing.
"See for yourself--by all means, see for yourself," said the Waters,
spluttering and choking with mirth.
"Upon my word," said the Black Rat furiously, "I may be at fault, but I
wholly fail to perceive where these offensive eavesdroppers--er--come in.
We were discussing a matter that solely affected our Order."
Suddenly they heard, as they had heard many times before, the Miller
shutting off the water. To the rattle and rumble of the labouring stones
succeeded thick silence, punctuated with little drops from the stayed
wheel. Then some water-bird in the dam fluttered her wings as she slid to
her nest, and the plop of a water-rat sounded like the fall of a log in
"It is all over--it always is all over at just this time. Listen, the
Miller is going to bed--as usual. Nothing has occurred," said the Cat.
Something creaked in the house where the pig-styes had stood, as metal
engaged on metal with a clink and a burr.
"Shall I turn her on?" cried the Miller.
"Ay," said the voice from the dynamo-house.
"A human in Mangles' new house!" the Rat squeaked.
"What of it?" said the Grey Cat. "Even supposing Mr. Mangles' cats'-meat-
coloured hovel ululated with humans, can't you see for yourself--that--?"
There was a solid crash of released waters leaping upon the wheel more
furiously than ever, a grinding of cogs, a hum like the hum of a hornet,
and then the unvisited darkness of the old mill was scattered by
intolerable white light. It threw up every cobweb, every burl and knot in
the beams and the floor; till the shadows behind the flakes of rough
plaster on the wall lay clear-cut as shadows of mountains on the
"See! See! See!" hissed the Waters in full flood. "Yes, see for
yourselves. Nothing has occurred. Can't you see?"
The Rat, amazed, had fallen from his foothold and lay half-stunned on the
floor. The Cat, following her instinct, leaped nigh to the ceiling, and
with flattened ears and bared teeth backed in a corner ready to fight
whatever terror might be loosed on her. But nothing happened. Through the
long aching minutes nothing whatever happened, and her wire-brush tail
returned slowly to its proper shape.
"Whatever it is," she said at last, "it's overdone. They can never keep it
up, you know."
"Much you know," said the Waters. "Over you go, old man. You can take the
full head of us now. Those new steel axle-straps of yours can stand
anything. Come along, Raven's Gill, Harpenden, Callton Rise, Batten's
Ponds, Witches' Spring, all together! Let's show these gentlemen how to
"But--but--I thought it was a decoration. Why--why--why--it only means
more work for _me_!"
"Exactly. You're to supply about sixty eight-candle lights when required.
But they won't be all in use at once----"
"Ah! I thought as much," said the Cat. "The reaction is bound to come."
"_And_" said the Waters, "you will do the ordinary work of the mill as
"Impossible!" the old Wheel quivered as it drove. "Aluric never did it--
nor Azor, nor Reinbert. Not even William de Warrenne or the Papal Legate.
There's no precedent for it. I tell you there's no precedent for working a
wheel like this."
"Wait a while! We're making one as fast as we can. Aluric and Co. are
dead. So's the Papal Legate. You've no notion how dead they are, but we're
here--the Waters of Five Separate Systems. We're just as interesting as
Domesday Book. Would you like to hear about the land-tenure in Trott's
Wood? It's squat-right, chiefly." The mocking Waters leaped one over the
other, chuckling and chattering profanely.
"In that hundred Jenkins, a tinker, with one dog--_unis canis_--holds, by
the Grace of God and a habit he has of working hard, _unam hidam_--a large
potato patch. Charmin' fellow, Jenkins. Friend of ours. Now, who the dooce
did Jenkins keep? ... In the hundred of Callton is one charcoal-burner
_irreligiosissimus homo_--a bit of a rip--but a thorough sportsman. _Ibi
est ecclesia. Non multum_. Not much of a church, _quia_ because,
_episcopus_ the Vicar irritated the Nonconformists _tunc et post et modo_
--then and afterwards and now--until they built a cut-stone Congregational
chapel with red brick facings that did not return itself--_defendebat se_
--at four thousand pounds."
"Charcoal-burners, vicars, schismatics, and red brick facings," groaned
the Wheel. "But this is sheer blasphemy. What waters have they let in upon
"Floods from the gutters. Faugh, this light is positively sickening!" said
the Cat, rearranging her fur.
"We come down from the clouds or up from the springs, exactly like all
other waters everywhere. Is that what's surprising you?" sang the Waters.
"Of course not. I know my work if you don't. What I complain of is your
lack of reverence and repose. You've no instinct of deference towards your
betters--your heartless parody of the Sacred volume (the Wheel meant
Domesday Book)--proves it."
"Our betters?" said the Waters most solemnly. "What is there in all this
dammed race that hasn't come down from the clouds, or----"
"Spare me that talk, please," the Wheel persisted. "You'd _never_
understand. It's the tone--your tone that we object to."
"Yes. It's your tone," said the Black Rat, picking himself up limb by
"If you thought a trifle more about the work you're supposed to do, and a
trifle less about your precious feelings, you'd render a little more duty
in return for the power vested in you--we mean wasted on you," the Waters
"I have been some hundreds of years laboriously acquiring the knowledge
which you see fit to challenge so light-heartedly," the Wheel jarred.
"Challenge him! Challenge him!" clamoured the little waves riddling down
through the tail-race. "As well now as later. Take him up!"
The main mass of the Waters plunging on the Wheel shocked that well-bolted
structure almost into box-lids by saying: "Very good. Tell us what you
suppose yourself to be doing at the present moment."
"Waiving the offensive form of your question, I answer, purely as a matter
of courtesy, that I am engaged in the trituration of farinaceous
substances whose ultimate destination it would be a breach of the trust
reposed in me to reveal."
"Fiddle!" said the Waters. "We knew it all along! The first direct
question shows his ignorance of his own job. Listen, old thing. Thanks to
us, you are now actuating a machine of whose construction you know
nothing, that that machine may, over wires of whose ramifications you are,
by your very position, profoundly ignorant, deliver a power which you can
never realise, to localities beyond the extreme limits of your mental
horizon, with the object of producing phenomena which in your wildest
dreams (if you ever dream) you could never comprehend. Is that clear, or
would you like it all in words of four syllables?"
"Your assumptions are deliciously sweeping, but may I point out that a
decent and--the dear old Abbot of Wilton would have put it in his resonant
monkish Latin much better than I can--a scholarly reserve, does not
necessarily connote blank vacuity of mind on all subjects."
"Ah, the dear old Abbot of Wilton," said the Rat sympathetically, as one
nursed in that bosom. "Charmin' fellow--thorough scholar and gentleman.
Such a pity!"
"Oh, Sacred Fountains!" the Waters were fairly boiling. "He goes out of
his way to expose his ignorance by triple bucketfuls. He creaks to high
Heaven that he is hopelessly behind the common order of things! He invites
the streams of Five Watersheds to witness his su-su-su-pernal
incompetence, and then he talks as though there were untold reserves of
knowledge behind him that he is too modest to bring forward. For a bland,
circular, absolutely sincere impostor, you're a miracle, O Wheel!"
"I do not pretend to be anything more than an integral portion of an
accepted and not altogether mushroom institution."
"Quite so," said the Waters. "Then go round--hard----"
"To what end?" asked the Wheel.
"Till a big box of tanks in your house begins to fizz and fume--gassing is
the proper word."
"It would be," said the Cat, sniffing.
"That will show that your accumulators are full. When the accumulators are
exhausted, and the lights burn badly, you will find us whacking you round
and round again."
"The end of life as decreed by Mangles and his creatures is to go whacking
round and round for ever," said the Cat.
"In order," the Rat said, "that you may throw raw and unnecessary
illumination upon all the unloveliness in the world. Unloveliness which we
shall--er--have always with us. At the same time you will riotously
neglect the so-called little but vital graces that make up Life."
"Yes, Life," said the Cat, "with its dim delicious half-tones and veiled
indeterminate distances. Its surprisals, escapes, encounters, and dizzying
leaps--its full-throated choruses in honour of the morning star, and its
melting reveries beneath the sun-warmed wall."
"Oh, you can go on the tiles, Pussalina, just the same as usual," said the
laughing Waters. "_We_ sha'n't interfere with you."
"On the tiles, forsooth!" hissed the Cat.
"Well, that's what it amounts to," persisted the Waters. "We see a good
deal of the minor graces of life on our way down to our job."
"And--but I fear I speak to deaf ears--do they never impress you?" said
"Enormously," said the Waters. "We have already learned six refined
synonyms for loafing."
"But (here again I feel as though preaching in the wilderness) it never
occurs to you that there may exist some small difference between the
wholly animal--ah--rumination of bovine minds and the discerning, well-
apportioned leisure of the finer type of intellect?"
"Oh, yes. The bovine mind goes to sleep under a hedge and makes no bones
about it when it's shouted at. We've seen _that_--in haying-time--all
along the meadows. The finer type is wide awake enough to fudge up excuses
for shirking, and mean enough to get stuffy when its excuses aren't
accepted. Turn over!"
"But, my good people, no gentleman gets stuffy as you call it. A certain
proper pride, to put it no higher, forbids---"
"Nothing that he wants to do if he really wants to do it. Get along! What
are you giving us? D'you suppose we've scoured half heaven in the clouds,
and half earth in the mists, to be taken in at this time of the day by a
bone-idle, old hand-quern of your type?"
"It is not for me to bandy personalities with you. I can only say that I
simply decline to accept the situation."
"Decline away. It doesn't make any odds. They'll probably put in a turbine
if you decline too much."
"What's a turbine?" said the Wheel, quickly.
"A little thing you don't see, that performs surprising revolutions. But
you won't decline. You'll hang on to your two nice red-strapped axles and
your new machine-moulded pinions like--a--like a leech on a lily stem!
There's centuries of work in your old bones if you'd only apply yourself
to it; and, mechanically, an overshot wheel with this head of water is
about as efficient as a turbine."
"So in future I am to be considered mechanically? I have been painted by
at least five Royal Academicians."
"Oh, you can be painted by five hundred when you aren't at work, of
course. But while you are at work you'll work. You won't half-stop and
think and talk about rare plants and dicky-birds and farinaceous fiduciary
interests. You'll continue to revolve, and this new head of water will see
that you do so continue."
"It is a matter on which it would be exceedingly ill-advised to form a
hasty or a premature conclusion. I will give it my most careful
consideration," said the Wheel.
"Please do," said the Waters gravely. "Hullo! Here's the Miller again."
The Cat coiled herself in a picturesque attitude on the softest corner of
a sack, and the Rat without haste, yet certainly without rest, slipped
behind the sacking as though an appointment had just occurred to him.
In the doorway, with the young Engineer, stood the Miller grinning
"Well--well--well! 'tis true-ly won'erful. An' what a power o' dirt! It
come over me now looking at these lights, that I've never rightly seen my
own mill before. She needs a lot bein' done to her."
"Ah! I suppose one must make oneself moderately agreeable to the baser
sort. They have their uses. This thing controls the dairy." The Cat,
pincing on her toes, came forward and rubbed her head against the Miller's
"Ay, you pretty puss," he said, stooping. "You're as big a cheat as the
rest of 'em that catch no mice about me. A won'erful smooth-skinned,
rough-tongued cheat you be. I've more than half a mind----"
"She does her work well," said the Engineer, pointing to where the Rat's
beady eyes showed behind the sacking. "Cats and Rats livin' together--
"Too much they do--too long they've done. I'm sick and tired of it. Go and
take a swim and larn to find your own vittles honest when you come out,
"My word!" said the Waters, as a sprawling Cat landed all unannounced in
the centre of the tail-race. "Is that you, Mewsalina? You seem to have
been quarrelling with your best friend. Get over to the left. It's
shallowest there. Up on that alder-root with all four paws. Good-night!"
"You'll never get any they rats," said the Miller, as the young Engineer
struck wrathfully with his stick at the sacking. "They're not the common
sort. They're the old black English sort."
"Are they, by Jove? I must catch one to stuff, some day."
* * * * *
Six months later, in the chill of a January afternoon, they were letting
in the Waters as usual.
"Come along! It's both gears this evening," said the Wheel, kicking
joyously in the first rush of the icy stream. "There's a heavy load of
grist just in from Lamber's Wood. Eleven miles it came in an hour and a
half in our new motor-lorry, and the Miller's rigged five new five-candle
lights in his cow-stables. I'm feeding 'em to-night. There's a cow due to
calve. Oh, while I think of it, what's the news from Callton Rise?"
"The waters are finding their level as usual--but why do you ask?" said
the deep outpouring Waters.
"Because Mangles and Felden and the Miller are talking of increasing the
plant here and running a saw-mill by electricity. I was wondering whether
"I beg your pardon," said the Waters chuckling. "_What_ did you say?"
"Whether _we_, of course, had power enough for the job. It will be a
biggish contract. There's all Harpenden Brook to be considered and
Batten's Ponds as well, and Witches' Fountain, and the Churt's Hawd
"We've power enough for anything in the world," said the Waters. "The only
question is whether you could stand the strain if we came down on you full
"Of course I can," said the Wheel. "Mangles is going to turn me into a set
"Oh--er--I suppose it's the frost that has made us a little thick-headed,
but to whom are we talking?" asked the amazed Waters.
"To me--the Spirit of the Mill, of course."
"Not to the old Wheel, then?"
"I happen to be living in the old Wheel just at present. When the turbines
are installed I shall go and live in them. What earthly difference does it
"Absolutely none," said the Waters, "in the earth or in the waters under
the earth. But we thought turbines didn't appeal to you."
"Not like turbines? Me? My dear fellows, turbines are good for fifteen
hundred revolutions a minute--and with our power we can drive 'em at full
speed. Why, there's nothing we couldn't grind or saw or illuminate or heat
with a set of turbines! That's to say if all the Five Watersheds are
"Oh, we've been agreeable for ever so long."
"Then why didn't you tell me?"
"Don't know. Suppose it slipped our memory."
The Waters were holding themselves in for fear of bursting with mirth.
"How careless of you! You should keep abreast of the age, my dear fellows.
We might have settled it long ago, if you'd only spoken. Yes, four good
turbines and a neat brick penstock--eh? This old Wheel's absurdly out of
"Well," said the Cat, who after a little proud seclusion had returned to
her place impenitent as ever. "Praised be Pasht and the Old Gods, that
whatever may have happened _I_, at least, have preserved the Spirit of the
She looked round as expecting her faithful ally, the Black Rat; but that
very week the Engineer had caught and stuffed him, and had put him in a
glass case; he being a genuine old English black rat. That breed, the
report says, is rapidly diminishing before the incursions of the brown