THE LAIRD'S LUCK
AND OTHER FIRESIDE TALES
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
NEW YORK 1901
THE LAIRD'S LUCK
[In a General Order issued from the Horse-Guards on New Year's Day,
1836, His Majesty, King William IV., was pleased to direct, through
the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Hill, that "with the view of doing the
fullest justice to Regiments, as well as to Individuals who had
distinguished themselves in action against the enemy," an account
of the services of every Regiment in the British Army should be
published, under the supervision of the Adjutant General.
With fair promptitude this scheme was put in hand, under the
editorship of Mr. Richard Cannon, Principal Clerk of the Adjutant
General's Office. The duty of examining, sifting, and preparing the
records of that distinguished Regiment which I shall here call the
Moray Highlanders (concealing its real name for reasons which the
narrative will make apparent) fell to a certain Major Reginald
Sparkes; who in the course of his researches came upon a number of
pages in manuscript sealed under one cover and docketed "Memoranda
concerning Ensign D.M.J. Mackenzie. J.R., Jan. 3rd, 1816"—the
initials being those of Lieut.-Colonel Sir James Ross, who had
commanded the 2nd Battalion of the Morays through the campaign of
Waterloo. The cover also bore, in the same handwriting, the word
"Private," twice underlined.
Of the occurrences related in the enclosed papers—of the private
ones, that is—it so happened that of the four eye-witnesses none
survived at the date of Major Sparkes' discovery. They had, moreover,
so carefully taken their secret with them that the Regiment preserved
not a rumour of it. Major Sparkes' own commission was considerably
more recent than the Waterloo year, and he at least had heard no
whisper of the story. It lay outside the purpose of his inquiry, and
he judiciously omitted it from his report. But the time is past when
its publication might conceivably have been injurious; and with
some alterations in the names—to carry out the disguise of the
Regiment—it is here given. The reader will understand that I use the
IPSISSIMA VERBA of Colonel Ross.—Q.]
THE LAIRD'S LUCK
I had the honour of commanding my Regiment, the Moray Highlanders,
on the 16th of June, 1815, when the late Ensign David Marie Joseph
Mackenzie met his end in the bloody struggle of Quatre Bras (his first
engagement). He fell beside the colours, and I gladly bear witness
that he had not only borne himself with extreme gallantry, but
maintained, under circumstances of severest trial, a coolness which
might well have rewarded me for my help in procuring the lad's
commission. And yet at the moment I could scarcely regret his death,
for he went into action under a suspicion so dishonouring that, had
it been proved, no amount of gallantry could have restored him to the
respect of his fellows. So at least I believed, with three of his
brother officers who shared the secret. These were Major William Ross
(my half-brother), Captain Malcolm Murray, and Mr. Ronald Braintree
Urquhart, then our senior ensign. Of these, Mr. Urquhart fell two days
later, at Waterloo, while steadying his men to face that heroic shock
in which Pack's skeleton regiments were enveloped yet not overwhelmed
by four brigades of the French infantry. From the others I received at
the time a promise that the accusation against young Mackenzie should
be wiped off the slate by his death, and the affair kept secret
between us. Since then, however, there has come to me an explanation
which—though hard indeed to credit—may, if true, exculpate the lad.
I laid it before the others, and they agreed that if, in spite of
precautions, the affair should ever come to light, the explanation
ought also in justice to be forthcoming; and hence I am writing this
It was in the late September of 1814 that I first made acquaintance
with David Mackenzie. A wound received in the battle of Salamanca—a
shattered ankle—had sent me home invalided, and on my partial
recovery I was appointed to command the 2nd Battalion of my Regiment,
then being formed at Inverness. To this duty I was equal; but my ankle
still gave trouble (the splinters from time to time working through
the flesh), and in the late summer of 1814 I obtained leave of absence
with my step-brother, and spent some pleasant weeks in cruising and
fishing about the Moray Firth. Finding that my leg bettered by this
idleness, we hired a smaller boat and embarked on a longer excursion,
which took us almost to the south-west end of Loch Ness.
Here, on September 18th, and pretty late in the afternoon, we were
overtaken by a sudden squall, which carried away our mast (we found
afterwards that it had rotted in the step), and put us for some
minutes in no little danger; for my brother and I, being inexpert
seamen, did not cut the tangle away, as we should have done, but made
a bungling attempt to get the mast on board, with the rigging and
drenched sail; and thereby managed to knock a hole in the side of
the boat, which at once began to take in water. This compelled us to
desist and fall to baling with might and main, leaving the raffle and
jagged end of the mast to bump against us at the will of the waves.
In short, we were in a highly unpleasant predicament, when a coble or
row-boat, carrying one small lug-sail, hove out of the dusk to our
assistance. It was manned by a crew of three, of whom the master
(though we had scarce light enough to distinguish features) hailed us
in a voice which was patently a gentleman's. He rounded up, lowered
sail, and ran his boat alongside; and while his two hands were cutting
us free of our tangle, inquired very civilly if we were strangers. We
answered that we were, and desired him to tell us of the nearest place
alongshore where we might land and find a lodging for the night, as
well as a carpenter to repair our damage.
"In any ordinary case," said he, "I should ask you to come aboard and
home with me. But my house lies five miles up the lake; your boat is
sinking, and the first thing is to beach her. It happens that you are
but half a mile from Ardlaugh and a decent carpenter who can answer
all requirements. I think, if I stand by you, the thing can be done;
and afterwards we will talk of supper."
By diligent baling we were able, under his direction, to bring our
boat to a shingly beach, over which a light shone warm in a cottage
window. Our hail was quickly answered by a second light. A lantern
issued from the building, and we heard the sound of footsteps.
"Is that you, Donald?" cried our rescuer (as I may be permitted to
Before an answer could be returned, we saw that two men were
approaching; of whom the one bearing the lantern was a grizzled old
carlin with bent knees and a stoop of the shoulders. His companion
carried himself with a lighter step. It was he who advanced to salute
us, the old man holding the light obediently; and the rays revealed to
us a slight, up-standing youth, poorly dressed, but handsome, and with
a touch of pride in his bearing.
"Good evening, gentlemen." He lifted his bonnet politely, and turned
to our rescuer. "Good evening, Mr. Gillespie," he said—I thought more
coldly. "Can I be of any service to your friends?"
Mr. Gillespie's manner had changed suddenly at sight of the young man,
whose salutation he acknowledged more coldly and even more curtly
than it had been given. "I can scarcely claim them as my friends," he
answered. "They are two gentlemen, strangers in these parts, who have
met with an accident to their boat: one so serious that I brought them
to the nearest landing, which happened to be Donald's." He shortly
explained our mishap, while the young man took the lantern in hand and
inspected the damage with Donald.
"There is nothing," he announced, "which cannot be set right in a
couple of hours; but we must wait till morning. Meanwhile if, as I
gather, you have no claim on these gentlemen, I shall beg them to be
my guests for the night."
We glanced at Mr. Gillespie, whose manners seemed to have deserted
him. He shrugged his shoulders. "Your house is the nearer," said he,
"and the sooner they reach a warm fire the better for them after their
drenching." And with that he lifted his cap to us, turned abruptly,
and pushed off his own boat, scarcely regarding our thanks.
A somewhat awkward pause followed as we stood on the beach, listening
to the creak of the thole-pins in the departing boat. After a minute
our new acquaintance turned to us with a slightly constrained laugh.
"Mr. Gillespie omitted some of the formalities," said he. "My name is
Mackenzie—David Mackenzie; and I live at Ardlaugh Castle, scarcely
half a mile up the glen behind us. I warn you that its hospitality is
rude, but to what it affords you are heartily welcome."
He spoke with a high, precise courtliness which contrasted oddly with
his boyish face (I guessed his age at nineteen or twenty), and still
more oddly with his clothes, which were threadbare and patched in
many places, yet with a deftness which told of a woman's care. We
introduced ourselves by name, and thanked him, with some expressions
of regret at inconveniencing (as I put it, at hazard) the family at
"Oh!" he interrupted, "I am sole master there. I have no parents
living, no family, and," he added, with a slight sullenness which I
afterwards recognised as habitual, "I may almost say, no friends:
though to be sure, you are lucky enough to have one fellow-guest
to-night—the minister of the parish, a Mr. Saul, and a very worthy
He broke off to give Donald some instructions about the boat, watched
us while we found our plaids and soaked valises, and then took the
lantern from the old man's hand. "I ought to have explained," said
he, "that we have neither cart here nor carriage: indeed, there is no
carriage-road. But Donald has a pony."
He led the way a few steps up the beach, and then halted, perceiving
my lameness for the first time. "Donald, fetch out the pony. Can you
ride bareback?" he asked: "I fear there's no saddle but an old piece
of sacking." In spite of my protestations the pony was led forth; a
starved little beast, on whose over-sharp ridge I must have cut a
sufficiently ludicrous figure when hoisted into place with the valises
slung behind me.
The procession set out, and I soon began to feel thankful for my seat,
though I took no ease in it. For the road climbed steeply from the
cottage, and at once began to twist up the bottom of a ravine so
narrow that we lost all help of the young moon. The path, indeed,
resembled the bed of a torrent, shrunk now to a trickle of water, the
voice of which ran in my ears while our host led the way, springing
from boulder to boulder, avoiding pools, and pausing now and then to
hold his lantern over some slippery place. The pony followed with
admirable caution, and my brother trudged in the rear and took his cue
from us. After five minutes of this the ground grew easier and at the
same time steeper, and I guessed that we were slanting up the hillside
and away from the torrent at an acute angle. The many twists and
angles, and the utter darkness (for we were now moving between trees)
had completely baffled my reckoning when—at the end of twenty
minutes, perhaps—Mr. Mackenzie halted and allowed me to come up with
I was about to ask the reason of this halt when a ray of his lantern
fell on a wall of masonry; and with a start almost laughable I knew
we had arrived. To come to an entirely strange house at night is an
experience which holds some taste of mystery even for the oldest
campaigner; but I have never in my life received such a shock as this
building gave me—naked, unlit, presented to me out of a darkness
in which I had imagined a steep mountain scaur dotted with dwarfed
trees—a sudden abomination of desolation standing, like the
prophet's, where it ought not. No light showed on the side where we
stood—the side over the ravine; only one pointed turret stood out
against the faint moonlight glow in the upper sky: but feeling our way
around the gaunt side of the building, we came to a back court-yard
and two windows lit. Our host whistled, and helped me to dismount.
In an angle of the court a creaking door opened. A woman's voice
cried, "That will be be you, Ardlaugh, and none too early! The
She broke off, catching sight of us. Our host stepped hastily to the
door and began a whispered conversation. We could hear that she
was protesting, and began to feel awkward enough. But whatever her
objections were, her master cut them short.
"Come in, sirs," he invited us: "I warned you that the fare would be
hard, but I repeat that you are welcome."
To our surprise and, I must own, our amusement, the woman caught up
his words with new protestations, uttered this time at the top of her
"The fare hard? Well, it might not please folks accustomed to city
feasts; but Ardlaugh was not yet without a joint of venison in the
larder and a bottle of wine, maybe two, maybe three, for any guest its
master chose to make welcome. It was 'an ill bird that 'filed his own
nest'"—with more to this effect, which our host tried in vain to
"Then I will lead you to your rooms," he said, turning to us as soon
as she paused to draw breath.
"Indeed, Ardlaugh, you will do nothing of the kind." She ran into the
kitchen, and returned holding high a lighted torch—a grey-haired
woman with traces of past comeliness, overlaid now by an air of worry,
almost of fear. But her manner showed only a defiant pride as she led
us up the uncarpeted stairs, past old portraits sagging and rotting in
their frames, through bleak corridors, where the windows were patched
and the plastered walls discoloured by fungus. Once only she halted.
"It will be a long way to your appartments. A grand house!" She had
faced round on us, and her eyes seemed to ask a question of ours. "I
have known it filled," she added—"filled with guests, and the
drink and fiddles never stopping for a week. You will see it better
to-morrow. A grand house!"
I will confess that, as I limped after this barbaric woman and her
torch, I felt some reasonable apprehensions of the bedchamber towards
which they were escorting me. But here came another surprise. The room
was of moderate size, poorly furnished, indeed, but comfortable and
something more. It bore traces of many petty attentions, even—in its
white dimity curtains and valances—of an attempt at daintiness. The
sight of it brought quite a pleasant shock after the dirt and disarray
of the corridor. Nor was the room assigned to my brother one whit less
habitable. But if surprised by all this, I was fairly astounded
to find in each room a pair of candles lit—and quite recently
lit—beside the looking-glass, and an ewer of hot water standing, with
a clean towel upon it, in each wash-hand basin. No sooner had the
woman departed than I visited my brother and begged him (while he
unstrapped his valise) to explain this apparent miracle. He could only
guess with me that the woman had been warned of our arrival by the
noise of footsteps in the court-yard, and had dispatched a servant by
some back stairs to make ready for us.
Our valises were, fortunately, waterproof. We quickly exchanged our
damp clothes for dry ones, and groped our way together along the
corridors, helped by the moon, which shone through their uncurtained
windows, to the main staircase. Here we came on a scent of roasting
meat—appetising to us after our day in the open air—and at the foot
found our host waiting for us. He had donned his Highland dress of
ceremony—velvet jacket, phillabeg and kilt, with the tartan of
his clan—and looked (I must own) extremely well in it, though the
garments had long since lost their original gloss. An apology for our
rough touring suits led to some few questions and replies about the
regimental tartan of the Morays, in the history of which he was
passably well informed.
Thus chatting, we entered the great hall of Ardlaugh Castle—a tall,
but narrow and ill-proportioned apartment, having an open timber roof,
a stone-paved floor, and walls sparsely decorated with antlers and
round targes—where a very small man stood warming his back at
an immense fireplace. This was the Reverend Samuel Saul, whose
acquaintance we had scarce time to make before a cracked gong summoned
us to dinner in the adjoining room.
The young Laird of Ardlaugh took his seat in a roughly carved chair
of state at the head of the table; but before doing so treated me to
another surprise by muttering a Latin grace and crossing himself. Up
to now I had taken it for granted he was a member of the Scottish
Kirk. I glanced at the minister in some mystification; but he, good
man, appeared to have fallen into a brown study, with his eyes
fastened upon a dish of apples which adorned the centre of our
promiscuously furnished board.
Of the furniture of our meal I can only say that poverty and decent
appearance kept up a brave fight throughout. The table-cloth was
ragged, but spotlessly clean; the silver-ware scanty and worn with
high polishing. The plates and glasses displayed a noble range of
patterns, but were for the most part chipped or cracked. Each knife
had been worn to a point, and a few of them joggled in their handles.
In a lull of the talk I caught myself idly counting the darns in my
table-napkin. They were—if I remember—fourteen, and all exquisitely
stitched. The dinner, on the other hand, would have tempted men far
less hungry than we—grilled steaks of salmon, a roast haunch of
venison, grouse, a milk-pudding, and, for dessert, the dish of apples
already mentioned; the meats washed down with one wine only, but that
wine was claret, and beautifully sound. I should mention that we were
served by a grey-haired retainer, almost stone deaf, and as hopelessly
cracked as the gong with which he had beaten us to dinner. In the long
waits between the courses we heard him quarrelling outside with
the woman who had admitted us; and gradually—I know not how—the
conviction grew on me that they were man and wife, and the only
servants of our host's establishment. To cover the noise of one of
their altercations I began to congratulate the Laird on the quality of
his venison, and put some idle question about his care for his deer.
"I have no deer-forest," he answered. "Elspeth is my only
I had some reply on my lips, when my attention was distracted by a
sudden movement by the Rev. Samuel Saul. This honest man had, as we
shook hands in the great hall, broken into a flood of small talk.
On our way to the dining-room he took me, so to speak, by the
button-hole, and within the minute so drenched me with gossip about
Ardlaugh, its climate, its scenery, its crops, and the dimensions of
the parish, that I feared a whole evening of boredom lay before us.
But from the moment we seated ourselves at table he dropped to an
absolute silence. There are men, living much alone, who by habit
talk little during their meals; and the minister might be reserving
himself. But I had almost forgotten his presence when I heard a sharp
exclamation, and, looking across, saw him take from his lips his
wine-glass of claret and set it down with a shaking hand. The Laird,
too, had heard, and bent a darkly questioning glance on him. At once
the little man—whose face had turned to a sickly white—began to
stammer and excuse himself.
"It was nothing—a spasm. He would be better of it in a moment. No, he
would take no wine: a glass of water would set him right—he was more
used to drinking water," he explained, with a small, nervous laugh.
Perceiving that our solicitude embarrassed him, we resumed our talk,
which now turned upon the last peninsular campaign and certain
engagements in which the Morays had borne part; upon the stability of
the French Monarchy, and the career (as we believed, at an end) of
Napoleon. On all these topics the Laird showed himself well informed,
and while preferring the part of listener (as became his youth) from
time to time put in a question which convinced me of his intelligence,
especially in military affairs.
The minister, though silent as before, had regained his colour; and we
were somewhat astonished when, the cloth being drawn and the company
left to its wine and one dish of dessert, he rose and announced that
he must be going. He was decidedly better, but (so he excused himself)
would feel easier at home in his own manse; and so, declining our
host's offer of a bed, he shook hands and bade us good-night. The
Laird accompanied him to the door, and in his absence I fell to
peeling an apple, while my brother drummed with his fingers on the
table and eyed the faded hangings. I suppose that ten minutes elapsed
before we heard the young man's footsteps returning through the
flagged hall and a woman's voice uplifted.
"But had the minister any complaint, whatever—to ride off without a
word? She could answer for the collops—"
"Whist, woman! Have done with your clashin', ye doited old fool!" He
slammed the door upon her, stepped to the table, and with a sullen
frown poured himself a glass of wine. His brow cleared as he drank it.
"I beg your pardon, gentlemen; but this indisposition of Mr. Saul has
annoyed me. He lives at the far end of the parish—a good seven miles
away—and I had invited him expressly to talk of parish affairs."
"I believe," said I, "you and he are not of the same religion?"
"Eh?" He seemed to be wondering how I had guessed. "No, I was bred a
Catholic. In our branch we have always held to the Old Religion. But
that doesn't prevent my wishing to stand well with my neighbours and
do my duty towards them. What disheartens me is, they won't see it."
He pushed the wine aside, and for a while, leaning his elbows on the
table and resting his chin on his knuckles, stared gloomily before
him. Then, with sudden boyish indignation, he burst out: "It's an
infernal shame; that's it—an infernal shame! I haven't been home here
a twelvemonth, and the people avoid me like a plague. What have I
done? My father wasn't popular—in fact, they hated him. But so did I.
And he hated me, God knows: misused my mother, and wouldn't endure me
in his presence. All my miserable youth I've been mewed up in a school
in England—a private seminary. Ugh? what a den it was, too! My mother
died calling for me—I was not allowed to come: I hadn't seen her for
three years. And now, when the old tyrant is dead, and I come home
meaning—so help me!—to straighten things out and make friends—come
home, to the poverty you pretend not to notice, though it stares you
in the face from every wall—come home, only asking to make the best
of of it, live on good terms with my fellows, and be happy for the
first time in my life—damn them, they won't fling me a kind look!
What have I done?—that's what I want to know. The queer thing is,
they behaved more decently at first. There's that Gillespie, who
brought you ashore: he came over the first week, offered me shooting,
was altogether as pleasant as could be. I quite took to the fellow.
Now, when we meet, he looks the other way! If he has anything against
me, he might at least explain: it's all I ask. What have I done?"
Throughout this outburst I sat slicing my apple and taking now and
then a glance at the speaker. It was all so hotly and honestly boyish!
He only wanted justice. I know something of youngsters, and recognised
the cry. Justice! It's the one thing every boy claims confidently as
his right, and probably the last thing on earth he will ever get.
And this boy looked so handsome, too, sitting in his father's chair,
petulant, restive under a weight too heavy (as anyone could see) for
his age. I couldn't help liking him.
My brother told me afterwards that I pounced like any
recruiting-sergeant. This I do not believe. But what, after a long
pause, I said was this: "If you are innocent or unconscious of
offending, you can only wait for your neighbours to explain
themselves. Meanwhile, why not leave them? Why not travel, for
"Travel!" he echoed, as much as to say, "You ought to know, without my
telling, that I cannot afford it."
"Travel," I repeated; "see the world, rub against men of your age. You
might by the way do some fighting."
He opened his eyes wide. I saw the sudden idea take hold of him, and
again I liked what I saw.
"If I thought—" He broke off. "You don't mean—" he began, and broke
"I mean the Morays," I said. "There may be difficulties; but at this
moment I cannot see any real ones."
By this time he was gripping the arms of his chair. "If I thought—"
he harked back, and for the third time broke off. "What a fool I am!
It's the last thing they ever put in a boy's head at that infernal
school. If you will believe it, they wanted to make a priest of me!"
He sprang up, pushing back his chair. We carried our wine into the
great hall, and sat there talking the question over before the fire.
Before we parted for the night I had engaged to use all my interest to
get him a commission in the Morays; and I left him pacing the hall,
his mind in a whirl, but his heart (as was plain to see) exulting in
his new prospects.
And certainly, when I came to inspect the castle by the next morning's
light, I could understand his longing to leave it. A gloomier, more
pretentious, or worse-devised structure I never set eyes on. The
Mackenzie who erected it may well have been (as the saying is) his own
architect, and had either come to the end of his purse or left his
heirs to decide against planting gardens, laying out approaches or
even maintaining the pile in decent repair. In place of a drive a
grassy cart-track, scored deep with old ruts, led through a gateless
entrance into a courtyard where the slates had dropped from the roof
and lay strewn like autumn leaves. On this road I encountered the
young Laird returning from an early tramp with his gun; and he stood
still and pointed to the castle with a grimace.
"A white elephant," said I.
"Call it rather the corpse of one," he answered. "Cannot you imagine
some genie of the Oriental Tales dragging the beast across Europe
and dumping it down here in a sudden fit of disgust? As a matter of
fact my grandfather built it, and cursed us with poverty thereby. It
soured my father's life. I believe the only soul honestly proud of it
"And I suppose," said I, "you will leave her in charge of it when you
join the Morays?"
"Ah!" he broke in, with a voice which betrayed his relief: "you are
in earnest about that? Yes Elspeth will look after the castle, as she
does already. I am just a child in her hand. When a man has one only
servant it's well to have her devoted." Seeing my look of surprise, he
added, "I don't count old Duncan, her husband; for he's half-witted,
and only serves to break the plates. Does it surprise you to learn
that, barring him, Elspeth is my only retainer?"
"H'm," said I, considerably puzzled—I must explain why.
* * * * *
I am by training an extraordinarily light sleeper; yet nothing had
disturbed me during the night until at dawn my brother knocked at the
door and entered, ready dressed.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed, "are you responsible for this?" and he pointed
to a chair at the foot of the bed where lay, folded in a neat pile,
not only the clothes I had tossed down carelessly overnight, but the
suit in which I had arrived. He picked up this latter, felt it, and
handed it to me. It was dry, and had been carefully brushed.
"Our friend keeps a good valet," said I; "but the queer thing is that,
in a strange room, I didn't wake. I see he has brought hot water too."
"Look here," my brother asked: "did you lock your door?"
"Why, of course not—the more by token that it hasn't a key."
"Well," said he, "mine has, and I'll swear I used it; but the same
thing has happened to me!"
This, I tried to persuade him, was impossible; and for the while he
seemed convinced. "It must be," he owned; "but if I didn't lock that
door I'll never swear to a thing again in all my life."
* * * * *
The young Laird's remark set me thinking of this, and I answered after
a pause, "In one of the pair, then, you possess a remarkably clever
It so happened that, while I said it, my eyes rested, without the
least intention, on the sleeve of his shooting-coat; and the words
were scarcely out before he flushed hotly and made a motion as if to
hide a neatly mended rent in its cuff. In another moment he would have
retorted, and was indeed drawing himself up in anger, when I prevented
him by adding—
"I mean that I am indebted to him or to her this morning for a neatly
brushed suit; and I suppose to your freeness in plying me with wine
last night that it arrived in my room without waking me. But for that
I could almost set it down to the supernatural."
I said this in all simplicity, and was quite unprepared for its effect
upon him, or for his extraordinary reply. He turned as white in
the face as, a moment before, he had been red. "Good God!" he said
eagerly, "you haven't missed anything, have you?"
"Certainly not," I assured him. "My dear sir—"
"I know, I know. But you see," he stammered, "I am new to these
servants. I know them to be faithful, and that's all. Forgive me; I
feared from your tone one of them—Duncan perhaps …"
He did not finish his sentence, but broke into a hurried walk and led
me towards the house. A minute later, as we approached it, he began
to discourse half-humorously on its more glaring features, and had
apparently forgotten his perturbation.
I too attached small importance to it, and recall it now merely
through unwillingness to omit any circumstance which may throw light
on a story sufficiently dark to me. After breakfast our host walked
down with us to the loch-side, where we found old Donald putting the
last touches on his job. With thanks for our entertainment we shook
hands and pushed off: and my last word at parting was a promise to
remember his ambition and write any news of my success.
I anticipated no difficulty, and encountered none. The Gazette of
January, 1815, announced that David Marie Joseph Mackenzie, gentleman,
had been appointed to an ensigncy in the —th Regiment of Infantry
(Moray Highlanders); and I timed my letter of congratulation to reach
him with the news. Within a week he had joined us at Inverness, and
was made welcome.
I may say at once that during his brief period of service I could find
no possible fault with his bearing as a soldier. From the first he
took seriously to the calling of arms, and not only showed himself
punctual on parade and in all the small duties of barracks, but
displayed, in his reserved way, a zealous resolve to master whatever
by book or conversation could be learned of the higher business of
war. My junior officers—though when the test came, as it soon did,
they acquitted themselves most creditably—showed, as a whole, just
then no great promise. For the most part they were young lairds, like
Mr. Mackenzie, or cadets of good Highland families; but, unlike him,
they had been allowed to run wild, and chafed under harness. One or
two of them had the true Highland addiction to card-playing; and
though I set a pretty stern face against this curse—as I dare to call
it—its effects were to be traced in late hours, more than one case of
shirking "rounds," and a general slovenliness at morning parade.
In such company Mr. Mackenzie showed to advantage, and I soon began to
value him as a likely officer. Nor, in my dissatisfaction with them,
did it give me any uneasiness—as it gave me no surprise—to find
that his brother-officers took less kindly to him. He kept a certain
reticence of manner, which either came of a natural shyness or had
been ingrained in him at the Roman Catholic seminary. He was poor,
too; but poverty did not prevent his joining in all the regimental
amusements, figuring modestly but sufficiently on the subscription
lists, and even taking a hand at cards for moderate stakes. Yet he
made no headway, and his popularity diminished instead of growing.
All this I noted, but without discovering any definite reason. Of his
professional promise, on the other hand, there could be no question;
and the men liked and respected him.
Our senior ensign at this date was a Mr. Urquhart, the eldest son of a
West Highland laird, and heir to a considerable estate. He had been
in barracks when Mr. Mackenzie joined; but a week later his father's
sudden illness called for his presence at home, and I granted him a
leave of absence, which was afterwards extended. I regretted this, not
only for the sad occasion, but because it deprived the battalion for a
time of one of its steadiest officers, and Mr. Mackenzie in particular
of the chance to form a very useful friendship. For the two young men
had (I thought) several qualities which might well attract them each
to the other, and a common gravity of mind in contrast with their
companions' prevalent and somewhat tiresome frivolity. Of the two I
Judged Mr. Urquhart (the elder by a year) to have the more stable
character. He was a good-looking, dark-complexioned young Highlander,
with a serious expression which, without being gloomy, did not
escape a touch of melancholy. I should judge this melancholy of Mr.
Urquhart's constitutional, and the boyish sullenness which lingered on
Mr. Mackenzie's equally handsome face to have been imposed rather by
Mr. Urquhart rejoined us on the 24th of February. Two days later, as
all the world knows, Napoleon made his escape from Elba; and the next
week or two made it certain not only that the allies must fight, but
that the British contingent must be drawn largely, if not in the main,
from the second battalions then drilling up and down the country. The
29th of March brought us our marching orders; and I will own that,
while feeling no uneasiness about the great issue, I distrusted the
share my raw youngsters were to take in it.
On the 12th of April we were landed at Ostend, and at once marched up
to Brussels, where we remained until the middle of June, having been
assigned to the 5th (Picton's) Division of the Reserve. For some
reason the Highland regiments had been massed into the Reserve, and
were billeted about the capital, our own quarters lying between the
92nd (Gordons) and General Kruse's Nassauers, whose lodgings stretched
out along the Louvain road; and although I could have wished some
harder and more responsible service to get the Morays into training, I
felt what advantage they derived from rubbing shoulders with the fine
fellows of the 42nd, 79th, and 92nd, all First Battalions toughened
by Peninsular work. The gaieties of life in Brussels during these two
months have been described often enough; but among the military they
were chiefly confined to those officers whose means allowed them to
keep the pace set by rich civilians, and the Morays played the part of
amused spectators. Yet the work and the few gaieties which fell to our
share, while adding to our experiences, broke up to some degree the
old domestic habits of the battalion. Excepting on duty I saw less of
Mr. Mackenzie and thought less about him; he might be left now to be
shaped by active service. But I was glad to find him often in company
with Mr. Urquhart.
I come now to the memorable night of June 15th, concerning which and
the end it brought upon the festivities of Brussels so much has been
written. All the world has heard of the Duchess of Richmond's ball,
and seems to conspire in decking it out with pretty romantic fables.
To contradict the most of these were waste of time; but I may point
out (1) that the ball was over and, I believe, all the company
dispersed, before the actual alarm awoke the capital; and (2) that all
responsible officers gathered there shared the knowledge that such
an alarm was impending, might arrive at any moment, and would almost
certainly arrive within a few hours. News of the French advance across
the frontier and attack on General Zieten's outposts had reached
Wellington at three o'clock that afternoon. It should have been
brought five hours earlier; but he gave his orders at once, and
quietly, and already our troops were massing for defence upon
Nivelles. We of the Reserve had secret orders to hold ourselves
prepared. Obedient to a hint from their Commander-in-chief, the
generals of division and brigade who attended the Duchess' ball
withdrew themselves early on various pleas. Her Grace had honoured
me with an invitation, probably because I represented a Highland
regiment; and Highlanders (especially the Gordons, her brother's
regiment) were much to the fore that night with reels, flings, and
strathspeys. The many withdrawals warned me that something was in the
wind, and after remaining just so long as seemed respectful, I took
leave of my hostess and walked homewards across the city as the clocks
were striking eleven.
We of the Morays had our headquarters in a fairly large building—the
Hôtel de Liège—in time of peace a resort of commis-voyageurs of
the better class. It boasted a roomy hall, out of which opened two
coffee-rooms, converted by us into guard- and mess-room. A large
drawing-room on the first floor overlooking the street served me for
sleeping as well as working quarters, and to reach it I must pass the
entresol, where a small apartment had been set aside for occasional
uses. We made it, for instance, our ante-room, and assembled there
before mess; a few would retire there for smoking or card-playing;
during the day it served as a waiting-room for messengers or any one
whose business could not be for the moment attended to.
I had paused at the entrance to put some small question to the sentry,
when I heard the crash of a chair in this room, and two voices broke
out in fierce altercation. An instant after, the mess-room door
opened, and Captain Murray, without observing me, ran past me and
up the stairs. As he reached the entresol, a voice—my
brother's—called down from an upper landing, and demanded, "What's
"I don't know, Major," Captain Murray answered, and at the same moment
flung the door open. I was quick on his heels, and he wheeled round in
some surprise at my voice, and to see me interposed between him and
my brother, who had come running downstairs, and now stood behind my
shoulder in the entrance.
"Shut the door," I commanded quickly. "Shut the door, and send away
any one you may hear outside. Now, gentlemen, explain yourselves,
Mr. Urquhart and Mr. Mackenzie faced each other across a small table,
from which the cloth had been dragged and lay on the floor with a
scattered pack of cards. The elder lad held a couple of cards in his
hand; he was white in the face.
"He cheated!" He swung round upon me in a kind of indignant fury, and
tapped the cards with his forefinger.
I looked from him to the accused. Mackenzie's face was dark, almost
purple, rather with rage (as it struck me) than with shame.
"It's a lie." He let out the words slowly, as if holding rein on his
passion. "Twice he's said so, and twice I've called him a liar." He
drew back for an instant, and then lost control of himself. "If that's
not enough—." He leapt forward, and almost before Captain Murray
could interpose had hurled himself upon Urquhart. The table between
them went down with a crash, and Urquhart went staggering back from a
blow which just missed his face and took him on the collar-bone before
Murray threw both arms around the assailant.
"Mr. Mackenzie," said I, "you will consider yourself under arrest. Mr.
Urquhart, you will hold yourself ready to give me a full explanation.
Whichever of you may be in the right, this is a disgraceful business,
and dishonouring to your regiment and the cloth you wear: so
disgraceful, that I hesitate to call up the guard and expose it to
more eyes than ours. If Mr. Mackenzie"—I turned to him again—"can
behave himself like a gentleman, and accept the fact of his arrest
without further trouble, the scandal can at least be postponed until
I discover how much it is necessary to face. For the moment, sir, you
are in charge of Captain Murray. Do you understand?"
He bent his head sullenly. "He shall fight me, whatever happens," he
I found it wise to pay no heed to this. "It will be best," I said to
Murray, "to remain here with Mr. Mackenzie until I am ready for him.
Mr. Urquhart may retire to his quarters, if he will—I advise it,
indeed—but I shall require his attendance in a few minutes. You
understand," I added significantly, "that for the present this affair
remains strictly between ourselves." I knew well enough that, for all
the King's regulations, a meeting would inevitably follow sooner or
later, and will own I looked upon it as the proper outcome, between
gentlemen, of such a quarrel. But it was not for me, their Colonel, to
betray this knowledge or my feelings, and by imposing secrecy I put
off for the time all the business of a formal challenge with seconds.
So I left them, and requesting my brother to follow me, mounted to my
own room. The door was no sooner shut than I turned on him.
"Surely," I said, "this is a bad mistake of Urquhart's? It's an
incredible charge. From all I've seen of him, the lad would never be
guilty …" I paused, expecting his assent. To my surprise he did not
give it, but stood fingering his chin and looking serious.
"I don't know," he answered unwillingly. "There are stories against
"Nothing definite." My brother hesitated. "It doesn't seem fair to him
to repeat mere whispers. But the others don't like him."
"Hence the whispers, perhaps. They have not reached me."
"They would not. He is known to be a favourite of yours. But they
don't care to play with him." My brother stopped, met my look, and
answered it with a shrug of the shoulders, adding, "He wins pretty
"Any definite charge before to-night's?"
"No: at least, I think not. But Urquhart may have been put up to
"Fetch him up, please," said I promptly; and seating myself at the
writing-table I lit candles (for the lamp was dim), made ready the
writing materials and prepared to take notes of the evidence.
Mr. Urquhart presently entered, and I wheeled round in my chair to
confront him. He was still exceedingly pale—paler, I thought, than I
had left him. He seemed decidedly ill at ease, though not on his own
account. His answer to my first question made me fairly leap in my
"I wish," he said, "to qualify my accusation of Mr. Mackenzie. That he
cheated I have the evidence of my own eyes; but I am not sure how far
he knew he was cheating."
"Good heavens, sir!" I cried. "Do you know you have accused that young
man of a villainy which must damn him for life? And now you tell me—"
I broke off in sheer indignation.
"I know," he answered quietly. "The noise fetched you in upon us on
the instant, and the mischief was done."
"Indeed, sir," I could not avoid sneering, "to most of us it would
seem that the mischief was done when you accused a brother-officer of
fraud to his face."
He seemed to reflect. "Yes, sir," he assented slowly; "it is done. I
saw him cheat: that I must persist in; but I cannot say how far he was
conscious of it. And since I cannot, I must take the consequences."
"Will you kindly inform us how it is possible for a player to cheat
and not know that he is cheating?"
He bent his eyes on the carpet as if seeking an answer. It was long in
coming. "No," he said at last, in a slow, dragging tone, "I cannot."
"Then you will at least tell us exactly what Mr. Mackenzie did."
Again there was a long pause. He looked at me straight, but with
hopelessness in his eyes. "I fear you would not believe me. It would
not be worth while. If you can grant it, sir, I would ask time to
"Mr. Urquhart," said I sternly, "are you aware you have brought
against Mr. Mackenzie a charge under which no man of honour can
live easily for a moment? You ask me without a word of evidence in
substantiation to keep him in torture while I give you time. It is
monstrous, and I beg to remind you that, unless your charge is proved,
you can—and will—be broken for making it."
"I know it, sir," he answered firmly enough; "and because I knew it, I
asked—perhaps selfishly—for time. If you refuse, I will at least ask
permission to see a priest before telling a story which I can scarcely
expect you to believe." Mr. Urquhart too was a Roman Catholic.
But my temper for the moment was gone. "I see little chance," said
I, "of keeping this scandal secret, and regret it the less if the
consequences are to fall on a rash accuser. But just now I will have
no meddling priest share the secret. For the present, one word more.
Had you heard before this evening of any hints against Mr. Mackenzie's
He answered reluctantly, "Yes."
"And you set yourself to lay a trap for him?"
"No, sir; I did not. Unconsciously I may have been set on the watch:
no, that is wrong—I did watch. But I swear it was in every hope and
expectation of clearing him. He was my friend. Even when I saw, I had
at first no intention to expose him until—"
"That is enough, sir," I broke in, and turned to my brother. "I have
no option but to put Mr. Urquhart too under arrest. Kindly convey him
back to his room, and send Captain Murray to me. He may leave Mr.
Mackenzie in the entresol."
My brother led Urquhart out, and in a minute Captain Murray tapped at
my door. He was an honest Scot, not too sharp-witted, but straight as
a die. I am to show him this description, and he will cheerfully agree
"This is a hideous business, Murray," said I as he entered. "There's
something wrong with Urquhart's story. Indeed, between ourselves it
has the fatal weakness that he won't tell it."
Murray took a minute to digest this, then he answered, "I don't know
anything about Urquhart's story, sir. But there's something wrong
about Urquhart." Here he hesitated.
"Speak out, man," said I: "in confidence. That's understood."
"Well, sir," said he, "Urquhart won't fight."
"Ah! so that question came up, did it?" I asked, looking at him
He was not abashed, but answered, with a twinkle in his eye, "I
believe, sir, you gave me no orders to stop their talking, and in a
case like this—between youngsters—some question of a meeting would
naturally come up. You see, I know both the lads. Urquhart I really
like; but he didn't show up well, I must own—to be fair to the other,
who is in the worse fix."
"I am not so sure of that," I commented; "but go on."
He seemed surprised. "Indeed, Colonel? Well," he resumed, "I being the
sort of fellow they could talk before, a meeting was discussed. The
question was how to arrange it without seconds—that is, without
breaking your orders and dragging in outsiders. For Mackenzie wanted
blood at once, and for awhile Urquhart seemed just as eager. All of a
sudden, when…." here he broke off suddenly, not wishing to commit
"Tell me only what you think necessary," said I.
He thanked me. "That is what I wanted," he said. "Well, all of a
sudden, when we had found out a way and Urquhart was discussing it, he
pulled himself up in the middle of a sentence, and with his eyes fixed
on the other—a most curious look it was—he waited while you could
count ten, and, 'No,' says he, 'I'll not fight you at once'—for we
had been arranging something of the sort—'not to-night, anyway, nor
to-morrow,' he says. 'I'll fight you; but I won't have your blood on
my head in that way.' Those were his words. I have no notion what
he meant; but he kept repeating them, and would not explain, though
Mackenzie tried him hard and was for shooting across the table. He was
repeating them when the Major interrupted us and called him up."
"He has behaved ill from the first," said I. "To me the whole affair
begins to look like an abominable plot against Mackenzie. Certainly I
cannot entertain a suspicion of his guilt upon a bare assertion which
Urquhart declines to back with a tittle of evidence."
"The devil he does!" mused Captain Murray. "That looks bad for him.
And yet, sir, I'd sooner trust Urquhart than Mackenzie, and if the
case lies against Urquhart—"
"It will assuredly break him," I put in, "unless he can prove the
charge, or that he was honestly mistaken."
"Then, sir," said the Captain, "I'll have to show you this. It's ugly,
but it's only justice."
He pulled a sovereign from his pocket and pushed it on the
writing-table under my nose.
"What does this mean?"
"It is a marked one," said he.
"So I perceive." I had picked up the coin and was examining it.
"I found it just now," he continued, "in the room below. The upsetting
of the table had scattered Mackenzie's stakes about the floor."
"You seem to have a pretty notion of evidence," I observed sharply.
"I don't know what accusation this coin may carry; but why need it be
Mackenzie's? He might have won it from Urquhart."
"I thought of that," was the answer. "But no money had changed hands.
I enquired. The quarrel arose over the second deal, and as a matter of
fact Urquhart had laid no money on the table, but made a pencil-note
of a few shillings he lost by the first hand. You may remember, sir,
how the table stood when you entered."
I reflected. "Yes, my recollection bears you out. Do I gather that you
have confronted Mackenzie with this?"
"No. I found it and slipped it quietly into my pocket. I thought we
had trouble enough on hand for the moment."
"Who marked this coin?"
"Young Fraser, sir, in my presence. He has been losing small sums, he
declares, by pilfering. We suspected one of the orderlies."
"In this connection you had no suspicion of Mr. Mackenzie?"
"None, sr." He considered for a moment, and added: "There was a
curious thing happened three weeks ago over my watch. It found its
way one night to Mr. Mackenzie's quarters. He brought it to me in the
morning; said it was lying, when he awoke, on the table beside his
bed. He seemed utterly puzzled. He had been to one or two already to
discover the owner. We joked him about it, the more by token that his
own watch had broken down the day before and was away at the mender's.
The whole thing was queer, and has not been explained. Of course in
that instance he was innocent: everything proves it. It just occurred
to me as worth mentioning, because in both instances the lad may have
been the victim of a trick."
"I am glad you did so," I said; "though just now it does not throw any
light that I can see." I rose and paced the room. "Mr. Mackenzie had
better be confronted with this, too, and hear your evidence. It's best
he should know the worst against him; and if he be guilty it may move
him to confession."
"Certainly, sir," Captain Murray assented. "Shall I fetch him?"
"No, remain where you are," I said; "I will go for him myself."
I understood that Mr. Urquhart had retired to his own quarters or to
my brother's, and that Mr. Mackenzie had been left in the entresol
alone. But as I descended the stairs quietly I heard within that room
a voice which at first persuaded me he had company, and next that,
left to himself, he had broken down and given way to the most childish
wailing. The voice was so unlike his, or any grown man's, that it
arrested me on the lowermost stair against my will. It resembled
rather the sobbing of an infant mingled with short strangled cries of
contrition and despair.
"What shall I do? What shall I do? I didn't mean it—I meant to do
good! What shall I do?"
So much I heard (as I say) against my will, before my astonishment
gave room to a sense of shame at playing, even for a moment, the
eavesdropper upon the lad I was to judge. I stepped quickly to the
door, and with a warning rattle (to give him time to recover himself)
turned the handle and entered.
He was alone, lying back in an easy chair—not writhing there in
anguish of mind, as I had fully expected, but sunk rather in a state
of dull and hopeless apathy. To reconcile his attitude with the sounds
I had just heard was merely impossible; and it bewildered me worse
than any in the long chain of bewildering incidents. For five seconds
or so he appeared not to see me; but when he grew aware his look
changed suddenly to one of utter terror, and his eyes, shifting from
me, shot a glance about the room as if he expected some new accusation
to dart at him from the corners. His indignation and passionate
defiance were gone: his eyes seemed to ask me, "How much do you know?"
before he dropped them and stood before me, sullenly submissive.
"I want you upstairs," said I: "not to hear your defence on this
charge, for Mr. Urquhart has not yet specified it. But there is
"Another?" he echoed dully, and, I observed, without surprise.
I led the way back to the room where Captain Murray waited. "Can you
tell me anything about this?" I asked, pointing to the sovereign on
He shook his head, clearly puzzled, but anticipating mischief.
"The coin is marked, you see. I have reason to know that it was marked
by its owner in order to detect a thief. Captain Murray found it just
now among your stakes."
Somehow—for I liked the lad—I had not the heart to watch his face as
I delivered this. I kept my eyes upon the coin, and waited, expecting
an explosion—a furious denial, or at least a cry that he was the
victim of a conspiracy. None came. I heard him breathing hard. After
a long and very dreadful pause some words broke from him, so lowly
uttered that my ears only just caught them.
"This too? O my God!"
I seated myself, the lad before me, and Captain Murray erect and rigid
at the end of the table. "Listen, my lad," said I. "This wears an ugly
look, but that a stolen coin has been found in your possession does
not prove that you've stolen it."
"I did not. Sir, I swear to you on my honour, and before Heaven, that
I did not."
"Very well," said I: "Captain Murray asserts that he found this
among the moneys you had been staking at cards. Do you question that
He answered almost without pondering. "No, sir. Captain Murray is a
gentleman, and incapable of falsehood. If he says so, it was so."
"Very well again. Now, can you explain how this coin came into your
At this he seemed to hesitate; but answered at length, "No, I cannot
"Have you any idea? Or can you form any guess?"
Again there was a long pause before the answer came in low and
strained tones: "I can guess."
"What is your guess?"
He lifted a hand and dropped it hopelessly. "You would not believe,"
I will own a suspicion flashed across my mind on hearing these
words—the very excuse given a while ago by Mr. Urquhart—that the
whole affair was a hoax and the two young men were in conspiracy to
fool me. I dismissed it at once: the sight of Mr. Mackenzie's face,
was convincing. But my temper was gone.
"Believe you?" I exclaimed. "You seem to think the one thing I can
swallow as creditable, even probable, is that an officer in the Morays
has been pilfering and cheating at cards. Oddly enough, it's the last
thing I'm going to believe without proof, and the last charge I shall
pass without clearing it up to my satisfaction. Captain Murray, will
you go and bring me Mr. Urquhart and the Major?"
As Captain Murray closed the door I rose, and with my hands behind
me took a turn across the room to the fireplace, then back to the
"Mr. Mackenzie," I said, "before we go any further I wish you to
believe that I am your friend as well as your Colonel. I did something
to start you upon your career, and I take a warm interest in it. To
believe you guilty of these charges will give me the keenest grief.
However unlikely your defence may sound—and you seem to fear it—I
will give it the best consideration I can. If you are innocent, you
shall not find me prejudiced because many are against you and you are
alone. Now, this coin—" I turned to the table.
The coin was gone.
I stared at the place where it had lain; then at the young man. He had
not moved. My back had been turned for less than two seconds, and I
could have sworn he had not budged from the square of carpet on
which he had first taken his stand, and on which his feet were still
planted. On the other hand, I was equally positive the incriminating
coin had lain on the table at the moment I turned my back.
"It is gone!" cried I.
"Gone?" he echoed, staring at the spot to which my finger pointed. In
the silence our glances were still crossing when my brother tapped at
the door and brought in Mr. Urquhart, Captain Murray following.
Dismissing for a moment this latest mystery, I addressed Mr. Urquhart.
"I have sent for you, sir, to request in the first place that here in
Mr. Mackenzie's presence and in colder blood you will either withdraw
or repeat and at least attempt to substantiate the charge you brought
"I adhere to it, sir, that there was cheating. To withdraw would be to
utter a lie. Does he deny it?"
I glanced at Mr. Mackenzie. "I deny that I cheated," said he sullenly.
"Further," pursued Mr. Urquhart, "I repeat what I told you, sir. He
may, while profiting by it have been unaware of the cheat. At the
moment I thought it impossible; but I am willing to believe—"
"You are willing!" I broke in. "And pray, sir, what about me, his
Colonel, and the rest of his brother officers? Have you the coolness
But the full question was never put, and in this world it will never
be answered. A bugle call, distant but clear, cut my sentence in
half. It came from the direction of the Place d'Armes. A second bugle
echoed, it from the height of the Montagne du Parc, and within a
minute its note was taken up and answered across the darkness from
quarter after quarter.
We looked at one another in silence. "Business," said my brother at
length, curtly and quietly.
Already the rooms above us were astir. I heard windows thrown open,
voices calling questions, feet running.
"Yes," said I, "it is business at length, and for the while this
inquiry must end. Captain Murray, look to your company. You,
Major, see that the lads tumble out quick to the alarm-post. One
moment!"—and Captain Murray halted with his hand on the door—"It is
understood that for the present no word of to-night's affair passes
our lips." I turned to Mr. Mackenzie and answered the question I read
in the lad's eyes. "Yes, sir; for the present I take off your arrest.
Get your sword. It shall be your good fortune to answer the enemy
before answering me."
To my amazement Mr. Urquhart interposed. He was, if possible, paler
and more deeply agitated than before. "Sir, I entreat you not to allow
Mr. Mackenzie to go. I have reasons—I was mistaken just now—"
"Not in what I saw. I refused to fight him—under a mistake. I
But I cut his stammering short. "As for you," I said, "the most
charitable construction I can put on your behaviour is to believe you
mad. For the present you, too, are free to go and do your duty. Now
leave me. Business presses, and I am sick and angry at the sight of
It was just two in the morning when I reached the alarm-post. Brussels
by this time was full of the rolling of drums and screaming of pipes;
and the regiment formed up in darkness rendered tenfold more confusing
by a mob of citizens, some wildly excited, others paralysed by terror,
and all intractable. We had, moreover, no small trouble to disengage
from our ranks the wives and families who had most unwisely followed
many officers abroad, and now clung to their dear ones bidding them
farewell. To end this most distressing scene I had in some instances
to use a roughness which it still afflicts me to remember. Yet in
actual time it was soon overhand dawn scarcely breaking when the
Morays with the other regiments of Pack's brigade filed out of the
park and fell into stride on the road which leads southward to
In this record it would be immaterial to describe either our march or
the since-famous engagement which terminated it. Very early we began
to hear the sound of heavy guns far ahead and to make guesses at their
distance; but it was close upon two in the afternoon before we reached
the high ground above Quatre Bras, and saw the battle spread below
us like a picture. The Prince of Orange had been fighting his ground
stubbornly since seven in the morning. Ney's superior artillery and
far superior cavalry had forced him back, it is true; but he still
covered the cross-roads which were the key of his defence, and his
position remained sound, though it was fast becoming critical. Just as
we arrived, the French, who had already mastered the farm of Piermont,
on the left of the Charleroi road, began to push their skirmishers
into a thicket below it and commanding the road running east to Namur.
Indeed, for a short space they had this road at their mercy, and the
chance within grasp of doubling up our left by means of it.
This happened, I say, just as we arrived; and Wellington, who had
reached Quatre Bras a short while ahead of us (having fetched a
circuit from Brussels through Ligny, where he paused to inspect
Field-Marshal Blücher's dispositions for battle), at once saw the
danger, and detached one of our regiments, the 95th Rifles, to drive
back the tirailleurs from the thicket; which, albeit scarcely breathed
after their march, they did with a will, and so regained the Allies'
hold upon the Namur road. The rest of us meanwhile defiled down this
same road, formed line in front of it, and under a brisk cannonade
from the French heights waited for the next move.
It was not long in coming. Ney, finding that our artillery made poor
play against his, prepared to launch a column against us. Warned by a
cloud of skirmishers, our light companies leapt forward, chose their
shelter, and began a very pretty exchange of musketry. But this was
preliminary work only, and soon the head of a large French column
appeared on the slope to our right, driving the Brunswickers slowly
before it. It descended a little way, and suddenly broke into three or
four columns of attack. The mischief no sooner threatened than Picton
came galloping along our line and roaring that our division would
advance and engage with all speed. For a raw regiment like the Morays
this was no light test; but, supported by a veteran regiment on either
hand, they bore it admirably. Dropping the Gordons to protect the road
in case of mishap, the two brigades swung forward in the prettiest
style, their skirmishers running in and forming on either flank as
they advanced. Then for a while the work was hot; but, as will always
happen when column is boldly met by line, the French quickly had
enough of our enveloping fire, and wavered. A short charge with the
bayonet finished it, and drove them in confusion up the slope: nor had
I an easy task to resume a hold on my youngsters and restrain them
from pursuing too far. The brush had been sharp, but I had the
satisfaction of knowing that the Morays had behaved well. They also
knew it, and fell to jesting in high good-humour as General Pack
withdrew the brigade from the ground of its exploit and posted us in
line with the 42nd and 44th regiments on the left of the main road to
To the right of the Charleroi road, and some way in advance of our
position, the Brunswickers were holding ground as best they could
under a hot and accurate artillery fire. Except for this, the battle
had come to a lull, when a second mass of the enemy began to move down
the slopes: a battalion in line heading two columns of infantry direct
upon the Brunswickers, while squadron after squadron of lancers
crowded down along the road into which by weight of numbers they must
be driven. The Duke of Brunswick, perceiving his peril, headed a
charge of his lancers upon the advancing infantry, but without the
least effect. His horsemen broke. He rode back and called on his
infantry to retire in good order. They also broke, and in the attempt
to rally them he fell mortally wounded.
The line taken by these flying Brunswickers would have brought them
diagonally across the Charleroi road into our arms, had not the French
lancers seized this moment to charge straight down it in a body. They
encountered, and the indiscriminate mass was hurled on to us, choking
and overflowing the causeway. In a minute we were swamped—the two
Highland regiments and the 44th bending against a sheer weight of
Trench horsemen. So suddenly came the shock that the 42nd had no
time to form square, until two companies were cut off and well-nigh
destroyed; then that noble regiment formed around the horsemen who
could boast of having broken it, and left not one to bear back the
tale. The 44th behaved more cleverly, but not more intrepidly: it did
not attempt to form square, but faced its rear rank round and gave the
Frenchmen a volley; before they could checks their impetus the front
rank poured in a second; and the light company, which had held its
fire, delivered a third, breaking the crowd in two, and driving the
hinder-part back in disorder and up the Charleroi road. But already
the fore-part had fallen upon the Morays, fortunately the last of the
three regiments to receive the shock. Though most fortunate, they had
least experience, and were consequently slow in answering my shout.
A wedge of lancers broke through us as we formed around the two
standards, and I saw Mr. Urquhart with the King's colours hurled back
in the rush. The pole fell with him, after swaying within a yard of a
French lancer, who thrust out an arm to grasp it. And with that I
saw Mackenzie divide the rush and stand—it may have been for five
seconds—erect, with his foot upon the standard. Then three lancers
pierced him, and he fell. But the lateral pressure of their own
troopers broke the wedge which the French had pushed into us. Their
leading squadrons were pressed down the road and afterwards accounted
for by the Gordons. Of the seven-and-twenty assailants around whom the
Morays now closed, not one survived.
Towards nightfall, as Ney weakened and the Allies were reinforced, our
troops pushed forward and recaptured every important position taken
by the French that morning. The Morays, with the rest of Picton's
division, bivouacked for the night in and around the farmstead of
So obstinately had the field been contested that darkness fell before
the wounded could be collected with any thoroughness; and the comfort
of the men around many a camp-fire was disturbed by groans (often
quite near at hand) of some poor comrade or enemy lying helpless and
undiscovered, or exerting his shattered limbs to crawl towards the
blaze. And these interruptions at length became so distressing to the
Morays, that two or three officers sought me and demanded leave to
form a fatigue party of volunteers and explore the hedges and thickets
with lanterns. Among them was Mr. Urquhart: and having readily given
leave and accompanied them some little way on their search, I was
bidding them good-night and good-speed when I found him standing at my
"May I have a word with you, Colonel?" he asked.
His voice was low and serious. Of course I knew what subject filled
his thoughts. "Is it worth while, sir?" I answered. "I have lost
to-day a brave lad for whom I had a great affection. For him the
account is closed; but not for those who liked him and are still
concerned in his good name. If you have anything further against him,
or if you have any confession to make, I warn you that this is a bad
moment to choose."
"I have only to ask," said he, "that you will grant me the first
convenient hour for explaining; and to remind you that when I besought
you not to send him into action to-day, I had no time to give you
"This is extraordinary talk, sir. I am not used to command the Morays
under advice from my subalterns. And in this instance I had reasons
for not even listening to you." He was silent. "Moreover," I
continued, "you may as well know, though I am under no obligation
to tell you, that I do most certainly not regret having given that
permission to one who justified it by a signal service to his king and
"But would you have sent him knowing that he must die? Colonel," he
went on rapidly, before I could interrupt, "I beseech you to listen. I
knew he had only a few hours to live. I saw his wraith last night.
It stood behind his shoulder in the room when in Captain Murray's
presence he challenged me to fight him. You are a Highlander, sir: you
may be sceptical about the second sight; but at least you must have
heard many claim it. I swear positively that I saw Mr. Mackenzie's
wraith last night, and for that reason, and no other, tried to defer
the meeting. To fight him, knowing he must die, seemed to me as bad
as murder. Afterwards, when the alarm sounded and you took off his
arrest, I knew that his fate must overtake him—that my refusal had
done no good. I tried to interfere again, and you would not hear.
Naturally you would not hear; and very likely, if you had, his fate
would have found him in some other way. That is what I try to believe.
I hope it is not selfish, sir; but the doubt tortures me."
"Mr. Urquhart," I asked, "is this the only occasion on which you have
possessed the second sight, or had reason to think so?"
"Was it the first or only time last night you believed you were
"It was the second time last night," he said steadily.
We had been walking back to my bivouac fire, and in the light of it I
turned and said: "I will hear your story at the first opportunity. I
will not promise to believe, but I will hear and weigh it. Go now and
join the others in their search."
He saluted, and strode away into the darkness. The opportunity I
promised him never came. At eleven o'clock next morning we began our
withdrawal, and within twenty-four hours the battle of Waterloo
had begun. In one of the most heroic feats of that day—the famous
resistance of Pack's brigade—Mr. Urquhart was among the first to
Thus it happened that an affair which so nearly touched the honour of
the Morays, and which had been agitating me at the very moment when
the bugle sounded in the Place d'Armes, became a secret shared by
three only. The regiment joined in the occupation of Paris, and did
not return to Scotland until the middle of December.
I had ceased to mourn for Mr. Mackenzie, but neither to regret him nor
to speculate on the mystery which closed his career, and which, now
that death had sealed Mr. Urquhart's lips, I could no longer hope to
penetrate, when, on the day of my return to Inverness, I was reminded
of him by finding, among the letters and papers awaiting me, a
visiting-card neatly indited with the name of the Reverend Samuel
Saul. On inquiry I learnt that the minister had paid at least three
visits to Inverness during the past fortnight, and had, on each
occasion, shown much anxiety to learn when the battalion might be
expected. He had also left word that he wished to see me on a matter
of much importance.
Sure enough, at ten o'clock next morning the little man presented
himself. He was clearly bursting to disclose his business, and our
salutations were scarce over when he ran to the door and called to
some one in the passage outside.
"Elspeth! Step inside, woman. The housekeeper, sir, to the late Mr.
Mackenzie of Ardlaugh," he explained, as he held the door to admit
She was dressed in ragged mourning, and wore a grotesque and fearful
bonnet. As she saluted me respectfully I saw that her eyes indeed were
dry and even hard, but her features set in an expression of quiet
and hopeless misery. She did not speak, but left explanation to the
"You will guess, sir," began Mr. Saul, "that we have called to learn
more of the poor lad." And he paused.
"He died most gallantly," said I: "died in the act of saving the
colours. No soldier could have wished for a better end."
"To be sure, to be sure. So it was reported to us. He died, as one
might say, without a stain on his character?" said Mr. Saul, with a
sort of question in his tone.
"He died," I answered, "in a way which could only do credit to his
A somewhat constrained silence followed. The woman broke it. "You are
not telling us all," she said, in a slow, harsh voice.
It took me aback. "I am telling all that needs to be known," I assured
"No doubt, sir, no doubt," Mr. Saul interjected. "Hold your tongue,
woman. I am going to tell Colonel Ross a tale which may or may not
bear upon anything he knows. If not, he will interrupt me before I
go far; but if he says nothing I shall take it I have his leave to
continue. Now, sir, on the 16th day of June last, and at six in the
morning—that would be the day of Quatre Bras—"
He paused for me to nod assent, and continued. "At six in the morning
or a little earlier, this woman, Elspeth Mackenzie, came to me at the
Manse in great perturbation. She had walked all the way from Ardlaugh.
It had come to her (she said) that the young Laird abroad was in great
trouble since the previous evening. I asked, 'What trouble? Was it
danger of life, for instance?'—asking it not seriously, but rather
to compose her; for at first I set down her fears to an old woman's
whimsies. Not that I would call Elspeth old precisely—"
Here he broke off and glanced at her; but, perceiving she paid little
attention, went on again at a gallop. "She answered that it was
worse—that the young Laird stood very near disgrace, and (the worst
of all was) at a distance she could not help him. Now, sir, for
reasons I shall hereafter tell you, Mr. Mackenzie's being in disgrace
would have little surprised me; but that she should know of it, he
being in Belgium, was incredible. So I pressed her, and she being
distraught and (I verily believe) in something like anguish, came out
with a most extraordinary story: to wit, that the Laird of Ardlaugh
had in his service, unbeknown to him (but, as she protested, well
known to her), a familiar spirit—or, as we should say commonly, a
'brownie'—which in general served him most faithfully but at times
erratically, having no conscience nor any Christian principle to
direct him. I cautioned her, but she persisted, in a kind of wild
terror, and added that at times the spirit would, in all good faith,
do things which no Christian allowed to be permissible, and further,
that she had profited by such actions. I asked her, 'Was thieving one
of them?' She answered that it was, and indeed the chief.
"Now, this was an admission which gave me some eagerness to hear
more. For to my knowledge there were charges lying against young Mr.
Mackenzie—though not pronounced—which pointed to a thief in his
employment and presumably in his confidence. You will remember, sir,
that when I had the honour of meeting you at Mr. Mackenzie's table, I
took my leave with much abruptness. You remarked upon it, no doubt.
But you will no longer think it strange when I tell you that
there—under my nose—were a dozen apples of a sort which grows
nowhere within twenty miles of Ardlaugh but in my own Manse garden.
The tree was a new one, obtained from Herefordshire, and planted
three seasons before as an experiment. I had watched it, therefore,
particularly; and on that very morning had counted the fruit, and been
dismayed to find twelve apples missing. Further, I am a pretty good
judge of wine (though I taste it rarely), and could there and then
have taken my oath that the claret our host set before us was the very
wine I had tasted at the table of his neighbour Mr. Gillespie. As for
the venison—I had already heard whispers that deer and all game were
not safe within a mile or two of Ardlaugh. These were injurious tales,
sir, which I had no mind to believe; for, bating his religion, I saw
everything in Mr. Mackenzie which disposed me to like him. But I knew
(as neighbours must) of the shortness of his purse; and the multiplied
evidence (particularly my own Goodrich pippins staring me in the face)
overwhelmed me for a moment.
"So then, I listened to this woman's tale with more patience—or,
let me say, more curiosity—than you, sir, might have given it. She
persisted, I say, that her master was in trouble; and that the trouble
had something to do with a game of cards, but that Mr. Mackenzie had
been innocent of deceit, and the real culprit was this spirit I tell
Here the woman herself broke in upon Mr. Saul. "He had nae
conscience—he had nae conscience. He was just a poor luck-child, born
by mischance and put away without baptism. He had nae conscience. How
I looked from her to Mr. Saul in perplexity.
"Whist!" said he; "we'll talk of that anon."
"We will not," said she. "We will talk of it now. He was my own child,
sir, by the young Laird's own father. That was before he was married
upon the wife he took later—"
Here Mr. Saul nudged me, and whispered: "The old Laird—had her
married to that daunderin' old half-wit Duncan, to cover things up.
This part of the tale is true enough, to my knowledge."
"My bairn was overlaid, sir," the woman went on; "not by purpose,
I will swear before you and God. They buried his poor body without
baptism; but not his poor soul. Only when the young Laird came, and
my own bairn clave to him as Mackenzie to Mackenzie, and wrought and
hunted and mended for him—it was not to be thought that the poor
innocent, without knowledge of God's ways—"
She ran on incoherently, while my thoughts harked back to the voice I
had heard wailing behind the door of the entresol at Brussels; to
the young Laird's face, his furious indignation, followed by hopeless
apathy, as of one who in the interval had learnt what he could never
explain; to the marked coin so mysteriously spirited from sight; to
Mr. Urquhart's words before he left me on the night of Quatre Bras.
"But he was sorry," the woman ran on; "he was sorry—sorry. He came
wailing to me that night; yes, and sobbing. He meant no wrong; it was
just that he loved his own father's son, and knew no better. There was
no priest living within thirty miles; so I dressed, and ran to the
minister here. He gave me no rest until I started."
I addressed Mr. Saul. "Is there reason to suppose that, besides this
woman and (let us say) her accomplice, any one shared the secret of
"Ardlaugh never knew," put in the woman quickly. "He may have guessed
we were helping him; but the lad knew nothing, and may the saints
in heaven love him as they ought! He trusted me with his purse, and
slight it was to maintain him. But until too late, he never knew—no,
I thought again of that voice behind the door of the entresol.
"Elspeth Mackenzie," I said, "I and two other living men alone know
of what your master was accused. It cannot affect him; but these two
shall hear your exculpation of him. And I will write the whole story
down, so that the world, if it ever hears the charge, may also hear
your testimony, which of the two (though both are strange) I believe
to be not the less credible."
THREE MEN OF BADAJOS
You enter the village of Gantick between two round-houses set one on
each side of the high road where it dips steeply towards the valley
bottom. On the west of the opposite hill the road passes out between
another pair of round-houses. And down in the heart of the village
among the elms facing the churchyard lych-gate stands a fifth, alone.
The five, therefore, form an elongated St. Andrew's cross; but nobody
can tell for certain who built them, or why. They are all alike; each,
built of cob, circular, whitewashed, having pointed windows and a
conical roof of thatch with a wooden cross on the apex. When I was a
boy these thatched roofs used to be pointed out to me as masterpieces;
and they still endure. But the race of skilled thatchers, once the
peculiar pride of Gantick, has come to an end. What time has eaten
modern and clumsy hands have tried to repair; yet a glance will tell
you that the old sound work means to outwear the patches.
The last of these famous thatchers lived in the round-house on your
right as you leave Gantick by the seaward road. His name was old Nat
Ellery, or Thatcher Ellery, and his age (as I remember him) between
seventy or eighty. Yet he clung to his work, being one of those lean
men upon whom age, exposure, and even drink take a long while to
tell. For he drank; not socially at the King of Bells, but at home in
solitude with a black bottle at his elbow. He lived there alone; his
neighbours, even of the round-house across the road, shunned him and
were shunned by him: children would run rather than meet him on the
road as he came along, striding swiftly for his age (the drink never
affected his legs), ready greaved and sometimes gauntleted as if in
haste for his job, always muttering to himself; and when he passed us
with just a side-glance from his red eyes, we observed that his pale
face did not cease to twitch nor his lips to work. We felt something
like awe for the courage of Archie Passmore, who followed twenty paces
behind with his tools and a bundle of spars or straw-rope, or perhaps
at the end of a ladder which the two carried between them. Archie
(aged sixteen) used to boast to us that he did not fear the old man a
ha'penny; and the old man treated Archie as a Gibeonite, a hewer of
wood, a drawer of water, never as an apprentice. Of his craft, except
what he picked up by watching, the lad learned nothing.
What made him so vaguely terrible to us was the common rumour in the
village that Thatcher Ellery had served once under his Majesty's
colours, but had deserted and was still liable to be taken and shot
for it. Now this was true and everyone knew it, though why and how
he had deserted were questions answered among us only by dark and
frightful guesses. He had outlived all risk of the law's revenge;
no one, it was certain, would take the trouble to seize and execute
justice upon a drunkard of seventy. But we children never thought of
this, and for us as we watched him down the road there was always the
thrilling chance that over the hedge or around the next corner would
pop up a squad of redcoats. Some of us had even seen it, in dreams.
This is the story of Thatcher Ellery as it was told to me after his
death, which happened one night a few weeks before I came home from
school on my first summer holidays.
His father, in the early years of the century, had kept the mill up at
Trethake Water, two miles above Gantick. There were two sons, of whom
Reub, the elder, succeeded to the mill. Nat had been apprenticed to
the thatching. Accident of birth assigned to the two these different
walks of life but by taking thought their parents could not have
chosen more wisely, for Nat was born clever, with an ambition to cut a
figure in man's eyes and just that sense of finish and the need of it
which makes the good workman. Whereas his brother went the daily round
at home as contentedly as a horse at a cider press. But Nat made the
mistake of lodging under his father's roof, and his mother made the
worse mistake of liking her first-born the better and openly showing
it. Nat, jealous and sensitive by nature, came to imagine the
whole world against him, and Reub, who had no vice beyond a large
thick-witted selfishness, seemed to make a habit of treading on his
corns. At length came the explosion: a sudden furious assault which
sent Reub souse into the paternal mill-leat.
The mother cursed Nat forth from the door, and no doubt said a great
deal more than she meant. The boy—he was just seventeen—carried
his box down to the Ring of Bells. Next morning as he sat viciously
driving in spars astride on a rick ridge, whence he could see far
over the Channel, there came into sight round Derryman's Point a
ship-of-war, running before the strong easterly breeze with piled
canvas, white stun-sails bellying, and a fine froth of white water
running off her bluff bows. Another ship followed, and another—at
length a squadron of six. Nat watched them from time to time until
they trimmed sails and stood in for Falmouth. Then he climbed down
from the rick and put on his coat.
Two years later he landed at Portsmouth, heartily sick of the sea and
all belonging to it. He drank himself silly that night and for ten
nights following, and one morning found himself in the streets without
a penny. Portsmouth just then (July, 1808) was filled with troops
embarking under Sir John Moore for Portugal. One regiment especially
took Nat's eye—the 4th or King's Own, and indeed the whole service
contained no finer body of men. He sidled up to a corporal and gave
a false name. Varcoe had been his mother's maiden name, and it came
handy. The corporal took him to a recruiting sergeant and handed him
over with a wink. The recruiting sergeant asked a few convenient
questions, and within the hour Nat was a soldier of King George.
To his disgust, however, they did not embark him for Portugal, but
marched him up the length of England to Lancaster, to learn his drill
with the second battalion.
Seventeen months later they marched him back through the length of
England—outwardly a made soldier—and shipped him on a transport for
Gibraltar. In the meanwhile he had found two friends, the only two
real ones he ever found in his life. They were Dave McInnes and
Teddy Butson, privates of the 4th Regiment of Foot, 2nd Battalion, C
Company. Dave McInnes came from somewhere to the west of Perth and
drank like a fish when he had the chance. Teddy Butson came from the
Lord knew where, with a tongue that wagged about everything except
his own past. It did indeed wag about that, but told nothing but lies
which were understood and accepted for lies and by consequence didn't
count. These two had christened Nat Ellery "Spuds." He had no secret
from them but one.
He was the cleverest of the three, and they admired him for it. He
admired them in return for possessing something he lacked. It seemed
to him the most important, almost the only important, thing in the
For (this was his secret) he believed himself to be a coward. He
was not really a coward, though he carried about in his heart the
liveliest fear of death and wounds. He was always asking himself
how he would behave under fire, and somehow he found the odds heavy
against his behaving well. He put roundabout questions to Dave and
Teddy with the aim of discovering what they felt about it. They
answered in a careless, matter-of-fact way, as men to whom it had
never occurred to have any doubt about themselves. Nat was desperately
afraid they might guess his reason for asking. Just here, when their
friendship might have been helpful, it failed altogether. He felt
angry with them for not understanding, while he prayed that they might
not understand. He took to observing other men in the regiment, and
found them equally cheerful, concerned only with the moment. He became
secretly religious after a fashion. He felt that he was the one and
only coward in the King's Own, and prayed and planned his behaviour
day and night to avoid being found out.
In this state of mind he landed at Gibraltar. When the order came for
the 4th to move up to the front, he cheered with the rest, watching
At ten o'clock on the night of April 6th, 1812, our troops were to
assault Badajos. It was now a few minutes past nine.
The night had closed in without rain, but cloudy and thick, with river
fog. The moon would not rise for another hour or more. After the day's
furious bombardment silence had fallen on besieged and besiegers; but
now and then a light flitted upon the ramparts, and at intervals the
British in the trenches could hear the call of a sentinel proclaiming
that all was well in Badajos.
In the trenches a low continuous murmur mingled with the voices of
running water. On the right by the Guadiana waited Picton's Third
Division, breathing hard as the time drew nearer. Kempt commanded
these for the moment. Picton was in camp attending to a hurt, but his
men knew that before ten o'clock he would arrive to lead across the
Rivillas by the narrow bridge and up to the walls of the Castle
frowning over the river at the city's north-east corner.
In the centre and over against the wall to the left of the Castle
were assembled Colville's and Barnard's men of the Fourth and Light
Divisions. Theirs, according to the General's plan, was to be the main
business to-night—to carry the breaches hammered in the Trinidad and
Santa Maria bastions and the curtain between; the Fourth told off
for the Trinidad and the curtain, the Light Bobs for the Santa
Maria—heroes these of Moore's famous rear-guard, tried men of the
52nd Foot and the 95th Rifles, with the 43rd beside them, and destined
to pay the heaviest price of all to-night for the glory of such
comradeship. But, indeed, Ciudad Rodrigo had given the 43rd a title to
stand among the best.
And far away to the left, on the lower slopes of the hills, Leigh's
Fifth Division was halted in deep columns. A knoll separated his two
brigades, and across the interval of darkness they could hear each
other's movements. They were to operate independently; and concerning
the task before the brigade on the right there could be no doubt: a
dash across the gorge at their feet, and an assault upon the outlying
Pardaleras, on the opposite slope. But the business before Walker's
brigade, on the left, was by no means so simple. The storming party
had been marching light, with two companies of Portuguese to carry
their ladders, and stood discussing prospects: for as yet they were
well out of earshot of the walls, and the moment for strict silence
had not arrived.
"The Vincenty," grumbled Teddy Butson; "and by shot to me if I even
know what it's like."
"Like!" McInnes' jaws shut on the word like a steel trap. "The scarp's
thirty feet high, and the ditch accordin'. The last on the west side
it will be—over by the river. I know it like your face, and its
uglier, if that's possible."
"Dick Webster was saying it's mined," put in Nat, commanding a firm
"Eh? The glacis? I shouldn't wonder. Walker will know."
"But what'll he do?"
"Well, now"—Dave seemed to be considering—"it will not be for the
likes of me to be telling the brigadier-general. But if Walker comes
to me and says, 'Dave, there's a mine hereabouts. What will I be
doing?' it's like enough I shall say: 'Your honour knows best; but the
usual course is to walk round it.'"
Teddy Butson chuckled, and rubbed the back of his axe approvingly. Nat
held his tongue for a minute almost, and then broke out irritably: "To
hell with this waiting!"
His nerves were raw. Two minutes later a man on his right kicked
awkwardly against his foot. It startled him, and he cursed furiously.
"Hold hard, Spuds, my boy," said the man cheerfully; "you ain't Lord
Wellington, nor his next-of-kin, to be makin' all the noise."
Teddy Butson wagged his head solemnly at a light which showed foggily
for a moment on the distant ramparts.
"All right," said he, "you——town! Little you know 'tis Teddy's
"There will be wine," said Dave, dreamily.
"Lashins of it; wine and women, and loot things. I wonder how our boys
are feeling on the right? What's that?"—as a light shot up over the
ridge to the eastward. "Wish I could see what's doing over there. My
belief we're only put up for a feint."
"O hush it, you royal mill-clappers!" This came from the darkness
behind—from some man of the 30th, no doubt.
The voice was tense, with a note of nervousness in it, which Nat
recognised at once. He turned with a sudden desire to see the
speaker's face. Here was one who felt as he did, one who could
understand him, but his eyes sought in vain among the lines of
glimmering black shakos.
"Silence in the ranks!" Two officers came forward, talking together
and pausing to watch the curious light now rising and sinking and
rising again in the sky over the eastern ridges. "They must have
caught sight of our fellows—listen, wasn't that a cheer? What time is
it?" The officer was Captain Hopkins commanding Nat's Company, but now
in charge of the stormers. A voice hailed him, and he ran back. "Yes,
sir, I think so decidedly," Nat heard him saying, and he came running
clutching his sword sheath. "Silence men—the brigade will advance."
The Portuguese picked up and shouldered their ladders: the orders were
given, and the columns began to move down the slope. For a while they
could hear the tramp of the other brigade moving parallel with them on
the other side of the knoll, then fainter and fainter as it wheeled
aside and down the gorge to the right. At the foot of the slope they
opened a view up the gorge lit for a moment by a flare burning on the
ramparts of the Pardaleras, and saw their comrades moving down and
across the bottom like a stream of red lava pouring towards the foot.
The flare died down and our brigade struck away to the left over the
level country. On this side Badajos remained dark and silent.
They were marching quickly, yet the pace did not satisfy Nat. He
wanted to be through with it, to come face to face with the worst
and know it. And yet he feared it abominably. For two years he had
contrived to hide his secret. He had marched, counter-marched, fed,
slept, and fought with his comrades; had dodged with them behind
cover, loaded, fired, charged with them; had behaved outwardly like a
decent soldier, but almost always with a sickening void in the pit of
the stomach. Once or twice in particularly bad moments he had caught
himself blubbering, and with a deadly shame. He had not an idea that
at least a dozen of his comrades—among them Dave and Teddy—had seen
it, and thought nothing of it; still less did he imagine that those
had been his most courageous moments. Soldiers fight differently.
Teddy Butson, for instance, talked all the time until his tongue
swelled, and then he barked like a dog. Dave shut his teeth and
groaned. But these symptoms escaped Nat, whose habit was to think all
the while of himself. Of one thing he felt sure, that he had never yet
been anything but glad to hear the recall sounded.
Well, so far he had escaped. Heaven knew how he had managed it; he
only knew that the last two years had been as long as fifty, and he
seemed to have been living since the beginning of the world. But here
he was, and actually keeping step with a storming party. He kept his
eyes on Dave's long lean back immediately in front and trudged on,
divided between an insane desire to know of what Dave was thinking,
and an equally insane wonder what Dave's body might be worth to him as
What was the silly word capering in his head? "Mill-clappers." Why on
earth "Mill-clappers?" It put him in mind of home: but he had no silly
tender thoughts to waste on home, or the folks there. He had never
written to them. If they should happen on the copy of the Gazette—and
the chances were hundred to one against it—the name of Nathaniel
Varcoe among the killed or wounded would mean nothing to them. He
tramped on, chewing his fancy, and extracted this from it: "A man with
never a friend at home hasn't even an excuse to be a coward, curse
Suddenly the column halted, in a bank of fog through which his ear
caught the lazy ripple of water. He woke up with a start. The fog was
all about them.
"What's this?" he demanded aloud; then, with a catch of his breath,
"Eh, be quiet," said Teddy Butson at his elbow; "listen to yonder."
And the word was hardly out when an explosion split the sky and was
followed by peal after peal of musketry. Nat had a swift vision of a
high black wall against a background of flame, and then night came
down again as you might close a shutter. But the musketry continued.
"That will be at the breaches," Dave flung the words over his left
shoulder. Then followed another flash and another explosion. This
time, however, the light, though less vivid than the first flash, did
not vanish. While he wondered at this Nat saw first of all the rim of
the moon through the slant of an embrasure, and then Teddy's pale but
The head of the column had been halted a few yards only from a
breastwork, with a stockade above it and a chevaux de frise on top
of all. As far as knowledge of his whereabouts went, Nat might have
been east, west, north or south of Badajos, or somewhere in another
planet. But the past two years had somehow taught him to divine that
behind this ugly obstruction lay a covered way with a guard house. And
sure enough the men, keeping dead silence now, could hear the French
soldiers chatting in that unseen guard house and laughing.
"Now's the time." Nat heard the word passed back by the young engineer
officer who had crept forward to reconnoitre: and then an order given
"Ay, bring up the ladders, you greasers, and let's put it through."
This from Teddy Butson chafing by Nat's side.
The two Portuguese companies came forward with the ladders as the
storming party moved up to the gateway. And just at that moment there
the sentry let off his alarm shot. It set all within the San Vincente
bastion moving and whirring like the works of a mechanical toy; feet
came running along the covered way; muskets clinked on the stone
parapet; tongues of fire spat forth from the embrasures; and then,
as the musketry quickened, a flash and a roar lifted the glacis away
behind, to the right of our column, so near that the wind of it drove
our men sideways.
"All right, Johnny," Dave grunted, recovering himself as the clods of
earth began to fall: "Blaze away, my silly ducks—we're not there!"
But the Portuguese companies as the mine exploded cast down the
ladders and ran. Half a dozen came charging back along the column's
right flank, and our soldiers cursed and struck at them as they fled.
But the curses were as nothing beside those of the Portuguese officers
striving to rally their men.
"My word," said Teddy. "Hear them scandalous greasers! It's poor talk,
"On with you, lads"—it was Walker himself who shouted. "Pick up the
ladders, and on with you!"
They hardly waited for the word, but, shouldering the ladders, ran
forward through the dropping bullets to the gate, cheering and cheered
by the rear ranks.
But they flung themselves in vain on the gate. On its iron-bound and
iron-studded framework their axes made no impression. A dozen men
charged it, using a ladder as a battering ram. "Aisy with that, ye
blind ijjits!" yelled an Irish sergeant. "Ye'll be needin' them
ladders prisintly!" Our three privates found themselves in the crowd
surging towards the breastwork to the right of the gate. "Nip on my
shoulders, Teddy lad," grunted McInnes, and Teddy nipped up and began
hacking at the chevaux de frise with his axe. "That's av ut, bhoys,"
yelled the Irish sergeant again. "Lave them spoikes an' go for the
stockade. Good for you, little man—whirro!" Nat by this time was on
a comrade's back, and using his axe for dear life; one of twenty men
hacking, ripping, tearing down the wooden stakes. But it was Teddy who
wriggled through first with Dave at his heels. The man beneath Nat
gave a heave with his shoulders and shot him through his gap, a
splinter tearing his cheek open. He fell head foremost sprawling down
the slippery slope of the ditch.
While he picked himself up and stretched out a hand to recover his axe
a bullet struck the blade of it—ping! He caught up the axe and ran
his finger over it stupidly. Phut—another bullet spat into the soft
earth behind his shoulder. Then he understood. A fellow came tumbling
through the gap, pitched exactly where Nat had been sprawling a moment
before, rose to his knees, and then with a quiet bubbling sound lay
"Ugh! he would be killed—he must get out of this!" But there was no
cover unless he found it across the ditch and close under the high
stone curtain. They would be dropping stones, beams, fire barrels; but
at least he would be out of the reach of the bullets. He forgot the
chance—the certainty—of an enfilading fire from the two bastions.
His one desire was to get across and pick some place of shelter.
But by this time the men were pouring in behind and fast filling the
ditch. A fire-ball came crashing over the rampart, rolled down the
grass slope and lay sputtering, and in the infernal glare he saw all
his comrades' faces—every detail of their dress down to the moulded
pattern on their buttons. "Fourth! Fourth!" some one shouted, and then
voice and vision were caught up and drowned together in a hell of
musketry. He must win across or be carried he knew not where by the
brute pressure of the crowd. A cry broke from him and he ran, waving
his axe, plunged down the slope and across. On the further slope an
officer caught him up and scrambled beside him. "Whirro, Spuds! After
him, boys!" sang out Teddy Butson. But Spuds did not hear.
He and the officer were at the top of the turf—at the foot of the
curtain. "Ladders! Ladders!" He caught hold of the first as it was
pushed up and helped—now the centre of a small crowd—to plant it
against the wall. Then he fell back, mopping his forehead, and feeling
his torn cheek. What the devil were they groaning at? Short? The
ladder too short? He stared up foolishly. The wall was thirty feet
high perhaps and the ladder ten feet short of that or more. "Heads!"
A heavy beam crashed down, snapping the foot of the ladder like a
cabbage stump. Away to the left a group of men were planting another.
Half a dozen dropped while he watched them. Why in the world were they
dropping like that? He stared beyond and saw the reason. The French
marksmen in the bastion were sweeping the face of the curtain with
their cross fire—those cursed bullets again! And the ladder did not
reach, after all. O it was foolishness—flinging away men like this
for no earthly good! Why not throw up the business and go home? Why
didn't somebody stop those silly bugles sounding the Advance?
There they went again! It was enough to drive a man mad!
He turned and ran down the slope a short way. For the moment he held a
grip on himself, but it was slackening, and in another half-minute
he would have lost it and run in mere blind horror. But in the first
group he blundered upon were Dave and Teddy, and a score of the King's
Own, with a couple of ladders between them; and better still, they
were listening to Captain Hopkins, who waved an arm and pointed to an
embrasure to the left. Nat, pulling himself up and staring with the
rest, saw that no gun stood in this embrasure, only a gabion. In a
moment he was climbing the slope again; if a man must die, there's
comfort at least in company. He bore a hand in planting the two
ladders; a third was fetched—heaven knew whence or how—and planted
beside them, and up the men swarmed, three abreast, Dave leading on
the right-hand one, at the foot of which Nat hung back and swayed. He
heard Dave's long sigh, the sigh, the sob almost, of desire answered
at last. He watched him as he mounted. The ladders were still too
short, and the leader on each must climb on the second man's shoulders
to get hand-hold on the coping. In that moment he might be clubbed on
the head, defenceless. On the middle ladder a young officer of the
30th mounted by Dave's side. Nat turned his head away, and as he did
so a rush of men, galled by the fire from the bastion to the right,
came on him like a wave, and swept him up the first four rungs.
He was in for it now. Go back he could not, and he followed the tall
Royal ahead, whose heels scraped against his breast buttons, and once
or twice bruised him in the face; followed up, wondering what face of
death would meet him at the top, where men were yelling and jabbering
in three languages—French, English, and that tongue which belongs
equally to men and brutes at close quarters and killing.
Something came sliding down the ladder. The man in front of Nat ducked
his head; Nat ducked too; but the body slid sideways before it reached
them and dropped plumb—the inert lump which had been Dave McInnes.
His shako, spinning straight down the ladder, struck Nat on the
shoulder and leaped off it down into darkness.
He saw other men drop; he saw Teddy Butson parallel with him on the
far ladder, and mounting with him step for step—now earlier, now
later, but level with him most of the time. They would meet at the
embrasure; find together whatever waited for them there. Nat was
sobbing by this time—sweat and tears together running down the caked
blood on his cheek—but he did not know it.
He had almost reached the top when a sudden pressure above forced his
feet off the rung and his body over the ladder's side; and there he
dangled, hooked by his armpit. Someone grabbed his leg, and, pulling
him into place, thrust him up over the shoulders of the tall Royal in
front. He saw the leader on the middle ladder go down under a clubbed
blow which burst through his japanned shako-cover, and then a hand
came down to help him.
"Spuds, O Spuds!"
It was Teddy reaching down from the coping to help him, and he paid
for it with his life. The two wriggled into the embrasure together,
Nat's head and shoulders under Teddy's right arm. Nat did not see the
bayonet thrust given, but heard a low grunt, as he and his friend's
corpse toppled over the coping together and into Badajos.
He rose on his knees, caught a man by the leg, flung him, and as the
fellow clutched his musket, wrenched the bayonet from it and plunged
it into his body. While the Frenchman heaved, he pulled out the weapon
for another stab, dropped sprawling on his enemy's chest, and the
first wave of the storming party broke over him, beating the breath
out of him, and passed on.
Yet he managed to wriggle his body from under this rush of feet, and,
by-and-bye, to raise himself, still grasping the sidearm. Men of the
4th were pouring thick and fast through the embrasure, and turning to
the right in pursuit of the enemy now running along the curve of the
ramparts. A few only pressed straight forward to silence the musketry
jetting and crackling from the upper windows of two houses facing on
Nat staggered down after them, but turned as soon as he gained the
roadway, and, passing to the right, plunged down a black side street.
An insane notion possessed him of taking the two houses in the rear,
and as he went he shouted to the 4th to follow him. No one paid him
the smallest attention, and presently he was alone in the darkness,
rolling like a drunkard, shaken by his sobs, but still shouting and
brandishing his sidearm. He clattered against a high blank wall.
Still he lurched forward over uneven cobbles. He had forgotten his
design upon the two houses, but a light shone at the end of this dark
lane, and he made for it, gained it, and found himself in a wider
street. And there the enchantment fell on him.
For the street was empty, utterly empty, yet brilliantly illuminated.
Not a soul could he see: yet in house after house as he passed lights
shone from every window, in the lower floors behind blinds or curtains
which hid the inmates. It was as if Badajos had arrayed itself for
a fête; and still, as he staggered forward a low buzz, a whisper of
voices surrounded him, and now and again at the sound of his footstep
on the cobbles a lattice would open gently and be as gently re-shut.
Hundreds of eyes were peering at him, the one British soldier in a
bewitched city; hundreds of unseen eyes, stealthy, expectant. And
always ahead of him, faint and distant, sounded the bugles and the
yells around the Trinidad and the breaches.
He stood alone in the great square. While he paused at the corner, his
eyes following the rows of mysterious lights from house to house, from
storey to storey, the regular tramp of feet fell on his ears and a
company of Foot marched down into the moonlight patch facing him and
grounded arms with a clatter. They were men of his own regiment, and
they formed up in the moonlight like a company of ghosts. One or
two shots were fired at them, low down, from the sills of a line
of doorways to his right; but no citizen showed himself and no one
appeared to be hit. And ever from the direction of the Trinidad came
the low roar of combat and the high notes of the bugles.
He was creeping along the side of the square towards an outlet at its
north-east corner, when the company got into motion again and came
towards him. Then he turned up a narrow lane to the left and fled. He
was sobbing no longer; the passion had died out of him, and he knew
himself to be mad. In the darkness the silent streets began to fill;
random shots whistled at every street corner; but he blundered on,
taking no account of them. Once he ran against a body of Picton's
men—half a score of the 74th Regiment let loose at length from the
captured Castle, and burning for loot. One man thrust the muzzle of
his musket against his breast before he was recognized. Then two or
three shook hands with him.
He was back in the square again and fighting—Heaven knew why—with an
officer of the Brunswickers over a birdcage. Whence the birdcage came
he had no clear idea, but there was a canary-bird inside, and he
wanted it. A random shot smashed his left hand as he gripped the cage,
and he dropped it as something with which he had no further concern.
As he turned away, hugging his hand, and cursing the marksman, a
second shot from another direction took the Brunswicker between the
At dawn he found himself on the ramparts by the Trinidad breach,
peering curiously among the slain. Across the top of the breach
stretched a heavy beam studded with sword blades, and all the bodies
on this side of it were French. Right beneath it lay one red-coat
whose skull had been battered out of shape as he attempted to wriggle
through. All the upper blades were stained, and on one fluttered a
strip of flannel shirt. Powder blackened every inch of the rampart
hereabouts, and as Nat passed over he saw the bodies piled in scores
on the glacis below—some hideously scorched—-among beams, gabions,
burnt out fire-pots, and the wreckage of ladders. A horrible smell of
singed flesh rose on the morning air; and, beyond the stench and the
sullen smoke, birds sang in dewy fields, and the Guadiana flowed
between grey olives and green promise of harvest.
Below, a single British officer, wrapped in a dark cape, picked his
way among the corpses. Behind, intermittent shots and outcries told of
the sack in progress. Save for Nat and the dead, the Trinidad was a
desert. Yet he talked incessantly, and, stooping to pat the shoulder
of the red-coat beneath the chevaux de frise, spoke to Dave McInnes
and Teddy Butson to come and look. He never doubted they were beside
him. "Pretty mess they've made of this chap." He touched the man's
collar: "48th, a corporal! Ugh, let's get out of this!" In imagination
he linked arms with two men already stiffening, one at the foot and
the other on the summit of the San Vincent's bastion. "King's Own—all
friends in the King's Own!" he babbled as he retraced his way into the
He had a firelock in his hands … he was fumbling with it, very
clumsily, by reason of his shattered fingers. He had wandered down a
narrow street, and was groping at an iron-studded door. "Won't open,"
he told the ghosts beside him. "Must try the patent key." He put the
muzzle against the lock and fired, flung himself against the door, and
as it broke before him, stood swaying, staring across a whisp of
smoke into a mean room, where a priest knelt in one corner by a straw
pallet, and a girl rose from beside him and slowly confronted the
intruder. As she rose she caught at the edge of a deal table, and
across the smoke she too seemed to be swaying.
Seventeen years later Nat Ellery walked down the hill into Gantick
village, and entered the King of the Bells.
"I've come," said he, "to inquire about a chest I left here, one time
back along." And he told his name and the date.
The landlord, Joshua Martin—son of old Joshua, who had kept the inn
in 1806—rubbed his double chin. "So you be Nat Ellery? I can just
mind'ee as a lad. As for the chest—come to think, father sent it back
to Trethake Water. Reckon it went in the sale."
"Why, don't 'ee know? When Reub sold up. That would be about five
years after the old folks died. The mill didn' pay after the war, so
Reub sold up and emigrated."
"Ah! What became of him?"
"I did hear he was dead too," said Joshua Martin, "out in Canady
somewhere. But that may be lies," he added cheerfully.
Nat made no further comment, but paid for his gin-and-water, picked up
his carpet bag, and went out to seek for a cottage. On his way he eyed
the thatched roofs critically. "Old Thatcher Hockaday will be dead,"
he told himself. "There's work for me here." He felt certain of it in
Farmer Sprague's rick-yard. Farmer Sprague owned the two round-houses
at the seaward end of the village, and wanted a tenant for one of
them. Nat applied for it, and declared his calling.
"Us can't afford to pay the old prices these times," said the farmer.
Nat's eyes had wandered off to the ricks. "You'll find you can when
you've seen my work," he answered.
Thus he became tenant of the round-house, and lived in it to the day
of his death. No one in my day knew when or how the story first spread
that he had been in the army and deserted. Perhaps he let slip the
secret in his cups; for at first he spent his Saturday evenings at the
King of Bells, dropping this habit when he found that every soul there
disliked him. Perhaps some discharged veteran of the 4th, tramping
through Gantick in search of work, had recognised him and let fall
a damning hint. Long before I can remember the story had grown up
uncontradicted, believed in by everyone. Beneath it the man lived on
and deteriorated; but his workmanship never deteriorated, and no man
challenged its excellence.
About a month before his death (I have this from the postmistress) he
sat down and wrote a letter, and ten days later a visitor arrived at
the round-house. This visitor the Jago family (who lived across the
road) declare to have been Satan himself; they have assured me
so again and again, and I cannot shake their belief. But that is
nonsense. The man was a grizzled artizan looking fellow well over
fifty; extraordinarily like the old Thatcher, though darker of
skin—yellow as a guinea, said Gantick; in fact and beyond doubt, the
old man's son. He made no friends, no acquaintances ever, but confined
himself to nursing the Thatcher, now tied to his chair by rheumatism.
One thing alone gives colour to the Jagos' belief; the Thatcher who
had sent for him could not abide the sight of him. The Jago children,
who snatched a fearful joy by stealing after dark into the unkempt
garden and peering through the uncurtained lattice windows, reported
that as the pair sat at table with the black bottle between them, the
Thatcher's eyes would be drawn to fix themselves on the other's with a
stealthy shrinking terror—or, as they put it, "vicious when he wasna'
lookin' and afeared when he was."
They would sit (so the children reported) half an hour, or maybe an
hour, at a time, without a word spoken between them; but, indeed, the
yellow stranger troubled few with his speech. His only visits were
paid to the postmistress, who kept a small grocery store, where he
bought arrowroot and other spoon-food for the invalid, and the Ring of
Bells, where he went nightly to have the black bottle refilled with
rum. On the doctor he never called.
It was on July 12th that the end came. The fine weather, after lasting
for six weeks, had broken up two days before into light thunderstorms,
which did not clear the air as usual. Ky Jago (short for Caiaphas),
across the way, prophesied a big thunderstorm to come, but allowed he
might be mistaken when on the morning of the 12th the rain came down
in sheets. This torrential rain lasted until two in the afternoon,
when the sky cleared and a pleasant northwesterly draught played up
the valley. At six o'clock Ky Jago, who, in default of the Thatcher,
was making shift to cover up Farmer Sprague's ricks, observed dense
clouds massing themselves over the sea and rolling up slowly against
the wind, and decided that the big storm would happen after all. At
nine in the evening it broke.
It broke with such fury that the Stranger, with the black bottle under
his arm, paused on the threshold as much as to ask his father, "Shall
I go?" But the old man was clamouring for drink, and he went. He was
half-way down the hill when with a crack the heavens opened and the
white jagged lightning fairly hissed by him. Crack followed crack,
flash and peal together, or so quick on each other, that no mortal
could distinguish the rattle of one discharge from the bursting
explosion of the other. No such tempest, he decided, could last for
long, and he fled down to the Ring of Bells for shelter until the
worst should be over. He waited there perhaps twenty minutes, and
still the infernal din grew worse instead of better, until his anxiety
for the old man forced him out in the teeth of it and up the hill,
where the gutters had overflowed upon the roadway, and the waters
raced over his ankles. The first thing he saw at the top in one lurid
instant was the entire Jago family gathered by their garden gate—six
of them—and all bareheaded under the deluge.
The next flash revealed why they were there. Against the round-house
opposite a ladder rested, and above it on the steep roof clung a
man—his father. He had clamped his small ladder into the thatch, and
as the heaven opened and shut, now silhouetting the round-house, now
wrapping it in white flames—they saw him climbing up, and still up,
towards the cross at the top.
"Help, there!" shouted the Stranger. "Come down! O help, you!—we must
get him down!" The women and children screamed. A fresh explosion
drowned shout and screams.
Jago and the Stranger reached the ladder together. The Stranger
mounted first; but as he did so, the watchers in one blinding moment
saw the old Thatcher's hand go up and grip the cross. The shutters of
darkness came to with a roar, but above it rose a shrill, a terribly
"Dave!" cried the voice. "Ted!"
Silence followed, and then a heavy thud. They waited for the next
flash. It came. There was no one on the roof of the round-house, but a
broken stump where the cross had been.
This was the story the yellow Stranger told to the Coroner. And the
Coroner listened and asked:
"Can you account for conduct of deceased? Had he been drinking that
"He had," answered the witness, and for a moment, while the Coroner
took a note, it seemed he had said all. Then he seemed to think better
of it, and added "My father suffered from delusions sir."
"Hey? What sort of delusions?" The Coroner glanced at the jury, who
"Well, sir, my father in his young days had served as a soldier."
Here the jurymen began to show interest suddenly. One or two leaned
forward. "He belonged to the 4th Regiment, and was at the siege
of Badajos. During the sack of the city he broke into a house,
and—and—after that he was missing."
"Go on," said the Coroner, for the witness had paused.
"That was where he first met my mother, sir. It was her house, and she
and a priest kept him hidden till the English had left. After that he
married her. There were three children—all boys. My brothers came
first: they were twins. I was born two years later."
"All born in Badajos?"
"All in Badajos, sir. My brothers will be there still, if they're
"But these delusions—"
"I'm coming to them. My father must have been hurt, somehow hurt in
his head. He would have it that my two brothers—twins, sir, if you'll
be pleased to mark it—were no sons of his, but of two friends of
his, soldiers of the 4th Regiment who had been killed, the both, that
evening by the San Vincente bastion. So you see he must have been
wrong in his head."
"O, there couldn't be any mistake about me. I was his very image,
and—perhaps I ought to say, sir—he hated me for it. When my mother
died—she had been a fruit-seller—he handed the business over to my
brothers, taking only enough to carry him back to England and me
with him. The day after we landed in London he apprenticed me to a
brassworker. I was just turned fifteen, and from that day until last
Wednesday three weeks we never set eyes on each other."
"Let me see," said the Coroner, turning back a page or two. "At the
last moment just before he fell, you say—and the other witnesses
confirm it—that he called out twice—uttered two names, I think."
"They were the names by which he used to call my brothers, sir—the
names of his two mates in the storming party."
THE TWO SCOUTS
Chapters from the Memoirs of Manuel (or Manus) McNeill, an agent
in the Secret Service of Great Britain during the campaigns of the
Peninsula (1808-1813). A Spanish subject by birth, and a Spaniard in
all his upbringing, he traces in the first chapter of his Memoirs
his descent from an old Highland family through one Manus McNeill,
a Jacobite agent in the Court of Madrid at the time of the War of
Succession, who married and settled at Aranjuez. The authenticity of
these Memoirs has been doubted, and according to Napier the name of
the two scouts whom Marmont confused together (as will appear in a
subsequent chapter) was not McNeill, but Grant: which is probable
enough, but not sufficient to stamp the Memoirs as forgeries. Their
author may have chosen McNeill as a nom de guerre, and been at pains
to deceive his readers on this point while adhering to strictest
truth in his relation of events. And this I conceive to be the real
explanation of a narrative which itself clears up, and credibly,
certain obscurities in Napier.—Q.]
THE TWO SCOUTS
THE FORD OF THE TORMES
In the following chapters I shall leave speaking of my own adventures
and say something of a man whose exploits during the campaigns of
1811-1812 fell but a little short of mine. I do so the more readily
because he bore my own patronymic, and was after a fashion my kinsman;
and I make bold to say that in our calling Captain Alan McNeill and
I had no rival but each other. The reader may ascribe what virtue he
will to the parent blood of a family which could produce at one time
in two distinct branches two men so eminent in a service requiring the
rarest conjunction of courage and address.
I had often heard of Captain McNeill, and doubtless he had as often
heard of me. At least thrice in attempting a coup d'espionage upon
ground he had previously covered—albeit long before and on a quite
different mission—I had been forced to take into my calculations
the fame left behind by "the Great McNeill," and a wariness in our
adversaries whom he had taught to lock the stable door after the horse
had been stolen. For while with the Allies the first question on
hearing of some peculiarly daring feat would be "Which McNeill?" the
French supposed us to be one and the same person; which, if possible,
heightened their grudging admiration.
Yet the ambiguity of our friends upon these occasions was scarcely
more intelligent than our foes' complete bewilderment; since to anyone
who studied even the theory of our business the Captain's method and
mine could have presented but the most superficial resemblance. Each
was original, and each carried even into details the unmistakable
stamp of its author. My combinations, I do not hesitate to say, were
the subtler. From choice I worked alone; while the Captain relied
for help on his servant José (I never heard his surname), a Spanish
peasant of remarkable quickness of sight, and as full of resource as
of devotion. Moreover I habitually used disguises, and prided myself
in their invention, whereas it was the Captain's vanity to wear his
conspicuous scarlet uniform upon all occasions, or at most to cover
it with his short dark-blue riding cloak. This, while to be sure it
enhanced the showiness of his exploits, obliged him to carry them
through with a suddenness and dash foreign to the whole spirit of
my patient work. I must always maintain that mine were the sounder
methods; yet if I had no other reason for my admiration I could not
withhold it from a man who, when I first met him, had been wearing a
British uniform for three days and nights within the circuit of the
French camp. I myself had been living within it in a constant twitter
for hard upon three weeks.
It happened in March, 1812, when Marmont was concentrating his forces
in the Salamanca district, with the intent (it was rumoured) of
marching and retaking Ciudad Rodrigo, which the Allies had carried
by assault in January. This stroke, if delivered with energy, Lord
Wellington could parry; but only at the cost of renouncing a success
on which he had set his heart, the capture of Badajos. Already he had
sent forward the bulk of his troops with his siege-train on the march
to that town, while he kept his headquarters to the last moment in
Ciudad Rodrigo as a blind. He felt confident of smashing Badajos
before Soult with the army of the south could arrive to relieve it;
but to do this he must leave both Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo exposed
to Marmont, the latter with its breaches scarcely healed and its
garrison disaffected. He did not fear actual disaster to these
fortresses; he could hurry back in time to defeat that, for he
knew that Marmont had no siege guns, and could only obtain them by
successfully storming Almeida and capturing the battering train which
lay there protected by 3,000 militia. Nevertheless a serious effort by
Marmont would force him to abandon his scheme.
All depended therefore (1) on how much Marmont knew and (2) on his
readiness to strike boldly. Consequently, when that General began to
draw his scattered forces together and mass them on the Tormes before
Salamanca, Wellington grew anxious; and it was to relieve that anxiety
or confirm it that I found myself serving as tapster of the Posada del
Rio in the village of Huerta, just above a ford of the river, and six
miles from Salamanca. Neither the pay it afforded nor the leisure had
attracted me to the Posada del Rio. Pay there was little, and leisure
there was none, since Marmont's lines came down to the river here, and
we had a battalion of infantry quartered about the village—sixteen
under our roof—and all extraordinarily thirsty fellows for Frenchmen;
besides a squadron of cavalry, vedettes of which constantly patrolled
the farther bank of the Tormes. The cavalry officers kept their
chargers—six in all—in the ramshackle stable in the court-yard
facing the inn; and since (as my master explained to me the first
morning) it was a tradition of the posada to combine the duties of
tapster and ostler in one person, I found all the exercise I needed
in running between the cellar and the great kitchen, and between the
kitchen and the stable, where the troopers had always a job for me,
and allowed me in return to join in their talk. They seemed to think
this an adequate reward, and I did not grumble.
Now, beside the stable, and divided from it by a midden-heap, there
stood at the back of the inn a small outhouse with a loft. This in
more prosperous days had accommodated the master's own mule, but now
was stored with empty barrels, strings of onions, and trusses of
hay—which last had been hastily removed from the larger stable when
the troopers took possession. Here I slept by night, for lack of room
indoors, and also to guard the fodder—an arrangement which suited me
admirably, since it left me my own master for six or seven hours of
the twenty-four. My bedroom furniture consisted of a truss of hay, a
lantern, a tinder-box, and a rusty fowling piece. For my toilet I went
to the bucket in the stable yard.
On the fifth night, having some particular information to send to
headquarters, I made a cautious expedition to the place agreed upon
with my messenger—a fairly intelligent muleteer, and honest, but new
to the business. We met in the garden at the rear of his cottage,
conveniently approached by way of the ill-kept cemetery which stood
at the end of the village. If surprised, I was to act the nocturnal
lover, and he the angry defender of his sister's reputation—a foolish
but not ill-looking girl, to whom I had confided nothing beyond a few
amorous glances, so that her evidence (if unluckily needed) might
carry all the weight of an obvious incapacity to invent or deceive.
These precautions proved unnecessary. But my muleteer, though plucky,
was nervous, and I had to repeat my instructions at least thrice in
detail before I felt easy. Also he brought news of a fresh movement
of battalions behind Huerta, and of a sentence in the latest General
Order affecting my own movements, and this obliged me to make some
slight alteration in my original message. So that, what with one thing
and another, it wanted but an hour of dawn when I regained the yard of
the Posada del Rio and cautiously re-entered the little granary.
Rain had fallen during the night—two or three short but heavy
showers. Creeping on one's belly between the damp graves of a cemetery
is not the pleasantest work in the world, and I was shivering with wet
and cold and an instant want of sleep. But as I closed the door behind
me and turned to grope for the ladder to my sleeping loft, I came to
a halt, suddenly and painfully wide awake. There was someone in
the granary. In the pitch darkness my ear caught the sound of
breathing—of someone standing absolutely still and checking his
breath within a few paces of me—perhaps six, perhaps less.
I, too, stood absolutely still, and lifted my hand towards the hasp of
the door. And as I did so—in all my career I cannot recall a nastier
moment—as my hand went up, it encountered another. I felt the fingers
closing on my wrist, and wrenched loose. For a moment our two hands
wrestled confusedly; but while mine tugged at the latch the other
found the key and twisted it round with a click. (I had oiled the lock
three nights before.) With that I flung myself on him, but again my
adversary was too quick, for as I groped for his throat my chest
struck against his uplifted knee, and I dropped on the floor and
rolled there in intolerable pain.
No one spoke. As I struggled to raise myself on hands and knees, I
heard the chipping of steel on flint, and caught a glimpse of a face.
As its lips blew on the tinder this face vanished and reappeared, and
at length grew steady in the blue light of the sulphur match. It was
not the face, however, on which my eyes rested in a stupid wonder,
but the collar below it—the scarlet collar and tunic of a British
And yet the face may have had something to do with my bewilderment. I
like, at any rate, to think so; because I have been in corners quite
as awkward, yet have never known myself so pitifully demoralised. The
uniform might be that of a British officer, but the face was that of
Don Quixote de la Mancha, and shone at me in that blue light straight
out of my childhood and the story-book. High brow, high cheek-bone,
long pointed jaw, lined and patient face—I saw him as I had known him
all my life, and I turned up at the other man, who stooped over me, a
look of absurd surmise.
He was a Spanish peasant, short, thick-set and muscular, but assuredly
no Sancho: a quiet quick-eyed man, with a curious neat grace in his
movements. Our tussle had not heated him in the least. His right fist
rested on my back, and I knew he had a knife in it; and while I gasped
for breath he watched me, his left hand hovering in front of my mouth
to stop the first outcry. Through his spread fingers I saw Don Quixote
light the lantern and raise it for a good look at me. And with that in
a flash my wits came back, and with them the one bit of Gaelic known
"Latha math leat" I gasped, and caught my breath again as the
fingers closed softly on my jaw, "O Alan mhic Neill!"
The officer took a step and swung the lantern close to my eyes—so
close that I blinked.
"Gently, José." He let out a soft pleased laugh while he studied my
face. Then he spoke a word or two in Gaelic—some question which I did
"My name is McNeill," said I; "but that's the end of my mother
The Captain laughed again. "We've caught the other one, José," said
he. And José helped me to my feet—respectfully, I thought. "Now
this," his master went on, as if talking to himself, "this explains a
I guessed. "You mean that my presence has made the neighbourhood a
trifle hot for you!"
"Exactly; there is a General Order issued which concerns one or both
I nodded. "In effect it concerns us both; but, merely as a matter of
history, it was directed against me. Pardon the question, Captain, but
how long have you been within the French lines?"
"Three days," he answered simply; "and this is the third night."
"What? In that uniform?"
"I never use disguises," said he—a little too stiffly for my taste.
"Well, I do. And I have been within Marmont's cantonments for close,
on three weeks. However, there's no denying you're a champion. But did
you happen to notice the date on the General Order?"
"I did; and I own it puzzled me. I concluded that Marmont must have
been warned beforehand of my coming."
"Not a bit of it. The order is eight days old. I secured a copy on the
morning it was issued; and the next day, having learnt all that
was necessary in Salamanca, I allowed myself to be hired in the
market-place of that city by the landlord of this damnable inn."
"I disapprove of swearing," put in Captain McNeill, very sharp and
"As well as of disguises? You seem to carry a number of scruples into
this line of business. I suppose," said I, nettled, "when you read in
the General Order that the notorious McNeill was lurking disguised
within the circle of cantonments, you took it that Marmont was putting
a wanton affront on your character, just for the fun of the thing?"
"My dear sir," said the Captain, "if I have expressed myself rudely,
pray pardon me: I have heard too much of you to doubt your courage,
and I have envied your exploits too often to speak slightingly of your
methods. As a matter of fact, disguise would do nothing, and worse
than nothing, for a man who speaks Spanish with my Highland accent. I
may, perhaps, take a foolish pride in my disadvantage, but," and here
he smiled, "so, you remember, did the fox without a tail."
"And that's very handsomely spoken," said I; "but unless I'm mistaken,
you will have to break your rule for once, if you wish to cross the
Tormes this morning."
"It's a case of must. Barring the certainty of capture if I don't,
I have important news to carry—Marmont starts within forty-eight
"Since it seems that for once we are both engaged on the same
business, let me say at once, Captain, and without offence, that my
news is as fresh as yours. Marmont certainly starts within forty-eight
hours to assault Ciudad Rodrigo, and my messenger is already two hours
on his way to Lord Wellington."
I said this without parade, not wishing to hurt his feelings. Looking
up I found his mild eyes fixed on me with a queer expression, almost
with a twinkle of fun.
"To assault Ciudad Rodrigo? I think not."
"Almeida, then, and Ciudad Rodrigo next. So far as we are concerned
the question is not important."
"My opinion is that Marmont intends to assault neither."
"But, my good sir," I cried, "I have seen and counted the
"And so have I. I spent six hours in Salamanca itself," said the
"Well, but doesn't that prove it? What other place on earth can he
want to assault? He certainly is not marching south to join Soult." I
turned to José, who had been listening with an impassive face.
"The Captain will be right. He always is," said José, perceiving that
I appealed to him.
"I will wager a month's pay—"
"I never bet," Captain McNeill interrupted, as stiffly as before. "As
you say, Marmont will march upon the Agueda, but in my opinion he will
not assault Ciudad Kodrigo."
"Then he will be a fool."
"H'm! As to that I think we are agreed. But the question just now is
how am I to get across the Tormes? The ford, I suppose, is watched on
both sides." I nodded. "And I suppose it will be absolutely fatal to
remain here long after daybreak?"
"Huerta swarms with soldiers," said I, "we have sixteen in the posada
and a cavalry picket just behind. A whole battalion has eaten the
village bare, and is foraging in all kinds of unlikely places. To be
sure you might have a chance in the loft above us, under the hay."
"Even so, you cannot hide our horses."
"Yes, they're outside at the back. I didn't know there was a cavalry
picket so close, and José must have missed it in the darkness."
José looked handsomely ashamed of himself.
"They are well-behaved horses," added the Captain. "Still, if they
cannot be stowed somewhere, it is unlikely they can be explained away,
and of course it will start a search."
"Our stable is full."
"Of course it is. Therefore you see we have no choice—apart from
our earnest wish—but to cross the ford before daybreak. How is it
patrolled on the far side?"
"Cavalry," said I; "two vedettes."
"Meeting, I suppose, just opposite the ford? How far do they patrol?"
"Three hundred yards maybe: certainly not more."
The Captain pursed up his lips as if whistling.
"Is there good cover on the other side? My map shows a wood of fair
"About half a mile off; open country between. Once there, you ought to
be all right; I mean that a man clever enough to win there ought to
make child's-play of the rest."
He mused for half a minute. "The stream is two wide for me to hear the
movements of the patrols opposite. José has a wonderful ear."
"Yes, Captain, I can hear the water from where we stand," José put in.
"He is right," said I, "it's not a question of distance, but of the
noise of the water. The ford itself will not be more than twenty yards
"Three feet in the middle, as near as can be. I have rubbed down too
many horses these last three days not to know. The river may have
fallen an inch since yesterday. They have cleared the bottom of the
ford, but just above and below there are rocks, and slippery ones."
"My horse is roughed. Of course the bank is, watched on this side?"
"Two sentries by the ford, two a little up the road, and the
guard-house not twenty yards beyond. Captain, I think you'll have to
put on a disguise for once in your life."
"Not if I can help it."
"Then, excuse me, but how the devil do you propose to manage?"
He frowned at the oath, recovered himself, and looked at me again with
something like a twinkle of fun in his solemn eyes.
"Do you know," said he, "it has just occurred to me to pay you a
tremendous compliment—McNeill to McNeill, you understand? I propose
to place myself entirely in your hands."
"Oh, thank you!" I pulled a wry face. "Well, it's a compliment if ever
there was one—an infernally handsome compliment. Your man, I suppose,
can look after himself?" But before he could reply I added, "No; he
shall go with me: for if you do happen to get across, I shall have to
follow, and look sharp about it." Then, as he seemed inclined to
protest, "No inconvenience at all—my work here is done, and you are
pretty sure to have picked up any news I may have missed. You had best
be getting your horse at once; the dawn will be on us in half an hour.
Bring him round to the door here. José will find
straw—hay—anything—to deaden his footsteps. Meanwhile I'll ask you to
excuse me for five minutes."
The Spaniard eyed me suspiciously.
"Of course," said I, reading his thoughts, "if your master doubts
"I think, Señor McNeill, I have given you no cause to suspect it," the
Captain gravely interrupted. "There is, however, one question I should
like to ask, if I may do so without offence. Is it your intention that
I should cross in the darkness or wait for daylight?"
"We must wait for daylight; because although it increases some obvious
"Excuse me; your reasons are bound to be good ones. I will fetch
around my horse at once, and we shall expect you back here in five
In five minutes time I returned to find them standing in the darkness
outside the granary door. José had strewn a space round about with
hay; but at my command he fetched more and spread it carefully, step
by step, as Captain McNeill led his horse forward. My own arms were
full; for I had spent the five minutes in collecting a score of French
blankets and shirts off the hedges, where the regimental washermen had
spread them the day before to dry.
The sketch on the following page will explain my plan and our
movements better than a page of explanation:—
The reader will observe that the Posada del Rio, which faces inwards
upon its own courtyard, thrusts out upon the river at its rear a gable
which overhangs the stream and flanks its small waterside garden from
view of the village street. Into this garden, where the soldiers were
used to sit and drink their wine of an evening, I led the Captain,
whispering him to keep silence, for eight of the Frenchmen slept
behind the windows above. In the corner by the gable was an awning,
sufficient, when cleared of stools and tables, to screen him and his
horse from any eyes looking down from these windows, though not tall
enough to allow him to mount. And at daybreak, when the battalion
assembled at its alarm-post above the ford, the gable itself would
hide him. But of course the open front of the garden—where in two
places the bank shelved easily down to the water—would leave him in
full view of the troopers across the river. It was for this that I
had brought the blankets. Across the angle by the gable there ran
a clothes line on which the house-servant, Mercedes, hung her
dish-clouts to dry. Unfastening the inner end, I brought it forward
and lashed it to a post supporting a dovecote on the river wall. To
fasten it high enough I had to climb the post, and this set the birds
moving uneasily in the box overhead. But before their alarm grew
serious I had slipped down to earth again, and now it took José and
me but a couple of minutes to fling the blankets over the line and
provide the Captain with a curtain, behind which, when day broke, he
could watch the troopers and his opportunity. Already, in the village
behind us, a cock was crowing. In twenty minutes the sun would be up
and the bugles sounding the reveille. "Down the bank by the gable," I
whispered. "It runs shallow there, and six or seven yards to the right
you strike the ford. When the vedettes are separated—just before they
turn to come back—that's your time."
I took José by the arm. "We may as well be there to see. How were you
planning to cross?"
"Oh," said he, "a marketer—with a raw-boned Galician horse and two
panniers of eggs—for Arapiles—"
"That will do; but you must enter the village at the farther end and
come down the road to the ford. Get your horse"—we crept back to the
granary together—"but wait a moment, and I will show you the way
When I rejoined him at the back of the granary he had his horse ready,
and we started to work around the village. But I had miscalculated the
time. The sky was growing lighter, and scarcely were we in the lane
behind the courtyard before the bugles began to sound.
"Well," said I, "that may save us some trouble after all."
Across the lane was an archway leading into a wheelwright's yard. It
had a tall door of solid oak studded with iron nails; but this was
unlocked and unbolted, and I knew the yard to be vacant, for the
French farriers had requisitioned all the wheelwright's tools three
days before, and the honest man had taken to his bed and proposed to
stay there pending compensation.
To this archway we hastily crossed, and had barely time to close the
door behind us before the soldiers, whose billets lay farther up the
lane, came running by in twos and threes for the alarm-post, the later
ones buckling their accoutrements as they ran halting now and then,
and muttering as they fumbled with a strap or a button. José at my
instruction had loosened his horse's off hind shoe just sufficiently
to allow it to clap; and as soon as he was ready I opened the door
boldly, and we stepped out into the lane among the soldiers, cursing
the dog's son of a smith who would not arise from his lazy bed to
attend to two poor marketers pressed for time.
Now it had been dim within the archway, but out in the lane there was
plenty of light, and it did me good to see José start when his eyes
fell on me. For a couple of seconds I am sure he believed himself
betrayed: and yet, as I explained to him afterwards, it was perhaps
the simplest of all my disguises and—barring the wig—depended more
upon speech and gait than upon any alteration of the face. (For a
particular account of it I must refer the reader back to my adventure
in Villafranca. On this occasion, having proved it once, I felt more
confident; and since it deceived José, I felt I could challenge
scrutiny as an aged peasant travelling with his son to market.)
A couple of soldiers passed us and flung jests behind them as we
hobbled down the lane, the loose shoe clacking on the cobbles, José
tugging at his bridle, and I limping behind and swearing volubly, with
bent back and head low by the horse's rump, and on the near side,
which would be the unexposed one when we gained the ford. And so we
reached the main street and the river, José turning to point with
wonder at the troops as we hustled past. One or two made a feint to
steal an egg from our panniers. José protested, halting and calling in
Spanish for protection. A sergeant interfered; whereupon the men began
to bait us, calling after us in scraps of camp Spanish. José lost his
temper admirably; for me, I shuffled along as an old man dazed with
the scene; and when we came to the water's edge felt secure enough to
attempt a trifle of comedy business as José hoisted my old limbs on to
the horse's back behind the panniers. It fetched a shout of laughter.
And then, having slipped off boots and stockings deliberately, José
took hold of the bridle again and waded into the stream. We were safe.
I had found time for a glance at the farther bank, and saw that the
troopers were leisurely riding to and fro. They met and parted just as
we entered the ford. Before we were half-way across they had come near
to the end of their beat, with about three hundred yards between them,
and I was thinking this a fair opportunity for the Captain when José
whispered, "There he goes," very low and quick, and with a souse,
horse and rider struck the water behind us by the gable of the inn. As
the stream splashed up around them we saw the horse slip on the stony
bottom and fall back, almost burying his haunches, but with two short
heaves he had gained the good gravel and was plunging after us. The
infantry spied him first—the two vedettes were in the act of wheeling
about and heard the warning before they saw. Before they could put
their charges to the gallop Captain McNeill was past us and climbing
the bank between them. A bullet or two sang over us from the Huerta
shore. Not knowing of what his horse was capable, I feared he might
yet be headed off; but the troopers in their flurry had lost their
heads and their only chance unless they could drop him by a fluking
shot. They galloped straight for the ford-head, while the Captain
slipped between, and were almost charging each other before they could
pull up and wheel at right angles in pursuit.
"Good," said José simply. A shot had struck one of our panniers,
smashing a dozen eggs (by the smell he must have bought them cheap),
and he halted and gesticulated in wrath like a man in two minds about
returning and demanding compensation. Then he seemed to think better
of it, and we moved forward; but twice again before we reached dry
land he turned and addressed the soldiers in furious Spanish across
the babble of the ford. José had gifts.
For my part I was eager to watch the chase which the rise of the
bank hid from us, though we could hear a few stray shots. But José's
confidence proved well grounded, for when we struck the high road
there was the Captain half a mile away within easy reach of the wood,
and a full two hundred yards ahead of the foremost trooper.
"Good!" said José again. "Now we can eat!" and he pulled out a loaf of
coarse bread from the injured pannier, and trimming off an end where
the evil-smelling eggs had soaked it, divided it in two. On this and a
sprig of garlic we broke our fast, and were munching and jogging along
contentedly when we met the returning vedettes. They were not in the
best of humours, you may be sure, and although we drew aside and
paused with crusts half lifted to our open mouths to stare at them
with true yokel admiration, they cursed us for taking up too much of
the roadway, and one of them even made a cut with his sabre at the
near pannier of eggs.
"It's well he broke none," said I as we watched them down the road. "I
don't deny you and your master any reasonable credit, but for my taste
you leave a little too much to luck."
Our road now began to skirt the wood into which the Captain had
escaped, and we followed it for a mile and more, José all the while
whistling a gipsy air which I guessed to carry a covert message; and
sure enough, after an hour of it, the same air was taken up in the
wood to our right, where we found the Captain dismounted and seated
comfortably at the foot of a cork tree.
He was good enough to pay me some pretty compliments, and, after
comparing notes, we agreed that—my messenger being a good seven hours
on his way with all the information Lord Wellington could need for the
moment—we would keep company for a day or two, and a watch on the
force and disposition of the French advance. We had yet to discover
Marmont's objective. For though in Salamanca the French officers had
openly talked of the assault on Ciudad Rodrigo, there was still a
chance (though neither of us believed in it) that their general meant
to turn aside and strike southward for the Tagus. Our plan, therefore,
was to make for Tammames where the roads divided, where the hills
afforded good cover, and to wait.
So towards Tammames (which lay some thirty miles off) we turned our
faces, and arriving there on the 27th, encamped for two days among
the hills. Marmont had learnt on the 14th that none of Wellington's
divisions were on the Algueda, and we agreed, having watched his
preparations, that on the 27th he would be ready to start. These two
days, therefore, we spent at ease, and I found the Captain, in spite
of his narrow and hide-bound religion, an agreeable companion. He
had the McNeills' genealogy at his finger ends, and I picked up more
information from him concerning our ancestral home in Ross and our
ancestral habits than I have ever been able to verify. Certainly our
grandfathers, Manus of Aranjuez and Angus (slain at Sheriff-muir), had
been first cousins. But this discovery had no sooner raised me to a
claim on his regard than I found his cordiality chilled by the thought
that I believed in the Pope or (as he preferred to put it) Antichrist.
My eminence as a genuine McNeill made the shadow of my error the
taller. In these two days of inactivity I felt his solicitude growing
until, next to the immediate movements of Marmont, my conversion
became for him the most important question in the Peninsula, and I saw
that, unless I allowed him at least to attempt it, another forty-eight
hours would wear him to fiddle-strings.
Thus it happened that mid-day of the 30th found us on the wooded hill
above the cross-roads; found me stretched at full length on my back
and smoking, and the Captain (who did not smoke) seated beside me with
his pocket Testament, earnestly sapping the fundamental errors of
Rome, when José, who had been absent all the morning reconnoitring,
brought news that Marmont's van (which he had been watching, and ahead
of which he had been dodging since ten o'clock) was barely two miles
away. The Captain pulled out his watch, allowed them thirty-five
minutes, and quietly proceeded with his exposition. As the head of the
leading column swung into sight around the base of the foot-hills, he
sought in his haversack and drew out a small volume—the Pilgrim's
Progress—and having dog's-eared a page of it inscribed my name on
the fly-leaf, "from his kinsman, Alan McNeill."
"It is a question," said he, as I thanked him, "and one often debated,
if it be not better that a whole army, such as we see approaching,
should perish bodily in every circumstance of horror than that one
soul, such as yours or mine, should fail to find the true light. For
my part"—and here he seemed to deprecate a weakness—"I have never
been able to go quite so far; I hope not from any lack of intellectual
courage. Will you take notes while I dictate?"
So on the last leaf of the Pilgrim's Progress I entered the strength
of each battalion, and noted each gun as the great army wound its way
into Tammames below us, and through it for the cross-roads beyond,
but not in one body, for two of the battalions enjoyed an hour's halt
there before setting forward after their comrades, by this time out of
sight. They had taken the northern road.
"Ciudad Rodrigo!" said I. "And there goes Wellington's chance of
The Captain beckoned to José and whispered in his ear, then opened his
Testament again as the sturdy little Spaniard set off down the hill
with his leisurely, lopping gait, so much faster than it seemed. The
sun was setting when he returned with his report.
"I thought so," said the Captain. "Marmont has left three-fourths of
his scaling ladders behind in Tammames. Ciudad Rodrigo he will not
attempt; I doubt if he means business with Almeida. If you please,"
he added, "José and I will push after and discover his real business,
while you carry to Lord Wellington a piece of news it will do him good
THE BARBER-SURGEON OF SABUGAL
So, leaving my two comrades to follow up and detect the true object of
Marmont's campaign, I headed south for Badajos. The roads were heavy,
the mountain torrents in flood, the only procurable horses and mules
such as by age or debility had escaped the strictest requisitioning.
Nevertheless, on the 4th of April I was able to present myself at
Lord Wellington's headquarters before Badajos, and that same evening
started northwards again with his particular instructions. I
understood (not, of course, by direct word of mouth) that disquieting
messages had poured in ahead of me from the allied commanders
scattered in the north, who reported Ciudad Rodrigo in imminent peril;
that my news brought great relief of mind; but that in any case our
army now stood committed to reduce Badajos before Soult came to its
relief. Our iron guns had worked fast and well, and already three
breaches on the eastern side of the town were nearly practicable.
Badajos once secured, Wellington would press northward again to teach
Marmont manners; but for the moment our weak troops opposing him must
even do the best they could to gain time and protect the magazines and
At six o'clock then in the evening of the 4th, on a fresh mount, I
turned my back on the doomed fortress, and crossing the Guadiana by
the horse ferry above Elvas, struck into the Alemtejo.
On the 6th I reached Castello Branco and found the position of the
Allies sufficiently serious. Victor Alten's German cavalry were in the
town—600 of them—having fallen back before Marmont without striking
a blow, and leaving the whole country four good marches from Rodrigo
exposed to the French marauders. They reported that Rodrigo itself had
fallen (which I knew to be false, and, as it turned out, Marmont had
left but one division to blockade the place); they spoke openly of a
further retreat upon Vilha Velha. But I regarded them not. They had
done mischief enough already by scampering southward and allowing
Marmont to push in between them and the weak militias on whom it now
depended to save Almeida with its battering train, Celorico and Pinhel
with their magazines, and even Ciudad Rodrigo itself; and while I
listened I tasted to myself the sarcastic compliments they were likely
to receive from Lord Wellington when he heard their tale.
Clearly there was no good to be done in Castello Branco, and the next
morning I pushed on. I had no intention of rejoining Captain McNeill;
for, as he had observed on parting—quoting some old Greek for his
authority—"three of us are not enough for an army, and for any other
purpose we are too many," and although pleased enough to have a
kinsman's company he had allowed me to see that he preferred to work
alone with José, who understood his methods, whereas mine (in spite
of his compliments) were unfamiliar and puzzling. I knew him to be
watching Marmont, and even speculated on the chances of our meeting,
but my own purpose was to strike the Coa, note the French force there
and its disposition, and so make with all serviceable news for the
north, where Generals Trant and Wilson with their Portuguese militia
were endeavouring to cover the magazines.
Travelling on mule-back now as a Portuguese drover out of work, I
dodged a couple of marauding parties below Penamacor, found Marmont in
force in Sabugal at the bend of the Coa, on the 9th reached Guarda, a
town on the top of a steep mountain, and there found General Trant in
position with about 6,000 raw militiamen. To him I presented myself
with my report—little of which was new to him except my reason for
believing Ciudad Rodrigo safe for the present; and this he heard with
real pleasure, chiefly because it confirmed his own belief and gave it
a good reason which it had hitherto lacked.
And here I must say a word on General Trant. He was a gallant soldier
and a clever one, but inclined (and here lay his weakness) to be on
occasion too clever by half. In fact, he had a leaning towards my own
line of business, and naturally it was just here that I found him out.
I am not denying that during the past fortnight his cleverness had
served him well. He had with a handful of untrained troops to do his
best for a group of small towns and magazines, each valuable and each
in itself impossible of defence. His one advantage was that he knew
his weakness and the enemy did not, and he had used this knowledge
with almost ludicrous success.
For an instance; immediately on discovering the true line of Marmont's
advance he had hurried to take up a position on the lower Coa, but had
been met on his march by an urgent message from Governor Le Mesurier
that Almeida was in danger and could not resist a resolute assault.
Without hesitation Trant turned and pushed hastily with one brigade to
the Cabeça Negro mountain behind the bridge of Almeida, and reached it
just as the French drew near, driving 200 Spaniards before them across
the plain. Trant, seeing that the enemy had no cavalry at hand, with
the utmost effrontery and quite as if he had an army behind him, threw
out a cloud of skirmishers beyond the bridge, dressed up a dozen
guides in scarlet coats to resemble British troopers, galloped with
these to the glacis of Almeida, spoke the governor, drew off a score
of invalid troopers from the hospital in the town, and at dusk made
his way back up the mountain, which in three hours he had covered with
sham bivouac fires.
These were scarcely lit when the governor, taking his cue, made a
determined sortie and drove back the French light troops, who in the
darkness had no sort of notion of the numbers attacking them. So
completely hoaxed, indeed, was their commander that he, who had come
with two divisions to take Almeida, and held it in the hollow of his
hand, decamped early next morning and marched away to report, the
fortress so strongly protected as to be unassailable.
Well this, as I say, showed talent. Artistically conceived as a ruse
de guerre, in effect it saved Almeida. But a success of the kind too
often tempts a man to try again and overshoot his mark. Now Marmont,
with all his defects of vanity, was no fool. He had a strong army
moderately well concentrated; he had, indeed, used it to little
purpose, but he was not likely, with his knowledge of the total force
available by the Allies in the north, to be seriously daunted or for
long by a game of mere impudence. In my opinion Trant, after brazening
him away from Almeida, should have thanked Heaven and walked humbly
for a while. To me even his occupation of Guarda smelt of dangerous
bravado, for Guarda is an eminently treacherous position, strong in
itself, and admirable for a force sufficient to hold the ridges behind
it, but capable of being turned on either hand, affording bad retreat,
and, therefore, to a small force as perilous as it is attractive. But
I was to find that Trant's enterprise reached farther yet.
To my description of Marmont's forces he listened (it seemed to me)
impatiently, asking few questions and checking off each statement with
"Yes, yes," or "Quite so." All the while his fingers were drumming on
the camp table, and I had no sooner come to an end than he began to
question me about the French marshal's headquarters in Sabugal. The
town itself and its position he knew as well as I did, perhaps better.
I had not entered it on my way, but kept to the left bank of the Coa.
I knew Marmont to be quartered there, but in what house or what part
of the town I was ignorant. "And what the deuce can it matter?" I
"But could you not return and discover?" the general asked at length.
"Oh, as for that," I answered, "it's just as you choose to order."
"It's risky of course," said he.
"It's risky to be sure," I agreed; "but if the risk comes in the day's
work I take it I shall have been in tighter corners."
"Excuse me," he said with a sort of deprecatory smile, "but I was not
thinking of you; at least not altogether." And I saw by his face that
he held something in reserve and was in two minds about confiding it.
"I beg that you won't think of me," I said simply, for I have always
made it a rule to let a general speak for himself and ask no questions
which his words may not fairly cover. Outside of my own business (the
limits of which are well defined) I seek no responsibility, least of
all should I seek it in serving one whom I suspect of over-cleverness.
"Look here," he said at length, "the Duke of Ragusa is a fine figure
of a man."
"Notoriously," said I. "All Europe knows it, and he certainly knows it
"I have heard that his troops take him at his own valuation."
"Well," I answered, "he sits his horse gallantly; he has courage. At
present he is only beginning to make his mistakes; and soldiers, like
women, have a great idea of what a warrior ought to look like."
"In fact," said General Trant, "the loss of him would make an almighty
Now he had asked me to be seated and had poured me out a glass of wine
from his decanter. But at these words I leapt up suddenly, jolting the
table so that the glass danced and spilled half its contents.
"What the dickens is wrong?" asked the general, snatching a map out of
the way of the liquor. "Good Lord, man! You don't suppose I was asking
you to assassinate Marmont!"
"I beg your pardon," said I, recovering myself. "Of course not; but it
"Oh, did it?" He mopped the map with his pocket handkerchief and
looked at me as who should say "Guess again."
I cast about wildly. "This man cannot be wanting to kidnap him!"
thought I to myself.
"You tell me his divisions are scattered after supplies. I hear that
the bulk of his troops are in camp above Penamacor; that at the
outside he has in Sabugal under his hand but 5,000. Now Silveira
should be here in a couple of days; that will make us roughly 12,000."
"Ah!" said I, "a surprise?" He nodded. "Night?" He nodded again. "And
your cavalry?" I pursued.
"I could, perhaps, force General Bacellar to spare his squadron of
dragoons from Celorico. Come, what do you think of it?"
"I do as you order," said I, "and that I suppose is to return to
Sabugal and report the lie of the land. But since, general, you ask my
opinion, and speaking without local knowledge, I should say—"
"Excuse me, but I will send you my opinion in four days' time." And I
rose to depart.
"Very good, but keep your seat. Drink another glass of wine."
"Sabugal is twenty miles off, and when I arrive I have yet to discover
how to get into it," I protested.
"That is just what am going to tell you."
"Ah," said I, "so you have already been making arrangements?"
He nodded while he poured out the wine. "You come opportunely, for I
was about to rely on a far less rusé hand. The plan, which is my
own, I submit to your judgment, but I think you will allow some merit
Well, I was not well-disposed to approve of any plan of his. In truth
he had managed to offend me seriously. Had an English gentleman
committed my recent error of supposing him to hint at assassination,
General Trant (who can doubt it?) would have flamed out in wrath; but
me he had set right with a curt carelessness which said as plain as
words that the dishonouring suspicion no doubt came natural enough to
a Spaniard. He had entertained me with a familiarity which I had not
asked for, and which became insulting the moment he allowed me to
see that it came from cold condescension. I have known a dozen
combinations spoilt by English commanders who in this way have
combined extreme offensiveness with conscious affability; and I
have watched their allies—Spaniards and Portuguese of the first
nobility—raging inwardly, while ludicrously impotent to discover a
peg on which to hang their resentment.
I listened coldly, therefore, leaving the general's wine untasted and
ignoring his complimentary deference to my judgment. Yet the neatness
and originality of his scheme surprised me. He certainly had talent.
He had found (it seemed) an old vine-dresser at Bellomonte, whose
brother kept a small shop in Sabugal, where he shaved chins, sold
drugs, drew teeth, and on occasion practised a little bone-setting.
This barber-surgeon or apothecary had shut up his shop on the approach
of the French and escaped out of the town to his brother's roof. As a
matter of fact he would have been safer in Sabugal, for the excesses
of the French army were all committed by the marauding parties
scattered up and down the country-side and out of the reach of
discipline, whereas Marmont (to his credit) sternly discouraged
looting, paid the inhabitants fairly for what he took, and altogether
treated them with uncommon humanity.
It was likely enough, therefore, that the barber-surgeon's shop stood
as he had left it. And General Trant proposed no less than that
I should boldly enter the town, take down the shutters, and open
business, either personating the old man or (if I could persuade him
to return) going with him as his assistant. In either case the danger
of detection was more apparent than real, for so violently did the
Portuguese hate their invaders that scarcely an instance of treachery
occurred during the whole of this campaign. The chance of the
neighbours betraying me was small enough, at any rate, to justify the
risk, and I told the General promptly that I would take it.
Accordingly I left Guarda that night, and reaching Bellomonte a little
after daybreak, found the vine-dresser and presented Trant's letter.
He was on the point of starting for Sabugal, whither he had perforce
to carry a dozen skins of wine, and with some little trouble I
persuaded the old barber-surgeon to accompany us, bearing a petition
to Marmont to be allowed peaceable possession of his shop. We arrived
and were allowed to enter the town, where I assisted the vine-dresser
in handling the heavy wine skins, while his brother posted off to
headquarters and returned after an hour with the marshal's protection.
Armed with this, he led me off to the shop, found it undamaged, helped
me to take down the shutters, showed me his cupboards, tools, and
stock in trade, and answered my rudimentary questions in the art of
compounding drugs—in a twitter all the while to be gone. Nor did I
seek to delay him (for if my plans miscarried, Sabugal would assuredly
be no place for him). Late in the afternoon he left me and went off
in search of his brother, and I fell to stropping my razors with what
cheerfulness I could assume.
Before nightfall my neighbours on either hand had looked in and given
me good evening. They asked few questions when I told them I was
taking over old Diego's business for the time, and kept their
speculations to themselves. I lay down to sleep that night with a
The adventure itself tickled my humour, though I had no opinion at
all of the design—Trant's design—which lay at the end of it. This,
however, did not damp my zeal in using eyes and ears; and on the third
afternoon, when the old vine-dresser rode over with more wine skins,
and dropped in to inquire about business and take home a pint of
rhubarb for the stomach-ache, I had the satisfaction of making up for
him, under the eyes of two soldiers waiting to be shaved, a packet
containing a compendious account of Marmont's dispositions with a
description of his headquarters. My report concluded with these
"With regard to the enterprise on which I have had the honour to be
consulted I offer my opinion with humility. It is, however, a fixed
one. You will lose two divisions; and even a third, should you bring
On the whole I had weathered through these three days with eminent
success. The shaving I managed with something like credit (for a
Portuguese). My pharmaceutics had been (it was vain to deny) in the
highest degree empirical, but if my patients had not been cured they
even more certainly had not died—or at least their bodies had not
been found. What gravelled me was the phlebotomy. Somehow the chance
of being called upon to let blood had not occurred to me, and on the
second morning when a varicose sergeant of the line dropped into
my operating chair and demanded to have a vein opened, I bitterly
regretted that I had asked my employer neither where to insert the
lancet nor how to stop the bleeding. I eyed the brawn in the chair, so
full of animal life and rude health—no, strike at random I could not!
I took his arm and asked insinuatingly, "Now, where do you usually
have it done?" "Sometimes here, sometimes there," he answered. Joy! I
remembered a bottle of leeches on the shelf. I felt the man's pulse
and lifted his eyelids with trembling fingers. "In your state," said
I, "it would be a crime to bleed you. What you want is leeches." "You
think so?" he asked—"how many?" "Oh, half-a-dozen—to begin with."
In my sweating hurry I forgot (if I had ever known) that the bottle
contained but three. "No," said I, "we'll start with a couple and work
up by degrees." He took them on his palm and turned them over with a
stubby forefinger. "Funny little beasts!" said he and marched out of
the shop into the sunshine. To this day when recounting his Peninsular
exploits he omits his narrowest escape.
I can hardly describe the effect of this ridiculous adventure upon my
nerves. My heart sank whenever a plethoric customer entered the shop,
and I caught fright or snatched relief even from the weight of a
footfall or the size of a shadow in my doorway. A dozen times in
intervals of leisure I reached down the bottle from its shelf and
studied my one remaining leech. A horrible suspicion possessed me that
the little brute was dead. He remained at any rate completely torpid,
though I coaxed him almost in agony to show some sign of life.
Obviously the bottle contained nothing to nourish him; to offer him my
own blood would be to disable him for another patient. On the fourth
afternoon I went so far as to try him on the back of my hand. I waited
five minutes; he gave no sign. Then, startled by a footstep outside, I
popped him hurriedly back in his bottle.
A scraggy, hawk-nosed trooper of hussars entered and flung himself
into my chair demanding a shave. In my confusion I had lathered his
chin and set to work before giving his face any particular attention.
He had started a grumble at being overworked (he was just off duty and
smelt potently of the stable), but sat silent as men usually do at the
first scrape of the razor. On looking down I saw in a flash that this
was not the reason. He was one of the troopers whose odd jobs I had
done at the Posada del Rio in Huerta, an ill-conditioned Norman called
Michu—Pierre Michu. Since our meeting, with the help of a little
walnut juice, I had given myself a fine Portuguese complexion with
other small touches sufficient to deceive a cleverer man. But by
ill-luck (or to give it a true name, by careless folly) I had knotted
under my collar that morning a yellow-patterned handkerchief which I
had worn every day at the Posada del Rio, and as his eyes travelled
from this to my face I saw that the man recognised me.
There was no time for hesitating. If I kept silence, no doubt he would
do the same; but if I let him go, it would be to make straight for
headquarters with his tale. I scraped away for a second or two in dead
silence, and then holding my razor point I said, sharp and low, "I am
going to kill you."
He turned white as a sheet, opened his mouth, and I could feel him
gathering his muscles together to heave himself out of the chair; no
easy matter. I laid the flat of the razor against his flesh, and he
sank back helpless. My hand was over his mouth. "Yes, I shall have
plenty of time before they find you." A sound in his throat was the
only answer, something between a grunt and a sob. "To be sure" I went
on, "I bear you no grudge. But there is no other way, unless—"
"No, no," he gasped. "I promise. The grave shall not be more secret."
"Ah," said I, "but how am I to believe that?"
"I must have even a little more than that." I made him swear by the
faith of a soldier and half-a-dozen other oaths which occurred to me
as likely to bind him if, lacking honour and religion, he might still
have room in his lean body for a little superstition. He took every
oath eagerly, and with a pensive frown I resumed my shaving. At the
first scrape he winced and tried to push me back.
"Indeed no," said I; "business is business," and I finished the job
methodically, relentlessly. It still consoles me to think upon what he
must have suffered.
When at length I let him up he forced an uneasy laugh. "Well, comrade,
you had the better of me I must say. Eh! but you're a clever one—and
at Huerta, eh?" He held out his hand. "No rancour though—a fair trick
of war, and I am not the man to bear a grudge for it. After all war's
war, as they say. Some use one weapon, some another. You know," he
went on confidentially, "it isn't as if you had learnt anything out
of me. In that case—well, of course, it would have made all the
I fell to stropping my razor. "Since I have your oath—" I began.
"That's understood. My word, though, it is hard to believe!"
"You had best believe it, anyway," said I; and with a sort of
shamefaced swagger he lurched out of the shop.
Well, I did not like it. I walked to the door and watched him down the
street. Though it wanted an hour of sunset I determined to put up my
shutters and take a stroll by the river. I had done the most necessary
part of my work in Sabugal; to-morrow I would make my way back to
Bellomonte, but in case of hindrance it might be as well to know how
the river bank was guarded. At this point a really happy inspiration
seized me. There were many pools in the marsh land by the river—pools
left by the recent floods. Possibly by hunting among these and
stirring up the mud I might replenish my stock of leeches. I had the
vaguest notion how leeches were gathered, but the pursuit would at the
worst give me an excuse for dawdling and spying out the land.
I closed the shop at once, hunted out a tin box, and with this and my
bottle (to serve as evidence, if necessary, of my good faith) made my
way down to the river side north of the town. The bank here was well
guarded by patrols, between whom a number of peaceful citizens sat
a-fishing. Seen thus in line and with their backs turned to me they
bore a ludicrous resemblance to a row of spectators at a play; and
gazing beyond them, though dazzled for a moment by the full level rays
of the sun, I presently became aware of a spectacle worth looking at.
On the road across the river a squadron of lancers was moving
"Hallo!" thought I, "here's a reconnaissance of some importance." But
deciding that any show of inquisitiveness would be out of place under
the eyes of the patrols, I kept my course parallel with the river's,
at perhaps 300 yards distance from it. This brought me to the first
pool, and there I had no sooner deposited my bottle and tin box on the
brink than beyond the screen of the town wall came pushing the head of
a column of infantry.
Decidedly here was something to think over. The column unwound itself
in clouds of yellow dust—a whole brigade; then an interval, then
another dusty column—two brigades! Could Marmont be planning against
Trant the very coup which Trant had planned against him? Twenty
miles—it could be done before daybreak; and the infantry (I had seen
at the first glance) were marching light.
I do not know to this day if any leeches inhabit the pools outside
Sabugal. It is very certain that I discovered none. About a quarter
of a mile ahead of me and about the same distance back from the river
there stood a ruinous house which had been fired, but whether recently
or by the French I could not tell; once no doubt the country villa
of some well-to-do townsman, but now roofless, and showing smears of
black where the flames had licked its white outer walls. Towards this
I steered my way cautiously, that behind the shelter of an outbuilding
I might study the receding brigades at my leisure.
The form of the building was roughly a hollow square enclosing a
fair-sized patio, the entrance of which I had to cross to gain the
rearward premises and slip out of sight of the patrols. The gate of
this entrance had been torn off its hinges and now lay jammed aslant
across the passage; beyond it the patio lay heaped with bricks and
rubble, tiles, and charred beams. I paused for a moment and craned in
for a better look at the débris.
And then the sound of voices arrested me—a moment too late. I was
face to face with two French officers, one with a horse beside him.
They saw me, and on the instant ceased talking and stared; but without
changing their attitudes, which were clearly those of two disputants.
They stood perhaps four paces apart. Both were young men, and the
one whose attitude most suggested menace I recognised as a young
lieutenant of a line regiment (the 102nd) whom I had shaved that
morning. The other wore the uniform of a staff officer, and at the
first glance I read a touch of superciliousness in his indignant face.
His left hand held his horse's bridle, his other he still kept tightly
clenched while he stared at me.
"What the devil do you want here?" demanded the lieutenant roughly
in bad Portuguese. "But, hallo!" he added, recognising me, and turned
a curious glance on the other.
"Who is it?" the staff officer asked.
"It's a barber; and I believe something of a surgeon. That's so, eh?"
He appealed to me.
"In a small way," I answered apologetically.
The lieutenant turned again to his companion. "He might do for us; the
sooner the better, unless—"
"Unless," interrupted the staff officer with cold politeness, "you
prefer the apology you owe me."
The lieutenant swung round again with a brusque laugh. "Look here,
have you your instruments about you?"
For answer I held up my bottle with the one absurd leech dormant at
the bottom. He laughed again just as harshly.
"That is about the last thing to suit our purpose. Listen"—he glanced
out through the passage—"the gates won't be shut for an hour yet. It
will take you perhaps twenty minutes to fetch what is necessary. You
understand? Return here, and don't keep us waiting. Afterwards, should
the gates be shut, one of us will see you back to the town."
I bowed without a word and hurried back across the water meadow. Along
the river bank between the patrols the anglers still sat in their
patient row. And on the road to the north-west the tail of the second
brigade was winding slowly out of sight.
Once past the gate and through the streets, I walked more briskly,
paused at my shop door to fit the key in the lock, and was astonished
when the door fell open at the push of my hand.
Then in an instant I understood. The shop had been ransacked—by
that treacherous scoundrel Michu, of course. Bottles, herbs, shaving
apparatus all was topsy-turvy. Drawers stood half-open; the floor was
in a litter.
I had two consolations: the first that there were no incriminating
papers in the, house; the second that Michu had clearly paid me a
private visit before carrying his tale to headquarters. Otherwise the
door would have been sealed and the house under guard. I reflected
that the idiot would catch it hot for this unauthorised piece of work.
Stay! he might still be in the house rummaging the upper rooms. I
No, he was gone. He had left my case of instruments, too, after
breaking the lock and scattering them about the floor. I gathered them
together in haste, descended again, snatched up a roll of lint, and
pausing only at the door for a glance up and down the street, made my
escape post haste for the water meadow.
In the patio I found the two disputants standing much as I had left
them, the staff officer gently and methodically smoothing his horse's
crupper, the lieutenant with a watch in his hand.
"Good," said he, closing it with a snap, "seventeen minutes only. By
the way, do you happen to understand French?"
"A very little," said I.
"Because, as you alone are the witness of this our little difference,
it will be in order if I explain that I insulted this gentleman."
"Somewhat grossly," put in the staff officer.
"Somewhat grossly, in return for an insult put upon me—somewhat
grossly—in the presence of my company, two days ago, in the camp
above Penamacor, when I took the liberty to resent a message conveyed
by him to my colonel—as he alleges upon the authority of the marshal,
the Duke of Ragusa."
"An assertion," commented the staff officer, "which I am able to prove
on the marshal's return and with his permission, provided always that
the request be decently made."
They had been speaking in French and meanwhile removing their tunics.
The staff officer had even drawn off his riding boots. "Do you
understand?" asked the lieutenant.
"A little," said I; "enough to serve the occasion."
"Excellent barber-surgeon! Would that all your nation were no more
inquisitive!" He turned to the staff officer. "Ready? On guard, then,
The combat was really not worth describing. The young staff officer
had indeed as much training as his opponent (and that was little), but
no wrist at all. He had scarcely engaged before he attempted a blind
cut over the scalp. The lieutenant, parrying clumsily, but just
in time, forced blade and arm upward until the two pointed almost
vertically to heaven, and their forearms almost rubbed as the pair
stood close and chest to chest. For an instant the staff officer's
sword was actually driven back behind his head; and then with a
rearward spring the lieutenant disengaged and brought his edge clean
down on his adversary's left shoulder and breast, narrowly missing
his ear. The cut itself, delivered almost in the recoil, had no great
weight behind it, but the blood spurted at once, and the wounded man,
stepping back for a fresh guard, swayed foolishly for a moment and
then toppled into my arms.
"Is it serious?" asked the lieutenant, wiping his sword and looking,
it seemed to me, more than a little scared.
"Wait a moment," said I, and eased the body to the ground. "Yes, it
looks nasty. And keep back, if you please; he has fainted."
Being off my guard I said it in very good French, which in his
agitation he luckily failed to remark.
"I had best fetch help," said he.
"I'll run for one of the patrols; we'll carry him back to the town."
But this would not suit me at all. "No," I objected, "you must fetch
one of your surgeons. Meanwhile I will try to stop the bleeding; but I
certainly won't answer for it if you attempt to move him at once."
I showed him the wound as he hurried into his tunic. It was a long and
ugly gash, but (as I had guessed) neither deep nor dangerous. It ran
from the point of the collar-bone aslant across the chest, and had the
lieutenant put a little more drag into the stroke it must infallibly
have snicked open the artery inside the upper arm. As it was, my
immediate business lay in frightening him off before the bleeding
slackened, and my heart gave a leap when he turned and ran out of the
patio, buttoning his tunic as he went.
It took me ten minutes perhaps to dress the wound and tie a rude
bandage; and perhaps another four to pull off coat and shoes and slip
into the staff officer's tunic, pull on his riding boots over my blue
canvas trousers—at a distance scarcely discernible in colour from
his tight-fitting breeches—and buckle on his sword-belt. I had some
difficulty in finding his cap, for he had tossed it carelessly behind
one of the fallen beams, and by this time the light was bad within
the patio. The horse gave me no trouble, being an old campaigner, no
doubt, and used to surprises. I untethered him and led him gently
across the yard, picking my way in a circuit which would take him as
far as possible from his fallen master. But glancing back just before
mounting, to my horror I saw that the wounded man had raised himself
on his right elbow and was staring at me. Our eyes met; what he
thought—whether he suspected the truth or accepted the sight as a
part of his delirium—I shall never know. The next instant he fell
back again and lay inert.
I passed out into the open. The warning gun must have sounded without
my hearing it, for across the meadow the townspeople were retracing
their way to the town gate, which closed at sunset. At any moment now
the patrols might be upon me; so swinging myself into the saddle I set
off at a brisk trot towards the gate.
My chief peril for the moment lay in the chance of meeting the
lieutenant on his way back with the doctor; yet I must run this
risk and ride through the town to the bridge gate, the river being
unfordable for miles to the northward and trending farther and farther
away from Guarda; and Guarda must be reached at all costs, or by
to-morrow Trant's and Wilson's garrisons would have ceased to exist.
My heart fairly sank when on reaching the gate I saw an officer in
talk with the sentry there, and at least a score of men behind him. I
drew aside; he stepped out and called an order to his company, which
at once issued and spread itself in face of the scattered groups of
citizens returning across the meadow.
"Yes, captain," said the sentry, answering the question in my look,"
they are after a spy, it seems, who has been practising here as a
barber. They say even the famous McNeill."
I rode through the gateway and spurred my horse to a trot again,
heading him down a side street to the right. This took me some
distance out of my way, but anything was preferable to the risk of
meeting the lieutenant, and I believed that I had yet some minutes to
spare before the second gunfire.
In this I was mistaken. The gun boomed out just as I came in sight of
the bridge gate, and the lieutenant of the guard appeared clanking out
on the instant to close the heavy doors. I spurred my horse and dashed
down at a canter, hailing loudly:—
"A spy!—a barber fellow; here, hold a minute!"
"Yes, we have had warning half an hour ago. Nobody has passed out
"At the gate below," I panted, "they sighted him; and he made for the
river—tried to swim it. Run out your men and bring them along to
search the bank!"
He began to shout orders. I galloped through the gate and hailed the
sentry at the tête du pont. "A spy!" I shouted—"in the river. Keep
your eyes open if he makes the bank!"
The fellow drew aside, and I clattered past him with a dozen soldiers
at my heels fastening their belts and looking to their muskets as they
ran. Once over the bridge I headed to the right again along the left
bank of the river.
"This way! This way! Keep your eyes open!"
I was safe now. In the rapidly falling dusk, still increasing the
distance between us, I led them down past the town and opposite the
astonished patrols on the meadow bank. Even then, when I wheeled to
the left and galloped for the high road, it did not occur to them to
suspect me, nor shall I ever know when first it dawned on them that
they had been fooled. Certainly not a shot was sent after me, and I
settled down for a steady gallop northward, pleasantly assured of
being at least twenty minutes ahead of any effective pursuit.
I was equally well assured of overtaking the brigades, but my
business, of course, was to avoid and get ahead of them. And with this
object, after an hour's brisk going, I struck a hill-track to the left
which, as I remembered (having used it on my journey from Badajoz), at
first ran parallel with the high road for two miles or more and then
cut two considerable loops which the road followed along the valley
Recent rains had unloosed the springs on the mountain side and set
them chattering so loudly that I must have reined up at least a score
of times before I detected the tramp of the brigades in the darkness
below me. Of the cavalry, though I rode on listening for at least
another two miles, I could hear no sound. Yet, as I argued, they could
not be far distant; and I pushed forward with heart elate at the
prospect of trumping Marmont's card, for I remembered the staff
officer's words, "on the marshal's return." I knew that Marmont had
been in Sabugal no longer ago than mid-day; and irregular and almost
derogatory as it might be thought for a marshal of France to be
conducting a night surprise against a half-disciplined horde of
militia, I would have wagered my month's pay that this was the fact.
And then, with a slip of my horse on the stony track, my good fortune
suddenly ended, and smash went my basket of eggs while I counted the
chickens. The poor brute with one false step came down heavily on his
near side. Quick as I was in flinging my foot from the stirrup, I was
just a moment too late; I fell without injury to bone, but his weight
pinned me to earth by the boot, and when I extricated myself it was
with a wrenched ankle. I managed to get him to his feet, but he had
either dislocated or so severely wrung his near shoulder that he could
scarcely walk a step. It went to my heart to leave him there on the
mountain side, but it had to be done, for possibly the fate of the
garrison at Guarda depended on it.
I left him, therefore, and limped forward along the track until it
took an abrupt turn around a shoulder of the mountain. Immediately
below me, unless I erred in my bearings, a desolate sheep farm stood
but a short distance above the high road. Towards this I descended,
and finding it with no great difficulty, knocked gently at the back
door. To my surprise the shepherd opened it almost at once. He was
fully dressed in spite of the lateness of the hour, and seemed greatly
perturbed; nor, I can promise you, was he reassured when, after giving
him the signal arranged between Trant and the peasantry, I followed
him into his kitchen and his eyes fell on my French uniform.
But it was my turn to be perturbed when, satisfied with my
explanation, he informed me that a body of cavalry had passed along
the road towards Guarda a good twenty minutes before. It was this had
awakened him. "No infantry?" I asked.
He shook his head positively. He had been on the watch ever since. And
this, while it jumped with my own conviction that the infantry was at
least a mile behind me, gave me new hope. I could not understand this
straggling march, but it was at least reasonable to suppose that
Marmont's horse would wait upon his foot before attempting such a
position as Guarda.
"I must push on," said I, and instructed him where to seek for my
He walked down with me to the road. My ankle pained me cruelly.
"See here," said he, "the señor had best let me go with him. It is but
six miles, and I can recover the horse in the morning."
He was in earnest, and I consented. It was fortunate that I did, or
I might have dropped in the road and been found or trodden on by the
French column behind us.
As it was I broke down after the second mile. The shepherd took me in
his arms like a child and found cover for me below a bank to the left
of the road beside the stream in the valley bottom. I gave him my
instructions and he hurried on.
Lying there in the darkness half an hour later I heard the tramp of
the brigade approaching, and lay and listened while they went by.
I have often, in writing these memoirs, wished I could be inventing
instead of setting down facts. With a little invention only, how I
could have rounded off this adventure! But that is the way with real
events. All my surprising luck ended with the casual stumble of a
horse, and it was not I who saved Guarda, nor even my messenger, but
Marmont's own incredible folly.
When my shepherd reached the foot of the ascent to the fortress he
heard a drum beaten suddenly in the darkness above. This single drum
kept rattling (he told me) for at least a minute before a score of
others took up the alarm. There had been no other warning, not so much
as a single shot fired; and even after the drums began there was no
considerable noise of musketry until the day broke and the shepherd
saw the French cavalry retiring slowly down the hill scarcely 500
yards ahead of the Portuguese militia, now pouring forth from the
gateway. These were at once checked and formed up in front of the
town, the French still retiring slowly, with a few English dragoons
hanging on their heels. A few shots only were exchanged, apparently
without damage. The man assured me that the whole 400 or 500 troopers
passed within a hundred yards of him and so down the slope and out of
What had happened was this: Marmont, impatient at the delay of his two
brigades of infantry (which by some bungle in the starting did not
reach the foot of the mountain before daylight), had pushed his
horsemen up the hill and managed to cut off and silence the outposts
without their firing a shot. Encouraged by this he pressed on to the
very gates of the town, and had actually entered the street when the
alarm was sounded—and by whom? By a single drummer whom General
Trant, distrusting the watchfulness of his militia, had posted at his
bedroom door! Trant's servant entering with his coffee at daybreak
brought a report that the French were at the gates; the drummer plied
his sticks like a madman; other drummers all over the town caught up
their sticks and tattooed away without the least notion of what was
happening; the militia ran helter-skelter to their alarm post; and the
French marshal, who might have carried the town at a single rush and
without losing a man, turned tail! Such are the absurdities of war.
But in fancy I sometimes complete the picture and see myself, in
French staff officer's dress, boldly riding up to the head of the
French infantry column and in the name of the, Duke of Ragusa
commanding its general to halt. True, I did not know the
password—which might have been awkward. But a staff officer can
swagger through some small difficulties, as I had already proved twice
that night. But for the stumble of a horse—who knows? The possibility
seems to me scarcely more fantastic than the accident which actually
Marmont's night attack on Guarda, though immediately and even
absurdly unsuccessful, did, in fact, convince Trant that the hill was
untenable, and he at once attempted to fall back upon Celorico across
the river Mondego, where lay Lord Wellington's magazines and very
considerable stores, for the moment quite unprotected.
Marmont had from four to six thousand horsemen and two brigades of
infantry. The horse could with the utmost ease have headed Trant off
and trotted into Celorico while the infantry fell on him, and but for
the grossest blundering the militia as a fighting force should have
been wiped out of existence. But blunders dogged Marmont throughout
this campaign. Trant and Wilson marched their men (with one day's
provisions only) out of Guarda and down the long slopes toward the
river. Good order was kept for three or four miles, and the head of
the column was actually crossing by a pretty deep ford when some forty
dragoons (which Trant had begged from Bacellar to help him in his
proposed coup upon Sabugal, and which had arrived from Celorico but
the day before) came galloping down through the woods with a squadron
of French cavalry in pursuit, and charging in panic through the
rearguard flung everything into confusion. The day was a rainy one,
and the militia, finding their powder wet, ran for the ford like
sheep. The officers, however, kept their heads and got the men over,
though with the loss of two hundred prisoners. Even so, Marmont might
have crossed the river on their flank and galloped into Celorico
ahead of them. As it was, he halted and allowed the rabble to save
themselves in the town. While blaming his head I must do justice to
his heart and add that, finding what poor creatures he had to deal
with, he forbade his horsemen to cut down the fugitives, and not a
single man was killed.
Foreseeing that Trant must sooner or later retreat upon
Celorico—though ignorant, of course, of what was happening—I was
actually crossing the river at the time by a ford some four miles
above, not in the French staff officer's uniform which I had worn out
of Sabugal, but in an old jacket lent me by my friend the shepherd.
By the time I reached the town Wilson had swept in his rabble and
was planting his outposts, intending to resist and, if this became
impossible, to blow up the magazines before retiring. Trant and
Bacellar with the bulk of the militia were continuing the retreat
meanwhile towards Lamego.
I need only say here that Wilson's bold front served its purpose.
Once, when the French drove in his outposts, he gave the order to fire
the powder, and a part of the magazine was actually destroyed when
Marmont (who above all things hated ridicule, and was severely taxing
the respect of his beautiful army by these serio-comic excursions
after a raw militia) withdrew his troops and retired in an abominable
temper to Sabugal.
How do I know that Marmont's temper was abominable? By what follows.
On March 30th I had left my kinsman, Captain Alan McNeill, with his
servant José at Tammanies. They were to keep an eye on the French
movements while I rode south and reported to Lord Wellington at
Badajoz. It was now April 16th, and in the meanwhile a great deal had
happened; but of my kinsman's movements I had heard nothing. At first
I felt sure he must be somewhere in the neighbourhood of Marmont's
headquarters; but even in Sabugal itself no hint of him could I hear,
and at length I concluded that having satisfied himself of the main
lines of Marmont's campaign he had gone off to meet and receive fresh
instructions from Wellington, now posting north to save the endangered
On the evening of the 16th General Wilson sent for me.
"Here is a nasty piece of news," said he. "Your namesake is a
"In Sabugal; but it seems he was brought there from the main camp
above Penamacor. Trant tells me that you are not only namesakes but
kinsmen. Would you care to question the messenger?"
The messenger was brought in—a peasant from the Penamacor district.
Out of his rambling tale one or two certainties emerged. McNeill—the
celebrated McNeill—was a prisoner; he had been taken on the 14th
somewhere in the pass above Penamacor, and conveyed to Sabugal to
await the French marshal's return. His servant was dead—killed in
trying to escape, or to help his master's escape. So much I sifted
out of the mass of inaccuracies. For, as usual, the two McNeills had
managed to get mixed up in the story, a good half of which spread
itself into a highly coloured version of my own escape from Sabugal on
the evening of the 13th; how I had been arrested by a French officer
in a back shop in the heart of the town; how, as he overhauled my
incriminating papers, I had leapt on him with a knife and stabbed him
to the heart, while my servant did the same with his orderly; how,
having possessed ourselves of their clothes and horses, we had ridden
boldly through the gate and southward to join Lord Wellington; and a
great deal more equally veracious. As I listened I began to understand
how legends grow and demigods are made.
It was flattering; but without attempting to show how I managed to
disengage the facts, I will here quote the plain account of them, sent
to me long afterwards by Captain Alan himself:—
Captain Alan McNeill's Statement.
"You wish, for use in your Memoirs, an account of my capture in the
month of April, 1811, and the death of my faithful servant, José. I
imagine this does not include an account of all our movements from the
time you left us at Tammames (though this, too, I shall be happy to
send if desired), and so I come at once to the 14th, the actual date
of the capture.
"The preceding night we had spent in the woods below the great French
camp, and perhaps a mile above the mouth of the pass opening on
Penamacor. All through the previous day there had been considerable
stir in the camp, and I believed a general movement to be impending. I
supposed Marmont himself to be either with the main army or behind
in his headquarters at Sabugal, and within easy distance. It never
occurred to me—nor could it have occurred to any reasonable
man—to guess, upon no evidence, that a marshal of France had gone
gallivanting with six thousand horse and two brigades of infantry in
chase of a handful of undrilled militia.
"My impression was that his move, if he made one, would be a resolute
descent through Penamacor and upon Castello Branco. As a matter of
fact, although Victor Alten had abandoned that place to be held
by Lecor and his two thousand five hundred militiamen, the French
(constant to their policy of frittering away opportunities) merely
sent down two detachments of cavalry to menace it, and I believe that
my capture was the only success which befel them.
"Early on the 14th, and about an hour before these troops (dragoons
for the most part) began to descend the pass, I had posted myself with
José on one of the lower ridges and (as I imagined) well under cover
of the dwarf oaks which grew thickly there. They did indeed screen
us admirably from the squadrons I was watching, and they passed
unsuspecting within fifty yards of us. Believing them to be but an
advance guard, and that we should soon hear the tramp of the main
army, I kept my shelter for another ten minutes, and was prepared to
keep it for another hour, when José—whose eyes missed nothing—caught
me by the arm and pointed high up the hillside behind us.
"'Scouts!' he whispered. 'They have seen us, sir!'
"I glanced up and saw a pair of horsemen about two gunshots away
galloping down the uneven ridge towards us, with about a dozen in a
cluster close behind. We leapt into saddle at once, made off through
the oaks for perhaps a couple of hundred yards, and then wheeling
sharply struck back across the hillside towards Sabugal. We were still
in good cover, but the enemy had posted his men more thickly than
we had guessed, and by-and-by I crossed a small clearing and rode
straight into the arms of a dragoon. Providentially I came on him with
a suddenness which flurried his aim, and though he fired his pistol at
me point-blank he wounded neither me nor my horse. But hearing shouts
behind him in answer to the shot, we wheeled almost right-about and
set off straight down the hill.
"This new direction did not help us, however; for almost at once a
bugle was sounded above, obviously as a warning to the dragoons at the
foot of the pass, who halted and spread themselves along the lower
slopes to cut us off. Our one chance now lay in abandoning our horses
and crawling deep into the covert of the low oaks where cavalry would
have much ado to follow. This we promptly did, and for twenty minutes
we managed to elude them, so that my hopes began to grow. But
unhappily a knot of officers on the ridge above had watched this
manoeuvre through their telescopes, and now detached small parties of
infantry down either side of the pass to beat the covers. Our hiding
place quickly became too hot, and as we broke cover and dashed across
another small clearing we were spied again by those on the ridge, who
shouted to the soldiers and directed the chase by waving their caps.
For another ten minutes we baffled them, and then crawling on hands
and knees from a thicket where we could hear our enemies not a dozen
yards away beating the bushes with the flat of their swords, we came
face to face with a second party advancing straight upon us. I stood
up straight and was on the point of making a last desperate run for it
when I saw José sink on his face exhausted.
"'Do not shoot!' I called to the officer. 'We have hurt no man,
monsieur.'—For it is, as you know, a fact that in our business I
strongly disapprove of bloodshed, and in all our expeditions together
José had never done physical injury to a living creature.
"But I was too late. The young officer fired, and though the ball
entered my poor servant's skull and killed him on the instant, a
hulking fellow beside him had the savagery to complete what was
finished with a savage bayonet-thrust through the back.
"I stood still, fully expecting to be used no more humanely, but the
officer lowered his pistol and curtly told me I was his prisoner. By
this time the fellows had come up from beating the thicket behind and
surrounded me. I therefore surrendered, and was marched up the hill
to the camp with poor José's body at my heels borne by a couple of
"In all the hurry and heat of this chase I had found time to wonder
how our pursuers happened to be so well posted. For a good fortnight
and more—in fact, since my escape across the ford at Huerta—I could
remember nothing that we had done to give the French the slightest
inkling that we were watching them or, indeed, were anywhere near. And
yet the affair suggested no casual piece of scouting, but a deliberate
plan to entrap somebody of whose neighbourhood they were aware.
"Nor was this perplexity at all unravelled by the general officer to
whose tent they at once conveyed me—a little round white-headed man,
Ducrôt by name. He addressed me at once as Captain McNeill, and seemed
vastly elated at my capture.
"'So we have you at last!' he said, regarding me with a jocular smile
and a head cocked on one side, pretty much after the fashion of a
thrush eyeing a worm. 'But, excuse me, after so much finesse it was a
"Now finesse is not a word which I should have claimed at any time
for my methods,[A] and I cast about in my memory for the exploit to
which he could be alluding.
[Footnote A: NOTE BY MANUEL MCNEILL.—Here the captain, in his hurry
to pay me a compliment, does himself some injustice. Finesse, to be
sure, was not generally characteristic of his methods, but he used it
at times with amazing dexterity, as, for instance, the latter part
of this very adventure will prove, if I can ever prevail on him to
narrate it. On the whole I should say that he disapproved of finesse
much as he disapproved of swearing, but had a natural aptitude for
"'It is the mistake of clever men,' continued General Ducrôt sagely,
'to undervalue their opponents; but surely after yesterday the
commonest prudence might have warned you to put the greatest possible
distance between yourself and Sabugal.'
"'Sabugal?' I echoed.
"'Oh, my dear sir, we know. It was amusing—eh!—the barber's shop?
I assure you I laughed. It was time for you to be taken; for really,
you know, you could never have bettered it, and it is not for an
artist to wind up by repeating inferior successes.'
"For a moment I thought the man daft. What on earth (I asked myself)
was this nonsense about Sabugal and a barber's shop? I had not been
near Sabugal; as for the barber's shop it sounded to me like a piece
out of the childish rigmarole about cutting a cabbage leaf to make
an apple pie. Some fleeting suspicion I may have had that here was
another affair in which you and I had again managed to get confused;
but if so the suspicion occurred only to be dismissed. A fortnight
before you had left me on your way south to Badajoz, and you will
own that to connect you with something which apparently had happened
yesterday in a barber's shop in Sabugal was to overstrain guessing.
Having nothing to say, I held my tongue; and General Ducrôt put on a
more magisterial air. He resented this British phlegm in a prisoner
with whom he had been graciously jocose and fell back on his national
belief that we islanders, though occasionally funny, are so by force
of eccentricity rather than by humour.
"'I do not propose to deal with you myself,' he announced. 'At
one time and another, sir, you have done our cause an infinity of
mischief, and I prefer that the Duke of Ragusa should decide your
fate. I shall send you therefore to Sabugal to await his return.'
"This gave me my first intimation that Marmont was neither in Sabugal
nor with his main army. That same afternoon they marched me off to the
town and set me under guard in a house next door to his headquarters.
"Marmont returned from Celorico (if my memory serves me) on the
afternoon of the 17th. I was taken before him at once. He treated
me with the greatest apparent kindness, hoped I had suffered no
ill-usage, and wound up by inviting me to dinner. A couple of hours
later I was escorted to headquarters, where, on entering the room
where he received his guests, I found him in conversation with a young
staff officer who wore his arm in a sling.
"The marshal turned to me at once, and very gaily. 'I understand,'
said he with a smile, 'that I have no need to introduce you to Captain
"I looked from him to the young officer in some bewilderment, and saw
in a moment that Captain de Brissac was certainly not less bewildered
"'But Monsieur le Maréchal—but this is not the man!'
"'Not the man?'
"'Most decidedly not. The man of whom I spoke was dark and not above
middle height. He spoke Portuguese like a native, and belonged to a
class altogether different. It would be impossible for this gentleman
to disguise himself so.'
"For a moment Marmont seemed no less puzzled than we. Then he broke
out laughing again.
"'Ah! of course; that will have been Captain McNeill's servant—the
poor fellow who was killed,' he added more gravely. 'I am told, sir,
that this servant shared and furthered most of your adventures?'
"'He did indeed, M. le Maréchal,' said I; 'but excuse me if I am at a
"The Duke interrupted me by laughing again and laying a hand on my
shoulder as an orderly announced dinner. 'Rest easy, my friend, we
know of all your little tricks.' And at table he amused himself and
more and more befogged me by a precise account of my haunts and
movements. How I had kept a barber's shop in Sabugal under his very
nose; what disguises I used (and you know that I never used a disguise
in my life); how my servant had assisted M. de Brissac in a duel and
afterwards escaped in his uniform—with much more, and all of it news
to me. My astonished face merely excited his laughter; he set it down
to my eccentricity. But after dinner, when M. de Brissac had taken his
departure, Marmont crossed his handsome legs and came to business.
"'Sir,' said he, 'I am going to pay you a compliment. We have suffered
heavily through your cleverness; and although Lord Wellington may
choose to call you a scouting officer, you must be aware (and will
forgive me for reminding you) that I might well be excused for calling
you by an uglier name.'
"You may be sure I did not like this. You may also remember how at
Huerta on the occasion of our first meeting the question of disguise
came up between us, and how I assured you that to me, with my Scottish
face and accent, a disguise would be worse than useless. Well, that
was true enough so far as it went; but I fear that in my anxiety not
to offend your feelings I spoke less than the whole truth, for I have
always held that in our business as soon as a man resorts to disguise
his work ceases to be legitimate scouting. It may be no less
justifiable and even more useful, but it is no longer scouting. I
admit the distinction to be a nice one;[A] and I have sometimes asked
myself, when covering my uniform with my dark riding cloak, 'What,
after all, is a disguise?' Nevertheless, I had always observed it,
and standing before Marmont now in His Majesty's scarlet, which (as I
might have told him) I had never discarded either to further a plan
or to avoid a danger, I put some constraint on myself to listen in
silence on the merest off-chance that my silence might help an affair
with which the marshal assumed my perfect acquaintance, while I could
only surmise that somehow you were mixed up in it, and therefore
presumably it aimed at some advantage to our arms. I did keep silence,
however, though without so much as a bow to signify that I assented.
[Footnote A: NOTE BY MANUEL MCNEILL.—I should think so indeed! To me
the moral difference, say, between hiding in a truss of hay and hiding
under a wig is not worth discussing outside a seminary.]
"'But you are a gentleman,' Marmont continued, 'and I propose to treat
you as one. You will be sent in safe custody to France, and beyond
this I propose to take no revenge on you—but upon one condition.'
"'The condition is you give me your parole that on your journey
through Spain to France you not only make no effort to escape, but
will not consent to be rescued should the attempt be made by any of
the partidas in hope of reward.'
"I considered this for a moment. 'That is not a small thing to
require, since Wellington may be reasonably expected to offer a round
price for my recapture.'
"The marshal laughed not too pleasantly. 'Truly,' said he, 'I have
heard that Scotsmen are hard bargainers. But considering that I could
have you shot out of hand for a spy, I believed I was offering you
"Well, that was unfortunately true; so after a few seconds' pause I
answered, 'Monsieur le Duc, by imposing these terms on me you at any
rate pay me a handsome compliment. I accept it and give you my word.'
"Upon this parole, then, on the 19th I began my journey towards France
and captivity, escorted only by M. Gérard, a young lieutenant of
dragoons, and one trooper. The rest you know."
(Conclusion of Captain McNeill's Statement.)
As I have said, the bare news of my kinsman's capture and of poor
José's death reached me at Celorico on the 16th, late in the evening.
Knowing that Lord Wellington was by this time well on his way
northward, and believing that for more than one reason the captain's
fate would concern him deeply—feeling, moreover, some compunction at
the toils I had all innocently helped to wind about an honest man—I
at once sought and obtained leave from General Wilson to ride
southward to meet the Commander-in-Chief with the tidings, and if
necessary solicit his help in a rescue. The captain (on this point the
messenger was precise) had been taken to Sabugal to await Marmont's
return. I did not know that Marmont was actually at that moment on his
way thither, but I thought him at least likely to be returning very
soon. To be sure he might decide to shoot Captain Alan out of hand. My
recent performances gave him a colourable excuse, unless the prisoner
could disassociate himself from these and prove an alibi, which
under the circumstances and without the help of José's evidence he
could scarcely hope to do. I built, however, some faith on Marmont's
known humanity, of which in his pursuit of the militia he had just
given striking proof. The longer I weighed the chances the more
certain I became that Marmont would treat him as an ordinary prisoner
of war and send him up to France under escort.
Why, then (the reader may ask), did I lose time in seeking Lord
Wellington instead of making my way at once to the north and doing my
best to incite the partidas to attempt a rescue somewhere on the
road north of Burgos, or even between Valladolid and Burgos? My answer
is that such an affair would certainly turn on the question of money.
The French held the road right away to the Pyrenees, not so strongly
perhaps as to forbid hope, but strongly enough to make an attempt upon
it risky in the extreme. The bands of Mendizabal, Mina, and Merino
were kept busy by Generals Bonnet and Abbé; for a big convoy they
might be counted on to exert themselves, but for a single prisoner
they as certainly had no time to spare without the incitement of such
a reward as only the Commander-in-Chief could offer.
Accordingly I made my way south to Castello Branco and reached it on
the 18th, to find Lord Wellington arrived there and making ready to
push on as soon as overtaken by the bulk of his troops. I had always
supposed him to cherish a peculiar liking for my kinsman, but was
fairly astonished by the emotion he showed.
"Rescued? Of course he must be rescued!" He broke off to use (I must
confess) some very strong words upon Trant's design against Marmont
and the tomfoolery, as he called it, which had taken me into Sabugal,
and left a cloud of suspicion hanging over "the best scouting officer
in my service; the only man of the lot, sir, who knows his business."
Lord Wellington could, when he lost his temper, be singularly unjust.
I strove to point out that my "tomfoolery" in Sabugal had as a matter
of fact put a stop to the very scheme of General Trant's which he
condemned. He cut me short by asking if I proposed to argue with him.
"Ride back, sir. Choose the particular blackguard who can effect your
purpose, and inform him that on the day he rescues Captain McNeill I
am his debtor for twelve thousand francs."
The speech was ungracious enough, but the price more than I had dared
to hope for. Feeling pretty sure that in his lordship's temper a word
of thanks would merely invite him to consign my several members to
perdition, I bowed and left him. Twenty minutes later I was on the
road and galloping north again.
Before starting from Celorico I had sent the peasant who brought news
of Captain Alan's plight back to Sabugal with instructions to discover
what more he could, and bring his report to Bellomonte on my northward
road not later than the 20th. On the afternoon of the 19th when I rode
into that place I could hear no news of him. But late in the evening
he arrived with word that "the great McNeill" had been sent off under
escort towards Salamanca. Of the strength of that escort he could tell
me nothing, and had very wisely not stayed to inquire; he had picked
up the news from camp gossip and brought it at once, rightly judging
that time was more valuable to me just now than detailed information.
His news was doubly cheering; it assured me that my kinsman still
lived, and also that by riding to secure Lord Wellington's help I had
not missed my opportunity. Yet there was need to hurry, for I had not
only to fetch a long circuit by difficult paths before striking the
road to the Pyrenees,—I had to find the partidas, persuade them,
and get them on to the road ahead of their quarry.
I need not describe my journey at length. I rode by Guarda, Almeida,
Ledesma, keeping to the north of the main road, and travelling, not by
day only, but through the better part of each night. Beyond the ford
of Tordesillas, left for the while unguarded, I was in country where
at any moment I might stumble on the guerilla bands, or at least get
news of them. The chiefs most likely for my purpose were "the three
M's"—the curate Merino, Mina and Mendizabal. Of these, the curate was
about the biggest scoundrel in Spain. I learned on my way that having
lately taken about a hundred prisoners near Aranda, he had hanged the
lot, sixty to avenge three members of the local junta put to death by
the French, and the rest in proportion of ten for every soldier of his
lost in the action. From dealing with such a blackguard I prayed to be
spared. And by all accounts Mina ran him close for brutal ferocity. I
hoped, therefore, for Mendizabal, but at Sedano I heard that Bonnet,
after foiling an attack by him on a convoy above Burgos, had beaten
him into the Asturias, where his scattered bands were now shifting as
best they could among the hills. Merino was in no better case, and
my only hope rested on Mina, who after a series of really brilliant
operations, helped out by some lucky escapes, had on the 7th with
five thousand men planted himself in ambush behind Vittoria, cut up
a Polish regiment, and mastered the same enormous convoy which had
escaped the curate and Mendizabal at Burgos, releasing no less than
four hundred Spanish prisoners and enriching himself to the tune of
a million francs, not to speak of carriages, arms, stores, and a
quantity of church plate.
This was no cheerful hearing, since so much in his pocket must needs
lessen the attractiveness of my offer of twelve thousand francs. And,
indeed, when I found him in his camp above the road a little to the
east of Salvatierra his first answer was to bid me go to the devil.
Although for months he had only supported his troops on English money
conveyed through Sir Howard Douglas, this ignorant fellow snapped his
dirty fingers at the mention of Wellington and, flushed with a casual
triumph, had nothing but contempt for the allied troops who were
saving his country while he and his like wasted themselves on futile
raids. I can see him now as he sat smoking and dangling his legs on a
rock in the midst of his unwashed staff officers.
"For an Englishman," he scoffed, "I won't say but twelve thousand
francs is a high price to pay. Unfortunately, it is no price for my
troops to earn. Here am I expecting at any moment a convoy which is
due from the Valencia side, and Lord Wellington asks me to waste my
men and miss my chance for the sake of a single redcoat. He must be a
Said I, nettled, "For a Spaniard you have certainly acquired a rare
suit of manners. But may I suggest that their rarity will scarcely
prove worth the cost when your answer comes to Lord Wellington's
He glared at me for a moment, during which no doubt he weighed the
temptation of shooting me against the probable risk. Then his features
relaxed into a grin, and withdrawing the chewed cigarette from his
teeth he spat very deliberately on the ground. "The interview," he
announced, "is ended."
I took my way down the hillside in no gay mood. I had travelled far;
my nerves were raw with lack of sleep. I judged myself at least a day
ahead of any convoy with which the captain could be travelling, even
though it had moved with the minimum of delay. But where in the next
two days was I to find the help which Mina had refused? To be sure I
had caught up at Sedano a flying rumour that the curate Merino had
eluded Bonnet, broken out of the Asturias, and was again menacing the
road above Burgos. I had come across no sign of him on my way, yet
could hit on no more hopeful course than to hark back along the road
on the chance of striking the trail of a man who as likely as not was
a hundred miles away.
It was about nine in the morning when Mina gave me his answer, and at
three in the afternoon I was scanning the road towards Miranda de Ebro
from a hill about a mile beyond Arinez (the same hill, in fact, where
General Gazan's centre lay little more than a year afterwards on the
morning of the battle of Vittoria). I had been scanning the road
perhaps for ten minutes when my heart gave a jump and my hand, I
am not ashamed to confess, shook on the small telescope. To the
south-west, between me and Nanclares three horsemen were advancing at
a walk, and the rider in the middle wore a scarlet jacket.
It took me some seconds to get my telescope steady enough for a second
look, and with that I wheeled my horse, struck spur and posted back
towards Salvatierra as fast as the brute would carry me through the
I reached Mina's camp again at nightfall, and found the chief seated
exactly as I had left him, still smoking and still dangling his legs.
Were it not that he now wore a cloak against the night air I might
have supposed him seated there all day without stirring, and the guard
who led me to him promised with a grin that I was dangerously near one
of those peculiar modes of death which his master passed his amiable
leisure in inventing.
At the sight of me Mina's eyebrows went up and he chuckled, "Indeed,"
said he, "it has been a dull day, and I have been regretting that I
let you off so easily this morning."
"This morning," I said, "I made you an offer of twelve thousand
francs. You replied that you considered it too little for the services
of your army. Perhaps it was; but you will admit it to be pretty fair
pay for the services of a couple of men."
"Hullo!" He eyed me sharply. "What has happened?"
"That," I answered, "is my secret. Lend me a couple of men, say, for
forty-eight hours. In return, on producing this paper, you receive
twelve thousand francs; that is, as soon as Lord Wellington has
assured himself on my report that you received the paper from me and
did as I requested."
"Two men? This begins to look like business."
"It is business," said I curtly. "To your patriotism I should not
have troubled to appeal a second time."
He warned me to keep a civil tongue in my head; but I knew my man, and
within half-an-hour I rode out of his camp with two of his choicest
ruffians, one beside me and one ahead to guide me through the
Now at Vittoria the road towards Irun and the frontier runs almost due
north for some distance and then bends about in a rough arc towards
the east. Another road runs almost due east from Vittoria to Pamplona.
The first road would certainly be taken by my kinsman and his escort:
Mina's camp lay above the second: but, a little way beyond, at
Alsasua, a third road of about five leagues joins the two, and by this
short cut I was certain of heading off our quarry.
There was no call to hurry. If, as I judged likely, the party meant to
sleep the night at Vittoria, I had almost twenty-four hours in hand.
So we rode warily, on the look-out for French vedettes, and reaching
Beasain a little before two in the morning took up a comfortable
position on the hillside above the junction of the roads.
At dawn we shifted into better shelter—a shepherd's hut, dilapidated
and roofless—and eked out a long day with tobacco and a greasy pack
of cards. A few bullock carts passed along the road below us, the
most of them bound westward, and perhaps half-a-dozen peasants on
mule-back. At about four in the afternoon a French patrol trotted by.
As the evening drew on I began to feel anxious.
A little before sunset I sent off one of my ruffians—Alonso
something-or-other (I forget his magnificent surname)—to scout
along the road. He had been gone half-an-hour when his fellow, Juan
Gallegos, flung down his cards in the dusk—the more readily perhaps
because he held a weak hand—and pricked up his ears.
"Horses!" he whispered, and after a pause nodded confidently. "Three
We picked up our muskets and crept down towards the road. Halfway down
we met Alonso ascending with the news. Yes, there were three horsemen
on this side of Zumarraga and coming at a trot. One of them wore a red
"Be careful, then, how you pick them off. The man in red must not be
hurt; the money depends on that."
They nodded. Night was now falling fast, yet not so fast but that as
the horsemen came up I could distinguish Captain Alan. He was riding
on the left beside the young French officer, the orderly about six
yards behind. As they came abreast of us Juan let fly, and the
orderly's horse pitched forward at once and fell, flinging his man,
who struck the road and lay either stunned or dead. At the noise of
the report the other horses shied violently and separated, thus giving
us our chance without danger to the prisoner. Alonso and I fired
together, and rushed out upon the officer, who groaned in the act of
wheeling upon us. One of the bullets had shattered his sword arm.
Within the minute we had him prisoner, the captain not helping us at
"What is this?" he demanded in Spanish, peering at me out of the dusk
and breaking off to quiet his frightened horse. "What is this, and who
"Well, it looks like a rescue," said I; "and I am your kinsman, Manus
McNeill, and have been at some pains to effect it."
"You!" he peered at me. "I thank you," said he, "but you have done a
bad evening's work. I am on parole, as a man so clever as you might
have guessed by the size of my escort."
"We will talk of that later," I answered, and sent Juan and Alonso off
to examine the fallen trooper. "Meanwhile the man here has fainted.
Oblige me by helping him a little way up the hill, or by leading his
horse while I carry him. The road here is not healthy."
Captain Alan followed in silence while I bore my burden up to the hut.
Having tethered the horses outside, he entered and stood above me
while I lit a lantern and examined the young officer's wound.
"Nothing serious," I announced, "a fracture of the forearm and maybe a
splintered bone. I can fix this up in no time."
"You had better leave it to me and run," my kinsman answered. "This
M. Gérard is an amiable young man and a friend of mine, and I charge
myself to see him safe to Tolosa to-night. What are you doing?"
"Searching for his papers."
"I forbid it."
"Alain mhic Neill," said I, "you are not yet the head of our clan."
And I broke the seal of a letter addressed to the Governor of Bayonne.
"Ah! I thought as much," I added, having glanced over the missive. "It
seems, my dear kinsman, that my knowledge of the Duke of Ragusa goes
a bit deeper than yours. Listen to this: 'The prisoner I send you
herewith is one Captain McNeill, a spy and a dangerous one, who has
done infinite mischief to our arms. I have not executed him on the
spot out of respect to something resembling an uniform which he wears.
But I desire you to place him at once in irons and send him up to
Paris, where he will doubtless suffer as he deserves' …"
Captain Alan took the paper from me and perused it slowly, biting his
upper lip the while. "This is very black treachery," said he.
"It acquits you at any rate."
"Of my parole?" He pondered for a moment; then, "I cannot see that it
does," he said. "If the Duke of Ragusa chooses to break an implied
bond with me it does not follow that I can break an explicit promise
"No? Well, I should have thought it did."
At once my kinsman put on that stiff pedantic tone which had irritated
me at Huerta. "I venture to think," said he, "that no McNeill would
say so unless he had been corrupted by traffic with the Scarlet
"Scarlet grandmother!" I broke out. "You seem to forget that I have
ridden a hundred leagues to effect this rescue, for which, by the way,
Lord Wellington offers twelve thousand francs. I have promised them to
the biggest scoundrel in Spain; but because he happens to be even a
bigger scoundrel than the Duke of Ragusa must I break my bond with him
and let you go to be shot for the sake of your silly punctilio?"
I spoke with heat, and bent over the groaning officer. My kinsman
rubbed his chin. "What you say," he replied, "demands a somewhat
complicated answer, or rather a series of answers. In the first
place, I thank you sincerely for what you have done, and not the less
sincerely because I am going to nullify it. I shall, perhaps, not
cheat myself by believing that a clansman's spirit went some way to
help your zeal"—here I might well have blushed in truth, for it had
not helped my zeal a peseta. "I thank Lord Wellington, too, for the
extravagant price he has set upon my services, and I beg you to convey
my gratitude to him. As for being shot, I might answer that my parole
extends only to the Pyrenees; but I consider myself to have extended
it tacitly to my young friend here, who has treated me with all
possible consideration on the journey; and I shall go to Bayonne."
He spoke quietly and in the most matter-of-fact voice. But I have
often thought since of his words; and often when I call up the figure
of Marmont in exile at Venice, where, as he strode gloomily along the
Riva dei Schiavoni, the very street urchins pointed and cried after
him, "There goes the man who betrayed Napoleon!" I call up and
contrast with it the figure of this humble gentleman of Scotland in
the lonely hut declining simply and without parade to buy his life at
the expense of a scruple of conscience.
"But," he continued, "I fancy I may persuade M. Gérard at least to
delay the delivery of that letter, in which case I see my way at
least to a chance of escape. For the rest, these partidas have been
promised twelve thousand francs for a service which they have duly
rendered. My patrimony is not a rich one, but I can promise that this
sum, whether I escape or not, shall be as duly paid. Hush!" he ended
as I sprang to my feet, and Juan and Alonso appeared in the doorway
supporting the trooper, who had only been stunned after all.
"We did not care to kill him," Juan explained blandly, "until we had
the señor's orders."
"You did rightly," I answered, and glanced at my kinsman. His jaw was
set. I pulled out a couple of gold pieces for each. "An advance on
your earnings," said I. "My orders are that you leave the trooper here
with me, ride back instantly to your chief, report that your work has
been well done and successfully, and the money for which he holds
an order shall be forwarded as soon as I return and report to Lord
Wellington in Beira."
In the course of an eventful life John Penaluna did three very rash
To begin with, at seventeen, he ran away to sea.
He had asked his father's permission. But for fifty years the small
estate had been going from bad to worse. John's grandfather in the
piping days of agriculture had drunk the profits and mortgaged
everything but the furniture. On his death, John's father (who had
enlisted in a line regiment) came home with a broken knee-pan and a
motherless boy, and turned market-gardener in a desperate attempt to
rally the family fortunes. With capital he might have succeeded. But
market-gardening required labour; and he could neither afford to hire
it nor to spare the services of a growing lad who cost nothing but his
keep. So John's request was not granted.
A week later, in the twilight of a May evening, John was digging
potatoes on the slope above the harbour, when he heard—away up the
first bend of the river—the crew of the Hannah Hands brigantine
singing as they weighed anchor. He listened for a minute, stuck his
visgy into the soil slipped on his coat, and trudged down to the
Two years passed without word of him. Then on a blue and sunny day
in October he emerged out of Atlantic fogs upon the Market Strand at
Falmouth: a strapping fellow with a brown and somewhat heavy face,
silver rings in his ears, and a suit of good sea-cloth on his back. He
travelled by van to Truro, and thence by coach to St. Austell. It was
Friday—market day; and in the market he found his father standing
sentry, upright as his lame leg allowed, grasping a specimen
apple-tree in either hand. John stepped up to him, took one of the
apple-trees, and stood sentry beside him. Nothing was said—not a
word until John found himself in the ramshackle market-cart, jogging
homewards. His father held the reins.
"How's things at home?" John asked.
"Much as ever. Hester looks after me."
Hester was John's cousin, the only child of old Penaluna's only
sister, and lately an orphan. John had never seen her.
"If I was you," said he, "I'd have a try with borrowed capital. You
could raise a few hundreds easy. You'll never do anything as you'm
"If I was you," answered his father, "I'd keep my opinions till they
was asked for."
And so John did, for three years; in the course of which it is to
be supposed he forgot them. When the old man died he inherited
everything; including the debts, of course. "He knows what I would
have him do by Hester," said the will. It went on: "Also I will not
be buried in consicrated ground, but at the foot of the dufflin
apple-tree in the waste piece under King's Walk, and the plainer the
better. In the swet of thy face shalt thou eat bread, amen. P.S.—John
knows the tree."
But since by an oversight the will was not read until after the
funeral, this wish could not be carried out. John resolved to attend
to the other all the more scrupulously; and went straight from the
lawyer to the kitchen, where Hester stood by the window scouring a
"Look here," he said, "the old man hasn' left you nothing."
"No?" said Hester. "Well, I didn't expect anything." And she went on
with her scouring.
"But he've a-left a pretty plain hint o' what he wants me to do."
He hesitated, searching the calm profile of her face. Hester's face
was always calm, but her eyes sometimes terrified him. Everyone
allowed she had wonderful eyes, though no two people agreed about
their colour. As a matter of fact their colour was that of the sea,
and varied with the sea. And all her life through they were searching,
unceasingly searching, for she knew not what—something she never had
found, never would find. At times, when talking with you, she would
break off as though words were of no use to her, and her eyes had to
seek your soul on their own account. And in those silences your soul
had to render up the truth to her, though it could never be the truth
she sought. When at length her gaze relaxed and she remembered and
begged pardon (perhaps with a deprecatory laugh), you sighed; but
whether on her account or yours it was impossible to say.
John looked at her awkwardly, and drummed with one foot on the limeash
"He wanted you to marry me," he blurted out. "I—I reckon I've wanted
that, too … oh, yes, for a long time!"
She put both hands behind her—one of them still grasped the
polishing-cloth—came over, and gazed long into his face.
"You mean it," she said at length. "You are a good man. I like you. I
suppose I must."
She turned—still with her hands behind her—walked to the window, and
stood pondering the harbour and the vessels at anchor and the rooks
flying westward. John would have followed and kissed her, but divined
that she wished nothing so little. So he backed towards the door, and
"There's nothing to wait for. 'Twouldn't do to be married from the
same house, I expect. I was thinking—any time that's agreeable—if
you was to lodge across the harbour for awhile, with the
Mayows—Cherry Mayow's a friend of yours—we could put up the banns
and all shipshape."
He found himself outside the door, mopping his forehead.
This was the second rash thing that John Penaluna did.
It was Midsummer Eve, and a Saturday, when Hester knocked at the
Mayows' green door on the Town Quay. The Mayows' house hung over the
tideway, and the Touch-me-not schooner, home that day from Florida
with a cargo of pines, and warped alongside the quay, had her foreyard
braced aslant to avoid knocking a hole in the Mayows' roof.
A Cheap Jack's caravan stood at the edge of the quay. The Cheap Jack
was feasting inside on fried ham rasher among his clocks and mirrors
and pewter ware; and though it wanted an hour of dusk, his assistant
was already lighting the naphtha-lamps when Hester passed.
Steam issued from the Mayows' doorway, which had a board across it
to keep the younger Mayows from straggling. A voice from the steam
invited her to come in. She climbed over the board, groped along the
dusky passage, pushed open a door and looked in on the kitchen, where,
amid clouds of vapour, Mrs. Mayow and her daughter Cherry were washing
the children. Each had a tub and a child in it; and three children,
already washed, skipped around the floor stark naked, one with a long
churchwarden pipe blowing bubbles which the other two pursued. In the
far corner, behind a deal table, sat Mr. Mayow, and patiently tuned a
fiddle—a quite hopeless task in that atmosphere.
"My gracious!" Mrs. Mayow exclaimed, rising from her knees; "if it
isn't Hester already! Amelia, get out and dry yourself while I make a
cup of tea."
Hester took a step forward, but paused at a sound of dismal bumping on
the staircase leading up from the passage.
"That's Elizabeth Ann," said Mrs. Mayow composedly, "or Heber, or
both. We shall know when they get to the bottom. My dear, you must be
perishing for a cup of tea. Oh, it's Elizabeth Ann! Cherry, go and
smack her, and tell her what I'll do if she falls downstairs again.
It's all Matthew Henry's fault." Here she turned on the naked urchin
with the churchwarden pipe. "If he'd only been home to his time—"
"I was listening to Zeke Penhaligon," said Matthew Henry (aged eight).
"He's home to-day in the Touch-me-not."
"He's no good to King nor country," said Mrs. Mayow.
"He was telling me about a man that got swallowed by a whale—"
"Go away with your Jonahses!" sneered one of his sisters.
"It wasn't Jonah. This man's name was Jones—Captain Jones, from
Dundee. A whale swallowed him; but, as it happened, the whale had
swallowed a cask just before, and the cask stuck in its stomach. So
whatever the whale swallowed after that went into the cask, and did
the whale no good. But Captain Jones had plenty to eat till he cut his
way out with a clasp-knife—"
"How could he?"
"That's all you know. Zeke says he did. A whale always turns that way
up when he's dying. So Captain Jones cut his way into daylight, when,
what does he see but a sail, not a mile away! He fell on his knees—"
"How could he, you silly? He'd have slipped."
But at this point Cherry swept the family off to bed. Mrs. Mayow,
putting forth unexpected strength, carried the tubs out to the
back-yard, and poured the soapy water into the harbour. Hester, having
borrowed a touzer,[A] tucked up her sleeves and fell to tidying the
kitchen. Mr. Mayow went on tuning his fiddle. It was against his
principles to work on a Saturday night.
[Footnote A: Tout-serve, apron.]
"Your wife seems very strong," observed Hester, with a shade of
reproach in her voice.
"Strong as a horse," he assented cheerfully. "I call it wonnerful
after what she've a-gone through. 'Twouldn' surprise me, one o' these
days, to hear she'd taken up a tub with the cheeld in it, and heaved
cheeld and all over the quay-door. She's terrible absent in her mind."
Mrs. Mayow came panting back with a kettleful of water, which she set
to boil; and, Cherry now reappearing with the report that all the
children were safe abed, the three women sat around the fire awaiting
their supper, and listening to the voice of the Cheap Jack without.
"We'll step out and have a look at him by-and-by," said Cherry.
"For my part," Mrs. Mayow murmured, with her eyes on the fire, "I
never hear one of those fellers without wishing I had a million of
money. There's so many little shiny pots and pans you could go on
buying for ever and ever, just like Heaven!"
She sighed as she poured the boiling water into the teapot. On
Saturday nights, when the children were packed off, a deep peace
always fell upon Mrs. Mayow, and she sighed until bed-time, building
castles in the air.
Their supper finished, the two girls left her to her musings and
stepped out to see the fun. The naphtha-lamps flared in Hester's face,
and for a minute red wheels danced before her eyes, the din of a gong
battered on her ears, and vision and hearing were indistinguishably
blurred. A plank, like a diving-board, had been run out on trestles in
front of the caravan, and along this the assistant darted forwards and
backwards on a level with the shoulders of the good-humoured crowd,
his arms full of clocks, saucepans, china ornaments, mirrors, feather
brushes, teapots, sham jewellery. Sometimes he made pretence to slip,
recovered himself with a grin on the very point of scattering his
precious armfuls; and always when he did this the crowd laughed
uproariously. And all the while the Cheap Jack shouted or beat his
gong. Hester thought at first there were half-a-dozen Cheap Jacks at
least—he made such a noise, and the mirrors around his glittering
platform flashed forth so many reflections of him. Trade was always
brisk on Saturday night, and he might have kept the auction going
until eleven had he been minded. But he had come to stay for a
fortnight (much to the disgust of credit-giving tradesmen), and
cultivated eccentricity as a part of his charm. In the thickest of the
bidding he suddenly closed his sale.
"I've a weak chest," he roared. "Even to make your fortunes—which is
my constant joy and endeavour, as you know—I mustn't expose it too
much to the night air. Now I've a pianner here, but it's not for sale.
And I've an assistant here—a bit worn, but he's not for sale neither.
I got him for nothing, to start with—from the work'us" (comic protest
here from the assistant, and roars of laughter from the crowd)—"and I
taught him a lot o' things, and among 'em to play the pianner. So as
'tis Midsummer's Eve, and I see some very nice-lookin' young women a
tip-tapping their feet for it, and Mr. Mayow no further away than next
door, and able to play the fiddle to the life—what I say is, ladies
and gentlemen, let's light up a fire and see if, with all their
reading and writing, the young folks have forgot how to dance!"
In the hubbub that followed, Cherry caught Hester by the arm and
"Why I clean forgot 'twas Midsummer Eve! We'll try our fortun's
afterwards. Aw, no need to look puzzled—I'll show 'ee. Here, feyther,
feyther!…" Cherry ran down the passage and returned, haling forth
Mr. Mayow with his fiddle.
And then—as it seemed to Hester, in less than a minute—empty
packing-cases came flying from half-a-dozen doors—from the cooper's,
the grocer's, the ship-chandler's, the china-shop, the fruit-shop, the
"ready-made outfitter's," and the Cheap Jack's caravan; were seized
upon, broken up, the splinters piled in a heap, anointed with naphtha
and ignited almost before Mr. Mayow had time to mount an empty barrel,
tune his "A" string by the piano, and dash into the opening bars of
the Furry Dance. And almost before she knew it, Hester's hands were
caught, and she found herself one of the ring swaying and leaping
round the blaze. Cherry held her left hand and an old waterman her
right. The swing of the crowd carried her off her feet, and she had
to leap with the best. By-and-by, as her feet fell into time with the
measure, she really began to enjoy it all—the music, the rush of the
cool night air against her temples, even the smell of naphtha and the
heat of the flames on her face as the dancers paused now and again,
dashed upon the fire as if to tread it out, and backed until
the strain on their arms grew tense again; and, just as it grew
unbearable, the circular leaping was renewed. Always in these pauses
the same face confronted her across the fire: the face of a young man
in a blue jersey and a peaked cap, a young man with crisp dark hair
and dark eyes, gay and challenging. In her daze it seemed to Hester
that, when they came face to face, he was always on the side of the
bonfire nearest the water; and the moon rose above the farther hill as
they danced, and swam over his shoulder, at each meeting higher and
It was all new to her and strange. The music ceased abruptly, the
dancers unclasped their hands and fell apart, laughing and panting.
And then, while yet she leaned against the Mayows' door-post, the
fiddle broke out again—broke into a polka tune; and there, in front
of her stood the young man in the blue jersey and peaked cap.
He was speaking. She scarcely knew what she answered; but, even while
she wondered, she had taken his arm submissively. And, next, his arm
was about her and she was dancing. She had never danced before; but,
after one or two broken paces, her will surrendered to his, her body
and its movements answered him docilely. She felt that his eyes were
fixed on her forehead, but dared not look up. She saw nothing of the
crowd. Other dancers passed and re-passed like phantoms, neither
jostling nor even touching—so well her partner steered. She grew
giddy; her breath came short and fast. She would have begged for a
rest, but the sense of his mastery weighed on her—held her dumb.
Suddenly he laughed close to her ear, and his breath ruffled her hair.
"You dance fine," he said. "Shall us cross the fire?"
She did not understand. In her giddiness they seemed to be moving in a
wide, empty space among many fires, nor had she an idea which was the
real one. His arm tightened about her.
"Now!" he whispered. With a leap they whirled high and across the
bonfire. Her feet had scarcely touched ground before they were off
again to the music—or would have been; but, to her immense surprise,
her partner had dropped on his knees before her and was clasping her
about the ankles. She heard a shout. The fire had caught the edge of
her skirt and her frock was burning.
It was over in a moment. His arms had stifled, extinguished the flame
before she knew of her danger. Still kneeling, holding her fast, he
looked up, and their eyes met. "Take me back," she murmured, swaying.
He rose, took her arm, and she found herself in the Mayows' doorway
with Cherry at her side. "Get away with you," said Cherry, "and leave
her to me!" And the young man went.
Cherry fell to examining the damaged skirt. "It's clean ruined," she
reported; "but I reckon that don't matter to a bride. John Penaluna'll
not be grudging the outfit. I must say, though—you quiet ones!"
"What have I done?"
"Done? Well, that's good. Only danced across the bonfire with young
Zeke Penhaligon. Why, mother can mind when that was every bit so good
as a marriage before parson and clerk!—and not so long ago neither."
"You go upstairs backwards," said Cherry an hour later. "It don't
matter our going together, only you mustn't speak a word for ever so.
You undress in the dark, and turn each thing inside out as you take
it off. Prayers? Yes, you can say your prayers if you like; but to
yourself, mind. 'Twould be best to say 'em backwards, I reckon; but I
never heard no instructions about prayers."
"Why, then you go to sleep and dream of your sweetheart."
"Oh! is that all?"
"Plenty enough, I should think! I dessay it don't mean much to you;
but it means a lot to me, who han't got a sweetheart yet an' don't
know if ever I shall have one."
So the two girls solemnly mounted the stairs backwards, undressed in
the dark, and crept into bed. But Hester could not sleep. She lay for
an hour quite silent, motionless lest she should awake Cherry, with
eyes wide open, staring at a ray of moonlight on the ceiling, and from
that to the dimity window-curtains and the blind which waved ever so
gently in the night breeze. All the while she was thinking of the
dance; and by-and-by she sighed.
"Bain't you asleep?" asked Cherry.
"Nor I. Can't sleep a wink. It's they children overhead: they 'm up to
some devilment, I know, because Matthew Henry isn't snoring. He always
snores when he's asleep, and it shakes the house. I'll ha' gone to
see, only I was afeard to disturb 'ee. I'll war'n' they 'm up to some
may-games on the roof."
"Let me come with you," said Hester.
They rose. Hester slipped on her dressing-gown, and Cherry an old
macintosh, and they stole up the creaking stairs.
"Oh, you anointed limbs!" exclaimed Cherry, coming to a halt on the
The door of the children's garret stood ajar. On the landing outside a
short ladder led up to a trapdoor in the eaves, and through the open
trapway a broad ray of moonlight streamed upon the staircase.
"That's mother again! Now I know where Amelia got that cold in her
head. I'll war'n' the door hasn't been locked since Tuesday!"
She climbed the ladder, with Hester at her heels. They emerged through
the trap upon a flat roof, where on Mondays Mrs. Mayow spread her
family "wash" to dry in the harbour breezes. Was that a part of the
"wash" now hanging in a row along the parapet?
No; those dusky white objects were the younger members of the Mayow
family leaning over the tideway, each with a stick and line—fishing
for conger Matthew Henry explained, as Cherry took him by the ear; but
Elizabeth Jane declared that, after four nights of it, she, for her
part, limited her hopes to shannies.
Cherry swept them together, and filed them indoors through the trap
in righteous wrath, taking her opportunity to box the ears of each.
"Come'st along, Hester."
Hester was preparing to follow, when she heard a subdued laugh. It
seemed to come from the far side of the parapet, and below her. She
drew her dressing-gown close about her and leaned over.
She looked down upon a stout spar overhanging the tide, and thence
along a vessel's deck, empty, glimmering in the moonlight; upon
mysterious coils of rope; upon the dew-wet roof of a deck-house; upon
a wheel twinkling with brass-work, and behind it a white-painted
taffrail. Her eyes were travelling forward to the bowsprit again,
when, close by the foremast, they were arrested, and she caught her
There, with his naked feet on the bulwarks and one hand against the
house-wall, in the shadow of which he leaned out-board, stood a man.
His other hand grasped a short stick; and with it he was reaching
up to the window above him—her bedroom window. The window, she
remembered, was open at the bottom—an inch or two, no more. The man
slipped the end of his stick under the sash and prised it up quietly.
Next he raised himself on tiptoe, and thrust the stick a foot or so
through the opening; worked it slowly along the window-ledge, and
hesitated; then pulled with a light jerk, as an angler strikes a fish.
And Hester, holding her breath, saw the stick withdrawn, inch by inch;
and at the end of it a garment—her petticoat!
"How dare you!"
The thief whipped himself about, jumped back upon deck, and stood
smiling up at her, with the petticoat in his hand. It was the young
sailor she had danced with.
"How dare you? Oh, I'd be ashamed!"
"Midsummer Eve!" said he, and laughed.
"Give it up at once!" She dared not speak loudly, but felt herself
trembling with wrath.
"That's not likely." He unhitched it from the fish-hook he had spliced
to the end of his stick. "And after the trouble I've taken!"
"I'll call your captain, and he'll make you give it up."
"The old man's sleeping ashore, and won't be down till nine in the
morning. I'm alone here." He stepped to the fore-halliards. "Now I'll
just hoist this up to the topmast head, and you'll see what a pretty
flag it makes in the morning."
He turned his back and began to bend the petticoat on the halliards.
"No, no … please … it's cruel!"
He could hear that she was crying softly; hesitated, and faced round
"There now … if it teases you so. There wasn' no harm meant. You
shall have it back—wait a moment!"
He came forward and clambered out on the bowsprit, and from the
bowsprit to the jib-boom beneath her. She was horribly afraid he would
fall, and broke off her thanks to whisper him to be careful, at which
he laughed. Standing there, and holding by the fore-topmast stay, he
could just reach a hand up to the parapet, and was lifting it, but
"No," said he, "I must have a kiss in exchange."
"Please don't talk like that. I thank you so much. Don't spoil your
"You've spoilt my joke. See, I can hoist myself on the stay here. Bend
over as far as you can, I swear you shall have the petticoat at once,
but I won't give it up without."
"I can't. I shall never think well of you again."
"Oh, yes, you will. Bend lower."
"Don't!" she murmured, but the moonlight, refracted from the water
below, glimmered on her face as she leaned towards him.
"Lower! What queer eyes you've got. Do you know what it means to kiss
over running water?" His lips whispered it close to her ear. And with
that, as she bent, some treacherous pin gave way, and her loosely
knotted hair fell in dark masses across his face. She heard him laugh
as he kissed her in the tangled screen of it.
The next moment she had snatched the bundle and sprung to her feet and
away. But as she passed by the trapdoor and hurriedly retwisted her
hair before descending, she heard him there, beyond the parapet,
Three weeks later she married John Penaluna. They spent their
honeymoon at home, as sober folks did in those days. John could spare
no time for holiday-making. He had entered on his duties as master of
Hall, and set with vigour about improving his inheritance. His first
step was to clear the long cliff-garden, which had been allowed to
drop out of cultivation from the day when he had cast down his mattock
there and run away to sea. It was a mere wilderness now. But he fell
to work like a navvy.
He fought it single-handed. He had no money hire extra labour, and
apparently had lost his old belief in borrowed capital, or perhaps had
grown timid with home-keeping. A single labourer—his father's old
hind—managed the cows and the small farmstead. Hester superintended
the dairy and the housework, with one small servant-maid at her beck
and call. And John tackled the gardens, hiring a boy or two in the
fruit-picking season, or to carry water in times of drought. So they
lived for two years tranquilly. As for happiness—well, happiness
depends on what you expect. It was difficult to know how much John
Penaluna (never a demonstrative man) had expected.
As far as folks could judge, John and Hester were happy enough. Day
after day, from sunrise to sunset, he fought with Nature in his small
wilderness, and slowly won—hewing, digging, terracing, cultivating,
reclaiming plot after plot, and adding it to his conquests. The slope
was sunny but waterless, and within a year Hester could see that his
whole frame stooped with the constant rolling of barrels and carriage
of buckets and waterpots up and down the weary incline. It seemed to
her that the hill thirsted continually; that no sooner was its thirst
slaked than the weeds and brambles took fresh strength and must be
driven back with hook and hoe. A small wooden summer-house stood in
the upper angle of the cliff-garden. John's father had set it there
twenty years before, and given it glazed windows; for it looked down
towards the harbour's mouth and the open sea beyond. Before his death
the brambles grew close about it, and level with the roof, choking the
path to it and the view from it. John had spent the best part of a
fortnight in clearing the ground and opening up the view again. And
here, on warm afternoons when her house work was over, Hester usually
sat with her knitting. She could hear her husband at work on the
terraces below; the sound of his pick and mattock mingled with the
clank of windlasses or the tick-tack of shipwrights' mallets, as she
knitted and watched the smoke of the little town across the water, the
knots of idlers on the quay, the children, like emmets, tumbling
in and out of the Mayows' doorway, the ships passing out to sea or
entering the harbour and coming to their anchorage.
One afternoon in midsummer week John climbed to his wife's
summer-house with a big cabbage-leaf in his hand, and within the
cabbage-leaf a dozen strawberries. (John's strawberries were known by
this time for the finest in the neighbourhood.) He held his offering
in at the open window, and was saying he would step up to the house
for a dish of cream; but stopped short.
"Hullo!" said he; for Hester was staring at him rigidly, as white as a
ghost. "What's wrong, my dear?" He glanced about him, but saw nothing
to account for her pallor—only the scorched hillside, alive with the
noise of grasshoppers, the hot air quivering above the bramble-bushes,
and beyond, a line of sunlight across the harbour's mouth, and a
schooner with slack canvas crawling to anchor on the flood-tide.
"You—you came upon me sudden," she explained.
"Stupid of me!" thought John; and going to the house, fetched not only
a dish of cream but the tea-caddy and a kettle, which they put to
boil outside the summer-house over a fire of dried brambles. The tea
revived Hester and set her tongue going. "'Tis quite a picnic!" said
John, and told himself privately that it was the happiest hour they
had spent together for many a month.
Two evenings later, on his return from St. Austell market, he happened
to let himself in by the door of the walled garden just beneath the
house, and came on a tall young man talking there in the dusk with his
"Why, 'tis Zeke Penhaligon! How d'ee do, my lad? Now, 'tis queer, but
only five minutes a-gone I was talkin' about 'ee with your skipper,
Nummy Tangye, t'other side o' the ferry. He says you'm goin' up for
your mate's certificate, and ought to get it. Very well he spoke of
'ee. Why don't Hester invite you inside? Come'st 'long in to supper,
Zeke followed them in, and this was the first of many visits. John was
one of those naturally friendly souls (there are many in the world)
who never go forth to seek friends, and to whom few friends ever come,
and these by accident. Zeke's talk set his tongue running on his own
brief Wanderjahre. And Hester would sit and listen to the pair with
heightened colour, which made John wonder why, as a rule, she shunned
company—it did her so much good. So it grew to be a settled thing
that whenever the Touch-me-not entered port a knife and fork awaited
Zeke up at Hall, and the oftener he came the pleasanter was John's
Three years passed, and in the summer of the third year Captain Nummy
Tangye, of the Touch-me-not, relinquished his command. Captain
Tangye's baptismal name was Matthias, and Bideford, in Devon, his
native town. But the Touch-me-not, which he had commanded for
thirty-five years, happened to carry for figurehead a wooden
Highlander holding a thistle close to his chest, and against his thigh
a scroll with the motto, Noli Me Tangere, and this being, in popular
belief, an effigy of the captain taken in the prime of life, Mr.
Tangye cheerfully accepted the fiction with its implication of
Scottish descent, and was known at home and in various out-of-the-way
parts of the world as Nolim or Nummy. He even carried about a small
volume of Burns in his pocket; not from any love of poetry, but to
demonstrate, when required, that Scotsmen have their own notions of
Captain Tangye owned a preponderance of shares in the Touch-me-not,
and had no difficulty in getting Zeke (who now held a master's
certificate) appointed to succeed him. The old man hauled ashore to a
cottage with a green door and a brass knocker and a garden high
over the water-side. In this he spent the most of his time with a
glittering brass telescope of uncommon length, and in the intervals of
studying the weather and the shipping, watched John Penaluna at work
across the harbour.
The Touch-me-not made two successful voyages under Zeke's command,
and was home again and discharging beside the Town Quay, when, one
summer's day, as John Penaluna leaned on his pitchfork beside a heap
of weeds arranged for burning he glanced up and saw Captain Tangye
hobbling painfully towards him across the slope. The old man had on
his best blue cut-away coat, and paused now and then to wipe his brow.
"I take this as very friendly," said John.
Captain Tangye grunted. "P'rhaps 'tis, p'rhaps 'tisn'. Better wait a
bit afore you say it."
"Stay and have a bit of dinner with me and the missus."
"Dashed if I do! 'Tis about her I came to tell 'ee."
"Yes?" John, being puzzled, smiled in a meaningless way.
"Zeke's home agen."
"Yes; he was up here two evenin's ago."
"He was here yesterday; he'll be here again to-day. He comes here too
often. I've got a telescope, John Penaluna, and I sees what's goin'
on. What's more, I guess what'll come of it. So I warn 'ee—as a
friend, of course."
John stared down at the polished steel teeth of his pitchfork,
glinting under the noonday sun.
"As a friend, of course," he echoed vaguely, still with the
meaningless smile on his face.
"I b'lieve she means to be a good 'ooman; but she's listenin' to
'en. Now, I've got 'en a ship up to Runcorn. He shan't sail the
Touch-me-not no more. 'Tis a catch for 'en—a nice barquentine, five
hundred tons. If he decides to take the post (and I reckon he will) he
starts to-morrow at latest. Between this an' then there's danger, and
'tis for you to settle how to act."
A long pause followed. The clock across the harbour struck noon, and
this seemed to wake John Penaluna up. "Thank 'ee," he said. "I think
I'll be going in to dinner. I'll—I'll consider of it. You've took me
"Well, so long! I mean it friendly, of course."
"Of course. Better take the lower path; 'tis shorter, an' not so many
stones in it."
John stared after him as he picked his way down the hill; then fell to
rearranging his heaps of dried rubbish in an aimless manner. He had
forgotten the dinner-hour. Something buzzed in his ears. There was no
wind on the slope, no sound in the air. The shipwrights had ceased
their hammering, and the harbour at his feet lay still as a lake. They
were memories, perhaps, that buzzed so swiftly past his ears—trivial
recollections by the hundred, all so little, and yet now immensely
It was Hester, standing at the top of the slope and calling him. He
stuck his pitchfork in the ground, picked up his coat, and went slowly
in to dinner.
Next day, by all usage, he should have travelled in to market: but he
announced at breakfast that he was too busy, and would send Robert,
the hind in his stead. He watched his wife's face as he said it. She
certainly changed colour, and yet she did not seem disappointed. The
look that sprang into those grey eyes of her was more like one of
relief, or, if not of relief, of a sudden hope suddenly snatched at;
but this was absurd, of course. It would not fit in with the situation
At dinner he said: "You'll be up in the summer-house this afternoon? I
shouldn't wonder if Zeke comes to say good-bye. Tangye says he've got
the offer of a new berth, up to Runcorn."
"Yes, I know."
If she wished, or struggled, to say more he did not seem to observe
it, but rose from his chair, stooped and kissed her on the forehead,
and resolutely marched out to his garden. He worked that afternoon in
a small patch which commanded a view of the ferry and also of the road
leading up to Hall: and at half-past three, or a few minutes later,
dropped his spade and strolled down to the edge of his property, a low
cliff overhanging the ferry-slip.
Zeke, as he stepped out of the ferry-boat, looked with some confusion
on his face. He wore his best suit, with a bunch of sweet-william in
"Come to bid us good-bye, I s'pose? We've heard of your luck. Here,
scramble up this way if you can manage, and shake hands on your
Zeke obeyed. The climb seemed to fluster him; but the afternoon was a
hot one, in spite of a light westerly breeze. The two men moved side
by side across the garden-slope, and as they did so John caught sight
of a twinkle of sunshine on Captain Tangye's brass telescope across
They paused beside one of the heaps of rubbish. "This is a fine thing
for you, Zeke."
"Ay, pretty fair."
"I s'pose we sha'n't be seein' much of you now. 'Tis like an end of
old times. I reckoned we'd have a pipe together afore partin'." John
pulled out a stumpy clay and filled it. "Got a match about you?"
Zeke passed him one, and he struck it on his boot. "There, now," he
went on, "I meant to set a light to these here heaps of rubbish this
afternoon, and now I've come out without my matches." He waited for
the sulphur to finish bubbling, and then began to puff.
Zeke handed him half-a-dozen matches.
"I dunno how many 'twill take," said John. "S'pose we go round together
and light up. 'Twont' take us a quarter of an hour, an' we can talk by
Ten minutes later, Captain Tangye, across the harbour, shut his
telescope with an angry snap. The smoke of five-and-twenty bonfires
crawled up the hillside and completely hid John Penaluna's garden—hid
the two figures standing there, hid the little summer-house at the top
of the slope. It was enough to make a man swear, and Captain Tangye
John Penaluna drew a long breath.
"Well, good-bye and bless 'ee, Zeke. Hester's up in the summer-house.
I won't go up with 'ee; my back's too stiff. Go an' make your adoos to
her; she's cleverer than I be, and maybe will tell 'ee what we've both
got in our minds."
This was the third rash thing that John Penaluna did.
He watched Zeke up the hill, till the smoke hid him. Then he picked up
his spade. "Shall I find her, when I step home this evening? Please
And he did. She was there by the supper-table? waiting for him. Her
eyes were red. John pretended to have dropped something, and went back
for a moment to look for it. When he returned, neither spoke.
Years passed—many years. Their life ran on in its old groove.
John toiled from early morning to sunset, as before—and yet not quite
as before. There was a difference, and Captain Tangye would, no doubt,
have perceived it long before had not Death one day come on him in an
east wind and closed his activities with a snap, much as he had so
often closed his telescope.
For a year or two after Zeke's departure, John went on enlarging his
garden-bounds, though more languidly. Then followed four or five years
during which his conquests seemed to stand still. And then little by
little, the brambles and wild growth rallied. Perhaps—who knows?—the
assaulted wilderness had found its Joan of Arc. At any rate, it stood
up to him at length, and pressed in upon him and drove him back. Year
by year, on one excuse or another, an outpost, a foot or two, would
be abandoned and left to be reclaimed by the weeds. They were the
assailants now. And there came a time when they had him at bay, a
beaten man, in a patch of not more than fifty square feet, the centre
of his former domain. "Time, not Corydon," had conquered him.
He was working here one afternoon when a boy came up the lower path
from the ferry, and put a telegram into his hands. He read it over,
thought for a while, and turned to climb the old track towards the
summer-house, but brambles choked it completely, and he had to fetch a
circuit and strike the grass walk at the head of the slope.
He had not entered the summer-house for years, but he found Hester
knitting there as usual; and put the telegram into her hands.
"Zeke is drowned." He paused and added—he could not help it—"You'll
not need to be looking out to sea any more."
Hester made as if to answer him, but rose instead and laid a hand on
his breast. It was a thin hand, and roughened with housework. With the
other she pointed to where the view had lain seaward. He turned. There
was no longer any view. The brambles hid it, and must have hidden it
for many years.
"Then what have you been thinkin' of all these days?"
Her eyes filled; but she managed to say, "Of you, John."
"It's with you as with me. The weeds have us, every side, each in our
corner." He looked at his hands, and with sudden resolution turned and
"Where are you going?"
"To fetch a hook. I'll have that view open again before nightfall, or
my name's not John Penaluna."
CAPTAIN DICK AND CAPTAIN JACKA
A REPORTED TALE OF TWO FRIGATES AND TWO LUGGERS
I dare say you've never heard tell of my wife's grandfather, Captain
John Tackabird—or Cap'n Jacka, as he was always called. He was a
remarkable man altogether, and he died of a seizure in the Waterloo
year; an earnest Methody all his days, and towards the end a highly
respected class-leader. To tell you the truth, he wasn't much to look
at, being bald as a coot and blind of one eye, besides other defects.
His mother let him run too soon, and that made his legs bandy. And
then a bee stung him, and all his hair came off. And his eye he lost
in a little job with the preventive men; but his lid drooped so, you'd
hardly know 'twas missing. He'd a way, too, of talking to himself as
he went along, so that folks reckoned him silly. It was queer how that
maggot stuck in their heads; for in handling a privateer or a Guernsey
cargo—sink the or run it straight—there wasn't his master in
Polperro. The very children could tell 'ee.
I'm telling of the year 'five, when the most of the business in
Polperro—free-trade and privateering—was managed (as the world
knows) by Mr. Zephaniah Job. This Job he came from St. Ann's—by
reason of his having shied some person's child out of a window in
a fit of temper—and opened school at Polperro, where he taught
rule-of-three and mensuration; also navigation, though he only
knew about it on paper. By-and-by he became accountant to all the
free-trade companies and agent for the Guernsey merchants; and at last
blossomed out and opened a bank with 1_l_. and 2_l_. notes, and bigger
ones which he drew on Christopher Smith, Esquire, Alderman of London.
Well, this Job was agent for a company of adventurers called the
"Pride o' the West," and had ordered a new lugger to be built for them
down at Mevagissey. She was called the Unity, 160 tons (that would
be about fifty as they measure now), mounting sixteen carriage guns
and carrying sixty men, nice and comfortable. She was lying on the
ways, ready to launch, and Mr. Job proposed to Cap'n Jacka to sail
over to Mevagissey and have a look at her.
Cap'n Jacka was pleased as Punch, of course. He'd quite made up his
mind he was to command her, seeing that, first and last, in the
old Pride lugger, he had cleared over 40 per cent, for this very
Company. So they sailed over and took thorough stock of the new craft,
and Jacka praised this and suggested that, and carried on quite as if
he'd got captain's orders inside his hat—which was where he usually
carried them. Mr. Job looked sidelong down his nose—he was a leggy
old galliganter, with stiverish grey hair and a jawbone long enough to
make Cap'n Jacka a new pair of shins—and said he, "What do'ee think
"Well," said Jacka, "any fool can see she'll run, and any fool can see
she'll reach. I reckon she'll come about as fast as th' old Pride,
and if she don't sit nigher the wind than the new revenue cutter it'll
be your sailmaker's fault."
"That's a first-class report," said Mr. Job. "I was thinking of
offering you the post of mate in her."
Cap'n Jacka felt poorly all of a sudden. "Aw," he asked, "who's to be
"The Company was thinkin' of young Dick Hewitt."
"Aw," said Cap'n Jacka again, and shut his mouth tight. Young Dick
Hewitt's father had shares in the Company and money to buy votes
"What do'ee think?" asked Mr. Job, still slanting his eye down his
"I'll go home an' take my wife's opinion," said Cap'n Jacka.
So when he got home he told it all to his funny little wife that he
doted on like the apple of his one eye. She was a small, round body,
with beady eyes that made her look like a doll on a pen-wiper; and she
said, of course, that the Company was a parcel of rogues and fools
"Young Dick Hewitt is every bit so good a seaman as I be," said Cap'n
"He's a boaster."
"So he is, but he's a smart seaman for all."
"I declare if the world was to come to an end you'd sit quiet an'
never say a word."
"I dessay I should. I'd leave you to speak up for me."
"Baint'ee goin' to say nothin', then?"
"Iss; I'm goin' to lay it before the Lord."
So down 'pon their knees these old souls went upon the limeash, and
asked for guidance, and Cap'n Jacka, after a while, stretched out
his hand to the shelf for Wesley's Hymns. They always pitched a hymn
together before going to bed. When he'd got the book in his hand he
saw that 'twasn't Wesley at all, but another that he never studied
from the day his wife gave it to him, because it was called the "Only
Hymn Book,"[A] and he said the name was as good as a lie. Hows'ever,
he opened it now, and came slap on the hymn:—
[Footnote A: Probably "Olney."]
Tho' troubles assail and dangers affright,
If foes all should fail and foes all unite,
Yet one thing assures us, whatever betide,
I trust in all dangers the Lord will provide.
They sang it there and then to the tune of "O all that pass by," and
the very next morning Cap'n Jacka walked down and told Mr. Job he was
ready to go for mate under young Dick Hewitt.
More than once, the next week or two, he came near to repenting; for
Cap'n Dick was very loud about his promotion, especially at the Three
Pilchards; and when the Unity came round and was fitting—very slow,
too, by reason of delay with her letters of marque—he ordered Cap'n
Jacka back and forth like a stevedore's dog. "There was to be no 'nigh
enough' on this lugger"—that was the sort of talk; and oil and
rotten-stone for the very gun-swivels. But Jacka knew the fellow, and
even admired the great figure and its loud ways. "He's a cap'n, anyhow,"
he told his wife; "'twon't be 'all fellows to football' while he's in
command. And I've seen him handle the Good Intent, under Hockin."
Mrs. Tackabird said nothing. She was busy making sausages and setting
down a stug of butter for her man's use on the voyage. But he knew she
would be a disappointed woman if he didn't contrive in some honest way
to turn the tables on the Company and their new pet. For days together
he went about whistling "Tho' troubles assail … "; and the very
night before sailing, as they sat quiet, one each side of the hearth,
he made the old woman jump by saying all of a sudden, "Coals o' fire!"
"What d'ee mean by that?" she asked.
"Nothin'. I was thinkin' to myself, and out it popped."
"Well, 'tis like a Providence! For, till you said that, I'd clean
forgot the sifter for your cuddy fire. Mustn't waste cinders now that
you're only a mate."
Being a woman, she couldn't forego that little dig; but she got up
there and then and gave the old boy a kiss.
She wouldn't walk down to the quay, though, next day, to see him off,
being certain (she said) to lose her temper at the sight of Cap'n
Dick carrying on as big as bull's beef, not to mention the sneering
shareholders and their wives. So Cap'n Jacka took his congees at his
own door, and turned, half-way down the street, and waved a good-bye
with the cinder-sifter. She used to say afterwards that this was
The Unity ran straight across until she made Ushant Light; and after
cruising about for a couple of days, in moderate weather (it being the
first week in April) Cap'n Dick laid her head east and began to nose
up Channel, keeping an easy little distance off the French coast. You
see, the Channel was full of our ships and neutrals in those days,
which made fat work for the French privateers; but the Frenchies' own
vessels kept close over on their coast; and even so, the best our boys
could expect, nine times out of ten when they'd crossed over, was to
run against a chasse-marée dodging between Cherbourg and St. Malo or
Morlaix, with naval stores or munitions of war.
However, Cap'n Dick had very good luck. One morning, about three
leagues N.W. of Roscoff, what should he see but a French privateering
craft of about fifty tons (new measurement) with an English trader in
tow—a London brig, with a cargo of all sorts, that had fallen behind
her convoy and been snapped up in mid-channel. Cap'n Dick had the
weather-gauge, as well as the legs of the French chasse-marée. She
was about a league to leeward when the morning lifted and he first
spied her. By seven o'clock he was close, and by eight had made
himself master of her and the prize, with the loss of two men only and
four wounded, the Frenchman being short-handed, by reason of the crew
he'd put into the brig to work her into Morlaix.
This was first-rate business. To begin with, the brig (she was called
the Martha Edwards, of London) would yield a tidy little sum for
salvage. The wind being fair for Plymouth, Cap'n Dick sent her into
that port—her own captain and crew working her, of course, and thirty
Frenchmen on board in irons. And at Plymouth she arrived without any
Then came the chasse-marée. She was called the Bean Pheasant,[A]
an old craft and powerful leaky; but she mounted sixteen guns, the
same as the Unity, and ought to have made a better run from her;
but first, she hadn't been able to make her mind to desert her prize
pretty well within sight of port; and in the second place her men had
a fair job to keep her pumps going. Cap'n Dick considered, and then
turned to old Jacka.
[Footnote A: Probably Bienfaisant.]
"I'm thinking," said he, "I'll have to put you aboard with a prize
crew to work her back to Polperro."
"The Lord will provide," said Jacka, though he had looked to see a
little more of the fun.
So aboard he went with all his belongings, not forgetting his wife's
sausages and the stug of butter and the cinder-sifter. Towards the end
of the action about fifteen of the Johnnies had got out the brig's
large boat and pulled her ashore, where, no doubt, they reached, safe
and sound. So Jacka hadn't more than a dozen prisoners to look after,
and prepared for a comfortable little homeward trip.
"I'll just cruise between this and Jersey," said Cap'n Dick; "and at
the week-end, if there's nothing doing, we'll put back for home and
So they parted; and by half-past ten Cap'n Jacka had laid the Bean
Pheasant's head north-and-by-west, and was reaching along nicely for
home with a stiff breeze and nothing to do but keep the pumps going
and attend to his eating and drinking between whiles.
The prize made a good deal of water, but was a weatherly craft for all
that, and on this point of sailing shipped nothing but what she took
in through her seams; the worst of the mischief being forward, where
her stem had worked a bit loose with age and started the bends. Cap'n
Jacka, however, thought less of the sea—that was working up into a
nasty lop—than of the weather, which turned thick and hazy as the
wind veered a little to west of south. But even this didn't trouble
him much. He had sausages for breakfast and sausages for dinner, and,
as evening drew on, and he knew he was well on the right side of the
Channel, he knocked out his pipe and began to think of sausages for
Just then one of the hands forward dropped pumping, and sang out that
there was a big sail on the starboard bow. "I b'lieve 'tis a frigate,
sir," he said, spying between his hands.
So it was. She had sprung on them out of the thick weather. But now
Cap'n Jacka could see the white line on her and the ports quite plain,
and not two miles away.
"What nation?" he bawled.
"I can't make out as she carries any flag. Losh me! if there bain't
Sure as I'm telling you, another frigate there was, likewise standing
down towards them under easy canvas, on the same starboard tack a mile
astern, but well to windward of the first.
"Whatever they be," said Cap'n Jacka, "they're bound to head us off,
and they're bound to hail us. I go get my tea," he said; "for, if
they're Frenchmen, 'tis my last meal for months to come."
So he fetched out his frying-pan and plenty sausages and fried away
for dear life—with butter too, which was ruinous waste. He shared
round the sausages, two to each man, and kept the Bean Pheasant to
her course until the leading frigate fired a shot across her bows,
and ran up the red-white-and-blue; and then, knowing the worst, he
rounded-to as meek as a lamb.
The long and short of it was that, inside the hour the dozen Frenchmen
were free, and Cap'n Jacka and his men in their place, ironed hand
and foot; and the Bean Pheasant working back to France again with a
young gentleman of the French navy aboard in command of her.
But 'tis better be lucky born, they say, than a rich man's son. By
this time it was blowing pretty well half a gale from sou'-sou'-west,
and before midnight a proper gale. The Bean Pheasant being kept head
to sea, took it smack-and-smack on the breast-bone, which was her
leakiest spot; and soon, being down by the head, made shocking weather
of it. 'Twas next door to impossible to work the pump forward. Towards
one in the morning old Jacka was rolling about up to his waist as he
sat, and trying to comfort himself by singing "Tho' troubles assail,"
when the young French gentleman came running with one of his Johnnies
and knocked the irons off the English boys, and told them to be
brisk and help work the pumps, or the lugger—that was already hove
to—would go down under them.
"But where be you going?" he sings out—or French to that effect. For
Jacka was moving aft towards the cuddy there.
Jacka fetched up his best smuggling French, and answered: "This here
lugger is going down. Any fool can see that, as you're handling her.
And I'm going down on a full stomach."
With that he reached an arm into the cuddy, where he'd stacked his
provisions that evening on top of the frying-pan. But the labouring of
the ship had knocked everything there of a heap, and instead of the
frying-pan he caught hold of his wife's cinder-sifter.
At that moment the Frenchman ran up behind and caught him a kick.
"Come out o' that, you old villain, and fall in at the after pump!"
"Aw, very well," said Jack, turning at once—for the cinder-sifter had
given him a bright idea; and he went right aft to his comrades. By
this time the Frenchmen were busy getting the first gun overboard.
They were so long that Jacka's boys had the after-pump pretty well to
themselves, and between spells one or two ran and fetched buckets,
making out 'twas for extra baling; and all seemed to be working like
niggers. But by-and-by they called out all together with one woeful
voice, "The pump is chucked! The pump is chucked!"
At this all the Frenchmen came running, the young officer leading, and
crying to know what was the matter.
"A heap of cinders got awash, sir," says Jacka. "The pump's clogged
wi' em, and won't work."
"Then we're lost men!" says the officer; and he caught hold by the
foremast, and leaned his face against it like a child.
This was Jacka's chance. "'Lost,' is it? Iss, I reckon you be
lost!—and inside o' ten minutes, unless you hearken to rayson. Here
you be, not twenty mile from the English coast, as I make it, and with
a fair wind. Here you be, three times that distance and more from any
port o' your own, the wind dead on her nose, and you ram-stamming the
weak spot of her at a sea that's knocking the bows to Jericho. Now,
Mossoo, you put her about, and run for Plymouth. She may do it. Pitch
over a couple of guns forr'ad, and quit messing with a ship you don't
understand, an' I'll warn she will do it."
The young Frenchy was plucky as ginger. "What! Take her into Plymouth,
and be made prisoner. I'll sink first!" says he.
But you see, his crew weren't navy men to listen to him; and they had
wives and families, and knew that Cap'n Jacka's was their only chance.
In five minutes, for all the officer's stamping and morblewing they
had the Bean Pheasant about and were running for the English coast.
Now I must go back and tell you what was happening to the Unity in
all this while. About four in the afternoon Cap'n Dick, not liking the
look of the weather at all, and knowing that, so long as it lasted, he
might whistle for prizes, changed his mind and determined to run back
to Polperro, so as to re-ship Cap'n Jacka and the prize crew almost
as soon as they arrived. By five o'clock he was well on his way, the
Unity skipping along quite as if she enjoyed it; and ran before the
gale all that night.
Towards three in the morning the wind moderated, and by half-past four
the gale had blown itself out. Just about then the look-out came to
Cap'n Dick, who had turned in for a spell, and reported two ships'
lights, one on each side of them. The chances against their being
Frenchmen, out here in this part of the Channel, were about five to
two; so Cap'n Dick cracked on; and at daybreak—about a quarter after
five—found himself right slap between the very two frigates that had
called Jacka to halt the evening before.
One was fetching along on the port tack, and the other on the weather
side of him, just making ready to put about. They both ran up the
white ensign at sight of him; but this meant nothing. And in a few
minutes the frigate to starboard fired a shot across his bows and
hoisted her French flag.
Cap'n Dick feigned to take the hint. He shortened sail and rounded at
a nice distance under the lee of the enemy—both frigates now lying-to
quite contentedly with their sails aback, and lowering their boats.
But the first boat had hardly dropped a foot from the davits when
he sung out, "Wurroo, lads!" and up again went the Unity's great
lug-sail in a jiffy. The Frenchmen, like their sails, were all aback;
and before they could fire a gun the Unity was pinching up to
windward of them, with Cap'n Dick at the helm, and all the rest of the
crew flat on their stomachs. Off she went under a rattling shower from
the enemy's bow-chasers and musketry, and was out of range without
a man hurt, and with no more damage than a hole or two in the
mizzen-lug. The Frenchmen were a good ten minutes trimming sails and
bracing their yards for the chase; and by that time Cap'n Dick had
slanted up well on their weather bow. Before breakfast-time he was
shaking his sides at the sight of seven hundred-odd Johnnies vainly
spreading and trimming more canvas to catch up their lee-way (for at
first the lazy dogs had barely unreefed courses after the gale, and
still had their topgallant masts housed). Likely enough they had work
on hand more important than chasing a small lugger all day; for at
seven o'clock they gave up and stood away to the south-east, and left
the Unity free to head back homeward on her old course.
'Twas a surprising feat, to slip out of grasp in this way, and past
two broadsides, any gun of which could have sent him to the bottom;
and Cap'n Dick wasn't one to miss boasting over it. Even during the
chase he couldn't help carrying on in his usual loud and cheeky way,
waving good-bye to the Mossoos, offering them a tow-rope, and the
like; but now the deck wasn't big enough to hold his swagger, and in
their joy of escaping a French prison, the men encouraged him, so that
to hear them talk you'd have thought he was Admiral Nelson and Sir
Sidney Smith rolled into one.
By nine o'clock they made out the Eddystone on their starboard bow;
and a little after—-the morning being bright and clear, with a nice
steady breeze—they saw a sail right ahead of them, making in for
Plymouth Sound. And who should it be but the old Bean Pheasant, deep
as a log! Cap'n Dick cracked along after her, and a picture she was as
he drew up close! Six of her guns had gone; her men were baling in two
gangs, and still she was down a bit by the head, and her stern yawing
like a terrier's tail when his head's in a rabbit-hole. And there at
the tiller stood Cap'n Jacka, his bald head shining like a statue of
fun, and his one eye twinkling with blessed satisfaction as he cocked
it every now and then for a glance over his right shoulder.
"Hullo! What's amiss?" sang out Cap'n Dick, as the Unity fetched
"Aw, nothin', nothin'. 'Tho' troubles assail an' dangers'—Stiddy
there, you old angletwitch!—She's a bit too fond o' smelling the
wind, that's all."
As a matter of fact she'd taken more water than Jacka cared to think
about, now that the danger was over.
"But what brings 'ee here? An' what cheer wi' you?" he asked.
This was Cap'n Dick's chance. "I've had a run between two French
frigates," he boasted, "in broad day, an' given the slip to both!"
"Dear, now!" said Cap'n Jacka. "So have I—in broad day, too. They
must ha' been the very same. What did 'ee take out of 'em?"
"Take! They were two war frigates, I tell 'ee!"
"Iss, iss; don't lose your temper. All I managed to take was this
young French orcifer here; but I thought, maybe, that you—having a
Jacka chuckled a bit; but he wasn't one to keep a joke going for
"Look-y-here, Cap'n," he said; "I'll hear your tale when we get into
dock, and you shall hear mine. What I want 'ee to do just now is to
take this here lugger again and sail along in to Plymouth with her as
your prize. I wants, if possible, to spare the feelin's of this young
gentleman, an' make it look that he was brought in by force. For so he
was, though not in the common way. An' I likes the fellow, too, though
he do kick terrible hard."
* * * * *
They do say that two days later, when Cap'n Jacka walked up to his own
door, he carried the cinder-sifter under his arm; and that, before
ever he kissed his wife, he stepped fore and hitched it on a nail
right in the middle of the wall over the chimney-piece, between John
Wesley and the weather-glass.
THE POISONED ICE
We were four in the patio. And the patio was magnificent, with a
terrace of marble running round its four sides, and in the middle a
fountain splashing in a marble basin. I will not swear to the marble;
for I was a boy of ten at the time, and that is a long while ago.
But I describe as I recollect. It was a magnificent patio, at all
events, and the house was a palace. And who the owner might be, Felipe
perhaps knew. But he was not one to tell, and the rest of us neither
knew nor cared.
The two women lay stretched on the terrace, with their heads close
together and resting against the house wall. And I sat beside them
gnawing a bone. The sun shone over the low eastern wall upon the
fountain and upon Felipe perched upon the rim of the basin, with his
lame leg stuck out straight and his mouth working as he fastened a
nail in the end of his beggar's crutch.
I cannot tell you the hour exactly, but it was early morning, and the
date the twenty-fourth of February, 1671. I learnt this later. We in
the patio did not bother ourselves about the date, for the world had
come to an end, and we were the last four left in it. For three weeks
we had been playing hide-and-seek with the death that had caught and
swallowed everyone else; and for the moment it was quite enough for
the women to sleep, for me to gnaw my bone in the shade, and for
Felipe to fasten the loose nail in his crutch. Many windows opened on
the patio. Through the nearest, by turning my head a little, I could
see into a noble room lined with pictures and heaped with furniture
and torn hangings. All of it was ours, or might be, for the trouble of
stepping inside and taking possession. But the bone (I had killed a
dog for it) was a juicy one, and I felt no inclination to stir. There
was the risk, too, of infection—of the plague.
"Hullo!" cried Felipe, slipping on his shoe, with the heel of which he
had been hammering. "You awake?"
I put Felipe last of us in order, for he was an old fool. Yet I must
say that we owed our lives to him. Why he took so much trouble and
spent so much ingenuity in saving them is not to be guessed: for the
whole city of Panama comprehended no two lives more worthless than old
Doña Teresa's (as we called her) and mine: and as for the Carmelite,
Sister Marta, who had joined our adventures two days before, she, poor
soul, would have thanked him for putting a knife into her and ending
But Felipe, though a fool, had a fine sense of irony. And so for
three weeks Doña Teresa and I—and for forty-eight hours Sister Marta
too—had been lurking and doubling, squatting in cellars crawling on
roofs, breaking cover at night to snatch our food, all under Felipe's
generalship. And he had carried us through. Perhaps he had a soft
corner in his heart for old Teresa. He and she were just of an age,
the two most careless-hearted outcasts in Panama; and knew each
other's peccadilloes to a hair. I went with Teresa. Heaven knows in
what gutter she had first picked me up, but for professional ends I
was her starving grandchild, and now reaped the advantages of that
"How can a gentleman sleep for your thrice-accursed hammering?" was my
answer to Felipe Fill-the-Bag.
"The city is very still this morning," he observed, sniffing the air,
which was laden still with the scent of burnt cedar-wood. "The English
dogs will have turned their backs on us for good. I heard their bugles
at daybreak; since then, nothing."
"These are fair quarters, for a change."
He grinned. "They seem to suit the lady, your grandmother. She has not
groaned for three hours. I infer that her illustrious sciatica is no
longer troubling her."
Our chatter awoke the Carmelite. She opened her eyes, unclasped her
hand, which had been locked round one of the old hag's, and sat up
blinking, with a smile which died away very pitiably.
"Good morning, Señorita," said I.
She bent over Teresa, but suddenly drew back with a little "Ah!" and
stared, holding her breath.
"What is the matter?"
She was on her knees, now; and putting out a hand, touched Teresa's
skinny neck with the tips of two fingers.
"What is the matter?" echoed Felipe, coming forward from the fountain.
"She is dead!" said I, dropping the hand which I had lifted.
"Jesu—" began the Carmelite, and stopped: and we stared at one
another, all three.
With her eyes wide and fastened on mine, Sister Marta felt for the
crucifix and rope of beads which usually hung from her waist. It was
gone: but her hands fumbled for quite a minute before the loss came
home to her brain. And then she removed her face from us and bent
her forehead to the pavement. She made no sound, but I saw her feet
"Come, come," said Felipe, and found no more to say.
I can guess now a little of what was passing through her unhappy mind.
Women are women and understand one another. And Teresa, unclean and
abandoned old hulk though she was, had stood by this girl when she
came to us flying out of the wrack like a lost ship. "Dear, dear,
dear"—I remembered scraps of her talk—"the good Lord is debonair,
and knows all about these things. He isn't like a man, as you might
say": and again, "Why bless you, He's not going to condemn you for a
matter that I could explain in five minutes. 'If it comes to that,' I
should say—and I've often noticed that a real gentleman likes you all
the better for speaking up—'If it comes to that, Lord, why did
You put such bloody-minded pirates into the world?' Now to my
thinking"—and I remember her rolling a leaf of tobacco as she said
it—"it's a great improvement to the mind to have been through the
battle, whether you have won or lost; and that's why, when on earth,
He chose the likes of us for company."
This philosophy was not the sort to convince a religious girl: but I
believe it comforted her. Women are women, as I said; and when the
ship goes down a rotten plank is better than none. So the Carmelite
had dropped asleep last night with her hand locked round Teresa's: and
so it happened to Teresa this morning to be lamented, and sincerely
lamented, by one of the devout. It was almost an edifying end; and the
prospect of it, a few days ago, would have tickled her hugely.
"But what did she die of?" I asked Felipe, when we had in delicacy
withdrawn to the fountain, leaving the Carmelite alone with her grief.
He opened his mouth and pointed a finger at it.
"But only last evening I offered to share my bone with her: and she
told me to keep it for myself."
"Your Excellency does not reason so well as usual," said Felipe,
without a smile on his face. "The illustrious defunct had a great
affection for her grandchild, which caused her to overlook the
ambiguity of the relationship—and other things."
"But do you mean to say—"
"She was a personage of great force of character, and of some virtues
which escaped recognition, being unusual. I pray," said he, lifting
the rim of his rusty hat, "that her soul may find the last peace!
I had the honour to follow her career almost from the beginning. I
remember her even as a damsel of a very rare beauty: but even then as
I say, her virtues were unusual, and less easily detected than her
failings. I, for example, who supposed myself to know her thoroughly,
missed reckoning upon her courage, or I had spent last night in
seeking food. I am a fool and a pig."
"And consequently, while we slept—"
"Excuse me, I have not slept."
"You have been keeping watch?"
"Not for the buccaneers, my Lord. They left before daybreak. But the
dogs of the city are starving, even as we: and like us they have taken
to hunting in company. Now this is a handsome courtyard, but the gate
does not happen to be too secure."
I shivered. Felipe watched me with an amiable grin.
"But let us not," he continued, "speak contemptuously of our
inheritance. It is, after all, a very fair kingdom for three. Captain
Morgan and his men are accomplished scoundrels, but careless:
they have not that eye for trifles which is acquired in our noble
profession, and they have no instinct at all for hiding-places. I
assure you this city yet contains palaces to live in, linen and silver
plate to keep us comfortable. Food is scarce, I grant, but we shall
have wines of the very first quality. We shall live royally. But,
alas! Heaven has exacted more than its tithe of my enjoyment. I had
looked forward to seeing Teresa in a palace of her own. What a queen
she would have made, to be sure!"
"Are we three the only souls in Panama?"
Felipe rubbed his chin. "I think there is one other. But he is a
philosopher, and despises purple and linen. We who value them, within
reason, could desire no better subject." He arose and treated me to
a regal bow. "Shall we inspect our legacy, my brother, and make
arrangements for the coronation?"
"We might pick up something to eat on the way," said I.
Felipe hobbled over to the terrace. "Poor old ——," he muttered,
touching the corpse with his staff, and dwelling on the vile word with
pondering affection. "Señorita," said he aloud, "much grief is not
good on an empty stomach. If Juan here will lift her feet—"
We carried Doña Teresa into the large cool room, and laid her on a
couch. Felipe tore down the silken hangings from one of the windows
and spread them over her to her chin, which he tied up with the yellow
kerchief which had been her only headgear for years. The Carmelite
meanwhile detached two heavy silver sconces from a great candelabrum
and set them by her feet. But we could find no tinder-box to light the
candles—big enough for an altar.
"She will do handsomely until evening," said Felipe, and added under
his breath, "but we must contrive to fasten the gate of the patio."
"I will watch by her," said Sister Marta.
Felipe glanced at us and shook his head. I knew he was thinking of
the dogs. "That would not do at all, Señorita. 'For the living, the
living,' as they say. If we live, we will return this evening and
attend to her; but while my poor head remains clear (and Heaven knows
how long that will be) there is more important work to be done."
"To bury the dead—"
"It is one of the Seven Corporal Acts of Mercy, Señorita, and it won
Raphael to the house of Tobit. But in this instance Raphael shuts
himself up and we must go to him. While Teresa lived, all was well:
but now, with two lives depending on my wits, and my wits not to be
depended on for an hour, it does not suit with my conscience to lose
time in finding you another protector."
"But they—they have gone?"
"The Lutheran dogs have gone, and have taken the city's victuals with
"I do not want to live, my friend."
"Granted: but I do not think that Juanito, here, is quite of your
She considered for a moment. "I will go with you," she said: and we
quitted the patio together.
The gate opened upon a narrow alley, encumbered now with charred beams
and heaps of refuse from a burnt house across the way. The fury of the
pirates had been extravagant, but careless (as Felipe had said). In
their lust of robbing, firing, murdering, they had followed no system;
and so it happened that a few houses, even wealthy ones, stood intact,
like islands, in the general ruin. For the most part, to be sure,
there were houses which hid their comfort behind mean walls. But once
or twice we were fairly staggered by the blind rage which had passed
over a mansion crowded with valuables and wrecked a dozen poor
habitations all around it. The mischief was that from such houses
Felipe, our forager, brought reports of wealth to make the mouth
water, but nothing to stay the stomach. The meat in the larders was
putrid; the bread hard as a stone. We were thankful at last for a few
oranges, on which we snatched a breakfast in an angle of ruined wall
on the north side of the Cathedral, pricking up our ears at the baying
of the dogs as they hunted their food somewhere in the northern
I confess that the empty houses gave me the creeps, staring down at me
with their open windows while I sucked my orange. In the rooms behind
those windows lay dead bodies, no doubt: some mutilated, some swollen
with the plague (for during a fortnight now the plague had been busy);
all lying quiet up there, with the sun staring in on them. Each window
had a meaning in its eye, and was trying to convey it. "If you could
only look through me," one said. "The house is empty—come upstairs
and see." For me that was an uncomfortable meal. Felipe, too, had lost
some of his spirits. The fact is, we had been forced to step aside to
pass more than one body stretched at length or huddled in the roadway,
and—well, I have told you about the dogs.
Between the Cathedral and the quays scarcely a house remained: for the
whole of this side of the city had been built of wood. But beyond this
smoking waste we came to the great stone warehouses by the waterside,
and the barracks where the Genoese traders lodged their slaves. The
shells of these buildings stood, but every one had been gutted and
the roofs of all but two or three had collapsed. We picked our way
circumspectly now, for here had been the buccaneers' headquarters.
But the quays were as desolate as the city. Empty, too, were the long
stables where the horses and mules had used to be kept for conveying
the royal plate from ocean to ocean. Two or three poor beasts lay in
their stalls—slaughtered as unfit for service; the rest, no doubt,
were carrying Morgan's loot on the road to Chagres.
Here, beside the stables, Felipe took a sudden turn to the right and
struck down a lane which seemed to wind back towards the city between
long lines of warehouses. I believe that, had we gone forward another
hundred yards, to the quay's edge, we should have seen or heard enough
to send us along that lane at the double. As it was, we heard nothing,
and saw only the blue bay, the islands shining green under the thin
line of smoke blown on the land breeze—no living creature between
us and them but a few sea-birds. After we had struck into the lane I
turned for another look, and am sure that this was all.
Felipe led the way down the lane for a couple of gunshots; the
Carmelite following like a ghost in her white robes, and I close at
her heels. He halted before a low door on the left; a door of the
most ordinary appearance. It opened by a common latch upon a cobbled
passage running between two warehouses, and so narrow that the walls
almost met high over our heads. At the end of this passage—which was
perhaps forty feet long—we came to a second door, with a grille, and,
hanging beside it, an iron bell-handle, at which Felipe tugged.
The sound of the bell gave me a start, for it seemed to come from just
beneath my feet. Felipe grinned.
"Brother Bartolomé works like a mole. But good wine needs no bush, my
Juanito, as you shall presently own. He takes his own time, though,"
Felipe grumbled, after a minute. "It cannot be that—"
He was about to tug again when somebody pushed back the little shutter
behind the grille, and a pair of eyes (we could see nothing of the
face) gazed out upon us.
"There is no longer need for caution, reverend father," said Felipe,
addressing the grille. "The Lutheran dogs have left the city, and we
have come to taste your cordial and consult with you on a matter of
We heard a bolt slid, and the door opened upon a pale emaciated face
and two eyes which clearly found the very moderate daylight too much
for them. Brother Bartolomé blinked without ceasing, while he shielded
with one hand the thin flame of an earthenware lamp.
"Are you come all on one business?" he asked, his gaze passing from
one to another, and resting at length on the Carmelite.
"When the forest takes fire, all beasts are cousins," said Felipe
sententiously. Without another question the friar turned and led the
way, down a flight of stairs which plunged (for all I could tell) into
the bowels of earth. His lamp flickered on bare walls upon which the
spiders scurried. I counted twenty steps, and still all below us was
dark as a pit; ten more, and I was pulled up with that peculiar and
highly disagreeable jar which everyone remembers who has put forward
a foot expecting a step, and found himself suddenly on the level. The
passage ran straight ahead into darkness: but the friar pushed open a
low door in the left-hand wall, and, stepping aside, ushered us into a
room, or paved cell, lit by a small lamp depending by a chain from the
Shelves lined the cell from floor to roof; chests, benches, and
work-tables occupied two-thirds of the floor-space: and all were
crowded with books, bottles, retorts, phials, and the apparatus of
a laboratory. "Crowded," however, is not the word; for at a second
glance I recognised the beautiful order that reigned. The deal
work-benches had been scoured white as paper; every glass, every metal
pan and basin sparkled and shone in the double light of the lamp and
of a faint beam of day conducted down from the upper world by a kind
of funnel and through a grated window facing the door.
In this queer double light Brother Bartolomé faced us, after
extinguishing the small lamp in his hand.
"You say the pirates have left?"
Felipe nodded. "At daybreak. We in this room are all who remain in
"The citizens will be returning, doubtless, in a day or two. I have
no food for you, if that is what you seek. I finished my last crust
"That is a pity. But we must forage. Meanwhile, reverend father, a
touch of your cordial—"
Brother Bartolomé reached down a bottle from a shelf. It was heavily
sealed and decorated with a large green label bearing a scarlet cross.
Bottles similarly sealed and labelled lined this shelf and a dozen
others. He broke the seal, drew the cork, and fetched three glasses,
each of which he held carefully up to the lamplight. Satisfied of
their cleanliness, he held the first out to the Carmelite. She shook
"It is against the vow."
He grunted and poured out a glassful apiece for Felipe and me. The
first sip brought tears into my eyes: and then suddenly I was filled
with sunshine—golden sunshine—and could feel it running from limb to
limb through every vein in my small body.
Felipe chuckled. "See the lad looking down at his stomach! Button your
jacket, Juanito; the noonday's shining through! Another sip, to the
reverend father's health! His brothers run away—the Abbot himself
runs: but Brother Bartolomé stays. For he labours for the good of man,
and that gives a clear conscience. Behold how just, after all, are
the dispositions of Heaven: how blind are the wicked! For three weeks
those bloody-minded dogs have been grinning and running about the
city: and here under their feet, as in a mine, have lain the two most
precious jewels of all—a clear conscience and a liquor which, upon my
faith, holy father, cannot be believed in under a second glass."
Brother Bartolomé was refilling the glass, when the Carmelite touched
"You have been here—all the while?"
"Has it been so long? I have been at work, you see."
"For the good of man," interrupted Felipe. "Time slips away when one
works for the good of man."
"And all the while you were distilling this?"
"This—and other things."
"Other things to drink?"
"My daughter, had they caught me, they might have tortured me. I might
have held my tongue: but, again, I might not. Under torture one never
knows what will happen. But the secret of the liquor had to die with
me—that is in the vow. So to be on the safe side I made—other
"Father, give me to drink of those other things."
She spoke scarcely above her breath: but her fingers were gripping his
arm. He looked straight into her eyes.
"My poor child!" was all he said, very low and slow.
"I can touch no other sacrament," she pleaded. "Father, have mercy and
give me that one!" She watched his eyes eagerly as they flinched
from hers in pity and dwelt for a moment on a tall chest behind her
shoulder, against the wall to the right of the door. She glanced
round, stepped to the chest, and laid a hand on the lid. "Is it here?"
But he was beside her on the instant; and stooping, locked down the
lid, and drew out the key abruptly.
"Is it here?" she repeated.
"My child, that is an ice-chest. In the liquor, for perfection, the
water used has first to be frozen. That chest contains ice, and
"Nothing else?" she persisted.
But here Felipe broke in. "The Señorita is off her hinges, father.
Much fasting has made her light-headed. And that brings me to my
business. You know my head, too, is not strong: good enough for a
furlong or two, but not for the mile course. Now if you will shelter
these two innocents whilst I forage we shall make a famous household.
You have rooms here in plenty; the best-hidden in Panama. But none
of us can live without food, and with these two to look after I am
hampered. There are the dogs, too. But Felipe knows a trick or two
more than the dogs, and if he do not fill your larder by sunset, may
his left leg be withered like his right!"
Brother Bartolomé considered. "Here are the keys," said he. "Choose
your lodgings and take the boy along with you, for I think the sister
here wishes to talk with me alone."
Felipe took the keys and handed me the small lamp, which I held aloft
as he limped after me along the dark corridor, tapping its flagged
pavement with the nail of his crutch. We passed an iron-studded door
which led, he told me, to the crypt of the chapel; and soon after
mounted a flight of steps and found ourselves before the great folding
doors of the ante-chapel itself, and looked in. Here was daylight
again: actual sunlight, falling through six windows high up in the
southern wall and resting in bright patches on the stall canopies
within. We looked on these bright patches through the interspaces of a
great carved screen: but when I would have pressed into the chapel for
a better view, Felipe took me by the collar.
"Business first," said he, and pointed up the staircase, which mounted
steeply again after its break by the chapel doors. Up we went, and
were saluted again by the smell of burnt cedar-wood wafted through
lancet windows, barred but unglazed, in the outer wall. The inner wall
was blank, of course, being the northern side-wall of the chapel:
but we passed one doorway in it with which I was to make better
acquaintance. And, about twenty steps higher, we reached a long level
corridor and the cells where the brothers slept.
Felipe opened them one by one and asked me to take my choice. All were
empty and bare, and seemed to me pretty much alike.
"We have slept in worse, but that is not the point. Be pleased to
remember, Juanito, that we are kings now: and as kings we are bound to
find the reverend fathers' notions of bedding inadequate. Suppose you
collect us half-a-dozen of these mattresses apiece, while I go on and
I chose three cells for Sister Marta, Felipe, and myself, and set
about dragging beds and furniture from the others to make us really
comfortable. I dare say I spent twenty minutes over this, and, when
all was done, perched myself on a stool before the little window of my
own bed-room, for a look across the city. It was a very little window
indeed, and all I saw was a green patch beyond the northern suburbs,
where the rich merchants' gardens lay spread like offerings before a
broken-down shrine. Those trees no doubt hid trampled lawns and ruined
verandahs: but at such a distance no scar could be seen. The suburbs
looked just as they had always looked in early spring.
I was staring out of window, so, and just beginning to wonder why
Felipe did not return as he had promised, when there came ringing
up the staircase two sharp cries, followed by a long, shrill,
My first thought (I cannot tell you why) was that Felipe must have
tumbled downstairs: and without any second thought I had jumped off my
chair and was flying down to his help, three stairs at a bound, when
another scream and a roar of laughter fetched me up short. The laugh
was not Felipe's; nor could I believe it Brother Bartolomé's. In fact
it was the laugh of no one man, but of several. The truth leapt on me
with a knife, as you might say. The buccaneers had returned.
I told you, a while back, of a small doorway in the inner wall of
the staircase. It was just opposite this door that I found myself
cowering, trying to close my ears against the abhorrent screams which
filled the stairway and the empty corridor above with their echoes. To
crawl out of sight—had you lived through those three weeks in Panama
you would understand why this was the only thought in my head, and why
my knees shook so that I actually crawled on them to the little door,
and finding that it opened easily, crept inside and shut it before
looking about me.
But even in the act of shutting it I grew aware that the screams and
laughter were louder than ever. And a glance around told me that I
was not in a room at all, but in the chapel, or rather in a gallery
overlooking it, and faced with an open balustrade.
As I crouched there on my knees, they could not see me, nor could I
see them; but their laughter and their infernal jabber—for these
buccaneers were the sweepings of half-a-dozen nations—came to my ears
as distinct as though I stood among them. And under the grip of terror
I crawled to the front of the gallery and peered down between its
I told you, to start with, that Felipe was a crazy old fool: and I
dare say you have gathered by this time what shape his craziness took.
He had a mania for imagining himself a great man. For days together he
might be as sane as you or I; and then, all of a sudden—a chance word
would set him off—he had mounted his horse and put on all the airs of
the King of Spain, or his Holiness the Pope, or any grandissimo
you pleased, from the Governor of Panama upwards. I had known that
morning, when he began to prate about our being kings, that the crust
of his common-sense was wearing thin. I suppose that after leaving me
he must have come across the coffers in which the Abbot kept his robes
of state, and that the sight of them started his folly with a twist;
for he lay below me on the marble floor of the chapel, arrayed like
a prince of the Church. The mitre had rolled from his head; but the
folds of a magnificent purple cope, embroidered with golden lilies
and lined with white silk, flowed from his twisted shoulders over the
black and white chequers of the pavement. And he must have dressed
himself with care, too: for beneath the torn hem of the alb his feet
and ankles stirred feebly, and caught my eye: and they were clad in
silken stockings. He was screaming no longer. Only a moan came at
intervals as he lay there, with closed eyes, in the centre of that
ring of devils: and on the outer edge of the ring, guarded, stood
Brother Bartolomé and the Carmelite. Had we forgotten or been too
careless to close the door after us when Brother Bartolomé let us in?
I tried to remember, but could not be sure.
The most of the buccaneers—there were eight of them—spoke no
Spanish: but there was one, a cross-eyed fellow, who acted as
interpreter. And he knelt and held up a bundle of keys which Felipe
wore slung from a girdle round his waist.
"Once more, Master Abbot—will you show us your treasures, or will you
"I tell you," Brother Bartolomé spoke up, very short and distinct,
"there are no treasures. And if there were, that poor wretch could not
show them. He is no Abbot, but a beggar who has lived on charity these
twenty years to my knowledge."
"That tongue of yours, friar, needs looking to. I promise you to cut
it out and examine it when I have done with your reverend father here.
As for the wench at your side—"
"You may do as your cruelty prompts you, Brother Bartolomé
interrupted. But that man is no Abbot."
"He may be Saint Peter himself, and these the keys of Heaven and Hell.
But I and my camarados are going to find out what they open, as sure
as my name is Evan Evans." And he knotted a cord round Felipe's
forehead and began to twist. The Carmelite put her hands over her
eyes and would have fallen: but one of her guards held her up, while
another slipped both arms round her neck from behind and held her
eyelids wide open with finger and thumb. I believe—I hope—that
Felipe was past feeling by this time, as he certainly was past speech.
He did not scream again, and it was only for a little while that he
moaned. But even when the poor fool's head dropped on his shoulder,
and the life went out of him, they did not finish with the corpse
until, in their blasphemous sport, they had hoisted it over the altar
and strapped it there with its arms outstretched and legs dangling.
"Now I think it is your turn," said the scoundrel Evans, turning to
Brother Bartolomé with a grin.
"I regret that we cannot give you long, for we returned from Tavoga
this morning to find Captain Morgan already on the road. It will save
time if you tell us at once what these keys open."
"Certainly I will tell you," said the friar, and stretched out a hand
for the bunch. "This key for instance, is useless: it opens the door
of the wicket by which you entered. This opens the chest which, as a
rule, contains the holy vessels; but it too, is useless, since the
chest is empty of all but the silver chalices and a couple of patens.
Will you send one of your men to prove that I speak truth? This,
again, is the key of my own cell—"
"Where your reverence entertains the pretty nuns who come for
"After that," said Brother Bartolomé, pointing a finger towards
the altar and the poor shape dangling, "you might disdain small
The scoundrel leaned his back against a carved bench-end and nodded
his head slowly. "Master friar, you shall have a hard death."
"Possibly. This, as I was saying, is the key of my cell, where I
decoct the liquor for which this house is famous. Of our present stock
the bulk lies in the cellars, to which this"—and he held up yet
another key—"will admit you. Yes, that is it," as one of the pirates
produced a bottle and held it under his nose.
"Eh? Let me see it." The brute Evans snatched the bottle. "Is this the
stuff?" he demanded, holding it up to the sunlight which streamed
down red on his hand from the robe of a martyr in one of the painted
windows above. He pulled out his heavy knife, and with the back of it
knocked off the bottle-neck.
"I will trouble you to swear to the taste," said he.
"I taste it only when our customers complain. They have not complained
now for two-and-twenty years."
"Nevertheless you will taste it."
"You compel me?"
"Certainly I compel you. I am not going to be poisoned if I can help
it. Drink, I tell you!"
Brother Bartolomé shrugged his shoulders. "It is against the vow …
but, under compulsion … and truly I make it even better than I
used," he wound up, smacking his thin lips as he handed back the
The buccaneer took it, watching his face closely. "Here's death to the
Pope!" said he, and tasted it, then took a gulp. "The devil, but it is
hot!" he exclaimed, the tears springing into his eyes.
"Certainly, if you drink it in that fashion. But why not try it with
"You will find a chestful in my cell. Here is the key; which, by the
way, has no business with this bunch. Felipe, yonder, who was always
light-fingered, must have stolen it from my work-bench."
"Hand it over. One must go to the priests to learn good living. Here,
Jacques le Bec!" He rattled off an order to a long-nosed fellow at his
elbow, who saluted and left the chapel, taking the key.
"We shall need a cup to mix it in," said Brother Bartolomé quietly.
One of the pirates thrust the silver chalices into his hands: for the
bottle had been passed from one man to another, and they were thirsty
for more. Brother Bartolomé took it, and looked at the Carmelite.
For the moment nobody spoke: and a queer feeling came over me in my
hiding. This quiet group of persons in the quiet chapel—it seemed to
me impossible they could mean harm to one another, that in a minute or
two the devil would be loose among them. There was no menace in the
posture of any one of them, and in Brother Bartolomé's there was
certainly no hint of fear. His back was towards me, but the Carmelite
stood facing my gallery, and I looked straight into her eyes as they
rested on the cups, and in them I read anxiety indeed, but not fear.
It was something quite different from fear.
The noise of Jacques le Bec's footstep in the ante-chapel broke this
odd spell of silence. The man Evans uncrossed his legs and took a pace
to meet him. "Here, hand me a couple of bottles. How much will the
"A bottle and a half, or thereabouts: that is, if you allow for the
Jacques carried the bottles in a satchel, and a block of ice in a
wrapper under his left arm. He handed over the satchel, set down the
ice on the pavement and began to unwrap it. At a word from Evans he
fell to breaking it up with the pommel of his sword.
"We must give it a minute or two to melt," Evans added. And again a
silence fell, in which I could hear the lumps of ice tinkling as they
knocked against the silver rims of the chalices.
"The ice is melted. Is it your pleasure that I first taste this also?"
Brother Bartolomé spoke very gravely and deliberately.
"I believe," sneered Evans, "that on these occasions the religious are
the first to partake."
The friar lifted one of the chalices and drank. He held it to his lips
with a hand that did not shake at all; and, having tasted, passed
it on to Evans without a word or a glance. His eyes were on the
Carmelite, who had taken half a step forward with palms held sidewise
to receive the chalice he still held in his right hand. He guided it
to her lips, and his left hand blessed her while she drank. Almost
before she had done, the Frenchman, Jacques le Bec, snatched it.
The Carmelite stood, swaying. Brother Bartolomé watched the cups as
they went full circle.
Jacques le Bec, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, spoke a
word or two rapidly in French.
Brother Bartolomé turned to Evans. "Yes, I go with you. For you, my
child!"—He felt for his crucifix and held it over the Carmelite, who
had dropped on her knees before him. At the same time, with his left
hand, he pointed towards the altar. "For these, the mockery of the
Crucified One which themselves have prepared!"
I saw Evans pull out his knife and leap. I saw him like a man shot,
drop his arm and spin right-about as two screams rang out from the
gallery over his head. It must have been I who screamed: and to me,
now, that is the inexplicable part of it. I cannot remember uttering
the screams: yet I can see Evans as he turned at the sound of them.
Yet it was I who screamed, and who ran for the door and, still
screaming, dashed out upon the staircase. Up the stairs I ran: along
the corridor: and up a second staircase.
The sunshine broke around me. I was on the leads of the roof, and
Panama lay spread at my feet like a trodden garden. I listened: no
footsteps were following. Far away from the westward came the notes
of a bugle—faint, yet clear. In the northern suburbs the dogs were
baying. I listened again. I crept to the parapet of the roof and saw
the stained eastern window of the chapel a few yards below me, saw its
painted saints and martyrs, outlined in lead, dull against the noonday
glow. And from within came no sound at all.
The Story is Told by Dom Bartholomew Perestrello, Governor of the
Island of Porto Santo.
It was on the fifteenth day of August, 1428, and about six o'clock in
the morning, that while taking the air on the seaward side of my house
at Porto Santo, as my custom was after breaking fast, I caught sight
of a pinnace about two leagues distant, and making for the island.
I dare say it is commonly known how I came to the governance of Porto
Santo, to hold it and pass it on to my son Bartholomew; how I sailed
to it in the year 1420 in company with the two honourable captains
John Gonsalvez Zarco and Tristram Vaz; and what the compact was which
we made between us, whereby on reaching Porto Santo these two left me
behind and passed on to discover the greater island of Madeira. And
many can tell with greater or less certainty of our old pilot,
the Spaniard Morales, and how he learned of such an island in his
captivity on the Barbary coast. Of all this you shall hear, and
perhaps more accurately, when I come to my meeting with the
Englishman. But I shall tell first of the island itself, and what were
my hopes of it on the morning when I sighted his pinnace.
In the first warmth of discovering them we never doubted that
these were the Purple Islands of King Juba, the very Garden of the
Hesperides, found anew by us after so many hundreds of years; or that
we had aught to do but sit still in our governments and grow rich
while we feasted. But that was in the year 1420, and the eight years
between had made us more than eight years sadder. In the other island
the great yield of timber had quickly come to an end: for Count Zarco,
returning thither with wife and children in the month of May, 1421,
and purposing to build a city, had set fire to the woods behind the
fennel-fields on the south coast, with intent to clear a way up to the
hills in the centre: and this fire quickly took such hold on the mass
of forest that not ten times the inhabitants could have mastered it.
And so the whole island burned for seven years, at times with a heat
which drove the settlers to their boats. For seven years as surely as
night fell could we in Porto Santo count on the glare of it across the
sea to the south-west, and for seven years the caravels of our prince
and master, Dom Henry, sighted the flame of it on their way southward
to Cape Bojador.
In all this while Count Zarco never lost heart; but, when the timber
began to fail, planted his sugar-canes on the scarcely cooled ashes,
and his young plants of the Malmsey vine—the one sent from Sicily,
the other from Candia, and both by the care of Dom Henry. While he
lives it will never be possible to defeat my friend and old comrade:
and he and I have both lived to see his island made threefold richer
by that visitation which in all men's belief had clean destroyed it.
This planting of vines and sugar-canes began in 1425, the same year
in which the Infante gave me colonists for Porto Santo. But if I had
little of Count Zarco's merit, it is certain I had none of his luck:
for on my small island nothing would thrive but dragon-trees; and we
had cut these in our haste before learning how to propagate them, so
that we had at the same moment overfilled the market with their gum,
or "dragon's blood," and left but a few for a time of better prices.
And, what was far worse, at the suggestion surely of Satan I had
turned three tame rabbits loose upon the island; and from the one doe
were bred in two or three years so many thousands of these pestilent
creatures that when in 1425 we came to plant the vines and canes, not
one green shoot in a million escaped. Thus it happened that by 1428 my
kingdom had become but a barren rock, dependent for its revenues upon
the moss called the orchilla weed of which the darker and better kind
could be gathered only by painful journeys inland.
You may see, therefore, that I had little to comfort me as I paced
before my house that morning. I was Governor of an impoverished rock
on which I had wasted the toil and thought of eight good years of my
prime: my title was hereditary, but I had in those days no son to
inherit it. And when I considered the fortune I had exchanged for
this, and my pleasant days in Dom Henry's service at Sagres, I accused
myself for the most miserable among men.
Now, at the north-western angle of my house, and a little below the
terrace where I walked, there grew a plantation of dragon-trees, one
of the few left upon the island. Each time this sentry-walk of mine
brought me back to the angle I would halt before turning and eye the
trees, sourly pondering on our incredible folly. For, on my first
coming they had grown everywhere, and some with trunks great enough
to make a boat for half a dozen men: but we had cut them down for all
kinds of uses, whenever a man had wanted wood for a shield or a bushel
for his corn, and now they scarce grew fruit enough to fatten the
hogs. It was standing there and eyeing my dragon-trees that over the
tops of them I caught sight of the pinnace plying towards the island.
I remember clearly what manner of day it was; clear and fresh, the
sea scarce heaving, but ruffled under a southerly breeze. The small
vessel, though well enough handled, made a sorry leeway by reason of
her over-tall sides, and lost so much time at every board through the
labour of lowering and rehoisting her great lateen yard that I judged
it would take her three good hours before she came to anchor in the
I could not find that she had any hostile appearance, yet—as my duty
was—sent down word to the guard to challenge her business before
admitting her; and a little before nine o'clock I put on my coat
and walked down to the haven to look after this with my own eyes. I
arrived almost at the moment when she entered and her crew, with sail
partly lowered, rounded her very cleverly up in the wind.
The guard-boat put off at once and boarded her; and by-and-by came
back with word that the pinnace was English (which by this time I had
guessed), by name the George of Bristol, and owned by an Englishman
of quality, who, by reason of his extreme age, desired of my courtesy
that I would come on board and confer with him. This at first I was
unwilling to risk: but seeing her moored well under the five guns of
our fort, and her men so far advanced with the furling of her big sail
that no sudden stroke of treachery could be attempted except to her
destruction, I sent word to the gunners to keep a brisk look-out, and
stepping into the boat was pulled alongside.
At the head of the ladder there met me an aged gentleman, lean and
bald and wrinkled, with narrow eyes and a skin like clear vellum. For
all the heat of the day he wore a furred cloak which reached to his
knees; also a thin gold chain around his neck: and this scrag neck and
the bald head above it stood out from his fur collar as if they had
been a vulture's. By his dress and the embroidered bag at his girdle,
and the clasps of his furred shoes, I made no doubt he was a rich man;
and he leaned on an ebony staff or wand capped with a pretty device of
ivory and gold.
He stood thus, greeting me with as many bobs of the head as a bird
makes when pecking an apple; and at first he poured out a string of
salutations (I suppose) in English, a language with which I have no
familiarity. This he perceived after a moment, and seemed not a little
vexed; but covering himself and turning his back shuffled off to a
door under the poop.
"Martin!" he called in a high broken voice. "Martin!"
A little man of my own country, very yellow and foxy, came running
out, and the pair talked together for a moment before advancing
"Your Excellency," the interpreter began, "this is a gentleman of
England who desires that you will dine with him to-day. His name is
Master Thomas d'Arfet, and he has some questions to put to you, of
your country, in private."
"D'Arfet?" I mused: and as my brows went up at the name I caught the
old gentleman watching me with an eye which was sharp enough within
its dulled rim. "Will you answer that I am at his service, but on the
one condition that he comes ashore and dines with me."
When this was reported at first Master d'Arfet would have none of it,
but rapped his staff on the desk and raised a score of objections in
his scolding voice. Since I could understand none of them, I added
very firmly that it was my rule; that he could be carried up to my
house on a litter without an ache of his bones; and, in short, that I
must either have his promise or leave the ship.
He would have persisted, I doubt not; but it is ill disputing through
an interpreter, and he ended by giving way with a very poor grace. So
ashore we rowed him with the man Martin, and two of my guard conveyed
him up the hill in a litter, on which he sat for all the world like a
peevish cross'd child. In my great airy dining-room he seemed to cool
down and pick up his better humour by degrees. He spoke but little
during the meal, and that little was mainly addressed to Martin, who
stood behind his chair: but I saw his eyes travelling around the
panelled walls and studying the portraits, the furniture, the neat
table, the many comforts which it clearly astonished him to find on
this forsaken island. Also he as clearly approved of the food and of
my wine of Malmsey. Now and then he would steal a look at my wife
Beatrix, or at one or the other of my three daughters, and again gaze
out at the sea beyond the open window, as though trying to piece it
all together into one picture.
But it was not until the womenfolk had risen and retired that he
unlocked his thoughts to me. And I hold even now that his first
question was a curious one.
"Dom Bartholomew Perestrello, are you a happy man?"
Had it come from his own lips it might have found me better prepared:
but popped at me through the mouth of an interpreter, a servant who
(for all his face told) might have been handing it on a dish, his
question threw me out of my bearings.
"Well, Sir," I found myself answering, "I hope you see that I have
much to thank God for." And while this was being reported to him I
recalled with a twinge my dejected thoughts of the morning. "I have
made many mistakes," I began again.
But without seeming to hear, Master d'Arfet began to dictate to
Martin, who, after a polite pause to give me time to finish if I cared
to, translated in his turn.
"I have told you my name. It is Thomas d'Arfet, and I come from
Bristol. You have heard my name before?"
I nodded, keeping my eyes on his.
"I also have heard of you, and of the two captains in whose company
you discovered these islands."
I nodded again. "Their names," said I, "are John Gonsalvez Zarco
and Tristram Vaz. You may visit them, if you please, on the greater
island, which they govern between them."
He bent his head. "The fame of your discovery, Sir, reached England
some years ago. I heard at the time, and paid it just so much heed as
one does pay to the like news—just so much and no more. The manner
of your discovery of the greater island came to my ears less than a
twelvemonth ago, and then but in rumours and broken hints. Yet here
am I, close on my eightieth year, voyaging more than half across the
world to put those broken hints together and resolve my doubts.
Tell me"—he leaned forward over the table, peering eagerly into my
eyes—"there was a tale concerning the island—concerning a former
"Yes," said I, as he broke off, his eyes still searching mine, "there
was a tale concerning the island."
"Brought to you by a Spanish pilot, who had picked it up on the
"You have heard correctly," said I. "The pilot's name was Morales."
"Well, it is to hear that tale that I have travelled across the world
to visit you."
"Ah, but forgive me, Sir!" I poured out another glassful of wine, drew
up my chair, rested both elbows on the table, and looked at him over
my folded hands. "You must first satisfy me what reason you have for
"My name is Thomas d'Arfet," he said.
"I do not forget it: but maybe I should rather have said—What aim you
have in asking. I ought first to know that, methinks."
In his impatience he would have leapt from his chair had his old limbs
allowed. Pressing the table with white finger-tips, he sputtered some
angry words of English, and then fell back on the interpreter Martin,
who from first to last wore a countenance fixed like a mask.
"Mother of Heaven, Sir! You see me here, a man of eighty, broken of
wind and limb, palsied, with one foot in the grave: you know what it
costs to fit out and victual a ship for a voyage: you know as well as
any man, and far better than I, the perils of these infernal seas. I
brave those perils, undergo those charges, drag my old limbs these
thousands of miles from the vault where they are due to rest—and you
ask me if I have any reason for coming!"
"Not at all," I answered. "I perceive rather that you must have an
extraordinarily strong reason—a reason or a purpose clean beyond my
power of guessing. And that is just why I wish to hear it."
"Men of my age—" he began, but I stopped Martin's translation midway.
"Men of your age, Sir, do not threaten the peace of such islands as
these. Men of your age do not commonly nurse dangerous schemes. All
that I can well believe. Men of your age, as you say, do not chase a
wild goose so far from their chimney-side. But men of your age are
also wise enough to know that governors of colonies—ay," for my words
were being interpreted to him a dozen at a time and I saw the sneer
grow on his face, "even of so poor a colony as this—do not give up
even a small secret to the very first questioner."
"But the secret is one no longer. Even in England I had word of it."
"And your presence here," said I, "is proof enough that you learned
less than you wanted."
He drew his brows together over his narrow eyes. I think what first
set me against the man was the look of those eyes, at once malevolent
and petty. You may see the like in any man completely ungenerous. Also
the bald skin upon his skull was drawn extremely tight, while the
flesh dropped in folds about his neck and under his lean chaps, and
the longer I pondered this the more distasteful I found him.
"You forget, Sir," said he—and while Martin translated he still
seemed to chew the words—"the story is not known to you only. I can
yet seek out the pilot himself."
"Morales? He is dead these three years."
"Your friends, then, upon the greater island. Failing them, I can yet
put back to Lagos and appeal to the Infante himself—for doubtless he
knows. Time is nothing to me now." He sat his chin obstinately, and
then, not without nobility, pushed his glass from him and stood up.
"Sir," said he, "I began by asking if you were a happy man. I am a
most unhappy one, and (I will confess) the unhappier since you have
made it clear that you cannot or will not understand me. In my youth
a great wrong was done me. You know my name, and you guess what
that wrong was: but you ask yourself, 'Is it possible this old man
remembers, after sixty years?' Sir, it is possible, nay, certain;
because I have never for an hour forgotten. You tell yourself, 'It
cannot be this only: there must be something behind.' There is nothing
behind; nothing. I am the Thomas d'Arfet whose wife betrayed him just
sixty years ago; that, and no more. I come on no State errand, I!
I have no son, no daughter; I never, to my knowledge, possessed a
friend. I trusted a woman, and she poisoned the world for me. I
acknowledge in return a duty to no man but myself; I have voyaged thus
far out of that duty. You, Sir, have thought it fitter to baffle than
to aid me—well and good. But by the Christ above us I will follow
that duty out; and, at the worst, death, when it comes, shall find me
He spoke this with a passion of voice which I admired before his
man began to interpret: and even when I heard it repeated in level
Portuguese, and had time to digest it and extract its monstrous
selfishness, I could look at him with compassion, almost with respect.
His cheeks had lost their flush almost as rapidly as they had taken it
on, and he stood awkwardly pulling at his long bony fingers until the
"Be seated, Sir," said I. "It is clear to me that I must be a far
happier man than I considered myself only this morning, since I find
nothing in myself which, under any usage of God, could drive me on
such a pursuit as yours would seem to be. I may perhaps, without
hypocrisy, thank God that I cannot understand you. But this, at
any rate, is clear—that you seek only a private satisfaction: and
although I cannot tell you the story here and now, something I will
promise. As soon as you please I will sail with you to the greater
island, and we will call together on Count Zarco. In his keeping lies
one of the two copies of Morales' story as we took it down from his
lips at Sagres, or, rather, compiled it after much questioning. It
shall be for the Count to produce or withhold it, as he may decide.
He is a just man, and neither one way nor the other will I attempt to
Master d'Arfet considered for a while. Then said he, "I thank you: but
will you sail with me in my pinnace or in your own?"
"In my own," said I, "as I suspect you will choose to go in yours.
I promise we shall outsail you; but I promise also to await your
arriving, and give the Count his free choice. If you knew him," I
added, "you would know such a promise to be superfluous."
My own pinnace arrived in sight of Funchal two mornings later, and a
little after sunrise. We had outsailed the Englishman, as I promised,
and lay off-and-on for more than two hours before he came up with us.
I knew that Count Zarco would be sitting at this time in the sunshine
before his house and above the fennel plain, hearing complaints and
administering justice: I knew, moreover, that he would recognise my
pinnace at once: and from time to time I laughed to myself to think
how this behaviour of ours must be puzzling my old friend.
Therefore I was not surprised to find him already arrived at the
quay when we landed; with a groom at a little distance holding his
magnificent black stallion. For I must tell you that my friend was
ever, and is to this day, a big man in all his ways—big of stature,
big of voice, big of heart, and big to lordliness in his notions of
becoming display. None but Zarco would have chosen for his title,
"Count of the Chamber of the Wolves," deriving it from a cave where
his men had started a herd of sea-calves on his first landing and
taking seizin of the island. And the black stallion he rode when
another would have been content with a mule; and the spray of fennel
in his hat; and the ribbon, without which he never appeared among his
dependents; were all a part of his large nature, which was guileless
and simple withal as any child's.
Now, for all my dislike, I had found the old Englishman a person
of some dignity and command: but it was wonderful how, in Zarco's
presence, he shrank to a withered creature, a mere applejack without
juice or savour. The man (I could see) was eager to get to business
at once, and could well have done without the ceremony of which Zarco
would not omit the smallest trifle. After the first salutations came
the formal escort to the Governor's house; and after that a meal which
lasted us two hours; and then the Count must have us visit his new
sugar-mills and inspect the Candia vines freshly pegged out, and
discuss them. On all manner of trifles he would invite Master
d'Arfet's opinion: but to show any curiosity or to allow his guests to
satisfy any, did not belong to his part of host—a part he played
with a thoroughness which diverted me while it drove the Englishman
But late in the afternoon, and after we had worked our way through a
second prodigious meal, I had compassion on the poor man, and taking
(as we say) the bull by both horns, announced the business which had
brought us. At once Zarco became grave.
"My dear Bartholomew," said he, "you did right, of course, to bring
Master d'Arfet to me. But why did you show any hesitation?" Before I
could answer he went on: "Clearly, as the lady's husband, he has a
right to know what he seeks. She left him: but her act cannot annul
any rights of his which the Holy Church gave him, and of which, until
he dies, only the Holy Church can deprive him. He shall see Morales'
statement as we took it down in writing: but he should have the story
from the beginning: and since it is a long one, will you begin and
tell so much as you know?"
"If it please you," said I, and this being conveyed to Master d'Arfet,
while Zarco sent a servant with his keys for the roll of parchment, we
drew up our chairs to the table, and I began.
"It was in September, 1419," said I, "when the two captains, John
Gonsalvez Zarco and Tristram Vaz, returned to Lagos from their first
adventure in these seas. I was an equerry of our master, the Infante
Henry, at that time, and busy with him in rebuilding and enlarging the
old arsenal on the neck of Cape Sagres; whence, by his wisdom, so many
expeditions have been sent forth since to magnify God and increase the
knowledge of mankind.
"We had built already the chapel and the library, with its map-room,
and the Prince and I were busy there together on the plans for his
observatory in the late afternoon when the caravels were sighted: and
the news being brought, his Highness left me at work while he rode
down to the port to receive his captains. I was still working by
lamplight in the map-room when he returned, bringing them and a third
man, the old Spaniard Morales.
"Seating himself at the table, he bade me leave my plans, draw my
chair over, and take notes in writing of the captains' report. Zarco
told the story—he being first in command, and Tristram Vaz a silent
man, then and always: and save for a question here and there, the
Prince listened without comment, deferring to examine it until the
whole had been related.
"Now, in one way, the expedition had failed, for the caravels had been
sent to explore the African coast beyond Cape Bojador, and as far
south as might be; whereas they had scarcely put to sea before a
tempest drove them to the westward, and far from any coast at all.
Indeed, they had no hope left, nor any expectation but to founder,
when they sighted the island; and so came by God's blessing to the
harbour which, in their joy, they named Porto Santo. There, finding
their caravels strained beyond their means to repair for a long
voyage, and deeming that this discovery well outweighed their first
purpose, they stayed but a sufficient time to explore the island, and
so put back for Lagos. But their good fortune was not yet at an end:
for off the Barbary coasts they fell in with and captured a Spaniard
containing much merchandise and two score of poor souls ransomed out
of captivity with the Barbary corsairs. 'And among them,' said my
friend Gonsalvez, 'your Highness will find this one old man, if I
mistake not, to be worth the charges of two such expeditions as ours.'
"Upon this we all turned our eyes upon the Spaniard, who had been
shrinking back as if to avoid the lamplight. He must have been a
tall, up-standing man in his prime; but now, as Tristram Vaz drew him
forward, his knees bowed as if he cringed for some punishment. 'Twas
a shock, this fawning carriage of a figure so venerable: but when
Tristram Vaz drew off the decent doublet he wore and displayed his
back, we wondered no longer. Zarco pushed him into a chair and held
a lamp while the Prince examined the man's right foot, where an
ankle-ring had bitten it so that to his death (although it scarcely
hindered his walking) the very bone showed itself naked between the
healed edges of the wound.
"Moreover, when Zarco persuaded him to talk in Spanish it was some
while before we could understand more than a word or two here and
there. The man had spent close upon thirty years in captivity, and his
native speech had all but dried up within him. Also he had no longer
any thought of difference between his own country and another: it was
enough to be among Christians again: nor could we for awhile disengage
that which was of moment from the rambling nonsense with which he
wrapped it about. He, poor man! was concerned chiefly with his
own sufferings, while we were listening for our advantage: yet as
Christians we forbore while he muttered on, and when a word or two
fell from him which might be of service, we recalled him to them (I
believe) as gently as we could.
"Well, the chaff being sifted away, the grain came to this: His name
was Morales, his birthplace Cadiz, his calling that of pilot: he had
fallen (as I have said) into the hands of the Moors about thirty years
before: and at Azamor, or a little inland, he had made acquaintance
with a fellow-prisoner, an Englishman, by name Roger Prince, or
Prance. This man had spent the best part of his life in captivity, and
at one time had changed his faith to get better usage: but his first
master dying at a great age, he passed to another, who cruelly
ill-treated him, and under whose abominable punishments he quickly
sank. He lay, indeed, at the point of death when Morales happened upon
him. Upon some small act of kindness such as one slave may do for
another, the two had made friends: and thus Morales came to hear the
poor Englishman's story."
Here I broke off and nodded to the Count, who called for a lamp. And
so for a few minutes we all sat without speech in the twilight, the
room silent save for the cracking of Master d'Arfet's knuckles. When
at length the lamp arrived, Zarco trimmed it carefully, unfolded his
parchment, spread it on the table, and began to read very deliberately
in his rolling voice, pausing and looking up between the sentences
while the man Martin translated—
"This is the statement made to me by Roger Prance, the Englishman,
Anno MCCCCIX., at various times in the month before he died.
"He said: My name is Roger Prance. I come from St. Lawrence on the
River Jo,[A] in England. From a boy I followed the sea in the ships
of Master Canynge,[B] of Bristol, sailing always from that port with
cargoes of wool, and mostly to the Baltic, where we filled with
stock-fish: but once we went south to your own city of Cadiz, and
returned with wines and a little spice purchased of a Levantine
merchant in the port. My last three voyages were taken in the Mary
Radclyf or Redcliffe. One afternoon" [the year he could not
remember, but it may have been 1373 or 1374] "I was idle on the Quay
near Vyell's tower, when there comes to me Gervase Hankock, master,
and draws me aside, and says he: 'The vessel will be ready sooner than
you think,' and named the time—to wit, by the night next following.
Now I, knowing that she had yet not any cargo on board, thought him
out of his mind: but said he, 'It is a secret business, and double pay
for you if you are ready and hold your tongue between this and then.'
[Footnote A: Wick St. Lawrence on the Yeo, in Somerset.]
[Footnote B: Grandfather of the famous merchant, William Canynge.]
"So at the time he named I was ready with the most of our old crew,
and all wondering; with the ship but half ballasted as she came from
the Baltic and her rigging not seen to, but moored down between the
marshes at the opening of the River Avon.
"At ten o'clock then comes a whistle from the shore, and anon in a
shore-boat our master with a young man and woman well wrapped, and
presently cuts the light hawser we rode by; and so we dropped down
upon the tide and were out to sea by morning.
"All this time we knew nothing of our two passengers; nor until we
were past the Land's End did they come on deck. But when they did, it
was hand in hand and as lovers; the man a mere youngster, straight,
and gentle in feature and dress, but she the loveliest lady your
eyes ever looked upon. One of our company, Will Tamblyn, knew her at
once—as who would not that had once seen her?—and he cried out with
an oath that she was Mistress d'Arfet, but newly married to a rich
man a little to the north of Bristol. Afterwards, when Master Gervase
found that we knew so much, he made no difficulty to tell us more; as
that the name of her lover was Robert Machin or Macham, a youth of
good family, and that she it was who had hired the ship, being an
heiress in her own right.
"We held southward after clearing the land; with intent, as I suppose,
to make one of the Breton ports. But about six leagues from the French
coast a tempest overtook us from the north-east and drove us beyond
Channel, and lasted with fury for twelve days, all of which time we
ran before it, until on the fourteenth day we sighted land where never
we looked to find any, and came to a large island, thickly wooded,
with high mountains in the midst of it.
"Coasting this island we soon arrived off a pretty deep bay, lined
with cedar-trees: and here Master Machin had the boat lowered and bore
his mistress to land: for the voyage had crazed her, and plainly her
time for this world was not long. Six of us went with them in the
boat, the rest staying by the ship, which was anchored not a mile from
shore. There we made for the poor lady a couch of cedar-boughs with a
spare sail for awning, and her lover sat beside her for two nights and
a day, holding of her hand and talking with her, and wiping her lips
or holding the cup to them when she moaned in her thirst. But at dawn
of the second day she died.
"Then we, who slept on the beach at a little distance, being waked by
his terrible cry, looked up and supposed he had called out for the
loss of the ship. Because the traitors on board of her, considering
how that they had the lady's wealth, had weighed or slipped anchor in
the night (for certainly there was not wind enough to drag by), and
now the ship was nowhere in sight. But when we came to Master Machin
he took no account of our news: only he sat like a statue and stared
at the sea, and then at his dead lady, and 'Well,' he said; 'is she
gone?' We knew not whether he meant the lady or the ship: nor would he
taste any food though we offered it, but turned his face away.
"So that evening we buried the body, and five days later we buried
Master Machin beside her, with a wooden cross at their heads. Then,
not willing to perish on the island, we caught and killed four of the
sheep which ran wild thereon, and having stored the boat with their
flesh (and it was bitter to taste), and launched it, steered, as well
as we could contrive, due east. And so on the eleventh day we were
cast on the coast near to Mogador: but two had died on the way. Here
(for we were starving and could offer no fight) some Moors took us,
and carrying us into the town, sold us into that slavery in which I
have passed all my miserable life since. What became of the Mary
Radclyf I have never heard: nor of the three who came ashore with me
have I had tidings since the day we were sold."
Here Zarco came to the end of his reading: and facing again on Master
d'Arfet (who sat pulling his fingers while his mouth worked as if he
chewed something) I took up the tale.
"All this, Sir, by little and little the pilot Morales told us, there
in the Prince's map-room: and you may be sure we kept it to ourselves.
But the next spring our royal master must fit out two caravels to
colonise Porto Santo; with corn and honey on board, and sugar-canes
and vines and (that ever I should say it!) rabbits. Gonsalvez was
leader, of course, with Tristram Vaz: and to my great joy the Prince
appointed me third in command.
"We sailed from Lagos in June and reached Porto Santo without mishap.
Here Gonsalvez found all well with the colonists he had left behind on
his former visit. But of one thing they were as eager to tell as of
their prosperity: and we had not arrived many hours before they led us
to the top of the island and pointed to a dark line of cloud (as it
seemed) lying low in the south-west. They had kept watch on this (they
said) day by day, until they had made certain it could not be a cloud,
for it never altered its shape. While we gazed at it I heard the
pilot's voice say suddenly at my shoulder, 'That will be the island,
Captain—the Englishman's island!' and I turned and saw that he was
trembling. But Gonsalvez, who had been musing, looked up at him
sharply. 'All my life' said he, 'I have been sailing the seas, yet
never saw landfall like yonder. That which we look upon is cloud and
not land.' 'But who,' I asked, 'ever saw a fixed cloud?' 'Marry, I for
one,' he answered, 'and every seaman who has sailed beside Sicily! But
say nothing to the men; for if they believe a volcano lies yonder we
shall hardly get them to cross.' 'Yet,' said Morales, 'by your leave,
Captain, that is no volcano, but such a cloud as might well rest over
the thick moist woodlands of which the Englishman told me.' 'Well,
that we shall discover by God's grace,' Gonsalvez made answer. 'You
will cross thither?' I asked. 'Why to be sure,' said he cheerfully,
with a look at Tristram Vaz; and Tristram Vaz nodded, saying nothing.
"Yet he had no easy business with his sailors, who had quickly made up
their own minds about this cloud and that it hung over a pit of fire.
One or two had heard tell of Cipango, and allowed this might be that
lost wandering land. 'But how can we tell what perils await us there?'
'Marry, by going and finding out,' growled Tristram Vaz, and this was
all the opinion he uttered. As for Morales, they would have it he was
a Castilian, a foreigner, and only too eager to injure us Portuguese.
"But Gonsalvez had enough courage for all: and on the ninth morning he
and Tristram set sail, with their crews as near mutiny as might be.
Me they left to rule Porto Santo. 'And if we never come back,' said
Gonsalvez, 'you will tell the Prince that something lies yonder
which we would have found, but our men murdered us on the way—'"
"My dear brother Bartholomew," Gonsalvez broke in, "you are wearying
Master d'Arfet, who has no wish to hear about me." And taking up the
tale he went on: "We sailed, Sir, after six hours into as thick a fog
as I have met even on these seas, and anon into a noise of breakers
which seemed to be all about us. So I prayed to the Mother of Heaven
and kept the lead busy, and always found deep water: and more by God's
guidance than our management we missed the Desertas, where a tall bare
rock sprang out of the fog so close on our larboard quarter that the
men cried out it was a giant in black armour rising out of the waves.
So we left it and the noises behind, and by-and-by I shifted the helm
and steered towards the east of the bank, which seemed to me not so
thick thereabouts: and so the fog rolled up and we saw red cliffs and
a low black cape, which I named the Cape of St. Lawrence. And beyond
this, where all appeared to be marshland, we came to a forest shore
with trees growing to the water's edge and filling the chasms between
the cliffs. We were now creeping along the south of the island, and in
clearer weather, but saw no good landing until Morales shouted aft to
me that we were opening the Gulf of Cedars. Now I, perceiving some
recess in the cliffs which seemed likely to give a fair landing, let
him have his way: for albeit we could never win it out of him in
words, I knew that the Englishman must have given him some particular
description of the place, from the confidence he had always used in
speaking of it. So now we had cast anchor, and were well on our way
shoreward in the boat before I could be certain what manner of trees
clothed this Gulf: but Morales never showed doubt or hesitancy; and
being landed, led us straight up the beach and above the tide-mark to
the foot of a low cliff, where was a small pebbled mound and a plain
cross of wood. And kneeling beside them I prayed for the souls' rest
of that lamentable pair, and so took seizin of the island in the names
of our King John, Prince Henry, and the Order of Christ. That, Sir, is
the story, and I will not weary you by telling how we embarked again
and came to this plain which lies at our feet. So much as I believe
will concern you you have heard: and the grave you shall look upon
Master d'Arfet had left off cracking his joints, and for a while after
the end of the story sat drumming with his finger-tips on the table.
At length he looked up, and says he—
"I may suppose, Count Zarco, that as governor of this island you have
power to allot and sell estates upon it on behalf of the King of
"Why, yes," answered Gonsalvez; "any new settler in Funchal must make
his purchase through me: the northern province of Machico I leave to
"I speak of your southern province, and indeed of its foreshore, the
possession of which I suppose to be claimed by the crown of Portugal."
"That is so."
"To be precise I speak of this Gulf of Cedars, as you call it. You
will understand that I have not seen it: I count on your promise to
take me thither to-morrow. But it may save time, and I shall take
it as a favour if—without binding yourself or me to any immediate
bargain—you can give me some notion of the price you would want for
it. But perhaps"—here he lifted his eyes from the table and glanced
at Gonsalvez cunningly—"you have already conveyed that parcel of
land, and I must deal with another."
Now Gonsalvez had opened his mouth to say something, but here
compressed his lips for a moment before answering.
"No: it is still in my power to allot."
"In England just now," went on Master d'Arfet "we should call ten
shillings an acre good rent for unstocked land. We take it at sixpence
per annum rent and twenty years' purchase. I am speaking of reasonably
fertile land, and hardly need to point out that in offering any
such price for mere barren foreshore I invite you to believe me
half-witted. But, as we say at home, he who keeps a fancy must pay a
tax for it: and a man of my age with no heir of his body can afford to
spend as he pleases."
Gonsalvez stared at him, and from him to me, with a puzzled frown.
"Bartholomew," said he, "I cannot understand this gentleman. What can
he want to purchase in the Gulf of Cedars but his wife's grave? And
yet of such a bargain how can he speak as he has spoken?"
I shook my head. "It must be that he is a merchant, and is too old to
speak but as a haggler. Yet I am sure his mind works deeper than this
haggling." I paused, with my eyes upon Master d'Arfet's hands, which
were hooked now like claws over the table which his fingers still
pressed: and this gesture of his put a sudden abominable thought in my
mind. "Yes, he wishes to buy his wife's grave. Ask him—" I cried, and
with that I broke off.
But Gonsalvez nodded. "I know," said he softly, and turned to the
Englishman. "Your desire Sir, is to buy the grave I spoke of?"
Master d'Arfet nodded.
"With what purpose? Come, Sir, your one chance is to be plain with us.
It may be the difference in our race hinders my understanding you: it
may be I am a simple captain and unused to the ways and language of
the market. In any case put aside the question of price, for were
that all between us I would say to you as Ephron the Hittite said
to Abraham. 'Hear me, my lord,' I would say, 'what is four hundred
shekels of silver betwixt me and thee? Bury therefore thy dead.' But
between you and me is more than this: something I cannot fathom. Yet
I must know it before consenting. I demand, therefore, what is your
Master d'Arfet met him straightly enough with those narrow eyes of
his, and said he, "My purpose, Count, is as simple as you describe
your mind to be. Honest seaman, I desire that grave only that I may be
buried in it."
"Then my thought did you wrong, Master d'Arfet, and I crave your
pardon. The grave is yours without price. You shall rest in the end
beside the man and woman who wronged you, and at the Last Day, when
you rise together, may God forgive you as you forgave them!"
The Englishman did not answer for near a minute. His fingers had begun
to drum on the table again and his eyes were bent upon them. At length
he raised his head, and this time to speak slowly and with effort—
"In my country, Count, a bargain is a bargain. When I seek a parcel of
ground, my purpose with it is my affair only: my neighbour fixes his
price, and if it suit me I buy, and there's an end. Now I have passed
my days in buying and selling and you count me a huckster. Yet we
merchants have our rules of honour as well as you nobles: and if in
England I bargain as I have described, it is because between me and
the other man the rules are understood. But I perceive that between
you and me the bargain must be different, since you sell on condition
of knowing my purpose, and would not sell if my purpose offended
you. Therefore to leave you in error concerning my purpose would be
cheating: and, Sir, I have never cheated in my life. At the risk then,
or the certainty, of losing my dearest wish I must tell you this—I
do not forgive my wife Anne or Robert Machin: and though I would be
buried in their grave, it shall not be beside them."
"How then?" cried Gonsalvez and I in one voice.
"I would be buried, Sirs, not beside but between them. Ah? Your eyes
were moist, I make no doubt, when you first listened to the pretty
affecting tale of their love and misfortune? Not yet has it struck
either of you to what a hell they left me. And I have been living in
it ever since! Think! I loved that woman. She wronged me hatefully,
meanly: yet she and he died together, feeling no remorse. It is I who
keep the knowledge of their vileness which shall push them asunder as
I stretch myself at length in my cool dead ease, content, with my long
purpose achieved, with the vengeance prepared, and nothing to do but
wait securely for the Day of Judgment. Pardon me, Sirs, that I say
'this shall be,' whereas I read in your faces that you refuse me. I
have cheered an unhappy life by this one promise, which at the end I
have thrown away upon a little scruple." He passed a hand over his
eyes and stood up. "It is curious," he said, and stood musing. "It is
curious," he repeated, and turning to Gonsalvez said in a voice empty
of passion, "You refuse me, I understand?"
"Yes," Gonsalvez answered. "I salute you for an honest gentleman; but
I may not grant your wish."
"It is curious," Master d'Arfet repeated once more, and looked at us
queerly, as if seeking to excuse his weakness in our judgment. "So
small a difficulty!"
Gonsalvez bowed. "You have taught us this, Sir, that the world speaks
at random, but in the end a man's honour rests in no hands but his
Master d'Arfet waited while Martin translated; then he put out a hand
for his staff, found it, turned on his heel and tottered from the
room, the interpreter following with a face which had altered nothing
during our whole discourse.
* * * * *
Master d'Arfet sailed at daybreak, having declined Gonsalvez' offer
to show him the grave. My old friend insisted that I must stay a week
with him, and from the terrace before his house we watched the English
pinnace till she rounded the point to eastward and disappeared.
"After all," said I, "we treated him hardly."
But Gonsalvez said: "A husk of a man! All the blood in him sour! And
yet," he mused, "the husk kept him noble after a sort."
And he led me away to the warm slopes to see how his young vines were
MARGERY OF LAWHIBBET
A Story of 1644
I pray God to deal gently with my sister Margery Lantine; that the
blood of her twin-brother Mark, though it cry out, may not prevail
against her on the Day of Judgment.
We three were all the children of Ephraim Lantine, a widower, who
owned and farmed (as I do to-day) the little estate of Lawhibbet on
the right shore of the Fowey River, above the ford which crosses to
St. Veep. The whole of our ground slopes towards the river; as also
does the neighbour estate of Lantine, sometime in our family's
possession, but now and for three generations past yielding us only
its name. Three miles below us the river opens into Fowey Harbour,
with Fowey town beside it and facing across upon the village of
Polruan, and a fort on either shore to guard the entrance. Three miles
above us lies Lostwithiel, a neat borough, by the bridge of which the
tidal water ceases. But the traffic between these two towns passes
behind us and out of sight, by the high-road which after climbing out
of Lostwithiel runs along a narrow neck of land dividing our valley
from Tywardreath Bay. This ridge comes to its highest and narrowest
just over the chimneys of Lawhibbet, and there the old Britons
once planted an earthwork overlooking the bay on one hand and the
river-passage on the other. Castle Dore is its name; a close of short
smooth turf set within two circular ramparts and two fosses choked
with brambles. Thither we children climbed, whether to be alone with
our games—for I do not suppose my father entered the earthwork twice
in a year, and no tillage ever disturbed it, though we possessed
a drawerful of coins ploughed up from time to time in the field
outside—or to watch the sails in the bay and the pack-horses jingling
along the ridge, which contracted until it came abreast of us and
at once began to widen towards Fowey and the coast; so that it came
natural to feign ourselves robbers sitting there in our fastness and
waiting to dash out upon the rich convoys as they passed under our
I talk as if we three had played this game with one mind. But indeed I
was six years younger than the others, and barely nine years old when
my brother Mark tired of it and left me, who hitherto had been his
obedient scout, to play at the game alone. For Margery turned to
follow Mark in this as in everything, although with her it had been
more earnest play. For him the fun began and ended with the ambush,
the supposed raid and its swashing deeds of valour; for her all these
were but incident to a scheme, long brooded on, by which we were to
amass plunder sufficient to buy back the family estate of Lantine with
all the consequence due to an ancient name in which the rest of us
forgot to feel any pride. But this was my sister Margery's way; to
whom, as honour was her passion, so the very shadows of old repute,
dead loyalties, perished greatness, were idols to be worshipped. By a
ballad, a story of former daring or devotion, a word even, I have seen
her whole frame shaken and her eyes brimmed with bright tears; nay, I
have seen tears drop on her clasped hands, in our pew in St. Sampson's
Church, with no more cause than old Parson Kendall's stuttering
through the prayer for the King's Majesty—and this long before the
late trouble had come to distract our country. She walked our fields
beside us, but in company with those who walked them no longer; when
she looked towards Lantine 'twas with an angry affection. In the
household she filled her dead mother's place, and so wisely that we
all relied on her without thinking to wonder or admire; yet had we
stayed to think, we had confessed to ourselves that the love in which
her care for us was comprehended reached above any love we could repay
or even understand—that she walked a path apart from us, obedient to
a call we could not hear.
In her was born the spirit which sends men to die for a cause; but
since God had fashioned her a girl and condemned her to housework, she
took (as it were) her own hope in her hands and laid it all upon her
twin brother. They should have been one, not twain. He had the frame
to do, and for him she nourished the spirit to impel. With her own
high thoughts she clothed him her hero, and made him mine also. And
Mark took our homage enough, without doubting he deserved it. He was
in truth a fine fellow, tall, upright, and handsome, with the delicate
Lantine hands and a face in which you saw his father's features
refined and freshly coloured to the model of the Lantine portraits
which hung in the best sitting-room to remind us of our lost glories.
For me, I take after my mother, who was a farmer's daughter of no
I remember well the Christmas Eve of 1643, when the call came for
Mark; a night very clear and crisp, with the stars making a brave show
against the broad moon, and a touch of frost against which we wrapped
ourselves warmly before the household sallied down to the great Parc
an Wollas orchard above the ford, to bless the apple-trees. My father
led the way as usual with his fowling-piece under his arm, Mark
following with another; after them staggered Lizzie Pascoe, the
serving maid, with the great bowl of lamb's wool; Margery followed, I
at her side, and the men after us with their wives, each carrying a
cake or a roasted apple on a string. We halted as usual by the
bent tree in the centre of the orchard, and there, having hung our
offerings on the bough, formed a circle, took hands and chanted, while
Lizzie splashed cider against the trunk—
"Here's to thee, old apple-tree
Whence to bud and whence to blow,
And whence to bear us apples enow—
Hats full, packs full,
Great bushel sacks full,
And every one a pocket full—
With hurrah! and fire off the gun!"
I remember the moment's wait on the flint-lock and the flame and roar
of my father's piece, shattering echoes across the dark water and far
up the creek where the herons roosted. And out of the echoes a voice
answered—a man's voice hailing across the ford.
Mark took a torch, and, running down to the water's edge, waved it
to guide the stranger over. By-and-by we caught sight of him, a
tall trooper on horseback with the moonlight and torchlight flaming
together on his steel morion and gorget. He picked his way carefully
to shore and up the bank and reined up his dripping horse in the midst
of us with a laugh.
"Hats full, pockets full, eh? Good-evenin', naybours, and a merry
Christmas, and I'm sure I wish you may get it. Which of 'ee may happen
to be Master Ephr'm Lantine?"
My father announced himself, and the trooper drew out a parchment and
"'Tisn' no proper light here," said my father, fumbling with the
packet, and not caring to own that he could not read. "Come to the
house, honest man, and we'll talk it over; for thou'lt sleep with us,
"Ay, and drink to your apple-trees too," the trooper answered very
heartily. So my father led the way and we followed, Margery gripping
my hand tight, and the rest talking in loud whispers. They guessed
what the man's business was.
An hour later, when the ashen faggot had been lit and the
cider-drinking and carolling were fairly started in the kitchen,
Margery packed me off to bed; and afterwards came and sat beside me
for a while, very silent, listening with me to the voices below.
"Where is Mark?" I asked, for I missed his clear tenor.
"In the parlour. He and father and the soldier are talking there."
"Is Mark going to fight?"
She bent down, slipped an arm round my nee' and caught me to her in a
sudden breathless hug.
"But he may be killed," I objected.
"No, no; we must pray against that." She said it confidently, and I
knew Margery had a firm belief that what was prayed for fitly must
be granted. "I will see to that, morning and evening: we will pray
together. But you must pray sometimes between whiles, when I am not by
to remind you—many times a day—promise me, Jack."
I promised, and it made me feel better. Margery had a way of managing
things, a way which I had learned to trust. We said no more but
Good-night: in a little while she left me and I jumped out of bed and
punctually started to keep my new promise.
Next morning—Christmas Day—we all attended church together; that is
to say, all we of the family, for our guest chose rather to remain
in the parlour with the cider-mug. Parson Kendall preached to us at
length on Obedience and the authority delegated by God upon kings; and
working back to his text, which was I. Samuel, xvii. 42, wound up with
some particular commendation of "the young man to-day going forth from
amongst us"—which turned all heads towards the Lawhibbet pew and set
Mark blushing and me almost as shamefacedly, but Margery, after the
first flow of colour, turned towards her brother with bright proud
That same afternoon between three and four o'clock—so suddenly was
all decided—Mark rode away from us on the young sorrel, and the
trooper beside him, to join the force Sir Bevill Grenvill was
collecting for Sir Ralph Hopton at Liskeard. To his father he said
good-bye at the yard-gate, but Margery and I walked beside the horses
to the ford and afterwards stood and watched their crossing, waving
many times as Mark turned and waved a hand back, and the red sun over
behind us blinked on the trooper's cap and shoulder-piece. Just before
they disappeared we turned away together—for it is unlucky to watch
anyone out of sight—and I saw that Margery was trembling from head to
"But he will come back," said I, to comfort her.
"Yes," she answered, "he will come back." With that she paused, and
broke forth, twisting her handkerchief, "Jack, if I were a man—" and
so checked herself.
"Why, you think more of the Cause than Mark does, I believe!" I put
"Not more than Mark—not more than Mark! Jack, you mustn't say that:
you mustn't think it!"
"And a great deal more of our name," I went on sturdily, disregarding
her tone, which I considered vehement beyond reason. "'Tis a strange
thing to me, Margery, that of us three you should be the one to think
everything of the name of Lantine, who are a girl and must take
another when you marry."
She halted and turned on me with more anger than I had ever seen on
her face. She even stamped her foot. "Never!" she said, and again
"Oh, well—" I began; but she had started walking rapidly, and
although I caught her up, not another word would she say to me until
we reached home.
For a year we saw no more of our brother, and received of him only two
letters (for he hated penwork), the both very cheerful. Yet within
a month of his going, on a still clear day in January, we listened
together to the noise of a pitched battle in which he was fighting, a
short six miles from us as the crow flies. I have often admired how
men who were happily born too late to witness the troubles of those
times will make their own pictures of warfare, as though it changed at
once the whole face of the country and tenour of folk's lives; whereas
it would be raging two valleys away and men upon their own farms
ploughing to the tune of it, with nothing seen by them then or
afterwards; or it would leap suddenly across the hills, filling the
roads with cursing weary men, and roll by, leaving a sharp track of
ruin for the eye to follow and remember it by. So on this afternoon,
when Hopton and the Cornish troops were engaging and defeating Ruthen
on Braddock Down, Margery and I counted the rattles of musketry borne
down to us on the still reaches of the river and, climbing to the
earthwork past the field where old Will Retallack stuck to his
ploughing with an army of gulls following and wheeling about him as
usual, spied the smoke rolling over the edge of Boconnoc woodland to
the north-east; but never a soldier we saw that day or for months
A little before the end of the day the rebel army broke and began to
roll back through Liskeard and towards the passes of the Tamar, and
Mark followed with his troops to Saltash, into Devonshire, and as far
as Chagford, where he rode by Mr. Sydney Godolphin in the skirmish
which gave that valiant young gentleman his mortal wound. Soon after
the whole of the King's forces retired upon Tavistock, where a truce
was patched up between the opposing factions in the West. But this did
not release Mark, who was kept at duty on the border until May—when
the strife burst out again—and joined the pursuit after Stratton
Heath. Thereafter he fought at Lansdowne, and in the operations
against Bristol, and later in the same year, having won a cornetcy in
the King's Horse, bore his part in the many brisk expeditions led by
Hopton through Dorsetshire and Hampshire into Sussex.
'Twas from Worthing he came back to us a few days before Christmas,
and his mission was to beat up recruits for his troop in the season of
slackness before the Spring campaign. He had grown almost two inches,
his chest was fuller, his voice manly, and his handsome face not
spoiled (Margery declared it improved) by a scar across the cheek, won
in a raid upon Poole. He had borne himself gallantly, and our prayers
had prevailed with God to save him from serious hurt even in the
furious charge at Lansdowne, when of two thousand horse no more than
six hundred reached the crest of the hill. He greeted us all lovingly
and made no disguise of his joy to be at home again, though but on a
And yet even on the first happy evening, when we walked up through the
dusk together to the old earthwork, and he told us the first chapter
of his adventures, I seemed to see, or rather to feel, that our
brother was not wholly a better man for his campaigning. To be sure,
a soldier must be allowed an oath or two; but Mark slipped out one
before his sister which took me like a slap across the cheek. He bit
his lip the moment it was out, and talked rapidly and at random for a
while, with a dark flush on his face. Margery pretended that she
had not heard, and for the rest he told his story with a manly
carelessness which became him. Once only, when he described the entry
of the troops into Bristol and their behaviour there—while Margery
turned her eyes aside for a moment, that were dim for the death of
Slanning and Trevanion—he came to a pause with a grin that invited me
to be knowing beyond my years. The old Mark would never have looked at
me with that meaning.
On the whole he behaved well, and took Margery's adoration with great
patience. He had the wit to wish to fall nothing in her eyes. His new
and earthlier view of war, as a game with coarse rewards, he confided
to me; and this not in words but in a smile now and then and a general
air when safe from his sister's eyes, of being passably amused by her
high-fangled nonsense. His business of beating up recruits took him
away from us for days together; and we missed him on Christmas Eve
when we christened the apple-trees as usual. It was I who discovered
and kept it from Margery—who supposed him as far away as St. Austell,
and tried to find that distance a sufficient excuse—that he had spent
the night a bare mile away, hobnobbing with the owner of Lantine, a
rich man who had used to look down on our family but thought it worth
while to make friends with this promising young soldier.
"And I mean to be equal with him and his likes," said Mark to me
afterwards by way of excuse. "A man may rise by soldiering as by any
other calling—and quicker too, perhaps, in these days."
The same thought clearly was running in his head a week later, when he
took leave of us once more by the ford.
"Come back to us, Mark!" Margery wept this time, with her arms about
"Ay, sweetheart, and with an estate in my pocket."
"Ah, forget that old folly! Come back with body safe and honour
bright, and God may take the rest."
He slapped his pocket with a laugh as he shook up the reins.
Then followed five quiet anxious months. 'Twas not until early in
June that, by an express from Ashburton in Devon, we heard that our
brother's fortune was still rising, he having succeeded to the command
of his company made vacant by the wounding of Captain Sir Harry
Welcome. "And this is no mean achievement for a poor yeoman's son," he
wrote, "in an army where promotion goes as a rule to them that have
estates to pawn. But I hope in these days some few may serve his
Majesty and yet prosper, and that my dear Margery may yet have her
wish and be mistress in Lantine." Margery read this letter and knit
her brow thoughtfully. "It was like Mark to think of writing so," said
she; "but I have not thought of Lantine for this many a day."
"And he might have left thinking of it," said I, "until these troubles
are over and the King's peace established."
"Tut," she answered smiling, "he does not think of it but only to
please me. 'Tis his way to speak what comes to his tongue to give us
"For all that, he need not have misjudged us," I grumbled; and then
was sorry for the pain with which she looked at me.
"It is you, Jack, who misjudged!" She spoke it sharply. We still
prayed together for our brother twice a day; but she knew—and either
dared not or cared not to ask why—that since his first home-coming
my love had cooled towards him. Very likely she believed me to be
The hay-harvest found and passed us in peace, and the wheat was near
ripe, when, towards the close of July, rumours came to us of an army
marching towards Cornwall under command of the Earl of Essex; by
persuasion (it was said) of the Lord Robarts, whose seat of Lanhydrock
lies on our bank of the river about three miles above Lostwithiel,
facing the Lord Mohun's house of Boconnoc across the valley. My Lord
Mohun, after some wavering at first, had cast in his fortune with
the King's party, to which belonged well nigh all the gentry of our
neighbourhood; and had done so in good time for his reputation. But
the Lord Robarts was an obstinate clever man who chose the other side
and stuck to it in despite of first misfortunes. We guessed therefore
that if the Parliamentarians came by his invitation they would not
neglect a district on which he staked so much for mastery; and sure
enough, about July 25th, we heard that Essex had reached Bodmin with
the mass of his forces, Sir Richard Grenvill having retired before him
and moved hastily with the Queen's troop to Truro. After this, Margery
and I used to climb every morning to the earthwork and spy all the
country round for signs of the hated troopers. Yet day passed after
day with nought to be seen, and little to be heard but further
rumours, of which the most constant said that the King himself was
following Essex with an army, and had already seized and crossed the
passes of the Tamar.
'Twas on the 2nd of August that the bolt fell; when after mounting
the slope at daybreak with nothing to warn us, we stepped through the
dykes into the old camp. A heavy dew hung in beads on the brambles,
and at the second dyke I had turned and was holding aside a brier to
let Margery pass, when a short cry from her fetched me right-about and
staring into the face of a tall soldier grinning at us over the bank.
In the enclosure behind him (as we saw through a gap) were a number of
men in mud-coloured jerkins, quietly mounting a couple of cannon.
"Good morning!" said the soldier amiably, with an up-country twang in
his voice, "Good-morning, my pretty dears! And if you come from the
farm below, what may be the name of it?"
"Lawhibbet," I answered, seeing that Margery closed her lips tight.
"Ay, Lawhibbet; that's the name I was told." He nodded in the
"Are you the rebels?" I blurted out, while Margery gripped my arm; but
this boldness only fetched a laugh from the big man.
"Some of 'em," said he; "though you'll have to unlearn that name, my
young whipstercock, seein' we're here to stay for a while. The Earl
marched down into Fowey last night while you were asleep, and is down
there now making it right and tight. Do you ever play at blind-man's
buff in these parts?"
Three or four soldiers had gathered behind him by this, and were
staring down on us. One of them blew a clumsy kiss to Margery.
"Do you mean the child's game?" I asked, wondering whatever he could
be driving at.
"I do; but perhaps, sir, you are too old to remember it." He winked
at the men and they guffawed. "It begins, 'How many horses has your
father got?' 'Six,' says you; 'black, red, and grey'—or that's the
number according to our instructions. 'Very good then,' says we; 'turn
round three times and catch which you may.' And the moral is, don't be
surprised if you find the stable empty when you get home. There's a
detachment gone to attend to it after seizing the ford below; hungry
men, all of them. No doubt they'll be visiting the bacon-rack after
the stable, and if missy knows where to pick up the new-laid eggs she
might put a score aside for us poor artillerymen."
We turned from them and hurried down the slope. "Rebels!" said Margery
once, under her breath; but the blow had stunned us and we could not
talk. In the stable yard we found, as the artillerymen had promised,
a company of soldiers leading out the horses, and my father watching
them with that patient look which never deserted him. He turned to
"Go into the kitchen, my dear. They will want food next, and we have
to do what we can. They have been civil, and promise to pay for all
they take. I do not think they will show any roughness."
Margery obeyed with a set face. For the next hour she and Lizzie were
busy in the kitchen, frying ham and eggs, boiling great pans of milk,
cutting up all the bread of the last baking, and heating the oven for
a fresh batch. The men, I am bound to say, took their food civilly,
that morning and afterwards; and for a fortnight at least they paid
reasonably for all they took. For several days I hung closer about
the ingle than ever I had done in my life; not that a boy of fourteen
could be any protection to the women-folk, but to be ready at least to
give an alarm should insult be offered. But we had to do with decent
men, who showed themselves friendly not only in the house but in their
camp down by the ford, whither, after the first morning, Lizzie and
I trudged it twice a day with baskets of provisions. Lizzie indeed
talked freely with them, but I held my tongue and glowered (I dare
say) in my foolish hate. Margery kept to the house.
'Twas, I think, on August 15th that the first hope of release came to
us, by the King's troops seizing the ford-head across the river; and
this happened as suddenly as our first surprise. Lizzie and I were
carrying down our baskets at four o'clock that day, when we heard a
sound of musketry on the St. Veep shore and on top of it a bugle twice
blown. Running to the top of a knoll from which the river spread in
view, I saw some rebels of our detachment splashing out from shore in
a hurry. The leaders reached mid-stream or thereabouts, and paused.
Doubtless they could see better than I what was happening; for after
they had stood there a couple of minutes, holding their fire—the
musketry on the St. Veep bank continuing all the while—some twenty
men came running out of the woods there and fled across towards us,
many bullets splashing into the water behind them. They reached their
comrades in the river-bed, and the whole body stood irresolute, facing
the shore where nothing showed but a glint of steel here and there
between the trees. Thus for ten further minutes, perhaps, they
hesitated; then turned and came sullenly back across the rising water.
In this manner the royal troops won the ford-head, and kept it; for
although the two cannon opened fire that evening from the earthwork
above us, and dropped many balls among the trees, they did not
dislodge the regiment (Colonel Lloyd's) which lay there and held one
of the few passes by which the rebels could break away.
For—albeit I knew nothing of this at the time—by withdrawing his
headquarters to Lostwithiel and holding our narrow ridge with Fowey at
the end of it seaward, the Earl had led his army into a trap, and
one which his Majesty was now fast closing. Already he had drawn his
troops across the river-meadows above Lostwithiel; and, whatever help
the Earl might have hoped to fetch from the sea at his base, he was
there prevented by the quickness of Sir Jacob Astley in seizing a
fort on the other side of the harbour's mouth as well as a battery
commanding the town from that shore, and in flinging a hundred men
into each, who easily beat off all ships from entering. From this
comfortable sea-entrance then Essex perforce turned for his stores to
Twyardreath Bay on the western side of the ridge, where he landed a
couple of cargoes at the mouth of the little river Par; but on the
25th the Prince Maurice sent down 2,000 horse and 1,000 foot, and
after sharp skirmishing blocked this inlet also. So now we had the
whole rebel army cooped around us and along the two sides of the
ridge, trampling our harvest and eating our larders bare, with no
prospect but a surrender; which yet the Earl refused, although his
Majesty thrice offered to treat with him.
This (I say) was the position, though we at Lawhibbet knew not how
desperate 'twas for the rebels our guests; only that our food was
pinched to short rations of bread and that payment had ceased, though
the sergeants still gave vouchers duly for the little we could supply.
The battery above us kept silence day after day, save twice when the
Royalists made a brief show of forcing the pass; but at intervals each
day we would hear a brisk play of artillery a little higher up the
stream, where they had planted a fort on the high ground by St.
Nectan's Chapel, to pound at Lostwithiel in the valley. For my part I
could have pitied the rebels, so worn they were with weeks of hunger
and watching, to which the weather added another misery, turning at
the close of the month to steady rain with heavy fogs covering land
and sea, and no wind to disperse them. Margery had no pity; but I
believed would have starved cheerfully—if that could have helped—to
see these poor sodden wretches in worse plight.
I think 'twas on the morning of the 28th that the Royalists across the
ford showed a flag of truce; which having been answered, a small party
of horse came riding over, the leader with a letter for the Earl of
Essex which he was suffered to carry to Fowey, riding thither in the
midst of an escort of six and leaving his own men behind on the near
side of the ford.
While they waited by their horses I drew near to one of them and asked
him if he knew aught of my brother, Captain Mark Lantine. He answered,
after eyeing me sharply, that he knew my brother well—a very gallant
officer, now serving with the Earl of Cleveland's brigade.
"That will be on the slope beneath Boconnoc," said I.
"How know you that?" he asked briskly, and I was telling him that the
dispositions of the Royal troops were no secret to the rebels
(warning of all fresh movements being brought daily to the ford from
Lostwithiel), when a sergeant interrupted and, forbidding any further
converse, packed me off homeward, yet not unkindly.
For what came of this talk Margery—to whom I reported it that same
evening—must bear the credit. For two days she brooded over it,
keeping silence even beyond her wont, and then on the night of the
30th, at nine o'clock, when I was scarce abed, she tapped at my door
and bade me arise and dress myself. She had an expedition to propose,
no less than that we should cross the river and pay Mark a visit in
Her boldness took away my breath: yet as she whispered her plan it did
not seem impossible or, bating the chance of being shot by a stray
outpost, so very dangerous. A heavy fog lay over the hills, as it
had lain for nights. The tide was flowing. My father's boat had been
dragged ashore and lay bottom upwards under a cliff about three
hundred yards above the ford. If we could reach and right it without
being discovered, either one of us was clever enough, with an oar over
the stern, to scull noiselessly across to the entrance of a creek
where the current would take us up towards Boconnoc between banks held
on either side by Royalists; to whom, if they surprised us, we could
tell our business.
The plan (I say) was a promising one. It miscarried only after we had
righted the boat and were dragging it across the strip of shingle
between the meadow bank and the water's edge. A quick-eared sentry
caught the sound and challenged at two gunshots' distance. I had the
boat's nose afloat as I heard his feet stumbling over the uneven
foreshore: but the paddles and even the bottom-boards were lying on
the beach behind us. There was no help for it. Margery stepped on
board swiftly and silently, and I pushed well out into the stream,
following until the water rose to my middle and so standing while
the fellow challenged again. For a minute we kept mute as mice. The
footsteps hesitated and came to a halt by the water's edge a full
twenty yards below, and I guessed that the fog had blurred for him the
distance as well as the direction of the sound. Very quietly I heaved
myself over the stern and into the boat, which swung broadside to
the current and so was borne up and beyond danger from him. But the
mischief was, we were drifting up the main channel which ended in the
Lostwithiel marshes and must pretty certainly lead us into the enemy's
hands, unless before striking the moors below the town we could by
some means push across to the farther bank. We leaned over, dipped our
arms in the water, and with the least possible noise began to paddle.
Even in the darkness the tall banks were familiar, and between skill
and good fortune we came to shore on the left bank below a coppice and
just within sight of the town lights. Between us and them lay a broad
marsh-land through which the river wound, and along the edge of which,
under the trees skirting this shore, we started at a timorous run,
pulling up now and again to listen.
So we had come abreast of the town without challenge, when the
sky almost on a sudden grew lighter, and we saw the church spire
glimmering and the weather-cock above it, and knew that the moon had
risen over the woodland in the shadow of which we crouched. And with
that Margery glanced back and plucked at my arm.
The moor we had skirted was full of horsemen, drawn up in rank and
motionless. They loomed through the river fog like giants—rank behind
rank, each man stiff and upright and silent in his saddle—as it were
a vale full of mounted ghosts awaiting the dreadful trumpet, and in my
terror I forgot to tremble at the nearness of our escape (for we had
all but blundered into them). But while I stared, and the wreaths of
fog hid and again disclosed them, I heard Margery's whisper—
"They are escaping to-night. It can only be by the bridge and across
Boconnoc downs. If we can win to Mark and warn him!"
She drew me off into the wood at a sharp angle, and we began to climb
beneath the branches. They dripped on us, soaking us to the skin; but
this we scarcely felt. We knew that we must be moving along the narrow
interval between the two lines of outposts. Beneath us, in the centre
of a basin of fog, a cluster of lights marked Lostwithiel: above, the
moon and the glow of Royalist camp-fires threw up the outline of the
ridge. Alongside of this we kept, and a little below it, crossing the
high-road which leads east from Lostwithiel bridge, and, beyond that,
advancing more boldly under the lee of a hedge beside a by-road which
curves towards the brow of Boconnoc downs. I began to find it strange
that, for all our secrecy, no one challenged us here. At a bend of the
lane, we came in view of a solitary cottage with one window lit and
blurring its light on the mist. We crept close, still on the far side
of the hedge, and, parting the bushes, peered at it.
It must be here or hereabouts (by all information) that the Earl of
Cleveland kept his quarters. The light shone into our eyes through a
drawn blind which told nothing; and Margery was dragging me forward to
knock at the door when it opened and two men stepped quickly across
the threshold and passed down the lane. They crossed the bar of light
swiftly and were gone into the dark; and they trod softly—so softly
that we listened in vain for their footfalls.
Then, almost before I knew it, Margery had dragged me across a gap in
the hedge and was rapping at the cottage door. No one answered. She
lifted the latch and entered, I at her heels. The kitchen—an ordinary
cottage kitchen—was empty A guttered candle stood on the table to the
right, and beside it lay a feathered cap. Margery stepped toward this
and had scarce time to touch the brim of it before a voice hailed us
in the doorway behind my shoulder.
It was our brother Mark.
"Well, of all—" he began, and came to a stop; his face white as a
sheet, as well it might be.
Margery rounded upon him. She must have been surprised, but she began
without explanation running to him and kissing him swiftly—
"Mark—dear Mark, we have news for thee, instant news! Sure, Heaven
directed us to-night that you should be the first to hear it. Mark,
we passed the rebel cavalry in the valley, and for certain they will
attempt to break through to-night."
"Yes, yes," said he peevishly, pulling at an end of his long
love-locks, "we have had that scare often enough, these last few
"But we passed them close—saw them plainly in rank below Lostwithiel
bridge, and every man in saddle. Even now they will be moving—"
Mark swung about and passed out at the open door. He had not returned
Margery's kiss. "I must be off, then, to visit my videttes," said he
quickly, and then paused as if considering. "For you, the cottage here
will not be safe: it stands close beside the line of march and I must
get down a company of musketeers. You had best follow me—" he took a
step and paused again: "No, there will not be time."
"Tell us in what direction to go and we will fend for ourselves and
leave you free."
"Through the garden, then, at the back and into the woods—the fence
has a gap and from it a path leads up to a quarry among the trees; you
cannot miss. The quarry is full of brambles—good hiding, in case we
have trouble. No cavalryman will win so far, you may be sure."
Margery gathered her skirts about her, and we stole out into the
darkness. At the door she turned up her face to Mark. "Kiss me, my
brother." He kissed her, and breaking away (as I thought) with a low
groan, strode from us up the lane.
"Now why should he go up the lane?" mused Margery: and I too wondered.
For the first alarm must needs come from the lower end towards which
he had been walking with his other visitor, when we first spied on the
cottage through the bushes.
But 'twas not for us to guess how the troops were disposed or where
the outposts lay. We made our escape through the little garden, and,
blundering along the woodland path behind it, came at length to a
thicket of brambles over which hung the scarp of the quarry with a
fringe of trees above it pitch-black against the foggy moonlight. Here
on the soaked ground I found a clear space and a tumbled stone or two,
on which we crouched together, sleepless and intently listening.
For an hour we heard no sound. Then the valley towards Lostwithiel
shook with a dull explosion, which puzzled us a great deal. (But the
meaning, I have since learnt was this:—Two prisoners in the church
there had contrived to climb up into the steeple and, pulling the
ladder after them, jeered down upon the rebels' Provost Marshal, who
was now preparing for a night retreat of the Infantry upon Fowey and
in a hurry to be gone. "I'll fetch you down," said he, and with a
barrel of powder blew most of the slates off the roof but without
harming the defiant pair who were found still perched on the steeple
After this the hours passed without sound. It seemed incredible, this
silence in the ring of wakeful outposts. Margery shivered now and
again, and I knew that her eyes were open, though she said nothing.
For me, towards morning, I dropped into a doze, and woke to the
tightening of her hand upon my arm.
I listened with her. The sky had grown grey about us, and up through
the dripping trees came a soft and regular footfall, as of a body
of horse moving past. "It will be Mark's troop," I whispered, and
listened again. It seemed to me that the noise moved away to our right
instead of towards Lostwithiel. A quick suspicion took me then: I
scaled the right-hand side of the quarry at a run, burst through the
fringe of pines, and came out suddenly upon a knoll in full view of
the down. The first gleam of sunshine was breaking over this slope,
and towards it at an easy trot rode the whole body of rebel cavalry,
in number above a thousand.
While I stood and stared, Margery caught up with me. We looked into
each other's face. Then without a word she went from me. I lingered
there for perhaps ten minutes; for now, from behind the trees above, a
squadron of Royalist horse charged across the slope at a gallop. They
were less than four hundred, however, and as the rebel rearguard
turned to face them, drew rein and exchanged but a few harmless shots.
I watched the host as it wound slowly over the crest with its pursuers
hanging sullenly at heel: then I turned and descended in search of
Margery. As I reached the gap in the hedge, Mark entered the garden by
the little gate opposite. He came hastily, but halted as if shot, with
his hand on the gatepost to steady him—yet not at sight of me. I
looked across the gap into the garden between us. Beside a heap
of freshly turned mould, with her back to the currant-bush, stood
Margery, her hands stained with soil; and on the ground before her lay
a small chest with its lid open.
I lifted my eyes from the glinting coins and sought Mark's gaze: but
it was fastened on Margery, who walked slowly forward and straight up
to him. Though he shrank, he could not retreat. She went to him, I
following a pace behind. She put out a hand and touched the pistol in
"Redeem." The voice was Margery's and yet not hers. "Redeem," she
With a groan he ran round the gable of the cottage. A moment later we
heard the gallop of his horse down the lane.
At seven o'clock that morning the King's forlorn hope of foot, in
number about 1,000, entered Lostwithiel after a smart skirmish with
the rebel rearguard at the bridge; and not long after, the rebel
reserve of foot, perceiving their comrades giving ground and being
themselves galled by two or three pieces of cannon which began to play
upon them from the captured leaguer, moved away from the hill they had
been holding: so that now we had the whole force falling back towards
Fowey along the ridge, with our forlorn hope following in chase from
field to field.
Before eight the King himself with two troops of horse (one of them my
brother's) passed over a ford a little to the south of the town, with
intent to catch this movement in flank: and there, by the ford's edge,
I believe, took a cartload of muskets with five abandoned pieces, two
of them very long guns. The river being too deep, with a rising tide,
for Margery to wade, we made our crossing by the bridge, where the
fighting had been, but where there was now no soldiery, only a many
dead bodies, some huddled into the coigns of the parapet, more laid
out upon a patch of turf at the bridge end, the mud caked on their
faces. It made me shiver to see: but my sister went by with scarce a
glance and, once past the river, caught my hand and set off running
after the troops.
The beginning of the retreat had been brisk enough—so brisk that it
outpaced his Majesty's movement in flank: who, breasting the hill with
his cavalry (after some minutes lost at the ford in collecting the
cannon and muskets which might well have been gleaned later) found
himself, if anything, in the rear of his victorious footmen. But after
two miles, coming to that part of the ridge where it narrows above
Lawhibbet, and in view of our old earthwork which was yet pretty
strongly held by their artillery, the enemy made a more forcible
resistance, fighting the several hedges and, even when dislodged,
holding them with a hot skirmishing fire while the main body found the
next cover. By these checks we two, who had lost ground at the start,
now regained it fast; and by and by (towards ten o'clock as I guess)
were forced to pick our way under shelter of the hedges, to avoid
the enemy's bullets and espial by any of the King's men, who would
doubtless have cursed and driven us back out of the way of danger.
It was Margery who bethought her here of a sunken cart-road descending
along the right of the ridge and crossed on its way by another which
would lead us to the summit again and within two gunshots of the great
earthwork. By following these two roads we might outflank the soldiery
while keeping the crown of the ridge between us; for the fighting
still followed along the left-hand slope, above the river.
This way, to be sure, was reasonably safe for a while; but must lead
us out, if we persisted, into close danger—perhaps into the very
interval between the fighting lines, and if at the rebels' rear, then
certainly between them and their artillery on the earthwork. As we ran
I tried to prove this to Margery. She would not listen: indeed I
doubt that she heard me. "He must," "he must," she kept saying: and I
thought sure she had taken leave of her wits.
It happened as I warned her. The second cart-track, mounting from the
valley bottom, led us up to the high road on the ridge; and there,
peering out cautiously, I spied the backs of a rebel company posted
across it, a bare two hundred yards away towards Lostwithiel. Their
ranks parted and I had time enough, and no more, to push Margery into
the ditch and fling myself beside her among the brambles before a team
of horses swept by at a gallop, with a cannon bumping on its carriage
behind them and dragging a long cloud of dust.
"Quick!" called Margery as it passed: sprang to her feet and across
the road in the noise and smother. Choking with dust and anger I
followed, almost on all-fours.
"But what folly is this?" I demanded, overtaking her by the opposite
"I know what I am doing," she said. "They did not see—-the dust hid
us. Now quick again, and help me up to this hazel-bush."
I swung her up, and myself after her. The bush was one which I myself
had polled two years before; an old stump set thickly about with young
shoots, in the cover of which we huddled, staring down the slope of
our own great grass-field (the largest on Lawhibbet farm) now filled
with rebels withdrawing in good order upon the earthwork on Castle
Dore. This earthwork stood in the very next field on our right, behind
what had used to be a hedge but where was now a gap some twenty yards
wide (levelled a few days before by Essex's cannoniers), and through
this gap, towards which the regiments were streaming, drifted the
smoke of the guns as they flung their round shot high over our heads,
and over the hedge on our left which hid from us all of the royal
troops save now and then the flash of a steel cap behind the
top-growth of hazel ash and bramble.
The line of this hedge, on the near side to us, was yet held by
musketeers who had spread themselves along it very closely and seemed
to be using every bush. Indeed I wondered how they were to be forced
from such cover, when a party of them by the gate suddenly gave back
and began running, and through the gateway a small troop of horse came
pouring at their heels. And albeit these cavaliers must have suffered
desperately in so charging up to a covered foe (and many riderless
chargers came galloping with them), yet the remnant held such good
order that in pouring through they seemed to divide by agreement, a
part wheeling to right and a part to left to drive the skirmishers,
while the main troop held on across the field nor drew rein until they
had chased the rebel rearguard to the gap. But as the gap cleared
ahead and showed the earthwork and the muzzles of the guns now lowered
right in their path, their leader checked his horse, wheeled about in
as pretty a curve as you would wish to see, and his troop following
cantered back towards the gate.
It was gallantly done and clearly won high approval from a horseman
who at the moment came at a trot through the gate, with a second troop
behind him, and was saluted by the returning squadron with, one flash
of sword-blades, all together, hilt brought to chin and every blade
pointing straight in air—a flourish almost as pretty as the feat it
concluded. He too held his sword before him with point upright, but
awkwardly; and though he sat his saddle well, his bearing had more
of civil authority than of soldierlike precision. I was wondering,
indeed, what his business might be on this field of arms—for his men
hung back somewhat, as escorting rather than charging at his lead,
when Margery plucked at my elbow.
I stared at her stupidly. And reading awe in her wide eyes, I had
almost turned to follow their gaze when my own fell on a rider who had
detached himself from the escort and was coming towards us along the
hedge row, whipping it idly with the flat of his sword, and now
and again thrusting at it with the point, as if beating for hidden
skirmishers. It was our brother Mark, and he frowned as he rode.
I held my breath as he drew near. Margery's eyes were on the King; but
she must needs recognise her brother when he came abreast of us.
And so it was. She gave him an idle glance, and with that she let out
a short choking cry, and leapt down from the hedge right in his path,
dragging me after her by the sleeve.
"Mark!" she cried.
He swerved his horse round with a curse. But she caught at the bridle
and pointed towards the gap through which, though hidden from us by
the angle, pointed the muzzles of the rebel artillery. "You must! Oh,
if you fear, I will run with you and die with you—I your sister!
There is no other way. You must, Mark!"
He pushed past her sullenly, moving towards the group where the King
"Mark, if you do not, the King shall know! Redeem, brother; or I
swear—and when did I break word?—here and now the King shall know
who lost him the rebel horse."
She spoke it fast and low, with a dead-white face. We were close now
to the royal group; close enough to hear the King's words.
"I must needs," he was saying, "envy her Majesty, Captain Brett. Under
your leading her troop has done that which my own can only envy."
He turned at what seemed at first a murmur among his own men, and no
doubt was framing a compliment from them too. But their murmur grew to
a growl of mere astonishment as a thud of hoofs drew all eyes after my
brother riding at full gallop for the gap.
"But what is the madman after?" began the King, and broke off with a
sharp exclamation as his eyes fell on Margery, who had picked up her
skirts and was running after Mark. She was perhaps a hundred yards
behind him when the cannon roared and, almost in the entrance of the
gap, he flung up both arms, and horse and rider rolled over together.
A moment later she too staggered and fell sideways—stunned by the
wind of a round-shot.
The firing ceased as suddenly as it began. I heard a voice saying as
if it continued a discussion—"And Lantine of all men! I'd have picked
him for the levellest-headed man in the troop. By the way, he comes
from these parts, I've heard say."
And with that I ran to my sister's side.
Two days later by the earthwork where we had played as children his
Majesty received the surrender of the rebel foot; while, on the
slope below, the house which should have been Mark's heritage blazed
merrily, fired by the last shot of the campaign.
PHOEBUS ON HALZAPHRON
"God! of whom music
And song and blood are pure,
The day is never darkened
That had thee here obscure."
Early in 1897 a landslip on the tall cliffs of Halzaphron—which
face upon Mount's Bay, Cornwall, and the Gulf Stream of the
Atlantic—brought to light a curiosity. The slip occurred during the
night of January 7th to 8th, breaking through the roof of a cavern at
the base of the cliff and carrying many hundreds of tons of rock and
earth down into deep water. For some weeks what remained of the cavern
was obliterated, and in the rough weather then prevailing no one took
the trouble to examine it; since it can only be approached by sea. The
tides, however, set to work to sift and clear the detritus, and on
Whit-Monday a party of pleasure-seekers from Penzance brought their
boat to shore, landed, and discovered a stairway of worked stone
leading up from the back of the cavern through solid rock. The steps
wound spirally upward, and were cut with great accuracy; but the
drippings from the low roof of the stairway had worn every tread into
a basin and filled it with water. Green slippery weeds coated the
lowest stairs; those immediately above were stained purple and crimson
by the growth of some minute fungus; but where darkness began, these
colors passed through rose-pink into a delicate ivory-white—a hard
crust of lime, crenelated like coral by the ceaseless trickle of water
which deposited it.
At first the explorers supposed themselves on the track of a lost holy
well. They had no candles, but by economising their stock of matches
they followed up the mysterious and beautiful staircase until it
came to a sudden end, blocked by the fallen mass of cliff. Still in
ignorance whither it led or what purpose it had served, they turned
back and descended to the sunshine again; when one of the party,
scanning the cliff's face, observed a fragment—three steps
only—jutting out like a cornice some sixty or seventy feet overhead.
This seemed to dispose of the holy well theory, and suggested that the
stairway had reached to the summit, where perhaps an entrance might
be found. The party returned to Penzance, and their report at once
engaged the attention of the local Antiquarian Society; a small
subscription list was opened, permission obtained from the owner of
the property, and within a week a gang of labourers began to excavate
on the cliff-top directly above the jutting cornice. The ground here
showed a slight depression, and the soil proved unexpectedly deep and
easy to work. On the second day, at a depth of seven feet, one of the
men announced that he had come upon rock. But having spaded away the
loose earth, they discovered that his pick had struck upon the edge of
an extremely fine tessellated pavement, the remains apparently of a
Yet could this be a Roman villa? That the Romans drove their armies
into Cornwall is certain enough; their coins, ornaments, and even
pottery, are still found here and there; their camps can be traced.
That they conquered and colonised it, however, during any of the four
hundred years they occupied Britain has yet to be proved. In other
parts of England the plough turns up memorials of that quiet home life
with its graces which grew around these settlers and comforted their
exile; and the commonest of these is the tessellated pavement with its
emblems of the younger gods, the vintage, the warm south. But in the
remote west, where the Celts held their savage own, no such traces
have ever been found.
Could this at last be one? The pavement, cleared with care, proved
of a disappointing size, measuring 8 feet by 4 at the widest. The
tessellae were exceptionally beautiful and fresh in color; and each
separate design represented some scene in the story of Apollo. No
Bacchus with his panther-skin and Maenads, no Triton and Nymphs, no
loves of Mars and Venus, no Ganymede with the eagle, no Leda, no
Orpheus, no Danaë, no Europa—but always and only Apollo! He was
guiding his car; he was singing among the Nine; he was drawing his
bow; he was flaying Marsyas; above all—the only repeated picture—he
was guiding the oxen of Admetus, goad in hand, with the glory yet
vivid about his hair. Could it (someone suggested) be the pavement
of a temple? And, if so, how came a temple of the sun-god upon this
The discovery gave rise to a small sensation and several ingenious
theories, one enthusiastic philologer going so far as to derive the
name Halzaphron from the Greek, interpreting it as "the salt of the
west winds" or "Zephyrs," and to assert roundly that the temple (he
assumed it to be a temple) dated far back beyond the Roman Invasion.
This contention, though perhaps no more foolish than a dozen others,
undoubtedly met with the most ridicule.
And yet in my wanderings along that coast I have come upon broken
echoes, whispers, fragments of a tale, which now and again, as I
tried to piece them together, wakened a suspicion that the derided
philologer, with his false derivation, was yet "hot," as children say
in the game of hide-and-seek.
For the stretch of sea overlooked by Halzaphron covers the lost land
of Lyonnesse. Take a boat upon a clear, calm day, and, drifting, peer
over the side through its shadow, and you will see the tops of tall
forests waving below you. Walk the shore at low water and you may fill
your pockets with beech-nuts, and sometimes—when a violent tide has
displaced the sand—stumble on the trunks of large trees. Geologists
dispute whether the Lyonnesse disappeared by sudden catastrophe
or gradual subsidence, but they agree in condemning the fables of
Florence and William of Worcester, that so late as November, 1099,
the sea broke in and covered the whole tract between Cornwall and the
Scillies, overwhelming on its way no less than a hundred and forty
churches! They prove that, however it befell, we must date the
inundation some centuries earlier. Now if my story be true—But let it
* * * * *
In the year of the great tide Graul, son of Graul, was king in the
Lyonnesse. He lived at peace in his city of Maenseyth, hard by
the Sullêh, where the foreign traders brought their ships to
anchor—sometimes from Tyre itself, oftener from the Tyrian colonies
down the Spanish coast; and he ruled over a peaceful nation of
tinners, herdsmen, and charcoal-burners. The charcoal came from the
great forest to the eastward where Cara Clowz in Cowz, the gray rock
in the wood, overlooked the Cornish frontier; his cattle pastured
nearer, in the plains about the foot of the Wolves' Cairn; and his
tinners camped and washed the ore in the valley-bottoms—for in those
days they had no need to dig into the earth for metal, but found
plenty by puddling in the river-beds.
So King Graul ruled happily over a happy people until the dark morning
when a horseman came galloping to the palace of Maenseyth with a cry
that the tide had broken through Crebawethan and was sweeping north
and west upon the land, drowning all in its path. "Hark!" said he,
"already you may hear the roar of it by Bryher!"
Yann, the King's body-servant, ran at once to the stables and brought
three horses—one for Queen Niotte; one for her only child, the
Princess Gwennolar; and for King Graul the red stallion, Rubh,
swiftest and strongest in the royal stalls, one of the Five Wonders
of Lyonnesse. More than six leagues lay between them and the Wolves'
Cairn, which surely the waters could never cover; and toward it the
three rode at a stretch gallop, King Graul only tightening his hand
on the bridle as Rubh strained to outpace the others. As he rode he
called warnings to the herdsmen and tinners who already had heard the
far roar of waters and were fleeing to the hills. The cattle raced
ahead of him, around him, beside him; he passed troop after troop; and
among them, in fellowship, galloped foxes, badgers, hares, rabbits,
weasels; even small field-mice were skurrying and entangling
themselves in the long grasses, and toppling head over heels in their
frenzy to escape.
But before they reached the Wolves' Cairn the three riders were alone
again. Rubh alone carried his master lightly, and poised his head to
sniff the wind. The other two leaned on their bridles and lagged after
him, and even Rubh bore against the left-hand rein until it wearied
the King's wrist. He wondered at this; but at the base of the cairn he
wondered no longer, for the old gray wolf, for whose head Graul had
offered a talent of silver, was loping down the hillside in full view,
with her long family at her heels. She passed within a stone's throw
of the King and gave him one quiet, disdainful look out of her green
eyes as she headed her pack to the southward.
Then the King understood. He looked southward and saw the plain full
of moving beasts. He looked northward, and two miles away the rolling
downs were not, but in their place a bright line stretched taut as a
string, and the string roared as if a great finger were twanging it.
Queen Niotte's horse had come to a standstill. Graul lifted and set
her before him on Rubh's crupper, and called to Gwennolar to follow
him. But Gwennolar's horse, too, was spent, and in a little while he
drew rein and lifted her, too, and set her on the stallion's broad
back behind him. Then forward he spurred again and southward after
the wolves—with a pack fiercer than wolves shouting at Rubh's heels,
nearer and yet nearer.
And Rubh galloped, yet not as before; for this Gwennolar was a
witch—a child of sixteen, golden-tressed, innocent to look upon as a
bird of the air. Her parents found no fault in her, for she was their
only one. None but the Devil, whom she had bound to serve her for a
year and a day, knew of her lovers—the dark young sailors from
the ships of Tyre, who came ashore and never sailed again nor were
seen—or beneath what beach their bodies lay in a row. To-day his date
was up, and in this flood he was taking his wages.
Gwennolar wreathed her white arms around her father and clung to him,
while her blown hair streamed like gold over his beard. And King Graul
set his teeth and rode to save the pair whom he knew to be dearest and
believed to be best. But if Niotte weighed like a feather, Gwennolar
with her wickedness began to weigh like lead—and more heavily yet,
until the stallion could scarcely heave his strong loins forward, as
now the earth grew moist about his hoofs. For far ahead of the white
surge-line the land was melting and losing its features; trickles of
water threading the green pastures, channelling the ditches, widening
out into pools among the hollows—traps and pitfalls to be skirted,
increasing in number while the sun sank behind and still the great
rock of Cara Clowz showed far away above the green forest.
Rubh's head was leaning and his lungs throbbed against the King's
heels. Yet he held on. He had overtaken the wolves; and Graul,
thinking no longer of deliverance, watched the pack streaming beside
him but always falling back and a little back until even the great
gray dam dropped behind. A minute later a scream rang close to his
ear; the stallion leaped as if at a water-brook, and as suddenly sank
backward with a dozen wolves on his haunches.
"Father!" shrieked Gwennolar. "Father!" He felt her arms dragged from
around his neck. With an arm over his wife Niotte he crouched,
waiting for the fangs to pierce his neck. And while he waited, to his
amazement the horse staggered up, shook himself, and was off with a
bound, fleet as an arrow, fleeter than ever before, yet not fleeter
than the pack now running again and fresh beside him. He looked back.
Gwennolar rose to her knees on the turf where the wolves had pulled
her down and left her unhurt; she stretched out both arms to him, and
called once. The sun dipped behind her, and between her and the sun
the tide—a long bright-edged knife—came sweeping and cut her down.
Then it seemed as if the wolves had relinquished to the waters not
their prey only but their own fierce instinct; for the waves paused
at the body and played with it, nosing and tumbling it over and over,
lifting it curiously, laying it down again on the green knoll, and
then withdrawing in a circle while they took heart to rush upon it
all together and toss it high, exultant and shouting. And during that
pause the fugitives gained many priceless furlongs.
They reached the skirts of the great forest and dashed into its
twilight, crouching low while Rubh tore his way between the gray
beech-trunks and leaped the tangles of brier, but startled no life
from bough or undergrowth. Beast and reptile had fled inland; and the
birds hung and circled over the tree-tops without thought of roosting.
Graul's right arm tightened about his wife's waist, but his left hand
did no more than grasp the rein. He trusted to the stallion, and
through twilight and darkness alike Rubh held his course.
When at length he slackened speed and came to a halt with a shudder,
Graul looked up and saw the stars overhead and a glimmering scarp of
granite, and knew it for the gray rock, Cara Clowz. By the base of
it he lowered Niotte to the ground, dismounted, and began to climb,
leading Rubh by the bridle and seeking for a pathway. Behind him the
voices of crashing trees filled the windless night. He found a ledge
at length, and there the three huddled together—Niotte between
swooning and sleep, Graul seated beside her, and Rubh standing
patient, waiting for the day. When the crashing ceased around them,
the King could hear the soft flakes of sweat dripping from the
stallion's belly, and saw the stars reflected now from the floor where
his forest had stood. Day broke, and the Lyonnesse had vanished.
Forest and pasture, city, mart and haven—away to the horizon a
heaving sea covered all. Of his kingdom there remained only a thin
strip of coast, marching beside the Cornish border, and this sentinel
rock, standing as it stands to-day, then called Cara Clowz, and now
St. Michael's Mount.
If you have visited it, you will know that the mount stands about half
a mile from the mainland; an island except at low water, when you
reach it by a stone causeway. Here, on the summit, Graul and Niotte
built themselves a house, asking no more of life than a roof to
shelter them; for they had no child to build for, and their spirit was
broken. The little remnant of their nation settled in Marazion on the
mainland, or southward along the strip of coast, and set themselves to
learn a new calling. As the sea cast up the bodies of their drowned
cattle and the trunks of uprooted trees, they took hides and timber
and fashioned boats and launched forth to win their food. They lowered
nets and wicker pots through the heaving floor deep into the twilight,
and, groping across their remembered fields, drew pollack and conger,
shellfish and whiting from rocks where shepherds had sat to watch
their sheep, or tinners gathered at noonday for talk and dinner. At
first it was as if a man returning at night to his house and, finding
it unlit, should feel in the familiar cupboard for food and start
back from touch of a monstrous body, cold and unknown. Time and use
deadened the shock. They were not happy, for they remembered days of
old; but they endured, they fought off hunger, they earned sleep; and
their King, as he watched from Cara Clowz their dark sails moving out
against the sunset, could give thanks that the last misery had been
spared his people.
But there were dawns which discovered one or two missing from the tale
of boats, home-comings with heavy news for freight, knots of women and
children with blown wet hair awaiting it, white faces and the wails of
widow and orphan. The days drew in and this began to happen often—so
often that a tale grew with it and spread, until it had reached all
ears but those of King Graul and Queen Motte.
One black noon in November a company of men crossed the sands at
low-water and demanded to speak with the King.
"Speak, my children," said Graul. He knew that they loved him and
might count on his sharing the last crust with them.
"We are come," said the spokesman, "not for ourselves, but for our
wives and children. For us life is none too pleasant; but they need
men's hands to find food for them, and at this rate there will soon be
no men of our nation left."
"But how can I help you?" asked the King.
"That we know not; but it is your daughter Gwennolar who undoes us.
She lies out yonder beneath the waters, and through the night she
calls to men, luring them down to their death. I myself—all of us
here—have heard her; and the younger men it maddens. With singing and
witch fires she lures our boats to the reefs and takes toll of us,
lulling even the elders to dream, cheating them with the firelight and
voices of their homes."
Now the thoughts of Graul and Niotte were with their daughter
continually. That she should have been lost and they saved, who cared
so little for life and nothing for life without her—that was their
abiding sorrow and wonder and self-reproach. Why had Graul not turned
Rubh's head perforce and ridden back to die with her, since help her
he could not? Many times a day he asked himself this; and though
Niotte's lips had never spoken it, her eyes asked it too. At night he
would hear her breath pause at his side, and knew she was thinking of
their child out yonder in the cold waters.
"She calls to us also," he answered, and checked himself.
"So it is plain her spirit is alive yet, and she must be a witch,"
said the spokesman, readily.
The King rent his clothes. "My daughter is no witch!" he cried. "But I
left her to die, and she suffers."
"Our lads follow her. She calls to them and they perish."
"It is not Gwennolar who calls, but some evil thing which counterfeits
her. She was innocent as the day. Nevertheless your sons shall not
perish, nor you accuse her. From this day your boats shall have a
lantern on this rock to guide them, and I and my wife will tend it
with our own hands."
Thenceforward at sunset with their own hands Graul and Niotte lit and
hung out a lantern from the niche which stands to this day and is
known as St. Michael's Chair; and trimmed it, and tended it the night
through, taking turns to watch. Niotte, doited with years and sorrow,
believed that it shone to signal her lost child home. Her hands
trembled every night as Graul lit the wick, and she arched her palms
above to shield it from the wind. She was happier than her husband.
Gwennolar's spell defied the lantern and their tottering pains. Boats
were lost, men perished as before. The people tried a new appeal.
It was the women's turn to lay their grief at the King's door. They
crossed the sands by ones and twos—-widows, childless mothers, maids
betrothed and bereaved—and spread their dark skirts and sat before
the gateway. Niotte brought them food with her own hands; they took
it without thanks. All the day they sat silent, and Graul felt their
silence to be heavier than curses—nay, that their eyes did indeed
curse as they sat around and watched the lighting of the lantern, and
Niotte, nodding innocently at her arched hands, told them, "See, I
pray; cannot you pray too?"
But the King's prayer was spoken in the morning, when the flame and
the stars grew pale together and the smoke of the extinguished lamp
sickened his soul in the clean air. His gods were gone with the oaks
under which he had worshipped; but he stood on a rock apart from the
women and, lifting both hands, cried aloud: "If there be any gods
above the tree-tops, or any in the far seas whither the old fame
of King Graul has reached; if ever I did kindness to a stranger or
wayfarer, and he, returning to his own altars, remembered to speak of
Graul of Lyonnesse: may I, who ever sought to give help, receive help
now! From my youth I have believed that around me, beyond sight as
surely as within it, stretched goodness answering the goodness in my
own heart; yea, though I should never travel and find it, I trusted
it was there. O trust, betray me not! O kindness, how far soever
dwelling, speak comfort and help! For I am afflicted because of my
Seven mornings he prayed thus on his rock: and on the seventh,
his prayer ended, he stood watching while the sunrays, like dogs
shepherding a flock, searched in the mists westward and gathered up
the tale of boats one by one. While he counted them, the shoreward
breeze twanged once like a harp, and he heard a fresh young voice
singing from the base of the cliff at his feet—
"There lived a king in Argos,—
A merchantman in Tyre
Would sell the King his cargoes,
But took his heart's desire:
Sing Io, Io, Io!—"
Graul looked toward his wife. "That will be the boy Laian," said
Motte; "he sits on the rock below and sings at his fishing."
"The song is a strange one," said Graul; "and never had Laian voice
The singer mounted the cliff—
"The father of that merry may
A thousand towns he made to pay,
And lapp'd the world in fire!"
He stood before them—a handsome, smiling youth, with a crust of brine
on his blue sea-cloak, and the light of the morning in his hair.
"Salutation, O Graul!" said he, and looked so cordial and well-willing
that the King turned to him from the dead lamp and the hooded women as
one turns to daylight from an evil dream.
"Salutation, O Stranger!" he answered. "You come to a poor man, but
are welcome—you and your shipmates."
"I travel alone," said the youth; "and my business—"
But the King put up his hand. "We ask no man his business until he has
"I feast not in a house of mourning; and my business is better spoken
soon than late, seeing that I heal griefs."
"If that be so," answered Graul, "you come to those who are fain
of you." And then and there he told of Gwennolar. "The blessing of
blessings rest on him who can still my child's voice and deliver her
from my people's curse!"
The Stranger listened, and threw back his head. "I said I could heal
griefs. But I cannot cure fate; nor will a wise man ask it. Pain
you must suffer, but I can soothe it; sorrow, but I can help you to
forget; death, but I can brace you for it."
"Can death be welcomed," asked Graul, "save by those who find life
"You shall see." He stepped to the mourning women, and took the eldest
by the hand. At first he whispered to her—in a voice so low that
Graul heard nothing, but saw her brow relax, and that she listened
while the blood came slowly back to her cheeks.
"Of what are you telling her?" the King demanded.
"Hush!" said the Stranger, "Go, fetch me a harp."
Graul brought a harp. It was mute and dusty, with a tangle of strings;
but the Stranger set it against his knee, and began to mend it deftly,
talking the while in murmurs as a brook talks in a covert of cresses.
By and by as he fitted a string he would touch and make it hum on a
word—softly at first, and with long intervals—as though all its
music lay dark and tangled in chaos, and he were exploring and picking
out a note here and a note there to fit his song. There was trouble
in his voice, and restlessness, and a low, eager striving, and a hope
which grew as the notes came oftener, and lingered and thrilled on
them. Then his fingers caught the strings together, and pulled the
first chord: it came out of the depths with a great sob—a soul set
free. Other souls behind it rose to his fingers, and he plucked them
forth, faster and faster—some wailing, some laughing fiercely, but
each with the echo of a great pit, the clang of doors, and the mutter
of an army pressing at its heels. And now the mourners leaned forward,
and forgot all except to listen, for he was singing the Creation. He
sang up the stars and set them in procession; he sang forth the sun
from his chamber; he lifted the heads of the mountains and hitched on
their mantles of green forest; he scattered the uplands with sheep,
and the upper air with clouds; he called the west wind, and it came
with a rustle of wings; he broke the rock into water and led it
dancing down the cliffs, and spread it in marshes, and sent it
spouting and hurrying in channels. Flowers trooped to the lip of it,
wild beasts slunk down to drink; armies of corn spread in rank along
it, and men followed with sickles, chanting the hymn of Linus; and
after them, with children at the breast, women stooped to glean or
strode upright bearing baskets of food. Over their heads days and
nights hurried in short flashes, and the seasons overtook them while
they rested, and drowned them in showers of bloom, and overtopped
their bodies with fresh corn: but the children caught up the sickles
and ran on. To some—shining figures in the host—he gave names; and
they shone because they moved in the separate light of divine eyes
watching them, rays breaking the thickets or hovering down from
heights where the gods sat at their ease.
But before this the men had brought their boats to shore, and hurried
to the Mount, drawn by his harping. They pressed around him in a ring;
and at first they were sad, since of what he sang they remembered the
like in Lyonnesse—plough and sickle and flail, nesting birds and
harvest, flakes of ore in the river-beds, dinner in the shade, and the
plain beyond winking in the noon-day heat. They had come too late for
the throes of his music, when the freed spirit trembled for a little
on the threshold, fronting the dawn, but with the fire of the pit
behind it and red on its trailing skirt. The song rolled forward now
like a river, sweeping them past shores where they desired to linger.
But the Stranger fastened his eyes on them, and sang them out to broad
bars and sounding tumbling seas, where the wind piped, and the breeze
came salt, and the spray slapped over the prow, hardening men to
heroes. Then the days of their regret seemed to them good only for
children, and the life they had loathed took a new face; their eyes
opened upon it, and they saw it whole, and loved it for its largeness.
"Beyond! beyond! beyond!"—they stared down on the fingers plucking
the chords, but the voice of the harp sounded far up and along the
And with that quite suddenly it came back, and was speaking close at
hand, as a friend telling them a simple tale; a tale which all could
understand, though of a country unknown to them. Thus it ran:
"In Hellas, in the kingdom of Argos, there lived two brothers,
Cleobis and Biton—young men, well to do, and of great strength of
body, so that each had won a crown in the public games. Now, once,
when the Argives were keeping a festival of the goddess Hera,
their mother had need to be driven to the temple in her chariot,
but the oxen did not return from the field in time. The young men,
therefore, seeing that the hour was late, put the yoke on their
own necks, and drew the car in which their mother sat, and brought
her to the temple, which was forty-five stades away. This they did
in sight of the multitude assembled; and the men commended their
strength, while the women called her blessed to be the mother of
such sons. But she, overjoyed at the deed and its renown, entered
the temple and, standing before the image of Hera, prayed the
goddess to grant her two sons, Cleobis and Biton, the greatest
boon which could fall to man. After she had prayed, and they had
sacrificed and eaten of the feast, the young men sat down in the
temple and fell asleep, and never awoke again, but so made an end
with life. In this wise the blessing of Hera came to them; and
the men of Argos caused statues to be made of them and set up at
Delphi, for a memorial of their piety and its reward."
Thus quietly the great song ended, and Graul, looking around on his
people, saw on their faces a cheerfulness they had not known since the
day of the flood.
"Sir," said he, "yours is the half of my poor kingdom and yours the
inheritance, if you will abide with us and sing us more of these
"For that service," answered the Stranger, "I am come; but not for the
reward. Give me only a hide of land somewhere upon your cliffs, and
there will I build a house and sing to all who have need of me."
So he did; and the fable goes on to say that never were known in the
remnant of Lyonesse such seasons as followed, nor ever will be. The
fish crowded to the nets, the cliffs waved with harvest. Heavy were
the nets to haul and laborious was the reaping, but the people forgot
their aches when the hour came to sit at the Stranger's feet and
listen, and drink the wine which he taught them to plant. For his part
he toiled not at all, but descended at daybreak and nightfall to bathe
in the sea, and returned with the brine on his curls and his youth
renewed upon him. He never slept; and they, too, felt little need of
sleep, but drank and sang the night away, refreshed by the sacred
dews, watching for the moon to rise over the rounded cornfields, or
for her feet to touch the sea and shed silver about the boats in the
offing. Out yonder Gwennolar sang and took her toll of life as before;
but the people heeded less, and soon forgot even when their dearest
perished. Other things than sorrow they began to unlearn. They had
been a shamefaced race; the men shy and the women chaste. But the
Stranger knew nothing of shame; nor was it possible to think harm
where he, their leader, so plainly saw none. Naked he led them from
the drinking-bout down the west stairway to the bathing-pool, and
naked they plunged in and splashed around him and laughed as the cool
shock scattered the night's languor and the wine-fumes. What mattered
anything?—what they did, or what they suffered, or what news the
home-coming boats might bring? They were blithe for the moment and
lusty for the day's work, and with night again would come drink and
song of the amorous gods; or if by chance the Singer should choose
another note and tell of Procris or of Philomela, they could weep
softly for others' woes and, so weeping, quite forget their own.
And the fable goes on to say that for three years by these means the
Stranger healed the griefs of the people of Lyonnesse, until one
night when they sat around he told them the story of Ion; and if
the Stranger were indeed Phoebus Apollo himself, shameless was the
telling. But while they listened, wrapped in the story, a cry broke
on the night above the murmur of the beaches—a voice from the cliff
below them, calling "Repent! Repent!"
They leaped to their feet at once, and hurried down the stairway. But
the beach was empty; and though they hunted for an hour, they found no
one. Yet the next night and every night after the same voice called
"Repent! Repent!" They hurled down stones upon it and threatened
it with vengeance; but it was not to be scared. And by and by the
Stranger missed a face from his circle, then another. At length came a
night when he counted but half of his company.
He said no word of the missing ones; but early next morning, when the
folk had set out to their labors in the fields, he took a staff and
walked along the shore toward the Mount. A little beyond Parc-an-als,
where a spring gushes from the face of the cliff, he came upon a man
who stood under it catching the trickle in a stone basin, and halted
a few paces off to watch him. The man's hair and beard were long and
unkempt, his legs bare, and he wore a tattered tunic which reached
below the knees and was caught about his waist with a thong girdle.
For some minutes he did not perceive the Singer; but turned at length,
and the two eyed each other awhile.
Then the Singer advanced smiling, while the other frowned.
"Thou hast followed me," he said.
"I have followed and found thee," the other answered.
"Leven," said the man. "I come out of Ireland."
"The Nazarite travels far; but this spot He overlooked on his travels,
and the people had need. I brought them help; but they desert me
now—for thee doubtless?"
The Saint bent his head. The Singer laughed.
"He is strong, but the old gods bear no malice. I go to-night to join
their sleep, but I have loved this folk in a fashion. I pitied their
woes and brought them solace: I taught them to forget—and in the
forgetting maybe they have learned much that thou wilt have to
unteach. Yet deal gently with them. They are children, and too often
you holy men come with bands of iron. Shall we sit and talk awhile
together, for their sakes?"
And the fable says that for a long day St. Leven sat on the sands of
the Porth which now bears his name, and talked with the Singer; and,
that in consequence, to this day the descendants of the people of
Lyonnesse praise God in cheerfuller hymns than the rest of the world
uses—so much so that a company of minstrels visiting them not long
ago were surprised in the midst of a drinking-chorus to find the
audience tittering, and to learn afterward that they had chanted the
most popular local burying-tunes!
Twilight had fallen before the Stranger rose and took his farewell. On
his way back he spied a company approaching along the dusky shore,
and drew aside behind a rock while they passed toward the Saint's
dwelling. He found his own deserted. Of his old friends either none
had come or none had waited; and away on a distant beach rose the
faint chant of St. Patrick's Hymn of the Guardsman:
"Christ the eye, the ear, the heart,
Christ above, before, behind me;
From the snare, the sword, the dart,
On the Trinity I bind me—
Christi est salus,
Christi est salus,
Salus tua, Domine, sit semper nobiscum!"