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Title: The Owls' House
Author: Garstin, Crosbie
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                            THE OWLS’ HOUSE

                           By CROSBIE GARSTIN

                             [Illustration]

                           A. L. BURT COMPANY
                        Publishers      New York

       Published by arrangement with Frederick A. Stokes Company
                          Printed in U. S. A.



                         _Copyright, 1923, by_
                      FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY

                         _All rights reserved_

               _Printed in the United States of America_

                            The Owls' House



                               CHAPTER I


It was late evening when John Penhale left the Helston lawyer’s office.
A fine drizzle was blowing down Coinage Hall Street; thin beams of light
pierced the chinks of house shutters and curtains, barred the blue dusk
with misty orange rays, touched the street puddles with alchemic
fingers, turning them to gold. A chaise clattered uphill, the horses’
steam hanging round them in a kind of lamp-lit nimbus, the post-boy’s
head bent against the rain.

Outside an inn an old soldier with a wooden leg and very drunk stood
wailing a street ballad, both eyes shut, impervious to the fact that his
audience had long since left him. Penhale turned into “The Angel,” went
on straight into the dining-room and sat down in the far corner with the
right side of his face to the wall. He did so from habit. A trio of
squireens in mud-bespattered riding coats sat near the door and made
considerable noise. They had been hare hunting and were rosy with sharp
air and hard riding. They greeted every appearance of the ripe serving
maid with loud whoops and passed her from arm to arm. She protested and
giggled. Opposite them a local shop-keeper was entertaining a creditor
from Plymouth to the best bottle the town afforded. The company was made
up by a very young ensign of Light Dragoons bound to Winchester to join
his regiment for the first time, painfully self-conscious and aloof, in
his new scarlet. Penhale beat on the table with his knife. The maid
escaped from the festive sportsmen and brought him a plate of boiled
beef and onions. As she was about to set the plate before him one of the
hare hunters lost his balance and fell to the ground with a loud crash
of his chair and a yell of delight from his companions.

The noise caused Penhale to turn his head. The girl emitted an “ach” of
horror, dropped the plate on the table and recoiled as though some one
had struck her. Penhale pulled the plate towards him, picked up his
knife and fork and quietly began to eat. He was quite used to these
displays. The girl backed away, staring in a sort of dreadful
fascination. A squireen caught at her wrist calling her his “sweet
slut,” but she wrenched herself free and ran out of the door.

She did not come near Penhale again; the tapster brought him the rest of
his meal. Penhale went on eating, outwardly unmoved; he had been subject
to these outbursts, off and on, for eighteen years.

Eighteen years previously myriads of birds had been driven south by the
hard winter upcountry. One early morning, after a particularly bitter
snap, a hind had run in to say that the pond on Polmenna Downs, above
the farm, was covered with wild duck. Penhale took an old flintlock
fowling piece of his father’s which had been hanging neglected over the
fireplace for years, and made for Polmenna, loading as he went.

As the hind had said, the pool was covered with duck. Penhale crouched
under cover of some willows, brought the five-foot gun to his shoulder,
and blazed into the brown.

An hour later a fisherman setting rabbit snares in a hedge above the
Luddra saw what he described as “a red man” fighting through the scrub
and bramble that fringed the cliff. It was John Penhale; the gun had
exploded, blowing half his face away. Penhale had no intention of
throwing himself over the Luddra, he was blind with blood and pain. The
fisherman led him home with difficulty, and then, being of a practical
mind, returned to the pond to pick up the duck.

An old crone who had the reputation of being a “white witch” was
summoned to Bosula and managed to stop the bleeding by means of
incantations, cobwebs and dung—principally dung. The hind was sent on
horseback to Penzance to fetch Doctor Spargo.

Doctor Spargo had been making a night of it with his friend the
Collector of Customs and a stray ship captain who was peculiarly gifted
in the brewing of rum toddies. The doctor was put to bed at dawn by his
household staff, and when he was knocked up again at eleven he was not
the best pleased. He bade his housekeeper tell the Bosula messenger that
he was out—called out to a confinement in Morvah parish and was not
expected back till evening—and turned over on his pillow.

The housekeeper returned, agitated, to say that the messenger refused to
move. He knew the doctor was in, he said; the groom had told him so.
Furthermore if Spargo did not come to his master’s assistance without
further ado he would smash every bone in his body. Doctor Spargo rolled
out of bed, and opening the window treated the messenger to samples from
a vocabulary enriched by a decade of army life. The messenger listened
to the tirade unmoved and, as Doctor Spargo cursed, it was borne in on
him that he had seen this outrageous fellow before. Presently he
remembered when; he had seen him at Gwithian Feast, a canvas jacket on,
tossing parish stalwarts as a terrier tosses rats. The messenger was
Bohenna, the wrestler. Doctor Spargo closed both the tirade and the
window abruptly and bawled for his boots.

The pair rode westwards, the truculent hind cantering on the heels of
the physician’s cob, laying into it with an ash plant whenever it showed
symptoms of flagging. The cob tripped over a stone in Bucca’s Pass and
shied at a goat near Trewoofe, on each occasion putting its master
neatly over its head. By the time Spargo arrived at Bosula he was
shaking worse than ever. He demanded more rum to steady his hand, but
there was none. He pulled himself together as best he could and set to
work, trembling and wheezing.

Spargo was a retired army surgeon; he had served his apprenticeship in
the shambles of Oudenarde and Malplaquet among soldiers who had no
option but to submit to his ministrations. His idea was to patch men up
so that they might fight another day, but without regard to their
appearance. He sewed the tatters of John Penhale’s face together
securely but roughly, pocketed his fee and rode home, gasping, to his
toddies.

John Penhale was of fine frame and hearty. In a week or two he was out
and about; in a month he had resumed the full business of the farm, but
his face was not a pleasant sight. The left side was merely marked with
a silvery burn on the cheek bone, but the right might have been dragged
by a harrow; it was ragged scars from brow to chin. The eye had gone and
part of an ear, the broken jaw had set concave and his cheek had split
into a long harelip, revealing a perpetual snarl of teeth underneath. He
hid the eye socket with a black patch, but the lower part of his face he
could not mask.

Three months after his accident he rode into Penzance market. If one
woman squeaked at the sight of him so did a dozen, and children ran to
their mothers blubbering that the devil had come for them. Even the men,
though sympathetic, would not look him in the face, but stared at their
boots while they talked and were plainly relieved when he moved away.
John never went in again, unless driven by the direst necessity, and
then hurried out the moment his affairs were transacted. For despite his
bulk and stoic bearing he was supersensitive, and the horror his
appearance awoke cut him to the raw. Thus at the age of twenty-three he
became a bitter recluse, a prisoner within the bounds of his farm,
Bosula, cared for by a widow and her idiot daughter, mixing only with
his few hinds and odd farmers and fishermen that chance drove his way.

He had come to Helston on business, to hear the terms of his Aunt
Selina’s will, and now that he had heard them he was eager to be quit of
the place. The serving girl’s behavior had stung him like a whip lash
and the brawling of the drunken squires jarred on his every nerve. He
could have tossed the three of them out of the window if he liked, but
he quailed at the thought of their possible mockery. They put their
heads together and whispered, hiccoughing and sniggering. They were, as
a fact, planning a descent on a certain lady in Pigs Street, but John
Penhale was convinced that they were laughing at him. The baby ensign
had a derisive curl in his lip, John was sure . . . he could feel the
two shop-keepers’ eyes turned his way . . . it was unbearable.

Sneers, jeers, laughter . . . he hated them all, everybody. He would get
out, go home to Bosula, to sanctuary. He had a sudden longing for
Bosula, still and lonely among the folding hills . . . his own place. He
drank off his ale, paid the score and went out to see what the weather
was like.

The wind had chopped around easterly and the rain had stopped. The moon
was up breasting through flying ridges of cloud like a naked white
swimmer in the run of surf. Penhale found an ostler asleep on a pile of
straw, roused him and told him to saddle his horse, mounted and rode
westwards out of town.

He passed a lone pedestrian near Antron and a string of pack horses
under Breage Church, but for the rest he had the road to himself. He
ambled gently, considering the terms of his aunt’s will. She had left
him her strong farm of Tregors, in the Kerrier Hundred, lock, stock and
barrel, on the one condition that he married within twelve months. In
default of his marrying it was to pass to her late husband’s cousin,
Carveth Donnithorne, ship chandler of Falmouth.

John Penhale paid silent tribute to his aunt’s cleverness. She disliked
the smug and infallible Donnithorne intensely, and in making him her
next heir had passed over four nearer connections with whom she was on
good terms. Her reasons for this curious conduct were that she was a
Penhale by birth with intense family pride and John was the last of her
line. A trivial dispute between John and Carveth over a coursing match
she had fostered with all the cunning that was in her till the men’s
dislike of each other amounted to plain hatred. She knew John would do
anything in his power to keep Donnithorne out of the Tregors’ rents. She
would drive him into matrimony, and then, with reasonable luck, the line
would go on and Penhales rule at Bosula forever and ever.

John laughed grimly at the thought of his aunt—sly old devil! She had
married and left home before he was born, and he had not seen her a
score of times in his life, but she was a vivid memory. He could see her
now riding into Bosula, a-pillion behind one of her farm hands, her cold
blue eyes taking in every detail of the yard, and hear her first words
of greeting to her brother after a year’s separation.

“Jan, thou mazed fool, the trash wants cutting back down to Long meadow,
and there’s a cow coughing—bring her in to once and I’ll physick her.”

The cow came in at once; everybody obeyed Selina without question or
delay both at Bosula and Tregors. Her husband, Jabez Donnithorne, was
the merest cipher whose existence she barely acknowledged.

On one occasion Jabez, returning very drunk from Helston market, having
neglected to buy the heifers he was sent after, Selina personally
chastised him with a broom handle and bolted him in the pig-sty for the
night, where he was overlaid by a sow and suffered many indignities.
That cured Jabez.

Selina never stopped long at Bosula—three days at the most—but in that
time she would have inspected the place from bound to bound, set
everybody to rights, and dictated the policy of the farm for twelve
months to come. As she had ruled her brother in boyhood she ruled him to
the day of his death. She was fond of him, but only because he was head
of the family. His wife she looked on merely as a machine for producing
male Penhales. She would see to it that on her death Tregors fell to her
family, and then, doubly endowed, the Penhales of Bosula would be
squires and gentlefolk in the land.

When, after many years, John remained the only child, Selina bit back
her disappointment and concentrated on the boy. She insisted on his
being sent to Helston Grammar School, paid half the cost of his
education, kept him in plentiful pocket money and saw that his clothes
were of the best. He was a handsome, upstanding lad and did her credit.
She was more than satisfied; he would go far, she told herself; make a
great match. Then came John’s accident. Selina made no move until he was
out and about again, and then rode over to assess the damage. She
stalked suddenly into the kitchen one morning, surveyed the ruins of her
nephew’s comely face, outwardly unmoved, and then stalked out again
without a word of consolation or regret, barked instructions that her
horse was to be baited and ready in two hours and turned up the hill.

Up the hill she strode, over Polmenna Downs and on to that haunt of her
girlhood, the Luddra Head. Perched high on its stone brows, the west
wind in her cloak and hair, she stared, rigid and unseeing, over the
glitter of the Channel. She was back in the two hours, but her eyelids
were red—for the last time in her life Selina had been crying.

She slept at the Angel at Helston that night, visited a certain
disreputable attorney next morning and left his office with the
Tregellas mortgage in her pocket.

Mr. Hugh Tregellas of Tregellas had four daughters and a mania for
gambling. He did not fling his substance away on horse-racing, cock or
man fights—indeed he lifted up his voice loudly against the immorality
of these pursuits—he took shares in companies formed to extract gold
from sea water, in expeditions to discover the kingdom of Prester John,
and such like. Any rogue with an oiled tongue and a project sufficiently
preposterous could win a hearing from the Squire. But though much money
went out few ships came home, and the four Miss Tregellases sat in the
parlor, their dowries dwindling to nothing, and waited for the suitors
who did not come.

All this was well known to their neighbor, Selina Donnithorne. She knew
that when the four Miss Tregellases were not in the parlor playing at
ladies they were down on their knee bones scrubbing floors. She even had
it on sound authority that the two youngest forked out the cow-byre
every morning.

She called on the Squire one afternoon, going to Tregellas in state,
dressed in her best, and driving in a cabriolet she had purchased dirt
cheap from a broken-down roisterer at Bodmin Assizes. She saw Mr.
Tregellas in his gunless gun-room and came to the point at once. She
wanted his youngest daughter for John Penhale. Mr. Tregellas flushed
with anger and opened his mouth to reply, but Selina gave him no
opportunity. Her nephew was already a man of moderate means, she said,
living on his own good farm in the Penwith Hundred, with an income of
nearly one hundred pounds per annum into the bargain. When she died he
would have Tregors also. He was well educated, a fine figure of a man
and sound in wind and limb, if a trifle cut about one side of the
face—one side only—but then, after all these wars, who was not?

Here Mr. Tregellas managed to interpose a spluttering refusal. Selina
nodded amiably. She ventured to remind Mr. Tregellas that since
Arethusina’s dowry had sunk off Cape St. Vincent with the Fowey
privateer, _God’s Providence_, her chances of a distinguished marriage
were negligible—also that she, Selina, was now mortgagee of Tregellas
and the mortgage fell due at Michaelmas.

Mr. Tregellas was a gambler. As long as there was one chance left to
him, no matter how long, the future was radiant. He laughed at Selina.
He had large interests in a company for trading with the King of certain
South Sea atolls, he said, the lagoons of which were paved with pearl.
It had been estimated that this enterprise could not fail to enrich him
at a rate of less than eleven hundred and fifty-three per centum. A ship
bearing the first fruits was expected in Bristol almost any day now, was
in fact overdue, but these nor’-easterly head winds . . . Mr. Tregellas
saw Selina to the door, his good humor restored, promising her that long
before Michaelmas he would not only be paying off the mortgage on
Tregellas, but offering her a price for Tregors as well.

Selina rocked home in her cabriolet no whit perturbed by the Squire’s
optimism. Nor’-easterly head winds, indeed! . . .

Three months from that date Mr. Tregellas returned the call. Selina was
feeding ducks in the yard when he came. She emptied her apron, led the
Squire into the kitchen and gave him a glass of cowslip wine—which he
needed.

“Come to offer me a price for Tregors?” she asked.

The old gambler blinked his weak eyes pathetically, like a child
blinking back tears, and buried his face in his hands. Selina did not
twit him further. There was no need. She had him where she wanted him.
She smiled to herself. So the pearl ship had gone the deep road of the
Fowey privateer—and all the other ventures. She clicked her tongue,
“Tchuc—tchuc!” and offered him another glass of wine.

“I’ll send for John Penhale to-morrow,” said she. “I’ll tell him that if
he don’t take your maid he shan’t have Tregors. You tell your maid if
she don’t take my John I’ll put you all out on the road come Michaelmas.
Now get along wid ’ee.”

Arethusina came over to Tregors to pay Mrs. Donnithorne a week’s visit,
and John was angled from his retreat by the bait of a roan colt he had
long coveted and which his aunt suddenly expressed herself willing to
sell.

The sun was down when he reached the farm; Selina met him in the yard,
and leading him swiftly into the stables explained the lay of the land
while he unsaddled his horse, but she did not tell him what pressure had
been brought to bear on the youngest Miss Tregellas.

John was amazed and delighted. Mr. Hugh Tregellas’ daughter willing to
marry him, a common farmer! Pretty too; he had seen her once, before his
accident, sitting in the family pew in Cury church—plump, fluffy little
thing with round blue eyes, like a kitten. This was incredible luck!

He was young then and hot-blooded, sick of the loneliness of Bosula and
the haphazard ministrations of the two slatterns. He was for dashing
into the house and starting his love-making there and then, but Selina
held him, haggling like a fish wife over the price of the roan. When he
at length got away from her it was thick dusk. It was dark in the
kitchen, except for the feeble glow of the turf fire, Selina explaining
that she had unaccountably run out of tallow dips—the boy should fetch
some from Helston on the morrow.

Arethusina came downstairs dressed in her eldest sister’s bombazine
dress, borrowed for the occasion. She was not embarrassed; she, like
John, was eager for change, weary of the threadbare existence and
unending struggle at home, of watching her sisters grow warped and
bitter. She saw ahead, saw four gray old women, dried kernels rattling
in the echoing shell of Tregellas House, never speaking, hating each
other and all things, doddering on to the blank end, four gray nuns
cloistered by granite pride. Anything were better than that. She would
sob off to sleep swearing to take any chance rather than come to that,
and here was a chance. John Penhale stood for life full and flowing in
place of want and decay. He might only be a yeoman, but he would have
two big farms and could keep her in comfort. She would have children,
she hoped, silk dresses and a little lap dog. Some day she might even
visit London.

She entered the kitchen in good heart and saw John standing before the
fire, a vague but imposing silhouette. A fine figure of a man, she
thought, and her heart lifted still higher. She dropped him a
mischievous curtsey. He took her hand, laughing, a deep, pleasant laugh.
They sat on the settle at the back of the kitchen and got on famously.

John had barely spoken to any sort of woman for a year, leave alone a
pretty woman; he thought her wonderful. Arethusina had not seen a
presentable man for double that period; all her stored coquetry bubbled
out. John was only twenty-four, the girl but nineteen; they were like
two starved children sitting down to a square meal.

The brass-studded grandfather clock tick-tocked, in its corner; the
yellow house cat lay crouched on the hearth watching the furze kindling
for mice; Selina nodded in her rocker before the fire, subconsciously
keeping time with the beats of the clock. A whinny of treble laughter
came from the settle, followed by John’s rumbling bass, then
whisperings.

Selina beamed at her vis-à-vis, the yellow cat. She was elated at the
success of her plans. It had been a good idea to let the girl get to
know John before she could see him. The blow would be softened when
morning came. In Selina’s experience obstacles that appeared
insurmountable at night dwindled to nothing in the morning light; one
came at them with a fresh heart. She was pleased with Arethusina. The
girl was healthy, practical and ambitious—above all, ambitious. She
might not be able to do much with John, marred as he was, but their
children would get all the advantages of the mother’s birth, Selina was
sure. The chariot of the Penhales would roll onwards, steered by small,
strong hands.

She glanced triumphantly at the pair on the settle and curled her thin
lips. Then she rose quietly and slipped off to bed. The yellow cat
remained, waiting its prey. Arethusina and John did not notice Selina’s
departure, they were engrossed in each other. The girl had the farmer at
her finger ends and enjoyed the experience; she played on his senses as
on a keyboard. He loomed above her on the settle, big, eager, boyish,
with a passionate break in his laughter. She kept him guessing, yielded
and retreated in turn, thrilled to feel how easily he responded to her
flying moods. What simpletons men were!—and what fun!

John shifted nearer up the settle, his great hot hand closed timorously
over hers; she snatched it free and drew herself up.

“La! sir, you forget yourself, I think. I will beg you to remember I am
none of your farm wenches! I—I . . .” She shook with indignation.

John trembled; he had offended, lost her. . . . O fool! He tried to
apologize and stuttered ridiculously. He _had_ lost her! The prospect of
facing a lifetime without this delectable creature, on whom he had not
bestowed a moment’s thought three hours before, suddenly became
intolerable. He bit his nails with rage at his impetuosity. So close
beside him, yet gone forever! Had she gone already? Melted into air?
. . . A dream after all? He glanced sideways. No, she was still there;
he could see the dim pallor of her face and neck against the darkness,
the folds of the bombazine dress billowing out over the edge of the
settle like a great flower.

A faint sweet waft of perfume touched his nostrils. Something stirred
beside him; he looked down. Her hand . . . her hand was creeping back up
the settle towards him! He heard a sound and looked up again; she was
crying! . . . Stay, _was_ she crying? No, by the Lord in heaven she was
not; she was _laughing_! In a flash he was on his feet, had crushed her
in his arms, as though to grasp the dear dream before it could fade, and
hold it to him forever. He showered kisses on her mouth, throat,
forehead—anywhere. She did not resist, but turned her soft face up to
his, laughing still. Tregors and Bosula were safe, safe for both of them
and all time.

At that moment the yellow cat sprang, and in so doing toppled a clump of
furze kindling over the embers. The dry bush caught and flared, roaring,
up the chimney. The kitchen turned in a second from black to red, and
John felt the youngest Miss Tregellas go suddenly rigid in his arms, her
blue eyes stared at him big with horror, her full lips were drawn tight
and colorless across her clenched teeth. He kissed her once more, but it
was like kissing the dead.

Then she came to life, struggled frantically, battered at his mouth with
both fists, giving little “Oh! Ohs!” like a trapped animal mad with
pain. He let her go, amazed.

She fled across the kitchen, crashing against the table in her blind
hurry, whipped round, stared at him again and then ran upstairs, panting
and sobbing. He heard the bolt of her door click, and then noises as
though she was piling furniture against it.

John turned about, still amazed, and jumped back startled. Who was that?
. . . that ghoul’s mask lit by flickers of red flame, snarling across
the room? Then he remembered it was himself of course, himself in the
old round mirror. After his accident he had smashed every looking-glass
at home and had forgotten what he looked like. . . . During the few
hours of fool’s paradise he had forgotten about his face altogether
. . . supposed the girl knew . . . had been told. The fatal furze bush
burnt out, leaving him in merciful darkness.

John opened the door, stumbled across to the stable, saddled his horse
and, riding hard, was at Bosula with dawn.

When the farm girl went to call Arethusina next morning she found the
room empty and the bed had not been slept in. Selina sent to the Squire
at once, but the youngest Miss Tregellas had not returned. They
discovered her eventually in an old rab pit halfway between the two
houses, her neck broken; she had fallen over the edge in the dark. It
was supposed she was trying to find her way home.



                               CHAPTER II


Since that night, seventeen years before, John Penhale had done no
love-making nor had he again visited Tregors. The Tregellas affair had
broken his nerve, but it had not impaired that of his aunt in the
slightest degree, and he was frightened of her, being assured that, did
he give her a chance, she would try again.

And now the old lady was dead, and in dying had tried again. John
pictured her casting her final noose sitting up, gaunt and tall, in her
four-poster bed dictating her last will and testament to the Helston
attorney, awed farm hands waiting to affix their marks, sunset staining
the west window and the black bull roaring in the yard below. And it was
a shrewd cast she had made; John could feel its toils tightening about
him. He had always been given to understand that Tregors was as good as
his, and now it was as good as Carveth Donnithorne’s—Carveth
Donnithorne! John gritted his teeth at the thought of the suave and ever
prospering ship chandler. Tregors had always been a strong farm, but in
the last seventeen years Selina had increased the acreage by a third, by
one hundred acres of sweet upland grazing lopped from the Tregellas
estate. There were new buildings too, built of moor granite to stand
forever, and the stock was without match locally. John’s yeoman heart
yearned to it. Oh, the clever old woman! John pictured Carveth
Donnithorne taking possession, Carveth Donnithorne with his
condescending airs, patronizing wife and school of chubby little boys.
Had not Carveth goods enough in this world but that he must have Tregors
as well?

John swore he should not have Tregors as well, not if he could stop it.
How could he stop it? He puzzled his wits, but returned inevitably to
the one answer he was trying to evade, “Marry within twelve months!
Marry within twelve months!” His aunt had made a sure throw, he admitted
with grim admiration, the cunning old devil! It was all very well saying
“marry,” but who would marry a man that even the rough fisher girls
avoided and children hid from? He would have no more force or
subterfuge. If any woman consented to marry him it must be in full
knowledge of what she was doing and of her own free will. There should
be no repetition of that night seventeen years before. He shuddered.
“No, by the Lord, no more of that; rather let Tregors go to Carveth.”

In imagination he saw the Squire’s daughter as he was always seeing her
in the dark nights when he was alone, stricken numb in his arms, glazed
horror in her eyes—saw her running across the blind country, sobbing,
panting, stumbling in furrows, torn by brambles, trying to get home,
away from him—the Terror. He shut his eyes, as though to shut out the
vision, and rode on past Germoe to Kenneggy Downs.

The moon was flying through clouds like a circus girl through hoops, the
road was swept by winged shadows. Puddles seemed to brim with milk at
one moment, ink the next. At one moment the surrounding country was
visible, a-gleam as with hoar frost, and then was blotted out in
darkness; it was a night of complete and startling transformations. The
shadow of a bare oak leapt upon them suddenly, flinging unsubstantial
arms at man and horse as though to grasp them, a phantom octopus.
Penhale’s mare shied, nearly unseating him. He came out of his somber
thoughts, kicked spurs into her and drove her on at a smart trot. She
swung forward, trembling and uneasy, nostrils swelling, ears twitching,
as though she sensed uncanny presences abroad. They reached the high
ground above Perranuthnoe, waste, gorse-covered downs. To the south the
great indent of Mount’s Bay gloomed and glittered under cloud and
moonshine; westward Paul Hill rose like a wall, a galaxy of ships’
riding lights pricking the shadow at its base. The track began to drop
downhill, the moors gave over to fields with high banks. An old pack
horse track, choked with undergrowth, broke into the road from the
seaward side. The mare cocked her ears towards it, snorted and checked.
Penhale laid into her with his whip. She bounded forward and shied
again, but with such violence this time that John came out of the saddle
altogether. He saw a shadow rush across the road, heard something thwack
on the mare’s rump as she swerved from under him, and he fell, not on
the road as he expected, but on top of a man, bearing him to the ground.
As John fell he knew exactly what he had to deal with—highwaymen! The
mare’s swerve had saved him a stunning blow on the head. He grappled
with the assailant as they went down and they rolled over and over on
the ground feeling for strangle holds. John was no tyro at the game; he
was muscled like a bull and had been taught many a trick by his hind
Bohenna, the champion, but this thief was strong also and marvelously
elusive. He buckled and twisted under the farmer’s weight, finally
slipped out of his clutch altogether and leapt to his feet. John
scrambled up just in time to kick the heavy oak cudgel from the man’s
reach and close with him again. John cross-buttocked and back-heeled him
repeatedly, but on each occasion the man miraculously regained his feet.
John tried sheer strength, hugged the man to him, straining to break his
back. The man bent and sprang as resilient as a willow wand. John hugged
him closer, trying to crush his ribs. The man made his teeth meet in the
farmer’s ear and slipped away again.

Once more John was just in time to stop him from picking up the club. He
kicked it into the ditch and set to work with his knuckles. But he could
not land a blow; wherever he planted his fists the fellow was not,
eluding them by a fraction of an inch, by a lightning side-step or a
shake of the head. The man went dancing backwards and sideways, hands
down, bobbing his head, bending, swaying, bouncing as though made of
rubber. He began to laugh. The laugh sent a shiver through John Penhale.
The footpad thought he had him in his hands, and unless help came from
somewhere the farmer knew such was the case; it was only a question of
time and not much time. He was out of trim and cooked to a finish
already, while the other was skipping like a dancing master, had breath
to spare for laughter.

At that time of night nobody would be on the road, and help was not
likely to drop from Heaven. He had only himself to look to. He thought
over the manifold tricks he had seen in the wrestling ring, thought
swiftly and desperately, hit out with his left and followed with an
upward kick of his right foot—Devon style. His fist missed as he
expected, but his boot caught the thief a tip under the knee cap as he
side-stepped. The man doubled up, and John flung himself at him. The
footpad butted him in the pit of the stomach with his head and skipped
clear, shouting savagely in Romany, but limping, limping! John did not
know the language, but it told him there was a companion to reckon
with—a fresh man; the struggle was hopeless. Nevertheless he turned and
ran for the club. He was not fast enough, not fast enough by half; three
yards from the ditch the lamed thief was on him. John heard the quick
hop-skip of feet behind him and dropped on one knee as the man sprang
for his back. The footpad, not expecting the drop, went too high; he
landed across John’s shoulders, one arm dropping across the farmer’s
chest. In a flash John had him by the wrist and jerked upright, at the
same time dragging down on the wrist; it was an adaptation of the
Cornish master-throw, “the flying mare.” The man went over John’s
shoulders like a rocket, made a wonderful effort to save himself by a
back somersault, but the tug on his wrist was too much, and he crashed
on his side in the road. John kicked him on the head till he lay still
and, picking up the club, whirled to face the next comer. Nobody came
on. John was perplexed. To whom had the fellow been shouting if not to a
confederate?

Perhaps the cur had taken fright and was skulking in the gorse. Very
well; he would drub him out. He was flushed with victory and had the
club in his hands now. He was stepping towards the furze when he heard a
slight scrunching sound to his left, and, turning, saw a dark figure
squatting on the bank at the roadside. John stood still, breathing hard,
his cudgel ready. The mysterious figure did not stir. John stepped
nearer, brandishing his club. Still the figure made no move. John
stepped nearer yet, and at that moment the moon broke clear of a mesh of
clouds, flooding the road with ghostly light, and John, to his
astonishment, saw that the confederate was a girl, a girl in a tattered
cloak and tarnished tumbler finery, munching a turnip. Strolling
acrobats! That explained the man’s uncanny agility.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded.

“Nothing, sir,” said the girl, chewing a lump of the root.

“I’ll have him hung and you transported for this,” John thundered.

“I did you no harm,” said the girl calmly.

That was true enough. John wondered why she had not come to the
assistance of her man; tribe law was strong with these outcasts, he
understood. He asked her.

The girl shrugged her shoulders. “He beat me yesterday. I wanted to see
him beat. You done it. Good!”

She thrust a bare, well-molded arm in John’s face. It was bruised from
elbow to shoulder. She spat at the unconscious tumbler.

“What is he to you?” John asked.

“Nothing,” she retorted. “Muck,” and took another wolfish bite at the
turnip; she appeared ravenous.

John turned his back on her. He had no intention of proceeding with the
matter, since to do so meant carrying a stunned footpad, twelve stone at
least, a mile into Market Jew and later standing the publicity of the
Assizes. He was not a little elated at the success of his “flying mare”
and in a mood to be generous. After all he had lost nothing but a little
skin; he would let the matter drop. He picked the man up and slung him
off the road into the gorse of the pack track. Now for his horse. He
walked past the munching girl in silence, halted, felt in his pocket,
found a florin and jerked it to her.

“Here,” he said, “get yourself an honest meal.”

The florin fell in the ditch, the girl dropped off the bank onto it as
he had seen a hawk drop on a field vole.

“Good God!” he muttered. “She must be starved,” and walked on.

He would knock up the inn in Market Jew and spend the remainder of the
night there, he decided. He would look for his horse in the morning—but
he expected it would trot home.

A hundred yards short of the St. Hilary turning he came upon the mare;
she was standing quietly, a forefoot planted on a broken rein, holding
herself nose to the ground. He freed her, knotted the rein and mounting
clattered down the single street and out on the beach road on the other
side. Since he had his horse he would push straight through after all;
if he stopped he would have to concoct some story to account for his
battered state, which would be difficult. He went at a walk, pondering
over the events of the night. On his left hand the black mass of St.
Michael’s Mount loomed out of the moon-silvered bay like some basking
sea monster; before him lay Penzance with the spire of St. Mary’s rising
above the masts of the coasters, spearing at the stars.

At Ponsandane River the mare picked up a stone. John jumped off, hooked
it out and was preparing to remount when he noticed that she had got her
head round and was staring back down the road, ears pricked. There was
some one behind them. He waited a full minute, but could neither see nor
hear anything, so went on again, through Penzance, over Newlyn Green and
up the hill. The wind had died away. It was the still hour that outrides
dawn; the east was already paling. In the farms about Paul, John could
hear the cocks bugling to each other; hidden birds in the blackthorns
gave sleepy twitters; a colt whinnied “good morning” from a near-by
field and cantered along the hedge, shaking the dew from its mane.
Everything was very quiet, very peaceful, yet John could not rid himself
of the idea that he was being followed. He pulled up again and listened,
but, hearing nothing, rode on, calling himself a fool.

He dropped down into Trevelloe Bottoms, gave the mare a drink in Lamorna
stream and climbed Boleigh. A wall-eyed sheep dog came out of a cottage
near the Pipers and flew, yelping, at the horse’s heels. He cursed it
roundly and it retired whence it came, tail between its legs. As he
turned the bend in the road he heard the cur break into a fresh frenzy
of barking.

There _was_ somebody behind him after all, somebody who went softly and
stopped when he did. It was as he had suspicioned; the tumbler had come
to and was trailing him home to get his revenge—to fire stacks or rip a
cow, an old gypsy trick. John swung the mare into a cattle track, tied
her to a blackthorn, pulled a heavy stone out of the mud and waited,
crouched against the bank, hidden in the furze. He would settle this
rogue once and for all. Every yeoman instinct aroused, he would have
faced forty such in defense of his stock, his place.

Dawn was lifting her golden head over the long arm of the Lizard. A
chain of little pink clouds floated above her like adoring cherubs.
Morning mists drifted up from the switch-backed hills to the north,
white as steam. Over St. Gwithian tower the moon hung, haggard and
deathly pale, an old siren giving place to a rosy débutante. In the
bushes birds twittered and cheeped, tuning their voices against the day.
John Penhale waited, bent double, the heavy stone ready in his hands.
The footpad was a long time coming. John wondered if he had taken the
wrong turning—but that was improbable; the mare’s tracks were plain.
Some one might have come out of the cottage and forced the fellow into
hiding—or he might have sensed the ambush. John was just straightening
his back to peer over the furze when he heard the soft thud of bare feet
on the road, heard them hesitate and then turn towards him, following
the hoof prints. He held his breath, judged the time and distance and
sprang up, the stone poised in both hands above his head. He lowered it
slowly and let it drop in the mud. It was the girl!

She looked at the stone, then at John and her mouth twitched with the
flicker of a smile. John felt foolish and consequently angry. He stepped
out of the bushes.

“Why are you following me?” he demanded.

She looked down at her bare feet, then up at him out of the corners of
her deep dark eyes, but made no answer.

John grasped her by an arm and shook her. “Can’t you speak? Why are you
following me?”

She did not reply, but winced slightly, and John saw that he was
gripping one of the cruel bruises. He released her, instantly contrite.

“I did not mean to do that,” he said. Then, hardening again: “But, look
you, I’ll have no more of this. I’ll have none of your kind round here,
burning ricks. If I catch you near my farm I’ll hand you over to the law
for . . . for what you are and you’ll be whipped. Do you hear me?”

The girl remained silent, leaning up against the bank, pouting, looking
up at John under her long lashes. She was handsome in a sulky,
outlandish way, he admitted. She had a short nose, high cheekbones and
very dark eyes with odd lights in them; her bare head was covered with
crisp black curls and she wore big brass earrings; a little guitar was
tucked under one arm. The tattered cloak was drawn tight about her,
showing the thin but graceful lines of her figure—a handsome trollop.

“If you won’t speak you won’t . . . but, remember, I have warned you,”
said John, but with less heat, as he untied his horse and mounted. As he
turned the corner he glanced furtively back and met the girl’s eyes
full. He put spurs to the mare, flushing hotly.

A quarter of an hour later he reined up in his yard. He had been away
rather less than twenty-four hours, but it seemed like as many days. It
was good to be home. A twist of blue smoke at a chimney told him Martha
was stirring and he would get breakfast soon. He heard the blatter of
calves in their shed and the deep, answering moo of cows from the byre,
the splash and babble of the stream. In the elms the rooks had already
begun to quarrel—familiar voices.

He found Bohenna in the stable wisping a horse and singing his one song,
“I seen a ram at Hereford Fair,” turned the mare over to him and sought
the yard again.

It was good to be home . . . and yet, and yet . . . things moved briskly
outside, one found adventures out in the world, adventures that set the
blood racing. He was boyishly pleased with his tussle with the vagabond,
had tricked him rather neatly, he thought; he must tell Bohenna about
that. Then the girl. She had not winced at the sight of his face, not a
quiver, had smiled at him even. He wondered if she were still standing
in the cow track, the blue cloak drawn about her, squelching mud through
her bare toes—or was she ranging the fields after more
turnips—turnips! She was no better than an animal—but a handsome
animal for all that, if somewhat thin. Oh, well, she had gone now; he
had scared her off, would never see her again.

He turned to walk into the house and saw the girl again. She was leaning
against the gate post, looking up at him under her lashes. He stood
stock-still for a moment, amazed as at a vision, and then flung at her:

“You—you . . . didn’t you hear what I said?” She neither stirred nor
spoke.

John halted. He felt his fury going from him like wind from a pricked
bladder. In a second he would be no longer master of himself. In the
glow of morning she was handsomer than ever; she was young, not more
than twenty, there was a blue gloss on the black curls, the brass
earrings glinted among them; her skin had a golden sunburnt tint and her
eyes smoldered with curious lights.

“What do you want?” John stammered, suddenly husky.

The girl smiled up at him, a slow, full-lipped smile. “You won me . . .
so I came,” she said.

John’s heart leapt with old pagan pride. To the victor the spoils!—aye,
verily! He caught the girl by the shoulders and whirled her round so
that his own face came full to the sunrise.

“Do you see this?” he cried. “Look well, look well!”

The girl stared at him steadily, without a tremor, without the flick of
an eyelid, and then, bending, rubbed her forehead, cat-like, against his
shoulder.

“Marry,” she purred, “I’ve seen worse than that where I came from.”

For answer John caught her up in his arms and marched, shouting with
rough laughter, into the house, the tumbler girl clasped tight to his
breast, her arms about his neck.

To the victor the spoils!



                              CHAPTER III


Bosula—“The Owls’ House”—lay in the Keigwin Valley, about six miles
southwest of Penzance. The valley drained the peninsula’s bare backbone
of tors, ran almost due south until within a mile and a half of the sea,
formed a sharp angle, ran straight again and met the English Channel at
Monks Cove. A stream threaded its entire length, its source a holy well
on Bartinny Downs (the water of which, taken at the first of the moon,
was reputed a cure for chest complaints). Towards the river’s source the
valley was a shallow swamp, a wide bed of tussocks, flags, willow and
thorn, the haunt of snipe and woodcock in season, but as it neared
Bosula it grew narrower and deeper until it emptied into the sea,
pinched to a sharp gorge between precipitous cliffs.

It was a surprising valley. You came from the west over the storm-swept,
treeless table-land that drives into the Atlantic like a wedge and is
beaten upon by three seas, came with clamorous salt gales buffeting you
this way and that, pelting you with black showers of rain, came suddenly
to the valley rim and dropped downhill into a different climate, a
serene, warm place of trees with nothing to break the peace but the
gentle chatter of the stream. When the wind set roundabouts of south it
was not so quiet. The cove men had a saw—

    “When the river calls the sea,
    Fishing there will be;
    When the sea calls the river,
    ’Ware foul weather.”

Bosula stood at the apex of the angle, guarded on all sides, but when
the wind set southerly and strong the boom of the breakers on the Twelve
Apostles reef came echoing up the valley in deep, tremendous organ
peals. So clear did they sound that one would imagine the sea had broken
inland and that inundation was imminent.

The founder of the family was a tin-streamer from Crowan, who, noting
that the old men had got their claws into every inch of payable dirt in
the parish, loaded his implements on a donkey and went westward looking
for a stream of his own. In due course he and his ass meandered down
Keigwin Valley and pitched camp in the elbow. On the fourth day Penhale
the First, soil-stained and unkempt, approached the lord of the manor
and proposed washing the stream on tribute. He held out no hopes, but
was willing to give it a try, being out of work. The lord of the manor
knew nothing of tin or tinners, regarded the tatterdemalion with casual
contempt and let him draw up almost what terms he liked. In fifteen
years Penhale had taken a small fortune out of the valley, bought
surrounding land and built a house on the site of his original camp.
From thenceforth the Penhales were farmers, and each in his turn added
something, a field, a bit of moorland, a room to the house.

When John Penhale took possession the estate held three hundred acres of
arable land, to say nothing of stretches of adjoining bog and heather,
useful for grazing cattle. The buildings formed a square, with the yard
in the center, the house on the north and the stream enclosing the whole
on three sides, so that the place was serenaded with eternal music, the
song of running water, tinkling among bowlders, purling over shallows,
splashing over falls.

Penhale, the tinner, built a two-storied house of four rooms, but his
successor had seven children, and an Elizabethan, attuning himself to a
prolific age, thirteen. The first of these added a couple of rooms, the
second four. Since building forwards encroached on the yard and building
backwards would bring them into the stream they, perforce, extended
sideways and westwards. In John Penhale’s time the house was five rooms
long and one thick, with the front door stranded at the east end and the
thatch coming down so low the upper windows had the appearance of old
men’s eyes peering out under arched and shaggy brows. There was little
distinctive about the house save the chimneys, which were inordinately
high, and the doorway which was carved. Penhale the First, who knew
something of smelting and had ideas about draught, had set the standard
in chimney pots, but the Elizabethan was responsible for the doorway. He
pulled a half-drowned sailor out of the cove one dawn, brought him home,
fed and clothed him. The castaway, a foreigner of some sort, being
unable to express gratitude in words, picked up a hammer and stone
chisel and decorated his rescuer’s doorway—until then three plain slabs
of granite. He carved the date on the lintel and a pattern of interwoven
snakes on the uprights, culminating in two comic little heads, one on
either side of the door, intended by the artist as portraits of his host
and hostess, but which they, unflattered, and doubtless prompted by the
pattern below, had passed down to posterity as Adam and Eve.

The first Penhale was a squat, burly man and built his habitation to fit
himself, but the succeeding generations ran to height and were in
constant danger of braining themselves against the ceilings. They could
sit erect, but never rose without glancing aloft, and when they stood up
their heads well-nigh disappeared among the deep beams. This had
inculcated in them the habit of stooping instinctively on stepping
through any door. A Dean of Gwithian used to swear that the Penhale
family entered his spacious church bent double.

The first Penhale, being of small stature, made his few windows low
down; the subsequent Penhales had to squat to see out of them. Not that
the Penhales needed windows to look out of; they were an open-air breed
who only came indoors to eat and sleep. The ugly, cramped old house
served their needs well. They came home from the uplands or the bottoms
at the fall of night, came in from plowing, shooting, hedging or driving
cattle, came mud-plastered, lashed by the winter winds, saw Bosula
lights twinkling between the sheltering trees, bowed their tall heads
between Adam and Eve and, entering the warm kitchen, sat down to mighty
meals of good beef and good vegetables, stretched their legs before the
open hearth, grunting with full-fed content, and yawned off to bed and
immediate sleep, lulled by the croon of the brook and the whisper of the
wind in the treetops. Gales might skim roofs off down in the Cove, ships
batter to matchwood on the Twelve Apostles, upland ricks be scattered
over the parish, the Penhales of Bosula slept sound in the lap of the
hills, snug behind three-foot walls.

In winter, looking down from the hills, you could barely see Bosula for
trees, in summer not at all. They filled the valley from side to side
and for half a mile above and below the house, oak, ash, elm and
sycamore with an undergrowth of hazel and thorn. Near the house the
stream, narrowed to a few feet, ran between banks of bowlders piled up
by the first Penhale and his tinners. They had rooted up bowlders
everywhere and left them lying anyhow, on their ends or sides, great
uneven blocks of granite, now covered with an emerald velvet of moss or
furred with gray and yellow lichen. Between these blocks the trees
thrust, flourishing on their own leaf mold. The ashes and elms went
straight up till they met the wind leaping from hill to hill and then
stopped, nipped to an even height as a box-hedge is trimmed by shears;
but the thorns and hazels started crooked and grew crooked all the way,
their branches writhing and tangling into fantastic clumps and shapes to
be overgrown and smothered in toils of ivy and honeysuckle.

In spring the tanglewood valley was a nursery of birds. Wrens, thrushes,
chiffchaffs, greenfinches and chaffinches built their nests in scented
thickets of hawthorn and may; blue and oxeye tits kept house in holes in
the apple and oak trees. These added their songs to that of the brook.
In spring the bridal woods about Bosula rippled and thrilled with liquid
and debonair melody. But it was the owls that were the feature of the
spot. Winter or summer they sat on their boughs and hooted to each other
across the valley, waking the woods with startling and eerie screams.
“To-whoo, wha-aa, who-hoo!” they would go, amber eyes burning, and then
launch themselves heavily from their perches and beat, gray and ghostly,
across the moon. “Whoo, wha-hoo!”

Young lovers straying up the valley were apt to clasp each other the
tighter and whisper of men murdered and evil hauntings when they heard
the owls, but the first Penhale in his day, camped with his ass in the
crook of the stream, took their banshee salutes as a good omen. He lay
on his back in the leaves listening to them and wondering at their
number.

“Bos hula enweer ew’n teller na,” said he in Cornish, as he rolled over
to sleep. “Truly this is the owls’ house.”



                               CHAPTER IV


When John Penhale carried the gypsy girl into Bosula, he thought she
would be off again in a fortnight or a month at most. On the contrary
she curled up as snug as a dormouse, apparently prepared to stay
forever. At first she followed him wherever he went about the farm, but
after a week she gave that up and remained at Bosula absorbed in the
preparation of food.

The number of really satisfying meals the girl Teresa had had in her
time could be counted on her fingers and toes, almost. Life had been
maintained by a crust here and a bone there. She was only half gypsy;
her mother had been an itinerant herbalist, her father a Basque
bear-leader, and she was born at Blyth Fair. Her twenty-two years had
been spent on the highways, singing and dancing from tavern to tavern,
harried by the law on one side and hunger on the other. She had no love
for the Open Road; her feet were sore from trudging it and she knew it
led nowhere but to starvation; her mother had died in a ditch and her
father had been hanged. For years she had been waiting a chance to get
out of the dust, and when John came along, knocked out the tumbler and
jerked her a florin she saw that possible chance.

A sober farmer who tossed silver so freely should be a bachelor, she
argued, and a man who could fight like that must have a good deal of the
lusty animal about him. She knew the type, and of all men they were the
easiest to handle. She followed up the clew hot foot, and now here she
was in a land of plenty. She had no intention of leaving in a fortnight,
a month, or ever, if she could help it, no desire to exchange three meat
meals daily, smoking hot, for turnips; or a soft bed for the lee of a
haystack. She would sit on the floor after supper, basking at the
roaring hearth, her back propped against John’s knees, and listen to the
drip of the eaves, the sough of the treetops, the echoed organ crashes
of the sea, snuggle closer to the farmer and laugh.

When he asked her why she did that she shrugged her shoulders. But she
laughed to think of what she was escaping, laughed to think that the
tumbler was out in it. But for that flung florin and the pricking of her
thumbs she would have been out in it too, crouched under a hedge, maybe,
soaked and shivering. Penhale need have had no fears she would leave
him; on the contrary she was afraid he would tire of her, and strove by
every means to bind him to her irrevocably. She practiced all her wiles
on John, ran to him when he came in, fondled and kissed him, rubbed her
head on his shoulder, swore he didn’t care for her, pretended to cry,
any excuse to get taken in his arms; once there she had him in her
power. The quarter strain of gitano came uppermost then, the blood of
generations of ardent southern women, professional charmers all, raced
in her veins and prompted her, showed her how and when. It was all
instinctive and quite irresistible; the simple northern yeoman was a
clod in her hands.

Martha had found Teresa some drugget clothes, rummaging in chests that
lay, under the dust of twenty years, in the neglected west wing—oak
chests and mahogany with curious iron clasps and hinges, the spoil of a
score of foundered ships. Teresa had been close behind the woman when
the selection was made and she had glimpsed many things that were not
drugget. When she gave up following John abroad she took to spending
most of her time, between meals, in the west wing, bolting the doors
behind her so that Martha could not see what she was doing.

John was lurching home down the valley one autumn evening, when, as he
neared Bosula, he heard singing and the tinkling of melodious wires.
There was a small grove of ashes close ahead, encircling an open patch
of ground supposed to be a fairy ring, in May a purple pool of
bluebells, but then carpeted with russet and yellow leaves. He stepped
nearer, peered round an oak bole and saw a sight which made him stagger
and swear himself bewitched. There was a marvelous lady dancing in the
circlet, and as she danced she sang, twanging an accompaniment on a
little guitar.

    “Then, Lovely Boy, bring hither
    The Chaplet, e’er it wither,
    Steep’d in the various Juices
    The Cluster’d Vine produces;
    The Cluster’d Vine produces.”

She was dressed in a straight-laced bodice stitched with silver and low
cut, leaving her shoulders bare; flowing daffodil sleeves caught up at
the elbows and a cream-colored skirt sprigged with blue flowers and
propped out at the hips on monstrous farthingales. On her head she wore
a lace fan-tail—but her feet were bare. She swept round and round in a
circle, very slow and stately, swaying, turning, curtseying to the
solemn audience of trees.

    “So mix’t with sweet and sour,
    Life’s not unlike the flower;
    Its Sweets unpluck’d will languish,
    And gather’d ’tis with anguish;
    And gather’d ’tis with anguish.”

The glare of sunset shot through gaps in the wood in quivering golden
shafts, fell on the smooth trunks of the ashes transforming them into
pillars of gold. In this dazzle of gold the primrose lady danced, in and
out of the beams, now glimmering, now in hazy and delicate shadow. A
puff of wind shook a shower of pale leaves upon her, they drifted about
her like confetti, her bare feet rustled among them, softly, softly.

    “This, round my moisten’d Tresses,
    The use of Life expresses:
    Wine blunts the thorn of Sorrow,
    Our Rose may fade to-morrow:
    Our Rose—may—fade—to-morrow.”

The sun went down behind the hill; twilight, powder-blue, swept through
the wood, quenching the symphony in yellows. The lady made a final
fritter of strings, bowed to the biggest ash and faded among the trees,
towards Bosula. John clung to his oak, stupefied. Despite his Grammar
School education he half believed in the crone’s stories of Pixies and
“the old men,” and if this was not a supernatural being what was it? A
fine lady dancing in Bosula woods at sundown—and in the fairy circle
too! If not a sprite where did she come from? There was not her match in
the parish, or hundred even. He did not like it at all. He would go home
by circling over the hill. He hesitated. That was a long detour, he was
tired and his own orchard was not a furlong distant. His common sense
returned. Damme! he would push straight home, he was big and strong
enough whatever betide. He walked boldly through the woods, whistling
away his fears, snapping twigs beneath his boots.

He came to a dense clump of hollies at the edge of the orchard and heard
the tinkle-tinkle again, right in front of him. He froze solid and
stared ahead. It was thick dusk among the bushes; he could see nothing.
Tinkle-tinkle—from the right this time. He turned slowly, his flesh
prickling. Nothing. A faint rustle of leaves behind his back and the
tinkle of music once more. John began to sweat. He was pixie-led for
certain—and only fifty yards from his own door. If one listened to this
sort of thing one was presently charmed and lost forever, he had heard.
He would make a dash for it. He burst desperately through the hollies
and saw the primrose lady standing directly in front of him on the
orchard fringe. He stopped. She curtsied low.

“Oh, Jan, Jan,” she laughed. “Jan, come here and kiss me.”

“Teresa!”

She pressed close against him and held up her full, tempting mouth. He
kissed her over and over.

“Where did you get these—these clothes?” he asked.

“Out of the old chests,” said she. “You like me thus? . . . love me?”

For answer he hugged her to him and they went on into the kitchen linked
arm in arm. Martha in her astonishment let the cauldron spill all over
the floor and the idiot daughter threw a fit.

The drugget dress disappeared after that. Teresa rifled the chests and
got some marvelous results. The chests held the hoardings of a century,
samples of every fashion, washed in from wrecks on the Twelve Apostles,
wardrobes of officers’ mistresses bound for the garrison at Tangier, of
proud ladies that went down with Indiamen, packet ships, and vessels
sailing for the Virginia Colony. Jackdaw pickings that generations of
Penhale women had been too modest to wear and too feminine to part with.
Gowns, under gowns, bodices, smocks and stomachers of silk, taffeta,
sarsenet and satin of all hues and shapes, quilted, brocaded,
embroidered, pleated, scalloped and slashed; cambric and holland ruffs,
collars, bands, kerchiefs and lappets; scarves, trifles of lace pointed
and godrooned; odd gloves of cordovan leather, heavily fringed; vamped
single shoes, red heeled; ribbons; knots; spangled garters; feathers and
fans.

The clothes were torn and faded in patches, eaten by moth, soiled and
rusted by salt water, but Teresa cared little; they were treasure-trove
to her, the starveling. She put them all on in turn (as the Penhale
wives had done before her—but in secret) without regard to fit,
appropriateness or period and with the delight of a child dressing up
for a masquerade. She dressed herself differently every evening—even
wearing articles with showy linings inside out—aiming only at a blaze
of color and spending hours in the selection.

The management of the house she left entirely to Martha, which was wise
enough, seeing she knew nothing of houses. John coming in of an evening
never knew what was in store for him; it gave life an added savour. He
approached Adam and Eve, his heart a-flutter—what would she be like
this time?—opened the low door and stepped within. And there she would
be, standing before the hearth waiting for him, mischievous and radiant,
brass earrings winking, a knot of ribbons in her raven curls, dressed in
scarlet, cream, purple or blue, cloth of gold or silver lace—all worn
and torn if you came to examine closely, but, in the leaping firelight,
gorgeous.

Sometimes she would spend the evening wooing him, sidling into his arms,
rubbing with her cheek and purring in her cat fashion; and sometimes she
would take her guitar and, sitting cross-legged before the hearth, sing
the songs by which she had made her living. Pretty, innocent twitters
for the most part, laments to cruel Chloes, Phyllises and Celias in
which despairing Colins and Strephons sang of their broken hearts in
tripping, tuneful measures; morris and country airs she gave also and
patriotic staves—

       “Tho’ the Spaniards invade
        Our Int’rest and Trade
    And often our Merchant-men plunder,
        Give us but command
        Their force to withstand,
    We’ll soon make the slaves truckle under.”

Such stuff stirred John. As the lyrics lulled him, he would inflate his
chest and tap his toe on the flags in time with the tune, very manful.

All this heady stuff intoxicated the recluse. He felt a spell on the
place, could scarcely believe it was the same dark kitchen in which he
had sat alone for seventeen years, listening to the stream, the rain and
the wind. It was like living in a droll-teller’s story where charcoal
burners fell asleep on enchanted barrows and woke in fairy-land or
immortals put on mortal flesh and sojourned in the homes of men. Reared
on superstition among a race that placed balls on their roofs and hung
rags about holy wells to keep off witches, he almost smelt magic now. At
times he wondered if this strange creature he had met on the high moors
under the moon were what she held to be, if one day she would not get a
summons back to her own people, the earth gape open for her and he would
be alone again. There had been an authentic case in Zennor parish; his
own grandmother had seen the forsaken husband. He would glance at Teresa
half fearfully, see her squatting before the blaze, lozenges of white
skin showing through the rips in her finery, strong fingers plucking the
guitar strings, round throat swelling as she sang—

    “I saw fair Clara walk alone;
    The feathered snow came softly down . . .”

—and scout his suspicions. She was human enough—and even if she were
not, sufficient for the day. . . .

As for the girl, with the unstinted feeding, she put on flesh and good
looks. Her bones and angles disappeared, her figure took on bountiful
curves, her mouth lost its defiant pout. She had more than even she
wanted to eat, a warm bed, plenty of colorful kickshaws and a lover who
fell prostrate before her easiest artifices. She was content—or very
nearly so. One thing remained and that was to put this idyllic state of
affairs on a permanent basis. That accomplished, her cup of happiness
would brim, she told herself. How to do it? She fancied it was more than
half done already and that, unless she read him wrong, she would
presently have such a grip on the farmer he would never throw her off.
By January she was sure of herself and laid her cards on the table.

According to her surmise John took her forthwith into St. Gwithian,
a-pillion on the bay mare, and married her, and on the third of July a
boy was born. It was a great day at Bosula; all the employees, including
Martha, got blind drunk, while John spent a delightful afternoon
laboriously scratching a letter to Carveth Donnithorne apprising him of
the happy event.

Upstairs, undisturbed by the professional chatter of wise women, Teresa
lay quietly sleeping, a fluffy small head in the crook of her arm, a
tired smile on her lips—she was in out of the rain for good.

It is to be presumed that in the Donnithorne vault of Cury Church the
dust of old Selina at length lay quiet—the Penhales would go on and on.



                               CHAPTER V


The first boy was born in 1754 and was followed in 1756 by another. They
christened the eldest Ortho, a family name, and the second Eli.

When his younger son was three months old John died. He got wet,
extricating a horse from a bog-hole, and took no heed, having been wet
through a hundred times before. A chill seized him; he still took no
notice. The chill developed into pneumonia, but he struggled on, saying
nothing. Then Bohenna found him prostrate in the muck of the stable; he
had been trying to yoke the oxen with the intention of going out to
plow.

Bohenna carried him, protesting, up to bed. Only when he was dying would
he admit he was ill. He was puzzled and angry. Why should he be sick now
who had never felt a qualm before? What was a wetting, i’ faith! For
forty odd winters he had seldom been dry. It was ridiculous! He tried to
lift himself, exhorting the splendid, loyal body that had never yet
failed him to have done with this folly and bear him outside to the
sunshine and the day’s work. It did not respond; might have been so much
lead. He fell back, betrayed, helpless, frightened, and went off into a
delirium. The end was close. He came to his senses once again about ten
o’clock at night and saw Teresa bending over him, the new son in her
arms. She was crying and had a tender look in her tear-bright eyes he
had never seen before. He tried to smile at her. Nothing to cry about.
He’d be all right in the morning—after a night’s sleep—go
plowing—everything came right in the morning. Towards midnight Martha,
who was watching, set up a dreadful screech. It was all over. As if
awaiting the signal came a hooting from the woods about the house,
“Too-whee-wha-ho-oo-oo!”—the Bosula owls lamenting the passing of its
master.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Fate, in cutting down John Penhale in his prime, did him no disservice.
He went into oblivion knowing Teresa only as a thing of beauty, half
magical, wholly adorable. He was spared the years of disillusionment
which would have pained him sorely, for he was a sensitive man.

Teresa mourned for her husband with a passion which was natural to her
and which was very highly considered in the neighborhood. At the funeral
she flung herself on the coffin, and refused to be loosened from it for
a quarter of an hour, moaning and tearing at the lid with her fingers.
Venerable dames who had attended every local interment for half a
century wagged their bonnets and admitted they had never seen a widow
display a prettier spirit.

Teresa was quite genuine in her way. John had treated her with a
gentleness and generosity she had not suspected was to be found on this
earth, and now this kindly cornucopia had been snatched from her—and
just when she had made so sure of him too! She blubbered in good
earnest. But after the lawyer’s business was over she cheered up.

In the first flush of becoming a father, John had ridden into Penzance
and made a will, but since Eli’s birth he had made no second; there was
plenty of time, he thought, years and years of it. Consequently
everything fell to Ortho when he came of age, and in the meanwhile
Teresa was sole guardian. That meant she was mistress of Bosula and had
the handling of the hundred and twenty pounds invested income, to say
nothing of the Tregors rents, fifty pounds per annum. One hundred and
seventy pounds a year to spend! The sum staggered her. She had hardly
made that amount of money in her whole life. She sat up that night, long
after the rest of the household had gone to bed, wrapped in delicious
dreams of how she would spend that annual fortune. She soon began to
learn. Martha hinted that, in a lady of her station, the wearing of
black was considered proper as a tribute to the memory of the deceased,
so, finding nothing dark in the chests, she mounted a horse behind
Bohenna and jogged into town.

A raw farmer’s wife, clutching a bag of silver and demanding only to be
dressed in black, is a gift to any shopman. The Penzance draper called
up his seamstresses, took Teresa’s measure for a silk dress—nothing but
silk would be fitting, he averred; the greater the cost the greater the
tribute—added every somber accessory that he could think of, separated
her from £13.6.4 of her hoard and bowed her out, promising to send the
articles by carrier within three days. Teresa went through the ordeal
like one in a trance, too awed to protest or speak even. On the way home
she sought to console herself with the thought that her extravagance was
on John’s, dear John’s behalf. Still thirteen pounds, six shillings and
fourpence!—more than Bohenna’s wages for a year gone in a finger snap!
Ruin stared her in the face.

The black dress, cap, flounced petticoat, stiff stays, stockings, apron,
cloak of Spanish cloth and high-heeled shoes arrived to date and set the
household agog. Teresa, its devastating price forgotten, peacocked round
the house and yard all day, swelling with pride, the rustle of the silk
atoning for the agony she was suffering from the stays and shoes. As the
sensation died down she yearned for fresh conquests, so mounting the
pillion afresh, made a tour through the parish, paying special attention
to Gwithian Church-town and Monks Cove.

The tour was a triumph. Women rushed to their cottage doors and stared
after her, goggling. At Pridden a party of hedgers left work and raced
across a field to see her go by. Near Tregadgwith a farmer fell off his
horse from sheer astonishment. She was the sole topic of the district
for a week or more. John’s memory was duly honored.

In a month Teresa was tired of the black dress; her fancy did not run to
black. The crisp and shining new silk had given her a distaste for the
old silks, the soiled and tattered salvage of wrecks. She stuffed the
motley rags back in the chests and slammed the lids on them. She had
seen some breath-taking rolls of material in that shop in
Penzance—orange, emerald, turquoise, coral and lilac. She shut her eyes
and imagined herself in a flowing furbelowed dress of each of these
colors in turn—or one combining a little of everything—oh, rapture!

She consulted Martha in the matter. Martha was shocked. It was unheard
of. She must continue to wear black in public for a year at least. This
intelligence depressed Teresa, but she was determined to be correct, as
she had now a position to maintain, was next thing to a lady. Eleven
months more to wait, heigh-ho!

Then, drawn by the magnet of the shops, she went into Penzance again.
Penzance had become something more than a mere tin and pilchard port;
visitors attracted by its mild climate came in by every packet; there
was a good inn, “The Ship and Castle,” and in 1752 a coffee house had
been opened and the road to Land’s End made possible for carriages. Many
fine ladies were to be seen fanning themselves at windows in Chapel
Street or strolling on the Green, and Teresa wanted to study their
costumes with a view to her own.

She dismounted at the Market Cross, moved about among the booths and
peeped furtively in at the shops. They were most attractive, displaying
glorious things to wear and marvelous things to eat—tarts, cakes, Dutch
biscuits, ginger-breads shaped like animals, oranges, plum and sugar
candy. Sly old women wheedled her to buy, enlarging ecstatically on the
excellence and cheapness of their wares. Teresa wavered and reflected
that though she might not be able to buy a new dress for a year there
was no law against her purchasing other things. The bag of silver burnt
her fingers and she fell. She bought some gingerbread animals at four
for a farthing, tasted them, thought them ambrosia and bought
sixpennorth to take with her, also lollipops. She went home trembling at
her extravagance, but when she came to count up what she had spent it
seemed to have made no impression on the bag of silver. In six weeks she
went in again, bought a basketful of edibles and replaced her brass
earrings with large gold half-moons. When these were paid for the bag
was badly drained. Teresa took fright and visited town no more for the
year—but as a matter of fact she had spent less than twenty pounds in
all. But she had got in the way of spending now.

The tin works in which John’s money was invested paid up at the end of
the year (one hundred and twenty-six pounds, seventeen shillings and
eight-pence on this occasion), and Tregors rent came in on the same day.
It seemed to Teresa that the heavens had opened up and showered
uncounted gold upon her.

She went into Penzance next morning as fast as the bay mare could carry
her and ordered a dress bordered with real lace and combining all the
hues of the rainbow. She was off. Never having had any money she had not
the slightest idea of its value and was mulcted accordingly. In the
third year of widowhood she spent the last penny of her income.

The farm she left to Bohenna, the house to Martha, the children to look
after themselves, and rode in to Penzance market and all over the
hundred, to parish feasts, races and hurling matches, a notable figure
with her flaming dresses, raven hair and huge earrings, laying the odds,
singing songs and standing drinks in ale houses like any squire.

When John died she was at her zenith. The early bloom of her race began
to fade soon after, accelerated by gross living. She still ate
enormously, as though the hunger of twenty-two lean years was not yet
appeased. She was like an animal at table, seizing bones in her hands
and tearing the meat off with her teeth, grunting the while like a
famished dog, or stuffing the pastries she bought in Penzance into her
mouth two at a time. She hastened from girlish to buxom, from buxom to
stout. The bay mare began to feel the increasing weight on the pillion.
Bohenna was left at home and Teresa rode alone, sitting sideways on a
pad, or a-straddle when no one was looking. Yet she was still comely in
a large way and had admirers aplenty. Sundry impecunious gentlemen,
hoping to mend their fortunes, paid court to the lavish widow, but
Teresa saw through their blandishments, and after getting all possible
sport out of them sent them packing.

With the curate-in-charge of St. Gwithian it was the other way about.
Teresa made the running. She went to church in the first place because
it struck her as an opportunity to flaunt her superior finery in public
and make other women feel sick. She went a second time to gaze at the
parson. This gentleman was an anemic young man with fair hair, pale blue
eyes, long hands and a face refined through partial starvation. (The
absentee beneficiary allowed him eighteen pounds a year.) Obeying the
law of opposites, the heavy dark gypsy woman was vaguely attracted by
him at once and the attraction strengthened.

He was something quite new to her. Among the clumsy-limbed country folk
he appeared so slim, so delicate, almost ethereal. Also, unable to read
or write herself and surrounded by people as ignorant as she, his easy
familiarity with books and the verbose phrasing of his sermons filled
her with admiration. On Easter Sunday he delivered himself of a
particularly flowery effort. Teresa understood not a word of it, but,
nevertheless, thought it beautiful and wept audibly. She thought the
preacher looked beautiful too, with his clear skin, veined temples and
blue eyes. A shaft of sunlight pierced the south window and fell upon
his fair head as though an expression of divine benediction. Teresa
thought he looked like a saint. Perhaps he was a saint.

She rode home slowly, so wrapped in meditation that she was late for
dinner, an unprecedented occurrence. She would marry that young man. If
she were going to marry again it must be to some one she could handle,
since the law would make him master of herself and her possessions. The
curate would serve admirably; he would make a pretty pet and no more. He
could keep her accounts too. She was always in a muddle with money. The
method she had devised of keeping tally by means of notched sticks was
most untrustworthy. And, incidentally, if he really were a saint her
hereafter was assured. God could never condemn the wedded wife of a
saint and clergyman to Hell; it wouldn’t be decent. She would marry that
young man.

She began the assault next day by paying her overdue tithes and throwing
in a duck as makeweight. Two days later she was up again with a gift of
a goose, and on the following Sunday she presented the astonished clerk
with eightpennorth of gingerbreads. Since eating was the occupation
nearest to the widow’s heart she sought to touch the curate’s by
showering food upon him. Something edible went to the Deanery at least
twice a week, occasionally by a hind, but more often Teresa took it
herself. A fortnight before Whitsuntide Teresa, in chasing an errant
boar out of the yard, kicked too violently, snapped her leg and was laid
up for three months. Temporarily unable to reduce the curate by her
personal charms she determined to let her gifts speak for her, doubled
the offerings, and eggs, fowls, butter, cheese and hams passed from the
farm to the Deanery in a constant stream. Lying in bed with nothing to
do, the invalid’s thoughts ran largely upon the clerk. She remembered
him standing in the pulpit that Easter Sunday, uttering lovely, if
unintelligible words, slim and delicate, the benedictory beam on his
flaxen poll; the more she pictured him the more ethereally beautiful did
he become. He would make a charming toy.

As soon as she could hobble about she put on her best dress (cherry
satin), and, taking the bull by the horns, invited her intended to
dinner. She would settle matters without further ado. The young man
obeyed the summons with feelings divided between fear and determination;
he knew perfectly well what he was in for. Nobody but an utter fool
could have mistaken the meaning of the sighs and glances the big widow
had thrown when visiting him before her accident. There was no finesse
about Teresa. She wanted to marry him, and prudence told him to let her.
Two farms and four hundred pounds a year—so rumor had it—the catch of
the district and he only a poor clerk. He was sick of poverty—Teresa’s
bounty had shown him what it was to live well—and he dreaded returning
to the old way of things. Moreover he admired her, she was so bold, so
luscious, so darkly handsome, possessed of every physical quality he
lacked. But he was afraid of her for all that—if she ever got really
angry with him, good Lord!

It took every ounce of determination he owned to drive his feet down the
hill to Bosula; twice he stopped and turned to go back. He was a timid
young man. His procrastination made him late for dinner. When he reached
the farm, the meal had already been served. His hostess was hard at
work; she would not have delayed five minutes for King George himself.
She had a mutton bone in her hands when the curate entered. She did not
notice him for the moment, so engrossed was she, but tore off the last
shred of meat, scrunched the bone with her teeth and bit out the marrow.
The curate reeled against the door post, emitting an involuntary groan.
Teresa glanced up and stared at him, her black eyebrows meeting.

Who was this stranger wabbling about in her doorway, his watery eyes
popping out of his podgy face, his fleshy knees knocking together, his
dingy coat stretched tightly across his protruding stomach? A lost
inn-keeper? A strayed tallow chandler? No, by his cloth he was a clerk.
Slowly she recognized him. He was _her_ curate, ecod! Her pretty toy!
Her slim, transparent saint developed into this corpulent earthling!
_Fat_, ye Gods! She hurled the bone at his head—which was unreasonable,
seeing it was she had fattened him.

The metamorphosed curate turned and bolted out of the house, through the
yard and back up the hill for home.

“My God,” he panted as he ran, “biting bones up with her teeth, with her
teeth—my God, it might have been _me_!”

That was the end of that.



                               CHAPTER VI


In the meanwhile the Penhale brothers grew and grew. Martha took a
sketchy charge of their infancy, but as soon as they could toddle they
made use of their legs to gain the out o’ doors and freedom. At first
Martha basted them generously when they came in for meals, but they soon
put a stop to that by not showing up at the fixed feeding times,
watching her movements from coigns of vantage in the yard and robbing
the larder when her back was turned. Martha, thereupon, postponed the
whippings till they came in to bed. Once more they defeated her by not
coming in to bed; when trouble loomed they spent the night in the loft,
curled up like puppies in the hay. Martha could not reach them there.
She dared not trust herself on the crazy ladder and Bohenna would give
her no assistance; he was hired to tend stock, he said, not children.

For all that the woman caught the little savages now and again, and when
she did she dressed them faithfully with a birch of her own making. But
she did not long maintain her physical advantage.

One afternoon when Ortho was eight and Eli six she caught them
red-handed. The pair had been out all the morning, sailing cork boats
and mudlarking in the marshes. They had had no dinner. Martha knew they
would be homing wolfish hungry some time during the afternoon and that a
raid was indicated. There were two big apple pasties on the hearth
waiting the mistress’ supper and Martha was prepared to sell her life
for them, since it was she that got the blame if anything ran short and
she had suffered severely of late.

At about three o’clock she heard the old sheep dog lift up its voice in
asthmatic excitement and then cease abruptly; it had recognized friends.
The raiders were at hand. She hid behind the settle near the door.
Presently she saw a dark patch slide across the east door-post—the
shadow of Ortho’s head. The shadow slid on until she knew he was peering
into the kitchen. Ortho entered the kitchen, stepping delicately, on
bare, grimy toes. He paused and glanced round the room. His eye lit on
the pasties and sparkled. He moved a chair carefully, so that his line
of retreat might be clear, beckoned to the invisible Eli, and went
straight for the mark. As his hands closed on the loot Martha broke
cover. Ortho did not look frightened or even surprised; he did not drop
the pasty. He grinned, dodged behind the table and shouted to his
brother, who took station in the doorway.

Martha, squalling horrid threats, hobbled halfway round the table after
Ortho, who skipped in the opposite direction and nearly escaped her. She
just cut him off in time, but she could not save the pasty. He slung it
under her arm to his confederate and dodged behind the table again. Eli
was fat and short-legged. Martha could have caught him with ease, but
she did not try, knowing that if she did Ortho would have the second
pasty. As it was, Ortho was hopelessly cornered; he should suffer for
both. Ortho was behind the table again and difficult to reach. She
thought of the broom, but it was at the other side of the kitchen; did
she turn to get it Ortho would slip away.

Eli reappeared in the doorway lumpish and stolid; he had hidden the
booty and come back to see the fun. Martha considered, pushed the table
against the wall and upturned it. Ortho sprang for the door, almost
gained it, but not quite. Martha grasped him by the tail of his smock,
drew him to her and laid on. But Ortho, instead of squirming and
whimpering as was his wont, put up a fight. He fought like a little wild
cat, wriggling and snarling, scratching with toes and finger nails.
Martha had all she could do to hold him, but hold him she did, dragged
him across the floor to the peg where hung her birch (a bunch of hazel
twigs) and gave him a couple of vicious slashes across the seat of his
pants. She was about to administer a third when an excruciating pain
nipped her behind her bare left ankle. She yelled, dropped Ortho and the
birch as if white-hot, and grabbed her leg. In the skin of the tendon
was imprinted a semi-circle of red dents—Eli’s little sharp teeth
marks. She limped round the kitchen for some minutes, vowing dreadful
vengeance on the brothers, who, in the meanwhile, were sitting astride
the yard gate munching the pasty.

The pair slept in the barn for a couple of nights, and then, judging the
dame’s wrath to have passed, slipped in on the third. But Martha was
waiting for Eli, birch in hand, determined to carry out her vengeance.
It did not come off. She caught Eli, but Ortho flew to the rescue this
time. The two little fiends hung on her like weasels, biting, clawing,
squealing with fury, all but dragging the clothes off her. She appealed
to Teresa for help, but the big woman would do nothing but laugh. It was
as good as a bear-bait. Martha shook the brothers off somehow and
lowered her flag for good. Next day Ortho burnt the birch with fitting
ceremony, and for some years the brothers ran entirely wild.

If Martha failed to inspire any respect in the young Penhales they stood
in certain awe of her daughter Wany on account of her connection with
the supernatural. In the first place she was a changeling herself. In
the second, Providence having denied her wits, had bequeathed her an odd
sense. She was weather-wise; she felt heat, frost, rain or wind days in
advance; her veins might have run with mercury. In the third place, and
which was far more attractive to the boys, she knew the movements of all
the “small people” in the valley—the cows told her.

The cows were Wany’s special province. She could not be trusted with any
housework however simple, because she could not bring her mind to it for
a minute. She had no control over her mind at all; it was forever
wandering over the hills and far away in dark, enchanted places.

But cows she could manage, and every morning the cows told her what had
passed in the half-world the night before.

There were two tribes of “small people” in the Keigwin Valley, Buccas
and Pixies. In the Buccas there was no harm; they were poor foreigners,
the souls of the first Jew miners, condemned for their malpractices to
perpetual slavery underground. They inhabited a round knoll formed of
rocks and rubble thrown up by the original Penhale and were seldom seen,
even by the cows, for they had no leisure and their work lay out of
sight in the earth’s dark, dripping tunnels. Once or twice the cows had
glimpsed a swarthy, hook-nosed old face, caked in red ore and seamed
with sweat, gazing wistfully through a crack in the rocks—but that was
all. Sometimes, if, under Wany’s direction, you set your ear to the
knoll and listened intently, you could hear a faint thump and scrape far
underground—the Buccas’ picks at work. Bohenna declared these sounds
emanated from badgers, but Bohenna was of the earth earthy, a clod of
clods.

The Pixies lived by day among the tree roots at the north end of Bosula
woods, a sprightly but vindictive people. At night they issued from a
hollow oak stump, danced in their green ball rooms, paid visits to
distant kinsfolk or made expeditions against offending mortals. The
cows, lying out all night in the marshes, saw them going and coming.
There were hundreds of them, the cows said; they wore green jerkins and
red caps and rode rabbits, all but the king and queen, who were mounted
on white hares. They blew on horns as they galloped, and the noise of
them was like a flock of small birds singing. On moonless nights a cloud
of fireflies sped above them to light the way. The cows heard them
making their plans as they rode afield, laughing and boasting as they
returned, and reported to Wany, who passed it on to the spellbound
brothers.

But this did not exhaust the night life in the valley. According to
Wany, other supernaturals haunted the neighborhood, specters, ghosts,
men who had sold their souls to the devil, folk who had died with curses
on them, or been murdered and could not rest. There was a demon huntsman
who rode a great black stallion behind baying hellhounds; a woman who
sat by Red Pool trying to wash the blood off her fingers; a baby who was
heard crying but never seen. Even the gray druid stones she invested
with periodic life. On such and such a night the tall Pipers stalked
across the fields and played to the Merry Maidens who danced round
thrice; the Men-an-Tol whistled; the Logan rocked; up on misty hills
barrows opened and old Cornish giants stepped out and dined hugely, with
the cromlechs for tables and the stars for tapers.

The stories had one virtue, namely that they brought the young Penhales
home punctually at set of sun. The wild valley they roamed so fearlessly
by day assumed a different aspect when the enchanted hours of night drew
on; inanimate objects stirred and drew breath, rocks took on the look of
old men’s faces, thorn bushes changed into witches, shadows harbored
nameless, crouching things. The creak of a bough sent chills down their
spines, the hoot of an owl made them jump, a patch of moonlight on a
tree trunk sent them huddling together, thinking of the ghost lady; the
bark of a fox and a cow crashing through undergrowth set their hearts
thumping for fear of the demon huntsman. If caught by dusk they turned
their coats inside out and religiously observed all the rites
recommended by Wany as charms against evil spirits. If they were not
brought up in the love of God they were at least taught to respect the
devil.

With the exception of this spiritual concession the Penhale brothers
knew no restraint; they ran as wild as stoats. They arose with the sun,
stuffed odds and ends of food in their pockets and were seen no more
while daylight lasted.

In spring there was plenty of bird’s-nesting to be done up the valley.
Every other tree held a nest of some sort, if you only knew where to
look, up in the forks of the ashes and elms, in hollow boles and rock
crevices, cunningly hidden in dense ivy-clumps or snug behind barbed
entanglements of thorn. Bohenna, a predatory naturalist, marked down
special nests for them, taught them to set bird and rabbit snares and
how to tickle trout.

In spring they hunted gulls’ eggs as well round the Luddra Head,
swarming perpendicular cliffs with prehensile toes and fingers hooked
into cracks, wriggling on their stomachs along dizzy foot-wide shelves,
leaping black crevices with the assurance of chamois. It was an exciting
pursuit with the sheer drop of two hundred feet or so below one, a sheer
drop to jagged rock ledges over which the green rollers poured with the
thunder of heavy artillery and then poured back, a boil of white water
and seething foam. An exciting pursuit with the back draught of a
southwesterly gale doing its utmost to scoop you off the cliffside, and
gull mothers diving and shrieking in your face, a clamorous snowstorm,
trying to shock you off your balance by the whir of their wings and the
piercing suddenness of their cries.

The brothers spent most of the summer at Monks Cove playing with the
fisher children, bathing and scrambling along the coast. The tide ebbing
left many pools, big and little, among the rocks, clear basins enameled
with white and pink sea lichen, studded with limpets, yellow snails,
ruby and emerald anemones. Delicate fronds of colored weed grew in these
salt-water gardens, tiny green crabs scuttered along the bottom,
gravel-hued bull-cod darted from shadow to shadow. They spent tense if
fruitless hours angling for the bull-cod with bent pins, limpet baited.
In the largest pool they learnt to swim. When they were sure of
themselves they took to the sea itself.

Their favorite spot was a narrow funnel between two low promontories, up
which gulf the rollers raced to explode a white puff of spray through a
blow-hole at the end. At the mouth of the funnel stood a rock they
called “The Chimney,” the top standing eight feet above low water level.
This made an ideal diving place. You stood on the “Chimney Pot,” looked
down through glitters and glints of reflected sunshine, down through
four fathoms of bottle-green water, down to where fantastic pennants of
bronze and purple weed rippled and purled and smooth pale bowlders
gleamed in the swaying light—banners and skulls of drowned armies. You
dived, pierced cleanly through the green deeps, a white shooting star
trailing silver bubbles. Down you went, down till your fingers touched
the weed banners, curved and came up, saw the water changing from green
to amber as you rose, burst into the blaze and glitter of sunlight with
the hiss of a breaker in your ears, saw it curving over you, turned and
went shoreward shouting, slung by giant arms, wallowing in milky foam,
plumed with diamond spray. Then a quick dash sideways out of the
sparkling turmoil into a quiet eddy and ashore at your leisure to bask
on the rocks and watch the eternal surf beating on the Twelve Apostles
and the rainbows glimmering in the haze of spindrift that hung above
them.

Porpoises went by, skimming the surface with beautiful, lazy curves,
solitary cormorants paddled past, popping under and reappearing fifty
yards away, with suspicious lumps in the throat. Now and then a shoal of
pilchards crawled along the coast, a purple stain in the blue, with a
cloud of vociferous gannets hanging over it, diving like stones, rising
and poising, glimmering in the sun like silver tinsel. Sometimes a brown
seal cruised along, sleek, round-headed, big-eyed, like a negro baby.

There was the Channel traffic to watch as well, smacks, schooners,
ketches and scows, all manner of rigs and craft; Tyne collier brigs,
grimy as chimney-sweeps; smart Falmouth packets carrying mails to and
from the world’s ends; an East Indiaman, maybe, nine months from the
Hooghly, wallowing leisurely home, her quarters a-glitter of
“gingerbread work,” her hold redolent with spices; and sometimes a great
First-Rate with triple rows of gun-ports, an admiral’s flag flying and
studding sails set, rolling a mighty bow-wave before her.

Early one summer morning they heard the boom of guns and round Black
Carn came a big Breton lugger under a tremendous press of sail, leaping
the short seas like a greyhound. On her weather quarter hung a King’s
Cutter, gaff-topsail and ring-tail set, a tower of swollen canvas. A
tongue of flame darted from the Breton’s counter, followed by a mushroom
of smoke and a dull crash. A jet of white water leapt thirty feet in the
air on the cutter’s starboard bow, then another astern of her and
another and another. She seemed to have run among a school of spouting
whales, but in reality it was the ricochets of a single round-shot. The
cutter’s bow-chaser replied, and jets spouted all round the lugger. The
King’s ship was trying to crowd the Breton ashore and looked in a fair
way to do so. To the excited boys it appeared that the lugger must
inevitably strike the Twelve Apostles did she hold her course. She held
on, passed into the drag of the big seas as they gathered to hurl
themselves on the reef. Every moment the watchers expected to see her
caught and crashed to splinters on the jagged anvil. She rose on a
roaring wave crest, hung poised above the reef for a breathless second
and clawed by, shaking the water from her scuppers.

The Cove boys cheered the lugger as she raced by, waving strips of
seaweed and dancing with joy. They were not so much for the French as
against the Preventive; a revenue cutter was their hereditary foe, a
spoke in the Wheel of Fortune.

“Up the Froggy,” they yelled. “Up Johnny Roscoff! Give him saltpeter
soup Moosoo! Hurrah! Hooroo!”

The two ships foamed out of sight behind the next headland, the boom of
their pieces sounding fainter and fainter.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Those were good days for the Penhale brothers, the days of early
boyhood.



                              CHAPTER VII


Ortho and Wany were in Penzance looking for cows that had been taken by
the Press gang, when they met the Pope of Rome wearing a plumed hat and
Teresa’s second best dress. He had an iron walking stick in his hand
with a negro head carved at the top and an ivory ferrule, and every time
he tapped the road it rang under him.

“Hollow, you see,” said His Holiness. “Eaten away by miners and
Buccas—scandalous! One more convulsion like the Lisbon earthquake of
fifty-five and we shall all fall in. Everything is hollow, when you come
to think of it—cups, kegs, cannon, ships, churches, crowns and
heads—everything. We shall not only fall in but inside out. If you
don’t believe me, listen.”

Whereupon he gathered his skirts and ran up Market Jew Street laying
about him with the iron stick, hitting the ground, the houses and
bystanders on the head, and everything he touched rumbled like a big or
little gong, in proportion to its size. Finally he hit the Market House;
it exploded and Ortho woke up.

There was a full gale blowing from the southwest and the noise of the
sea was rolling up the valley in roaring waves. The Bosula trees creaked
and strained. A shower of broken twigs hit the window and the wind
thudded on the pane like a fist. Ortho turned over on his other side and
was just burying his head under the pillow when he heard the explosion
again. It was a different note from the boom of the breakers, sharper.
He had heard something like that before—where? Then he remembered the
Breton with the cutter in chase—guns! A chair fell over in his mother’s
room. She was up. A door slammed below, boots thumped upstairs, Bohenna
shouted something through his mother’s door and clumped down hurriedly.
Ortho could not hear all he said, but he caught two essential words,
“Wreck” and “Cove.” More noise on the stairs and again the house door
slammed; his mother had gone. He shook Eli awake.

“There’s a ship ashore down to Cove,” he said; “banging off guns she
was. Mother and Ned’s gone. Come on.”

Eli was not anxious to leave his bed; he was comfortable and sleepy. “We
couldn’t do nothing,” he protested.

“Might see some foreigners drowned,” said Ortho optimistically. “She
might be a pirate like was sunk in Newlyn last year, full of blacks and
Turks.”

“They’d kill and eat us,” said Eli.

Ortho shook his head. “They’ll be drowned first—and if they ain’t
Ned’ll wrastle ’em.”

In settlement of further argument he placed his foot in the small of his
brother’s back and projected him onto the floor. They dressed in the
dark, fumbled their way downstairs and set off down the valley. In the
shelter of the Bosula woods they made good progress; it was
comparatively calm there, though the treetops were a-toss and a rotten
bough hurtled to earth a few feet behind them. Once round the elbow and
clear of the timber, the gale bent them double; it rushed, shrieking, up
the funnel of the hills, pushed them round and backwards. Walking
against it was like wading against a strong current. The road was the
merest track, not four feet at its widest, littered with rough bowlders,
punctuated with deep holes. The brothers knew every twist and trick of
the path, but in the dark one can blunder in one’s own bedroom; moreover
the wind was distorting everything. They tripped and stumbled, were
slashed across the face by flying whip-thongs of bramble, torn by
lunging thorn boughs, pricked by dancing gorse-bushes. Things suddenly
invested with malignant animation bobbed out of the dark, hit or
scratched one and bobbed back again. The night was full of mad terror.

Halfway to the Cove, Ortho stubbed his toe for the third time, got a
slap in the eye from a blackthorn and fell into a puddle. He wished he
hadn’t come and proposed that they should return. But Eli wouldn’t hear
of it. He wasn’t enjoying himself any more than his brother, but he was
going through with it. He made no explanation, but waddled on. Ortho let
him get well ahead and then called him back, but Eli did not reply.
Ortho wavered. The thought of returning through those creaking woods all
alone frightened him. He thought of all the Things-that-went-by-Night,
of hell-hounds, horsemen and witches. The air was full of witches on
broomsticks and demons on black stallions stampeding up the valley on a
dreadful hunt. He could hear their blood-freezing halloos, the blare of
horns, the baying of hounds. He wailed to Eli to stop, and trotted,
shivering, after him.

The pair crawled into Monks Cove at last plastered with mud, their
clothes torn to rags. A feeble pilchard-oil “chill” burnt in one or two
windows, but the cottages were deserted. Spindrift, mingled with clots
of foam, was driving over the roofs in sheets. The wind pressed like a
hand on one’s mouth; it was scarcely possible to breathe facing it.
Several times the boys were forced down on all fours to avoid being
blown over backwards. The roar of the sea was deafening, appalling.
Gleaming hills of surf hove out of the void in quick succession,
toppled, smashed, flooded the beach with foam and ran back, sucking away
the sands.

The small beach was thronged with people; all the Covers were there,
men, women and children, also a few farm-folk, drawn by the guns. They
sheltered behind bowlders, peered seawards, and shouted in each other’s
ears.

“Spanisher, or else Portingal,” Ortho heard a man bellow.

“Jacky’s George seen she off Cribba at sundown. Burnt a tar barrel and
fired signals southwest of Apostles—dragging by her lights. She’ll
bring up presently and then part—no cables won’t stand this. The
Minstrel’ll have her.”

“No, the Carracks, with this set,” growled a second. “Carracks for a
hundred poun’. They’ll crack she like a nut.”

“Carracks, Minstrel or Shark’s Fin, she’m _ours_,” said the first.
“Harken!”

Came a crash from the thick darkness seawards, followed a grinding noise
and second crash. The watchers hung silent for a moment, as though awed,
and then sprang up shouting.

“Struck!”

“Carracks have got her!”

“Please God a general cargo!”

“Shan’t be long now, my dears, pickin’s for one and all.”

Men tied ropes round their waists, gave the ends to their women-folk and
crouched like runners awaiting the signal.

A dark object was tossed high on the crest of a breaker, dropped on the
beach, dragged back and rolled up again.

Half a dozen men scampered towards it and dragged it in, a ship’s
pinnace smashed to splinters. Part of a carved rail came ashore, a
poop-ladder, a litter of spars and a man with no head.

These also were hauled above the surf line; the wreckers wanted a clear
beach. Women set to work on the spars, slashing off tackle, quarreling
over the possession of valuable ropes and block. A second batch of spars
washed in with three more bodies tangled amongst them, battered out of
shape. Then a mass of planking, timbers, barrel staves, some bedding
and, miraculously, a live dog. Suddenly the surf went black with bobbing
objects; the cargo was coming in—barrels.

A sea that will play bowls with half-ton rocks will toss wine casks
airily. The breakers flung them on the beach; they trundled back down
the slope and were spat up again. The men rushed at them, whooping;
rushed right into the surf up to their waists, laid hold of a prize and
clung on; were knocked over, sucked under, thrown up and finally dragged
out by the women and ancients pulling like horses on the life-lines. A
couple of tar barrels came ashore among the others. Teresa, who was much
in evidence, immediately claimed them, and with the help of some old
ladies piled the loose planking on the wreck of the pinnace, saturated
the whole with tar and set it afire to light the good work. In a few
minutes the gale had fanned up a royal blaze. That done, she knotted a
salvaged halliard about Bohenna, and with Davy, the second farm hand,
Teresa and the two boys holding on to the shore end, he went into the
scramble with the rest.

Barrels were spewed up by every wave, the majority stove in, but many
intact. The fisher-folk fastened on them like bulldogs, careless of
risk. One man was stunned, another had his leg broken. An old widow,
having nobody to work for her and maddened at the sight of all this
treasure-trove going to others, suddenly threw sanity to the winds,
dashed into the surf, butted a man aside and flung herself on a cask.
The cask rolled out with the back-drag, the good dame with it. A breaker
burst over them and they went out of sight in a boil of sand, gravel and
foam. Bohenna plunged after them, was twice swept off his feet, turned
head over heels and bumped along the bottom, choking, the sand stinging
his face like small shot. He groped out blindly, grasped something solid
and clung on. Teresa, feeling more than she could handle on her line,
yelled for help. A dozen sprang to her assistance, and with a tug they
got Bohenna out, Bohenna clinging to the old woman, she still clinging
to her barrel. She lay on the sand, her arms about her prize, three
parts drowned, spitting salt water at her savior.

He laughed. “All right, mother; shan’t snatch it from ’ee. ’Tis your
plunder sure ’nough.” Took breath and plunged back into the surf. The
flow of cargo stopped, beams still came in, a top mast, more shattered
bodies, some lengths of cable, bedding, splinters of cabin paneling and
a broken chest, valueless odds and ends. The wreckers set about
disposing of the sound casks; men staggered off carrying them on rough
stretchers, women and children rolled others up the beach, the coils of
rope disappeared. Davy, it turned out, had brought three farm horses and
left them tied up in a pilchard-press. These were led down to the beach
now, loaded (two barrels a horse), and taken home by the men.

Teresa still had a cask in hand. Bohenna could hardly make a second
journey before dawn. Moreover, it was leaking, so she stove the head in
with a stone and invited everybody to help themselves. Some ran to the
houses for cups and jugs, but others could not wait, took off their
sodden shoes and baled out the contents greedily. It was overproof
Oporto wine and went to their unaccustomed heads in no time. Teresa,
imbibing in her wholesale fashion, was among the first to feel the
effects. She began to sing. She sang “Prithee Jack, prithee Tom, pass
the can around” and a selection of sottish ditties which had found favor
in Portsmouth taverns, suiting her actions to the words. From singing
she passed to dancing, uttering sharp “Ai-ees” and “Ah-has” and waving
and thumping her detached shoe as though it were a tambourine. She
infected the others. They sang the first thing that came into their
heads and postured and staggered in an endeavor to imitate her,
hoarse-throated men dripping with sea water, shrill young women, gnarled
beldames dribbling at the mouth, loose-jointed striplings,
cracked-voiced ancients contracted with rheumatism, squeaky boys and
girls. Drink inspired them to strange cries, extravagant steps and
gesticulations. They capered round the barrel, dipping as they passed,
drank and capered again, each according to his or her own fashion.
Teresa, the presiding genius, lolled over the cask, panting, shrieking
with laughter, whooping her victims on to fresh excesses. They hopped
and staggered round and round, chanting and shouting, swaying in the
wind which swelled their smocks with grotesque protuberances, tore the
women’s hair loose and set their blue cloaks flapping. Some tumbled and
rose again, others lay where they fell. They danced in a mist of flying
spindrift and sand with the black cliffs for background, the blazing
wreckage for light, the fifes and drums of the gale for orchestra. It
might have been a scene from an infernal ballet, a dance of witches and
devils, fire-lit, clamorous, abandoned.

The eight drowned seamen, providers of this good cheer, lay in a row
apart, their dog nosing miserably from one to the other, wondering why
they were so indifferent when all this merriment was toward, and barking
at any one who approached them.

When the Preventive men arrived with dawn they thought at first it was
not a single ship that had foundered but a fleet, so thick was the beach
with barrel staves and bodies, but even as they stared some corpses
revived, sat up, rose unsteadily and made snake tracks for the cottages;
they were merely the victims of Teresa’s bounty. Teresa herself was fast
asleep behind a rock when the Preventive came, but she woke up as the
sun rose in her eyes and spent a pleasant hour watching their fruitless
hunt for liquor and offering helpful suggestions.

Hunger gnawing her, she whistled her two sons as if they had been dogs
and made for home, tacking from side to side of the path like a ship
beating to windward and cursing her Maker every time she stumbled. The
frightened boys kept fifty yards in rear.

In return for Teresa’s insults the Preventives paid Bosula a visit later
in the day. Teresa, refreshed by some hours’ sleep, followed the
searchers round the steading, jeering at them while they prodded sticks
into hay-stacks and patches of newly dug ground or rapped floors and
walls for hollow places. She knew they would never find those kegs; they
were half a mile away, sunk in a muddy pool further obscured by willows.
Bohenna had walked the horses upstream and down so that there should be
no telltale tracks. The Preventives were drawing a blank cover. It
entertained Teresa to see them getting angrier and angrier. She was
prodigal with jibes and personalities. The Riding Officer retired at
dusk, informing the widow that it would give him great pleasure to tear
her tongue out and fry it for breakfast. Teresa was highly amused. Her
good humor recovered and that evening she broached a cask, hired a
fiddler and gave a dance in the kitchen.



                              CHAPTER VIII


The Penhale brothers grew and grew, put off childish things and began to
seek the company of men worshipfully and with emulation, as puppies
imitate grown dogs. Ortho’s first hero was a fisherman whose real name
was George Baragwanath, but who was invariably referred to as “Jacky’s
George,” although his father, the possessive Jacky, was long dead and
forgotten and had been nothing worth mentioning when alive.

Jacky’s George was a remarkable man. At the age of seventeen, while
gathering driftwood below Pedn Boar, he had seen an intact ship’s
pinnace floating in. The weather was moderate, but there was sufficient
swell on to stave the boat did it strike the outer rocks—and it was a
good boat. The only way to save it was to swim off, but Jacky’s George,
like most fishermen, could not swim. He badly wanted that boat; it would
make him independent of Jacky, whose methods were too slow to catch a
cold, leave alone fish. Moreover, there was a girl involved. He stripped
off his clothes, gathered the bundle of driftwood in his arms, flopped
into the back wash of a roller and kicked out, frog-fashion, knowing
full well that his chances of reaching the boat were slight and that if
he did not reach it he would surely drown.

He reached the boat, however, scrambled up over the stern and found
three men asleep on the bottom. His heart fell like lead. He had risked
his life for nothing; he’d still have to go fishing with the timorous
Jacky and the girl must wait.

“Here,” said he wearily to the nearest sleeper. “Here, rouse up; you’m
close ashore . . . be scat in a minute.”

The sleeper did not stir. Jacky’s George kicked him none too gently.
Still the man did not move. He then saw that he was dead; they were all
dead. The boat was his after all! He got the oars out and brought the
boat safely into Monks Cove. Quite a sensation it made—Jacky’s George,
stark naked, pulling in out of the sea fog with a cargo of dead men. He
married that girl forthwith, was a father at eighteen, a grandfather at
thirty-five. In the interval he got nipped by the Press Gang in a
Falmouth grog shop and sent round the world with Anson in the
_Centurion_, rising to the rank of quarter-gunner. One of the two
hundred survivors of that lucrative voyage, he was paid off with a
goodly lump of prize money, and, returning to his native cove, opened an
inn with a florid, cock-hatted portrait of his old commander for sign.

Jacky’s George, however, was not inclined to a life of bibulous ease
ashore. He handed the inn over to his wife and went to sea again as
gunner in a small Falmouth privateer mounting sixteen pieces. Off Ushant
one February evening they were chased by a South Maloman of twice their
weight of metal, which was overhauling them hand over fist when her
foremast went by the board and up she went in the wind. Jacky’s George
was responsible for the shot that disabled the Breton, but her parting
broadside disabled Jacky’s George; he lost an arm.

He was reported to have called for rum, hot tar and an ax. These having
been brought, he gulped the rum, chopped off the wreckage of his
forearm, soused the spurting stump in tar and fainted. He recovered
rapidly, fitted a boat-hook head to the stump and was at work again in
no time, but the accident made a longshoreman of him; he went no more
a-roving in letters of marque, but fished offshore with his swarm of
sons, Ortho Penhale occasionally going with him.

Physically Jacky’s George was a sad disappointment. Of all the Covers he
was the least like what he ought to have been, the last man you would
have picked out as the desperado who had belted the globe, sacked towns
and treasure ships, been master gunner of a privateer and killed several
times his own weight in hand-to-hand combats. He was not above five feet
three inches in height, a chubby, chirpy, red-headed cock-robin of a man
who drank little, swore less, smiled perpetually and whistled wherever
he went—even, it was said, at the graveside of his own father, in a
moment of abstraction of course.

His wife, who ran the “Admiral Anson” (better known as the
“Kiddlywink”), was a heavy dark woman, twice his size and very downright
in her opinions. She would roar down a roomful of tipsy mariners with
ease and gusto, but the least word of her smiling little husband she
obeyed swiftly and in silence. It was the same with his children. There
were nine of them—two daughters and seven sons—all red-headed and
freckled like himself, a turbulent, independent tribe, paying no man
respect—but their father.

Ortho could not fathom the nature of the little man’s power over them;
he was so boyish himself, took such childish delight in their tales of
mischief, seemed in all that boatload of boys the youngest and most
carefree. Then one evening he had a glimpse of the cock-robin’s other
side. They were just in from sea, were lurching up from the slip when
they were greeted by ominous noises issuing from the Kiddlywink, the
crash of woodwork, hoarse oaths, a thump and then growlings as of a
giant dog worrying a bone. Jacky’s George broke into a run, and at the
same moment his wife, terrified, appeared at the door and cried out,
“Quick! Quick do ’ee! Murder!”

Jacky’s George dived past her into the house, Ortho, agog for any form
of excitement, close behind him.

The table was lying over on its side, one bench was broken and the other
tossed, end on, into a corner. On the wet floor, among chips of
shattered mugs, two men struggled, locked together, a big man on top, a
small man underneath. The former had the latter by the throat, rapidly
throttling him. The victim’s eyeballs seemed on the point of bursting,
his tongue was sticking out.

“Tinners!” wailed Mrs. Baragwanath. “Been drinkin’ all day—gert
stinkin’ toads!”

Jacky’s George did not waste time in wordy remonstrance; he got the
giant’s chin in the crook of his sound arm and tried to wrench it up.
Useless; the maddened brute was too strong and too heavy. The man
underneath gave a ghastly, clicking choke. In another second there would
have been murder done in the “Admiral Anson” and a blight would fall on
that prosperous establishment, killing trade. That would never do.
Without hesitation its landlord settled the matter, drove his stump-hook
into the giant’s face, gaffed him through the cheek as he would a fish.

“Come off!” said he.

The man came off.

“Come on!” He backed out, leading the man by the hook.

“Lift a hand or struggle and I’ll drag your face inside out,” said
Jacky’s George. “This way, if you please.”

The man followed, bent double, murder in his eyes, hands twitching but
at his sides.

At the end of the hamlet Jacky’s George halted. “You owe me your neck,
mate, but I don’t s’pose you’ll thank me, tedd’n in human nature, you
would,” said he, sadly, as though pained at the ingratitude of mortal
man. “Go on up that there road till you’m out of this place an’ don’t
you never come back.”

He freed the hook deftly and jumped clear. “Now crowd all canvas, do
’ee.”

The great tinner put a hand to his bleeding cheek, glared at the smiling
cock-robin, clenched his fists and teeth and took a step forward—one
only. A stone struck him in the chest, another missed his head by an
inch. He ducked to avoid a third and was hit in the back and thigh,
started to retreat at a walk, broke into a run and went cursing and
stumbling up the track, his arms above his head to protect it from the
rain of stones, Goliath pursued by seven red-headed little Davids, and
all the Cove women standing on their doorsteps jeering.

“Two mugs an’ a bench seat,” Jacky’s George commented as he watched his
sons speeding the parting guest. “Have to make t’other poor soul pay for
’em, I s’pose.” He turned back into the Kiddlywink whistling,
“Strawberry leaves make maidens fair.”

Ortho enjoyed going to sea with the Baragwanath family; they put such
zest into all they did, no slovenliness was permitted. Falls and cables
were neatly coiled or looped over pins, sail was stowed properly, oars
tossed man-o’-war fashion, everything went with a snap. Furthermore,
they took chances. For them no humdrum harbor hugging; they went far and
wide after the fish and sank their crab-pots under dangerous ledges no
other boat would tackle. In anything like reasonable weather they
dropped a tier or two seaward of the Twelve Apostles. Even on the
calmest of days there was a heavy swell on to the south of the reef,
especially with the tide making. It was shallow there and the Atlantic
flood came rolling over the shoal in great shining hills. At one moment
you were up in the air and could see the brown coast with its purple
indentations for miles, the patchwork fields, scattered gray farmhouses,
the smoke of furze fires and lazy clouds rolling along the high moors.
At the next moment you were in the lap of a turquoise valley, shut out
from everything by rushing cliffs of water. There were oars, sheets,
halliards, back-ropes and lines to be pulled on, fighting fish to be
hauled aboard, clubbed and gaffed. And always there was Jacky’s George
whistling like a canary, pointing out the various rigs of passing
vessels, spinning yarns of privateer days and of Anson’s wonderful
voyage, of the taking of Paita City and the great plate ship _Nuestra
Señora de Covadonga_. And there was the racing.

Very jealous of his craft’s reputation was Jacky’s George; a hint of
defiance from another boat and he was after the challenger instanter,
even though it took him out of his course. Many a good spin did Ortho
get coming in from the Carn Base Wolf and other outer fishing grounds,
backed against the weather-side with the Baragwanath boys, living
ballast, while the gig, trembling from end to end, went leaping and
swooping over the blue and white hillocks on the trail of an ambitious
Penberth or Porgwarra man. Sheets and weather stays humming in the
blast, taut and vibrant as guitar strings; sails rigid as though carved
from wood, lee gunnel all but dipping under; dollops of spray bursting
aboard over the weather bow—tense work, culminating in exultation as
they crept up on the chase, drew to her quarter, came broad abeam
and—with derisive cheers—passed her. Speed was a mania with the
cock-robin; he was in perpetual danger of sailing the _Game Cock_ under;
on one occasion he very nearly did.

They were tearing, close-hauled, through the Runnelstone Passage, after
an impudent Mouseholeman, when a cross sea suddenly rose out of nowhere
and popped aboard over the low lee gunnel. In a second the boat was full
of water; only her gunnels and thwarts were visible. It seemed to Ortho
that he was standing up to his knees in the sea.

“Luff!” shouted Jacky’s George.

His eldest son jammed the helm hard down, but the boat wouldn’t answer.
The way was off her; she lay as dead as a log.

“Leggo sheets!” shouted the father. “Aft all hands!”

Ortho tumbled aft with the Baragwanath boys and watched Jacky’s George
in a stupor of fright. The little man could not be said to move; he
flickered, grabbed up an oar, wrenched the boat’s head round, broke the
crest of an oncoming wave by launching the oar blade at it and took the
remainder in his back.

“Heave the ballast out an’ bale,” he yelled gleefully, sitting in the
bows, forming a living bulwark against the waves. “Bale till your backs
break, my jollies.”

They bailed like furies, baled with the first things to hand, line tubs,
caps, boots, anything, in the meanwhile drifting rapidly towards the
towering cliffs of Tol-pedn-Penwith. The crash of the breakers on the
ledges struck terror through Ortho. They sounded like a host of ravenous
great beasts roaring for their prey—him. If the boat did not settle
under them they would be dashed to pieces on those rocks; death was
inevitable one way or the other. He remembered the Portuguese seamen
washed in from the Twelve Apostles without heads. He would be like that
in a few minutes—no head—ugh!

Jacky’s George, jockeying the bows, improvising a weather cloth from a
spare jib, was singing, “Hey, boys, up we go!” This levity in the jaws
of destruction enraged Ortho. The prospect of imminent death might amuse
Jacky’s George, who had eaten a rich slice of life, but Ortho had not
and was terrified. He felt he was too young to die; it was unfair to
snatch a mere boy like himself. Moreover, it was far too sudden; no
warning at all. At one moment they were bowling along in the sunshine,
laughing and happy, and at the next up to their waists in water, to all
intents dead, cold, headless, eaten by crabs—ugh! He thought of Eli up
the valley, flintlock in hand, dry, happy, safe for years and years of
fun; thought of the Owls’ House bathed in the noon glow, the old dog
asleep in the sun, pigeons strutting on the thatch, copper pans shining
in the kitchen—thought of his home, symbol of all things comfortable
and secure, and promised God that if he got out of the mess he would
never set foot in a boat again.

The roar of the breakers grew louder and he felt cold and sick with
fear, but nevertheless baled with the best, baled for dear life,
realizing for the first time how inexpressibly precious life may be.
Jacky’s George whistled, cracked jokes and sang “The Bold British Tar.”
He made such a din as to drown the noise of the surf. The “British Tar”
had brave words and a good rousing chorus. The boys joined in as they
baled; presently Ortho found himself singing too.

Six lads toiling might and main can shift a quantity of water. The gig
began to brisk in her movements, to ride easier. Fifty yards off the
foam-draped Hella Rock Jacky’s George laid her to her course again—but
the Mouseholeman was out of sight.

No Dundee harpooner, home from a five years’ cruise, had a more moving
story of perils on the deep to tell than did Ortho that night. He
staggered about the kitchen, affecting a sea roll, spat over his
shoulder and told and retold the tale till his mother boxed his ears and
drove him up to bed. Even then he kept Eli awake for two hours, baling
that boat out over and over again; he had enjoyed every moment of it, he
said. Nevertheless he did not go fishing for a month, but the
Baragwanath family were dodging off St. Clements Isle before sun-up next
day, waiting for that Mousehole boat to come out of port. When she did
they led her down to the fishing grounds and then led her home again, a
tow-rope trailing derisively over the _Game Cock’s_ stern. They were an
indomitable breed.

Ortho recovered from his experience off Tol-Pedn and, despite his
promise to his Maker, went to sea occasionally, but that phase of his
education was nearing its close. Winter and its gales were approaching,
and even the fearless cock-robin seldom ventured out. When he did go he
took only his four eldest boys, departed without ostentation, was gone a
week or even two, and returned quietly in the dead of night.

“Scilly—to visit his sister,” was given by Mrs. Baragwanath as his
destination and object, but it was noted that these demonstrations of
brotherly affection invariably occurred when the “Admiral Anson’s” stock
of liquor was getting low. The wise drew their own conclusions. Ortho
pleaded to be taken on one of these mysterious trips, but Jacky’s George
was adamant, so he had perforce to stop at home and follow the _Game
Cock_ in imagination across the wintry Channel to Guernsey and back
again through the patrolling frigates, loaded to the bends with ankers
of gin and brandy.

Cut off from Jacky’s George, he looked about for a fresh hero to worship
and lit upon Pyramus Herne.



                               CHAPTER IX


Pyramus Herne was the head of a family of gypsy horse dealers that
toured the south and west of England, appearing regularly in the Land’s
End district on the heels of the New Year. They came not particularly to
do business, but to feed their horses up for the spring fairs. The
climate was mild, and Pyramus knew that to keep a beast warm is to go
halfway towards fattening it.

He would arrive with a chain of broken-down skeletons, tied head to
tail, file their teeth, blister and fire their game legs and turn them
loose in the sheltered bottoms for a rest cure. At the end of three
months, when the bloom was on their new coats, he would trim their feet,
pull manes and tails, give an artistic touch here and there with the
shears, paint out blemishes, make old teeth look like new and depart
with a string of apparently gamesome youngsters frolicking in his
tracks.

It was his practice to pitch his winter camp in a small coppice about
two and a half miles north of Bosula. It was no man’s land, sheltered by
a wall of rocks from the north and east, water was plentiful and the
trees provided fuel. Moreover, it was secluded, a weighty consideration,
for the gypsy dealt in other things besides horses, in the handling of
which privacy was of the first import. In short he was a receiver of
stolen goods and valuable articles of salvage. He gave a better price
than the Jew junk dealers in Penzance because his travels opened a wider
market and also he had a reputation of never “peaching,” of betraying a
customer for reward—a reputation far from deserved, be it said, but he
peached always in secret and with consummate discretion.

He did lucrative business in salvage in the west, but the traffic in
stolen goods was slight because there were no big towns and no
professional thieves. The few furtive people who crept by night into the
little wood seeking the gypsy were mainly thieves by accident, victims
of sudden overwhelming temptations. They seldom bargained with Pyramus,
but agreed to the first price offered, thrust the stolen articles upon
him as if red-hot and were gone, radiant with relief, frequently
forgetting to take the money.

“I am like their Christ,” said Pyramus; “they come to me to be relieved
of their sins.”

In England of those days gypsies were regarded with well-merited
suspicion and hunted from pillar to post. Pyramus was the exception. He
passed unmolested up and down his trade routes, for he was at particular
pains to ingratiate himself with the two ruling classes—the law
officers and the gentry—and, being a clever man, succeeded.

The former liked him because once “King” Herne joined a fair there would
be no trouble with the Romanies, also he gave them reliable information
from time to time. Captain Rudolph, the notorious Bath Road highwayman,
owed his capture and subsequent hanging to Pyramus, as did also a score
of lesser tobymen. Pyramus made no money out of footpads, so he threw
them as a sop to Justice.

The gentry Pyramus fawned on with the oily cunning of his race. Every
man has a joint in his harness, magistrates no less. Pyramus made these
little weaknesses of the great his special study. One influential land
owner collected snuff boxes, another firearms. Pyramus in his
traffickings up and down the world kept his eyes skinned for snuff boxes
and firearms, and, having exceptional opportunities, usually managed to
bring something for each when he passed their way, an exquisite casket
of tortoise-shell and paste, a pair of silver-mounted pistols with
Toledo barrels. Some men had to be reached by other means.

Lord James Thynne was partial to coursing. Pyramus kept an eye lifted
for greyhounds, bought a dog from the widow of a Somersetshire poacher
(hung the day before) and Lord James won ten matches running with it;
the Herne tribe were welcome to camp on his waste lands forever.

But his greatest triumph was with Mr. Hugo Lorimer, J. P., of Stane, in
the county of Hampshire. Mr. Lorimer was death on gypsies, maintaining
against all reason that they hailed from Palestine and were responsible
for the Crucifixion. He harried them unmercifully. He was not otherwise
a devout man; the persecution of the Romanies was his sole form of
religious observance. Even the astute Pyramus could not melt him, charm
he never so wisely.

This worried King Herne, the more so because Mr. Lorimer’s one passion
was horses—his own line of business—and he could not reach him through
it.

He could not win the truculent J. P. by selling him a good nag cheap
because he bred his own and would tolerate no other breed. He could not
even convey a good racing tip to the gentleman because he did not bet.
The Justice was adamant; Pyramus baffled.

Then one day a change came in the situation. The pride of the stud, the
crack stallion “Stane Emperor,” went down with fever and, despite all
ministrations, passed rapidly from bad to worse. All hope was abandoned.
Mr. Lorimer, infinitely more perturbed than if his entire family had
been in a like condition, sat on an upturned bucket in the horse’s box
and wept.

To him entered Pyramus, pushing past the grooms, fawning, obsequiously
sympathetic, white with dust. He had heard the dire news at Downton and
came instanter, spurring.

Might he humbly crave a peep at the noble sufferer? . . . Perhaps his
poor skill might effect something. . . . Had been with horses all his
life. . . . Had succeeded with many cases abandoned by others more
learned. . . . It was his business and livelihood. . . . Would His
Worship graciously permit? . . .

His Worship ungraciously grunted an affirmative. Gypsy horse coper full
of tricks as a dog of fleas. . . . At all events could make the precious
horse no worse. . . . Go ahead!

Pyramus bolted himself in with the animal, and in two hours it was
standing up, lipping bran-mash from his hand, sweaty, shaking, but
saved.

Mr. Hugo Lorimer was all gratitude, his one soft spot touched at last.
Pyramus must name his own reward. Pyramus, both palms upraised in
protest, would hear of no reward, honored to have been of any service to
_such_ a gentleman.

Departed bowing and smirking, the poison he had blown through a grating
into the horse’s manger the night before in one pocket, the antidote in
the other.

Henceforward the Herne family plied their trade undisturbed within the
bounds of Mr. Lorimer’s magistracy to the exclusion of all other gypsies
and throve mightily in consequence.

He had been at pains to commend himself to Teresa Penhale, but had only
partly succeeded. She was the principal land owner in the valley where
he wintered and it was necessary to keep on her right side.

The difficulty with Teresa was that, being of gypsy blood herself, she
was proof against gypsy trickery and exceeding suspicious of her own
kind. He tried to present her with a pair of barbaric gold earrings, by
way of throwing bread upon the waters, but she asked him how much he
wanted for them and he made the fatal mistake of saying “nothing.”

“Nothing to-day and my skin to-morrow?” she sneered. “Outside with you!”

Pyramus went on the other tack, pretended not to recognize her as a
Romni, addressed her in English, treated her with extravagant deference
and saw to it that his family did the same.

It worked. Teresa rather fancied herself as a “lady”—though she could
never go to the trouble of behaving like one—and it pleased her to find
somebody who treated her as such. It pleased her to have the great King
Herne back his horse out of her road and remain, hat in hand, till she
had passed by, to have his women drop curtsies and his bantlings bob. It
worked—temporarily. Pyramus had touched her abundant conceit, lulled
the Christian half of her with flattery, but he knew that the gypsy half
was awake and on guard. The situation was too nicely balanced for
comfort; he looked about for fresh weight to throw into his side of the
scale.

One day he met Eli, wandering up the valley alone, flintlock in hand, on
the outlook for woodcock.

Pyramus could be fascinating when he chose; it lubricated the wheels of
commerce. He laid himself out to charm Eli, told him where he had seen a
brace of cock and also some snipe, complimented him on his villainous
old blunderbuss, was all gleaming teeth, geniality and oil. He could not
have made a greater mistake. Eli was not used to charm and had
instinctive distrust of the unfamiliar. He had been reared among boors
who said their say in the fewest words and therefore distrusted a
talker. Further, he was his father’s son, a Penhale of Bosula on his own
soil, and this fellow was an Egyptian, a foreigner, and he had an
instinctive distrust of foreigners. He growled something incoherent,
scowled at the beaming Pyramus, shouldered his unwieldy cannon and
marched off in the opposite direction.

Pyramus bit his fleshy lip; nothing to be done with that truculent bear
cub—but what about the brother, the handsome dark boy? What about
him—eh?

He looked out for Ortho, met him once or twice in company with other
lads, made no overtures beyond a smile, but heeled his mare and set her
caracoling showily.

He did not glance round, but he knew the boy’s eyes were following him.
A couple of evenings after the last meeting he came home to learn that
young Penhale had been hanging about the camp that afternoon.

The eldest Herne son, Lussha, had invited him in, but Ortho declined,
saying he had come up to look at some badger diggings. Pyramus smiled
into his curly beard; the badger holes had been untenanted for years.
Ortho came up to carry out a further examination of the badger earths
the very next day.

Pyramus saw him, high up among the rocks of the carn, his back to the
diggings, gazing wistfully down on the camp, its tents, fires, and
horses. He did not ask the boy in, but sent out a scout with orders to
bring word when young Penhale went home.

The scout returned at about three o’clock. Ortho, he reported, had
worked stealthily down from the carn top and had been lying in the
bracken at the edge of the encampment for the last hour, imagining
himself invisible. He had now gone off towards Bosula. Pyramus called
for his mare to be saddled, brushed his breeches, put on his best coat,
mounted and pursued. He came up with the boy a mile or so above the farm
and brought his mount alongside caracoling and curveting. Ortho’s
expressive eyes devoured her.

“Good day to you, young gentleman,” Pyramus called, showing his fine
teeth. Ortho grinned in return.

“Wind gone back to the east; we shall have a spell of dry weather, I
think,” said the gypsy, making the mare do a right pass, pivot on her
hocks and pass to the left.

“Yeh,” said Ortho, his mouth wide with admiration.

King Herne and his steed were enough to take any boy’s fancy; they were
dressed to that end. The gypsy had masses of inky hair, curled mustaches
and an Assyrian beard, which frame of black served to enhance the
brightness of his glance, the white brilliance of his smile. He was
dressed in the coat he wore when calling on the gentry, dark blue
frogged with silver lace, and buff spatter-dashes. He sat as though
bolted to the saddle from the thighs down; the upper half of him, hinged
at the hips, balanced gracefully to every motion of his mount, lithe as
a panther for all his forty-eight years.

And the mare—she was his pride and delight, black like himself,
three-quarter Arab, mettlesome, fine-boned, pointed of muzzle, arched of
neck. Unlike her mates, she was assiduously groomed and kept rugged in
winter so that her coat had not grown shaggy. Her long mane rippled like
silken threads, her tail streamed behind her like a banner. The late
sunshine twinked on the silver mountings of her bridle and rippled over
her hide till she gleamed like satin. She bounded and pirouetted along
beside Ortho, light on her feet as a ballerina, tossed her mane, pricked
her crescent ears, showed the whites of her eyes, clicked the bit in her
young teeth, a thing of steel and swansdown, passion and docility.

Ortho’s eyes devoured her. Pyramus noted it, laughed and patted the
glossy neck.

“You like my little sweet—eh? She is of blood royal. Her sire was given
to the Chevalier Lombez Muret by the Basha of Oran in exchange for three
pieces of siege ordnance and a chiming clock. The dam of that sire
sprang from the sacred mares of the Prophet Mahomet, the mares that
though dying of thirst left the life-giving stream and galloped to the
trumpet call. There is the blood of queens in her.”

“She is a queen herself,” said Ortho warmly.

Pyramus nodded. “Well said! I see you have an eye for a horse, young
squire. You can ride, doubtless?”

“Yes—but only pack-horses.”

“So—only pack-horses, farm drudges—that is doleful traveling. See
here, mount my ‘Rriena,’ and drink the wind.” He dropped the reins,
vaulted off over the mare’s rump and held out his hand for Ortho’s knee.

“Me! I . . . I ride her?” The boy stuttered, astounded.

The gypsy smiled his dazzling, genial smile. “Surely—an you will. There
is nothing to fear; she is playful only, the heart of a dove. Take hold
of the reins . . . your knee . . . up you go!”

He hove the boy high and lowered him gently into the saddle.

“Stirrups too long? Put your feet in the leathers—so. An easy hand on
her mouth, a touch will serve. Ready? Then away, my chicken.”

He let go the bridle and clapped his palms. The mare bounded into the
air. Ortho, frightened, clutched the pommel, but she landed again light
as a feather, never shifting him in the saddle. Smoothly she caracoled,
switching her plumy tail, tossing her head, snatching playfully at the
bit. There was no pitch, no jar, just an easy, airy rocking. Ortho let
her gambol on for a hundred yards or so, and then, thinking he’d better
turn, fingered his off rein. He no more than fingered the rein, but the
mare responded as though she divined his thoughts, circled smoothly and
rocked back towards Pyramus.

“Round again,” shouted the gypsy, “and give her rein; there’s a stretch
of turf before you.”

Again the mare circled. Ortho tapped her with his heels. A tremble ran
through her, an electric thrill; she sprang into a canter, from a canter
to a gallop and swept down the turf all out. It was flight, no less,
winged flight, skimming the earth. The turf streamed under them like a
green river; bushes, trees, bowlders flickered backwards, blurred,
reeling. The wind tore Ortho’s cap off, ran fingers through his hair,
whipped tears to his eyes, blew jubilant bugles in his ears, drowning
the drum of hoofs, filled his open mouth, sharp, intoxicating, the heady
wine of speed. He was one with clouds, birds, arrows, all things free
and flying. He wanted to sing and did so, a wordless, crazy caroling.
They swept on, drunk with the glory of it. A barrier of thorn stood
across the way, and Ortho came to his senses. They would be into it in a
minute unless he stopped the mare. He braced himself for a pull—but
there was no need; she felt him stiffen and sit back, sat back herself
and came to a full stop within ten lengths. Ortho wiped the happy tears
from his eyes, patted her shoulder, turned and went back at the same
pace, speed-drunk again. They met the gypsy walking towards them, the
dropped cap in hand. He called to the mare; she stopped beside him and
rubbed her soft muzzle against his chest. He looked at the flushed,
enraptured boy.

“She can gallop, my little ‘Rriena’?”

“Gallop! Why, yes. Gallop! I . . . I never knew . . . never saw . . . I
. . .” Words failed Ortho.

Pyramus laughed. “No, there is not her match in the country. But, mark
ye, she will not give her best to anybody. She felt the virtue in you,
knew you for her master. You need experience, polish, but you are a
horseman born, flat in the thigh, slim-waisted, with light, strong
hands.” The gypsy’s voice pulsed with enthusiasm, his dark eyes glowed.
“Tcha! I wish I had the schooling of you; I’d make you a wizard with
horses!”

“Oh, I wish you would! Will you, will you?” cried Ortho.

Pyramus made a gesture with his expressive hands.

“I would willingly—I love a bold boy—but . . .”

“Yes?”

Pyramus shrugged his shoulders. “The lady, your mother, has no liking
for me. She is right, doubtless; you are Christian, gentry, I but a poor
Rom . . . still I mean no harm.”

“She shall never know, never,” said Ortho eagerly. “Oh, I would give
anything if you would!”

Pyramus shook his head reprovingly. “You must honor your parents,
Squire; it is so written . . . and yet I am loath to let your gifts lie
fallow; a prince of jockeys I could make you.”

He bit his finger nails as though wrestling with temptation. “See here,
get your mother’s leave and then come, come and a thousand welcomes. I
have a chestnut pony, a red flame of a pony, that would carry you as my
beauty carries me.”

He vaulted into the saddle, jumped the mare over a furze bush, whirled
about, waved his hat and was gone up the valley, scattering clods. Ortho
watched the flying pair until they were out of sight, and then turned
homewards, his heart pounding, new avenues of delight opening before
him.

Out of sight, Pyramus eased Rriena to a walk and, leaning forward,
pulled her ears affectionately. “Did he roll all over you and tug your
mouth, my sweetmeat?” he purred. “Well, never again. But we have him
now. In a year or two he’ll be master here and I’ll graze fifty nags
where I grazed twenty. We will fatten on that boy.”

Ortho reported at the gypsy camp shortly after sun-up next morning; he
was wasting no time. Questioned, he swore he had Teresa’s leave, which
was a lie, as Pyramus knew it to be. But he had covered himself; did
trouble arise he could declare he understood the boy had got his
mother’s permission.

Ortho did not expect to be discovered. Teresa was used to his being out
day and night with either Bohenna or Jacky’s George and would not be
curious. The gypsies had the head of the valley to themselves; nobody
ever came that way except the cow-girl Wany, and she had no eyes for
anything but the supernatural.

The riding lessons began straightway on Lussha’s red pony “Cherry.” The
chestnut was by no means as perfect a mount as the black mare, but for
all that a creditable performer, well-schooled, speedy and eager, a
refreshing contrast to the stiff-jointed, iron-mouthed farm horses.
Pyramus took pains with his pupil. Half of what he had said was true;
the boy was shaped to fit a saddle and his hands were sensitive. There
was a good deal of the artist in King Herne. It pleased him to handle
promising material for its own sake, but above all he sought to infect
the boy with horse-fever to his own material gain.

The gypsy camp saw Ortho early and late. He returned to Bosula only to
sleep and fill his pockets with food. Food in wasteful plenty lay about
everywhere in that slip-shod establishment; the door was never bolted.
He would creep home through the orchard, silence the dogs with a word,
take off his shoes in the kitchen, listen to Teresa’s hearty snores in
the room above, drive the cats off the remains of supper, help himself
and tiptoe up to bed. Nobody, except Eli, knew where he spent his days;
nobody cared.

The gypsies attracted him for the same reason that they repelled his
brother; they were something new, something he did not understand.

Ortho did not find anything very elusive about the males; they were much
like other men, if quicker-witted and more suave. It was the women who
intrigued and, at the same time, awed him. He had watched them at work
with the cards, bent over the palm of a trembling servant girl or farm
woman. What did they know? What didn’t they know? What virtue was in
them that they should be the chosen mouthpieces of Destiny? He would
furtively watch them about their domestic duties, stirring the black
pots or nursing their half-naked brats, and wonder what secrets the
Fates were even then whispering into their ringed ears, what enigmas
were being made plain to those brooding eyes. He felt his soul laid bare
to those omniscient eyes.

But it was solely his own imagination that troubled him. The women gave
him no cause; they cast none but the gentlest glances at the dark boy.
Sometimes of an evening they would sing, not the green English ballads
and folk-songs that were their stock-in-trade, but epics of Romany
heroes, threnodies and canzonets.

Pyramus was the principal soloist. He had a pliant, tuneful voice and
accompanied himself on a Spanish guitar.

He would squat before the fire, the women in a row opposite him, toss a
verse across to them, and they would toss back the refrain, rocking to
the time as though strung on a single wire.

The scene stirred Ortho—the gloomy wood, the overhanging rocks, the
gypsy king, guitar across his knees, trumpeting his wild songs of love
and knavery; and the women and girls, in their filthy, colorful rags,
seen through a film of wood smoke, swaying to and fro, to and fro,
bright eyes and barbaric brass ornaments glinting in the firelight. On
the outer circle children and men lay listening in the leaf mold, and
beyond them invisible horses stamped and shifted at their pickets, an
owl hooted, a dog barked.

The scene stirred Ortho. It was so strange, and yet somehow so familiar,
he had a feeling that sometime, somewhere he had seen it all before;
long ago and far away he had sat in a camp like this and heard women
singing. He liked the boastful, stormy songs, “Invocation to Timour,”
“The Master Thief,” “The Valiant Tailor,” but the dirges carried him
off, one especially. It was very sweet and sad, it had only four verses
and the women sang each refrain more softly than the one before, so that
the last was hardly above a whisper and dwindled into silence like the
wind dying away—“aië, aië; aië, aië.” Ortho did not understand what it
was about, its name even, but when he heard it he lost himself, became
some one else, some one else who understood perfectly crept inside his
body, forced his tears, made him sway and feel queer. Then the gypsy
women across the fire would glance at him and nudge each other quietly.
“See,” they would whisper, “his Rom grandfather looking out of his
eyes.”



                               CHAPTER X


One evening, in late February, there was mullet pie for supper which was
so much to Teresa’s taste that she ate more than even her heroic
digestive organs could cope with, rent the stilly night with
lamentations and did not get up for breakfast. Towards nine o’clock, she
felt better, at eleven was herself again and, remembering it was Paul
Feast, dressed in her finery and rode off to see the sport.

She arrived to witness what appeared to be a fratricidal war between the
seafaring stalwarts of the parish and the farm hands. A mob of boys and
men surged about a field, battling claw and hoof for the possession of a
cow-hide ball which occasionally lobbed into view, but more often lay
buried under a pile of writhing bodies.

Teresa was very fond of these rough sports and journeyed far and wide to
see them, but what held her interest most that afternoon was a party of
gentry who had ridden from Penzance to watch the barbarians at play. Two
ladies and three gentlemen there were, the elder woman riding pillion,
the younger side-saddle. They were very exquisite and superior, watched
the uncouth mob through quizzing glasses and made witty remarks after
the manner of visitors at a menagerie commenting on near-human antics of
the monkeys. The younger woman chattered incessantly; a thinly pretty
creature, wearing a gold-braided cocked hat and long brown coat cut in
the masculine mode.

“Eliza, Eliza, I beseech you look at that woman’s stomacher! . . . And
that wench’s farthingale! Elizabethan, I declare; one would imagine
oneself at a Vauxhall masquerade. Mr. Borlase, I felicitate you on your
entertainment.” She waved her whip towards the mob. “Bear pits are
tedious by comparison. I must pen my experiences for _The
Spectator_—‘Elegantia inter Barbaros, or a Lady’s Adventures Among the
Wild Cornish.’ Tell me, pray, when it is all over do they devour the
dead? We must go before that takes place; I shall positively expire of
fright—though my cousin Venables, who has voyaged the South Seas, tells
me cannibals are, as a rule, an amiable and loving people, vastly
preferable to Tories. Captain Angus, I have dropped my kerchief . . .
you neglect me, sir! My God, Eliza, there’s a handsome boy! . . . Behind
you. . . . The gypsy boy on the sorrel pony. What a pretty young rogue!”

The whole party turned their heads to look at the Romany Apollo. Teresa
followed their example and beheld it was Ortho. Under the delusion that
his mother was abed and, judging by the noise she made, at death’s door,
he had ventured afield in company with four young Hernes. He wore no
cap, his sleeve was ripped from shoulder to cuff and he was much
splashed all down his back and legs. He did not see his mother; he was
absorbed in the game. Teresa shut her teeth, and drew a long, deep
breath through them.

The battle suddenly turned against the fishermen; the farm hands,
uttering triumphant howls, began to force them rapidly backwards towards
the Church Town. Ortho and his ragged companions wheeled their mounts
and ambled downhill to see the finish. Teresa did not follow them. She
found her horse, mounted and rode straight home.

“The gypsy boy on the sorrel pony—the _gypsy_ boy!”

People were taking her Ortho, Ortho Penhale of Bosula and Tregors, for a
vagabond Rom, were they?

She was furious, but admitted they had cause—dressed like a scarecrow
and mixed up with a crowd of young horse thieves! Teresa swore so
savagely that her horse started. Anyhow she would stop it at once, at
once—she’d settle all this gypsy business—_gypsy_! Time after time she
had vowed to send Ortho to school, but she was always hard up when it
came to the point, and year after year slipped by. He must be somewhere
about sixteen now—fifteen, sixteen or seventeen—she wasn’t sure, and
it didn’t matter to a year or so, she could look it up in the parish
registers if need be. He should go to Helston like his father and learn
to be a gentleman—and, incidentally, learn to keep accounts. It would
be invaluable to have some one who could handle figures; then the damned
tradesmen wouldn’t swindle her and she’d have money again.

“The gypsy boy!” . . . The words stung her afresh. Had she risen out of
the muck of vagrancy to have her son slip back into it? Never! She’d
settle all that. Not for a moment did she doubt her ability to cope with
Ortho. What must John in heaven be thinking of her stewardship? She wept
with mingled anger and contrition. To-morrow she’d open a clean page.
Ortho should go to school at once. _Gypsy!_ She’d show them!

She was heavily in debt, but the money should be found somehow. All the
way home she was planning ways and means.

Ortho returned late that night and went to bed unconscious that he had
been found out. Next morning he was informed that he was to go with his
mother to Penzance. This was good tidings. He liked going to town with
Teresa. She bought all kinds of eatables and one saw life, ladies and
gentlemen; a soldier or two sometimes; blue-water seamen drunk as lords
and big wind-bound ships at anchor. He saddled the dun pony and jogged
alongside her big roan, prattling cheerfully all the way.

She watched him, her interest aroused. He certainly was good looking,
with his slim uprightness, eager expression, and quick, graceful
movements. He had luminous dark eyes, a short nose, round chin and crisp
black curls—like her own. He was like her in many ways, many ways. Good
company too. He told her several amusing stories and laughed heartily at
hers. A debonair, attractive boy, very different from his brother. She
felt suddenly drawn towards him. He would make a good companion when he
came back from school. His looks would stir up trouble in sundry
dove-cotes later on, she thought, and promised herself much amusement,
having no sympathy for doves.

It was not until they arrived in Penzance that she broke the news that
he was going to school. Ortho was a trifle staggered at first, but, to
her surprise, took it very calmly, making no objections. In the first
place it was something new, and the prospect of mixing with a herd of
other boys struck him as rather jolly; secondly, he was fancying himself
enormously in the fine clothes with which Teresa was loading him; he had
never had anything before but the roughest of home-spuns stitched
together by Martha and speedily reduced to shreds. He put the best suit
on there and then, and strutted Market Jew Street like a young peacock
ogling its first hen.

They left Penzance in the early afternoon (spare kit stuffed in the
saddle-bags). In the ordinary way Teresa would have gone straight to the
“Angel” at Helston and ordered the best, but now, in keeping with her
new vow of economy, she sought a free night’s lodging at Tregors—also
she wanted to raise some of the rent in advance.

Ortho was entered at his father’s old school next day.

Teresa rode home pleasantly conscious of duty done, and Ortho plunged
into the new world, convinced that he had only to smile and conquer. In
which he erred. He was no longer a Penhale in his own parish,
prospective squire of the Keigwin Valley, but an unsophisticated young
animal thrust into a den of sophisticated young animals and therefore a
heaven-sent butt for their superior humor. Rising seventeen, and set to
learn his A, B, C in the lowest form among the babies! This gave the
wits an admirable opening. That he could ride, sail a boat and shoot
anything flying or running weighed as nothing against his ignorance of
Latin declensions.

He sought to win some admiration, or even tolerance for himself by
telling of his adventures with Pyramus and Jacky’s George, but it had
the opposite effect. His tormentors (sons of prosperous land owners and
tradesmen) declared that any one who associated with gypsies and
fishermen must be of low caste himself and taunted him unmercifully.
They would put their hands to their mouths and halloo after the manner
of fish-hawkers. “Mackerel! Fresh mack-erel! . . . Say, Penhale, what’s
the price of pilchards to-day?”

Or “Hello, Penhale, there’s one of your Pharaoh mates at the gate—with
a monkey. Better go and have a clunk over old times.”

Baiting Penhale became a fashionable pastime. Following the example of
their elders, the small boys took up the ragging. This was more than
Ortho could stand. He knocked some heads together, whereby earning the
reputation of a bully.

A bulky, freckled lad named Burnadick, propelled by friends and
professing himself champion of the oppressed, challenged Ortho to fight.

Ortho had not the slightest desire to fight the reluctant champion, but
the noncombatants (as is the way with noncombatants) gave him no option.
They formed a ring round the pair and pulled the coats off them.

For a moment or two it looked as if Ortho would win. An opening punch
took him under the nose and stung him to such a pitch of fury that he
tumbled on top of the freckled one, whirling like a windmill, fairly
smothering him. But the freckled one was an old warrior; he dodged and
side-stepped and propped straight lefts to the head whenever he got a
chance, well knowing that Ortho could not last the crazy pace.

Ortho could not, or any mortal man. In a couple of minutes he was
puffing and grunting, swinging wildly, giving openings everywhere. The
heart was clean out of him; he had not wanted to fight in the first
place and the popular voice was against him. Everybody cheered
Burnadick; not a single whoop for him. He ended tamely, dropped his
fists and gave Burnadick best. The mob jeered and hooted and crowded
round the victor, who shook them off and walked away, licking his raw
knuckles. He had an idea of following Penhale and shaking hands with him
. . . hardly knew what the fight had been about . . . wished the other
fellows weren’t always arranging quarrels for him; they never gave his
knuckles time to heal. He’d have a chat with Penhale one of these days
. . . to-morrow perhaps. . .

His amiable intentions never bore fruit, for on the morrow his mother
was taken ill, and he was summoned home and nobody else had any kindly
feelings for Ortho. He wrestled with incomprehensible primers among
tittering infants during school hours; out of school he slunk about,
alone always, cold-shouldered everywhere. His sociable soul grew sick
within him, he rebelled at the sparse feeding, hated the irritable,
sarcastic ushers, the bewildering tasks, the boys, the confinement,
everything. At night, in bed, he wept hot tears of misery.

A spell of premature spring weather touched the land. Incautious buds
popped out in the Helston back gardens; the hedgerow gorse was
gilt-edged; the warm scent of pushing greenery blew in from the
hillsides. Armadas of shining cloud cruised down the blue. Ortho,
laboriously spelling C, A, T, cat, R, A, T, rat, in a drowsy classroom,
was troubled with dreams. He saw the Baragwanath family painting the
_Game Cock_ on the Cove slip, getting her summer suit out of store; saw
the rainbows glimmering over the Twelve Apostles, the green and silver
glitter of the Channel beyond; smelt sea-weed; heard the lisp of the
tide. He dreamt of Pyramus Herne wandering northwards with Lussha, and
the other boys behind bringing up the horses, wandering over hill and
dale, new country out-reeling before him every day. He bowed over the
desk and buried his face in the crook of his arm.

A fly explored the spreading ear of “Rusty Rufus,” the junior usher. He
woke out of his drowse, one little pig eye at a time, and glanced
stealthily round his class. Two young gentlemen were playing noughts and
crosses, two more were flipping pellets at each other; a fifth was
making chalk marks on the back of a sixth, who in turn was absorbed in
cutting initials in the desk; a seventh appeared to be asleep. Rufus,
having slumbered himself, passed over the first six and fell upon his
imitator.

“Penhale, come here,” he rumbled and reached for his stick.

Ortho obeyed. The usher usually indulged in much labored sarcasm at the
boy’s expense, but he was too lazy that afternoon.

“Hand,” he growled.

Ortho held out his hand. “Rufus” swung back the stick and measured the
distance with a puckered eye. Ortho hated him; he was a loathly sight,
lying back in his chair, shapeless legs straddled out before him, fat
jowl bristling with the rusty stubble from which he got his name,
protuberant waistcoat stained with beer and snuff—a hateful beast! An
icy glitter of cruelty—a flicker as of lightning reflected on a
stagnant pool—suddenly lit the indolent eyes of the junior usher and
down came the cane whistling. But Ortho’s hand was not there to receive
it. How it came about he never knew. He was frightened by the revealing
blaze in Rufus’ eyes, but he did not mean to shirk the stick; his hand
withdrew itself of its own accord, without orders from his brain—a
muscular twitch. However it happened the results were fruitful. Rufus
cut himself along the inside of his right leg with all his might. He
dropped the stick, bounded out of his chair and hopped about the class,
cursing horribly, yelping with pain. Ortho stood transfixed, horrified
at what he had done. A small boy, his eyes round with admiration, hissed
at him from behind his hand:

“Run, you fool—he’ll kill you!”

Ortho came to his senses and bolted for the door.

But Rufus was too quick for him. He bounded across the room, choking,
spluttering, apoplectic, dirty fat hands clawing the air. He clawed
Ortho by the hair and collar and dragged him to him. Ortho hit out
blindly, panicked. He was too frightened to think; he thought Rufus was
going to kill him and fought for his life with the desperation of a
cornered rat. He shut his eyes and teeth, rammed Rufus in the only part
of him he could reach, namely the stomach. One, two, three, four, five,
six, seven—it was like hitting a jelly. At the fourth blow he felt the
usher’s grip on him loosen. At the fifth he was free, the sixth sent the
man to the floor, the seventh was wasted.

Rufus lay on the boards, clutching his stomach, making the most dreadful
retching noises. The small boys leapt up on their desks cheering and
exhorting Ortho to run. He ran. Out of the door, across the court, out
of the gates, up the street and out into the country. Ran on and on
without looking where he was going, on and on.

It was fully an hour later before it occurred to him that he was running
north, but he did not change direction.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Teresa was informed of Ortho’s sensational departure two days later. The
school authorities sent to Bosula, expecting to find the boy had
returned home and were surprised that he had not. Where had he got to?
Teresa had an idea that he was hiding somewhere in the district, and
combed it thoroughly, but Ortho was not forthcoming. The gypsy camp was
long deserted, and Jacky’s George had gone to visit his Scillonian
sister by the somewhat circuitous route of Guernsey.

It occurred to her that he might be lying up in the valley,
surreptitiously fed by Eli, and put Bohenna on to beat it out, but the
old hind drew blank. She then determined that he was with the tinners
around St. Just (a sanctuary for many a wanted Cornishman), and since
there was no hope of extricating him from their underground labyrinths
the only thing to do was to wait. He’d come home in time, she said, and
promised the boy a warm reception when he did.

Then came a letter from Pyramus Herne—dictated to a public letter
writer. Pyramus was at Ashburton buying Dartmoor ponies and Ortho was
with him. Pyramus was profuse with regrets and disclaimed all
responsibility. Ortho had caught up with him at Launceston, foot-sore,
ragged, starving, terrified—but adamant. He, Pyramus, had chided him,
begged him to return, even offered to lend him a horse to carry him back
to Helston or Bosula, but Ortho absolutely refused to do
either—declaring that rather than return he would kill himself. What
was to be done? He could not turn a friendless and innocent boy adrift
to starve or be maltreated by the beggars, snatch-purses and loose women
who swarmed into the roads at that season of the year. What was he to
do? He respectfully awaited Teresa’s instructions, assuring her that in
the meanwhile Ortho should have the best his poor establishment afforded
and remained her ladyship’s obedient and worshipful servant, etc.

Teresa took the letter to the St. Gwithian parish clerk to be read and
bit her lip when she learnt the contents. The clerk asked her if she
wanted a reply written, but she shook her head and went home. Ortho
could not be brought back from Devon handcuffed and kept chained in his
room. There was nothing to be done.

So her son had reverted to type. She did not think it would last long.
The Hernes were prosperous for gypsies. Ortho would not go short of
actual food and head cover, but there would be days of trudging against
the wind and rain, soaked and trickling from head to heel, beds in wet
grass; nights of thunder with horses breaking loose and tumbling over
the tents; shuddering dawns chilling the very marrow; parched noons
choked with dust; riots at fairs, cudgels going and stones flying;
filth, blows, bestiality, hard work and hard weather, hand to mouth all
the way. Ortho was no glutton for punishment; he would return to the
warm Owls’ House ere long, curl up gratefully before the fire, cured of
his wanderlust. All was for the best doubtless, Teresa considered, but
she packed Eli off to school in his place; the zest for duty was still
strong in her—and, furthermore, she must have somebody who could keep
accounts.



                               CHAPTER XI


Eli went to school prepared for a bad time. Ortho had not run away for
nothing; he was no bulldog for unprofitable endurance—lessons had been
irksome, no doubt—but he should have been in his element among a horde
of boys. He liked having plenty of his own kind about him and naturally
dominated them. He had won over the surly Gwithian farm boys with ease;
the turbulent Monks Cove fisher lads looked to him as chief, and even
those wild hawks, the young Hernes, followed him unquestioning into all
sorts of mischief. Yet Ortho had fled school as from torment.

If the brilliant and popular brother had come to grief how much more
trouble was in store for him, the dullard? Eli set his jaw. Come what
might, he would see it through; he would stick at school, willy-nilly,
until he got what he wanted out of it, namely the three R’s. It had been
suddenly borne in on Eli that education had its uses.

Chance had taken him to the neighboring farm of Roswarva, which bounded
Polmenna moors on the west. There was a new farmer in possession, a
widower by the name of Penaluna, come from the north of the Duchy with a
thirteen-year daughter, an inarticulate child, leggy as a foal.

Eli, scrambling about the Luddra Head, had discovered an otter’s holt,
and then and there lit a smoke fire to test if the tenant were at home
or not. The otter was at home and came out with a rush. Eli attempted to
tail it, but his foot slipped on the dry thrift and he sprawled on top
of the beast, which bit him in three places. He managed to drop a stone
on it as it slid away over the rocks, but he could hardly walk. Penaluna
met him limping across a field dragging his victim by the tail, and took
him to Roswarva to have his wounds tied up.

Eli had not been to Roswarva since the days of its previous owners, a
beach-combing, shiftless crew, and he barely recognized the place. The
kitchen was creamy with whitewash; the cupboards freshly painted; the
table scrubbed spotless; the ranked pans gleamed like copper moons; all
along the mantelshelf were china dogs with gilt collars and ladies and
gentlemen on prancing horses, hawks perched a-wrist. In the corner was
an oak grandfather clock with a bright brass face engraved with the
signs of the zodiac and the cautionary words:

    “I mark ye Hours but cannot stay their Race;
    Nor Priest nor King may buy a moment’s Grace;
    Prepare to meet thy Maker face to face.”

Sunlight poured into the white kitchen through the south window, setting
everything a-shine and a-twinkle—a contrast to unkempt Bosula, redolent
of cooking and stale food, buzzing with flies, incessantly invaded by
pigs and poultry. Outside Roswarva all was in the same good shape; the
erst-littered yard cleared up, the tumbledown sheds rebuilt and
thatched. Eli limped home over trim hedges, fields cultivated up to the
last inch and plentifully manured and came upon his own land—crumbling
banks broken down by cattle and grown to three times their proper
breadth with thorn and brambles; fields thick with weeds; windfalls
lying where they had dropped; bracken encroaching from every point.

He had never before remarked anything amiss with Bosula, but, coming
straight from Roswarva, the contrast struck him in the face. He thought
about it for two days, and then marched over to Roswarva. He found
Simeon Penaluna on the cliff-side rooting out slabs of granite with a
crowbar and piling them into a wall. A vain pursuit, Eli thought,
clearing a cliff only fit for donkeys and goats.

“What are you doing that for?” he asked.

“Potatoes,” said Simeon.

“Why here, when you got proper fields?”

“Open to sun all day, and sea’ll keep ’em warm at night. No frost. I’ll
get taties here two weeks earlier than up-along.”

“How do you know?”

“Read it. Growers in Jersey has been doin’ it these years.”

Eli digested this information and leaned against the wall, watching
Penaluna at work.

Eli liked the man’s air of patient power, also his economy of speech. He
decided he was to be trusted. “You’re a good farmer, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” said Penaluna truthfully.

“What’s wrong with our place, Bosula?” Eli inquired.

“Under-manned,” said Penaluna. “Your father had two men besides himself
and he worked like a bullock and was clever, I’ve heard tell. Now you’ve
got but two, and not a head between ’em. Place is going back. Come three
years the trash’ll strangle ’e in your beds.”

Eli took the warning calmly. “We’ll stop that,” he announced.

Penaluna subjected him to a hard scrutiny, spat on his palms, worked the
crow-bar into a crevice and tried his weight on it.

“Hum! Maybe—but you’d best start soon.”

Eli nodded and considered again. “Are you clever?”

Penaluna swung his bar from left to right; the rock stirred in its bed.

“No—but I can read.”

Eli’s eyes opened. That was the second time reading had been mentioned.
What had that school-mastering business to do with real work like
farming?

“Went to free-school at Truro,” Simeon explained. “There’s clever ones
that writes off books and I reads ’em. There’s smart notions in
books—sometimes. I got six books on farming—six brains.”

“Um-m,” muttered Eli, the idea slowly taking hold.

In return for advice given, he helped the farmer pile walls until sunset
and not another word was interchanged. When he got home it was to learn
that Ortho was in Devon with Pyramus and that he was to go to school in
his stead.

Eli’s feelings were mixed. If Ortho had had a bad time he would
undoubtedly have worse, but on the other hand he would learn to read and
could pick other people’s brains—like Penaluna. He rode to Helston with
his mother, grimly silent all the way, steeling himself to bear the rods
for Bosula’s sake. But Ortho, by the dramatic manner of his exit, had
achieved popularity when it was no longer of any use to him. Eli stepped
in at the right moment to receive the goodly heritage.

Was he not own brother to the hero who had tricked Rufus into slicing
himself across the leg and followed up this triumph by pummeling seven
bells out of the detested usher and flooring him in his own classroom?
The story had lost nothing in the mouths of the spectators. A
half-minute scramble between a sodden hulk of a man and a terrified boy
had swollen into a Homeric contest as full of incident as the Seven
Years’ War, lasting half an hour and ending in Rufus lying on the floor,
spitting blood and imploring mercy. Eli entered the school surrounded by
a warm nimbus of reflected glory and took Ortho’s place at the bottom of
the lowest form.

That he was the criminal’s brother did not endear him to Rufus, who gave
him the benefit of his acid tongue from early morn to dewy eve, but
beyond abuse the usher did not go. Eli was not tall, but he was
exceptionally sturdy and Rufus had not forgotten a certain affair. He
was chary of these Penhales—little better than savages—reared among
smugglers and moor-men—utterly undisciplined . . . no saying what they
might do . . . murder one, even. He kept his stick for the disciplined
smaller fry and pickled his tongue for Eli. Eli did not mind the sarcasm
in the least. His mental hide was far too thick to feel the prick—and
anyhow it was only talk.

One half-holiday bird’s-nesting in Penrose woods, he came upon the
redoubtable Burnadick similarly engaged and they compared eggs. In the
midst of the discussion a bailiff appeared on the scene and they had to
run for it. The bailiff produced dogs and the pair were forced to make a
wide detour via Praze and Lanner Vean. Returning by Helston Mill, they
met with a party of town louts who, having no love for the “Grammar
scholards,” threw stones. A brush ensued, Eli acquitting himself with
credit. The upshot of all this was that they reached school seven
minutes late for roll call and were rewarded with a thrashing. Drawn
together by common pain and adventure, the two were henceforth
inseparable, forming a combination which no boy or party of boys dared
gainsay. With Rufus’ sting drawn and the great Burnadick his ally Eli
found school life tolerable. He did not enjoy it; the food was
insufficient, the restraint burdensome, but it was by no means as bad as
he had expected. By constant repetition he was getting a parrot-like
fluency with his tables and he seldom made a bad mistake in
spelling—providing the word was not of more than one syllable.

                 *        *        *        *        *

At the Owls’ House in the meanwhile economy was still the rage. Teresa’s
first step was to send the cattle off to market. In vain did Bohenna
expostulate, pointing out that the stock had not yet come to condition
and further there was no market. It was useless. Teresa would not listen
to reason; into Penzance they went and were sold for a song. After them
she pitched pigs, poultry, goats and the dun pony. Her second step was
to discharge the second hind, Davy. Once more Bohenna protested. He
could hardly keep the place going as it was, he said. The moor was
creeping in to right and left, the barn thatch tumbling, the banks were
down, the gates falling to pieces. He could not be expected to be in
more than two places at once. Teresa replied with more sound than sense
and a shouting match ensued, ending in Teresa screaming that she was
mistress and that if Bohenna didn’t shut his mouth and obey orders she’d
pack him after Davy.

But if Teresa bore hard on others she sacrificed herself as well. Not a
single new dress did she order that year, and even went to the length of
selling two brooches, her second best cloak and her third best pair of
earrings. Parish feasts, races, bull-baitings and cock-fights she
resolutely eschewed; an occasional stroll down the Cove and a pot of ale
at the Kiddlywink was all the relaxation she allowed herself. By these
self-denying ordinances she was able to foot Eli’s school bills and pay
interest on her debts, but her temper frayed to rags. She railed at
Martha morning, noon and night, threw plates at Wany and became so
unbearable that Bohenna carried all his meals afield with him.

Eli came home for a few days’ holiday at midsummer, but spent most of
his waking hours at Roswarva.

On his last evening he went ferreting with Bohenna. The banks were
riddled with rabbit sets, but so overgrown were they it was almost
impossible to work the fitchets. Their tiny bells tinkled here and
there, thither and hither in the dense undergrowth, invisible and
elusive as the clappers of derisive sprites. They gamboled about,
rejoicing in their freedom, treating the quest of fur as a secondary
matter. Bohenna pursued them through the thorns, shattering the holy
hush of evening with blasphemies.

“This ought to be cut back, rooted out,” Eli observed.

The old hind took it as a personal criticism and turned on him, a
bramble scratch reddening his cheek, voice shaking with long-suppressed
resentment. “Rooted out, saith a’! Cut back! Who’s goin’ do et then? Me
s’pose.”

He held out his knotted fists, a resigned ferret swinging in each.

“Look you—how many hands have I got? Two edden a? Two only. But your ma
do think each o’ my fingers is a hand, I b’lieve. Youp! Comin’ through!”

A rabbit shot out of a burrow on the far side of the hedge, the great
flintlock bellowed and it turned somersaults as neatly as a circus
clown.

“There’ll be three of us here when I’ve done schooling next midsummer
and Ortho comes home,” said Eli calmly, ramming down a fresh charge.
“We’ll clear the trash and put the whole place in crop.”

Bohenna glanced up, surprised. “Oh, will us? An’ where’s cattle goin’?”

“Sell ’em off—all but what can feed themselves on the bottoms. Crops’ll
fetch more to the acre than stock.”

“My dear soul! Harken to young Solomon! . . . Who’s been tellin’ you all
this?”

“Couple of strong farmers I’ve talked with on half holidays near
Helston—and Penaluna.”

Bohenna bristled. Wisdom in foreign worthies he might admit, but a
neighbor . . . !

“What’s Simeon Penaluna been sayin’? Best keep his long nose on his own
place; I’ll give it a brear wrench if I catch it sniffing over here!
What’d he say?”

“Said he wondered you didn’t break your heart.”

“Humph!” Bohenna was mollified, pleased that some one appreciated his
efforts; this Penaluna, at least, sniffed with discernment. He listened
quietly while Eli recounted their neighbor’s suggestions.

They talked farming all the way home, and it was a revelation to him how
much the boy had picked up. He had no idea Eli was at all interested in
it, had imagined, from his being sent to school, that he was destined
for a clerk or something bookish. He had looked forward to fighting a
losing battle, for John’s sake and Bosula’s sake, single-handed, to the
end. Saw himself, a silver ancient, dropping dead at the plow tail and
the triumphant bracken pouring over him like a sea. But now the prospect
had changed. Here was a true Penhale coming back to tend the land of his
sires. With young blood at his back they would yet save the place. He
knew Eli, once he set his face forward, would never look back; his brain
was too small to hold more than one idea. He gloated over the boy’s
promising shoulders, thick neck and sturdy legs. He would root out the
big bowlders as his father had done, swing an ax or scythe from
cock-crow to owl-light without flag, toss a sick calf across his
shoulders and stride for miles, be at once the master and lover of his
land, the right husbandman. But of Ortho, the black gypsy son, Bohenna
was not so sure. Nevertheless hope dawned afresh and he went home to his
crib among the rocks singing, “I seen a ram at Hereford Fair” for the
first time in six months.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Eli was back again a few days before Christmas, and on Christmas Eve
Ortho appeared. There was nothing of the chastened prodigal about him;
he rode into the yard on a showy chestnut gelding (borrowed from
Pyramus), ragged as a scarecrow, but shouting and singing. He slapped
Bohenna on the back, hugged Eli affectionately, pinned his mother
against the door post and kissed her on both cheeks and her nose,
chucked old Martha under the chin and even tossed a genial word at the
half-wit Wany.

With the exception of Eli, no one was particularly elated to see him
back—they remembered him only as an unfailing fount of mischief—but
from Ortho’s manner one would have concluded he was restoring the light
of their lives. He did not give them time to close their front. They
hardly knew he had arrived before he had embraced them all. The warmth
of his greeting melted their restraint. Bohenna’s hairy face split
athwart in a yellow-toothed grin, Martha broke into bird-like twitters,
Wany blushed, and Teresa said weakly, “So you’re back.”

She had not forgiven him for his school escapade and had intended to
make his return the occasion of a demonstration as to who ruled the
roost at Bosula. But now she thought she’d postpone it. He had foiled
her for the moment, kissed her . . . she couldn’t very well pitch into
him immediately after that . . . not immediately. Besides, deep in her
heart she felt a cold drop of doubt. A new Ortho had come back, very
different from the callow, pliant child who had ridden babbling to
Helston beside her ten months previously. Ortho had grown up. He was
copper-colored with exposure, sported a downy haze on his upper lip and
was full two inches taller. But the change was not so much physical as
spiritual. His good looks were, if anything, emphasized, but he had
hardened. Innocence was gone from his eyes; there was the faintest edge
to his mirth. She had not wanted to be kissed, had struggled against it,
but he had taken her by surprise, handled her with dispatch and
assurance that could only come of practice—Master Ortho had not been
idle on his travels. An idea occurred to her that she had been
forestalled; it was Ortho who had made the demonstration. Their eyes
met, crossed like bayonets and dropped. It was all over in the fraction
of a second, but they had felt each other’s steel.

Teresa was not alarmed by the sudden development of her first-born. She
was only forty-one, weighed fourteen stone, radiated rude health and
feared no living thing. Since John’s death she had not seen a man she
would have stood a word from; a great measure of her affection for her
husband sprang from the knowledge that he could have beaten her. She
apprised Ortho’s slim figure and mentally promised him a bellyful of
trouble did he demand it, but for the moment she concluded to let
bygones be—just for the moment.

Ortho flipped some crumbs playfully over Wany, assured Martha she had
not aged a day, told Bohenna they’d have a great time after woodcock,
threw his arm around Eli’s neck and led him out into the yard.

“See here what I’ve got for you, my old heart,” said he, fishing in his
pocket. “Bought it in Portsmouth.”

He placed a little brass box in Eli’s hand. It had a picture of a
seventy-four under full sail chased on the lid and the comfortable
words, “Let jealous foes no hearts dismay, Vernon our hope is, God our
stay.” Inside was coiled a flint steel and fuse. Eli was profoundly
touched. Ortho’s toes were showing through one boot, his collar bones
had chafed holes in his shirt and his coat was in ribbons. The late
frost must have nipped him severely, yet he had not spent his few poor
pence in getting himself patched up, but bought a present for him. As a
matter of fact the little box had cost Ortho no small self-denial.

Eli stammered his thanks—which Ortho laughed aside—and the brothers
went uphill towards Polmenna Down, arms about shoulders, talking,
talking. Eli furnished news of Helston. Burnadick was sorry about that
row he had had with Ortho—the other fellows pushed him on. He was a
splendid fellow really, knew all about hare-hunting and long-dogs. Eli
only wished he could have seen Ortho ironing Rufus out! It must have
been a glorious set-to! Everybody was still talking about it. Rufus had
never been the same since—quaking and shaking. Dirty big
jellyfish!—always swilling in pot-houses and stalking
serving-maids—the whole town had laughed over his discomfiture.

Ortho was surprised to learn of his posthumous popularity at Helston.
Eli’s version of the affair hardly coincided with his recollection in a
single particular. All he remembered was being horribly frightened and
hitting out blindly with results that astonished him even more than his
victim. Still, since legend had chosen to elevate him to the pinnacle of
a St. George, suppressor of dragons, he saw no reason to disprove it.

They passed on to other subjects. How had Ortho got on with the
Romanies? Oh, famously! Wonderful time—had enjoyed every moment of it.
Eli would never believe the things he had seen. Mountains twice . . .
three . . . four times as high as Chapel Carn Brea or Sancreed Beacon;
rivers with ships sailing on them as at sea; great houses as big as
Penzance in themselves; lords and ladies driving in six-horse carriages;
regiments of soldiers drilling behind negro drummers, and fairs with
millions of people collected and all the world’s marvels on view;
Italian midgets no higher than your knee, Irish giants taller than
chimneys, two-headed calves and six-legged lambs, contortionists who
knotted their legs round their necks, conjurers who magicked glass balls
out of country boys’ ears; dancing bears, trained wolves and an Araby
camel that required but one drink a month. Prizefights he had seen also;
tinker women battling for a purse in a ring like men, and fellows that
carried live rats in their shirt bosoms and killed them with their teeth
at a penny a time. And cities! . . . Such cities! Huge enough to cover
St. Gwithian parish, with streets so packed and people so elegant you
thought every day must be market day.

London? No-o, he had not been quite to London. But travelers told him
that some of the places he had seen—Exeter, Salisbury, Plymouth,
Winchester—were every bit as good—in some ways better. London, in the
opinion of many, was overrated. Oh, by the way, in Salisbury he had seen
the cream of the lot—two men hanged for sheep-stealing; they kicked and
jerked in the most comical fashion. A wonderful time!

The recital had a conflicting effect on Eli. To him Ortho’s story was as
breath-taking as that of some swart mariner returned from fabulous spice
islands and steamy Indian seas—but at the same time he was perturbed.
Was it likely that his brother, having seen the great world and all its
wonders, would be content to settle down to the humdrum life at Bosula
and dour struggle with the wilderness? Most improbable. Ortho would go
adventuring again and he and Bohenna would have to face the problem
alone. Bohenna was not getting any younger. His rosy hopes clouded over.
He must try to get Ortho to see the danger. After all Bosula would come
to Ortho some day; it was his affair. He began forthwith, pointed out
the weedy state of the fields, the littered windfalls, the invasion of
the moor. To his surprise Ortho was immediately interested—and
indignant.

“What had that lazy lubber Bohenna been up to? . . . And Davy? By Gad,
it was a shame! He’d let ’em know. . . .”

Eli explained that Davy had been turned off and Bohenna was doing his
best. “In father’s time there were three of ’em here and it was all they
could manage, working like bullocks,” said he, quoting Penaluna.

“Then why haven’t we three men now?”

“Mother says we’ve got no money to hire ’em.”

Ortho’s jaw dropped. “No money! _We?_ . . . Good God! Where’s it all
gone to?”

Eli didn’t know, but he did know that if some one didn’t get busy soon
they’d have no farm left. “It’s been going back ever since father died,”
he added.

Ortho strode up and down, black-browed, biting his lip. Then he suddenly
laughed. “Hell’s bells,” he cried. “What are we fretting about? There
are three of us still, ain’t there? . . . You, me ’n Ned. I warrant
we’re a match for a passel of old brambles, heh? I warrant we are.”

Eli was amazed and delighted. Did Ortho really mean what he said?

“Then—then you’re not going gypsying again?” he asked.

Ortho spat. “My Lord, no—done with that. It’s a dog’s life, kicked from
common to heath, living on hedge-hogs, sleeping under bushes, never
dry—mind you, I enjoyed it all—but I’ve had all I want. No, boy”—once
more he hugged his brother to him—“I’m going to stop home long o’
thee—us’ll make our old place the best in the Hundred—in the
Duchy—and be big rosy yeomen full of good beef and cider. . . . Eh,
look at that!”

The sun had dipped. Cirrus dappled the afterglow with drifts of
smoldering, crimson feathers. It was as though monster golden eagles
were battling in the upper air, dropping showers of lustrous,
blood-stained plumes. Away to the north the switch-backed tors rolled
against the sky, wine-dark against pale primrose. Mist brimmed the
valleys; dusk, empurpled, shrouded the hills. The primrose faded, a star
outrider blinked boldly in the east, then the green eve suddenly
quivered with the glint of a million million spear-heads—night’s silver
cohorts advancing. So still was it that the brothers on the hilltop
could plainly hear the babble and cluck of the hidden stream below them;
the thump of young rabbits romping in near-by fields and the bark of a
dog at Boskennel being answered by another dog at Trevider. From Bosula
yard came the creak and bang of a door, the clank of a pail—Bohenna’s
voice singing:

    “I seen a ram at Hereford Fair,
    The biggest gert ram I did ever behold.”

Ortho laughed and took up the familiar song, sent his pleasant, tuneful
voice ringing out over the darkling valley:

    “His fleece were that heavy it stretched to the ground,
    His hoofs and his horns they was shodden wi’ gold.”

Below them sounded a gruff crow of mirth from Bohenna and the second
verse:

    “His horns they was curlèd like to the thorn tree,
    His fleece was as white as the blossom o’ thorn;
    He stamped like a stallion an’ roared like a bull,
    An’ the gert yeller eyes of en sparkled wi’ scorn.”

Among the bare trees a light winked, a friendly, beckoning wink—the
kitchen window.

Ortho drew a deep breath and waved his hand. “Think I’d change
this—this lew li’l’ place I was born in for a gypsy tilt, do ’ee? No,
no, my dear! Not for all the King’s money and all the King’s gems! I’ve
seen ’s much of the cold world as I do want—and more.” He linked his
arm with Eli’s. “Come on; let’s be getting down-along.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

That night the brothers slept together in the same big bed as of old.
Eli tumbled to sleep at once, but Ortho lay awake. Towards ten o’clock
he heard what he had been listening for, the “Te-whoo-whee-wha-ha” of
the brown owls calling to each other. He grunted contentedly, turned
over and went to sleep.



                              CHAPTER XII


Christmas passed merrily at Bosula that year. Martha was an authority on
“feasten” rites and delicacies, and Christmas was the culmination. Under
her direction the brothers festooned the kitchen with ropes of holly and
ivy, and hung the “kissing bush”—two barrel hoops swathed in
evergreens—from the middle beam.

Supper was the principal event of the day, a prodigious spread; goose
giblet pie, squab pie made of mutton, raisins and onions, and
queer-shaped saffron cakes, the whole washed down with draughts of
“eggy-hot,” an inspiring compound of eggs, hot beer, sugar and rum,
poured from jug to jug till it frothed over.

The Bosula household sat down at one board and gorged themselves till
they could barely breathe. Upon them in this state came the St. Gwithian
choir, accompanied by the parish fiddler, “Jiggy” Dan, and a score or so
of hangers on. They sang the sweet and simple old “curls” of the West
Country, “I saw three ships come sailin’ in,” “Come and I will sing
you,” “The first good joy that Mary had,” and

    “Go the wayst out, Child Jesus,
    Go the wayst out to play;
    Down by God’s Holy Well
    I see three pretty children
    As ever tongue can tell.”

Part singing is a natural art in Cornwall. The Gwithian choir sang well,
reverently and without strain. Teresa, full-fed after long moderation,
was in melting mood. The carols made her feel pleasantly tearful and
religious. She had not been to church since the unfortunate affair with
the curate, but determined she would go the very next Sunday and make a
rule of it.

She gave the choir leader a silver crown and ordered eggy-hot to be
served round. The choir’s eyes glistened. Eggy-hot seldom came their
way; usually they had to be content with cider.

Martha rounded up the company. The apple trees must be honored or they
would withhold their fruit in the coming year. Everybody adjourned to
the orchard, Martha carrying a jug of cider, Bohenna armed with the
flintlock, loaded nearly as full as himself. Wany alone was absent; she
was slipping up the valley to the great barrow to hear the Spriggans,
the gnome-miners, sing their sad carols as was the custom of a Christmas
night.

The Bosula host grouped, lantern-lit, round the king tree of the
orchard; Martha dashed the jug against the trunk and pronounced her
incantation:

    “Health to thee, good apple tree!
    Hatsful, packsful, great bushel-bags full!
    Hurrah and fire off the gun.”

Everybody cheered. Bohenna steadied himself and pulled the trigger.
There was a deafening roar, a yard-long tongue of flame spurted from the
muzzle, Bohenna tumbled over backwards and Jiggy Dan, uttering an
appalling shriek, fell on his face and lay still.

The scared spectators stooped over the fiddler.

“Dead is a?”

“Ess, dead sure ’nough—dead as last year, pore soul.”

Panegyrics on the deceased were delivered.

“A brilliant old drinker a was.”

“Ess, an’ a clean lively one to touch the strings.”

“Shan’t see his like no more.”

“His spotty sow coming to her time too—an’ a brearly loved roast
sucking pig, the pretty old boy.”

Bohenna sat up in the grass and sniffed.

“There’s a brear strong smell o’ burning, seem me?”

The company turned on him reproachfully. “Thou’st shotten Jiggy Dan.
Shot en dead an’ a-cold. Didst put slugs in gun by mistake, Ned?”

Bohenna scratched his head. “Couldn’t say rightly this time o’ night
. . . maybe I did . . . but, look ’ee, there wasn’t no offense meant;
’twas done in good part, as you might say.” He sniffed again and stared
at the corpse of his victim.

“Slugs or no seem me the poor angel’s more hot than cold. Lord love,
he’s afire! . . . The wad’s catched in his coat!”

That such was the case became painfully apparent to the deceased at the
same moment. He sprang to his feet and bounded round and round the
group, uttering ghastly howls and belaboring himself behind in a
fruitless endeavor to extinguish the smoldering cloth. The onlookers
were helpless with laughter; they leaned against each other and sobbed.
Teresa in particular shook so violently it hurt her.

Somebody suggested a bucket of water, between chokes, but nobody
volunteered to fetch it; to do so would be to miss the fun.

“The stream,” hiccoughed Bohenna, holding his sides. “Sit ’ee down in
stream, Dan, my old beauty, an’ quench thyself.”

A loud splash in the further darkness announced that the unhappy
musician had taken his advice.

The apple trees fully secured for twelve months, the party returned to
the kitchen, but the incident of Dan had dissipated the somewhat pious
tone of the preceding events. Teresa, tears trickling down her cheeks,
set going a fresh round of eggy-hot. Ortho pounced on Tamsin Eva, the
prettiest girl in the room, carried her bodily under the kissing bush
and saluted her again and again. Other men and boys followed suit. The
girls fled round the kitchen in mock consternation, pursued by flushed
swains, were captured and embraced, giggling and sighing. Jiggy Dan,
sniffing hot liquor as a pointer sniffs game, limped, dripping, in from
the stream, was given an old petticoat of Martha’s to cover his
deficiencies, a pot of rum, propped up in a corner and told to fiddle
for dear life. The men, headed by Ortho, cleared the kitchen of
furniture, and then everybody danced old heel and toe country dances,
skipped, bowed, sidled, passed up and down the middle and twirled around
till the sweat shone like varnish on their scarlet faces.

The St. Gwithian choir flung themselves into it heart and soul. They
were expected at Monks Cove to sing carols, were overdue by some hours,
but they had forgotten all about that.

Teresa danced with the best, with grace and agility extraordinary in a
woman of her bulk. She danced one partner off his feet and all but
stunned another against the corner of the dresser, bringing most of the
crockery crashing to earth. She then produced that relic of her
vagabondage, the guitar, and joined forces with Jiggy Dan.

The fun became furious. The girls shook the tumbled hair from their
eyes, laughed roguishly; the men whooped and thumped the floor with
their heavy boots. Jiggy Dan, constantly primed with rum by the
attentive Martha, scraped and sawed at his fiddle, beating time with his
toe. Teresa plucked at the guitar till it droned and buzzed like a hive
of melodious bees. Occasionally she sang ribald snatches. She was in
high feather, the reaction from nine months’ abstinence. The kitchen,
lit by a pile of dry furze blazing in the open hearth, grew hotter and
hotter.

The dancers stepped and circled in a haze of dust, steaming like
overdriven cattle. Eli alone was out of tune with his surroundings. The
first effects of the drink had worn off, leaving him with a sour mouth
and slightly dizzy. The warmer grew the others, the colder he became.

He scowled at the junketers from his priggish altitude and blundered
bedward to find it already occupied by the St. Gwithian blacksmith, who,
dark with the transferable stains of his toil, lay sprawled across it,
boots where his head should have been. Eli rolled the unconscious
artificer to the floor (an act which in no way disturbed that worthy’s
slumbers) and turned in, sick and sulky.

With Ortho, on the other hand, things were never better. He had not
drunk enough to cloud him and he was getting a lot of fun out of Tamsin
Eva and her “shiner.” Tamsin, daughter of the parish clerk, was a
bronze-haired, slender creature with a skin like cream and roses and a
pretty, timid manner. Ortho, satiated with swarthy gypsy charmers,
thought her lovely and insisted upon dancing with her for the evening.
That her betrothed was present and violently jealous only added piquancy
to the affair. The girl was not happy—Ortho frightened her—but she had
not enough strength of mind to resist him. She shot appealing glances at
her swain, but the boy was too slow in his movements and fuddled with
unaccustomed rum. The sober and sprightly Ortho cut the girl out from
under his nose time and time again. Teresa, extracting appalling
discords from the guitar, noted this by-play with gratification; this
tiger cub of hers promised good sport.

Towards one o’clock the supply of spirituous impulse having given out,
the pace slackened down. Chastened husbands were led home by their
wives. Single men tottered out of doors to get a breath of fresh air and
did not return, were discovered at dawn peacefully slumbering under
mangers, in hen roosts and out-of-the-way corners. Tamsin Eva’s
betrothed was one of these. He was entering the house fired with the
intention of wresting his lass from Ortho and taking her home when
something hit him hard on the point of the jaw and all the lights went
out. He woke up next morning far from clear as to whether he had
blundered into the stone door post or somebody’s ready fist. At all
events it was Ortho who took Tamsin home.

Teresa fell into a doze and had an uncomfortable dream. All the people
she disliked came and made faces at her, people she had forgotten ages
ago and who in all decency should have forgotten her. They flickered out
of the mists, distorted but recognizable, clutched at her with hooked
fingers, pressed closer and closer, leering malevolently. Teresa was
dismayed. Not a friend anywhere! She lolled forward, moaning, “John! Oh,
Jan!” Jiggy Dan’s elbow hit her cheek and she woke up to an otherwise
empty kitchen filled with the reek of burnt pilchard oil, a dead hearth,
and cold night air pouring in through the open door. She shuddered,
rubbed her sleepy lids and staggered, yawning, to bed.

Jiggy Dan, propped up in the corner, fiddled on, eyes sealed, mind
oblivious, arm sawing mechanically.

They found him in the morning on the yard muck heap, Martha’s petticoat
over his head, fiddle clasped to his bosom, back to back with a snoring
sow.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The Christmas festivities terminated on Twelfth Night with the visit of
goose dancers from Monks Cove, the central figure of whom was a lad
wearing the hide and horns of a bullock attended by other boys dressed
in female attire. Horse-play and crude buffoonery was the feature rather
than dancing, and Teresa got some more of her crockery smashed.

Next morning Eli went to Helston for his last term and Ortho took off
his coat.

When Eli came home at midsummer he could hardly credit his eyes. Ortho
had performed miracles. Very wisely he had not attempted to fight back
the moor everywhere, but had concentrated, and the fields he had put in
crop were done thoroughly, deep-plowed, well manured and evenly
sown—Penaluna could not make a better show.

The brothers walked over the land on the evening of Eli’s return;
everywhere the young crops stood up thick and healthy, pushing forwards
to fruition. Ortho glowed with justifiable pride, talked farming
eagerly. He and Ned had given the old place a hammering, he said. By the
Holy they had! Mended the buildings, whitewashed the orchard trees,
grubbed, plowed, packed ore-weed and sea-sand, harrowed and hoed from
dawn-blink to star-wink, day in, day out—Sundays included. But they’d
get it all back—oh, aye, and a hundredfold.

Eli had been in the right; agriculture was the thing—the good old soil!
You put in a handful and picked up a bushel in a few months.
Cattle—pah! One cow produced but one calf per annum and that was not
marketable for three or four years. No—wheat, barley and oats forever!

Now Eli was home they could hold all they’d got and reclaim a field or
so a year. In next to no time they’d have the whole place waving yellow
from bound to bound. Ortho even had designs on the original moor, saw no
reason why they should not do their own milling in time—they had ample
water power. He glowed with enthusiasm. Eli’s cautious mind discounted
much of these grandiose schemes, but his heart went out to Ortho; the
mellowing fields before him had not been lightly won.

Ortho was as lean as a herring-bone, sweated down to bare muscle and
sinew. His finger nails were broken off short, his hands scarred and
calloused, his face was torn with brambles and leathern with exposure.
He had fought a good fight and was burning for more. Oh, splendid
brother!

Ned Bohenna was loud in Ortho’s praise. He was a marvel. He was quicker
in the uptake than even John had been and no work was too hard for him.
The old hind was most optimistic. They had seeded a fine area and crops
were looking famous. Come three years at this pace the farm would be
back where it was at John’s death, the pick of the parish.

For the rest, there was not much news. Martha had been having the cramps
severely of late and Wany was getting whister than ever. Said she was
betrothed to a Spriggan earl who lived in the big barrow. He had
promised to marry her as soon as he could get his place enlarged—he,
he!

There had been a sea battle fought with gaffs and oars off the Gazells
between Jacky’s George and a couple of Porgwarra boats. Both sides
accused each other of poaching lobster pots. Jacky’s George sank a
Porgwarra boat by dropping a lump of ballast through her—and then
rescued the crew. They had seen a lot of Pyramus Herne, altogether too
much of Pyramus Herne. He had come down with a bigger mob of horses and
donkeys than usual and grazed them all over the farm—after dark. Seeing
the way he had befriended Ortho, they could not well say much to him,
especially as they had grass to spare at present; but it could not go on
like that.

Eli buckled to beside the others. They got the hay in, and, while
waiting for the crops to ripen, pulled down a bank (throwing two small
fields into one), rebuilt a couple more, cleaned out the orchard, hoed
the potatoes and put a new roof on the stables. They were out of bed at
five every morning and into it at eight of an evening, dead-beat, soiled
with earth and sweat, stained with sun and wind. They worked like
horses, ate like wolves and slept like sloths.

Ortho led everywhere. He was first afoot in the morning, last to bed at
night. His quick mind discerned the easiest way through difficulties,
but when hard labor was inevitable he sprang at it with a cheer. His
voice rang like a bugle round Bosula, imperious yet merry. He was at
once a captain and a comrade.

Under long days of sunshine and gentle drenches of rain the crops went
on from strength to strength. It would be a bumper year.

Then came the deluge. Wany, her uncanny weather senses prickling,
prophesied it two days in advance. Bohenna was uneasy, but Ortho,
pointing to the serene sky, laughed at their fears. The next day the
heat became oppressive, and he was not so sure. He woke at ten o’clock
that night to a terrific clap of thunder, sat up in bed, and watched the
little room flashing from black to white from the winks of lightning,
his own shadow leaping gigantic across the illuminated wall; heard the
rain come up the valley, roaring through the treetops like surf, break
in a cataract over the Owls’ House and sweep on. “This’ll stamp us out
. . . beat us flat,” he muttered, and lay wondering what he should do,
if there was anything to do, and as he wondered merciful sleep came upon
him, weary body dragging the spirit down with it into oblivion.

The rain continued with scarcely less violence for a week, held off for
two days and came down again. August crept out blear-eyed and
draggle-tailed.

The Penhales saved a few potatoes and about one-fifth of the
cereals—not enough to provide them with daily bread; they would
actually have to buy meal in the coming year. Bohenna, old child of the
soil, took the calamity with utter calm; he was inured to these bitter
caprices of Nature. Ortho shrugged his shoulders and laughed. It was
nobody’s fault, he said; they had done all they could; Penaluna had
fared no better. The only course was to whistle and go at it again; that
sort of thing could hardly happen twice running. He whistled and went at
it again, at once, breaking stone out of a field towards Polmenna, but
Eli knew that for all his brave talk the heart was out of him. There was
a lassitude in his movements; he was merely making a show of courage.

Gradually he slowed down. He began to visit the Kiddlywink of a night,
and lay abed long after sunrise.

At the end of October a fresh bolt fell out of the blue. The Crowan tin
works, in which the Penhale money was invested, suddenly closed down. It
turned out that they had been running at a loss for the last eight
months in the hope of striking a new lode, a debt of three hundred
pounds had been incurred, the two other shareholders were without
assets, so, under the old Cost Book system current in Cornish mining,
Teresa was liable for the whole sum.

She was at first aghast, then furious; swore she’d have the law of the
defaulters and hastened straightway into Penzance to set her lawyer at
them. Fortunately her lawyer was honest; she had no case and he told her
so. When she returned home she was confronted by her sons; they demanded
to know how they stood. She turned sulky and refused details, but they
managed to discover that there was not five pounds in the house, that
there would be no more till the Tregors rent came in, and even then was
pledged to money-lenders and shop-keepers—but as to the extent of her
liabilities they could not find out. She damned them as a pair of
ungrateful whelps and went to bed as black as thunder.

Ortho had a rough idea as to the houses Teresa patronized, so next day
the brothers went to town, and after a door to door visitation
discovered that she owed in the neighborhood of four hundred pounds!
Four plus three made seven—seven hundred pounds! What was it to come
from? The Penhales had no notion. By selling off all their stock they
might possibly raise two hundred. Two hundred, what was that? A great
deal less than half. Their mother would spend the rest of her life in a
debtor’s prison! Oh, unutterable shame!

They doddered about Penzance, sunk in misery. Then it occurred to Ortho
to consult the lawyer. These quill-driving devils were as cunning as dog
foxes; what they couldn’t get round or over they’d wriggle through.

The lawyer put them at their ease at once. Mortgage Bosula or Tregors
. . . nothing simpler. Both strong farms should produce the required
sum—and more. He explained the system, joined his finger-tips and
beamed at the pair over the top.

The brothers shifted on their chairs and pronounced for Tregors
simultaneously. The lawyer nodded. Very well then. As soon as he got
their mother’s sanction he would set to work. Ortho promised to settle
his mother and the two left.

Ortho had no difficulty with Teresa. He successfully used the hollow
threat of a debtor’s prison to her, for she had been in a lock-up
several times during her roving youth and had no wish to return.

Besides she was sick of debt, of being pestered for money here, there
and everywhere.

She gave her consent readily enough, and within a fortnight was called
upon to sign.

Carveth Donnithorne, the ever-prospering ship chandler of Falmouth, was
the mortgagee; nine hundred and fifty pounds was the sum he paid, and
very good value it was.

Teresa settled the Crowan liabilities with the lawyer, and, parading
round the town, squared all her other accounts in a single afternoon.
She did it in style, swept into the premises of those who had pressed
her, planked her money down, damned them for a pack of thieves and
leeches, swore that was the end of her custom and stamped majestically
out.

She finished up in a high state of elation. She had told a number of her
enemies exactly what she thought of them, was free of debt and had a
large sum of ready money in hand again—two hundred and fifty pounds in
three canvas bags, the whole contained in a saddle wallet.

Opposite the market cross she met an old crony, a retired ship captain
by the name of Jeremiah Gish, and told him in detail what she had said
to the shop-keepers. The old gentleman listened with all his ears. He
admired Teresa immensely. He admired her big buxom style, her strength,
her fire, but most of all he revered her for her language. Never in
forty years seafaring had he met with such a flow of vituperation as
Teresa could loose when roused, such range, such spontaneity, such
blistering invention. It drew him like music. He caught her
affectionately by the arm, led her to a tavern, treated her to a pot of
ale and begged her to repeat what she had said to the shop-keepers.

Teresa, nothing loth, obliged. The old tarpaulin listened rapt, nodded
his bald head in approval, an expression on his face of one who hears
the chiming of celestial spheres.

A brace of squires jingled in and hallooed to Teresa. Where had she been
hiding all this time? The feasten sports had been nothing without her.
She ought to have been at Ponsandane the week before. They had a black
bull in a field tied to a ship’s anchor. The ring parted and the bull
went loose in the crowd with two dogs hanging on him. Such a screeching
and rushing you never did see! Old women running like two-year-olds and
young women climbing like squirrels and showing leg. . . . Oh, mercy!
The squire hid his face in his hands and gulped.

Teresa guffawed, took a pound out of one of the bags, strapped up the
wallet again and sat on it. Then she called the pot boy and ordered a
round of drinks. To blazes with economy for that one evening!

The company drank to her everlasting good health, to her matchless eyes
and cherry lips. One squire kissed her; she boxed his ears—not too
hard. He saluted the hand that smote him. His friend passed his arm
round her waist—she let it linger.

Jerry Gish leaned forward and tapped her on the knee. “Tell ’em what you
said to that draper, my blossom—ecod, yes, and to the Jew . . . tell
’em.”

Once more Teresa obliged. The company applauded. Very apt; that was the
way to talk to the sniveling swine! But her throat must be dry as a
brick. They banged their pots. “Hey, boy! Another round, damme!”

Other admirers drifted in and greeted Teresa with warmth. Where had she
been all this time? They had missed her sorely. There was much rejoicing
among the unjust over one sinner returned.

Teresa’s soul expanded as a sunflower to the sun. They were all old
friends and she was glad to be with them again. Twice more for the
benefit of newcomers did Captain Gish prevail on her to repeat what she
had said to her creditors, and by general request she sang three songs.
The pot boy ran his legs off that night.

Towards eleven p. m. she shook one snoring admirer from her shoulder,
removed the hand of another from her lap, dropped an ironical curtsey to
the prostrate gentlemen about her and, grasping the precious wallet,
rocked unsteadily into the yard. She had to rouse an ostler to girth her
horse up for her, and her first attempts at mounting met with disaster,
but she got into the saddle at last, and once there nothing short of
gunpowder could dislodge her. Her lids were like lead; drowsiness was
crushing her. She kept more or less awake until Bucca’s Pass was behind,
but after that she abandoned the struggle and sleep swallowed her whole.

She was aroused at Bosula gate by the barking of her own dogs,
unstrapped the wallet, turned the roan into the stable as it stood, and
staggered upstairs. Five minutes later she was shouting at the top of
her lungs. She had been robbed; one of the hundred pound bags was
missing!

The household ran to her call. When had she missed it? Who had she been
with? Where had she dropped it? Teresa was not clear about anything. She
might have dropped it anywhere between Penzance and home, or again she
might have been robbed in the tavern or the streets. The point was that
she had lost one hundred pounds and they had got to find it—now, at
once! They were to take the road back, ransack the town, inform the
magistrates. Out with them! Away!

Having delivered herself, she turned over and was immediately asleep.

Ortho went back to bed. He would go to Penzance if necessary, he said,
but it was useless before dawn. Let the others look close at home first.

Wany and Martha took a lantern and prodded about in the yard, clucking
like hens. Eli lit a second lantern and went to the stable. Perhaps his
mother had dropped the bag dismounting. He found the roan horse standing
in its stall, unsaddled it, felt in the remaining wallet, turned over
the litter—nothing. As he came out he noticed that the second horse was
soaking wet. Somebody had been riding hard, could only have just got in
before Teresa. Ortho of course. He wondered what his brother was up to.
After some girl probably . . . he had heard rumors.

Martha reported the yard bare, so he followed the hoof tracks up the
lane some way—nothing.

Ortho was up at dawn, ready to go into town, but Teresa, whose
recuperative powers were little short of marvelous, was up before him
and went in herself. She found nothing on the road and got small
consolation from the magistrates.

People who mixed their drinks and their company when in possession of
large sums of ready money should not complain if they lost it. She ought
to be thankful she had not been relieved of the lot. They would make
inquiries, of course, but held out no hope. There was an officer with a
string of recruits in town, an Irish privateer and two foreign ships in
the port, to say nothing of the Guernsey smugglers—the place was
seething with covetous and desperate characters. They wagged their wigs
and doubted if she would ever see her money again.

She never did.



                              CHAPTER XIII


Some three weeks after Teresa’s loss Eli found his brother in the yard
fitting a fork-head to a new haft.

“Saw William John Prowse up to Church-town,” said he. “He told me to
tell you that you must take the two horses over to once because he’s got
to go away.”

Ortho frowned. Under his breath he consigned William John Prowse to
eternal discomfort. Then his face cleared.

“I’ve been buying a horse or two for Pyramus,” he remarked casually.
“He’ll be down along next week.”

Eli gave him a curious glance. Ortho looked up and their eyes met.

“What’s the matter?”

“It was you stole that hundred pounds from mother, I suppose.”

Ortho started and then stared. “Me! My Lord, what next! Me steal that
. . . well, I be damned! Think I’d turn toby and rob my own family, do
you? Pick my right pocket to fill my left? God’s wrath, you’re a sweet
brother!”

“I do think so, anyhow,” said Eli doggedly.

“How? Why?”

“’Cos King Herne can do his own buying and because on the night mother
was robbed you were out.”

Ortho laughed again. “Smart as a gauger, aren’t you? Well, now I’ll tell
you. William John let me have the horses on trust, and as for being out,
I’m out most every night. I’d been to Churchtown. I’ve got a sweetheart
there, if you must know. So now, young clever!”

Eli shrugged his shoulders and turned away.

“Don’t you believe me?” Ortho called.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“’Cos ’tis well known William John Prowse wouldn’t trust his father with
a turnip, and that Polly mare hadn’t brought you two miles from
Gwithian. She’d come three times that distance and hard. She was as wet
as an eel; I felt her.”

Ortho bit his lip. “So ho, steady!” he called softly. “Come round here a
minute.”

He led the way round the corner of the barn and Eli followed. Ortho
leaned against the wall, all smiles again.

“See here, old son,” said he in a whisper, “you’re right. I did it. But
I did it for you, for your sake, mind that.”

“Me!”

Ortho nodded. “Surely. Look you, in less than two years Tregors and this
here place fall to me, don’t they?”

“Yes,” said Eli.

Ortho tapped him on the chest. “Well, the minute I get possession I’m
going to give you Tregors, lock, stock and barrel. That’s the way father
meant it, I take it—only he didn’t have time to put it in writing. But
now Tregors is in the bag, and how are we going to get it out if mother
will play chuck-guinea like she does?”

“So that’s why you stole the money?”

“That’s why—and, harkee, don’t shout ‘stole’ so loud. It ain’t stealing
to take your own, is it?” Ortho whistled. “My Lord, I sweated, Eli! I
thought some one would have it before I did. The whole of Penzance knew
she’d been about town all day with a bag of money, squaring her debts
and lashing it about. To finish up she was in a room at the ‘Star’ with
a dozen of bucks, all of ’em three sheets in the wind and roaring. I
seen them through a chink in the shutters and I tell you I sweated
blood. But she’s cunning. When she sat down she sat on the wallet and
stopped there. It would have taken a block and tackle to pull her off. I
went into the ‘Star’ passage all muffled up about the face like as if I
had jaw-ache. The pot boy came along with a round of drinks for the
crowd inside. ‘Here, drop those a minute and fetch me a dash of brandy
for God Almighty’s sake,’ says I, mumbling and talking like an
up-countryman. ‘I’m torn to pieces with this tooth. Here’s a silver
shilling and you can keep the change if you’re quick. Oh, whew! Ouch!’

“I tossed him the shilling—the last I’d got—and he dropped the pots
there and then and dived after the brandy. I gave the pots a good
dusting with a powder Pyramus uses on rogue horses to keep ’em quiet
while he’s selling ’em. Then the boy came back. I drank the brandy and
went outside again and kept watch through the shutters. It worked pretty
quick; what with the mixed drinks they’d had and the powder, the whole
crew was stretched snoring in a quarter hour. But not she. She’s as
strong as a yoke of bulls. She yawned a bit, but when the others went
down she got up and went after her horse, taking the wallet along. I
watched her mount from behind the rain barrel in the yard and a pretty
job she made of it. The ostler had to heave her up, and the first time
she went clean over, up one side and down t’other. Second time she saved
herself by clawing the ostler’s hair and near clawed his scalp off; he
screeched like a slit pig.

“I watched that ostler as well, watched in case he might chance his
fingers in the wallet, but he didn’t. She was still half awake and would
have brained him if he’d tried it on. A couple of men—stranded seamen,
I think—came out of an alley by the Abbey and dogged her as far as
Lariggan, closing up all the time, but when they saw me behind they gave
over and hid in under the river bank. She kept awake through Newlyn,
nodding double. I knew she couldn’t last much longer—the wonder was she
had lasted so long. On top of Paul Hill I closed up as near as I dared
and then went round her, across country as hard as I could flog, by
Chyoone and Rosvale.

“A dirty ride, boy; black as pitch and crossed with banks and soft
bottoms. Polly fell down and threw me over her head twice . . . thought
my neck was broke. We came out on the road again at Trevelloe. I tied
Polly to a tree and walked back to meet ’em. They came along at a walk,
the old horse bringing his cargo home like he’s done scores of times.

“I called his name softly and stepped out of the bushes. He stopped,
quiet as a lamb. Mother never moved; she was dead gone, but glued to the
saddle. She’s a wonder. I got the wallet open, put my hand in and had
just grabbed hold of a bag when Prince whinnied; he’d winded his mate,
Polly, down the road. You know how it is when a horse whinnies; he
shakes all through. Hey, but it gave me a start! It was a still night
and the old brute sounded like a squad of trumpets shouting ‘Ha!’ like
they do in the Bible. ‘Ha, ha, ha, he, he, he!’

“I jumped back my own length and mother lolled over towards me and said
soft-like, ‘Pass the can around.’”

“That’s part of a song she sings,” said Eli, “a drinking song.”

Ortho nodded. “I know, but it made me jump when she said it; she said it
so soft-like. I thought the horse had shaken her awake, and I ran for
dear life. Before I’d gone fifty yards I knew I was running for nothing,
but I couldn’t go back. It was the first time I’d sto . . . I’d done
anything like that and I was scared of Prince whinnying again. I ran
down the road with the old horse coming along clop-clop behind me,
jumped on Polly and galloped home without looking back. I wasn’t long in
before her as it was.” He drew a deep breath. “But I kept the bag and
I’ve got it buried where she won’t find it.” He smiled at his own
cleverness.

“What are you going to do with the money?” Eli asked.

“Buy horses cheap and sell ’em dear. I learnt a trick or two when I was
away with Pyramus and I’m going to use ’em. There’s nothing like it.
I’ve seen him buy a nag for a pound and sell it for ten next week. I’m
going to make Pyramus take my horses along with his. They’ll be bought
as his, so that people won’t wonder where I got the money, and they’ll
go up-country and be sold with his—see? I’ve got it all thought out.”

“But will Pyramus do it?”

Ortho clicked his even white teeth. “Aye, I reckon he will . . . if he
wants to winter here again. How many two-pound horses can I buy for a
hundred pounds?”

“Fifty.”

“And fifty sold at ten pounds each, how much is that?”

“Five hundred pounds.”

“How long will it take me to pay off the mortgage at that rate?”

“Two years . . . at that rate. But there’s the interest too, and . . .”

Ortho smote him on the back. “Oh, cheerily, old long-face, all’s well!
The rent’ll pay the interest, as thou thyself sayest, and I’ll fetch in
the money somehow. We’ll harvest a mighty crop next season and the
horses’ll pay bags full. In two years’ time I’ll put my boot under that
fat cheese-weevil Carveth and you shall ride into Tregors like a king.
If only I could have got hold of that second hundred! You don’t know
where mother hides her money, do you?”

“No.”

“No more do I . . . but I will. I’ll sit over her like a puss at a mouse
hole. I’ll have some more of it yet.”

“Leave it alone,” said Eli; “she’s sure to find out and then there’ll be
the devil to pay. Besides, whatever you say about it being our money it
don’t seem right. Leave it be.”

Ortho threw an arm about his neck and laughed at him.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Pyramus Herne arrived on New Year’s Eve and was not best pleased when
Ortho announced his project. He had no wish to be bothered with extra
horses that brought no direct profit to himself, but he speedily
recognized that he had a new host to deal with, that young Penhale had
cut his wisdom teeth and that if he wanted the run of the Upper Keigwin
Valley he’d have to pay for it. So he smiled his flashing smile and
consented, on the understanding that he accepted no responsibility for
any mishap and that Ortho found his own custom. The boy agreed to this
and set about buying.

He picked up a horse here and there, but mainly he bought broken-down
pack mules from the mines round St. Just. He bought wisely. His
purchases were a ragged lot, yet never so ragged but that they could be
patched up. When not out looking for mules he spent practically all his
time in the gypsy camp, firing, blistering, trimming misshapen hoofs,
shotting roarers, filing and bishoping teeth. The farm hardly saw him;
Eli and Bohenna put the seed in.

Pyramus left with February, driving the biggest herd he had ever taken
north. This, of course, included Ortho’s lot, but the boy had not got
fifty beasts for his hundred pounds—he had got thirty-three only—but
he was still certain of making his four hundred per cent, he told Eli;
mules were in demand, being hardy, long-lived and frugal, and his string
were in fine fettle. With a few finishing touches, their blemishes
stained out, a touch of the clippers here and there, a pinch of ginger
to give them life, some grooming and a sleek over with an oil rag, there
would be no holding the public back from them. He would be home for
harvest, his pockets dribbling gold.

He went one morning before dawn without telling Teresa he was going,
jingled out of the yard, dressed in his best, astride one of Pyramus’
showiest colts. His tirade against gypsy life and his eulogy of the
delights of home, delivered to Eli on his return from his first trip
with Pyramus, had been perfectly honest. He had had a rough experience
and was played out.

But he was tired no longer. He rode to join Pyramus, singing the Helston
Flurry Song:

    “Where are those Span-i-ards
    That made so brave a boast—O?
    They shall eat the gray goose feather
    And we will eat the roast—O.”

Eli, leaning over the gate, listened to the gay voice dwindling away up
the valley, and then turned with a sigh.

Dawn was breaking, the mists were rolling up, the hills loomed gigantic
in the half-light, studded with granite escarpments, patchworked with
clumps of gorse, thorn and bracken—his battlefield.

Ortho had gone again, gone singing to try his fortune in the great world
among foreign multitudes. For him the dour grapple with the
wilderness—and he was glad of it. He disliked foreigners, disliked
taking chances. Here was something definite, something to lock his teeth
in, something to be subdued by sheer dogged tenacity. He broke the news
that Ortho had gone gypsying again that evening at supper.

Teresa exploded like a charge of gun-powder. She announced her intention
of starting after her son at once, dragging him home and having Pyramus
arrested for kidnapping. Then she ramped up and down the kitchen,
cursing everybody present for not informing her of Ortho’s intentions.
When they protested that they had been as ignorant as herself, she
damned them for answering her back.

Eli, who came in for most of her abuse, slipped out and over the hill to
Roswarva, had a long farming talk with Penaluna and borrowed a pamphlet
on the prevention of wheat diseases.

The leggy girl Mary sat in a corner sewing by the light of a pilchard
chill and saying never a word. Just before Eli left she brought him a
mug of cider, but beyond drinking the stuff he hardly noticed the act
and even forgot to thank her. He found Teresa sitting up for him. She
had her notched sticks and the two remaining money bags on the table in
front of her. She looked worried.

“Here,” she growled as her younger son entered. “Count this.” Eli
counted. There was a round hundred pounds in the one bag and thirty-one
pounds, ten shillings and fourpence in the other. He told her.

“There was fifty,” said she. “How much have I spent then?”

“Eighteen pounds, ten shillings and eightpence.” Eli made a
demonstration on his fingers.

Teresa’s black eyebrows first rose and then crumpled together ominously.

“Eighteen!” she echoed, and began to tick off items on her own fingers,
mumbling sotto voce. She paused at the ninth finger, racked her brains
for forgotten expenditures and began the count over again.

Eli sat down before the hearth and pulled his boots off. He could feel
his mother’s suspicious eyes on him. Twice she cleared her throat as if
to speak, but thought better of it. He went to bed, leaving her still
bent over the table twiddling her notched stick. Her eyes followed him
up the stairs, perplexed, angry, with a hot gleam in them like a spark
in coal.

So Ortho had found her hiding place after all and had robbed her so
cleverly that she was not perfectly sure she had been robbed. Eli
tumbled into bed wishing his brother were not quite so clever. He fell
asleep and had a dream in which he saw Ortho hanging in chains which
creaked as they swung in the night winds.

Scared by the loss of her money, Teresa had another attack of
extravagant economy during which the Tregors lease fell in. She promptly
put up the rent; the old tenant refused to carry on and a new one had to
be found. An unknown hind from Budock Water, near Falmouth, accepted the
terms.

Teresa congratulated herself on a bright stroke of business and all went
on as before.

Eli and Bohenna worked out early and late; the weather could not have
been bettered and the crops promised wonders. Eli, surveying the
propitious fields, was relieved to think Ortho would be back for
harvest, else he did not know how they would get it home.

No word had come from the wanderer. None was expected, but he was sure
to be back for August; he had sworn to be. Ortho was back on the fourth
of July.

Eli came in from work and, to his surprise, found him sitting in the
kitchen relating the story of his adventures. He had a musical voice, a
Gallic trick of gesticulation and no compunction whatever about laughing
at his own jokes. His recital was most vivacious.

Even Teresa guffawed—in spite of herself. She had intended to haul
Master Ortho over an exceedingly hot bed of coals when he returned, but
for the moment she could not bring herself to it. He had started talking
before she could, and his talk was extremely diverting; she did not want
to interrupt it. Moreover, he looked handsomer than ever—tall,
graceful, darkly sparkling. She was proud of him, her mother sense
stirred. He was very like herself.

From hints dropped here and there she guessed he had met with not a few
gallant episodes on his travels and determined to sit up after the
others had gone to bed and get details out of him. They would make spicy
hearing. Such a boy must be irresistible. The more women he had ruined
the better she would be pleased, the greater the tribute to her
offspring. She was a predatory animal herself and this was her own cub.
As for the wigging, that could wait until they fell out about something
else and she was worked up; fly at him in cold blood she could not, not
for the moment.

Ortho jumped out of his chair when Eli entered and embraced him with
great warmth, commented on his growth, thumped the boy’s deep chest,
pinched his biceps and called to Bohenna to behold the coming champion.

“My Lord, but here’s a chicken that’ll claw the breast feathers out o’
thee before long, old fighting cock—thee or any other in Devon or
Cornwall—eh, then?”

Bohenna grinned and wagged his grizzled poll.

“Stap me, little brother, I’d best keep a civil tongue before thee, seem
me. Well, as I was saying—”

He sat down and continued his narrative.

Eli leaned against the settle, listening and looking at Ortho. He was
evidently in the highest spirits, but he had not the appearance of a man
with five hundred pounds in his possession. He wore the same suit of
clothes in which he had departed and it was in an advanced state of
dilapidation; the braid edging hung in strings, one elbow was
barbarously patched with a square of sail-cloth and the other was out
altogether. His high wool stockings were a mere network and his boots
lamentable. However that was no criterion; gypsying was a rough life and
it would be foolish to spoil good clothes on it. Ortho himself looked
worn and thin; he had a nasty, livid cut running the length of his right
cheek bone and the gesticulating palms were raw with open blisters, but
his gay laugh rang through the kitchen, melodious, inspiring. He bore
the air of success; all was well, doubtless.

Eli fell to making calculations. Ortho had five hundred pounds, Teresa
still had a hundred; that made six. Ortho would require a hundred as
capital for next year, and then, if he could repeat his success, they
would be out of the trap. He felt a rush of affection for his brother,
ragged and worn from his gallant battle with the world—and all for his
sake. Tregors mattered comparatively little to Ortho, since he was
giving it up and was fully provided for with Bosula. Ortho’s generosity
overwhelmed him. There was nobody like Ortho.

The gentleman in question finished an anecdote with a clap of laughter,
sprang to his feet, pinned his temporarily doting mother in her chair
and kissed her, twitched Martha’s bonnet strings loose, punched Bohenna
playfully in the chest, caught Eli by the arm and swung him into the
yard.

“Come across to the stable, my old dear; I’ve got something to show
you.”

“Horse?”

“Lord, no! I’ve got no horse. Walked from Padstow.”

“You!—walked!”

“Yes, heel and toe . . . two days. God, my feet are sore!”

“How did you come to get to Padstow?”

“Collier brig from Cardiff. Had to work my passage at that; my hands are
like raw meat from hauling on those damned braces—look! Slept in a
cow-shed at Illogan last night and milked the cows for breakfast. I’ll
warrant the farmer wondered why they were dry this morning—ha, ha!
Never mind, that’s all over. What do you think of this?”

He reached inside the stable door and brought out a new fowling piece.

“Bought this for you in Gloucester,” said he; “thought of you the minute
I saw it. It’s pounds lighter than father’s old blunderbuss, and look
here . . . this catch holds the priming and keeps it dry; pull the
trigger, down comes the hammer, knocks the catch up and bang! See?
Clever, ain’t it? Take hold.”

Eli took hold of the gun like a man in a dream. Beautiful weapon though
it was, he did not even look at it.

“But why . . . why did you work your passage?” he asked.

“Because they wouldn’t carry me for nothing, wood-head.”

“Were you trying to save money?”

“Eh?—er—ye-es.”

“Have you done as well as you expected, Ortho?”

“N-o, not quite. I’ve had the most damnable luck, old boy.” He took
Eli’s arm. “You never heard of such bad luck in your life—and none of
it my fault. I sold a few mules at first at good prices, but the money
went—a man must eat as he goes, you know—and then there was that gun;
it cost a pretty penny. Then trouble began. I lost three beasts at
Tewkesbury. They got scared in the night. One broke a shoulder and two
went over a quarry. But at Hereford . . . Oh, my God!”

“What happened?”

“Glanders. They went like flies. Pyramus saw what it was right off, and
we ran for it, south, selling horses to the first bid; that is, we tried
to, but they were too sick and word went faster than we. The crowd got
ugly, swore we’d infected the country and they’d hang us; they would
have, too, if we’d waited. They very nearly had me, boy, very nearly.”

“Did they mark your face like that?”

“They did, with a lump of slate. And that isn’t all. I’ve got half a
dozen more like it scattered about.” He laughed. “But no matter; they
didn’t get me and I’m safe home again, thank God!”

“And the horses?”

“They killed every one of ’em to stop the infection.”

“Then you haven’t got any money?”

Ortho shook his head. “Not a penny.”



                              CHAPTER XIV


Misfortune did not daunt Ortho for long; the promising state of the home
fields put fresh heart in him. He plunged at the work chanting a pæan in
praise of agriculture, tore through obstacles and swept up his tasks
with a speed and thoroughness which left Eli and Bohenna standing
amazed.

The Penhale brothers harvested a record crop that season—but so did
everybody else. The market was glutted and prices negligible. Except
that their own staple needs were provided for, they were no better off
than previously. Eli did not greatly care—he had done what he had set
out to do, bring a good crop home—but Ortho fell into a state of
profound gloom; it was money that he wanted.

It seemed to make little difference in agriculture whether you harvested
a bumper yield or none at all. He had no capital to start in the
second-hand horse trade again—even did he wish to—and he had no
knowledge of any other business. He was on the desperate point of
enlisting in the army on the chance of being sent abroad and gathering
in a little loot, when opportunity rapped loudly on his door.

He had run down towards Tol-Pedn-Penwith with Jacky’s George one
afternoon in late September. It was a fine afternoon, with a smooth sea,
and all the coves between Merther Point and Carn Scathe were full of
whitebait. They crowded close inshore in dense shoals, hiding from the
mackerel. When the mackerel charged them they stampeded in panic,
frittering the surface like wind-flaws. The gig’s crew attacked the
attackers and did so well that they did not notice the passage of time.

Jacky’s George came to his senses as the sun slipped under, and clapped
on all sail for home. He appeared in a hurry. By the time they were
abreast of the Camper, the wind, which had been backing all the
afternoon, was a dead-muzzler. Jacky’s George did what he was seldom
known to do; he blasphemed, ported his helm and ran on a long leg out to
sea. By ten o’clock they had leveled Boscawen Point, but the wind fell
away altogether and they were becalmed three miles out in the Channel.
Jacky’s George blasphemed again and ordered oars out. The gig was heavy
and the tide against them. It took Ortho and three young Baragwanaths an
hour and a half to open Monks Cove.

Ortho could not see the reason of it, of wrenching one’s arms out, when
in an hour or two the tide would carry them in. However, he knew better
than to question Jacky’s George’s orders. Even when Monks Cove was
reached the little man did not go in, but pointed across for Black Carn.
As they paddled under the lee of the cape there came a peculiar whistle
from the gloom ahead, to which the bow-oar responded, and Ortho made out
a boat riding to a kedge. They pulled alongside and made fast. It was
the second Baragwanath gig, with the eldest son, Anson, and the
remainder of the brothers aboard.

“Who’s that you got wid ’e?” came the hushed voice of Anson.

“Ortho Penhale,” his father replied. “Hadn’t time to put en
ashore—becalmed way out. Has a showed up yet?”

“Naw, a’s late.”

“Ess. Wind’s felled away. All quiet in Cove?”

“Ess, sure. Every road’s watched and Ma’s got a furze stacked up to
touch off if she gets warning.”

“All right . . . well, keep your eye peeled for his signal.”

Light suddenly broke on Ortho. There was a run on and he was in
it—thrilling! He leaned towards Jacky’s George and whispered, “Who’s
coming? Roscoff boat?”

Jacky’s George uttered two words which sent an electric quiver through
him:

“King Nick.”

King Nick. Captain Nicholas Buzza, prince of Free Traders, the man who
had made more runs than all the rest put together, who owned a fleet of
armed smugglers and cheated the Revenue of thousands a year. Who had
fooled the riding officers times out of number and beaten off the
Militia. Who had put to sea after a big privateer sent to suppress him,
fought a running fight from Godrevy to Trevose and sent her diving down
the deep sea. The mercurial, dare-devil King Nick who was said to be
unable to sleep comfortably unless there was a price on his head; who
had raided Penzance by the light of the moon and recaptured a lost
cargo; who had been surprised by the gaugers off Cawsand, chopped to
bits with cutlasses, left for dead—and then swam ashore; who was
reported to walk through Peter Port with all the Guernsey merchants
bowing low before him, was called “Duc de Roscoff” in Brittany, and
commanded more deference in Schiedam than its own Burgomaster. King
Nick, the romantic idol of every West Country boy, coming to Monks Cove
that very night, even then moving towards them through the dark. Ortho
felt as if he were about to enter the presence of Almighty God.

“Is it a big run?” he whispered to Jacky’s George, trembling with
excitement.

“Naw, main run was at Porthleven last night. This is but the leavings. A
few trifles for the Kiddlywink to oblige me.”

“Is King Nick a friend of yours, then?” said Ortho, wide-eyed.

“Lord save you, yes! We was privateering together years ago.”

Ortho regarded the fisherman with added veneration.

“If a don’t come soon a’ll miss tide,” Anson hissed from the other boat.

“He’ll come, tide or no tide,” snapped his father. “Hold tongue, will
’e? Dost want whole world to hear?”

Anson subsided.

There was a faint mist clouding the sea, but overhead rode a splendor of
stars, an illimitable glitter of silver dust. Nothing was to be heard
but the occasional scrape of sea-boots as one cramped boy or other
shifted position, the wail of a disturbed sea bird from the looming
rookeries above them, the everlasting beat of surf on the Twelve
Apostles a mile away to the southwest and the splash and sigh of some
tired ninth wave heaving itself over the ledges below Black Carn.

An hour went by. Ashore a cock crowed, and a fisherman’s donkey,
tethered high up the cliff-side, roared asthmatically in reply. The
boats swung round as the tide slackened and made. The night freshened.
Ripples lapped the bows. The land wind was blowing. Ortho lay face-down
on the stroke thwart and yawned. Adventure—if adventure there was to
be—was a long time coming. He was getting cold. The rhythmic lift and
droop of the gig, the lisp and chuckle of the water voices had a
hypnotic effect on him. He pillowed his cheek on his forearms and
drowsed, dreamt he was swaying in gloomy space, disembodied,
unsubstantial, a wraith dipping and soaring over a bottomless void.
Clouds rolled by him big as continents. He saw the sun and moon below
him no bigger than pins’ heads and world upon glittering world strewn
across the dark like grains of sand. He could not have long lain thus,
could not have fallen fully asleep, for Anson’s first low call set him
wide awake.

“Sail ho!”

Both boats’ crews sat up as one man.

“Where away?”

“Sou’-east.”

Ortho’s eyes bored into the hollow murk seawards, but could distinguish
nothing for the moment. Then, as he stared, it seemed to him that the
dark smudge that was the corner of the Carn was expanding westwards. It
stretched and stretched until, finally, a piece detached itself
altogether and he knew it was a big cutter creeping close inshore under
full sail. Never a wink of light did the stranger show.

“Hast lantern ready?” hissed Jacky’s George.

“Aye,” from Anson.

“Cast off there, hoist killick and stand by.”

“Aye, aye!”

The blur that was the cutter crept on, silent as a shadow, almost
indistinguishable against the further dark, a black moth on black
velvet. All eyes watched her. Suddenly a green light glowed amidships,
stabbing the inky waters with an emerald dagger, glowed steadily,
blinked out, glowed again and vanished. Ortho felt his heart bound into
his throat.

“Now,” snapped Jacky’s George. “Show lantern . . . four times,
remember.”

Anson stood up and did as he was bid.

The green lantern replied, the cutter rounded up in the wind and drifted
towards them, tide-borne.

“Out oars and pull,” said Jacky’s George.

They swept within forty yards of the cutter.

“’Vast pulling,” came a voice from her bows.

“Back water, all!” Jacky’s George commanded.

“Is that George Baragwanath?” came the voice again, a high-pitched,
kindly voice, marvelously clear.

“Aye, aye!”

“What’s the word then, my dear?”

“Hosannah!”

“What’s that there boat astern of ’e?”

“Mine—my second boat.”

“Well, tell him to keep off a cable’s length till I’ve seen to ’e,” the
amiable voice continued. “If he closes ’fore I tell en I’ll blow him
outer the water as God is my salvation. No offense meant, but we can’t
take chances, you understand. Come ahead, you.”

The gig’s crew gave way and brought their craft alongside the smuggler.

“One at a time,” said the voice somewhere in the darkness above them,
mild as a ringdove. “George, my dear soul, step up alone, will ’e,
please?”

Jacky’s George went over the rail and out of sight.

Ortho heard the voice greet him affectionately and then attend to the
helmsman.

“Back fore-sail, Zebedee; she’ll jam ’tween wind and tide. No call to
anchor. We’ll have this little deck load off in ten minutes, please God,
amen! There it is all before you, George—low Hollands proof, brandy,
sugar, and a snatch of snuff. Tally it, will you, please. We’re late,
I’m afraid. I was addressing a few earnest seekers after grace at
Rosudgeon this afternoon and the word of the Lord came upon me and I
spake overlong, I fear, trembling and sweating in my unworthiness—and
then the wind fell very slight. I had to sweep her along till, by God’s
infinite mercy, I picked up this shore draught. Whistle up your second
boat and we’ll load ’em both sides to once. You haven’t been washed in
the blood of the Lamb as yet, have you, George? Ah, that it might be
vouchsafed this unworthy vessel to purge you with hyssop! I must have a
quiet talk with you. Steady with them tubs, Harry; you’ll drop ’em
through the gig.”

For the next quarter of an hour Ortho was busy stowing casks lowered by
the cutter’s crew, but all the time the sweet voice went on. It seemed
to be trying to persuade Jacky’s George into something he would not do.
He could hear the pair tramping the deck above him side by side—one,
two, three, four and roundabout, one, two, three, four and
roundabout—the voice purling like a melodious brook; Jacky’s George’s
gruff negatives, and the brook purling on again unruffled. Nobody else
on the cutter uttered a sound; it might have been manned by a company of
mutes.

Anson called from the port side that he was loaded. Jacky’s George broke
off his conversation and crossed over.

“Pull in then. Soon’s you’ve got ’em stowed show a spark and I’ll
follow.”

Anson’s gig disappeared shorewards, wallowing deep. Jacky’s George
gripped a stay with his hook and swung over the rail into his own boat.

“I can’t do it, cap’n,” he called. “Good night and thank ’e kindly all
the same. Cast off!”

They were away. It burst upon Ortho that he had not seen his hero—that
he never would. In a minute the tall cutter would be fading away
seawards as mysteriously as she had come and the great King Nick would
be never anything to him but a voice. He could have cried out with
disappointment.

“Push off,” said Jacky’s George.

Ortho leant on his oar and pushed and, as he did so, somebody sprang
from the cutter’s rail, landed on the piled casks behind him as lightly
as a cat, steadied himself with a hand on his shoulder and dropped into
the stern-sheets beside the fisherman.

“Coming ashore wid ’e, George,” said the voice, “and by God’s grace I’ll
persuade ’e yet.”

King Nick was in the boat!

“Mind what I bade ’e, Zebedee,” he hailed the cutter. “Take she round to
once and I’ll be off to-morrow night by God’s providence and loving
kindness.” The cutter swung slowly on her heel, drifted beam on to the
lapping tide, felt her helm and was gone, blotted out, swallowed up,
might never have been.

But King Nick was in the boat! Ortho could not see him—he was merely a
smudged silhouette—but he was in the stern-sheets not a yard distant.
Their calves were actually rubbing! Could such things be?

They paddled in and hung a couple of cables’ length off shore waiting
Anson’s signal. The smuggler began his argument again, and this time
Ortho heard all; he couldn’t help it.

“Think of the money in it, George. You’ve got a growing family. Think o’
your duty to them.”

“I reckon they won’t starve—why won’t the bay men do ’e?”

“’Cos there’s a new collector coming to Penzance and a regiment o’
dragoons, and you know what they rogues are—‘their mouth is full of
cursing and bitterness, their feet are swift to shed blood’—nothing
like they poor lambs the militia. Won’t be able to move a pack horse
between Mousehole and Marazion wid they lawless scum about—God ha’
mercy on ’em and pardon ’em!”

“Who told ’e new collector and sojers is coming?”

“The old collector, Mr. Hawkesby. Took him a pin o’ crafty old Jamaica
with my respects only last Tuesday and he showed me the letter signed
and sealed. An honorable Christian gentleman is Mr. Hawkesby; many a
holy discourse have I had with him. He wouldn’t deceive me. No, George,
‘Strangers are risen up against me and tyrants.’ . . . ‘Lo, the ungodly
bend their bow.’”

“Umph! Well, why don’t ’e run it straight on north coast, handy to
market?”

King Nick’s voice took on a slightly pained tone. “George, George, my
dear life, ponder, will ’e? Consider where between St. Ives and Sennen
_can_ I run a cargo. And how many days a week in winter can I land at
Sennen—eh? Not one. Not one in a month hardly. ‘He gathereth the waters
of the sea together, as it was upon a heap.’ Psalm thirty-three. And
it’s in winter that the notable hard drinking’s done, as thou well
knowest. What else is the poor dear souls to do in the long bitter
evenings? Think o’ they poor St. Just tinners down in the damp and dark
all day. ’Tis the duty of any man professing Christian love and charity
to assist they poor souls to get a drop of warm liquor cheap. What saith
the Book? ‘Blessed is he that considereth the poor and needy.’ Think on
that, George.” There were tears in the melodious brook.

Jacky’s George grunted. “Dunno as I’ve got any turrible love for
tinners. The last pair o’ they mucky toads as comed here pretty nigh
clawed my house down. Why not Porgwarra or Penberth?”

“’Cos there aren’t a man there I’d trust, George. I wouldn’t put my
trust en nobody but you—‘The faithful are minished from among the sons
o’ men.’ You run a bit for yourself; why can’t ’e run a bit more and
make a fortune? What’s come over ’e, my old and bold? ’Fraid, are ’e,
all to once? What for? You’ve got a snug landing and a straight track
over the moors, wid never a soul to see ’e pass. Riders can’t rush ’e
here in this little crack o’ the rocks; they’d break their stiff necks.
‘Let their way be dark and slippery and let the angel of the Lord
persecute them: and we shall wash our footsteps in the blood of the
ungodly.’ What makes ’e hold back, old shipmate?”

“Horses,” said Jacky’s George. “Lookee, Cap’n Nick, the money’s good and
I do respect it as much as the next man. I aren’t ’fraid of riders nor
anything else—save tumors—and if it were only a matter of landing,
why, I’d land ’s much stuff as you’ve a mind to. But carry goods to St.
Just for ’e, I won’t, for that means horses, and horses means farmers.
I’m bred to the sea myself and I can’t abide farmers. I’ve tried it
before and there’s always trouble. It do take a week walking round the
earth collecting ’em, and then some do show up and some don’t, and where
are we then? Why, where the cat was—in the tar-barrel. Paul farmers
won’t mix wid Gwithian, and Sancreed can’t stomach neither. And, what is
more, they do eat up all your profits—five shillings here, ten
shillings there—and that ain’t the end of it. When you think you’ve
done paying a farmer, slit me, you’ve only just begun. I won’t be
plagued wid ’em, so that’s the finish.”

“Listen to me a minute,” King Nick purled on, quite undeterred. “I’ll
tell ’e. . . .”

“T’eddn no manner of use, cap’n,” said Jacky’s George, standing up.
“There’s the light showing. Way all! Bend to it!”

The gig shot shorewards for the slip.

The manner in which the Baragwanath family disposed of a run contained
the elements of magic. It was a conjuring trick, no less—“now you see
it, now you don’t.” At one moment the slip-head was chockablock with
bales and barrels; at the next it was bare. They swooped purposefully
out of nowhere, fell upon the goods and—hey, presto!—spirited
themselves back into nowhere, leaving the slip wiped clean.

Including one son and two daughters-in-law, the tribe mustered fourteen
in all, and in the handling of illicit merchandise the ladies were as
gifted as the gentlemen. Ortho was laboriously trundling a cask up the
slip when he encountered one of the Misses Baragwanath, who gave him a
push and took the matter out of his hands. By the time he had recovered
his balance she had gone and so had the cask. It was too dark to see
which way she went. Not that he was interested; on the contrary, he
wanted to think. He had a plan forming in his head, a money-making plan.

He strode up and down the bare strip by the boat capstan getting the
details clear. It did not take him long, being simplicity itself. He
hitched his belt and marched up the little hamlet hot with inspiration.

Subdued mysterious sounds came from the surrounding darkness, whispering
thuds, shovel scrapings, sighs as of men heaving heavy weights. A shed
suddenly exploded with the clamour of startled hens. In another a sow
protested vocally against the disturbance of her bed. There was a big
bank running beside the stream in front of “The Admiral Anson.” As Ortho
passed by the great mass of earth and bowlders became articulate. A
voice deep within its core said softly, “Shift en a bit further up,
Zack; there’s three more to come.”

Ortho saw a thin chink of light between two of the bowlders, grinned and
strode into the kitchen of the Kiddlywink. There was a chill burning on
the table and a kettle humming on the hearth. Jacky’s George sat before
the fire, stirring a mug of grog which he held between his knees.
Opposite him sat a tall old man dressed in unrelieved black from neck to
toe. A wreath of snowy hair circled his bald pate like a halo. A pair of
tortoise-shell spectacles jockeyed the extreme tip of his nose, he
regarded Jacky’s George over their rims with an expression benign but
pained.

Jacky’s George looked up at Ortho’s entrance.

“Hallo, what is it?”

“Where’s King Nick? I want to see him.”

The tortoise-shell spectacles turned slowly in his direction.

“There is but one King, my son, omnipotent and all-merciful. One
King—on High . . . but my name is certainly Nicholas.”

Ortho staggered. This the master-smuggler, the swashbuckling,
devil-may-care hero of song and story! This rook-coated, bespectacled,
white-headed old Canorum [Methodist] local preacher, King Nick! His
senses reeled. It could never be, and yet he knew it was. It was the
same voice, the voice that had blandly informed Anson he would blow him
out of the water if he pulled another stroke. He felt for the door post
and leaned against it goggling.

“Well?”

Ortho licked his lips.

“Well? I eddn no fiery dragon to eat ’e, boy. Say thy say.”

Ortho drew a long breath, hesitated and let it out with a rush.

“I can find the horses you’re wanting. I can find thirty horses a night
any time after Twelfth Night, and land your goods in St. Just under four
hours.”

King Nick screwed round in his chair, turning the other side of his face
to the light, and Ortho saw, with a shock of revulsion, that the ear had
been sheared off and his face furrowed across and across with two
terrible scars—relics of the Cawsand affair. It was as though the old
man was revealing the other side of him, spiritual as well as physical.

“Come nearer, lad. How do ’e knaw I want horses?”

“I heard you. I was pulling stroke in boat.”

“Son o’ yourn, George? He don’t favor ’e, seem me.”

“Naw. Young Squire Penhale from Bosula up-valley.”

“You knaw en?”

“Since he were weaned.”

“Ah, ha! Ah, ha!” The smuggler’s blue eyes rested on Ortho, benevolent
yet probing. “And where can you find thirty horses, my son? ’Tis a brear
passell.”

“Gypsy Herne rests on my land over winter; he has plenty.”

“An Egyptian! An idolater! A worshiper after false gods! Put not thy
trust in such, boy—though I do hear many of the young ones is baptized
and coming to the way of Light. Hum! Ha! . . . But how do ’e knaw he’ll
do it!”

“’Cos he wants the money bad. He lost three parts of his stock in Wales
this summer. I was with en.”

“Oh, wid en, were ’e? So you knawn en well. And horse leaders?”

“There’s seven Romanies and three of us up to farm.”

“You knaw the country, s’pose?”

“Day or night like my own yard.”

King Nick turned on Jacky’s George, a faint smile curling the corners of
his mouth. “What do ’e say now, George? Can this young man find the
horses, think you?”

“Ess, s’pose.”

“Do ’e trust en?”

A nod.

“Then what more ’ave ’e got to say, my dear?”

The fisherman scratched his beard, breathed heavily through his nostrils
and said, “All right.”

King Nick rose to his feet, rubbing his hands together.

“‘Now let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad.’ That’s settled. Welcome
back to the fold, George, my old soul. ‘This is my brother that was dead
but is alive again.’ Soon’s you give me word the Romany is agreeable
I’ll slip ’e the cargoes, so shall the poor tinner be comforted at a
reasonable price and the Lord be praised with cymbals—‘yea, with
trumpets also and shawms.’ Gather in all the young men and maidens,
George, that we may ask a blessing on our labors! Fetch ’em in to once,
for I can feel the word of the Lord descending upon me!”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Dawn peering through the bottle-panes of Jacky’s George’s Kiddlywink saw
the entire Baragwanath family packed shoulder to shoulder singing
lustily, while before them, on a chair, stood a benevolent old gentleman
in black beating time with one of John Wesley’s hymnals, white hair
wreathing his head like a silver glory.

“Chant, my dear beauties!” he cried. “Oh, be cheerful! Be jubilant! Lift
up your voices unto the Lord! ‘Awake up, my glory, Awake lute and harp!’
Now all together!”

    “When passing through the watery deep
    I ask in faith His promised aid;
    The waves an awful distance keep
    And shrink from my devoted head.”



                               CHAPTER XV


Pyramus came down earlier than usual that year. The tenth of December
saw his smoke-grimed wigwams erected in the little wood, the cloaks and
scarves of the Romany women making bright blots of color among the
somber trees, bronze babies rolling among bronze leaves.

Ortho was right; the gypsy chief had been hard hit and was open to any
scheme for recouping his fortunes. After considerable haggling he
consented to a fee of six shillings per horse per run—leaders thrown
in—which was a shilling more than Ortho had intended to give him and
two shillings more than he would have taken if pressed. The cavalry had
not arrived as yet, and Ortho did not think it politic to inform Pyramus
they were expected; there were the makings in him of a good business
man.

The first run was dated for the night of January the third, but the
heavy ground swell was rolling in and the lugger lay off until the
evening of the fifth. King Nick arrived on the morning of the third,
stepped quietly into the kitchen of the “Admiral Anson” as the
Baragwanath family were sitting down to breakfast, having walked by
night from Germoe. The meal finished, he gave melodious thanks to
Heaven, sent for Ortho, asked what arrangements had been made for the
landing, condemned them root and branch and substituted an entirely
fresh lot. That done, he rode off to St. Just to survey the proposed
pack route, taking Ortho with him.

He was back again by eight o’clock at night and immediately held a
prayer-meeting in the Kiddlywink, preaching on “Lo, he thirsteth even as
a hart thirsteth after the water brooks”—a vindication of the gin
traffic—and passing on to describe the pains of hell with such graphic
detail that one Cove woman fainted and another had hysterics.

The run came off without a hitch two nights later. Ortho had his horses
loaded up and away by nine o’clock. At one-thirty a crowd of
enthusiastic diggers (all armed with clubs) were stripping his load and
secreting it in an old mine working on the outskirts of St. Just. He was
home in bed before dawn. Fifty-six casks of mixed gin, claret and brandy
they carried that night, not to mention five hundredweight of tea.

On January 17th he carried forty-three casks, a bale of silk and a
hundredweight of tea to Pendeen, dumping some odds and ends outside
Gwithian as he passed by. And so it went on.

The consumption of cheap spirits among the miners was enormous. John
Wesley, to whose credit can be placed almost the whole moral
regeneration of the Cornish tinner, describes them as “those who feared
not God nor regarded man,” accuses them of wrecking ships and murdering
the survivors and of taking their pleasure in “hurling, at which limbs
are often broken, fighting, drinking, and all other manner of
wickedness.”

In winter their pastimes were restricted to fighting and
drinking—principally drinking—in furtherance of which Ortho did a
roaring trade. Between the beginning of January and the end of March he
ran an average of five landings a month without any one so much as
wagging a finger at him. The dragoons arrived at Christmas, but instead
of a regiment two troops only appeared and they speedily declared a
policy of “live and let live.” Their commanding officer, Captain Hambro,
had not returned to his native land after years of hard campaigning to
spend his nights galloping down blind byways at the behest of a civilian
riding officer.

He had some regard for his horses’ legs and more for his own comfort. He
preferred playing whist with the local gentry, who had fair daughters
and who were the soul of hospitality. He temporized good-humoredly with
the collector, danced quadrilles with the fair daughters at the “Ship
and Castle,” and toasted their bright eyes in excellent port and claret,
the knowledge that it had not paid a penny of duty in nowise detracting
from its flavor. Occasionally—when he had no other appointment and the
weather was passable—he mounted his stalwarts and made a spectacular
drive—this as a sop to the collector. But he never came westwards; the
going was too rough, and, besides, St. Just was but small potatoes
compared with big mining districts to the east.

For every cask landed at Monks Cove, King Nick and his merry men landed
twenty either at Prussia Cove, Porthleven, Hayle or Portreath—sometimes
at all four places simultaneously. Whenever Capt. Hambro’s troopers
climbed into their saddles and took the road to Long Rock, a simple but
effective system of signals flashed ahead of them so that they found
very little.

There was one nasty affair on Marazion Beach. Owing to a
misunderstanding the cavalry came upon a swarm of tinners in process of
making a landing. The tinners (who had broached a cask and were full of
spirit in more senses than one) foolishly opened hostilities. The result
was two troopers wounded, six miners killed—bearing out King Nick’s
warning that the soldiers might easily be fooled, but they were by no
means so easily frightened. The trade absorbed this lesson and there
were no more regrettable incidents that season.

Ortho was satisfied with his winter’s work beyond all expectations. It
was a common tenet among Free Traders of those days that one cargo saved
would pay for two lost, and Ortho, so far from losing a single cargo,
had only lost five tubs in all—three stove in transshipping and two
when the mule carrying them fell into a pit. Everybody was satisfied.
The district was flooded with cheap liquor. All the Covers in turn
assisted in the boat-work and so picked up money in the off-season, when
they needed it most. Pyramus, with his animals in constant employment,
did so well that he delayed his northern trip for a month.

The only person (with the exception of His Majesty’s Collector of
Customs) who was not entirely pleased was Eli. In defrauding the Revenue
he had no scruples whatever, but it interfered with his farming. This
smuggling was all very fine and remunerative, but it was a mere side
line. Bosula was his lifework, his being. If he and Bohenna had to be up
all night horse leading they could not be awake all day. The bracken was
creeping in again. However, they were making money, heaps of it; there
was no denying that.

With the instinctive dislike of a seaman for a landsman, and vice versa,
neither Jacky’s George nor Pyramus would trust each other. The
amphibious Ortho was the necessary link between them and, as such, paid
out more or less what he thought fit—as has been the way with middlemen
since the birthday of the world. He paid Jacky’s George one and six per
cask for landing and Pyramus three shillings for packing (they went two
to a horse), making a profit of ten shillings clear himself. Eli, the
only person in the valley who could read, write or handle figures, kept
the accounts and knew that at the end of March they were three hundred
and forty pounds to the good. He asked Ortho where the money was.

“Hid up the valley,” said his brother. “Put away where the devil himself
wouldn’t find it.”

“What are you hiding it like that for?” Eli asked.

“Mother,” said Ortho. “That last rip-roar she had must have nigh baled
her bank dry and now she’s looking for more. I think she’ve got a notion
who bubbled her last year and she’s aiming to get a bit of her own back.
She knows I’ve got money and she’s spying on me all the time. I’d tell
you where it is only I’m afeard you’d let it out without meaning to. I’m
too sly for her—but you, you’re like a pane of glass.”

Wholesale smuggling finished with the advent of spring. The shortening
nights did not provide sufficient cover for big enterprises; dragoons
and preventive men had not the same objections to being out of their
beds in summer as in winter, and, moreover, the demand for liquor had
fallen to a minimum.

This was an immense relief to Eli, who now gave himself heart and soul
to the farm, haling Bohenna with him; but two disastrous seasons had
impaired Ortho’s vaunted enthusiasm for “the good old soil,” and he was
absent most of the week, working up connections for next winter’s
cargo-running—so he told Eli—but it was noticeable that his business
appointments usually coincided with any sporting events held in the
Hundred, and at hurling matches, bull-baitings, cock-fights and
pony-races he became almost as familiar a figure as his mother had been,
backing his fancy freely and with not infallible judgment. However, he
paid his debts scrupulously and with good grace, and, though he drank
but little himself, was most generous in providing, gratis, refreshment
for others. He achieved strong local popularity, a priceless asset to a
man who lives by flouting the law.

The money was not all misspent.

He developed in other ways, began to be particular about his person in
imitation of the better-class squires, visited a Penzance tailor of
fashion and was henceforth to be seen on public occasions in a
wide-skirted suit of black broadcloth frogged with silver lace, high
stockings to match and silver-buckled shoes, very handsome altogether.

He had his mother’s blue-black hair, curling, bull-like, all over his
head, sparkling eyes and strong white teeth. When he was fifteen she had
put small gold rings in his ears—to improve his sight, so she said. At
twenty he was six feet tall, slim and springy, moving among the boorish
crowds like a rapier among bludgeons. His laugh was ready and he had a
princely way with his money. Women turned their eyes his way,
sighing—and he was not insensible.

Rumors of his brother’s amorous affairs drifted home to Eli from time to
time. He had cast off the parish clerk’s daughter, Tamsin Eva, and was
after a farmer’s young widow in St. Levan. Now he had quarreled with the
widow and was to be seen in Trewellard courting a mine captain’s
daughter. Again he had put the miner’s daughter by, and St. Ives gossips
were coupling his name with that of the wife of a local preacher and
making a great hoity-toity about it—and so on. It was impossible to
keep track of Ortho’s activities in the game of hearts.

He came home one morning limping from a slight gunshot wound in the
thigh, and on another occasion brought his horse in nearly galloped to
death, but he made no mention of how either of these things came about.
Though his work on the farm was negligible, he spent a busy summer one
way and another.

Pyramus was down by the eighth of November, and on the night of the
fourteenth the ball was opened with a heavy run of goods, all of which
were safely delivered. From then on till Christmas cargo after cargo was
slipped through without mishap, but on St. Stephen’s day the weather
broke up, the wind bustled round to the southeast and blew great guns,
sending the big seas piling into Monks Cove in foaming hills. The Cove
men drew their boats well up, took down snares and antique blunderbusses
and staggered inland rabbiting.

Eli turned back to his farm-work with delight, but prosaic hard labor
had no further attraction for Ortho. He put in a couple of days sawing
up windfalls, a couple more ferreting with Bohenna, then he went up to
Church-town and saw Tamsin Eva again.

It was at a dance in the long room of the “Lamb and Flag” tavern and she
was looking her best, dressed in blue flounced out at the hips, with a
close-fitting bodice. She was what is known in West Cornwall as a “red
Dane,” masses of bright auburn hair she had and a soft white skin.
Ortho, whose last three little affairs had been pronounced brunettes,
turned to her with a refreshened eye, wondering what had made him leave
her. She was dancing a square dance with her faithful swain, Tom
Trevaskis, when Ortho entered, circling and curtseying happily to the
music of four fiddles led by Jiggy Dan.

The mine captain’s daughter glowed as rosy as a pippin, too rosy; the
preacher’s spouse was an olive lady, almost swarthy. Tamsin Eva’s
slender neck might have been carved from milk-ivory and she was tinted
like a camellia. Ortho’s dark eyes glittered. But it was her hair that
fascinated him most. The room was lit by dips lashed to decorated barrel
hoops suspended from the rafters, and as Tamsin in her billowy blue
dress swept and sidled under these the candlelight played tricks with
her burnished copper head, flicked red and amber lights over and into
it, crowned her with living gold. The black Penhale felt his heart leap;
she was most lovely! Why on earth had he ever dropped her? Why?

Deep down he knew; it was because, for all her physical attraction, she
wearied him utterly, seemed numbed in his presence, had not a word to
say. That Trewellard wench at least had a tongue in her head and the
widow had spirit; he could still almost feel his cheek tingle where she
had hit him. But that queenly crown of hair! He had an over-mastering
desire to pull it down and bury his face in the shining golden torrent.
He would too, ecod! Dull she might have been, but that was two years
ago. She’d grown since then, and so had he, and learnt a thing or two; a
score of women had been at pains to teach him. He hadn’t gone far with
Tamsin previously—she’d been too damned soft—but he would now. He’d
stir her up. Apparently shallow women were often deep as the sea, deep
enough to drown one. He’d take the risk of drowning; he fed on risks.
That the girl was formally betrothed to Trevaskis did not deter him in
the slightest. There was no point in the game in which he could not
out-maneuver the slovenly yokel.

He waited till the heated boy went to get himself a drink, and then
shouldered through the press and claimed Tamsin for the next dance,
claiming her smilingly, inevitably, as though she was his private
property and there had not been a moment’s break between them. The
girl’s eyes went blank with dismay, she tried to decline. He didn’t seem
to hear, but took her hand. She hung back weakly. There was no weakness
in Ortho’s grip; he led her out in spite of herself. She couldn’t resist
him, she never had been able to resist him. Fortunately for her he had
never demanded much. Poor Tamsin! Two years had not matured her
mentally. She had no mind to mature; she was merely a pretty chattel,
the property of the strongest claimant. Ortho was stronger than
Trevaskis, so he got her.

When the boy returned she was dancing with the tall Free Trader; the
golden head drooped, the life had gone out of her movements, but she was
dancing with him. Trevaskis tried to get to her at every pause, but
always Ortho’s back interposed. The farmer went outside and strode up
and down the yard, glaring from time to time through the window; always
Tamsin was dancing with Penhale. Trevaskis ground his teeth. Two years
ago he had been jockeyed in the same way. Was this swart gypsy’s whelp,
whose amorous philanderings were common talk, to have first call on his
bright girl whenever he deigned to want her? Trevaskis swore he should
not, but how to frustrate him he did not know. Plainly Tamsin was
bewitched, was incapable of resistance; she had admitted as much,
weeping. Thrash Ortho to a standstill he could not; he was not a brave
man and he dared not risk a maul with the smuggler. Had Penhale been a
“foreigner” he could have roused local feeling against him, but Penhale
was no stranger; he was the squire of Bosula and, moreover, most
popular, far more popular than he was himself. He had a wild idea of
trying a shot over a bank in the dark—and abandoned it, shuddering.
Supposing he missed! What would Penhale do to him? What wouldn’t he do
to him? Trevaskis hadn’t courage enough even for that. He strode up and
down, oblivious of the rain gusts, trying to discover a chink in the
interloper’s armor.

As for Ortho, he went on dancing with Tamsin, and when it was over took
her home; he buried his face in that golden torrent. He was up at
Church-town the very next night and the next night and every night till
the gale blew out.

Trevaskis, abandoning a hopeless struggle, followed in the footsteps of
many unlucky lovers and drowned his woes in drink. It was at the
Kiddlywink in Monks Cove that he did his drowning and not at the “Lamb
and Flag,” but as his farm lay about halfway between the two there was
nothing remarkable in that.

What did cause amusement among the Covers, however, was the
extraordinary small amount of liquor it required to lay him under the
bench and the volume of his snores when he was there.



                              CHAPTER XVI


                                   1

The southeasterly gale blown out, Ortho’s business went forward with a
rush. In the second week in January they landed a cargo a night to make
up for lost time, and met with a minor accident—Jacky’s George breaking
a leg in saving a gig from being stove. This handicapped them somewhat.
Anson was a capable boatsman, but haphazard in organization, and Ortho
found he had to oversee the landings as well as lead the pack-train.
Despite his efforts there were hitches and bungles here and there; the
cogs of the machinery did not mate as smoothly as they had under the
cock-sparrow. Nevertheless they got the cargoes through somehow and
there was not much to fear in the way of outside interruptions; the
dragoons seemed to have settled to almost domestic felicity in Penzance
and the revenue cutter had holed her garboard strake taking a short cut
round the Manacles and was docked at Falmouth. Ortho got so confident
that he actually brought his horses home in plain daylight.

Then on the fourteenth of February, when all seemed so secure, the roof
fell in.

Mr. William Carmichael was the person who pulled the props away. Mr.
William Carmichael, despite his name, was an Irishman, seventeen years
of age, and, as a newly-joined cornet of dragoons, drawing eight
shillings a day, occupied a position slightly less elevated than an
earth-worm. However, he was very far from this opinion. Mr. Carmichael,
being young and innocent, yearned to let blood, and he wasn’t in the
least particular whose. Captain Hambro and his two somewhat elderly
lieutenants, on the other hand, were experienced warriors, and
consequently the most pacific of creatures. Nothing but a direct order
from a superior would induce them to draw the sword except to poke the
fire. Mr. Carmichael’s martial spirit was in a constant state of
effervescence; he hungered and thirsted for gore—but without avail.
Hambro positively refused to let him run out and chop anybody. The
captain was a kindly man; his cornet’s agitation distressed him and he
persuaded one of the dimpled Miss Jagos to initiate his subordinate in
the gentler game of love (the boy would come into some sort of Kerry
baronetcy when his sire finally bowed down to delirium tremens, and it
was worth her while). But Mr. Carmichael was built of sterner stuff. He
was proof against her woman’s wiles. Line of attack! At ’em! The
lieutenants, Messrs. Pilkington and Jope, were also gentle souls,
Pilkington was a devotee of chess, Jope of sea-fishing. Both sought to
engage the fire-eater in their particular pastimes. It was useless; he
disdained such trivialities. Death! Glory!

But Hambro, whose battle record was unimpeachable, knew that in civil
police work, such as he was supposed to be doing, there is precious
little transient glory to be picked up and much adhesive mud. He knew
that with the whole population against him he stood small chance of
laying the smugglers by the heels, and if he did the county families
(who were as deeply implicated as any) would never rest until they had
got him broken. He sat tight.

This did not suit the martial Carmichael at all. He fumed and fretted,
did sword exercise in the privacy of his bedroom till his arm ached, and
then gushed his heart out in letters to his mother, which had the sole
effect of eliciting bottles of soothing syrup by return, the poor lady
thinking his blood must be out of order.

But his time was to come.

On the eighth of February Pilkington was called away to Axminster to the
bedside of his mother (at least that is what he called her) and
Carmichael was given his troop to annoy. On the morning of the
fourteenth Hambro left on three days’ leave to shoot partridges at
Tehidy, Jope and Carmichael only remaining. Jope blundered in at five
o’clock on the same afternoon sneezing fit to split himself. He had been
off Low Lee after pollack and all he had succeeded in catching was a
cold. He growled about the weather, which his boatman said was working
up for a blow, drank a pint of hot rum bumbo and sneezed himself up to
bed, giving strict orders that he was not to be roused on any account.

Carmichael was left all alone.

To him, at seven of the clock, came Mr. Richard Curral, riding officer,
a conscientious but blighted man.

He asked for Hambro, Pilkington and Jope in turn, and groaned resignedly
when he heard they were unavailable.

“Anything I can do for you?” Carmichael inquired.

Curral considered, tapping his rabbit teeth with his whip handle. Mr.
Carmichael was terribly young, the merest babe.

“N-o. I don’t think so; thank you, sir. No, never mind. Pity they’re
away, though . . . seems a chance,” he murmured, talking to himself.
“Lot of stuff been run that way of late . . . ought to be stopped by
rights . . . pity!” he sighed.

“What’s a pity? What are you talking about?” said Mr. Carmichael, his
ears pricking. “Take that whip out of your mouth!”

Mr. Curral withdrew the whip; he was used to being hectored by military
officers.

“Er—oh! . . . er, the Monks Cove men are going to make a run to-night.”

Mr. Carmichael sat upright. “Are they, b’God! How d’you know?”

“An informer has just come in. Gives no name, of course, but says he’s
from Gwithian parish; looks like a farmer. Wants no reward.”

“Then what’s his motive?”

Mr. Curral shrugged his shoulders. “Some petty jealousy, I presume; it
usually is among these people. I’ve known a man give his brother away
because he got bested over some crab-pots. This fellow says he overheard
them making their plans in the inn there—lay under the table pretending
to be drunk. Says that tall Penhale is the ringleader; I’ve suspected as
much for some time. Of course it may only be a false scent after all,
but the informer seems genuine. What are you doing, sir?”

Mr. Carmichael had danced across the room, opened the door and was
howling for his servant. His chance had come. Gore!

“Doing! . . . Why, going to turn a troop out and skewer the lot of ’em
of course. What d’you think?” shouted that gentleman, returning. “I’d
turn out the squadron, only half the nags are streaming with strangles.
Toss me that map there. Now where is this Monks Cove?”

Mr. Curral’s eyes opened wide. He was not used to this keenness on the
part of the military. One horse coughing slightly would have been
sufficient excuse for Hambro to refuse to move—leave alone half a
squadron sick with strangles. It promised to be a dirty night too. He
had expected to meet with a diplomatic but nevertheless definite
refusal. It was merely his three-cornered conscience that had driven him
round to the billet at all—yet here was an officer so impatient to be
off that he was attempting the impossible feat of pulling on his boots
and buckling on his sword at the same time. Curral’s eyes opened wider
and wider.

“Ahem!—er—do you mean . . . er . . . are you in earnest, sir?”

“Earnest!” The cornet snorted, his face radiant. “Damn my blood but I am
in very proper earnest, Mr. What’syourname—as these dastardly
scoundrels shall discover ere we’re many hours older. Earnest, b’gob!”

“But Mr. Jope, sir . . . hadn’t you better consult Mr. Jope? . . . He
. . .”

“Mr. Jope be dam . . . Mr. Jope has given orders that he’s not to be
disturbed on any account, on _any_ account, sir. _I_ am in command here
at the moment, and if you will have the civility to show me where this
plaguy Monks Cove hides itself instead of standing there sucking your
whip you will greatly assist me in forming my plan of action.”

Curral bent over the map and pointed with his finger.

“Here you are, sir, the merest gully.”

“Then I shall charge down the gully,” said Carmichael with that quick
grasp of a situation displayed by all great commanders. The riding
officer coughed: “Then you’ll have to charge at a walk, sir, and in
single file; there’s only a rough pack-track. Further, the track is
picketed at the head; as soon as you pass a gun will be fired and when
you reach the cove there won’t be a cat stirring.”

Carmichael, like all great commanders, had his alternative. “Then I
shall charge ’em from the flank. Can I get up speed down this slope?”

Curral nodded. “Yes, sir. You can ride from top to bottom in a moment of
time.”

“How d’you mean?”

“It is practically a precipice, sir.”

“Humph!—and this flank?”

“The same, sir.”

Carmichael scratched his ear and for the first time took thought.
“Lookee,” he said presently. “If I stop the pack track here and there
are precipices on either side how can they get their horses out? I’ve
got ’em bottled.”

Curral shook his head. “I said _practically_ precipices, sir. Precipices
to go _down_, but not to come _up_. As you yourself have probably
observed, sir, a horse can scramble up anything, but he is a fool going
down. A horse falling uphill doesn’t fall far, but a horse falling down
a slope like that rolls to the bottom. A horse . . .”

“Man,” snapped the cornet, “don’t talk to me about horses. My father
keeps twenty. I know.”

Curral coughed. “I beg your pardon, sir. The informer tells me there are
a dozen places on either side by which these fellows can get their
beasts to the level. Remember it is their own valley; they’re at home
there, while we are strangers and in the dark.”

“I wish you could get out of this habit of propounding the obvious,”
said Carmichael. He dabbed his finger down on the map. “Look—supposing
we wait for them out here across their line of march?”

“They’d scatter all over the moor, sir. We’d be lucky if we caught a
couple on a thick night like this.”

Carmichael plumped down on a chair and savagely rubbed his curls.

“Well, Mr. Riding Officer, I presume that in the face of these
insurmountable difficulties you propose to sit down and do nothing—as
usual. Let these damned ruffians run their gin, flout the law, do
exactly as they like. Now let me tell you I’m of a different kidney, I
. . .”

“You will pardon me, sir,” said Curral quietly, “but I haven’t as yet
been given the opportunity of proposing anything.”

“What’s your plan then?”

“How many men can you mount, sir?”

“Forty with luck. I’ll have to beat the taverns for ’em.”

“Very good, sir. Send a small detachment to stop the head of the track;
not to be there before ten o’clock. The rest, under yourself, with me
for guide, will ride to the top of the cliff which overhangs the village
from the east and there leave the horses. The informer tells me there is
a sheep-track leading down from there and they picket the top of it—an
old man with a gun to fire if he hears anything. That picket will have
to be silenced.”

“Who’s going to do that?” the cornet inquired.

“I’ve got a man of my own I think can do it. He was a great poacher
before he got religion.”

“And then?”

“Then we’ll creep, single file, down the sheep-track, muster behind the
pilchard sheds and rush the landing—the goods should be ashore by then.
I trust that meets with your approval, sir?”

The cornet nodded, sobered. “It does—you seem to be something of a
tactician, Mr. . . . er . . . Curral.”

“I served foreign with Lord Mark Kerr’s Regiment of Horse Guards, sir,”
said the riding officer, picking up his whip.

Carmichael’s jaw dropped. “Horse Guards! . . . Abroad! . . . One of
_us_! Dash my guts, man, why didn’t you say so before?”

“You didn’t ask me, sir,” said Curral and sucked his whip.

                                   2

Uncle Billy Clemo sat behind a rock at the top of the sheep-path and
wished to Heaven the signal would go up. A lantern run three times to
the truck of the flag-pole was the signal that the horses were away and
the pickets could come in. Then he would be rewarded with two shillings
and a drop of hot toddy at the Kiddlywink—and so to bed.

He concentrated his thoughts on the hot toddy, imagined it tickling
bewitchingly against his palate, wafting delicious fumes up his
nostrils, gripping him by the throat, trickling, drop by drop, through
his chilled system, warm and comforting, trickling down to his very
toes. He would be happy then. He had been on duty since seven-thirty; it
was now after ten and perishing cold. The wind had gone round suddenly
to the northeast and was gaining violence every minute. Before dawn it
would be blowing a full gale. Uncle Billy was profoundly thankful he was
not a horse leader. While Penhale and Company were buffeting their way
over the moors he would be in bed, praise God, full of toddy. In the
meanwhile it was bitter cold. He shifted his position somewhat so as to
get more under the lee of the rock and peered downwards to see how they
were getting on. He could not see much. The valley was a pit of
darkness. A few points of light marked the position of the hamlet,
window lights only. The fisher-folk knew their own place as rats know
their holes and made no unnecessary show of lanterns. A stranger would
have imagined the hamlet slept; in reality it was humming like a hive.

A dim half-moon of foam marked the in-curve of the Cove; seaward was
blank darkness again. Uncle Billy, knowing what to look for and where to
look, made out a slightly darker blur against the outer murk—the lugger
riding to moorings, main and mizzen set. She was plunging a goodish bit,
even down there under shelter of the cliffs. Uncle Billy reckoned the
boat’s crews must be earning their money pulling in against wind and
ebb, and once more gave thanks he was not as other men.

The wind came whimpering over the high land, bending the gorse plumes
before it, rattling the dead brambles, rustling the grass. Something
stirred among the brambles, something living. He picked up his old Brown
Bess. A whiff of scent crossed his nostrils, pungent, clinging. He put
the Bess down again. Fox. He was bitter cold, especially as to the feet.
He was a widower and his daughter-in-law kept him short in the matter of
socks. He stood up—which was against orders—and stamped the turf till
he got some warmth back in his toes, sat down again and thought about
the hot toddy. The lugger was still there, lunging at her moorings. They
were a plaguy time landing a few kegs! Jacky’s George would have
finished long before—these boys! Whew! it was cold up there!

The gale’s voice was rising to a steady scream; it broke against Uncle
Billy’s rock as though it had been a wave. Shreds of dead bracken and
grass whirled overhead. The outer darkness, which was the sea, showed
momentary winks of gray—breakers. When the wind lulled for a second, a
deep melancholy bay, like that of some huge beast growling for meat,
came rolling in from the southwest—the surf on the Twelve Apostles.

There were stirrings and snappings in the brambles. That plaguy fox
again, thought Uncle Billy—or else rabbits. His fingers were numb now.
He put the Bess down beside him, blew on his hands, thrust them well
down in his pockets and snuggled back against the rock. The lugger would
slip moorings soon whether she had unloaded or not, and then toddy,
scalding his throat, trickling down to his . . .

Something heavy dropped on him from the top of the rock, knocking him
sideways, away from the gun, pinning him to the ground; hands, big and
strong as brass, took him round the throat, drove cruel thumbs into his
jugular, strangling him.

“Got him, Joe,” said a voice. “Bring rope and gag quick!” He got no hot
toddy that night.

                                   3

“That the lot?” the lugger captain bellowed.

“Aye,” answered his mate.

“Cast off that shore boat then and let go forward soon’s she’m clear.”

“Aye, aye. Pull clear, you; look lively!”

The _Gamecock’s_ crew jerked their oars into the pins and dragged the
gig out of harm’s way.

The moorings buoy splashed overboard, the lugger, her mainsail backed,
came round before the wind and was gone.

“Give way,” said Anson; “the wind’s getting up a fright.” He turned to
Ortho. “You’ll have a trip to-night . . . rather you nor me.”

Ortho spat clear of the gunwale. “Have to go, I reckon; the stuff’s
wanted, blast it! Has that boat ahead unloaded yet?”

“She haven’t signaled,” the bowman answered.

“No matter, pull in,” said Anson. “We haven’t no more than the leavings
here; we can land this li’l’ lot ourselves. Give way, all.”

Four blades bit the water with a will, but the rowers had to bend their
backs to wrench the gig in against the wind and tide. It was a quarter
of an hour before they grounded her nose on the base of the slip.

“Drag her up a bit, boys,” said Anson. “Hell!—what’s that?”

From among the dark huddle of houses came a woman’s scream,
two—three—and then pandemonium, shouts, oaths, crashes, horses
stamping, the noise of people rushing and struggling, and, above all, a
boy’s voice hysterically shouting, “Fire! Curse you! Fire!”

“Christ!” said Ortho. “The Riders! Hey, push her off! For God’s sake,
push!”

The two bowmen, standing in the water, put their backs to the boat and
hove; Ortho and Anson in the stern used their oars pole-wise.

“All together, he-ave!”

Slowly the gig began to make stern-way.

“Heave!”

The gig made another foot. Feet clattered on the slip-head and a voice
cried, “Here’s a boat escaping! Halt or I fire!”

“Hea-ve!” Ortho yelled. The gig made another foot and was afloat. There
was a spurt of fire from the slip and a bullet went droning overhead.
The bowman turned and dodged for safety among the rocks.

“Back water, back!” Anson exhorted.

There were more shouts from the shore, the boy’s voice crowing shrill as
a cockerel, a quick succession of flashes and more bullets went wailing
by. The pair in the boat dragged at their oars, teeth locked, terrified.

Wind and tide swept them up, darkness engulfed them. In a couple of
minutes the shots ceased and they knew they were invisible. They lay on
their oars, panting.

“What now?” said Ortho. “Go after the lugger? We can’t go back.”

“Lugger’s miles away, going like a stag,” said Anson. “Best chance it
across the bay to Porthleven.”

“Porthleven?”

“Where else? Wind’s dead nor’east. Lucky if we make that. Throw this
stuff out; she’s riding deep as a log.”

They lightened the gig of its entire load and stepped the mast. Anson
was at the halliards hoisting the close-reefed mainsail. Ortho kept at
the tiller until there was a spit of riven air across his cheek and down
came the sail on the run.

He called out, “What’s the matter?”

There was no answer for a minute, and then Anson said calmly from under
the sail, “Shot, I b’lieve.”

“What is—halliards?”

“Me, b’lieve.”

“You! Shot! What d’you mean? Where?”

“In chest. Stray shot, I reckon; they can’t hit nawthing when they aim.
Thee’ll have to take her thyself now. . . . O-ooh. . . .” He made a
sudden, surprised exclamation as if the pain had only just dawned on him
and began to cough.

“Hoist sail . . . thou . . . fool. . . A-ah!”

Ortho sprang forward and hoisted the sail; the gig leapt seawards. The
coughing began again mingled with groans. They stabbed Ortho to the
heart. Instead of running away they should be putting back; it was a
doctor they wanted. He would put back at once and get Anson attended to.
That he himself would be arrested as the ringleader, tried and either
hung or transported did not occur to him. Half his happy boyhood had
been spent with Anson; the one thing was to ease his agony.

“Going to put back,” he yelled to the prostrate man under the bow
thwart. “Put back!”

“You can’t,” came the reply . . . and more coughing.

Of course he couldn’t. If he had thought for a moment he would have
known it. Wind and tide would not let him put back. There was nothing
for it but the twelve-mile thrash across the open bay to Porthleven; he
prayed there might be a doctor there.

He luffed, sheeted home, rounded the great mass of Black Carn, braced as
sharp as he dared and met a thunder clap of wind and sea. It might have
been waiting for him round the corner, so surely did it pounce. It
launched itself at him roaring, a ridge of crumbling white high
overhead, a hill of water toppling over.

The loom and bellow of it stunned his senses, but habit is a strong
master. His mind went blank, but his hand acted, automatically jamming
the helm hard over. The gig had good way on; she spun as a horse spins
on its hocks and met the monster just in time. Stood on her stern; rose,
seesawed on the crest, three quarters of her keel bare, white tatters
flying over her; walloped down into the trough as though on a direct
dive to the bottom, recovered and rose to meet the next. The wild soar
of the bows sent Anson slithering aft. Ortho heard him coughing under
the stroke thwart.

“She’ll never do it,” he managed to articulate. “Veer an’ let . . . let
. . . her drive.”

“Where for?” Ortho shouted. “Where for? D’you hear me?”

“Scilly,” came the answer, broken by dreadful liquid chokings.

The waves broke with less violence for a minute or two and Ortho managed
to get the _Gamecock_ away before the wind, though she took a couple of
heavy dollops going about.

Scilly! A handful of rocks thirty miles away in the open Atlantic, pitch
dark, no stars, no compass, the Runnelstone to pass, then the Wolf! At
the pace they were going they would be on the Islands long before dawn
and then it would be a case of exactly hitting either Crow Sound or St.
Mary’s Sound or being smashed to splinters. Still it was the only
chance. He would hug the coast as near as he dared till past the
Runnelstone—if he ever passed the Runnelstone—and then steer by the
wind; it was all there was to steer by.

It was dead northeast at present, but if it shifted where would he be
then? It did not bear thinking on and he put it from his mind. He must
get past the Runnelstone first; after that . . .

He screwed up every nerve as tight as it would go, forced his senses to
their acutest, set his teeth—swore to drive the boat to Scilly—but he
had no hope of getting there, no hope at all.

The _Gamecock_, under her rag of canvas, ran like a hunted thing. It was
as though all the crazy elements were pouring southwest, out to the open
sea, and she went with them, a chip swept headlong in a torrent of
clamorous wind and waters. On his right Ortho could just discern the
loom of the coast. Breaker-tops broke, hissing, astern, abeam, ahead.
Spindrift blew in flat clouds, stinging like hail. Flurries of snow fell
from time to time.

He was wet through, had lost all feeling in his feet, while his hands on
the sheet and tiller were so numbed he doubted if he could loosen them.

On and on they drove into the blind turmoil. Anson lay in the water at
the bottom, groaning and choking at every pitch.



                              CHAPTER XVII


The Monks Cove raid was not an unmixed success. The bag was very slight
and the ringleader got clear away. Mr. Carmichael’s impetuosity was
responsible for this. The riding officer was annoyed with him; he wished
he would go home to Ireland and get drowned in a bog. Had any other
officer been in charge of the soldiers they would have made a fine coup;
at the same time, he reflected that had any one else commanded, the
soldiers would not have been there at all. There were two sides to it.
He consoled himself with the thought that, although the material results
were small, the morale of the Monks Cove Free Traders had suffered a
severe jolt; at any rate, he hoped so. At the outset things had promised
well. It was true that the cornet had only mustered thirty-one sabers
instead of forty (and two of these managed to drop out between Penzance
and Paul), but they had reached the cliff-top not more than fifty
minutes behind schedule, to find the picket trussed up like a boiled
chicken and all clear.

Carmichael led the way down the sheep-path; he insisted on it. “An
officer’s place is at the head of his men,” he chanted. The sentiment is
laudable, but he led altogether too fast. Seventeen and carrying nothing
but his sword, he gamboled down the craggy path with the agility of a
chamois. His troopers, mainly elderly heroes, full of beer (they had
been dragged blaspheming out of taverns just as they were settling down
to a comfortable evening) and burdened with accoutrements, followed with
all the caution due to their years and condition. The result was that
Carmichael arrived at the base alone.

He crouched behind the corner of the pilchard shed and listened. The
place was alive. It was inky dark; he could see nothing, but he could
hear well enough.

“He-ave, a’. Up she goes! Stan’ still, my beauty! Fast on that side,
Jan? Lead on, you!”

“Bessie Kate, Bessie Kate, bring a hank o’ rope; this pack’s slippin’.”

“Whoa, mare, blast ’e! Come along wid that there lot, Zacky; want to be
here all night, do ’e?”

“Next horse. Pass the word for more horses . . . ahoy there . . .
horses.”

Grunts of men struggling with heavy objects, subdued exhortations,
complaints, oaths, laughter, women’s chatter, hoof beats, the shrill
ki-yi of a trampled dog. The darkness ahead was boiling with invisible
people, smugglers all and engaged on their unlawful occupations.

Carmichael’s hackles stood on end. He gripped his sword.

“Is that all?” a voice called, louder, more authoritative than the rest.
“Get them horses away then.”

The voice was referring to the boat-load, but the cornet thought the
whole run was through. In a minute the last horse would be off and he
would lose the capture. Without looking to see how many of his men had
collected behind him he shouted “Huzza!” and plunged into the thick of
it. Death! Glory!

He plunged head-first into Uncle Billy Clemo’s daughter-in-law, butting
her over backwards. She clutched out to save herself, clutched him round
the neck and took him with her. She lay on the ground, still grasping
the cornet to her, and screamed her loudest. Mr. Carmichael struggled
frantically; here was a pretty situation for a great military genius at
the onset of his first battle! The woman had the hug of a she-bear, but
his fury gave him the strength of ten. He broke her grip and plunged on,
yelling to his men to fire. The only two who were present obeyed, but as
he had neglected to tell them what to fire at they very prudently fired
into the air.

The cornet plunged on, plunged into somebody, shouted to the somebody to
stop or be hewn limb from limb. The somebody fled pursued by Carmichael,
turned at bay opposite a lighted window and he saw it was a woman.
Another woman! Death and damnation! Were there nothing but damnation
women in this damnation maze?

He spun about and galloped back, crashed into something solid—a man at
last!—launched out at him. His sword met steel, a sturdy wrist-snapping
counter, and flipped out of his hand.

“S’render!” boomed the voice of his own servant. “Stand or I’ll carve
your heart out, you . . . Oh, begging your pardon, sir, I’m sure.”

Carmichael cursed him, picked up his sword again and rushed on. By the
sound of their feet and breathing he knew there were people, scores of
them, scurrying hither and thither about him in the blank darkness, but
though he challenged and clutched and smote with the flat of his sword
he met with nothing—nothing but thin air. It was like playing
blindman’s buff with ghosts. He heard two or three ragged volleys in the
direction of the sea and galloped towards it, galloped into a cul-de-sac
between two cottages, nearly splitting his head against a wall. He was
three minutes fumbling his way out of that, blubbering with rage, but
this time he came out on the sea-front.

Gun-flashes on the slip-head showed him where his men were (firing at a
boat or something), and he ran towards them cheering, tripped across a
spar and fell headlong over the cliff. It was only a miniature cliff, a
bank of earth merely, not fifteen feet high, with mixed sand and
bowlders beneath.

The cornet landed wallop on the sand and lay there for some minutes
thinking he was dead and wondering what style of monument (if any) his
parents would erect to his memory:—

    “_Hic jacet William Shine Carmichael, cornet of His Majesty’s
    Dragoons, killed while gallantly leading an attack on smugglers.
    Militavi non sine gloria. Aged 17._”

Aged only seventeen; how sad! He shed a tear to think how young he was
when he died and then slowly came to the conclusion that perhaps he
wasn’t quite dead—only stunned—only half-stunned—hardly stunned at
all.

A stray shot went wailing eerily out to sea. His men were in action; he
must go to them. He tried to get up, but found his left leg was jammed
between two bowlders, and, tug as he might, he could not dislodge it. He
shouted for help. Nobody took any notice. Again and again he shouted. No
response. He laid his curly head down on the wet sand and with his tears
wetted it still further. When at length (a couple of hours later) he was
liberated it was by two of the smuggler ladies. They were most
sympathetic, bandaged his sprained ankle, gave him a hot drink to revive
his circulation and vowed it was a shame to send pretty boys of his age
out so late.

Poor Mr. Carmichael!

Eli and Bohenna were the first to load, and consequently led the
pack-train which was strung out for a quarter of a mile up the valley
waiting for Ortho. When they heard the shots go off in the Cove they
remembered King Nick’s standing orders and scattered helter-skelter up
the western slope. There were only three side-tracks and thirty-two
horses to be got up. This caused jamming and delay.

The sergeant at the track-head heard the volleys as well, and, not
having the least regard for Mr. Carmichael’s commandments, pushed on to
see the fun. Fortunately for the leaders the chaotic state of the track
prevented him from pushing fast. As it was he very nearly blundered into
the tail end of the train. A mule had jibbed and stuck in the bushes,
refusing to move either way. Eli and two young Hernes tugged, pushed and
whacked at it. Suddenly, close beside, they heard the wild slither of
iron on stone, a splash and the voice of a man calling on Heaven to
condemn various portions of his anatomy. It was the sergeant; his horse
had slipped up, depositing him in a puddle. He remounted and floundered
on with his squad, little knowing that in the bushes that actually
brushed his knee was standing a loaded mule with three tense boys
clinging to its ears, nose and tail to keep it quiet. It was a close
call.

Eli took charge of the pack train. He was terribly anxious about Ortho,
but hanging about and letting the train be taken would only make bad
worse, and Ortho had an uncanny knack of slipping out of trouble. He
felt sure that if anybody was arrested it would not be his brother.

King Nick had thought of everything. In case of a raid by mounted men
who could pursue it would be folly to go on to St. Just. They were to
hide their goods at some preordained spot, hasten home and lie doggo.

The preordained spot was the “Fou-gou,” an ancient British dwelling
hidden in a tangle of bracken a mile to the northwest, a subterranean
passage roofed with massive slabs of granite, lined with moss and
dripping with damp, the haunt of badgers, foxes and bats. By midnight
Eli had his cargo stowed away in that dark receptacle thoughtfully
provided by the rude architects of the Stone Age, and by one o’clock he
was at home in bed prepared to prove he had never left it. But he did
not sleep, tired as he was. Two horses had not materialized, and where
was Ortho? If he had escaped he should have been home by now . . . long
ago. The gale made a terrific noise, moaning and buffeting round the
house; it must be awful at sea.

Where _was_ Ortho?

Eli might just as well have taken his goods through to St. Just for all
the Dragoons cared. Had the French landed that night they would have
made no protest. They would have drunk their very good healths.

When the sergeant and his detachment, the snow at their backs, finally
stumbled into Monks Cove it was very far from a scene of battle and
carnage that met their gaze. “Homely” would better describe it. The
cottages were lit up and in them lounged the troopers, attended by the
genial fisher-folk in artistic _déshabillé_, in the clothes in which
they, at that moment, had arisen from bed (so they declared). The
warriors toasted their spurs at the hearths and drank to everybody’s
everlasting prosperity.

The sergeant made inquiries. What luck?

None to speak of. Four fifths of the train was up the valley when they
broke in, and got away easily. That little whelp Carmichael had queered
the show, charging and yapping. Where was he now? Oh, lying bleating
under the cliff somewhere. Pshaw! Let him lie a bit and learn wisdom,
plaguy little louse! Have a drink, God bless us.

They caught nothing then?

Why, yes, certainly they had. Four prisoners and two horses. Two of the
prisoners had since escaped, but no matter, the horses hadn’t, and they
carried the right old stuff—gin and brandy. That was what they were
drinking now. Mixed, it was a lotion fit to purge the gullet of the
Great Mogul. Have a drink, Lord love you!

The sergeant was agreeable.

It was not before dawn that these stalwarts would consent to be
mustered. They clattered back to Penzance in high fettle, joking and
singing. Some of the younger heads (recruits only) were beginning to
ache, but the general verdict was that it had been a very pleasant
outing.

Mr. Carmichael rode at their head. His fettle was not high. His ankle
was most painful and so were his thoughts. Fancy being rescued by a pair
of damnation girls! Moreover, two or three horses were going lame; what
would Jope say to him when he returned—and Hambro? Brrh! Soldiering
wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Mr. Curral rode at the tail of the column. He too was a dejected man.
That silly little fool of a Carmichael had bungled the haul of the year,
but he didn’t expect the Collector would believe it; he was sure to get
the blame. He and his poacher had captured two horses to have them taken
from them by the troopers, the tubs broached and the horses let go.
Dragoons!—they had known what discipline was in the Horse Guards! It
was too late to go to Bosula or the gypsy camp now; all tracks would
have been covered up, no evidence. The prisoners had by this time
dwindled to a solitary youth whom Curral suspected of being a half-wit
and who would most assuredly be acquitted by a Cornish jury. He sighed
and sucked the head of his whip. It was a hard life.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Phineas Eva, parish clerk of St. Gwithian, came to call on Teresa one
afternoon shortly after the catastrophe. He was dressed in his best,
which was not very good, but signified that it was a visit of
importance.

He twittered some platitudes about the weather, local and foreign
affairs—the American colonists were on the point of armed rebellion, he
was creditably informed—tut, tut! But meeting with no encouragement
from his hostess he dwindled into silence and sat perched on the edge of
the settle, blinking his pale eyes and twitching his hat in his
rheumatic claws. Teresa seemed unaware of his presence. She crouched
motionless in her chair, chin propped on knuckles, a somber, brooding
figure.

Phineas noted that her cheeks and eyelids were swollen, her raven hair
hanging in untidy coils, and feared she had been roistering again. If so
she would be in an evil mood. She was a big, strong woman, he a small,
weak man. He trembled for his skin. Still he must out with it somehow,
come what might. There was his wife to face at the other end, and he was
no less terrified of his wife. He must out with it. Of the two it is
better to propitiate the devil you live with than the devil you don’t.
He hummed and hawed, squirmed on his perch, and then with a gulp and a
splutter came out with it.

His daughter Tamsin was in trouble, and Ortho was the cause. He had to
repeat himself twice before Teresa would take any notice, and then all
she did was to nod her head.

Phineas took courage; she had neither sworn nor pounced at him. He spoke
his piece. Of course Ortho would do the right thing by Tamsin; she was a
good girl, a very good girl, docile and domestic, would make him an
excellent wife. Ortho was under a cloud at present, but that would blow
over—King Nick had powerful influence and stood by his own. Parson
Coverdale of St. Just was always friendly to the Free Traders; he would
marry them without question. He understood Ortho was in hiding among the
St. Just tinners; it would be most convenient. He . . . Teresa shook her
head slowly.

Not at St. Just? Then he had been blown over to Scilly after all. Oh,
well, as soon as he could get back Parson Coverdale would . . . Again
Teresa shook her head.

Not at Scilly! Then where was he? Up country?

Teresa rose out of her chair and looked Phineas full in the face, stood
over him, hair hanging loose, puffy, obese yet withal majestic, tragic
beyond words. Something in her swollen eyes made him quail, but not for
his own skin, not for himself.

“A Fowey Newfoundlander put into Newlyn Pools morning,” she said, and
her voice had a husky burr. “Ten leagues sou’west of the Bishop they
found the _Gamecock_ of Monks Cove—bottom up.”

Phineas gripped the edge of the settle and sagged forward. “Then . . .!”

“Yes,” said Teresa. “Drowned. Go home and tell _that_ to your daughter.
An’ tell her she’ve got next to her heart the only li’l’ livin’ spark of
my lovely boy that’s left in this world. She’m luckier nor I.”



                             CHAPTER XVIII


But Ortho was not drowned. Dawn found the _Gamecock_ still afloat, still
scudding like a mad thing in the run of the seas. There was no definite
dawn, no visible up-rising of the sun; black night slowly changed into
leaden day, that was all.

Ortho looked around him. There was nothing to be seen but a toss of
waters, breakers rushing foam-lipped before, beside him, roaring in his
wake. The boat might have been a hind racing among a pack of wild hounds
intent on overwhelming her and dragging her under. There was nothing in
sight. He had missed the Scillies altogether, as he had long suspected.

After passing the Runnelstone he had kept his eyes skinned for the
coal-fire beacon on St. Agnes (the sole light on the Islands), but not a
flicker of it had he seen. He must have passed the wrong side of the
Wolf and have missed the mark by miles and miles. As far as he could get
his direction by dawn, the wind had gone back and he was running due
south now. South—whither? He did not know and cared little.

Anson was dead, sitting up, wedged in the angle of the bows. He had died
about an hour before dawn, Ortho thought, after a dreadful paroxysm of
choking. Ortho had cried out to him, but got no answer beyond a
long-drawn sigh, a sigh of relief, the sigh of a man whose troubles are
over. Anson was dead, leaving a widow and three young children. His old
friend was dead, had died in agony, shot through the lungs, and left to
choke his life out in an open boat in mid-winter. Hatred surged through
Ortho, hatred for the Preventive. If he ever got ashore again he’d
search out the man that fired that shot and serve him likewise, and
while he was choking he’d sit beside him and tell him about Anson in the
open boat. As a matter of fact, the man who fired the shot was a recruit
who let off his piece through sheer nerves and congratulated himself on
having hit nobody—but Ortho did not know that.

All they had been trying to do was to make a little money—and then to
come shooting and murdering people . . . ! Smuggling was against the
law, granted—but there should have been some sort of warning. For two
winters they had been running cargoes and not a soul seemed to care a
fig; then, all of a sudden, crash! The crash had come so suddenly that
Ortho wondered for a fuddled moment if it had come, if this were not
some ghastly nightmare and presently he would wake up and find himself
in bed at Bosula and all well. A cold dollop of spray hit him in the
middle of the back, drenching him, and there was Anson sitting up in the
bows, the whole front of his smock deluged in blood; blood mingled with
sea water washed about on the bottom of the boat. It was no dream. He
didn’t care where he was going or what happened. He was soaked to the
skin, famished, numb, body and soul, and utterly without hope—but
mechanically he kept the boat scudding.

The clouds were down very low and heavy bellied. One or two snow squalls
swept over. Towards noon a few pale shafts of sunshine penetrated the
cloud-wrack, casting patches of silver on the dreary waters. They
brought no warmth, but the very sight of them put a little heart into
the castaway. He fumbled in the locker under his seat and found a few
scraps of stinking fish, intended for bait. These he ate, bones and all,
and afterwards baled the boat out, hauled his sheet a trifle and put his
helm to starboard with a hazy idea of hitting off the French coast
somewhere about Brest, but the gig promptly shipped a sea, so he had to
let her away and bale again.

Anson was getting on his nerves. The dead man’s jaw lolled in an idiotic
grin and his eyes were turned up so that they were fixed directly on
Ortho. Every time he looked up there were the eyes on him. It was more
than he could stand. He left the tiller with the intention of turning
Anson over on his face, but the gig showed a tendency to jibe and he had
to spring back again. When he looked up the grin seemed more pronounced
than ever.

“Grizzling because you’re out of it and I ain’t, eh?” he shouted, and
was immediately ashamed of himself. He tried not to look at Anson, but
there was a horrid magnetism about those eyes.

“I shall go light-headed soon,” he said to himself, and rummaged afresh
in the locker, found a couple of decayed sand-eels and ate them.

The afternoon wore on. It would be sunset soon and then night again. He
wondered where next morning would see him, if it would see him at all.
He thought not.

“Can’t go on forever,” he muttered; “must sleep soon—then I’ll be
drowned or froze.” He didn’t care. His sodden clothes would take him
straight down and he was too tired to fight. It would be all over in a
minute, finished and done with. At home, at the Owls’ House now, Wany
would be bringing the cows in. Bohenna would be coming down the hill
from work, driving the plow oxen before him. There would be a grand fire
on the hearth and the black pot bubbling. He could see Martha fussing
about like an old hen, getting supper ready, bent double with
rheumatism—and Eli, Eli . . . He wondered if the owls would hoot for
him as they had for his father.

He didn’t know why he’d kept the boat going; it was only prolonging the
misery. Might as well let her broach and have done with it. Over with
her—now! But his hand remained steadfast and the boat raced on.

The west was barred with a yellow strip—sunset. Presently it would be
night, and under cover of night Fate was waiting for him crouched like a
footpad.

                 *        *        *        *        *

He did not see the vessel’s approach till she was upon him. She must
have been in sight for some time, but he had been keeping his eyes ahead
and did not look round till she hailed.

She was right on him, coming up hand over fist. Ortho was so surprised
he nearly jumped out of his clothes. He stood up in the stern sheets,
goggling at her foolishly. Was it a mirage? Had he gone light-headed
already? He heard the creak of her yards and blocks as she yawed to
starboard, the hiss of her cut-water shearing into a sea, and then a
guttural voice shouting unintelligibly. She was real enough and she was
yawing to pick him up! A flood of joy went through him; he was going to
live after all! Not for nothing had he kept the _Gamecock_ running. She
was on top of him. The short bowsprit and gilded beak stabbed past; then
came shouts, the roar of sundered water, a rope hurtling out of reach; a
thump and over went the _Gamecock_, run down. Ortho gripped the gunnel,
vaulted onto the boat side as it rolled under, and jumped.

The vessel was wallowing deep in a trough at the time. He caught the
fore-mast chains with both hands and hung trailing up to the knees in
bubbling brine. Something bumped his knee. It was Anson; his leer seemed
more pronounced than ever; then he went out of sight. Men in the
channels gripped Ortho’s wrists and hoisted him clear. He lay where they
threw him, panting and shivering, water dribbling from his clothes to
the deck.

Aft on the poop a couple of men, officers evidently, were staring at the
_Gamecock_ drifting astern, bottom up. They did not consider her worth
the trouble of going after. A negro gave Ortho a kick with his bare
foot, handed him a bowl of hot gruel and a crust of bread. Ortho gulped
these and then dragged himself to his feet, leaned against the
main-jeers and took stock of his surroundings.

It was quite a small vessel, rigged in a bastard fashion he had never
seen before, square on the main mast, exaggerated lugs on the fore and
mizzen. She had low sharp entry, but was built up aft with quarter-deck
and poop; she was armed like a frigate and swarming with men.

Ortho could not think where she housed them all—and such men, brown,
yellow, white and black, with and without beards. Some wore pointed red
caps, some wisps of dirty linen wound about their scalps, and others
were bare-headed and shorn to the skin but for a lock of oily hair. They
wore loose garments of many colors, chocolate, saffron, salmon and blue,
but the majority were of a soiled white. They drew these close about
their lean bodies and squatted, bare toes protruding, under the break of
the quarter-deck, in the lee of scuttle butts, boats, masts—anywhere
out of the wind. They paid no attention to him whatever, but chatted and
spat and laughed, their teeth gleaming white in their dark faces, for
all the world like a tribe of squatting baboons. One of them produced a
crude two-stringed guitar and sang a melancholy dirge to the
accompaniment of creaking blocks and hissing bow-wave. The sunset was
but a chink of yellow light between leaden cloud and leaden sea.

There was a flash away in the dusk to port followed by the slam of a
gun.

A gigantic old man came to the quarter-deck rail and bellowed across the
decks. Ortho thought he looked like the pictures of Biblical
patriarchs—Moses, for instance—with his long white beard and mantle
blowing in the wind.

At his first roar every black and brown ape on deck pulled his hood up
and went down on his forehead, jabbering incoherently. They seemed to be
making some sort of prayer towards the east. The old man’s declamation
finished off in a long-drawn wail; he returned whence he had come, and
the apes sat up again. The guitar player picked up his instrument and
sang on.

A boy, twirling a naming piece of tow, ran up the ladders and lit the
two poop lanterns.

Away to port other points of light twinkled, appearing and disappearing.

The negro who had given him the broth touched him on the shoulder,
signed to him to follow, and led the way below. It was dark on the main
deck—all the light there was came from a single lantern swinging from a
beam—but Ortho could see that it was also packed with men. They lay on
mats beside the hatch coamings, between the lashed carriage-guns,
everywhere; it was difficult to walk without treading on them. Some of
them appeared to be wounded.

The negro unhooked the lantern, let fall a rope ladder into the hold and
pushed Ortho towards it. He descended a few feet and found himself
standing on the cargo, bales of mixed merchandise apparently. In the
darkness around him he could hear voices conversing, calling out. The
negro dropped after him and he saw that the hold was full of
people—Europeans from what he could see—lying on top of the cargo.
They shouted to him, but he was too dazed to answer. His guide propelled
him towards the after bulkhead and suddenly tripped him. He fell on his
back on a bale and lay still while the negro shackled his feet together,
picked up the lantern and was gone.

“Englishman?” said a voice beside him.

“Aye.”

“Where did you drop from?”

“Picked up—I was blown off-shore.”

“Alone?”

“Yes, all but my mate, and he’s dead. What craft is this?”

“The _Ghezala_, xebec of Sallee.”

“Where are we bound for?”

“Sallee, on the coasts of Barbary, of course; to be sold as a slave
among the heathen infidels. Where did you think you was bound for?
Fortunate Isles with rings on your fingers to splice a golden
queen—eh?”

“Barbary—infidels—slave,” Ortho repeated stupidly. No wonder Anson had
leered as he went down!

He turned, sighing, over on his face. “Slaves—infidels—Barb . . .” and
was asleep.



                              CHAPTER XIX


He woke up eighteen hours later, at about noon—or so his neighbor told
him; it was impossible to distinguish night from day down there. The
hold was shallow and three parts full; this brought them within a few
feet of the deck beams and made the atmosphere so thick it was difficult
to breathe, congested as they were. Added to which, the rats and
cockroaches were very active and the stale bilge water, washing to and
fro under the floor, reeked abominably.

The other prisoners were not talkative. Now and again one would shout
across to a friend and a short conversation would ensue, but most of the
time they kept silence, as though steeped in melancholy. The majority
sounded like foreigners.

Ortho sat up, tried to stretch his legs, and found they were shackled to
a chain running fore and aft over the cargo.

His left-hand neighbor spoke: “Woke up, have you? Well, how d’you fancy
it?”

Ortho grunted.

“Oh, well, mayn’t be so bad. You’m a likely lad; you’ll fetch a good
price, mayhap, and get a good master. ’Tain’t the strong mule catches
the whip; ’tis the old uns—y’understan’? To-morrow’s the best day for
hard work over there and the climate’s prime; better nor England by a
long hawse, and that’s the Gospel truth, y’understan’?”

“How do you know?” Ortho inquired.

The man snorted. “Know? Ain’t I been there nine year?”

“In Sallee?”

“No—Algiers . . . but it’s the same, see what I mean? Nine years a
slave with old Abd-el-Hamri in Sidi-Okbar Street. Only exchanged last
summer, and now, dang my tripes, if I ain’t took again!”

“Where did they catch you?”

“Off Prawle Point on Tuesday in the _Harvest_, yawl of Brixham—I’m a
Brixham man, y’understan’? Puddicombe by name. I did swere and vow once
I was ashore I would never set foot afloat no more. Then my sister
Johanna’s George took sick with a flux and I went in his place just for
a day—and now here we are again—hey, hey!”

“Who are all these foreigners?” asked Ortho.

“Hollanders, took off a Dutch East Indiaman. This be her freight we’m
lyin’ on now, see what I mean? They got it split up between the three on
’em. There’s three on ’em, y’understan’; _was_ four, but the Hollander
sank one before she was carried, so they say, and tore up t’other two
cruel. The old _reis_—admiral that is—he’s lost his mainmast. You can
hear he banging away at night to keep his consorts close; scared,
y’understan’? Howsombeit they done well enough. Only been out two months
and they’ve got the cream of an Indies freight, not to speak of three or
four coasters and a couple of hundred poor sailors that should fetch
from thirty to fifty ducats apiece in the _soko_. And then there’s the
ransoms too, see what I mean?”

“Ransoms?” Ortho echoed. Was that a way home? Was it possible to be
ransomed? He had money.

“Aye, ransoms,” said Puddicombe. “You can thank your God on bended
knees, young man, you ain’t nothin’ but a poor fisher lad with no money
at your back, see what I mean?”

“No, I don’t—why?”

“Why—’cos the more they tortured you the more you’d squeal and the more
your family would pay to get you out of it, y’understan’? There was a
dozen fat Mynheer merchants took on that Indiaman, and if they poor
souls knew what they’re going through they’d take the first chance
overboard—sharks is a sweet death to what these heathen serve you. I’ve
seen some of it in Algiers city—see what I mean? Understan’?”

Ortho did not answer; he had suddenly realized that he had never told
Eli where the money was hidden—over seven hundred pounds—and how was
he ever going to tell him _now_? He lay back on the bales and abandoned
himself to unprofitable regrets.

Mr. Puddicombe, getting no response to his chatter, cracked his finger
joints, his method of whiling away the time. The afternoon wore on, wore
out. At sundown they were given a pittance of dry bread and stale water.
Later on a man came down, knocked Ortho’s shackles off and signed him to
follow.

“You’re to be questioned,” the ex-slave whispered. “Be careful now,
y’understan’?”

The Moors were at their evening meal, squatting, tight-packed round big
pots, dipping for morsels with their bare hands, gobbling and gabbling.
The galley was between decks, a brick structure built athwart-ship. As
Ortho passed he caught a glimpse of the interior. It was a blaze of
light from the fires before which a couple of negroes toiled, stripped
to the waist, stirring up steaming caldrons; the sweat glistened like
varnish on their muscular bodies.

His guide led him to the upper deck. The night breeze blew in his face,
deliciously chill after the foul air below. He filled his lungs with
draughts of it. On the port quarter tossed a galaxy of twinkling
lights—the admiral and the third ship. Below in their rat-run holds
were scores of people in no better plight than himself, Ortho reflected,
in some cases worse, for many of the Dutchmen were wounded. A merry
world!

His guide ran up the quarter-deck ladder. The officer of the watch, a
dark silhouette lounging against a swivel mounted on the poop, snapped
out a challenge in Arabic to which the guide replied. He opened the door
of the poop cabin and thrust Ortho within.

It was a small place, with the exception of a couple of brass-bound
chests, a table and a chair, quite unfurnished, but it was luxurious
after a fashion and, compared with the squalor of the hold, paradise.

Mattresses were laid on the floor all round the walls, and on these were
heaped a profusion of cushions, cushions of soft leather and of green
and crimson velvet. The walls were draped with hangings worked with the
same colors, and a lamp of fretted brass-work, with six burners, hung by
chains from the ceiling. The gigantic Moor who had called the crew to
prayers sat on the cushions in a corner, his feet drawn up under him, a
pyramid of snowy draperies. He was running a chain of beads through his
fingers, his lips moved in silence. More than ever did he look like a
Bible patriarch. On the port side a tall Berber lay outstretched, his
face to the wall; a watch-keeper taking his rest. At the table, his back
to the ornamented rudder-casing, sat a stout little man with a cropped
head, scarlet face and bright blue eyes. Ortho saw to his surprise that
he did not wear Moorish dress but the heavy blue sea-coat of an English
sailor, a canary muffler and knee-breeches.

The little man’s unflinching bright eyes ran all over him.

“Cornishman?” he inquired in perfect English.

“Yes, sir.”

“Fisherman?” apprising the boy’s canvas smock, apron and boots.

“Yes, sir.”

“Blown off-shore—eh?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Where from? Isles of Scilly?”

“No, sir; Monks Cove.”

“Where’s that?”

“Sou’west corner of Mount’s Bay, sir, near Penzance.”

“Penzance, ah-ha! Penzance,” the captain repeated. “Now what do I know
of Penzance?” He screwed his eyes up, rubbed the back of his head,
puzzling. “Penzance!”

Then he banged his fist on the table. “Damme, of course!”

He turned to Ortho again. “Got any property in this Cove—houses, boats
or belike?”

“No, sir.”

“Father? . . . Brothers? . . . Relations?”

“Only a widowed mother, sir, and a brother.”

“They got any property?”

“No, sir.”

“What does your brother do?”

“Works on a farm, sir.”

“Hum, yes, thought as much; couple of nets and an old boat stopped up
with tar—huh! Never mind, you’re healthy; you’ll sell.”

He said something in Arabic to the old Moor, who wagged his flowing
beard and went on with his beads.

“You can go!” said the captain, motioning to the guide; then as Ortho
neared the door he called out, “Avast a minute!” Ortho turned about.

“You say you come from near Penzance. Well, did you run athwart a person
by the name of Gish by any chance? Captain Jeremiah Gish? He was a
Penzance man, I remember. Made a mint o’ money shipping ‘black-birds’ to
the Plate River and retired home to Penzance, or so I’ve heard. Gish is
the name, Jerry Gish.”

Ortho gaped. Gish—Captain Jerry—he should think he did know him. He
had been one of Teresa’s most ardent suitors at one time, and still hung
after her, admired her gift of vituperation; had been in the Star Inn
that night he had robbed her of the hundred pounds. Captain Jerry! They
were always meeting at races and such-like; had made several disastrous
bets with him. Old Jerry Gish! It sounded strange to hear that familiar
name here among all these wild infidels, gave him an acute twinge of
homesickness.

“Well,” said the corsair captain, “never heard of him, I suppose?”

Ortho recovered himself. “Indeed, sir, I know him very well.”

The captain sat up. “You do?” Then with a snap: “How?”

It flashed on Ortho that he must be careful. To disclose the
circumstances under which he had hob-nobbed with Jerry Gish would be to
give himself away.

“How?”

Ortho licked his lips. “He used to come to Cove a lot, sir. Was friendly
like with the inn-keeper there. Was very gentlemanly with his money of
an evening.”

The captain sank back, his suspicions lulled. He laughed.

“Free with the drink, mean you? Aye, I warrant old Jerry would be
that—ha, ha!” He sat smiling at recollections, drumming his short
fingers on the table.

Some flying spray heads rattled on the stern windows. The brass lamp
swung back and forth, its shadow swimming with it up and down the floor.
The watchkeeper muttered in his sleep. Outside the wind moaned. The
captain looked up. “Used to be a shipmate of mine, Jerry—when we were
boys. Many a game we’ve played. Did y’ ever hear him tell a story?”

“Often, sir.”

“You did, did you—spins a good yarn, Jerry—none better. Ever hear him
tell of what we did to that old nigger woman in Port o’ Spain?
MacBride’s my name, Ben MacBride. Ever hear it?”

“Yes, I believe I did, sir.”

“That’s a good yarn that, eh? My God, she screeched, ha, ha!” Tears
trickled out of his eyes at the memory.

“Told you a good few yarns, I expect?”

“Yes, sir, many.”

“Remember ’em?”

“I think so, sir.”

“Do you? Hum-hurr!” He looked at Ortho again, seemed to be considering.

“Do you?—ah, hem! Yes, very good. Well, you must go now. Time to snug
down. Ahmed!”

The guide stood to attention, received some instructions in Arabic and
led Ortho away. At the galley door he stopped, went inside, and came out
bearing a lump of meat and a small cake which he thrust on Ortho, and
made motions to show that it was by the captain’s orders.

Three minutes later he was shackled down again.

“How did you fare?” the Brixham man grunted drowsily.

“Not so bad,” said Ortho.

He waited till the other had gone to sleep, and then ate his cake and
meat; he was ravenous and didn’t want to share it.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Black day succeeded black night down in the hold, changing places
imperceptibly. Once every twenty-four hours the prisoners were taken on
deck for a few minutes; in the morning and evening they were fed.
Nothing else served to break the stifling monotony. It seemed to Ortho
that he had been chained up in blank gloom for untold years, gloom
peopled with disembodied voices that became loquacious only in sleep.
Courage gagged their waking hours, but when they slept, and no longer
had control of themselves, they talked, muttered, groaned and cried
aloud for lost places and lost loves. At night that hold was an inferno,
a dark cavern filled with damned souls wailing. Two Biscayners did
actually fight once, but they didn’t fight for long, hadn’t spirit
enough. It was over a few crumbs of bread that they fell out. The man on
Ortho’s right, an old German seaman, never uttered a word. One morning
when they came round with food he didn’t put his hand out for his
portion and they found that he was dead—a fact the rats had discovered
some hours before. The only person who was not depressed was Mr.
Puddicombe, late of Brixham and Algiers. He had the advantage of knowing
what he was called upon to face, combined with a strong strain of
natural philosophy.

England, viewed from Algiers, had seemed a green land of plenty, of
perennial beer and skittles. When he got home he found he had to work
harder than ever he had done in Africa and, after nine years of
sub-tropics, the northern winter had bitten him to the bone. Provided he
did not become a Government slave (which he thought unlikely, being too
old) he was not sure but that all was for the best. He was a good tailor
and carpenter and generally useful about the house, a valuable
possession in short. He would be well treated. He would try to get a
letter through to his old master, he said, and see if an exchange could
be worked. He had been quite happy in Sidi Okbar Street. The notary had
treated him more as a friend than a servant; they used to play “The
King’s Game” (a form of chess) together of an evening. He thought
Abd-el-Hamri, being a notary, a man of means, could easily effect the
exchange, and then, once comfortably settled down to slavery in Algiers,
nothing on earth should tempt him to take any more silly chances with
freedom, he assured Ortho. He also gave him a lot of advice concerning
his future conduct.

“I’ve taken a fancy to you, my lad,” he said one evening, “an’ I’m
givin’ you advice others would pay ducats and golden pistoles to get,
y’understan’?”

Ortho was duly grateful.

“Are you a professed Catholic by any chance?”

“No, Protestant.”

“Well, if you was a Catholic professed I should tell you to hold by it
for a bit and see if the Redemptionist Fathers could help you, but if
you be a Protestant nobody won’t do nothin’ for you, so you’d best turn
_Renegado_ and turn sharp—like I done; see what I mean?”

“_Renegado?_”

“Turn Moslem. Sing out night and mornin’ that there’s only one Allah and
nobody like him. After that they got to treat you kinder. If you’m a
_Kafir_—Christian, so to speak—they’re doin’ this here Allah a favor
by peltin’ stones at you. If you’re a Mohammedan you’re one of Allah’s
own and they got to love you; see what I mean? Mind you, there’s
drawbacks. You ain’t supposed to touch liquor, but that needn’t lie on
your mind. God knows when the corsairs came home full to the hatches and
business was brisk there was mighty few of us _Renegados_ in Algiers
city went sober to bed, y’understan’? Then there’s Ramadan. That means
you got to close-reef your belt from sunrise to sunset for thirty mortal
days. If they catch you as much as sucking a lemon they’ll beat your
innards out. I don’t say it can’t be done, but don’t let ’em catch you;
see what I mean? Leaving aside his views on liquor and this here
Ramadan, I ain’t got nothin’ against the Prophet.

“When you get as old and clever as me you’ll find that religions is much
like clo’es, wear what the others is wearin’ and you can do what you
like. You take my advice, my son, and as soon as you land holla out that
there’s only one Allah and keep on hollaing; understan’?”

Ortho understood and determined to do likewise; essentially an
opportunist, he would have cheerfully subscribed to devil worship had it
been fashionable.

One morning they were taken on deck and kept there till noon. Puddicombe
said the officers were in the hold valuing the cargo; they were nearing
the journey’s end.

It was clear weather, full of sunshine. Packs of chubby cloud trailed
across a sky of pale azure. The three ships were in close company, line
ahead, the lame flagship leading, her lateens wing and wing. The
gingerbread work on her high stern was one glitter of gilt and her
quarters were carved with stars and crescent moons interwoven with
Arabic scrolls. The ship astern was no less fancifully embellished. All
three were decked out as for holiday, flying long coach-whip pennants
from trucks and lateen peaks, and each had a big green banner at a
jack-staff on the poop.

No land was in sight, but there were signs of it. A multitude of gulls
swooped and cried among the rippling pennants; a bundle of cut bamboos
drifted by and a broken basket.

MacBride, a telescope under his arm, a fur cap cocked on the back of his
head, strutted the poop. Presently he came down the upper deck and
walked along the line of prisoners, inspecting them closely. He gave
Ortho no sign of recognition, but later on sent for him.

“Did Jerry Gish ever tell you the yarn of how him and me shaved that old
Jew junk dealer in Derry and then got him pressed?”

“No, sir.”

MacBride related the story and Ortho laughed with great heartiness.

“Good yarn, ain’t it?” said the captain.

Ortho vowed it was the best he had ever heard.

“Of course you knowing old Jerry would appreciate it—these others—!”
The captain made the gesture of one whose pearls of reminiscence have
been cast before swine.

Ortho took his courage in both hands and told a story of how Captain
Gish had got hold of a gypsy’s bear, dressed it up in a skirt, cloak and
bonnet and let it loose in the Quakers’ meeting house in Penzance. As a
matter of fact, it was not the inimitable Jerry who had done it at all,
but a party of young squires; however, it served Ortho’s purpose to
credit the exploit to Captain Gish. Captain Gish, as Ortho remembered
him, was a dull old gentleman with theories of his own on the lost
tribes of Israel which he was never tired of disclosing, but the Jerry
Gish that MacBride remembered and delighted in was evidently a very
different person—a spark, a blood, a devil of a fellow. Jeremiah must
be maintained in the latter rôle at all costs. Ever since his visit to
the cabin Ortho had been thinking of all boisterous jests he had ever
heard and tailoring them to fit Jerry against such a chance as this. His
repertoire was now extensive.

The captain laughed most heartily at the episode of “good old Jerry” and
the bear. Ortho knew how to tell a story; he had caught the trick from
Pyramus. Encouraged, he was on the point of relating another when there
came a long-drawn cry from aloft. The effect on the Arab crew was
magical.

“Moghreb!” they cried. “Moghreb!” and, dropping whatever they had in
hand, raced for the main ratlines. Captain MacBride, however, was before
them. He kicked one chocolate mariner in the stomach, planted his fist
in the face of another, whacked yet another over the knuckles with his
telescope, hoisted himself to the fife rail, and from that eminence
distributed scalding admonitions to all and sundry. That done, he went
hand over fist in a dignified manner up to the topgallant yard.

The prisoners were sent below, but to the tween-decks this time instead
of the hold.

Land was in sight, the Brixham man informed Ortho. They had hit the mark
off very neatly, at a town called Mehdia a few miles above Sallee, or so
he understood. If they could catch the tide they should be in by
evening. The admiral was lacing bonnets on. The gun ports being closed,
they could not see how they were progressing, but the Arabs were in a
high state of elation; cheer after cheer rang out from overhead as they
picked up familiar land-marks along the coast. Even the wounded men
dragged themselves to the upper deck. The afternoon drew on. Puddicombe
was of the opinion that they would miss the tide and anchor outside, in
which case they were in for another night’s pitching and rolling. Ortho
devoutly trusted not; what with the vermin and rats in that hold he was
nearly eaten alive. He was just beginning to give up hope when there
came a sudden bark of orders from above, the scamper of bare feet, the
chant of men hauling on braces and the creak of yards as they came over.

“She’s come up,” said he of Brixham. “They’re stowing the square sails
and going in under lateens. Whoop, there she goes! Over the bar!”

“Crash-oom!” went a gun. “Crash-oom!” went a second, a third and a
fourth.

“They’re firing at us!” said Ortho.

Puddicombe snorted. “Aye—powder! That’s rejoicements, that is. You
don’t know these Arabs; when the cow calves they fire a gun; that’s
their way o’ laughing. Why, I’ve seen the corsairs come home to Algiers
with all the forts blazin’ like as if there was a bombardment on. You
wait, we’ll open up in a minute. Ah, there you are!”

“Crash-oom!” bellowed the flagship ahead. “Zang! Zang!” thundered their
own bow-chasers. “Crash-oom!” roared the ship astern, and the forts on
either hand replied with deafening volleys. “Crack-wang! Crack-wang!”
sang the little swivels. “Pop-pop-pop!” snapped the muskets ashore. In
the lull came the noise of far cheering and the throb of drums and then
the stunning explosions of the guns again.

“They’ve dowsed the mizzen,” said Puddicombe. “Foresail next and let go.
We’m most there, son; see what I mean?”

They were taken off at dusk in a ferry float. The three ships were
moored head and stern in a small river with walled towns on either hand,
a town built upon red cliffs to the south, a town built upon a flat
shore to the north. To the east lay marshes and low hills beyond, with
the full moon rising over them.

The xebecs were surrounded by a mob of skiffs full of natives, all
yelling and laughing and occasionally letting off a musket. One grossly
overloaded boat, suddenly feeling its burden too great to bear, sank
with all hands.

Its occupants did not mind in the least; they splashed about, bubbling
with laughter, baled the craft out and climbed in again. The ferry
deposited its freight of captives on the spit to the north, where they
were joined by the prisoners from the other ships, including some women
taken on the Dutch Indiaman. They were then marched over the sand flats
towards the town, and all the way the native women alternately shrieked
for joy or cursed them. They lined the track up to the town, shapeless
bundles of white drapery, and hurled sand and abuse. One old hag left
her long nail marks down Ortho’s cheek, another lifted her veil for a
second and sprayed him with spittle.

“_Kafir-b-Illah was rasool!_” they screamed at the hated Christians.
Then: “_Zahrit! Zahrit! Zahrit!_” would go the shrill joy cries.

Small boys with shorn heads and pigtails gamboled alongside, poking them
with canes and egging their curs on to bite them, and in front of the
procession a naked black wild man of the mountains went leaping, shaking
his long hair, whooping and banging a goat-skin tambourine.

They passed under a big horseshoe arch and were within the walls. Ortho
got an impression of huddled flat houses gleaming white under the moon;
of men and women in flowing white; donkeys, camels, children, naked
negroes and renegade seamen jostling together in clamorous alleys; of
muskets popping, tom-toms thumping, pipes squeaking; of laughter,
singing and screams, while in his nostrils two predominant scents
struggled for mastery—dung and orange blossom.



                               CHAPTER XX


Ortho and his fellow prisoners spent the next thirty-nine hours in one
of the town mattamores, a dungeon eighteen feet deep, its sole outlet a
trap-door in the ceiling. It was damp and dark as a vault, littered with
filth and crawling with every type of intimate pest. The omniscient
Puddicombe told Ortho that such was the permanent lodging of Government
slaves; they toiled all day on public works and were herded home at
night to this sort of thing.

More than ever was Ortho determined to forswear his religion at the
first opportunity. He asked if there were any chances of escape from
Morocco. Puddicombe replied that there were none. Every man’s hand was
against one; besides, Sidi Mahomet I. had swept the last Portuguese
garrison (Mazagan) off the coast six years previously, so where was one
to run? He went on to describe some of the tortures inflicted on
recaptured slaves—such as having limbs rotted off in quick-lime, being
hung on hooks and sawn in half—and counseled Ortho most strongly,
should any plan of escape present itself, not to divulge it to a soul.
Nobody could be trusted. The slave gangs were sown thick with spies, and
even those who were not employed as such turned informer in order to
acquire merit with their masters.

“Dogs!” cried Ortho, blazing at such treachery.

“Not so quick with your ‘dogs,’” said Puddicombe, quietly. “You may find
yourself doin’ it some day—under the bastinado.”

Something in the old man’s voice made the boy wonder if he were not
speaking from experience, if he had not at some time, in the throes of
torture, given a friend away.

On the second day they were taken to the market and auctioned. Before
the sale took place the Basha picked out a fifth of the entire number,
including all the best men, and ordered them to be marched away as the
Sultan’s perquisites. Ortho was one of those chosen in the first place,
but a venerable Moor in a sky-blue jellab came to the rescue, bowing
before the Governor, talking rapidly and pointing to Ortho the while.
The great man nodded, picked a Dutchman in his place and passed on. The
public auction then began, with much preliminary shouting and drumming.
Prisoners were dragged out and minutely inspected by prospective buyers,
had their chests thumped, muscles pinched, teeth inspected, were trotted
up and down to expose their action, exactly like dumb beasts at a fair.

The simile does not apply to Mr. Puddicombe. He was not dumb; he lifted
up his voice and shouted some rigmarole in Arabic. Ortho asked him what
he was saying.

“Tellin’ ’em what I can do, bless you! Think I want to be bought by a
poor man and moil in the fields? No, I’m going to a house where they
have cous-cous every day—y’understan’? See what I mean?”

“Ahoy there, lords!” he bawled. “Behold me! Nine years was I in Algiers
at the house of Abd-el-Hamri, the lawyer in Sidi Okbar Street. No
_Nesrani_ dog am I, but a Moslem, a True Believer. Moreover, I am
skilled in sewing and carpentry and many kindred arts. Question me,
lords, that ye may see I speak the truth. Ahoy there, behold me!”

His outcry brought the buyers flocking. The auctioneer, seeing his
opportunity, enlarged on Mr. Puddicombe’s supposed merits. Positively
the most accomplished slave Algiers had ever seen, diligent, gifted and
of celebrated piety. Not as young as he had been perhaps, but what of
it? What was age but maturity, the ripeness of wisdom, the fruit of
experience? Here was no gad-about boy to be forever sighing after the
slave wenches, loitering beside the story-tellers and forgetting his
duty, but a man of sound sense whose sole interests would be those of
his master. What offers for this union of all the virtues, this
household treasure? Stimulated by the dual advertisement, the bidding
became brisk, the clamor deafening, and Mr. Puddicombe was knocked down,
body and soul for seventeen pounds, thirteen shillings and fourpence
(fifty-three ducats) to a little hunch-back with ophthalmia, but of
extreme richness of apparel.

Prisoner after prisoner was sold off and led away by his purchaser until
only Ortho remained. He was puzzled at this and wondered what to do
next, when the venerable Moor in the blue jellab finished some
transaction with the auctioneer and twitched at his sleeve. As the
guards showed no objection, or, indeed, any further interest in him, he
followed the blue jellab. The blue jellab led the way westwards up a
maze of crooked lanes until they reached the summit of the town, and
there, under the shadow of the minaret, opened a door in an otherwise
blank wall, passed up a gloomy tunnel, and brought Ortho out into a
courtyard.

The court was small, stone-paved, with a single orange tree growing in
the center and arcades supported on fretted pillars running all round.

A couple of slave negresses were sweeping the courtyard with palmetto
brooms under the oral goadings of an immensely stout old Berber woman,
and on the north side, out of the sun, reclining on a pile of cushions,
sat Captain Benjamin MacBride, the traditional picture of the seafarer
ashore, his pipe in his mouth, his tankard within reach, both arms
filled with girl. He had a slender, kindling Arab lass tucked in the
crook of his right arm, his left arm encompassed two fair-skinned
Moorish beauties. They were unveiled, bejeweled and tinted like ripe
peaches; their haiks were of white silk, their big-sleeved undergarments
of colored satin; their toes were painted with henna and so were their
fingers; they wore black ink beauty spots on their cheeks. Not one of
the brilliant little birds of paradise could have passed her seventeenth
year.

Captain MacBride’s cherry-hued countenance wore an expression of
profound content.

He hailed Ortho with a shout, “Come here, boy!” and the three little
ladies sat up, stared at the newcomer and whispered to each other,
tittering.

“I’ve bought you, d’ y’ see?” said MacBride.

“An’ a tidy penny you cost me. If the Basha wasn’t my very good friend
you’d ha’ gone to the quarries and had your heart broken first and your
back later, so you’re lucky. Now bestir yourself round about and do what
old Saheb (indicating the blue jellab) tells you, or to the quarries you
go—see? What d’ y’ call yourself, heh?”

Ortho told him.

“Ortho Penhale; that’ll never do.” He consulted the birds of paradise,
who tried the outlandish words over, but could not shape their tongues
to them. They twittered and giggled and wrangled and patted MacBride’s
cheerful countenance.

“Hark ’e,” said he at last. “Tama wants to name you ‘Chitane’ because
you look wicked. Ayesha is for ‘Sejra’ because you’re tall, but
Schems-ed-dah here says you ought to be called ‘Saïd’ because you’re
lucky to be here.” He pressed the dark Arab girl to him. “So ‘Saïd’ be
it. ‘Saïd’ I baptize thee henceforth and forever more—see?”

Break-of-Dawn embraced her lord, Tama and Ayesha pouted. He presented
them with a large knob of colored sweetmeat apiece and they were all
smiles again. Peace was restored and Ortho stepped back under his new
name, “Saïd”—the fortunate one.

From then began his life of servitude at the house on the hill and it
was not disagreeable. His duties were to tend the captain’s horse and
the household donkey, fetch wood and water and run errands. In the early
morning MacBride would mount his horse (a grossly overfed, cow-hocked
chestnut), leave the town by the Malka Gate, ride hell-for-leather,
every limb in convulsion, across the sands to the shipyards at the
southeast corner of the town. Ortho, by cutting through the Jews’
quarter and out of the Mrisa Gate as hard as he could run, usually
managed to arrive within a few minutes of the captain and spent the rest
of the morning walking the horse about while his master supervised the
work in the yards. These were on the bend of the river under shelter of
a long wall, a continuation of the town fortifications. Here the little
xebecs were drawn up on ways and made ready for sea. Renegade craftsmen
sent spars up and down, toiled like spiders in webs of rigging, splicing
and parceling; plugged shot holes, repaired splintered upper works,
painted and gilded the flamboyant beaks and sterns, while gangs of
slaves hove on the huge shore capstans, bobbed like mechanical dolls in
the saw-pits, scraped the slender hulls and payed them over with boiling
tallow. There were sailmakers to watch as well, gunsmiths and carvers;
plenty to see and admire.

The heat of the day MacBride spent on the shady side of his court in
siesta among his ladies, and Ortho released the donkey from its tether
among the olive trees outside the Chaafa Gate and fetched wood and
water, getting the former from charcoal burners’ women from the Forest
of Marmora. He met many other European slaves similarly
employed—Frenchmen, Spaniards, Italians, Dutchmen, Portuguese, Greeks
and not a few British. They spoke Arabic together and a lingua franca, a
compound of their several tongues, but Ortho was not attracted by any of
them; they were either too reticent or too friendly. He remembered what
Puddicombe had said about spies and kept his mouth shut except on the
most trivial topics. Puddicombe he frequently encountered in the
streets, but never at the wells or in the charcoal market. The menial
hauling of wood and drawing of water were not for that astute gentleman;
he had passed onto a higher plane and was now steward with menials under
him.

His master (whom he designated as “Sore-Eyes”) was very amiable when not
suffering from any of his manifold infirmities, amiable, not to say
indulgent. He had shares in every corsair in the port, fifteen cows and
a large orchard. The slaves had cous-cous, fat mutton and chicken
scrapings almost every day, butter galore and as much fruit as they
could eat. He was teaching Sore-Eyes the King’s Game and getting into
his good graces. But, purposely, not too deep. Did he make himself
indispensable Sore-Eyes might refuse to part with him and he would not
see Sidi Okbar Street again—a Jew merchant had promised to get his
letter through. Between his present master and the notary there was
little to choose, but Sallee was a mere rat-hole compared with Algiers.
He enlarged on the city of his captivity, its white terraces climbing
steeply from the blue harbor, its beauty, wealth and activity with all
the tremulous passion of an exile pining for home.

Many free renegades were there also about the town with whom Ortho was
on terms of friendship—mutineers, murderers, ex-convicts, wanted
criminals to a man. These gentry were almost entirely employed either as
gunners and petty officers aboard the corsairs or as skilled laborers in
the yards. They had their own grog-shops and resorts, and when they had
money lived riotously and invited everybody to join. Many a night did
Ortho spend in the renegado taverns when the rovers were in after a
successful raid, watching them dicing for shares of plunder and dancing
their clattering hornpipes; listening to their melancholy and boastful
songs, to their wild tales of battle and disaster, sudden affluence and
debauch; tales of superstition and fabulous adventure, of phantom ships,
ghost islands, white whales, sea dragons, Jonahs and mermaids; of the
pleasant pirate havens in the main, slave barracoons on the Guinea
coast, orchid-poisoned forests in the Brazils, of Indian moguls who rode
on jeweled elephants beneath fans of peacock feathers, and the ice
barriers to the north, where the bergs stood mountain-high and glittered
like green glass.

Sometimes there were brawls when the long sheath knives came out and one
or other of the combatants dropped, occasionally both. They were hauled
outside by the heels and the fun went on again. But these little
unpleasantnesses were exceptional. The “mala casta” ashore were the
essence of good fellowship and of a royal liberality; they were
especially generous to the Christian captives, far more kindly than the
slaves were to each other.

The habitual feeling of restraint, of suspicion, vanished before the
boisterous conviviality of these rascals. When the fleets came, banging
and cheering, home over the bar into the Bou Regreg and the “mala casta”
were in town blowing their money in, the Europeans met together, spoke
openly, drank, laughed and were friends. When they were gone the cloud
descended once more, the slaves looked at each other slant-wise and
walked apart.

But Ortho cared little for that; he was at home in the house on the hill
and passably happy. It was only necessary for him to watch the
Government slaves being herded to work in the quarries and salt-pans,
ill-clad, half-starved, battered along with sticks and gun butts, to
make him content with his mild lot. Not for nothing had he been named
“Saïd,” the fortunate.

He had no longer any thought of escape. One morning returning with wood
he met a rabble in the narrow Souika. They had a mule in their midst,
and dragging head down at the mule’s tail was what had once been a man.
His hands were strapped behind him so that he could in no way protect
himself but bumped along the ruts and cobbles, twisting over and over.
His features were gone, there was not a particle of skin left on him,
and at this red abomination the women cursed, the beggars spat, the
children threw stones and the dogs tore.

It was a Christian, Ortho learnt, a slave who had killed his warder,
escaped and been recaptured.

The rabble went on, shouting and stoning, towards the Fez Gate, and
Ortho drove his donkey home, shivering, determined that freedom was too
dear at that risk. There was nothing in his life at the captain’s
establishment to make him anxious to run. The ample Mahma did not regard
him with favor, but that served to enhance him in the eyes of Saheb, the
steward, between whom and the housekeeper there was certain rivalry and
no love lost.

The two negresses were merely lazy young animals with no thoughts beyond
how much work they could avoid and how much food they could steal. Of
the harem beauties he saw little except when MacBride was present and
then they were fully occupied with their lord. MacBride was amiability
itself.

Captain MacBride at sea, at the first sign of indiscipline, tricing his
men to the main-jeers and flogging them raw; Captain MacBride,
yard-master of Sallee, bellowing blasphemies at a rigger on a top-mast
truck, laying a caulker out with his own mallet for skimped work, was a
totally different person from Ben MacBride of the house on the hill. The
moment he entered its portals he, as it were, resigned his commission
and put on childish things. He would issue from the tunnel and stand in
the courtyard, clapping his hands and hallooing for his dears. With a
flip-flap of embroidered slippers, a jingle of bangles and twitters of
welcome they would be on him and he would disappear in a whirl of
billowing haiks. The embraces over, he would disgorge his pockets of the
masses of pink and white sweetmeats he purchased daily and maybe produce
a richly worked belt for Ayesha, a necklace of scented beads for Tama,
fretted gold hair ornaments for Schems-ed-dah, and chase them round and
round the orange tree while the little things snatched at his flying
coat-tails and squealed in mock terror.

What with overseeing the yards, where battered corsairs were constantly
refitting, and supervising the Pilot’s School, where young Moors were
taught the rudiments of navigation, MacBride was kept busy during the
day, and his household saw little of him, but in the evenings he
returned rejoicing to the bosom of his family, never abroad to stray,
the soul of domesticity. He would lounge on the heaped cushions, his
long pipe in his teeth, his tankard handy, Schems-ed-dah nestling
against one shoulder, Tama and Ayesha taking turns with the other, and
call for his jester, Saïd.

“Hey, boy, tell us about ole Jerry and the bear.”

Then Ortho would squat and tell imaginary anecdotes of Jerry, and the
captain would hoot and splutter and choke until the three little girls
thumped him normal again.

“Rot me, but ain’t that rich?” he would moan, tears brightening his
scarlet cheeks. “Ain’t that jist like ole Jerry—the ole rip! He-he!
Tell us another, Saïd—that about the barber he shaved and painted like
his own pole—go on.”

Saïd would tell the story. At first he had been at pains to invent new
episodes for Captain Gish, that great hero of MacBride’s boyhood, but he
soon found it quite unnecessary; the old would do as well—nay, better.
It was like telling fairy stories to children, always the old favorites
in the old words. His audience knew exactly what was coming, but that in
no way served to dull their delight when it came. As Ortho (or Saïd)
approached a well-worn climax a tremor of delicious expectancy would run
through Schems-ed-dah (he was talking in Arabic now), Tama and Ayesha
would clasp hands, and MacBride sit up, eyes fixed on the speaker, mouth
open, like a terrier ready to snap a biscuit. Then the threadbare
climax. MacBride would cast himself backwards and beat the air with
ecstatic legs; Schems-ed-dah clap her hands and laugh like a ripple of
fairy bells; Ayesha and Tama hug each other and swear their mirth would
kill them.

When they recovered, the story-teller was rewarded with rum and tobacco
from that staunch Moslem MacBride, with sweetmeats and mint tea from the
ladies. He enjoyed his evenings. During the winter they sat indoors
before charcoal braziers in which burned sticks of aromatic wood, but on
the hot summer nights they took to the roof to catch the sea breeze.
Star-bright, languorous nights they were.

Below them the white town, ghostly glimmering, sloped away to the coast
and the flats. Above them the slender minaret, while on the lazy wind
came the drone of breakers and the faint sweet scent of spice gardens.
Voluptuous, sea-murmurous nights, milk-warm, satin-soft under a tent of
star-silvered purple.

Sometimes Schems-ed-dah fingered a gounibri and sang plaintive desert
songs of the Bedouin women, the two other girls, snuggling, half-asleep,
against MacBride’s broad chest, crooning the refrains.

Sometimes Ayesha, stirred by moonlight, would dance, clicking her
bracelets, tinkling tiny brass cymbals between her fingers, swaying her
graceful body backwards and sideways, poising on her toes, arms
outstretched, like a sea-bird drifting, stamping her heels and
shuddering from head to toe.

Besides story-telling, Ortho occasionally lifted up his voice in song.
He had experimented with his mother’s guitar in times gone by and found
he could make some show with the gounibri.

He sang Romany ditties he had learnt on his travels, and these were
approved of by the Moorish girls, being in many ways akin to their own.
But mostly he sang sea songs for the benefit of MacBride, who liked to
swell the chorus with his bull bellow. They sang “Cawsand Bay,”
“Baltimore,” “Lowlands Low” and “The Sailor’s Bride,” and made much
cheerful noise about it, on one occasion calling down on themselves the
reproof of the muezzin, who rebuked them from the summit of the minaret,
swearing he could hardly hear himself shout. Eleven months Ortho
remained in congenial bondage in Sallee.

Then one morning MacBride sent for him. “I’m goin’ to set you free,
Saïd, my buck,” said he.

Ortho was aghast, asked what he had done amiss.

MacBride waved his hand. “I ain’t got nothin’ against you as yet, but
howsomdever I reckon I’d best turn you loose. I’m goin’ to sea again—as
reis.”

“Reis!” Ortho exclaimed. “What of Abdullah Benani?”

“Had his neck broken by the Sultan’s orders in Mequinez three days ago
for losin’ them three xebecs off Corunna. I’m to go in his place. I’ve
settled about you with the Basha. You’re to go to the Makhzen Horse as a
free soldier. I’ll find you a nag and gear; when you sack a rich kasba
you can pay me back. You’ll make money if you’re clever—and don’t get
shot first.”

“Can’t I go with you?”

“No. We only take Christians with prices on their heads at home. They
don’t betray us then—you might.”

“Well, can’t I stop here in Sallee?”

“That you cannot. It has struck me that you’ve been castin’ too free an
eye on my girls. Mind you, I don’t blame you. You’re young and they’re
pretty; it’s only natural. But it wouldn’t be natural for me to go to
sea and leave you here with a free run. Anyhow I’m not doin’ it.”

Ortho declared with warmth that MacBride’s suspicions were utterly
unfounded, most unjust; he was incapable of such base disloyalty.

The captain wagged his bullet head. “Maybe, but I’m not takin’ any
risks. Into the army you go—or the quarries.”

Ortho declared hastily for the army.

A fortnight later MacBride led his fleet out over the bar between
saluting forts, and Ortho, with less ceremony, took the road for
Mequinez.

That phase of his existence was over. He had a sword, a long match-lock
and a passable Barb pony under him. Technically he was a free man;
actually he was condemned to a servitude vastly more exacting than that
which he had just left. A little money might come his way, bullets
certainly, wounds probably, possibly painful death—and death was the
only discharge.

He pulled up his horse at the entrance of the forest and looked back.
His eye was caught by the distant shimmer of the sea—the Atlantic. He
was going inland among the naked mountains and tawny plains of this
alien continent, might never see it again.

The Atlantic!—the same ocean that beat in blue, white and emerald upon
the shores of home, within the sound of whose surges he had been born.
It was like saying good-by to one’s last remaining friend. He looked
upon Sallee. There lay the white town nestling in the bright arm of the
Bou Regreg, patched with the deep green of fig and orange groves. There
soared the minaret, its tiles a-wink in the sunshine. Below it, slightly
to the right, he thought he could distinguish the roof of MacBride’s
house—the roof of happy memories. He wondered if Schems-ed-dah were
standing on it looking after him. What cursed luck to be kicked out just
as he was coming to an understanding with Schems-ed-dah!



                              CHAPTER XXI


Ortho sat on the bare hillside and watched his horses coming in. They
came up the gully below him in a drove, limping from their
hobbles—grays, chestnuts, bays, duns and blacks, blacks predominating.
It was his ambition to command a squadron of blacks, and he was chopping
and changing to that end. They would look well on parade, he thought, a
line of glossy black Doukkala stallions with scarlet trappings,
bestridden by lancers in the uniform white burnoose—black, white and
scarlet. Such a display should catch the Sultan’s eye and he would be
made a Kaid Rahal.

He was a Kaid Mia already. Sheer luck had given him his first step.

When he first joined the Makhzen cavalry he found himself stablemates
with an elderly Prussian named Fleischmann, who had served with
Frederick the Great’s dragoons at Rossbach, Liegnitz and Torgau, a
surly, drunken old _sabreur_ with no personal ambition beyond the
assimilation of loot, but possessed of experience and a tongue to
disclose it. In his sober moments he held forth to Ortho on the proper
employment of horse. He did not share the common admiration for the
crack askar lances, but poured derision upon them. They were all bluster
and bravado, he said, stage soldiers with no real discipline to control
them in a tight corner. He admitted they were successful against rebel
hordes, but did they ever meet a resolute force he prophesied red-hot
disaster and prayed he might not be there.

His prayer was granted. Disaster came and he was not there, having had
his head severed from his shoulders a month previously while looting
when drunk and meeting with an irritated householder who was sober.

Ortho was in the forefront of the disaster. The black Janizaries, the
Bou Khari, were having one of their periodic mutinies and had been
drummed into the open by the artillery. The cavalry were ordered to
charge. Instead of stampeding when they saw the horse sweeping on them,
the negroes lay down, opened a well-directed fire and emptied saddles
right and left.

A hundred yards from the enemy the lancers flinched and turned tail, and
the Bou Khari brought down twice as many more. Ortho did not turn. In
the first place he did not know the others had gone about until it was
too late to follow them, and secondly his horse, a powerful entire, was
crazy with excitement and had charge of him. He slammed clean through
the Bou Khari like a thunderbolt with nothing worse than the fright of
his life and a slight flesh wound.

He had a confused impression of fire flashing all about him, bullets
whirring and droning round his head, black giants springing up among the
rocks, yells—and he was through. He galloped on for a bit, made a wide
detour round the flank and got back to what was left of his own ranks.

Returning, he had time to meditate, and the truth of the late (and
unlamented) Fleischmann’s words came back to him. That flesh wound had
been picked up at the beginning of the charge. The nearer he had got the
wilder the fire had become. The negroes he had encountered flung
themselves flat; he could have skewered them like pigs. If the whole
line had gone on all the blacks would have flung themselves flat and
been skewered like pigs. A regiment of horse charges home with the
impact of a deep-sea breaker, hundreds of tons.

The late Fleischmann had been right in every particular. The scene of
the affair was littered with dead horses and white heaps, like piles of
crumpled linen—their riders. The Bou Khari had advanced and were busy
among these, stripping the dead, stabbing the wounded, cheering
derisively from time to time.

Ortho had no sooner rejoined his depleted ranks than a miralai
approached and summoned him to the presence of Sidi Mahomet himself.

The puissant grandson of the mighty Muley Ismail was on a hillock where
he could command the whole field, sitting on a carpet under a white
umbrella, surrounded by his generals, who were fingering their beards
and looking exceedingly downcast, which was not unnatural, seeing that
at least half of them expected to be beheaded.

The Sultan’s face was an unpleasant sight. He bit at the stem of his
hookah and his fingers twitched, but he was not ungracious to the
renegade lancer who did obeisance before him.

“Stand up,” he growled. “Thou of all my askars hast no need to grovel.
How comes it that you alone went through?”

“Sidi,” said Ortho, “the Sultan’s enemies are mine—and it was not
difficult. I know the way.”

Mahomet’s delicate eyebrows arched. “Thou knowest the way—ha! Then thou
art wiser than these . . . these”—he waved his beautiful hand towards
the generals—“these sorry camel cows who deem themselves warriors. Tell
these ass-mares thy secret. Speak up and fear not.”

Ortho spoke out. He said nothing about his horse having bolted with him,
that so far from being heroic he was numb with fright. He spoke with the
voice of Fleischmann, deceased, expounded the Prussian’s theory of
discipline and tactics as applied to shock cavalry, and, having heard
them _ad nauseam_, missed never a point. All the time the Sultan sucked
at his great hookah and never took his ardent, glowering eyes from his
face, and all the time in the background the artillery thumped and the
muskets crackled.

He left the royal presence a Kaid Mia, commanding a squadron, a bag of
one hundred ducats in his hand, and a month later the cavalry swept over
the astonished Bou Khari as a flood sweeps a mud bank, steeled by the
knowledge that a regiment of Imperial infantry and three guns were in
their rear with orders to mow them down did they waver. They thundered
through to victory, and the Kaid Saïd el Ingliz (which was another name
for Ortho Penhale) rode, perforce, in the van—wishing to God he had not
spoken—and took a pike thrust in the leg and a musket ball in his ribs
and was laid out of harm’s way for months.

But that was past history, and now he was watching his horses come in.
They were not looking any too well, he thought, tucked-up, hide-bound,
scraggy—been campaigning overlong, traveling hard, feeding anyhow,
standing out in all weathers. He was thoroughly glad this tax-collecting
tour was at a close and he could get them back into garrison. His men
drove them up to their heel-pegs, made them fast for the night, tossed
bundles of grass before them and sought the camp fires that twinkled
cheerily in the twilight. A couple of stallions squealed, there was the
thud of a shoe meeting cannon-bone and another squeal, followed by the
curses of the horse-guard. A man by the fires twanged an oud and sang an
improvised ditty on a palm-tree in his garden at Tafilet:

    “A queen among palms,
    Very tall, very stately,
    The sun gilds her verdure
    With glittering kisses.
    And in the calm night time,
    Among her green tresses,
    The little stars tremble.”

Ortho drew the folds of his jellab closer about him—it was getting
mighty cold—stopped to speak to a farrier on the subject of the shoe
shortage and sought the miserable tent which he shared with his
lieutenant, Osman Bâki, a Turkish adventurer from Rumeli Hissar.

Osman was just in from headquarters and had news. The engineers reported
their mines laid and the Sari was going to blow the town walls at
moonrise—in an hour’s time. The infantry were already mustering, but
there were no orders for the horse. The Sari was in a vile temper, had
commanded that all male rebels were to be killed on sight, women
optional—looting was open. Osman picked a mutton bone, chattering and
shaking; the mountain cold had brought out his fever. He would not go
storming that night, he said, not for the plunder of Vienna; slung the
mutton bone out of doors, curled up on the ground, using his saddle for
pillow, and pulled every available covering over himself.

Ortho ate his subordinate’s share of the meager repast, stripped himself
to his richly laced kaftan, stuck a knife in his sash, picked up a sword
and a torch and went out.

The general was short of cavalry, unwilling to risk his precious
bodyguard, and had therefore not ordered them into the attack. Ortho was
going nevertheless; he was not in love with fighting, but he wanted
money—he always wanted money.

He walked along the camp fires, picked ten of the stoutest and most
rascally of his rascals, climbed out of the gully and came in view of
the beleaguered kasba. It was quite a small place, a square fortress of
mud-plastered stone standing in a gorge of the Major Atlas and filled
with obdurate mountaineers who combined brigandage with a refusal to pay
tribute. A five-day siege had in no wise weakened their resolve. Ortho
could hear drums beating inside, while from the towers came defiant
yells and splutters of musketry.

“If we can’t get in soon the snow will drive us away—and they know it,”
he said to the man beside him, and the man shivered and thought of warm
Tafilet.

“Yes, lord,” said he, “and there’s naught of value in that _roua_. Had
there been, the Sari would have not thrown the looting open. A sheep, a
goat or so—paugh! It is not worth our trouble.”

“They must be taught a lesson, I suppose,” said Ortho.

The man shrugged. “They will be dead when they learn it.”

A German sapper slouched by whistling “Im Grünewald mein Lieb, und ich,”
stopped and spoke to Ortho. They had worked right up to the walls by
means of trenches covered with fascines, he said, and were going to blow
them in two places simultaneously and rush the breaches. The blacks were
going in first. These mountaineers fought like devils, but he did not
think there were more than two hundred of them, and the infantry were
vicious, half-starved, half-frozen, impatient to be home. Snow was
coming, he thought; he could smell it—whew!

A pale haze blanched the east; a snow peak gleamed with ghostly light;
surrounding stars blinked as though blinded by a brighter glory, blinked
and faded out. Moon-rise. The German called “Besslama!” and hurried to
his post. The ghost-light strengthened. Ortho could see ragged
infantrymen creeping forward from rock to rock; some of them dragged
improvised ladders. He heard sly chuckles, the chink of metal on stone
and the snarl of an officer commanding silence.

In the village the drums went on—thump, thump; thump,
thump—unconscious of impending doom.

“Dogs of the Sultan,” screamed a man on the gate-tower. “Little dogs of
a big dog, may Gehenna receive you, may your mothers be shamed and your
fathers eat filth—a-he-yah!” His chance bullet hit the ground in front
of Ortho, ricocheted and found the man from Tafilet. He rolled over,
sighed one word, “nkhel”—palm groves—and lay still.

His companions immediately rifled the body—war is war. A shining edge,
a rim of silver coin, showed over a saddle of the peaks. “_G mare!_”
said the soldiers. “The moon—ah, _now_!”

The whispers and laughter ceased; every tattered starveling lay tense,
expectant.

In the village the drums went on—thump, thump; thump, thump. The moon
climbed up, up, dragged herself clear of the peaks, drenching the snow
fields with eerie light, drawing sparkles here, shadows there; a dead
goddess rising out of frozen seas.

The watchers held their breath, slowly released it, breathed again.

“Wah! the mines have failed,” a man muttered. “The powder was damp. I
knew it.”

“It is the ladders now, or nothing,” growled another. “Why did the Sari
not bring cannon?”

“The Tobjyah say the camels could not carry them in these hills,” said a
third.

“The Tobjyah tell great lies,” snapped the first. “I know for certain
that . . . hey!”

The north corner of the kasba was suddenly enveloped in a fountain of
flame, the ground under Ortho gave a kick, and there came such an
appalling clap of thunder he thought his ear-drums had been driven in.
His men scrambled to their feet cheering.

“Hold fast! Steady!” he roared. “There is another yet . . . ah!” The
second mine went up as the débris of the first came down—mud,
splinters, stones and shreds of human flesh.

A lump of plaster smashed across his shoulders and an infantryman within
a yard of him got his back broken by a falling beam. When Ortho lifted
his head again it was to hear the exultant whoops of the negro
detachments as they charged for the breaches. In the village the drums
had stopped; it was as dumb as a grave. He held his men back. He was not
out for glory.

“Let the blacks and infantry meet the resistance,” he said. “That man
with a broken back had a ladder—eh? Bring it along.”

He led his party round to the eastern side, put his ladder up and got
over without dispute. The tribesmen had recovered from their shock to a
certain extent and were concentrating at the breaches, leaving the walls
almost unguarded. A mountaineer came charging along the parapet, shot
one of Ortho’s men through the stomach as he himself was shot through
the head, and both fell writhing into a courtyard below.

The invaders passed from the wall to a flat roof, and there were
confronted by two more stalwarts whom they cut down with difficulty.
There was a fearful pandemonium of firing, shrieks, curses and
war-whoops going on at the breaches, but the streets were more or less
deserted. A young and ardent askar kaid trotted by, beating his tag-rag
on with his sword-flat. He yelped that he had come over the wall and was
going to take the defenders in the rear; he called to Ortho for support.
Ortho promised to follow and turned the other way—plunder, plunder!

The alleys were like dry torrent beds underfoot, not five feet deep and
dark as tunnels. Ortho lit his torch and looked for doors in the mud
walls. In every case they were barred, but he battered them in with axes
brought for that purpose—to find nothing worth the trouble.

Miserable hovels all, with perhaps a donkey and some sheep in the court
and a few leathery women and children squatting in the darkness wailing
their death-song. Ornaments they wore none—buried of course; there was
the plunder of at least two rich Tamgrout caravans hidden somewhere in
that village. His men tortured a few of the elder women to make them
disclose the treasure, but though they screamed and moaned there was
nothing to be got out of them. One withered hag did indeed offer to show
them where her grandson hid his valuables, led them into a small room,
suddenly jerked a koummyah from the folds of her haik and laid about
her, foaming at the mouth.

The room was cramped, the men crowded and taken unawares; the old fury
whirled and shrieked and chopped like a thing demented. She wounded
three of them before they laid her out. One man had his arm nearly taken
off at the elbow. Ortho bound it up as best he could and ordered him
back to camp, but he never got there. He took the wrong turning, fell
helpless among some other women and was disemboweled.

“Y’ Allah, the Sultan wastes time and lives,” said an askar. “The sons
of such dams will never pay taxes.”

Ortho agreed. He had lost two men dead and three wounded, and had got
nothing for it but a few sheep, goats and donkeys. The racket at the
breaches had died down, the soldiery were pouring in at every point. It
would be as well to secure what little he had. He drove his bleating
captures into a court, mounted his men on guard and went to the door to
watch.

An infantryman staggered down the lane bent under a brass-bound coffer.
Ortho kicked out his foot; man and box went headlong. The man sprang up
and flew snarling at Ortho, who beat him in the eyes with his torch and
followed that up with menaces of his sword. The man fled and Ortho
examined the box which the fall had burst open. It contained a brass
tiara, some odds and ends of tarnished Fez silk, a bride’s belt and
slippers; that was all. Value a few blanquils—faugh!

He left the stuff where it lay in the filth of the kennel, strolled
aimlessly up the street, came opposite a splintered door and looked in.

The house was more substantial than those he had visited, of two
stories, with a travesty of a fountain bubbling in the court. The
infantry had been there before him. Three women and an old man were
lying dead beside the fountain and in a patch of moonlight an
imperturbable baby sat playing with a kitten.

An open stairway led aloft. Ortho went up, impelled by a sort of idle
curiosity. There was a room at the top of the stair. He peered in.
Ransacked. The sole furniture the room possessed—a bed—had been
stripped of its coverings and overturned. He walked round the walls,
prodding with his sword at suspicious spots in the plaster in the hopes
of finding treasure. Nothing.

At the far end of the gallery was another room. Mechanically he strolled
towards it, thinking of other things, of his debts in Mequinez, of how
to feed his starved horses on the morrow—these people must at least
have some grain stored, in sealed pits probably. He entered the second
room. It was the same as the first, but it had not been ransacked; it
was not worth the trouble. A palmetto basket and an old jellab hung on
one wall, a bed was pushed against the far wall—and there was a dead
man. Ortho examined him by the flare of his torch. A low type of chiaus
foot soldier, fifty, diseased, and dressed in an incredible assortment
of tatters. Both his hands were over his heart, clenching fistfuls of
bloody rags, and on his face was an expression of extreme surprise. It
was as though death were the last person he had expected to meet. Ortho
thought it comical.

“What else did you expect to find, jackal—at this gay trade?” he
sneered, swept his torch round the room—and prickled.

In the shadow between the bed end and the wall he had seen something,
somebody, move.

He stepped cautiously towards the bed end, sword point forwards, on
guard. “Who’s there?”

No answer. He lowered his torch. It was a woman, crouched double,
swathed in a soiled haik, nothing but her eyes showing. Ortho grunted.
Another horse-faced mountain drudge, work-scarred, weather-coarsened!

“Stand up!” he ordered. She did not move. “Do you hear?” he snapped and
made a prick at her with his sword.

She sprang up and at the same moment flung her haik back. Ortho started,
amazed. The girl before him was no more than eighteen, dark-skinned,
slender, exquisitely formed. Her thick raven hair was bound with an
orange scarf; across her forehead was a band of gold coins and from her
ears hung coral earrings. She wore two necklaces, one of fretted gold
with fish-shaped pieces dangling from it, and a string of black beads
such as are made of pounded musk and amber. Her wrists and ankles were
loaded with heavy silver bangles. Intricate henna designs were traced
halfway up her slim hands and feet, and from wrist to shoulder patterns
had been scored with a razor and left to heal. Her face was finely
chiseled, the nose narrow and curved, the mouth arrogant, the brows
straight and stormy, and under them her great black eyes smoldered with
dangerous fires.

Ortho sucked in his breath. This burning, lance-straight, scornful
beauty came out of no hill village. An Arab this, daughter of whirlwind
horsemen, darling of some desert sheik, spoil of the Tamgrout caravans.

Well, she was his spoil now. The night’s work would pay after all. All
else aside, there was at least a hundred ducats of jewelry on her. He
would strip it now before the others came and demanded a share.

“Come here,” he said, dropping his sword.

The girl slouched slowly towards him, pouting, chin tilted, hands
clasped behind her, insolently obedient; stopped within two feet of him
and stabbed for his heart with all her might.

Had she struck less quickly and with more stealth she might have got
home. Penhale’s major asset was that, with him, thought and action were
one. He saw an instantaneous flicker of steel and instantaneously
swerved. The knife pierced the sleeve of his kaftan below the left
shoulder. He grabbed the girl by the wrist and wrenched it back till she
dropped the knife, and as he did this, with her free hand she very
nearly had his own knife out of his sash and into him—very nearly. But
that the handle caught in a fold he would have been done. He secured
both her wrists and held her at arm’s length. She ground her little
sharp teeth at him, quivered with rage, blazed murder with her eyes.

“Soldier,” said Ortho to the dead man behind him, “now I know why you
look astonished. Neither you nor I expected to meet death in so pretty a
guise.”

He spoke to the girl. “Be quiet, beauty, or I will shackle you with your
own bangles. Will you be sensible?”

For answer the girl began to struggle, tugged at his grasp, wrenched
this way and that with the frantic abandon of a wild animal in a gin.
She was as supple as an eel and, for all her slimness, marvelously
strong. Despite his superior weight and power, Ortho had all he could do
to hold her. But her struggles were too wild to last and at length
exhaustion calmed her. Ortho tied her hands with the orange scarf and
began to take her jewelry off and cram it in his pouch. While he was
thus engaged she worked the scarf loose with her teeth and made a dive
for his eyes with her long finger nails.

He tied her hands behind her this time and stooped to pry the anklets
off. She caught him on the point of the jaw with her knee, knocking him
momentarily dizzy. He tied her feet with a strip of her haik. She leaned
forward and bit his cheek, bit with all her strength, bit with teeth
like needles, nor would she let go till he had well-nigh choked her. He
cursed her savagely, being in considerable pain. She shook with
laughter. He gagged her after that, worked the last ornament off, picked
up his sword and prepared to go. His torch had spluttered out, but
moonlight poured through the open door and he could see the girl sitting
on the floor, gagged and bound, murdering him with her splendid eyes.

“_Msa l kheir, lalla!_” said he, making a mock salaam. She snorted,
defiant to the end. Ortho strode out and along the gallery. His cheek
stung like fire, blood was trickling from the scratches, his jaw was
stiff from the jolt it had received. What a she-devil!—but, by God,
what spirit! He liked women of spirit, they kept one guessing. She
reminded him somewhat of Schems-ed-dah back in Sallee, the same
rapier-tempering and blazing passion, desert women both. When tame they
were wonderful, without peer—when tame. He hesitated, stopped and
fingered his throbbing cheek.

“What that she-devil would like to do would be to cut me to pieces with
a knife—slowly,” he muttered. He turned about, feeling his jaw. “Cut me
to pieces and throw ’em to the dogs.” He walked back. “She would do it
gladly, though they did the same to her afterwards. Tame that sort!
Never in life.” He stepped back into the room and picked the girl up in
his arms. “Wild-cat, I’m going to attempt the impossible,” said he.

Even then she struggled.

The town was afire, darting tongued sheets of flame and jets of sparks
at the placid moon. Soldiers were everywhere, shouting, smashing,
pouring through the alleys over the bodies of the defenders. As Ortho
descended the stairs a party of Sudanese broke into the courtyard; one
of them took a wild shot at him.

“_Makhzeni!_” he shouted and they stood back.

A giant negro petty officer with huge loops of silver wire in his ears
held a torch aloft. Blood from a scalp wound smeared his face with a
crimson glaze. At his belt dangled four fowls and a severed head.

“Hey—the Kaid Ingliz,” he said and tapped the head. “The rebel Basha; I
slew him myself at the breach. The Sari should reward me handsomely. El
Hamdoulillah!” He smiled like a child expectant of sweetmeats. “What
have you there, Kaid?”

“A village wench merely.”

“Fair?”

“So so.”

The negro spat. “Bah! they are as ugly as their own goats, but”—he
grinned, knowing Ortho’s weakness—“she may fetch the price of a black
horse—eh, Kaid?”

“She may,” said Ortho.



                              CHAPTER XXII


Two days later the force struck camp, leaving the town behind them a
shell of blackened ruins, bearing on lances before them the heads of
thirty prominent citizens as a sign that Cæsar is not lightly denied his
tribute.

They streamed northeast through the defiles, a tattered rabble, a swarm
of locusts, eating up the land as they went. The wounded were jostled
along in rough litters, at the mercy of camp barbers and renegade
quacks; the majority died on the way and were thankful to die. The
infantry straggled for miles (half rode donkeys) and drove before them
cattle, sheep, goats and a few women prisoners. What with stopping to
requisition and pillage they progressed at an average of twelve miles a
day. Only among the negroes and the cavalry was there any semblance of
march discipline, and then only because the general kept them close
about him as protection against his other troops.

Beside Ortho rode the Arab girl, her feet strapped under the mule’s
belly. Twice she tried to escape—once by a blind bolt into the
foothills, once by a surer, sharper road. She had wriggled across the
tent and pulled a knife out of its sheath with her teeth. Osman had
caught her just as she was on the point of rolling on it. Ortho had to
tie her up at night and watch her all day long. Never had he encountered
such implacable resolve. She was determined to foil him one way or the
other at no matter what cost to herself. He had always had his own way
with women and this failure irritated him. He would stick it as long as
she, he swore—and longer.

Osman Bâki was entertained. He watched the contest with twinkling china
blue eyes—his mother had been a Georgian slave and he was as fair as a
Swede.

“She will leave you—somehow,” he warned.

“For whom? For what?” Ortho exclaimed. “If she slips past me the
infantry will catch her, or some farmer who will beat her life out. Why
does she object to me? I have treated her kindly—as kindly as she will
allow.”

Osman twirled his little yellow mustache. “Truly, but these people have
no reason, only a mad pride. One cannot reason with madness, Kaid. Oh, I
know them. When I was in the service of the deys . . .”

He delivered an anecdote from his unexampled repertoire proving the
futility of arguing with a certain class of Arab with anything more
subtle than a bullet.

“Sell her in Morocco,” he advised. “She is pretty, will fetch a good
sum.”

“No, I’m going to try my hand first,” said Ortho stubbornly.

“You’ll get it bitten,” said the Turk, eying the telltale marks on
Ortho’s face with amusement. “For my part I prefer a quiet life—in the
home.”

They straggled into Morocco City ten days later to find the Sultan in
residence for the winter, building sanctuaries and schools with immense
energy.

Ortho hoped for the governorship of an outlying post where he would be
more or less his own master, get some pig-hunting and extort backsheesh
from the country folk under his protection; but it was not to be. He was
ordered to quarter his stalwarts in the kasba and join the Imperial
Guard. Having been in the Guard before at Mequinez, having influence in
the household and getting a wind-fall in the way of eight months’ back
pay, he contrived to bribe himself into possession of a small house
overlooking the Aguedal Gardens, close to the Ahmar Gate.

There he installed the Arab girl and a huge old negress to look after
her.

Then he set to and gave his unfortunate men the stiffening of their
lives.

He formed his famous black horses into one troop, graded the others by
colors and drilled the whole all day long.

Furthermore, he instituted a system of grooming and arm-cleaning
hitherto unknown in the Moroccan forces—all on the Fleischmann recipe.
Did his men show sulks, he immediately up-ended and bastinadoed them.
This did not make him popular, but Osman Bâki supported him with
bewildered loyalty and he kept the _mokadem_ and the more desperate
rascals on his side by a judicious distribution of favors and money.
Nevertheless he did not stroll abroad much after dark and then never
unattended.

They drilled in the Aguedal, on the bare ground opposite the powder
house, and acquired added precision from day to day. Ortho kept his eye
on the roof of the powder house.

For two months this continued and Ortho grew anxious. What with
household expenses and continued _douceurs_ to the _mokadem_ his money
was running out and he was sailing too close to the wind to try tricks
with his men’s rations and pay at present.

Just when things were beginning to look desperate a party appeared on
the roof of the powder house, which served the parade ground as a
grand-stand.

Ortho, ever watchful, saw them the moment they arrived, brought his
command into squadron column, black troop to the fore, and marched past
underneath.

They made a gallant show and Ortho knew it. Thanks to the grooming, his
horses were looking fifty per cent better than any other animals in the
Shereefian Army; the uniformity added another fifty. The men knew as
well as he did who was looking down on them, and went by, sitting stiff,
every eye fixed ahead.

The lusty sun set the polished hides aglow, the burnished lance-heads
a-glitter. The horses, fretted by sharp stirrups, tossed their silky
manes, whisked their streaming tails. The wind got into the burnooses
and set them flapping and billowing in creamy clouds; everything was in
his favor. Ortho wheeled the head of his column left about, formed
squadron line on the right and thundered past the Magazine, his
shop-window troop nearest the spectators, shouting the imperial salute,
“_Allah y barek Amer Sidi!_” A good line too, he congratulated himself,
as good as any Makhzen cavalry would achieve in this world. If that
didn’t work nothing would. It worked.

A slave came panting across the parade ground summoning him to the
powder house at once.

The Sultan was leaning against the parapet, sucking a pomegranate and
spitting the pips at his Grand Vizier, who pretended to enjoy it. The
fringes of the royal jellab were rusty with brick dust from the ruins of
Bel Abbas, which Mahomet was restoring. Ortho did obeisance and got a
playful kick in the face; His Sublimity was in good humor.

He recognized Ortho immediately. “Ha! The lancer who alone defied the
Bou Khari, still alive! Young man, you must indeed be of Allah beloved!”
He looked the soldier up and down with eyes humorous and restless. “What
is your rank?”

“Kaid Mia, Sidi.”

“Hum!—thou art Kaid Rahal now, then.” He turned on the Vizier. “Tell El
Mechouar to let him take what horses he chooses; he knows how to keep
them. Go!”

He flung the fruit rind at Ortho by way of dismissal.

Ortho gave his long-suffering men a feast that night with the last ready
money in his possession. They voted him a right good fellow—soldiers
have short memories.

He was on his feet now. As Kaid Rahal, with nominally a thousand
cut-throats at his beck and nod, he would be a fool indeed if he
couldn’t blackmail the civilians to some order. Also there was a
handsome sum to be made by crafty manipulation of his men’s pay and
rations. El Mechouar would expect his commission out of this, naturally,
and sundry humbler folk—“big fleas have little fleas . . .”—but there
would be plenty left. He was clear of the financial thicket. He went
prancing home to his little house, laid aside his arms and burnoose,
took the key from the negress, ran upstairs and unlocked the room in
which the Arab girl, Ourida, was imprisoned. It was a pleasant prison
with a window overlooking the Aguedal, its miles of pomegranate, orange,
and olive trees. It was the best room in the house and he had furnished
it as well as his thin purse would afford, but to the desert girl it
might have been a tomb.

She sat all day staring out of the barred window, looking beyond the
wide Haouz plain to where the snow peaks of the High Atlas rose, a sheer
wall of sun-lit silver—and beyond them even. She never smiled, she
never spoke, she hardly touched her food. Ortho in all his experience
had encountered nothing like her. He did his utmost to win her over,
brought sweetmeats, laughed, joked, retailed the gossip of the palace
and the souks, told her stories of romance and adventure which would
have kept any other harem toy in shivers of bliss, took his gounibri and
sang Romany songs, Moorish songs, English ballads, flowery Ottoman
_kasidas_, _ghazels_ and _gûlistâns_, learned from Osman Bâki, cursed
her, adored her.

All to no avail; he might have been dumb, she deaf. Driven desperate, he
seized her in his arms; he had as well embraced so much ice. It was
maddening. Osman Bâki, who watched him in the lines of a morning, raving
at the men over trifles, twisted his yellow mustache and smiled. This
evening, however, Ortho was too full of elation to be easily repulsed.
He had worked hard and intrigued steadily for this promotion. Three
years before he had landed in Morocco a chained slave, now he was the
youngest of his rank in the first arm of the service. Another few years
at this pace and what might he not achieve? He bounded upstairs like a
lad home with a coveted prize, told the girl of his triumph, striding up
and down the room, flushed, laughing, smacking his hands together,
boyish to a degree. He looked his handsomest, a tall, picturesque figure
in the plum-colored breeches, soft riding boots, blue kaftan and scarlet
tarboosh tilted rakishly on his black curls. The girl stole a glance at
him from under her long lashes, but when he looked at her she was
staring out of the window at the snow wall of the Atlas rose-flushed
with sunset, and when he spoke to her she made no answer; he might as
well have been talking to himself. But he was too full of his success to
notice, and he rattled on and on, pacing the little room up and down,
four strides each way. He dropped beside her, put his arm about her
shoulders, drew her cold cheek to his flushed one.

“Listen, my pearl,” he rhapsodized. “I have money now and you shall have
dresses like rainbows, a gold tiara and slave girls to wait on you, and
when we move garrison you shall ride a white ambling mule with red
trappings and lodge in a striped tent like the royal women. I am a Kaid
Rahal now, do you hear? The youngest of any, and in the Sultan’s favor.
I will contrive and scheme, and in a few years . . . the
Standard!—_eschkoun-i-araf_? And then, my honey-sweet, you shall have a
palace with a garden and fountains. Hey, look!”

He scooped in his voluminous breeches’ pockets, brought out a handful of
trinkets and tossed them into her lap. The girl stared at him, then at
the treasures, and drew a sharp breath. They were her own, the jewelry
he had wrenched from her on that wild night of carnage three months
before.

“You thought I had sold them—eh?” he laughed. “No, no, my dear; it very
nearly came to it, but not quite. They are safe now and yours
again—see?”

He seized her wrists and worked the bangles on, snapped the crude black
necklace round her neck and hung the elaborate gold one over it, kissed
her full on the quivering mouth. “Yours again, for always.”

She ran the plump black beads through her fingers, her breathing
quickened. She glanced at him sideways, shyly; there was an odd light in
her eyes. She swayed a little towards him, then the corners of her mouth
twitched and curved upwards in an adorable bow; she was smiling,
smiling! He held out his arms to her and she toppled into them, burying
her face in his bosom.

“My lord!” said she.

The proud lady had surrendered at last!

“Osman, Osman Bâki, what now?” thought Ortho and crushed her to him.

The girl made a faint, pained exclamation and put her hand to her
throat.

“Did I hurt you, my own?” said Ortho, contrite.

“No, my lord, but you have snapped my necklace,” she laughed. “It is
nothing.”

He picked up the black beads, wondering how he could have done it, and
she put them down on the rug beside her.

“It is a poor thing, but a great saint has blessed it. My king, take me
in your arms again.”

They sat close together while the rosy peaks faded out and the swift
winter dusk filled the room, and he told her of the great things he
would do. Elation swept him up. Everything seemed possible now with this
slim, clinging beauty to solace and inspire him. He would trample on and
on, scattering opposition like straw, carving his own road, a captain of
destiny. She believed in his bravest boasts. Her lord had but to will a
thing and it was done. Who could withstand her lord? “Not I, not I,”
said she. “Hearken, tall one. I said to my heart night and day, ‘Hate
this Roumi askar, hate him, hate him!’—but my heart would not listen,
it was wiser than I.”

She nestled luxuriously in his arms, crooning endearments, melting and
passionate, sweeter than honey in the honey-comb. It grew dark and cold.
He went to the door and called for the brazier.

“And tea,” Ourida added. “I would serve you with tea, my heart’s joy.”

The negress brought both.

Ourida rubbed her head against his shoulder. “Sweetmeats?” she cooed.

He jerked his last blanquils to the slave with the order.

Ourida squatted cross-legged on a pile of cushions and poured out the
sweet mint tea, handed him his cup with a mock salaam. He did obeisance
as before a Sultana, and she rippled with delight. They made long
complimentary speeches to each other after the manner of the court,
played with each other’s hands, were very childish and merry.

Ourida pressed a second cup of tea on him. He drank it off at a gulp and
lay down at her side.

“Rest here and be comfortable,” said she, drawing his head to her.

“Tell me again about that battle with the Bou Khari.”

He told her in detail, omitting the salient fact that his horse had
bolted with him, though, in truth, he had almost forgotten it himself by
now.

“All alone you faced them! Small wonder Sidi Mahomet holds thee in high
honor, my hero. And the fight in the Rif?”

He told her all about the guerrilla campaign among the rock fastnesses
of the Djebel Tiziren, of a single mountaineer with a knife crawling
through the troop-lines at night and sixty ham-strung horses in the
morning.

Ourida was entranced. “Go on, my lord, go on.”

Ortho went on. He didn’t want to talk. He was most comfortable lying out
on the cushions, his head on the girl’s soft lap. Moreover, his heavy
day in the sun and wind had made him extraordinarily drowsy—but he went
on. He told her of massacres and burnt villages, of ambushes and
escapes, of three hundred rebels rising out of a patch of cactus no
bigger than a sheep pen and rushing in among the astonished lancers,
screaming and slashing. The survivors of that affair had fled up the
opposite hillside flat on their horses’ necks and himself among the
foremost, but he did not put it that way; he said he “organized the
retreat.”

“More,” breathed Ourida.

He began to tell her of five fanatics with several muskets and
quantities of ammunition shut up in a saint’s shrine and defying the
entire Shereefian forces for two days, but before he had got halfway his
voice tailed off into silence.

“You do not speak, light of my life?”

“I am sleepy—and comfortable, dearest.”

Ourida smoothed his cheek. “Sleep then with thy slave for pillow.”

He felt her lips touch his forehead, her slim fingers running through
his curls, through and through . . . through . . . and . . . through
. . .

“My lord sleeps?” came Ourida’s voice from miles away, thrilling
strangely.

“Um . . . ah! . . . almost,” Ortho mumbled. “Where . . . you . . .
going?” She had slipped from under him; he had an impulse to grasp her
hand, then felt it was too much trouble.

“Listen, Saïd el Ingliz,” said Ourida in his ear, enunciating with great
clarity. “You are going to sleep for_ever_, you swine!”

He forced his weighted lids apart. She was bending right over him. He
could see her face by the glow of the brazier, transformed, exultant;
her teeth were locked together and showing; her eyes glittered.

“For_ever_,” she hissed. “Do you hear me?”

“Drugged, by God!” thought Ortho. “Drugged, poisoned, fooled like a fat
palace eunuch!”

Fury came upon him. He fought the drowse with all the power that was in
him, sat up, fell back again.

The girl laughed shrilly.

He tried to shout for help, for the negress, achieved a whisper.

“She has gone for sweetmeats and will loiter hours,” mocked the girl.
“Call louder; call up your thousand fine lancers. Oh, great Kaid Rahal,
Standard Bearer to be!”

“Osman—they will crush you . . . between . . . stones . . . for this,”
he mumbled.

She shook her head. “No, great one, they will not catch me. I have three
more poisoned beads.” She held up the remnant of her black necklace.

So that was how it was done. In the tea. By restoring her the trinkets
he had compassed his own end. His eyelids drooped, he was away, adrift
again in that old dream he had had, rocking in the smuggler’s boat under
Black Carn, floating through star-trembling space, among somber
continents of cloud, a wraith borne onwards, downwards on streaming
air-ways into everlasting darkness.

“Great Lord of lances,” came a whisper out of nowhere. “When thou art in
Gehenna thou wilt remember me, thy slave.”

He fought back to consciousness, battled with smothering wraps of
swansdown, through fogs of choking gray and yellow, through pouring
waters of oblivion, came out sweating into the light, saw through a haze
a shadow girl bending over him, the red glimmer of the brazier.

With an immense effort he lifted his foot into the coals, bit hard into
his under-lip. “Not yet, not yet!”

The girl displayed amusement. “Wouldst burn before thy time? Burn on.
Thou wilt take no more women of my race against their wish, Kaid—or any
other women—though methinks thy lesson is learned overlate.

“Why fight the sleep, _Roumi_? It will come, it will come. The Rif herb
never fails.” On she went with her bitter raillery, on and on.

But Ortho was holding his own. He was his mother’s son and had inherited
all her marvelous vitality. The pain in his burnt foot was counteracting
the drowse, sweat was pouring out of him. The crisis was past. Could he
but crawl to the door? Not yet; in a minute or two. That negress must be
back soon. He bit into his bleeding lip again, closed his eyes. The girl
bent forward eagerly.

“It is death, Kaid. Thou art dying, dying!”

“No, nor shall I,” he muttered, and instantly realized his mistake.

She drew back, startled, and swooped at him again.

“Open your eyes!” She forced his lids up.

“Failed!”

“Failed!” Ortho repeated.

“Bah! there are other means,” she snarled, jumped up, flitted round the
room, stood transfixed in thought in the center, both hands to her
cheeks, laughed, tore off her orange scarf and dropped on her knees
beside him.

“Other means, Kaid.” She slipped the silk loop round his neck, knotted
it and twisted.

She was going to strangle him, the time-hallowed practice of the East.
He tried to stop her, lifted his heavy hands, but they were powerless,
like so much dead wood. He swelled his neck muscles, but it was useless;
the silk was cutting in all round, a red-hot wire. He had a flash
picture of Osman Bâki standing over his body, wagging his head
regretfully and saying, “I said so,” Osman Bâki with the Owls’ House for
background. It was all over; the girl had waited and got him in the end.
Even at that moment he admired her for it. She had spirit; never had he
seen such spirit. Came a pang of intolerable pain, his eyeballs were
starting out, his head was bursting open—and then the tension at his
throat inexplicably relaxed.

Ortho rolled over, panting and retching, and as he did so heard
footsteps on the stairs.

A fist thumped on the door, a voice cried, “Kaid! Kaid!” and there was
Osman Bâki.

He peered into the room, holding a lantern before him. “Kaid, are you
there? Where are you? There is a riot of Draouia in the Djeema El Fna;
two troops to go out. Oh, there you are—_Bismillah_! What is this?”

He sprang across to where Ortho lay and bent over him.

“What is the matter? Are you ill? What is it?”

“Nothing,” Ortho croaked. “Trying hasheesh . . . took too much . . .
nothing at all. See to troops yourself . . . go now.” He coughed and
coughed.

“Hasheesh!” The Turk sniffed, stared at him suspiciously, glanced round
the room, caught sight of the girl and held up the lantern.

“Ha-ha!”

The two stood rigid eye to eye, the soldier with chin stuck forward,
every hair bristling, like a mastiff about to spring, the girl
unflinching, three beads of her black necklace in her teeth.

“Ha-ha!” Osman put the lantern deliberately on the ground beside him and
stepped forward, crouched double, his hands outstretched like claws.
“You snake,” he muttered. “You Arab viper, I’ll . . . I’ll . . .”

Ortho hoisted himself on his elbow. The girl was superb! So slight and
yet so defiant. “Osman,” he rasped, “Osman, friend, go! The riot! Go, it
is an order!”

The Turk stopped, stood up, relaxed, turned slowly about and picked up
the lantern. He looked at Ortho, walked to the door, hesitated, shot a
blazing glance at the girl, gave his mustache a vicious tug and went
out.

Silence but for the sputter of the brazier and the squeak of a mouse in
the wall.

Then Ortho heard the soft plud-plud of bare feet crossing the room and
he knew the girl was standing over him.

“Well, sweet,” he sighed, “come to complete your work? I am still in
your hands.”

She tumbled on her knees beside him, clasped his head to her breast and
sobbed, sobbed, sobbed as though she would never stop.



                             CHAPTER XXIII


Ortho spent that winter in Morocco City, but in the spring was sent out
with a force against the Zoua Arabs south of the Figvig Oasis, which had
been taken by Muley Ismail and was precariously held by his descendants.
They spent a lot of time and trouble dragging cannon up, to find them
utterly useless when they got there. The enemy did not rely on strong
places—they had none—but on mobility. They played a game of sting and
run very exasperating to their opponents. It was like fighting a cloud
of deadly mosquitoes. The wastage among the Crown forces was alarming;
two generals were recalled and strangled, and when Ortho again saw the
Koutoubia minaret rising like a spear-shaft from the green palms of
Morocco it was after an absence of ten months.

Ourida met him in transports of joy, a two-month baby in her arms. It
was a son, the exact spit and image of him, she declared, a person of
already incredible sagacity and ferocious strength. A few years and he
too would be riding at the head of massed squadrons, bearing the green
banner of the Prophet.

Ortho, burned black with Saharan suns, weak with privation, sick of the
reek of festering battlefields, contemplated the tiny pink creature he
had brought into the world and swore in his heart that this boy of his
should follow peaceful ways.

Fighting men were, as a class, the salt of the earth, simple-hearted,
courageous, dog-loyal, dupes of the cunning and the cowardly. But apart
from the companionship he had no illusions concerning the profession of
arms as practiced in the Shereefian empire; it was one big bully
maintaining himself in the name of God against a horde of lesser bullies
(also invoking the Deity) by methods that would be deemed undignified in
a pot-house brawl. He was in it for the good reason that he could not
get out; but no son of his should be caught in the trap if he could help
it. However, he said nothing of this to Ourida. He kissed her over and
over and said the boy was magnificent and would doubtless make a fine
soldier—but there was time to think about that.

He saw winter and summer through in Morocco, with the exception of a
short trip on the Sultan’s bodyguard to Mogador, which port Mahomet had
established to offset fractious Agadir and taken under his special
favor.

The sand-blown white town was built on the plans of an Avignon engineer
named Cornut, with fortifications after the style of Vauban. This gave
it a pronounced European flavor which was emphasized by the number of
foreign traders in its streets, drawn thither by the absence of custom.
Also there was the Atlantic pounding on the Island, a tang of brine in
the air and a sea wind blowing. Ortho had not seen the Atlantic since he
left Sallee; homesickness gnawed at him.

He climbed the Skala tower, and, sitting on a cannon cast for the third
Philippe in 1595, watched the sun westering in gold and crimson and
dreamed of the Owls’ House, the old Owls’ House lapped in its secret
valley, where a man could live his life out in fullness and peace—and
his sons after him.

Walking back through the town, he met with a Bristol trader and turned
into a wine shop. The Englishman treated him to a bottle of Jerez and
the news of the world. Black bad it was. The tight little island had her
back to the wall, fighting for bare life against three powerful nations
at once. The American colonists were in full rebellion to boot, India
was a cock-pit, Ireland sharpening pikes. General Burgoyne had
surrendered at Saratoga. Eliott was besieged in Gibraltar. French,
American and Spanish warships were thick as herring in the Channel; the
Bristolian had only slipped through them by sheer luck and would only
get back by a miracle.

Taxation at home was crippling, and every mother’s son who had one leg
to go upon and one arm to haul with was being pressed for service; they
were even emptying the jails into the navy. He congratulated Ortho on
being out of the country and harm’s way. Ortho had had a wild idea of
getting a letter written and taken home to Eli by this man, but as he
listened he reflected that it was no time now. Also, if he wanted to be
bought out he would have to give minute instructions as to where the
smuggling money was hidden. Letters were not inviolate; the bearer, and
not Eli, might find that hidden money. And then there was Ourida and
Saïd II. Saïd would become acclimatized, but England and Ourida were
incompatible. He could not picture the ardent Bedouin girl—her bangles,
silks and exotic finery—in the gray north; she would shrivel up like a
frost-bitten lotus, pine and die.

No, he was firmly anchored now. One couldn’t have everything; he had
much. He drank up his wine, wished the Bristolian luck with his venture
and rode back to the Diabat Palace.

A week later he was home again in Morocco.

Added means had enabled him to furnish the Bab Ahmar house very
comfortably, Moorish fashion, with embroidered _haitis_ on the walls,
inlaid tables and plenty of well-cushioned lounges. The walls were
thick; the rooms, though small, were high and airy; the oppressive heat
of a Haouz summer did not unduly penetrate. Ourida bloomed, Saïd the
younger progressed from strength to strength, waxing daily in fat and
audacity. He was the idol of the odd-job boy and the two slave women
(the household had increased with its master’s rank), of Osman Bâki and
Ortho’s men. The latter brought him presents from time to time: fruit
stolen from the Aguedal, camels, lions and horses (chiefly horses)
crudely carved and highly colored, and, when he was a year old, a small,
shy monkey caught in the Rif, and later an old eagle with clipped wings
and talons which, the donor explained, would defend the little lord from
snakes and such-like. Concerning these living toys, Saïd II. displayed a
devouring curiosity and no fear at all. When the monkey clicked her
teeth at him he gurgled and pulled her tail till she escaped up the
wistaria. He pursued the eagle on all fours, caught it sleeping one
afternoon, and hung doggedly on till he had pulled a tail feather out.
The bird looked dangerous, Saïd II. bubbled delightedly and grabbed for
another feather, whereat the eagle retreated hastily to sulk among the
orange shrubs. Was the door left open for a minute, Saïd II. was out of
it on voyages of high adventure.

Once he was arrested by the guard at the Ahmar Gate, plodding cheerfully
on all fours for open country, and returned, kicking and raging, in the
arms of a laughing petty officer.

Ortho himself caught the youngster emerging through the postern onto the
Royal parade ground.

“He fears nothing,” Ourida exulted. “He will be a great warrior and slay
a thousand infidels—the sword of Allah!—um-yum, my jewel.”

That battered soldier and turncoat infidel, his father, rubbed his chin
uneasily. “M’yes . . . perhaps. Time enough yet.”

But there was no gainsaying the fierce spirit of the Arab mother,
daughter of a hundred fighting _sheiks_; her will was stronger than his.
The baby’s military education began at once. In the cool of the morning
she brought Saïd II. to the parade ground, perched him on the parapet of
the Dar-el-Heni and taught him to clap his hands when the Horse went by.

Once she hoisted him to his father’s saddle bow. The fat creature
twisted both hands in the black stallion’s mane and kicked the glossy
neck with his heels, gurgling with joy.

“See, see,” said Ourida, her eyes like stars for radiance. “He grips, he
rides. He will carry the standard in his day _zahrit_.” The soldiers
laughed and lifted their lances. “Hail to the young Kaid!”

Ortho, gripping his infant son by the slack of his miniature jellab,
felt sick. Ourida and these other simple-minded fanatics would beat him
yet with their fool ideas of glory, urge this crowing baby of his into
hardship, terror, pain, possibly agonizing death.

Parenthood was making a thoughtful man of him. He was no longer the
restless adventurer of two years ago, looking on any change as better
than none. He grudged every moment away from the Bab Ahmar, dreaded the
spring campaign, the separation it would entail, the chance bullet that
might make it eternal.

His ambition dimmed. He no longer wanted power and vast wealth, only
enough to live comfortably on with Ourida and young Saïd just as he was.
Promotion meant endless back-stair intrigues; he had no taste left for
them and had other uses for the money and so fell out of the running.

A Spanish woman in the royal harem, taking advantage of her temporary
popularity with Mahomet, worked her wretched little son into position
over Penhale’s head and over him went a fat Moor, Yakoub Ben Ahmed by
name, advanced by the offices of a fair sister, also in the seraglio.
Neither of these heroes had more than a smattering of military lore and
no battle experience whatever, but Ortho did not greatly care. Promotion
might be rapid in the Shereefian army, but degradation was apt to be
instantaneous—the matter of a sword flash. He had risen as far as he
could rise with moderate safety and there he would stop. Security was
his aim nowadays, a continuance of things as they were.

For life went by very happily in the little house by the Bab Ahmar,
pivoting on Saïd II. But in the evening, when that potential conqueror
had ceased the pursuit of the monkey and eagle and lay locked in sleep,
Ourida would veil herself, wind her haik about her and go roaming into
the city with Ortho. She loved the latticed _souks_ with their displays
of silks, jewelry and leather work; the artificers with their long
muskets, curved daggers, velvet scabbarded swords and pear-shaped powder
flasks; the gorgeous horse-trappings at the saddlers’, but these could
be best seen in broad daylight; in the evening there were other
attractions.

It was the Djeema-el-Fna that drew her, that great, dusty, clamorous
fair-ground of Morocco where gather the story-tellers, acrobats and
clowns; where feverish drums beat the sun down, assisted by the pipes of
Aissawa snake charmers and the jingling _ouds_ and cymbals of the Berber
dancing boys; where the Sultan hung out the heads of transgressors that
they might grin sardonically upon the revels. Ourida adored the
Djeema-el-Fna. To the girl from the tent hamlet in the Sahara it was
Life. She wept at the sad love stories, trembled at the snake charmers,
shrieked at the crude buffoons, swayed in sympathy with the Berber
dancers, besought Ortho for coin, and more coin, to reward the charming
entertainers. She loved the varied crowds, the movement, the excitement,
the din, but most of all she liked the heads. No evening on the Djeema
was complete unless she had inspected these grisly trophies of imperial
power.

She said no word to Ortho, but nevertheless he knew perfectly well what
was in her mind; in her mind she saw young Saïd twenty years on,
spattered with infidel blood, riding like a tornado, serving his enemies
even as these.

Ferocious—she was the ultimate expression of ferocity—but knowing no
mean she was also ferocious in her love and loyalty; she would have
given her life for husband or son gladly, rejoicing. Such people are
difficult to deal with. Ortho sighed, but let her have her way.

Often of an evening Osman Bâki came to the house and they would sit in
the court drinking Malaga wine and yarning about old campaigns, while
Ourida played with the little ape and the old eagle watched for mice,
pretending to be asleep.

Osman talked well. He told of his boyhood’s home beside the Bosporus, of
Constantinople, Bagdad and Damascus with its pearly domes bubbling out
of vivid greenery. Jerusalem, Tunis and Algiers he had seen also and now
the Moghreb, the “Sunset land” of the first Saracen invaders. One thing
more he wanted to see and that was the Himalayas. He had heard old
soldiers talk of them—propping the heavens. He would fill his eyes with
the Himalayas and then go home to his garden in Rumeli Hissar and brood
over his memories.

Sometimes he would take the _gounibri_ and sing the love lyrics of his
namesake, or of Nêdim, or “rose garden” songs he had picked up in Persia
which Ourida thought delicious. And sometimes Ortho trolled his green
English ballads, also favorably received by her, simply because he sang
them, for she did not understand their rhythm in the least. But more
often they lounged, talking lazily, three very good friends together,
Osman sucking at the hookah, punctuating the long silences with shrewd
comments on men and matters, Ortho lying at his ease watching the
brilliant African stars, drawing breaths of blossom-scented air wafted
from the Aguedal, Ourida nestling at his side, curled up like a sleepy
kitten.

Summer passed and winter; came spring and with it, to Ortho’s joy, no
prospect of a campaign for him. A desert marabout, all rags, filth and
fervor, preached a holy war in the Tissant country, gathering a few
malcontents about him, and Yakoub Ben Ahmed was dispatched with a small
force to put a stop to it. There were the usual rumors of unrest in the
south, but nothing definite, merely young bucks talking big. Ortho
looked forward to another year of peace.

He went in the Sultan’s train to Mogador for a fortnight in May, and at
the end of June was sent to Taroudant, due east of Agadir. A trifling
affair of dispatches. He told Ourida he would be back in no time and
rode off cheerfully.

His business in Taroudant done, he was on the point of turning home when
he was joined by a kaid mia and ten picked men from Morocco bearing
orders that he was to take them on to Tenduf, a further two hundred
miles south, and collect overdue tribute.

Ortho well knew what that meant. Tenduf was on the verge of outbreak,
the first signal of which would be his, the tax collector’s head, on a
charger. Had he been single he would not have gone to Tenduf—he would
have made a dash for freedom—but now he had a wife in Morocco, a
hostage for his fidelity.

Seeking a public scribe, he dictated a letter to Ourida and another to
Osman Bâki, commending her to his care should the worst befall, and rode
on.

The Basha of Tenduf received the Sultan’s envoy with the elaborate
courtesy that is inherent in a Moor and signifieth nothing. He was
desolated that the tribute was behindhand, enlarged on the difficulty of
collecting it in a land impoverished by drought (which it was not), but
promised to set to work immediately. In the meantime Ortho lodged in the
kasba, ostensibly an honored guest, actually a prisoner, aware that the
Basha was the ringleader of the offenders and that his own head might be
removed at any moment. Hawk-faced sheiks, armed to the teeth, galloped
in, conferred with the Basha, galloped away again. If they brought any
tribute it was well concealed. Time went by; Ortho bit his lip, fuming
inwardly, but outwardly his demeanor was of polite indifference.
Whenever he could get hold of the Basha he regaled him with instances of
Imperial wrath, of villages burned to the ground, towns taken and put to
the sword, men, women and children; lingering picturesquely on the
tortures inflicted on unruly governors.

“But why did Sidi do that?” the Basha would exclaim, turning a shade
paler at the thought of his peer of Khenifra having all his nails drawn
out and then being slowly sawn in half.

“Why?” Ortho would scratch his head and look puzzled. “Why? Bless me if
I know! Oh, yes, I believe there was some little hitch with the taxes.”

“These walls make me laugh,” he remarked, walking on the Tenduf
fortifications.

The Governor was annoyed. “Why so? They are very good walls.”

“As walls go,” Ortho admitted. “But what are walls nowadays? They take
so long to build, so short a time to destroy. Why, our Turk gunners
breached the Derunat walls in five places in an hour. The sole use for
walls is to contain the defenders in a small space, then every bomb we
throw inside does its work.”

“Hum!” The Basha stroked his brindled beard. “Hum—but supposing the
enemy harass you in the open?”

Ortho shrugged his shoulders. “Then we kill them in the open, that is
all. It takes longer, but they suffer more.”

“It took you a long time at Figvig,” the Basha observed maliciously.

“Not after we learned the way.”

“And what is the way?”

“We take possession of the wells and they die of thirst in the sands and
save us powder. At Figvig there were many wells; it took time. Here—”
He swept his hand over the burning champagne and snapped his fingers.
“Just that.”

“Hum,” said the Basha and walked away deep in thought. Day after day
came and went and Ortho was not dead yet. He had an idea that he was
getting the better of the bluffing match, that the Basha’s nerve was
shaking and he was passing it on.

There came a morning when the trails were hazy with the dust of horsemen
hastening in to Tenduf, and the envoy on the kasba tower knew that the
crisis had arrived.

It was over by evening. The tribute began to come in next day and
continued to roll in for a week more.

The Basha accompanied Ortho ten miles on his return journey, regretting
any slight misconstruction that might have arisen and protesting his
imperishable loyalty. He trusted that his dear friend Saïd el Inglez
would speak well of him to the Sultan and presented him with two richly
caparisoned horses and a bag of ducats as a souvenir of their charming
relations.

Slowly went the train; the horses were heavy laden and the heat
terrific. Ortho dozed in the saddle, impatient at the pace, powerless to
mend it. He beguiled the tedious days, mentally converting the Basha’s
ducats into silks and jewelry for Ourida. It was the end of August
before he reached Taroudant. There he got word that the court had moved
to Rabat and he was to report there. Other news he got also, news that
sent him riding alone to Morocco City, night and day, as fast as driven
horseflesh would carry him.

He went through the High Atlas passes to Goundafa, then north across the
plains by Tagadirt and Aguergour. From Aguergour on the road was
crawling with refugees—men, women, children, horses, donkeys, camels
loaded with household goods staggering up the mifis valley, anywhere out
of the pestilent city. They shouted warnings at the urgent horseman:
“The sickness, the sickness! Thou art riding to thy death, lord!”

Ortho nodded; he knew. It was late afternoon when he passed through
Tameslouht and saw the Koutoubia minaret in the distance, standing
serene, though all humanity rotted.

He was not desperately alarmed. Plagues bred in the beggars’ kennels,
not in palace gardens. It would have reached his end of the city last of
all, giving his little family ample time to run. Osman Bâki would see to
it that Ourida had every convenience. They were probably down at Dar el
Beida reveling in the clean sea breezes, or at Rabat with the Court. He
told himself he was not really frightened; nevertheless he did the last
six miles at a gallop, passed straight through the Bab Ksiba into the
kasba. There were a couple of indolent Sudanese on guard at the gate and
a few more sprawling in the shadow of the Drum Barracks, but the big
Standard Square was empty and so were the two further courts.

He jumped off his horse at the postern and walked on. From the houses
around came not a sound, not a move; in the street he was the only
living thing. He knocked at his own door; no answer. Good! They had
gone!

The door swung open to his push and he stepped in, half relieved, half
fearful, went from room to room to find them stripped bare. Ourida had
managed to take all her belongings with her then. He wondered how she
had found the transport. Osman Bâki contrived it, doubtless. A picture
flashed before him of his famous black horse squadron trekking for the
coast burdened with Ourida’s furniture—a roll of haitis to this man, a
cushion to that, a cauldron to another—and he laughed merrily.

Where had they gone, he wondered—Safi, Dar el Beida, Mogador, Rabat?
The blacks at the barracks might know; Osman should have left a message.
He stepped out of the kitchen into the court and saw a man rooting the
little orange trees out of their tubs.

“Hey!”

The man swung about, sought to escape, saw it was impossible and flung
himself upon the ground writhing and sobbing for mercy.

It was a beggar who sat at the Ahmar Gate with his head hidden in the
hood of his haik (he was popularly supposed to have no face), a
supplicating claw protruding from a bundle of foul rags and a muffled
voice wailing for largesse. Ortho hated the loathly beast, but Ourida
gave him money—“in the name of God.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Great lord, have mercy in the name of Sidi Ben Youssef the Blest, of
Abd el Moumen and Muley Idriss,” he slobbered. “I did nothing, lord,
nothing. I thought you had gone to the south and would not return to
. . . to . . . this house. Spare me, O amiable prince.”

“And why should I not return to this house?” said Ortho.

The beggar hesitated. “Muley, I made sure . . . I thought . . . it was
not customary . . . young men do not linger in the places of lost love.”

“Dog,” said Ortho, suddenly cold about the heart, “what do you mean?”

“Surely the Kaid knows?” There was a note of surprise in the mendicant’s
voice.

“I know nothing; I have been away . . . the lalla Ourida?”

The beggar locked both hands over his head and squirmed in the dust.
“Kaid, Kaid . . . the will of Allah.”

The little court reeled under Ortho’s feet, a film like a heat wave rose
up before his eyes, everything went blurred for a minute. Then he spoke
quite calmly:

“Why did she not go away?”

“She had no time, lord. The little one, thy son, took the sickness
first; she stayed to nurse him and herself was taken. But she was buried
with honor, Kaid; the Turkish officer buried her with honor in a gay
bier with tholbas chanting. I, miserable that I am, I followed
also—afar. She was kind to the poor, the lalla Ourida.”

“But why, why didn’t Osman get them both away before the plague struck
the palace?” Ortho muttered fiercely, more to himself than otherwise,
but the writhing rag heap heard him and answered:

“He had no time, Muley. The kasba was the first infected.”

“The first! How?”

“Yakoub Ben Ahmed brought many rebel heads from Tissant thinking to
please Sidi. They stank and many soldiers fell sick, but Yakoub would
not throw the heads away—it was his first command. They marched into
the kasba with drums beating, sick soldiers carrying offal.”

Ortho laughed mirthlessly. So the dead had their revenge.

“Where is the Turk officer now?” he asked presently. “Rabat?”

“No, Muley—he too took the sickness tending thy lancers.”

Ortho walked away. All over, all gone—wife, boy, faithful friend.
Ourida would not see her son go by at the proud head of a regiment, nor
Osman review his memories in his vineyard by the Bosporus. All over, all
gone, the best and truest.

Turning, he flung a coin at the beggar. “Go . . . leave me.”

Dusk was flooding the little court, powder blue tinged with the
rose-dust of sunset. A pair of gray pigeons perched on the parapet made
their love cooings and fluttered away again. From the kasba minaret came
the boom of the muezzin. High in the summer night drifted a white petal
of a moon.

Ortho leaned against a pillar listening. The chink of anklets, the plud,
plud of small bare feet.

“Saïd, my beloved, is it you? Tired, my heart’s dear? Rest your head
here, lord; take thy ease. Thy fierce son is asleep at last; he has four
teeth now and the strength of a lion. He will be a great captain of
lances and do us honor when we are old. Your arm around me thus, tall
one . . . äie, now am I content beyond all women . . .”

From twilight places came the voice of Osman Bâki and the subdued tinkle
of the gounibri. “Allah has been good to me. I have seen many
wonders—rivers, seas, cities and plains, fair women, brave men and
stout fighting, but I would yet see the Himalayas. After that I will go
home where I was a boy. Listen while I sing you a song of my own country
such as shepherds sing . . .”

Ortho’s head sank in his hands. All over now, all gone. . . . Something
flapped in the shadows by the orange trees, flapped and hopped out into
the central moonlight and posed there stretching its crippled wings.

It was the old eagle disgustingly bloated.

That alone remained, that and the loathly beggar, left alone in the dead
city to their carrion orgy. A shock of revulsion shook Ortho. Ugh!

He sprang up and, without looking round, strode out of the house and
down the street to where his horse was standing.

A puff of hot wind followed him, a furnace blast, foul with the stench
of half-buried corpses in the big Mussulman cemetery outside the walls.
Ugh!

He kicked sharp stirrups into his horse and rode through the Ksiba Gate.

“Fleeing from the sickness—eh?” sneered a mokaddem of Sudanese who
could not fly.

“No—ghosts,” said Ortho and turned his beast onto the western road.

“The sea! The sea!”



                              CHAPTER XXIV


“Perish me! Rot and wither my soul and eyes if it ain’t Saïd!” exclaimed
Captain Benjamin MacBride, hopping across the court, his square hand
extended.

“Saïd, my bully, where d’you hail from?”

“I’m on the bodyguard at Rabat. The Sultan’s building there now. Skalas
all round and seven new mosques are the order, I hear—we’ll all be
carrying bricks soon. I rode over to see you.”

“You ain’t looking too proud,” said MacBride; “sort of wasted-like, and
God ha’ mercy. Flux?”

Ortho shook his head. “No, but I’ve had my troubles, and”—indicating
the sailor’s bandaged eye and his crutch—“so have you, it seems.”

“Curse me, yes! Fell in with a fat Spanisher off Ortegal and mauled him
down to a sheer hulk when up romps a brace of American ‘thirties’ and
serves me cruel. If it hadn’t been for nightfall and a shift of wind I
should have been a holy angel by now. Bad times, boy, bad times. Too
many warships about, and all merchantmen sailing in convoy. I tell you I
shall be glad when there’s a bit of peace and good-will on earth again.
Just now everybody’s armed and it’s plaguy hard to pick up an honest
living.”

“Governor here, aren’t you?” Ortho inquired.

“Aye. Soft lie-abed shore berth till my wounds heal and we can get back
to business. Fog in the river?”

“Thick; couldn’t see across.”

“It’s lying on the sea like a blanket,” said MacBride. “I’ve been
watching it from my tower. Come along and see the girls. They’re all
here save Tama; she runned away with a Gharb sheik when I was
cruising—deceitful slut!—but I’ve got three new ones.”

Ayesha and Schems-ed-dah were most welcoming. They had grown somewhat
matronly, but otherwise time seemed to have left them untouched. As ever
they were gorgeously dressed, bejeweled and painted up with carmine,
henna and kohl. Fluttering and twittering about their ex-slave, they
plied him with questions. He had been to the wars? Wounded? How many men
had he killed? What was his rank? A kaid rahal of cavalry. . . . Ach!
chut, chut! A great man! On the bodyguard! . . . Ay-ee! Was it true the
Sultan’s favorite Circassians ate off pure gold? Was he married yet?

When he told them the recent plague in Morocco had killed both his wife
and son their liquid eyes brimmed over. No whit less sympathetic were
the three new beauties; they wept in concert, though ten minutes earlier
Ortho had been an utter stranger to them. Their hearts were very tender.
A black eunuch entered bearing the elaborate tea utensils. As he turned
to go, MacBride called “_aji_,” pointing to the ground before him.

The slave threw up his hands in protest. “Oh, no, lord, please.”

“Kneel down,” the sailor commanded. “I’ll make you spring your ribs
laughing, Saïd, my bonny. Give me your hand, Mohar.”

“Lord, have mercy!”

“Mercy be damned! Your hand, quick!”

The piteous great creature extended a trembling hand, was grasped by the
wrist and twisted onto his back.

“Now, my pearls, my rosebuds,” said MacBride.

The five little birds of paradise tucked their robes about them and
surrounded the prostrate slave, tittering and wriggling their
forefingers at him. Even before he was touched he screamed, but when the
tickling began in earnest he went mad, doubling, screwing, clawing the
air with his toes, shrieking like a soul in torment—which indeed he
was.

With the pearls and rosebuds it was evidently a favorite pastime; they
tickled with diabolical cunning that could only come of experience,
shaking with laughter and making sibilant noises the
while—“Pish—piss-sh!” Finally when the miserable victim was rolling up
the whites of his eyes, mouthing foam and seemed on the point of
throwing a fit, MacBride released him and he escaped.

The captain wiped the happy tears from his remaining eye and turned on
Ortho as one recounting an interesting scientific observation.

“Very thin-skinned for a Sambo. D’you know I believe he’d sooner take a
four-bag at the gangway than a minute o’ that. I do, so help me; I
believe he’d sooner be flogged. _Vee-ry_ curious. Come up and I’ll show
you my command.”

The Atlantic was invisible from the tower, sheeted under fog which,
beneath a windless sky, stretched away to the horizon in woolly white
billows. Ortho had an impression of a mammoth herd of tightly packed
sheep.

“There’s a three-knot tide under that, sweeping south, but it don’t
’pear to move it much,” MacBride observed. “I’ll warrant that bank ain’t
higher nor a first-rate’s topgallant yard. I passed through the western
squadron once in a murk like that there. Off Dungeness, it was. All
their royals was sticking out, but my little hooker was trucks down, out
o’ sight.” He pointed to the north. “Knitra’s over there, bit of a kasba
like this. Er-rhossi has it; a sturdy fellow for a Greek, but my soul
what a man to drink! Stayed here for a week and ’pon my conscience he
had me baled dry in two days—_me_! Back there’s the forest, there’s pig
. . . what are you staring at?”

Ortho spun about guiltily. “Me? Oh, nothing, nothing, nothing. What were
you saying? The forest . . .”

He became suddenly engrossed in the view of the forest of Marmora.

“What’s the matter? You look excited, like as if you’d seen something,”
said MacBride suspiciously.

“I’ve seen nothing,” Ortho replied. “What should I see?”

“Blest if I know; only you looked startled.”

“I was thinking.”

“Oh, was you? Well, as I was saying, there’s a mort o’ pigs in there,
wild ’uns, and lions too, by report, but I ain’t seen none. I’ll get
some sport as soon as my leg heals. This ain’t much of a place though.
Can’t get no money out of charcoal burners, not if you was to torture
’em for a year. As God is my witness I’ve done my best, but the sooty
vermin ain’t got any.” He sighed. “I shall be devilish glad when we can
get back to our lawful business again. I’ve heard married men in England
make moan about _their_ ‘family responsibilities’—but what of me? I’ve
got _three_ separate families already and two more on the way! What
d’you say to that—eh?”

Ortho sympathized with the much domesticated seaman and declared he must
be going.

“You’re in hell’s own hurry all to a sudden.”

“I’m on the bodyguard, you know.”

“Well, if you must that’s an end on’t, but I was hoping you’d stop for
days and we’d have a chaw over old Jerry Gish—he-he! What a man! Say,
would you have the maidens plague that Sambo once more before you go?
Would you now? Give the word!”

Ortho declined the pleasure and asked if MacBride could sell him a boat
compass.

“I can sell you two or three, but what d’you want it for?”

“I’m warned for the Guinea caravan,” Ortho explained. “A couple of
_akkabaah_ have been lost lately; the guides went astray in the sands. I
want to keep some check on them.”

“I thought the Guinea force went out about Christmas.”

“No, this month.”

“Well, you know best, I suppose,” said the captain and gave him a small
compass, refusing payment.

“Come back and see us before you go,” he shouted as Ortho went out of
the gate.

“Surely,” the latter replied and rode southwards for Sallee at top
speed, knowing full well that, unless luck went hard against him, so far
from seeing Ben MacBride again he would be out of the country before
midnight.

While Ourida lived, life in Morocco had its compensations; with her
death it had become insupportable. He had ridden down to the sea filled
with a cold determination to seize the first opportunity of escape and,
if none occurred, to make one. Plans had been forming in his mind of
working north to Tangier, there stealing a boat and running the blockade
into beleaguered Gibraltar, some forty miles distant, a scheme risky to
the point of foolhardiness. But remain he would not.

Now unexpectedly, miraculously, an opportunity had come. Despite his
denials he _had_ seen something from MacBride’s tower; the upper canvas
of a ship protruding from the fog about a mile and a half out from the
coast, by the cut and the long coach-whip pennant at the main an
Englishman. Just a glimpse as the royals rose out of a trough of the fog
billows, just the barest glimpse, but quite enough. Not for nothing had
he spent his boyhood at the gates of the Channel watching the varied
traffic passing up and down. And a few minutes earlier MacBride had
unwittingly supplied him with the knowledge he needed, the pace and
direction of the tide. Ortho knew no arithmetic, but common sense told
him that if he galloped he should reach Sallee two hours ahead of that
ship. She had no wind, she would only drift. He drove his good horse
relentlessly, and as he went decided exactly what he would do.

It was dark when he reached the Bab Sebta, and over the low-lying town
the fog lay like a coverlet.

He passed through the blind town, leaving the direction to his horse’s
instinct, and came out against the southern wall. Inquiring of an unseen
pedestrian, he learnt he was close to the Bab Djedid, put his beast in a
public stable near by, detached one stirrup, and, feeling his way
through the gate, struck over the sand banks towards the river. He came
on it too far to the west, on the spit where it narrows opposite the
Kasba Oudaia of Rabat; the noise of water breaking at the foot of the
great fortress across the Bon Regreg told him as much.

Turning left-handed, he followed the river back till he brought up
against the ferry boats. They were all drawn up for the night; the
owners had gone, taking their oars with them. “Damnation!” His idea had
been to get a man to row him across and knock him on the head in
midstream; it was for that purpose that he had brought the heavy
stirrup. There was nothing for it now but to rout a man out—all waste
of precious time!

There was just a chance some careless boatman had left his oars behind.
Quickly he felt in the skiffs. The first was empty, so was the second,
the third and the fourth, but in the fifth he found what he sought. It
was a light boat too, a private shallop and half afloat at that. What
colossal luck! He put his shoulders to the stem and hove—and up rose a
man.

“Who’s that? Is that you, master?”

Ortho sprang back. Where had he heard that voice before? Then he
remembered; it was Puddicombe’s. Puddicombe had not returned to Algiers
after all, but was here waiting to row “Sore Eyes” across to Rabat to a
banquet possibly.

“Who’s that?”

Ortho blundered up against the stem, pretending to be mildly drunk,
mumbling in Arabic that he was a sailor from a trading felucca looking
for his boat.

“Well, this is not yours, friend,” said Puddicombe. “Try down the beach.
But if you take my advice you’ll not go boating to-night; you might fall
overboard and get a drink of water which, by the sound of you, is not
what thou art accustomed to.” He laughed at his own delightful wit.

Ortho stumbled into the fog, paused and thought matters over. To turn a
ferryman out might take half an hour. Puddicombe had the only oars on
the beach, therefore Puddicombe must give them up.

He lurched back again, steadied himself against the stem and asked the
Devonian if he would put him off to his felucca, getting a flat refusal.
Hiccuping, he said there was no offense meant and asked Puddicombe if he
would like a sip of fig brandy. He said he had no unsurmountable
objection, came forward to get it, and Ortho hit him over the head with
the stirrup iron as hard as he could lay in. Puddicombe toppled face
forwards out of the boat and lay on the sand without a sound or a
twitch.

“I’m sorry I had to do it,” said Ortho, “but you yourself warned me to
trust nobody, above all a fellow renegado. I’m only following your own
advice. You’ll wake up before dawn. Good-by.”

Pushing the boat off, he jumped aboard and pulled for the grumble of the
bar.

He went aground on the sand-spit, and rowing away from that very nearly
stove the boat in on a jag of rock below the Kasba Oudaia. The corner
passed, steering was simple for a time, one had merely to keep the boat
pointed to the rollers. Over the bar he went, slung high, swung low,
tugged on to easy water, and striking a glow on his flint and steel
examined the compass.

Thus occasionally checking his course by the needle he pulled due west.
He was well ahead of the ship, he thought, and by getting two miles out
to sea would be lying dead in her track. Before long the land breeze
would be blowing sufficient to push the fog back, but not enough to give
the vessel more than two or three knots; in that light shallop he could
catch her easily, if she were within reasonable distance.

Reckoning he had got his offing, he swung the boat’s head due north and
paddled gently against the run of the tide.

Time progressed; there was no sign of the ship or the land breeze that
was to reveal her. For all he knew he might be four miles out to sea or
one-half only. He had no landmarks, no means of measuring how far he had
come except by experience of how long it had taken him to pull a dinghy
from point to point at home in Monks Cove; yet somehow he felt he was
about right.

Time went by. The fog pressed about him in walls of discolored steam,
clammy, dripping, heavy on the lungs. Occasionally it split, revealing
dark corridors and halls, abysses of Stygian gloom; rolled together
again. A hundred feet overhead it was clear night and starry. Where was
that breeze?

More time passed. Ortho began to think he had failed and made plans to
cover the failure. It should not be difficult. He would land on the
sands opposite the Bab Malka, overturn the boat, climb over the walls
and see the rest of the night out among the Mussulman graves. In the
morning he could claim his horse and ride into camp as if nothing had
happened. As a slave he had been over the walls time and again; there
was a crack in the bricks by the Bordj el Kbir. He didn’t suppose it was
repaired; they never repaired anything. Puddicombe didn’t know who had
hit him; there was no earthly reason why he should be suspected. The
boat would be found overturned, the unknown sailor presumed drowned.
Quite simple. Remained the Tangier scheme.

By this time, being convinced that the ship had passed, he slewed the
boat about and pulled in. The sooner he was ashore the better.

The fog appeared to be moving. It twisted into clumsy spirals which
sagged in the middle, puffed out cheeks of vapor, bulged and writhed,
drifting to meet the boat. The land breeze was coming at last—an hour
too late! Ortho pulled on, an ear cocked for the growl of the bar. There
was nothing to be heard as yet; he must have gone further than he
thought, but fog gagged and distorted sound in the oddest way. The
spirals nodded above him like gigantic wraiths. Something passed
overhead delivering an eerie screech. A sea-gull only, but it made him
jump. Glancing at the compass, he found that he was, at the moment,
pulling due south. He got his direction again and pulled on. Goodness
knew what the tide had been doing to him. There might be a westward
stream from the river which had pushed him miles out to sea. Or possibly
he was well south of his mark and would strike the coast below Rabat.
Oh, well, no matter as long as he got ashore soon. Lying on his oars, he
listened again for the bar, but could hear no murmur of it. Undoubtedly
he was to the southward. That ship was halfway to Fedala by now.

Then, quite clearly, behind a curtain of fog, an English voice chanted:
“By the Deep Nine.”

Ortho stopped rowing, stood up and listened. Silence, not a sound, not a
sign. Fichus and twisted columns of fog drifting towards him, that was
all. But somewhere close at hand a voice was calling soundings. The ship
was there. All his fine calculations were wrong, but he had blundered
aright.

“Mark ten.”

The voice came again, seemingly from his left-hand side this time. Again
silence. The fog alleys closed once more, muffling sound. The ship was
there, within a few yards, yet this cursed mist with its fool tricks
might make him lose her altogether. He hailed with all his might. No
answer. He might have been flinging his shout against banks of cotton
wool. Again and again he hailed.

Suddenly came the answer, from behind his back apparently.

“Ahoy there . . . who are you?”

“’Scaped English prisoner! English prisoner escaped!”

There was a pause; then, “Keep off there . . . none of your tricks.”

“No tricks . . . I am alone . . . _alone_,” Ortho bawled, pulling
furiously. He could hear the vessel plainly now, the creak of her tackle
as she felt the breeze.

“Keep off there, or I’ll blow you to bits.”

“If you fire a gun you’ll call the whole town out,” Ortho warned.

“What town?”

“Sallee.”

“Christ!” the voice ejaculated and repeated his words. “He says we’re
off Sallee, sir.”

Ortho pulled on. He could see the vessel by this, a blurred shadow among
the steamy wraiths of mist, a big three-master close-hauled on the port
tack.

Said a second voice from aft: “Knock his bottom out if he attempts to
board . . . no chances.”

“Boat ahoy,” hailed the first voice. “If you come alongside I’ll sink
you, you bloody pirate. Keep off.”

Ortho stopped rowing. They were going to leave him. Forty yards away was
an English ship—England. He was missing England by forty yards, England
and the Owls’ House!

He jerked at his oars, tugged the shallop directly in the track of the
ship and slipped overboard. They might be able to see his boat, but his
head was too small a mark. If he missed what he was aiming at he was
finished; he could never regain that boat. It was neck or nothing now,
the last lap, the final round.

He struck to meet the vessel—only a few yards.

She swayed towards him, a chuckle of water at her cut-water; tall as a
cliff she seemed, towering out of sight. The huge bow loomed over him,
poised and crushed downwards as though to ride him under, trample him
deep.

The sheer toppling bulk, the hiss of riven water snapped his last shred
of courage. It was too much. He gave up, awaited the instant stunning
crash upon his head, saw the great bowsprit rush across a shining patch
of stars, knew the end had come at last, thumped against the bows and
found himself pinned by the weight of water, his head still up. His
hands, his unfailing hands had saved him again; he had hold of the
bob-stay!

The weight of water was not really great, the ship had little more than
steerage way. Darkness had magnified his terrors. He got across the stay
without much difficulty, worked along it to the dolphin-striker, thence
by the martingale to the fo’csle.

The look-out were not aware of his arrival until he was amongst them;
they were watching the tiny smudge that was his boat. He noticed that
they had round-shot ready to drop into it.

“Good God!” the mate exclaimed. “Who are you?”

“The man who hailed just now, sir.”

“But I thought . . . I thought you were in that boat.”

“I was, sir, but I swam off.”

“Good God!” said the mate again and hailed the poop. “Here’s this fellow
come aboard after all, sir. He’s quite alone.”

An astonished “How the devil?”

“Swam, sir.”

“Pass him aft.”

Ortho was led aft. Boarding nettings were triced up and men lay between
the upper deck guns girded with side arms. Shot were in the garlands and
match-tubs filled, all ready. A well-manned, well-appointed craft. He
asked the man who accompanied him her name.

“_Elijah Impey._ East Indiaman.”

“Indiaman! Then where are we bound for?”

“Bombay.”

Ortho drew a deep breath. It was a long road home.



                              CHAPTER XXV


The little Botallack man and Eli Penhale shook hands, tucked the slack
of their wrestling jackets under their left armpits and, crouching,
approached each other, right hands extended.

The three judges, ancient wrestlers, leaned on their ash-plants and
looked extremely knowing; they went by the title of “sticklers.”

The wrestling ring was in a grass field almost under the shadow of St.
Gwithian church tower. To the north the ridge of tors rolled along the
skyline, autumnal brown. Southward was the azure of the English Channel;
west, over the end of land, the glint of the Atlantic with the Scilly
Isles showing on the horizon, very faint, like small irregularities on a
ruled blue line.

All Gwithian was present, men and women, girls and boys, with a good
sprinkling of visitors from the parishes round about. They formed a big
ring of black and pink, dark clothes and healthy countenances. A
good-natured crowd, bandying inter-parochial chaff from side to side,
rippling with laughter when some accepted wit brought off a sally,
yelling encouragement to their district champions.

“Beware of en’s feet, Jan, boy. The old toad is brear foxy.”

“Scat en, Ephraim, my pretty old beauty! Grip to an’ scandalize en!”

“Move round, sticklers! Think us can see through ’e? Think you’m made of
glass?”

“Up, Gwithian!”

“Up, St. Levan!”

At the feet of the crowd lay the disengaged wrestlers, chewing blades of
grass and watching the play. They were naked except for short drawers,
and on their white skins grip marks flared red, bruises and long
scratches where fingers had slipped or the rough jacket edges cut in.
Amiable young stalwarts, smiling at each other, grunting approvingly at
smart pieces of work. One had a snapped collar-bone, another a fractured
forearm wrapped up in a handkerchief, but they kept their pains to
themselves; it was all in the game.

Now Eli and the little Botallack man were out for the final.

Polwhele was not five feet six and tipped the beam at eleven stone,
whereas Eli was five ten and weighed two stone the heavier. It looked as
though he had only to fall on the miner to finish him, but such was far
from the case. The sad-faced little tinner had already disposed of four
bulky opponents in workmanlike fashion that afternoon—the collar bone
was his doing.

“Watch his eyes,” Bohenna had warned.

That was all very well, but it was next to impossible to see his eyes
for the thick bang of hair that dangled over them like the forelock of a
Shetland pony.

Polwhele clumsily sidled a few steps to the right. Eli followed him.
Polwhele walked a few steps to the left. Again Eli followed. Polwhele
darted back to the right, Eli after him, stopped, slapped his right knee
loudly, and, twisting left-handed, grabbed the farmer round the waist
and hove him into the air.

It was cleverly done—the flick of speed after the clumsy walk, the slap
on the knee drawing the opponent’s eye away—cleverly done, but not
quite quick enough. Eli got the miner’s head in chancery as he was
hoisted up and hooked his toes behind the other’s knees.

Polwhele could launch himself and his burden neither forwards nor
backwards, as the balance lay with Eli. The miner hugged at Eli’s
stomach with all his might, jerking cruelly. Eli wedged his free arm
down and eased the pressure somewhat. It was painful, but bearable.

“Lave en carry ’e so long as thou canst, son,” came the voice of
Bohenna. “Tire en out.”

Polwhele strained for a forwards throw, tried a backwards twist, but the
pull behind the knees embarrassed him. He began to pant. Thirteen stone
hanging like a millstone about one’s neck at the end of the day was
intolerable. He tried to work his head out of chancery, concluded it
would only be at the price of his ears and gave that up.

“Stay where ’e are,” shouted Bohenna to his protégé. “T’eddn costin’
_you_ nawthin’.”

Eli stayed where he was. Polwhele’s breathing became more labored, sweat
bubbled from every pore, a sinew in his left leg cracked under the
strain. Once more he tried the forwards pitch, reeled, rocked and came
down sideways. He risked a dislocated shoulder in so doing with the
farmer’s added weight, but got nothing worse than a heavy jar. It was no
fall; the two men rolled apart and lay panting on their backs.

After a pause the sticklers intimated to them to go on. Once more they
faced each other. The miner was plainly tired; the bang hung over his
eyes, a sweat-soaked rag; his movements were sluggish. In response to
the exhortations of his friends he shook his head, made gestures with
his hands—finished.

Slowly he gave way before Eli, warding off grips with sweeps of his
right forearm, refusing to come to a hold. St. Gwithian jeered at him.
Botallack implored one more flash. He shook his head; he was incapable
of flashing. Four heavy men he had put away to come upon this great
block of brawn at the day’s end; it was too much.

Eli could not bring him to grips, grew impatient and made the pace
hotter, forcing the miner backwards right round the ring. It became a
boxing match between the two right hands, the one clutching, the other
parrying. Almost he had Polwhele; his fingers slipped on a fold of the
canvas jacket. The spectators rose to a man, roaring.

Polwhele ran backwards out of a grip and stumbled. Eli launched out, saw
the sad eyes glitter behind the draggles of hair and went headlong,
flying.

The next thing he knew he was lying full length, the breath jarred out
of him and the miner on top, fixed like a stoat. The little man had
dived under him, tipped his thigh with a shoulder and turned him as he
fell. It was a fair “back,” two shoulders and a hip down; he had lost
the championship.

Polwhele, melancholy as ever, helped him to his feet.

“Nawthin’ broke, Squire? That’s fitly. You’ll beat me next year—could
of this, if you’d waited.” He put a blade of grass between his teeth and
staggered off to join his vociferous friends, the least jubilant of any.

Bohenna came up with his master’s clothes. “’Nother time you’m out
against a quick man go slow—make en come to _you_. Eddn no sense in
playin’ tig with forked lightnin’. I shouted to ’e, but you was too
furious to hear. Oh, well, ’tis done now, s’pose.”

He walked away to hob-nob with the sticklers in the “Lamb and Flag,” to
drink ale and wag their heads and lament on the decay of wrestling and
manhood since they were young.

Eli pulled on his clothes. One or two Monks Covers shouted “Stout
tussle, Squire,” but did not stop to talk, nor did he expect them to; he
was respected in the parish, but had none of the graceful qualities that
make for popularity.

His mother went by, immensely fat, yet sitting her cart-horse firm as a
rock.

“The little dog had ’e by the nose proper that time, my great soft
bullock,” she jeered, and rode on, laughing. She hated Eli; as master of
Bosula he kept her short of money, even going to the length of publicly
crying down her credit. Had he not done so, they would have been ruined
long since instead of in a fair state of prosperity, but Teresa took no
count of that. She was never tired of informing audiences—preferably in
Eli’s presence—that if her other son had been spared, her own precious
boy Ortho, things would have been very different. _He_ would not have
seen her going in rags, without a penny piece to bless herself, not he.
Time, in her memory, had washed away all the elder’s faults, leaving
only virtues exposed, and those grossly exaggerated. She would dilate
for hours on his good looks, his wit, his courage, his loving
consideration for herself, breaking into hot tears of rage when she
related the fancied indignities she suffered at the hands of the
paragon’s unworthy brother.

She was delighted that Polwhele had bested Eli, and rode home jingling
her winnings on the event. Eli went on dressing, unmoved by his mother’s
jibes. As a boy he had learnt to close his ears to the taunts of Rusty
Rufus, and he found the accomplishment most useful. When Teresa became
abusive he either walked out of the house or closed up like an oyster
and her tirades beat harmlessly against his spiritual shell. Words,
words, nothing but words; his contempt for talk had not decreased as
time went on.

He pulled his belt up, hustled into his best blue coat and was knotting
his neckcloth when somebody behind him said, “Well wrastled, Eli.”

He turned and saw Mary Penaluna with old Simeon close beside.

Eli shook his head. “He was smaller than I, naught but a little man. I
take shame not to have beaten en.”

But Mary would have none of it. “I see no shame then,” she said warmly.
“They miners do nothing but wrastle, wrastle all day between shifts and
underground too, so I’ve heard tell—but you’ve got other things to do,
Eli; ’tis a wonder you stood up to en so long. And they’re nothing but a
passell o’ tricksters, teddn what I do call fitty wrastling at all.”

“Well, ’tis fair, anyhow,” said Eli; “he beat me fair enough and there’s
an end of it.”

“’Es, s’pose,” Mary admitted, “but I do think you wrastled bravely, Eli,
and so do father and all of the parish. Oh, look how the man knots his
cloth, all twisted; you’m bad as father, I declare. Lave me put it to
rights.” She reached up strong, capable hands, gave the neckerchief a
pull and a pat and stood back laughing. “You men are no better than
babies for all your size and cursing and ’bacca. ’Tis proper now. Are ’e
steppin’ home along?”

Eli was. They crossed the field and, turning their backs on the church
tower, took the road towards the sea, old Simeon walking first, slightly
bent with toil and rheumatism, long arms dangling inert; Mary and Eli
followed side by side, speaking never a word. It was two miles to
Roswarva, over upland country, bare of trees, but beautiful in its
wind-swept nakedness. Patches of dead bracken glowed with the warm
copper that is to be found in some women’s hair; on gray bowlders spots
of orange lichen shone like splashes of gold paint. The brambles were
dressed like harlequins in ruby, green and yellow, and on nearly every
hawthorn sat a pair of magpies, their black and white livery looking
very smart against the scarlet berries.

Eli walked on to Roswarva, although it was out of his way. He liked the
low house among the stunted sycamores, with the sun in its face all day
and the perpetual whisper of salt sea winds about it. He liked the
bright display of flowers Mary seemed to keep going perennially in the
little garden by the south door, the orderly kitchen with its sanded
floor, clean whitewash and burnished copper. Bosula was his home, but it
was to Roswarva that he turned as to a haven in time of trouble, when he
wanted advice about his farming, or when Teresa was particularly
fractious. There was little said on these occasions, a few slow,
considered words from Simeon, a welcoming smile from Mary, a cup of tea
or a mug of cider and then home again—but he had got what he needed.

He sat in the kitchen that afternoon twirling his hat in his powerful
hands, staring out of the window and thinking that his worries were
pretty nearly over. There was always Teresa to reckon with, but they
were out of debt and Bosula was in good farming shape at last. What
next? An idea was taking shape in his deliberate brain. He stared out of
the window, but not at the farm boar wallowing blissfully in the mire of
the lane, or at Simeon driving his sleek cows in for milking, or at the
blue Channel beyond with a little collier brig bearing up for the
Lizard, her grimy canvas transformed by the alchemy of sunshine. Eli
Penhale was seeing visions, homely, comfortable visions.

Mary came in, rolling her sleeves back over firm, rounded forearms
dimpled at the elbows. The once leggy girl was leggy no longer, but a
ripe, upstanding, full-breasted woman with kindly brown eyes and an
understanding smile.

“I’ll give ’e a penny for thy dream, Eli—if ’tis a pretty one,” she
laughed. “Is it?”

The farmer grinned. “Prettiest I ever had.”

“Queen of England take you for her boy?”

“Prettier than that.”

“My lor’, it must be worth a brear bit o’ money then! More’n I can
afford.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Is it going cheap, or do you think I’m made of gold pieces?”

“It’s not money I want.”

“You’re not like most of us then,” said Mary, and started. “There’s
father calling in the yard. Must be goin’ milkin’. Sit ’e down where ’e
be and I’ll be back quick as quick and we’ll see if I can pay the price,
whatever it is. Sit ’e down and rest.”

But Eli had risen. “Must be going, I believe.”

“Why?”

“Got to see to the horses; I’ve let Bohenna and Davy off for the day,
’count of wrastling.”

Mary pouted, but she was a farmer’s daughter, a fellow bond slave of
animals; she recognized the necessity.

“Anybody’d think it was your men had been wrastlin’ and not you, you
great soft-heart. Oh, well, run along with ’e and come back when done
and take a bite of supper with us, will ’e? Father’d be proud and I’ve
fit a lovely supper.”

Eli promised and betook himself homewards. Five strenuous bouts on top
of six hours’ work in the morning had tired him somewhat, bruises were
stiffening and his left shoulder gave him pain, but his heart, his heart
was singing “Mary Penaluna—Mary Penhale, Mary Penaluna—Mary Penhale”
all the way and his feet went wing-shod. Almost he had asked her in the
kitchen, almost, almost—it had been tripping off his tongue when she
mentioned her cows and in so doing reminded him of his horses. By blood,
instinct and habit he was a farmer; the horses must be seen to first,
his helpless, faithful servitors. His mother usually turned her mount
into the stable without troubling to feed, unsaddle it or even ease the
girths. The horses must be seen to.

He would say the word that evening after supper when old Simeon fell
asleep in his rocker, as was his invariable custom. That very evening.

Tregors had gone whistling down the wind long since; the unknown hind
from Burdock Water had let it go to rack and ruin, a second mortgagee
was not forthcoming, Carveth Donnithorne foreclosed and marched in.
Tregors had gone, but Bosula remained, clear of debt and as good a place
as any in the Hundred, enough for any one man. Eli felt he could make
his claim for even prosperous Simeon Penaluna’s daughter with a clear
conscience. He came to the rim of the valley, hoisted himself to the top
of a bank, paused and sat down.

The valley, touched by the low rays of sunset, foamed with gold, with
the pale gold of autumnal elms, the bright gold of ashes, the old gold
of oaks.

Bosula among its enfolding woods! No Roman emperor behind his tall
Prætorians had so steadfast, so splendid a guard as these. Shelter from
the winter gales, great spluttering logs for the hearth, green shade in
summer and in autumn this magnificence. Holly for Christmas, apples and
cider. The apples were falling now, falling with soft thuds all day and
night and littering the orchard, sunk in the grass like rosy-faced
children playing hide and seek.

Eli’s eyes ran up the opposite hillside, a patchwork quilt of trim
fields, green pasture and brown plow land, all good and all his.

His heart went out in gratitude to the house of his breed, to the sturdy
men who had made it what it was, to the first poor ragged tinner
wandering down the valley with his donkey, to his unknown father, that
honest giant with the shattered face who had brought him into the world
that he, in his turn, might take up this goodly heritage.

It should go on. He saw into the future, a brighter, better future. He
saw flowers outside the Owls’ House perennially blooming; saw a
whitewashed kitchen with burnished copper pans and a woman in it smiling
welcome at the day’s end, her sleeves rolled up to show her dimpled
elbows; saw a pack of brown-eyed chubby little boys tumbling noisily in
to supper—Penhales of Bosula. It should go on. He vaulted off the bank
and strode whistling down to the Owls’ House, bowed his head between
Adam and Eve and found Ortho sitting in the kitchen.



                              CHAPTER XXVI


The return of Ortho Penhale, nearly seven years after his supposed
death, caused a sensation in West Cornwall. The smuggling affair at
Monks Cove was remembered and exaggerated out of all semblance to the
truth. Millions of gallons had been run through by Ortho and his gang,
culminating in a pitched battle with the dragoons. Nobody could say how
many were killed in that affray, and it was affirmed that nobody ever
would know. Midnight buryings were hinted at, hush money and so on; a
dark, thrilling business altogether. Ortho was spoken of in the same
breath as King Nick and other celebrities of the “Trade.” His subsequent
adventures lost nothing in the mouths of the gossips. He had landed in
Barbary a slave and in the space of two years become a general. The
Sultan’s favorite queen fell in love with him; on being discovered in
her arms he had escaped by swimming four miles out to sea and
intercepting an East Indiaman, in which vessel he had visited India and
seen the Great Mogul.

Ortho discovered himself a personage. It was a most agreeable sensation.
Men in every walk of life rushed to shake his hand. He found himself
sitting in Penzance taverns in the exalted company of magistrates and
other notables telling the story of his adventures—with picturesque
additions.

And the women. Even the fine ladies in Chapel Street turned their proud
heads when he limped by. His limp was genuine to a point; but when he
saw a pretty woman ahead he improved on it to draw sympathy and felt
their softened eyes following him on his way, heard them whisper, “Ortho
Penhale, my dear . . . general in Barbary . . . twelve times
wounded. . . . How pale he looks and how handsome!”

A most agreeable sensation.

To insure that he should not pass unnoticed he affected a slight
eccentricity of attire. For him no more the buff breeches, the raffish
black and silver coats; dressed thus he might have passed for any
squire.

He wore instead the white trousers of a sailor, a marine’s scarlet tunic
he had picked up in a junk shop, a colored kerchief loosely knotted
about his throat, and on his bull curls the round fur cap of the sea.
There was no mistaking him. Small boys followed him in packs,
round-eyed, worshipful. . . . “Ortho Penhale, smuggler, Barbary lancer!”

If he had been popular once he was doubly popular now. The Monks Cove
incident was forgiven but not forgotten; it went to swell his credit, in
fact. To have arrested him on that old score would have been more than
the Collector’s life was worth. The Collector, prudent man, publicly
shook Penhale by the hand and congratulated him on his miraculous
escape.

Ortho found his hoard of six hundred and seventy pounds intact in the
hollow ash by Tumble Down and spent it freely. He gave fifty pounds to
Anson’s widow (who had married a prosperous cousin some years before,
forgotten poor Anson and did not need it) and put a further fifty in his
pockets to give to Tamsin Eva.

Bohenna told him the story as a joke, but Ortho was smitten with what he
imagined was remorse.

He remembered Tamsin—a slim, appealing little thing in blue, skin like
milk and a cascade of red gold hair. He must make some honorable
gesture—there were certain obligations attached to the rôle of local
hero. It was undoubtedly somewhat late in the day. The Trevaskis lout
had married the girl and accepted the paternity of the child (it was a
boy six years old now, Bohenna reported), but that made no difference;
he must make his gesture. Fifty pounds was a lot of money to a
struggling farmer; besides he would like to see Tamsin again—that
slender neck and marvelous hair! If Trevaskis wasn’t treating her
properly he’d take her away from him, boy and all; b’God, he would!

He went up to the Trevaskis homestead one afternoon and saw a meager
woman standing at the back of a small house washing clothes in a tub.
Her thin forearms were red with work, her hair was screwed up anyhow on
the top of her head and hung over her eyes in draggled rat’s-tails, her
complexion had faded through long standing over kitchen fires, her apron
was torn and her thick wool socks were thrust into a pair of clumsy
men’s boots.

It was some seconds before he recognized her as Tamsin. Tamsin after
seven years as a working man’s wife. A couple of dirty children of about
four and five were making mud pies at her feet, and in the cottage a
baby lifted its querulous voice.

She had other children then—two, three, half a dozen perhaps—huh!

Ortho turned about and limped softly away, unnoticed, the fifty pounds
still in his pockets.

Making amends to a pretty woman was one thing, but to a faded drudge
with a school of Trevaskis bantlings quite another suit of clothes.

He gave the fifty pounds to his mother, took her to Penzance and bought
her two flamboyant new dresses and a massive gold brooch. She adored
him. The hard times, scratching a penny here and there out of Eli, were
gone forever. Her handsome, free-handed son was back again, master of
Bosula and darling of the district. She rode everywhere with him, to
hurling matches, bull baitings, races and cock-fights, big with pride,
chanting his praises to all comers.

“That Eli would have seen me starve to death in a ditch,” she would say,
buttonholing some old crony in a tavern. “But Ortho’s got respect for
his old mother; he’d give me the coat off his back or the heart out of
his breast, he would, so help me!” (Hiccough.)

Mother and son rode together all over the Hundred, Teresa wreathed in
fat, splendid in attire, still imposing in her virile bulk; Ortho in his
scarlet tunic, laughing, gambling, dispensing free liquor, telling
amazing stories. Eli stayed at home, working on the farm, bewildered,
dumb, the look in his eyes of a suffering dog.

Christmas passed more merrily than ever before at the Owls’ House that
year. Half Gwithian was present and two fiddlers. Some danced in the
kitchen, the overflow danced in the barn, profusely decorated with
evergreens for the occasion so that it had the appearance of a candlelit
glade. Few of the men went to bed at all that night and, with the
exception of Eli, none sober. Twelfth Night was celebrated with a
similar outburst, and then people settled down to work again and Ortho
found himself at a loose end. He could always ride into Penzance and
pass the time of day with the idlers in the “Star,” but that was not to
his taste. He drank little himself and disliked the company.
Furthermore, he had told most of his tales and was in danger of
repeating them.

Ortho was wise enough to see that if he were not careful he would
degenerate from the local hero into the local bore—and gave Penzance a
rest. There appeared to be nothing for it but that he should get down to
work on the farm; after his last eight years it was an anti-climax which
presented few allurements.

Before long there would be no excuse for idleness. The Kiddlywink in
Monks Cove saw him most evenings talking blood and thunder with Jacky’s
George. He lay abed late of a morning and limped about the cliffs on
fine afternoons.

The Luddra Head was his favorite haunt; from its crest he could see from
the Lizard Point to the Logan Rock, some twenty miles east and west, and
keep an eye on the shipping. He would watch the Mount’s Bay fishing
fleets flocking out to their grounds; the Welsh collier brigs racing
up-channel jib-boom and jib-boom; mail packets crowding all sail for
open sea; a big blue-water merchantman rolling home from the world’s
ends, or a smart frigate logging nine knots on a bowline, tossing the
spray over her fo’csle in clouds. He would criticize their handling,
their rigs, make guesses as to their destinations and business.

It was comfortable up on the Head, a slab of granite at one’s back, a
springy cushion of turf to sit upon, the winter sunshine warming the
rocks, pouring all over one.

One afternoon he climbed the Head to find a woman sitting in his
particular spot. He cursed her under his breath, turned away and then
turned back again. Might as well see what sort of woman it was before he
went; you never knew. He crawled up the rocks, came out upon the granite
platform pretending he had not noticed the intruder, executed a
realistic start of surprise, and said, “Good morning to you.”

“Good afternoon,” the girl replied.

Ortho accepted the correction and remarked that the weather was fine.

The girl did not contest the obvious and went on with her work, which
was knitting.

Ortho looked her all over and was glad he had not turned back. A
good-looking wench this, tall yet well formed, with a strong white neck,
a fresh complexion and pleasant brown eyes. He wondered where she lived.
Gwithian parish? She had not come to his Christmas and Twelfth Night
parties.

He sat down on a rock facing her. “My leg,” he explained; “must rest
it.”

She made no remark, which he thought unkind; she might have shown some
interest in his leg.

“Got wounded in the leg in Barbary.”

The girl looked up. “What’s that?”

Ortho reeled slightly. Was it possible there was anybody in England, in
the wide world, who did not know where Barbary was?

“North coast of Africa, of course,” he retorted.

The girl nodded. “Oh, ’es, I believe I have heard father tell of it.
Dutch colony, isn’t it?”

“No,” Ortho barked.

The girl went imperturbably on with her knitting. Her shocking ignorance
did not appear to worry her in the least; she did not ask Ortho for
enlightenment and he did not feel like starting the subject again. The
conversation came to a full stop.

The girl was a ninny, Ortho decided; a feather-headed country ninny—yet
remarkably good looking for all that. He admired the fine shape of her
shoulders under the blue cloak, the thick curls of glossy brown hair
that escaped from her hood, and those fresh cheeks; one did not find
complexions like that anywhere else but here in the wet southwest. He
had an idea that a dimple would appear in one of those cheeks if she
laughed, perhaps in both. He felt he must make the ninny dimple.

“Live about here?” he inquired.

She nodded.

“So do I.”

No reply; she was not interested in where he lived, drat her! He
supplied the information. “I live at Bosula in the valley; I’m Ortho
Penhale.”

The girl did not receive this enthralling intelligence with proper
emotion. She looked at him calmly and said, “Penhale of Bosula, are ’e?
Then I s’pose you’m connected with Eli?”

Once more Ortho staggered. That any one in the Penwith Hundred should be
in doubt as to who he was, the local hero! To be known only as Eli’s
brother! It was too much! But he bit his lip and explained his
relationship to Eli in a level voice. The ninny was even a bigger fool
than he had thought, but dimple she should. The conversation came to a
second full stop.

Two hundred feet below them waves draped the Luddra ledges with shining
foam cloths, poured back, the crannies dribbling as with milk, and
launched themselves afresh. A subdued booming traveled upwards, died
away in a long-drawn sigh, then the boom again. Great mile-long stripes
and ribbons of foam outlined the coast, twisted by the tides into
strange patterns and arabesques, creamy white upon dark blue. Jackdaws
darted in and out of holes in the cliff-side and gulls swept and hovered
on invisible air currents, crying mournfully. In a bed of campions, just
above the toss of the breakers, a red dog fox lay curled up asleep in
the sun.

“Come up here often?” Ortho inquired, restarting the one-sided
conversation.

“No.”

“Ahem!—I do; I come up here to look at the ships.”

The girl glanced at him, a mischievous sparkle in her brown eyes. “Then
wouldn’t you see the poor dears better if you was to turn and face ’em,
Squire Penhale?”

She folded her knitting, stood up and walked away without another word.

Ortho arose also. She had had him there. Not such a fool after all, and
she had dimpled when she made that sally—just a wink of a dimple, but
entrancing. He had a suspicion she had been laughing at him, knew who he
was all the time, else why had she called him “Squire”?

By the Lord, laughing at him, was she? That was a new sensation for the
local hero. He flushed with anger. Blast the girl! But she was a damned
handsome piece for all that. He watched her through a peep-hole in the
rocks, watched her cross the neck of land, pass the earth ramparts of
the Luddra’s prehistoric inhabitants and turn left-handed along the
coast path. Then, when she was committed to her direction, he made after
her as fast as he was capable. Despite his wound he was capable of
considerable speed, but the girl set him all the pace he needed.

She was no featherweight, but she skipped and ran along the craggy path
as lightly as a hind. Ortho labored in the rear, grunting in admiration.

Catch her he could not; it was all he could do to keep her in sight.
Where a small stream went down to the sea through a tangle of thorn and
bramble she gave him the slip.

He missed the path altogether, went up to his knees in a bog hole and
got his smart white trousers in a mess. Ten minutes it took him to work
through that tangle, and when he came out on the far side there was no
sign of the girl. He cursed her, damned himself for a fool, swore he was
going back—and limped on. She must live close at hand; he’d try ahead
for another mile and then give it up.

Within half a mile he came upon Roswarva standing among its stunted
sycamores.

He limped up to the door and rapped it with his stick. Simeon Penaluna
came out. Ortho greeted him with warmth; but lately back from foreign
parts he thought he really must come and see how his good neighbor was
faring. Simeon was surprised; it was the first time the elder Penhale
had been to the house. This sudden solicitude for his welfare was
unlooked for.

He said he was not doing as badly as he might be and asked the visitor
in.

The visitor accepted, would just sit down for a moment or two and rest a
bit . . . his wounds, you know. . . .

A moment or two extended to an hour. Ortho was convinced the girl was
somewhere about—there were no other houses in the neighborhood—and,
now he came to remember, Penaluna had had a daughter in the old days, an
awkward child, all legs like a foal; the same girl, doubtless. She would
have to show up sooner or later. He talked and talked, and talked
himself into an invitation to supper. His persistency was rewarded; the
girl he had met on the cliffs brought the supper in and Simeon
introduced her as his daughter Mary. Not by a flicker of an eyelash did
she show that she had ever seen Ortho before, but curtsied to him as
grave as a church image.

It was ten o’clock before Ortho took his way homewards. He had not done
so badly, he thought. Mary Penaluna might pretend to take no interest in
his travels, but he had managed to hold Simeon’s ears fast enough.

The grim farmer had laughed till the tears started at Ortho’s
descriptions of the antics of the negro soldiers after the looting at
Figvig and the equatorial mummery on board the Indiaman.

Mary Penaluna might pretend not to be interested, but he knew better.
Once or twice, watching her out of the tail of his eye, he had seen her
lips twitch and part. He could tell a good story, and knew it. In
soldier camps and on shipboard he had always held his sophisticated
audiences at his tongue’s tip; it would be surprising if he could not
charm a simple farm girl.

More than ever he admired her—the soft glow on her brown hair as she
sat sewing, her broad, efficient hands, the bountiful curves of her. And
ecod! in what excellent order she kept the house! That was the sort of
wife for a farmer.

And he was a farmer now. Why, yes, certainly. He would start work the
very next day.

This wandering was all very well while one was young, but he was getting
on for thirty and holed all over with wounds, five to be precise. He’d
marry that girl, settle down and prosper.

As he walked home he planned it all out. His mother should stop at
Bosula of course, but she’d have to understand that Mary was mistress.
Not that that would disturb Teresa to any extent; she detested
housekeeping and would be glad to have it off her hands. Then there was
Eli, good old brother, best farmer in the duchy. Eli was welcome to stop
too and share all profits. Ortho hoped that he would stop, but he had
noticed that Eli had been very silent and strange since his home-coming
and was not sure of him—might be wanting to marry as well and branch
out for himself. Tregors had gone, but there was over four hundred
pounds of that smuggling money remaining, and if Eli wanted to set up
for himself he should have every penny of it to start him, every blessed
penny—it was not more than his due, dear old lad.

As soon as Mary accepted him—and he didn’t expect her to take more than
a week in making up her mind—he’d hand the money over to Eli with his
blessing. Before he reached home that night he had settled everybody’s
affairs to his own satisfaction and their advantage. Ortho was in a
generous mood, being hotly in love again.



                             CHAPTER XXVII


Teresa rode out of Gwithian in a black temper. Three days before, in
another fit of temper, she had packed the house-girl from Bosula, bag
and baggage, and she was finding it difficult to get another. For two
days she had been canvassing the farms in vain, and now Gwithian had
proved a blank draw. She could not herself cook, and the Bosula
household was living on cold odds and ends, a diet which set the men
grumbling and filled her with disgust. She pined for the good times when
Martha was alive and three smoking meals came up daily as a matter of
course.

Despite the fact that she offered the best wages in the neighborhood,
the girls would not look at her—saucy jades! Had she inquired she would
have learnt that, as a mistress, she was reported too free with her
tongue and fists.

Gwithian fruitless, there was nothing for it but to try Mousehole.
Teresa twisted her big horse about and set off forthwith for the fishing
village in the hopes of picking up some crabber’s wench who could handle
a basting pan—it was still early in the morning. A cook she must get by
hook or crook; Ortho was growling a great deal at his meals—her
precious Ortho!

She was uneasy about her precious Ortho; his courtship of the Penaluna
girl was not progressing favorably. He had not mentioned the affair, but
to his doting mother all was plain as daylight. She knew perfectly well
where he spent his evenings, and she knew as well as if he had told her
that he was making no headway. Men successful in love do not flare like
tinder at any tiny mishap, sigh and brood apart in corners, come
stumbling to bed at night damning the door latches for not springing to
meet their hands, the stairs for tripping them up; do not publicly, and
apropos of nothing, curse all women—meaning one particular woman. Oh,
no, Ortho was beating up against a head wind.

Teresa was furious with the Penaluna hussy for presuming to withstand
her son. She had looked higher for Ortho than a mere farmer’s daughter;
but, since the farmer’s daughter did not instantly succumb, Teresa was
determined Ortho should have her—the haughty baggage!

After all Simeon owned the adjacent property and was undeniably well to
do. The girl had looks of a sort (though the widow, being enormous
herself, did not generally admire big women) and was reported a good
housewife; that would solve the domestic difficulty. But the main thing
was that Ortho wanted the chit, therefore he should have her.

Wondering how quickest this could be contrived, she turned a corner of
the lane and came upon the girl in question walking into Gwithian, a
basket on her arm, her blue cloak blowing in the wind.

Teresa jerked her horse up, growling, “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” Mary replied and walked past.

Teresa scowled after her and shouted, “Hold fast a minute!”

Mary turned about. “Well?”

“What whimsy tricks are you serving my boy Ortho?” said Teresa, who was
nothing if not to the point.

Mary’s eyebrows rose. “What do ’e mean, ‘whimsy tricks’? I do serve en a
fitty supper nigh every evening of his life and listen to his tales till
. . .”

“Oh, you know what I mean well enough,” Teresa roared. “Are ’e goin’ to
have him? That’s what I want to know.”

“Have who?”

“My son.”

“Which son?” The two women faced each other for a moment, the black eyes
wide with surprise, the brown sparkling with amusement; then Mary
dropped a quick curtsey and disappeared round the corner.

Teresa sat still for some minutes glaring after her, mouth sagging with
astonishment. Then she cursed sharply; then she laughed aloud; then,
catching her horse a vicious smack with the rein, she rode on. The
feather-headed fool preferred Eli to Ortho! Preferred that slow-brained
hunk of brawn and solemnity to Ortho, the handsome, the brilliant, the
daring, the sum of manly virtues! It was too funny, too utterly
ridiculous! Eli, the clod, preferred to Ortho, the diamond! The girl was
raving mad, raving! Eli had visited Roswarva a good deal at one time,
but not since Ortho’s return. Teresa hoped the girl was aware that Ortho
was absolute owner of Bosula and that Eli had not a penny to his
name—now. If she were not, Teresa determined she should not long go in
ignorance.

At any rate, it could only be a question of time. Mary might still have
some friendly feeling for Eli, but once she really began to know Ortho
she would forget all about that. Half the women in the country would
give their heads to get the romantic squire of Bosula; they went sighing
after him in troops at fairs and public occasions. Yet something in the
Penaluna girl’s firm jaw and steady brown eyes told Teresa that she was
not easily swayed hither and thither. She wished she could get Eli out
of the way for a bit.

She rode over the hill and down the steep lane into Mousehole, and there
found an unwonted stir afoot.

The village was full of seamen armed with bludgeons and cutlasses,
running up and down the narrow alleys in small parties, kicking the
doors in and searching the houses.

The fisherwomen hung out of their windows and flung jeers and slops at
them.

“Press gang,” Teresa was informed. They had landed from a frigate
anchored just round the corner in Gwavas Lake and had so far caught one
sound man, one epileptic and the village idiot, who was vastly pleased
at having some one take notice of him at last.

A boy line fishing off Tavis Vov had seen the gang rowing in, given the
alarm, and by the time the sailors arrived all the men were a quarter of
a mile inland. Very amusing, eh? Teresa agreed that it was indeed most
humorous, and added her shrewd taunts to those of the fishwives.

Then an idea sprang to her head. She went into the tavern and drank a
pot of ale while thinking it over. When the smallest detail was complete
she set out to find the officer in command.

She found him without difficulty—an elderly and dejected midshipman
leaning over the slip rails, spitting into the murky waters of the
harbor, and invited him very civilly to take a nip of brandy with her.

The officer accepted without question. A nip of brandy was a nip of
brandy, and his stomach was out of order, consequent on his having
supped off rancid pork the night before. Teresa led him to a private
room in the tavern, ordered the drinks and, when they arrived, locked
the door.

“Look ’e, captain,” said she, “do ’e want to make a couple of guineas?”

The midshipman’s dull glance leapt to meet hers, agleam with sudden
interest, as Teresa surmised it would. She knew the type—forty years
old, without influence or hope of promotion, disillusioned, shabby,
hanging body and soul together on thirty shillings a month; there was
little this creature would not do for two pounds down.

“What is it?” he snapped.

“I’ll give you two pounds and a good sound man—if you’ll fetch en.”

The midshipman shook his tarred hat. “Not inland; I won’t go inland.”
Press gangs were not safe inland in Cornwall and he was not selling his
life for forty shillings; it was a dirty life; but he still had some
small affection for it.

“Who said it was inland? To a small little cove just this side of Monks
Cove; you’ll know it by the waterfall that do come down over cliff
there. T’eddn more’n a two-mile pull from here, just round the point.”

“Is the man there?”

“Not yet, but I’ll have en there by dusk. Do you pull your boat up on
the little beach and step inside the old tinner’s adit—kind of little
cave on the east side—and wait there till he comes. He’s a mighty
strong man, I warn ’e, a notable wrestler in these parts, so be
careful.”

“I’ll take four of my best and sand-bag him from behind,” said the
midshipman, who was an expert in these matters. “Stiffens ’em, but don’t
kill. Two pound ain’t enough, though.”

“It’s all you’ll get,” said Teresa.

“Four pound or nothing,” said the midshipman firmly.

They compromised at three pounds and Teresa paid cash on the spot.
Ortho, the free-handed, kept her in plenty of money—so different from
Eli.

The midshipman walked out of the front door, Teresa slipped out of the
back and rode away. She had little fear the midshipman would fail her;
he had her money, to be sure, but he would also get a bounty on Eli and
partly save his face with his captain. He would be there right enough.

She continued her search for a cook in Paul and rode home slowly to gain
time, turned her horse, as usual, all standing, into the stable, and
then went to look for her younger son.

She was not long in finding him; a noise of hammering disclosed his
whereabouts.

She approached in a flutter of well-simulated excitement.

“Here you, Eli, Eli!” she called.

“What is it?” he asked, never pausing in his work.

“I’ve just come round by the cliffs from Mousehole; there’s a good
ship’s boat washed up in Zawn-a-Bal. Get you round there quick and take
her into Monks Cove; she’m worth five pounds if she’m worth a penny.”

Eli looked up. “Hey! . . . What sort of boat?”

“Gig, I think; she’m lying on the sand by the side of the adit.”

Eli whistled. “Gig—eh! All right, I’ll get down there soon’s I’ve
finished this.”

Teresa stamped her foot. “Some o’ they Mousehole or Cove men’ll find her
if you don’t stir yourself.”

Eli nodded. “All right, all right, I’m going. I’m not for throwing away
a good boat any more’n you are. Just let me finish this gate. I shan’t
be a minute.”

Teresa turned away. He would go—and there was over an hour to spare—he
would go fast enough, go blindly to his fate. She turned up the valley
with a feeling that she would like to be as far from the dark scene of
action as possible. But it would not do Eli any harm, she told herself;
he was not being murdered; he was going to serve in the Navy for a
little while as tens of thousands of men were doing. Every sailor was
not killed, only a small percentage. No harm would come to him; good,
rather. He would see the world and enlarge his mind. In reality she was
doing him a service.

Nevertheless her nerves were jumping uncomfortably. Eli was her own
flesh and blood after all, John’s son. What would John, in heaven, say
to all this? She had grasped the marvelous opportunity of getting rid of
Eli without thinking of the consequences; she was an opportunist by
blood and training, could not help herself.

Well, it was done now; there was no going back—and it would clear the
way for Ortho.

Yet she could not rid herself of a vision of the evil midshipman
crouching in the adit with his four manhandlers and sand-bags waiting,
waiting, and Eli striding towards them through the dusk, whistling, all
unconscious. She began to blubber softly, but she did not go home; she
waddled on up the valley, sniffling, blundering into trees, blinking the
tears back, talking to herself, telling John, in heaven, that it was all
for the best. She would not go back to Bosula till after dark, till it
was all over.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Eli strapped the blankets on more firmly, kicked the straw up round the
horse’s belly, picked up the oil bottle and stood back.

“Think he’ll do now,” he said.

Bohenna nodded. “’Es, but ’twas a mercy I catched you in time, gived me
a fair fright when I found en.”

“I’ll get Ortho to speak to mother,” Eli said. “’Tisn’t her fault the
horse isn’t dead. Here, take this bottle in with you.”

Bohenna departed.

Eli piled up some more straw and cleared the manger out. A shadow fell
across the litter.

“Might mix a small mash for him,” he said without looking round.

“Mash for who?” a voice inquired. Eli turned about and saw not Bohenna
but Simeon Penaluna dressed in his best.

“Been to market,” Simeon explained; “looked in on the way back. What
have you got here?”

“Horse down with colic. Mother turned him loose into the stable, corn
bin was open, he ate his fill and then had a good drink at the trough.
I’ve had a proper job with him.”

“All right now, eddn ’a?”

“Yes, I think so.”

Simeon shuffled his expansive feet. “Don’t see much of you up to
Roswarva these days.”

“No.”

More shufflings. “We do brearly miss ’e.”

“That so?”

Simeon cleared his throat. “My maid asked ’e to supper some three months
back . . . well, if you don’t come up soon it’ll be getting cold like.”

There was an uncomfortable pause; then Eli looked up steadily. “I want
you to understand, Sim, that things aren’t the same with me as they were
now Ortho’s come home. My father died too sudden; he didn’t leave a
thing to me. I’m nothing but a beggar now. Ortho . . .”

The gaunt slab of hair and wrinkles that was Simeon’s face split into a
smile.

“Here, for gracious sake, don’t speak upon Ortho; he’s pretty nigh
talked me deaf and dumb night after night of how he was a king in
Barbary and what not and so forth . . . clunk, clunk, clunk! In the
Lord’s name do you come up and let’s have a little sociable silence for
a change.”

“Do you mean it?” Eli gasped.

“Mean it,” said Simeon, laying a hairy paw on his shoulder. “Did you
ever hear me or my maid say a word we didn’t mean—son?”

Eli rushed across the yard and into the house to fetch his best coat.

Teresa was standing in front of the fire, hands outstretched, shivering
despite the blaze.

She reeled when her son went bounding past her, reeled as though she had
seen a ghost.

“Eli! My God, Eli!” she cried. “What—how—where you been?”

“In the stable physicking your horse,” he said, climbing the stairs. “I
sent Ortho after that boat.”

He did not hear the crash his mother made as she fell; he was in too
much of a hurry.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Ortho climbed the forward ladder and came out on the upper deck. The
ship was thrashing along under all plain sail, braced sharp up.

The sky was covered with torn fleeces of cloud, but blue patches gleamed
through the rents, and the ship leapt forward lit by a beam of sunshine,
white pinioned, a clean bone in her teeth. A rain storm had just passed
over, drenching her, and every rope and spar was outlined with
glittering beads; the wet deck shone like a plaque of silver. Cheerily
sang the wind in the shrouds, the weather leeches quivered, the reef
points pattered impatient fingers, and under Ortho’s feet the frigate
trembled like an eager horse reaching for its bit.

“She’s snorting the water from her nostrils, all right,” he said
approvingly. “Step on, lady.”

So he was aboardship again. How he had come there he didn’t know. He
remembered nothing after reaching Zawn-a-Bal Cove and trying to push
that boat off. His head gave an uncomfortable throb. Ah, that was it! He
had been knocked on the head—press gang.

Well, he had lost that damned girl, he supposed. No matter, there were
plenty more, and being married to one rather hampered you with the
others. Life on the farm would have been unutterably dull really. He was
not yet thirty; a year or two more roving would do no harm. His head
gave another throb and he put his hand to his brow.

A man polishing the ship’s bell noted the gesture and laughed. “Feelin’
sick, me bold farmer? How d’you think you’ll like the sea?”

“Farmer!” Ortho snarled. “Hell’s bells, I was upper yard man of the
_Elijah Impey_, pick of the Indies fleet!”

“Was you, begod?” said the polisher, a note of respect in his voice.

“Aye, that I was. Say, mate, what packet is this?”

“_Triton_, frigate, Captain Charles Mulholland.”

“Good bully?”

“The best.”

“She seems to handle pretty kind,” said Ortho, glancing aloft.

“Kind!” said the man, with enthusiasm. “She’ll eat out of your hand,
she’ll talk to you.”

“Aha! . . . Know where we’re bound?”

“West Indies, I’ve heard.”

“West Indies!” Ortho had a picture of peacock islands basking in coral
seas, of odorous green jungles, fruit-laden, festooned with ropes of
flowers; of gaudy painted parrots preening themselves among the tree
ferns; of black girls, heroically molded, flashing their white teeth at
him. . . .

West Indies! He drew a deep breath. Well, at all events, that was
something new.

                                 FINIS



                           TRANSCRIBER NOTES


Mis-spelled words and printer errors have been corrected or
standardised.

Inconsistency in hyphenation has been retained.

Inconsistency in accents has been corrected or standardised.

When nested quoting was encountered, nested double quotes were changed
to single quotes.

Space between paragraphs varied greatly. The thought-breaks which have
been inserted attempt to agree with the larger paragraph spacing, but it
is quite possible that this was simply the methodology used by the
typesetter, and that there should be no thought-breaks.





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