Part 4 out of 9
Beyond, the bay swept away saucer-wise, the sea white along its brown
edge. From his feet a shoulder, dark with gorse, plunged seaward.
Beneath the swell of it, a level plain ran away to the shore, heaving
up there in a little hillock that stood out from the beach as a bump
Off the hillock lay the privateer hove-to. Another boat hung at her
stern. The boy recognised it at once. It was the lugger _Kite_.
Behind the hillock, upon the plain, stood a solitary cottage.
At that cottage, lonely in a sea of turf, the boy stared long and
It was flying a flag out of the chimney.
And that flag--yes--no--yes--was the Union Jack.
AN OLD SONG
He was off the rim and rushing down through the gorse with thumping
True, Ding-dong had ordered him with his last breath to steer clear of
human habitation--"They're all in it," the old man had said. But then
he possessed the scent-bottle. Now he had nothing but his skin to
lose, and as things were he could afford to lose that. Here at any
rate was a straw to catch at. Moreover he was in no hurry to get to
Lewes to be called a liar.
Of course it might only prove to be some loyal old lady, flying her
colours dauntlessly in the face of the Frenchman. Just such a thing
his mother might do; and there were thousands of her like up and down
the country--thank heaven for it!
On the other hand it might be a temporary signal-station. After the
sacking of the station on Beachy Head, what more likely than that this
cottage should be seized for Government purposes and garrisoned?--his
own chaps too, sailors--not those swaggering snobs in red coats.
If so, he saw his course clear as day.
There was the privateer. Somewhere among these huge smooth hills
lurked the Gentleman, primed with his fatal message. Between the two
was one boat, and so far as he knew one only--the long-boat of the
If his surmise were correct, and this should prove a blockade-house,
he would take the garrison, though it consisted of only half-a-dozen
men, attack the Gang, and smash the boat at all costs.
The boy plunged down the hill.
The sun beat fiercely on his head, but he hardly felt it.
Along a track that snaked through the gorse, he pushed his way, flies
buzzing about him. A shining gossamer lay across his path, bosom-high.
From it a web swung in the wind. At the centre, where the threads met,
a black and yellow spider, marked like a man of war, waited its prey.
The lad brushed through it with a pang. The spider's work fell about
him in ruins: he rushed for the gorse, and hung there topsy-turvy, as
though heart-broken. Hard lines certainly! He had upset the spider's
apple-cart, as the Almighty had upset his. But he had _had_ to--
and so no doubt had the Almighty.
He turned as he ran.
"Cheer up, old chap!" he hollaed back to his friend, crouching among
the ruins of his home. "It'll all come out in the washing."
Fluffy thistle-heads, reminding him of Gwen's young chickens, stood up
out of the gorse all about him. The bunched blackberries were ripening
now: he almost expected to see Gwen's face, purple-mouthed, peering at
him from a bramble. All about him the silver-downed gorse-pods were
snapping like pistols. A stone-chat with ruddy breast spurted out of
the gorse, and flirted upwards.
The path broadened; the gorse grew scantier. His feet crushed
sweetness out of the thyme. Here and there a young ash thrust up
Of a sudden he found himself again at the top of one of those almost
sheer descents to which he was becoming used.
At its foot grew a hanger of beeches, already bronzing to autumn.
Down he went, slithering on hands and tail, picked himself up towards
the bottom, and ran away into the shade of the wood to find himself
among silver-grey beech-stems.
How refreshing it was after the glare, how rich, how dark!
Till he was out of it, he had not known how hot it had been on the
bare hill-side. Now he was aware of the sweat on his forehead, and a
Beech-stems rose in stately columns all about him. The floor was red
and brown mosaic, the roof a tracery of leaves intertwined with light.
Eastward the sun flashed as through a window. Close by a wood-pigeon
Out of the aisle once again into the glare.
Now the Downs lay behind him, barren and dun. On his left-front the
rounded bosom of another beech-wood rose, in its midst a single
chestnut already rusting. Across the valley, behind a ridge, a blunt
church-tower and yellow-lichened roofs peeped. On the hill beyond, a
windmill cocked up against the sky.
He paid little attention, making straight for the flag of his country.
The cottage stood about a quarter of a mile away, conspicuously
solitary in the greensward, the Union Jack brave above it.
The boy approached, wary but swift. Out here on the open plain there
was no cover. He was exposed as a fly on a sheet of paper. Still
things couldn't be worse--he comforted himself with that most
comfortable of thoughts.
Some two hundred yards from the cottage a ruined wall ran across the
greensward. Behind it the boy took cover and spied.
The cottage was very small; yet, small as it was it was grim to a
degree. The flint in rows, tier upon tier, grinned at him fiercely,
reminding him of a dog showing its teeth. The colour of steel, the
rows of set teeth, the shaggy roof of thatch, the flag ruffling it
from the chimney, all bespoke the same sturdy fighting character.
Indeed it was so small, and yet so truculent, that Kit laughed to see
Chained there a dumb watch-dog on the threshold of its country, it
seemed to be saying as it crouched--
"You can all go to sleep: I'm watching."
Kit crossed the wall, and almost expected to hear the cottage growl.
Warily he approached. As he did so, the warrior aspect of the cottage
grew upon him. It was less a cottage than a tiny fort. There were only
three windows, one on each side the door, and a dormer. The lower
windows though latticed were cross-barred; and the door of massive
oak, iron-studded, was heavy enough for a castle. Through it, ajar, he
caught the gleam of arms.
Certainly this was no peasant's cottage. What was it then?--a signal-
There was no flag-staff, no signal-tackle.
Some lonely smuggler's hold?--not likely: for there was the flag.
Could the flag be a decoy?
There was nothing for it but to go and see.
He stole forward with noisy heart.
The cottage crouched; the sycamores behind it rustled; and the wind
that stirred the sycamores brought to him the sound of a voice.
He stopped, fingering his dirk.
Friend or enemy?
The voice was that of a man, deeply melodious without being exactly
musical, and came from beyond the cottage somewhere by the clump of
It was humming a tune, and a tune the boy knew well. Holding his
breath, and listening with his heart, the boy could distinguish the
_Jesu, Lover of my Soul_.
THE MAN WITH THE SWORD
Those familiar words, so unexpected in that strange place, smote the
A thousand memories surged in on him.
His lips trembled. A very little, and he would have fallen on his
It was as though an Angel had come to him walking through the Valley
of the Shadow, to tell him all was well, and to go forward.
And forward he went with thankful heart.
The sea of turf ran right up to the wall, and broke against it. The
windows, seen close, were less windows than loop-holes, barred across.
On the sill of one was a pot of musk, newly watered, and very
fragrant. Within upon the wall shimmered a ship's cutlass, and a brace
The boy peered in.
A kitchen-parlour, raftered and paved with stone, formed the ground-
floor. At one end was a huge fire-place; in the opposite corner a bed,
piled high with clothes. A ladder led to a trap-door in the low
ceiling. The sun flooded into the room through the one window in the
other wall. The door on that side was half open; and behind it sat a
He was all in black, and very neat: an Englishman, a gentleman, and a
parson, Kit would have sworn.
His back was turned. The boy could see nothing but a black coat, a
pair of solid shoulders, and a curly head.
This was not the hymn-singer to be sure. He was otherwise engaged.
There was something across his knees, and he was tending to it, and
talking as he worked.
From his actions and his words, Kit would have sworn that he was
bathing a child. For the man was talking as women talk to babies, and
some men to the women they love--that little talk, half tender, half
mocking, such nonsense, and so sweet.
Then something flashed and sparkled against the dark of the door; and
Kit saw it was no babe that lay across the man's knees, but a naked
He was furbishing it with a chamois leather, and caressing it with
Now he lifted the blade on flat hands, and kissed the point
Then he leaned forward, and peered round the half open door with
Comic as the action was, there was yet something terrible about it.
Kit choked with laughter and fear.
The man was half child playing peep-bo! and half spider waiting for a
That vision of the Eternal Child, which he had surprised in the eyes
of old Ding-dong sailing into action, was manifest in this man too.
Were men only children?--Yes, surely!--the good ones, at least. Only
sinners grew old. Christian never ages.
The man's head turned a trifle. There was a smile flickering about his
lips; and in the smile was something of the ogre, and something of the
It was clear that he meant to kill; equally clear that he took joy in
He sat down again; and as he did so held up a finger, hushing himself.
He was playing a game, unaware that he was being watched, and enjoying
Behind the door he sat now, blade in hand, spider-still.
Plainly he was waiting for somebody.
But for whom?--and what would happen when that somebody came?
The door opened another inch or two, and through it, Kit saw the
privateer, black on the white water.
In a flash he understood.
The man was waiting for the French.
The humour of the thing--this lonely swordsman lying in wait behind
the door for the crew of the privateer--seized the boy by the throat.
The laughter poured out of him headlong.
The man leapt round, dark-faced and terrible. In a twinkle he was
across the floor, wary as a panther.
The door opened.
Out he came, thrusting stealthily, his blade leading him. His flanks
were covered, himself almost unseen in the dark of the door.
Whatever else the man might be, he was a soldier born.
Then he saw the boy and halted on the threshold.
A man more aggressively English Kit thought he had never seen.
Forty or thereabouts, five feet ten high, and perfectly compact: he
wore no wig, and his hair broke in crisp grey curls all about his
head: a ruddy face, fighting jowl, and blue eyes, kindled with equal
ease to savagery or smiles.
The boy's heart leapt to those eyes, as it leapt to the first blossom
starring the black-thorn after winter's desolation. There was hope in
them, the hope of Spring.
The man smelt of roast beef and Old England.
Kit loved him at a glance. And was he a stranger?--Had he not fought
with this man, hunted with him, died with him a thousand times of old?
Had they not stood shoulder to shoulder, and back to back, in many a
desperate venture in the past that haunted him? Had he not tried him
time and again on the anvil of hard experience, always to find that he
rang true? Would he fail him now at his need, this old comrade, who
had never failed him before? No. That old sense of the familiarity of
all experience swept in on him with staggering force.
Drawn as in a dream, he stepped forward and took the other's hand.
"Friend," he said.
The man lowered his point. His eyes drank in the boy's face.
"So be it," he answered, twinkling.
The blue eyes lived in the brown ones; the hands gripped.
THE BROKEN SQUARE
"My name is Caryll--Christopher Caryll."
The other nodded over him.
"Christopher Caryll, called by his mother Kit: an officer of the Sea
The boy's eyes brightened.
"Yes, sir. How did you know?"
"I remember a Kit Caryll by name in the Mediterranean in the nineties.
And I ought to know the King's uniform, seeing I was a King's officer
myself before I took orders."
"Sailor be d'd!" cried the Parson, heartily. "I'd sooner be a cod-
fish. No, sir, no: I hate the sea like I hate the French. D'you think
if the Almighty had meant me for the water, He'd have troubled to give
me that?" He thrust forth his right leg, and dwelt fondly on the calf,
contracting and relaxing it.
"But I forget my manners."
He bent over his blade with tenderest chivalry.
"Will you allow me," with a sweep, "to introduce to your ladyship a
young gentleman of the sister Service? Mr. Caryll--Lady Polly Kiss-me-
He averted the sword, and shielding his mouth, whispered
"The sweetest of her sex, Mr. Caryll, but that hot after the men you
Kit threw back his head and gurgled. Only fifteen, and man enough not
to be ashamed to be a boy, he still loved make-believe. And his heart
went out to this man, who was after all a brother-boy.
"No, I wasn't a sailor. I had my company in the King's Black
Borderers," continued the Parson--"the old Blackguards, as they call
us, of whom you may have heard."
The boy's eyes flashed.
"I should think I had!" he cried. "It was a brute in the Borderers
nearly killed my Uncle Jacko in a duel--in Corsica--in '94. A chap
called Joy. He was a notorious bully--a cursing swearing fellow.
After-wards he died of drink, mother says. Uncle Jacko was her
The other's face had chilled.
"And what was mother's favourite brother's name--if I may ask?"
"Gordon, sir--Jacko Gordon."
"Jacko Gordon--the Horse-Gunner!" laughed the Parson. "Ha! ha! ha!"
"Did you know him, sir?"
The Parson tossed his Polly in the air, and caught her deftly.
"Did we know him? did we not? You remember Jacko Gordon, my lady?--and
the sands of Calvi?"
"That was where the bully fought him!" cried Kit. "Ran him through the
fore-arm when he wasn't ready."
A dark breeze swept across the other's face.
"He was ready; and it was not the fore-arm," he replied with icy
chilliness. "It was the wrist; was it not, my own?" bending over his
blade.... "Yes; he had a lovely wrist--until she kissed it...." He
shrugged. "But what would you?--'Calves!' says he; and it was before
the mess-tent--' d'you call those things? yours calves?'--'And what
d'you call em yourself?' says I, mighty polite. 'Why, _cows in
calf!'_ says he, and swaggers off with a silly guffaw.
"After that there was nothing for it but the usual of course. I ran
him through the wrist. He dropped his blade....
"'D'you withdraw?' says I, she straining for his heart.
"'What I have said, I have said,' he answered, white as silver and
steady as the firmament.
"Then little man Nelson knocked up my sword--
"'That'll do, Black Cock,' says he. 'A joke's a joke; but a brave
man's death's a mighty bad joke. She's a little blood-sucker that lady
o yours.' And nobody but Nelson'd ha dared to say it."
The boy was staring hard.
"Did they call you Black Cock, sir? Abercromby's Black Cock?"
"That's me, sir, at your service," replied the Parson--"Joy of Battle
in the Regiment, Abercromby's Black Cock in the Army. What of it?"
"I met a man who knew you this morning."
The other's eyes leapt.
"Chap with a beak on a chestnut!--handsome young scoundrel!--
Frenchified, theatrical, bit o red riband stuck on his stomach."
"That's the man, sir."
"Well, what of him?--Quick!"
Kit repeated the tale of Egypt, as the Gentleman had told it.
The other listened with rapt interest.
"It's all true," he said, "true as the Bible."
He was pacing up and down, his hands behind him.
"There was a time in my life," he began at last "when I had--er--the
regrettable habit of--er--using foul language, as your Uncle Jacko may
have told you. Never filthy language! never that. I always swore like
a gentleman. Chucked the d's and b's and g's about a bit too merry.
Well, one day--it was in Egypt--I was carrying on a bit, when a pious
sort of ass I knew at home, who was standing by, said--'I wonder what
your mother'd think if she heard you now, Harry Joy.' So after I'd
given him some for imself, I went back to my tent and thought a bit.
"You see I'd just heard from home that poor old mother was failing. And
I couldn't help thinking--Now supposing she dies, and first thing she
hears when she gets to heaven is her boy loosing off on earth!...
"So I took an oath Samson-style, and I prayed I and I said--'Look
here, Lord, if you'll look over what's past, and help me keep a clean
tongue in future, I'll kill you a Frenchman a day for seven days....'
"So I sent a challenge into their lines. There was nothing stirring
just then, and they took the thing up very readily. The business took
place before reveille out in the desert, between the out-post lines at
a place they got to call the cock-pit. All the bloods and bucks on
both sides used to come out to see the fun. It was the regular thing--
to see Black Cock breakfast....
"Well, on the seventh morning as they were carting their chap away,
and I was wiping my sword, a swaggering great Cuirassier turned round
"'To-morrow we bring David to slay your Goliath!'
"'D'you hear that, Black Cock?' says Olifant, the Guardsman. 'Are you
game?'--'I'm not tired, if they ain't,' says I."
His blue eyes began to twinkle.
"Next dawn, when I got to the Cock-pit, and saw their champion, why,
he was a boy!--a boy like a girl!--one of these pretty pink and white
things, all eyes and legs and a silly smile. 'I am David,' says he.
'Then go back to Jesse,' says I, pretty short. 'I don't fight with
kids.'... And that afternoon I sent him a bottle of milk with my
The Parson stopped his pacing, and looked the boy in the eyes.
"Next day they broke us, sir,--broke the Black Borderers in square."
The Parson was breathing deep, and his eyes were smouldering.
"The Legion d'Irlande. No other regiment in the world could have got
in; and once in, no other regiment in the world but ours could have
got em out, though I say it as shouldn't."
Voice and eyes burst into thunder and flame.
"And who led em? Why, my boy-girl friend storming along on an old
white Arab, and laughing like the devil. 'Here, they come!' yells the
Colonel. _'Prepare for--Cavalree!'_ I jumped on to the big drum,
and had a squint over the men's heads. Lor! I can see the dust of em
now--like a mighty great wave sweeping across the desert, and the boy
on the white Arab coming along like an earthquake six lengths before
the lot. It sent me screaming mad to see em. 'Come on, ye dirty black-
a-mouths!' I screeched. 'Irish stew for the rebel brigade!' 'Hullo,
Black Cock!' he cried, and I saw him grinning through the dust. 'I'm
going to cut your comb.' And he took the old horse by head, and rammed
him at us--slap-bang, like riding at a bull-finch; and the whole
blanky lot after him."
The Parson was stamping up and down, roaring out his story, his eyes
laughing and battle-lusty.
"Such a hell of a hugger-mugger you never saw! They rolled in on us
like the sea. Rough and tumble every man for himself--stab somebody--
don't matter who!" He paused to pant. "It was the day of my life. The
Colonel was down; the Majors were dead; the Captains heaven-knows-
where. Our old Raven banner, that we took from their Black Horse at
Dettingen was in the dust, the Junior Ensign tumbled up in it all
anyhow. 'Got it, Miss B.?' I cried. 'Here!' squeals the poor little
chap. 'Heave her up!' Then a horse jumped on him, and put him out of
"I got the old rag up somehow. 'Round this, men!' I yelled, jumping on
the Colonel's dead charger. Get round, ye blanky blanks!' Then I saw
this boy-girl chap grinning above me. 'Slash away!' I roared. 'Here's
one for yourself!' and I jabbed the staff in his mug. 'No,' says he,
as jolly as you like, 'I don't fight with poultry!' And dam-my-soul!--
if he don't sneak his hand under the rag and tweak my nose!--this
nose!" the Parson squeaked, tapping it--"this nose upon this face!
this nose I'm talking to you out o now! And he jumped that wallopin
old white out the way he came. 'Come along, children,' says he.
'You've had quite enough for one meal.' And away he goes, laughing
like the devil, his blessed pathriots after him."
The tempest in the Parson's wrathful blue eyes subsided.
"Yes, that was my first real meeting with Fighting Fitz."
"Was that Fighting Fitz?" cried the boy, ablaze.
He had heard, as who had not, of the brilliant young Irishman whom
Napoleon had called the first light cavalryman in Europe after
"That was Fighting Fitz of Green Brigade fame," said the Parson,
mopping his forehead. "We knew him as the Boy Sabreur in Egypt. Even
then it was said that no woman could resist him, and no man stand up
against him. He went out with young de Beauharnais, Boney's step-son,
and ran him through the body; and he carried on an intrigue with ...
but there! there!... When he was First Consul, Boney decorated him
before the Army, and disgraced him within the year. They said the
little Corporal began to be jealous: the men worshipped Fitz....
Anyway I know it'll be the regret of my life that I missed my chance
when I first met him." He sighed profoundly.
"But you met him again, didn't you, sir?"
The Parson nodded.
"Last month. I was up on Beachy Head with the spy-glass, when I saw
the _Kite_ beating up for Cuckmere Haven. So I ran down to
Birling Gap thinking--thinking--" he coughed--"she might a--a--be
bringing me a little present from France--a bit o bacca, or dallop o
tea, or what not, ye know.... What ye say?"
He turned on the boy savagely.
"I didn't say anything," replied Kit, astonished.
The Parson scowled.
"Well, as I swung round into the cutting I nearly ran into a chap on a
chestnut--quite the Corinthian, with a bit o red riband stuck on his
stomach. I brought up sharp on my heels.
"'Well, my fine fellow,' thinks I, 'what you posing here for?--and
why's that mare in a lather?' But before I could say anything--
"'Hullo!' says he, 'I think I should know that nose.'
"'What ye mean?' says I, pretty sharp.
"'Why,' says he, 'I once had the pleasure of pulling it.'
"Then he laughed. And directly he laughed of course I knew.
"I put my hand upon my sword.
"'And what you doing attitudinising in _my_ land, my lord?' says
I, the bristles at the back of my neck rising. 'Play-acting your
Caesar about to conquer Britain by the look o you!'
"'Why, your Majesty,' says he, 'I'm out for a ride on _your_
"I gave him a look.
"'Shall we adjourn to the beach?' says I.
"'Charmed,' says he--'if I'm not too young.'
"And he cocked his leg over the mare's withers, and slid down. 'Now,
old lady!' says he. 'You know your own way.' And he gave her a spank;
and off she went with a make-believe kick at him, up the hillside and
out of sight.
"We went down to the beach, and took our coats off."
The Parson's eyes began to twinkle.
"Yes: the bully had met his match for once--and a bit more. After a
very few minutes that was clear. 'How d'you feel?' says he. 'Why,
right as rain,' I panted. But I knew he had me. And I knew by the look
in his eyes he knew it too. 'True 'tis pity,' says he, running his eye
over my shirt.
"'Get on with it,' I says, pretty gruff. 'I must play pussy-cat with my
fat mouse,' says he. 'Where'd you like it?' and I must say he was
mighty courteous about it. Well, I was just going to tell him, when
somebody banged me over the head from behind.... I fell on my face, and
a mountain seemed to fall on top of me. 'Shall I knife him, my lord?'
comes a voice like a girl's. Then--'Get off, you dung! or I'll make
muck o you!'--'I ony thought, my lord--'--'Think, swine! _you_
think!' And smack--smack goes his sword! The mountain got off. The
lord was kneeling by my side.
"'I hope to the deuce you're not hurt, sir,' says he, very concerned.
"I got to my knees.
"'Thanks to you, my lord, I'm not.'
"'It was Big Belly there,' says he, helping me to my feet.... 'These
fellows don't understand our ways.'
"'That's the worst of dabbling in dirty water,' says I.
"'Ah, it's not the water--it's the fish you meet in it I mind,' he
"He picked up my sword, and gave it me.
"I was trying to walk.
"'Here, take my arm,' says he. 'You've had about two ton o bad man
upset on top o you.' And he walked me up and down that beach, tender
as a lady--pon my soul he did.
"Just then I heard a holloa.
"'No time to cut to waste, my lord,' sings out someone. 'We've a clear
run now, but only knows how long we shall have.'
"Then I saw the _Kite's_ long-boat beached close by, and Diamond
and a couple of his chaps standing by.
"The lord took me to a rock, and made me sit down.
"I wonder if you'll excuse me,' says he. 'I'm due to dine with little
Boney tonight at eight sharp, and I must be up to time. Truth is I'm
not in the Little Corporal's best books just now. He caught Josephine
and me amusing ourselves in the rose-walk at Malmaison last week; and
he wasn't best pleased.'
"And he took off his hat in his theatrical Frenchified way and went
down to the boat.
"I sat on the rock, brushing my knees.
"Diamond shoved her off.
"'Good-day, Parson,' says he, grinning.
"'So this is your smuggling, Diamond!' I roared, shaking my fist at
"'Yes,' says he, 'I'm about as good a smuggler as you are Parson.'
"That made me mad.
"'I'm an Englishman anyway and not a blanky traitor!' I roared.
'Here's something to remember me by!' and I snatched the pistol out o
my tail-pocket, and snapped it at him.
"The ball went through the full of his shirt.
"'Ah,' says he, mighty nasty, 'I'll drop a return card on you one o'
these days, Mr. Clergyman. And don't you forget it.'
"Then the lord stood up and waved.
"'Thank you for a very pleasant afternoon, Mr. Joy,' he called. 'May
I say _au revoir?_'
"'The same to you, my lord,' I answered. 'And the sooner the better.'
"And that's the last I saw of him.... And now what I want to know is
_where is he?_--for I'm after him."
THE FACE ON THE WALL
"It's a long story," said Kit.
The Parson took him by the arm, and led the way into the kitchen.
It was more like a guard-room than a parlour. Clearly no woman reigned
here. All was wood, or stone, or steel, clean as a ship, and as
comfortless. Arms on the wall; iron-barred windows; no carpets, no
curtains, no fal-lals.
The only soft thing in the room was the bed in the corner, piled high
with clothes; the only ornament a print above the chimney-piece.
"It looks more like a fort than a kitchen," whispered Kit, awed.
"Ah, thereby hangs a tale!" replied the Parson.
He drew up before the face on the wall.
"You know who that is?" he asked, one hand on the boy's shoulder.
It was the face that had hung in old Ding-dong's cabin, that was
hanging at that hour in thousands of English homes.
"A Colonel of Marines," continued the Parson--"Nelson by name."
[Footnote: In 1795 Nelson was appointed Honorary Colonel of Marines in
recognition of his services in the Mediterranean.]
"Indeed," said the boy ironically. "I'd a notion he was a sailor."
The other made no answer. Indeed he did not hear. He stood before the
print, worshipping it.
"Every night and morning I say my prayers before that picture," he
continued quietly, all the laughter out of his voice. And there was
something profoundly stirring about the solemnity with which he added,
"If it's God's will that our country shall be saved, there is the man
will save it!"
The boy looked up at him.
"Sir," he said, "Nelson will save the country, if we can save Nelson."
THE SOLDIER'S MOTHER
Kit told his tale.
The Parson listened without a word, his hands folded, and face
His silence chilled the boy.
"D'you believe me, sir?" he flashed out at last.
"Believe the boy!" cried the Parson fiercely. "Why, I _saw_ the
fight. I was dancing mad at the foot of the cliff. Great heavens,
sir!--didn't you hear me holloa? I should have thought they'd have
heard me in France. Why, for the first and last time in my life, I
wanted to be a sailor myself!"
Kit finished with a free heart, withholding nothing: the death of
Black Diamond; the fight with the privateers; the end of old Ding-
dong; and the scene with the Gentleman on the cliff.
The Parson drank in the lad's words. His eyes were grave; his brow
furrowed. So stern he seemed, his face so smileless under those
laughing curls, that Kit hardly recognised in him the boy-hearted
swordsman of a few minutes since.
The story finished, he sat long unmoving; his mouth set, and eyes
Then he began to pace up and down again.
"My prayer is heard," he said at last, and stopping turned to the boy.
"Kit Caryll, d'you know what I am?"
"You look like a--kind of a clergyman, sir."
"And that is what I am," replied the other a touch defiantly. "I am in
Holy Orders in my own humble way."
He began pacing once more.
"We all have our weaknesses, sir.... My mother was mine.... She should
have been the mother of saints rather than of a--' bully swordsman!'--
I think that was the phrase?" cocking a blue eye at the boy.
"After Egypt I came home to find her dying.... Well, she entreated me
to forsake my profession and become a Christian--'for my sake, Harry,'
says she.... I argued it with her. I told her it was good work, God's
work, to kill the French. I said I looked on myself as a Crusader
fighting the Moors, as indeed I did. But she wouldn't hear of it. She
said the Moors were black and the French white, and that made just all
the difference.... And she begged so hard--and--and--"
His back was to the boy, and he was looking out of the window.
It was some time before he went on.
"I couldn't say her no then. So I told her I'd do as she wished and
take Orders. But I made one condition. 'I won't go to the French; but
if the French come to me, then,' I said, 'surely, mother, I may up and
smite!' She gave me that. You see, she never thought they would come."
He cleared his throat.
"Well, the Bishop wouldn't give me a cure, because I didn't know the
Catechism. So I kicked my heels till the Peace was broken, and things
looked up a bit. And when little Boney began to get his Army of
England together on the cliffs yonder, I cheered up, and came and
pitched my tent on the nearest spot I could find to be ready. And here
I've been ever since.
"On calm summer evenings I've seen the cliffs of France from Beachy
Head, and with the spy-glass I've thought I've made out the tents of
Lannes' camp. That's been bread and meat to me these two years past.
Then a month ago I had that little affair with my lord. That knocked
ten years off my life. I've been in training ever since. Today I think
I'm a better man than I've ever been." He inhaled a deep breath,
swelling his chest.
"And this morning, when I woke and saw that ship hove-to off the Wish,
and old Piper told me she was a Frenchman, I just went down on my two
knees and thanked God for His great mercies."
He blew his nose boisterously.
"Then I ran up my colours to tempt em ashore. And I've been waiting in
hope ever since."
THE FIGHTING MAN
He clapped on his hat.
"And now the first thing to be done is to hold a Council of War with
The boy looked up shyly.
"Could I have something to eat first, sir? I haven't tasted food for
The Parson fussed off to the cupboard.
"Just like me. Just like a man. No thought--no consideration. All
comes of there being no woman about the place."
He brought out a knuckle of ham, a loaf, a pot of jam, and a jug of
As he did so there came a groaning gurgle from the corner.
The Parson whirled round and shot a denouncing finger at the piled
"You dare!" he roared.
"I was ony sniffin, sir," whimpered a cockney voice.
Then for the first time Kit saw that in the bed lay a man. A shaven
head, pert and pug-like, and a face shining with sweat protruded. All
the rest was lost beneath that mountain of clothes.
As Kit stared, the man winked a merry brown eye at him.
The boy approached.
"Isn't it rather stuffy under all those clothes?" he asked
"It's like a h'oven, sir--that ot!" chirped the little man.
"You'll go to a much hotter place when you die, if you so much as stir
a finger out," called the Parson with firm cheerfulness. "I'm a
Parson, mind you. I know what I'm talkin about."
"Ah, I know you wouldn't go for to put a pore bloke away for fetchin
his thumb to mop a drop o sweat off his conk," whined the other.
"Ha! you sweat, Knapp?"
"I spouts pushpiration, sir!"
"Capital, capital!" The Parson hopped across the room and bent his ear
to the bed. "I can almost hear him simmer!" He twinkled up at Kit.
"It's the very weather for him. He's in a sweet muck-sweat. Lying
between two feather-beds, ain't you, me boy?"
He sat down on the table beside the eating lad.
"That's Nipper Knapp. He was my batman in the Borderers. I brought him
down here to train, while I was waiting for the French. Such a pretty
little bit o stuff! Arms like legs, and legs like bodies. I'll strip
him for you one day. Only thing is I have to sweat the meat off him
so. Get a belly on him in a day, little pig, if I'd let him."
He spoke of the man much as a farmer speaks of his beasts. The boy's
sensitive soul recoiled.
"He can hear every word," he whispered.
"I don't mind," replied the Parson cheerfully.
"Nor don't I," chirped the voice from the bed.
"And what are you training him for?" asked Kit--"the Church, like
"No, sir!" retorted the Parson shortly. "I'm training him to make the
best use he can of the gifts God has given him--that's his hands and
his feet. He can rattle his dukes, and chuck his trotters, as I never
saw man yet. Strips ten six. All good, too; all guts. You can't glut
him.... I'm backing him to run ten miles in the hour against any man
in England, and fight him to a finish in a 24-ft. ring at the end."
The boy shoved back his plate.
"And have you any other spiritual duties, sir?" he asked.
"I stand over Blob while Piper teaches him his prayers," replied the
"Who is Piper?"
The Parson was staring out of the window.
It was some time before he answered.
"I once asked Nelson who was the bravest man he'd ever met. He
answered like a flash, 'My captain of the foretop aboard the
_Agamemnon_--Ralph Piper. The bravest man,' said Nelson, 'because
the best. He's my hero!' And I remember the voice in which he said it
Kit had risen to his feet.
All his life Nelson had been his hero; and now he was within touch of
his hero's hero.
"Where is he?" with glowing eyes.
"Out there--under the sycamores."
Kit recalled the voice humming the hymn that had welcomed him.
They passed out of the cottage.
A heavy-browed jasmine, the flowers fading now, hung about the door.
The greensward ran smoothly away to a shingle bank that rose, long-
backed and brown, some three hundred yards away. The bank crossed the
horizon like a low breast-work, sweeping away eastward in long roan
curve. On the right it ran into a little blunt hill, green-brown and
bare. Beyond the bank the sea leapt to the eye.
The Parson was walking reverently.
There was about him something of the subdued air of the schoolboy
going to interview a respected master.
"Step quietly," he murmured. "We are going into the presence of a
In front of the cottage, about two hundred yards from it, a little
knoll, shaded with sycamores, humped up out of the greensward.
At the foot of it, in the shadow of a tree, a tall old man was sitting
bolt upright in a wooden chair with wheels. A brown book had fallen
open beside him; and a musket, propped against the chair, threw a
black shadow across the page.
"Loaded!" muttered the Parson, pointing. "He can draw a cork from a
bottle at a hundred yards."
"More than most saints could," whispered the boy.
"He's a common-sense saint, not the ordinary run," replied the Parson
with a grin.
The old man's back was towards them. He was gazing intently through a
long glass at the privateer. Kit could see nothing but a straight back
and moon-silvered head.
"Piper, I've brought a young gentleman of your Service to see
you," said the Parson in the quiet tone in which a man addresses a
woman or a superior.
The old sailor dropped the glass. His great hands fumbled with the
wheels of his chair, and he slewed himself about.
Kit's heart gave a jerk.
The old man ended abruptly at the thighs!
Irresistibly the boy recalled a doll of Gwen's whose china legs he had
once plucked off in passion, leaving saw-dust stumps.
The Parson saw the look on the boy's face.
"Ah, I should have told you. Lost both legs in the action with the
_Ca Ira_, wasn't it, Piper?"
The doll spoke.
"Not lost, sir--gone before."
Kit glanced at him sharply.
Was he joking?
No; in that grave face lurked no laughter. The old man had said the
thing that he believed in simplest faith. And what a face it was!
nobly large, worn as the earth, and as full of quiet dignity. Pale,
too, but not with the pallor of ill-health. Indeed the old man looked
hard and wholesome as a forest tree. Rather the boy was reminded of a
cathedral seen in February sunshine.
The great upper lip was bare and stiff as clay. The wide mouth curled
up at the corners, as though it often smiled. Friendly eyes, the colour
of forget-me-nots, dwelt on the boy. A stiff white fringe framed all.
And the note of the whole was calm--calm invincible.
Then the boy's eyes fell on those blue bags thrusting out over the
edge of the chair. A question leapt to his lips. It was out before he
could stop it.
"Dud--dud--does it hurt?"
The old man's face broke up and shone. He chuckled.
A saint could laugh, then! the boy felt himself relieved.
"No, sir, thank you, ne'er a bit. And not nigh as much at the time as
you might fancy--a tidy jar like to be sure.... One thing, I don't
suffer from no bunions." He went off again into his deep chuckle; and
again the boy felt comfort at heart.
The saint could joke!
"Tell him about it, Piper," said the Parson; "you and Nelson."
"Why, sir," said the old man, frank as a child, "the Captain were
standin by my gun in the waist, where he'd no business to ha been
reelly by rights. Flop I goes on the broad o my back, when it took me.
He was down on his knees beside me in a second, dabbin with his little
handkercher. 'Don't kneel in that, sir,' says I, 'your white breeches
and all.' 'Ah, dear fellow!' says he, taking my hand, 'dear fellow!
dear fellow!...' Then they carried me off to the cock-pit."
That was the whole story, but it was so simply told that the boy saw
and felt it all.
"Yes, sir. There warn't a man aboard the _Agamemnon_ but'd ha
died for Captain Nelson and proud too."
He put the spy-glass to his eye to hide the fact that he was blinking.
"She's had a rare mauling, surely. I'd just like to know her story."
"Here's the young gentleman can tell you, Piper," chimed in the
There was a faint glow in the hollow of the old man's cheeks as he
listened to the boy's tale, and he was rubbing his huge hands together
"Seems the powder's laid, but the match lies yet in the pocket of this
here Gentleman," he said, as Kit concluded. "One thing's clear, sir!
We want that boat!... Now if so be I might make so bold, if you and
the young gentleman'd take the glass, and step across to the Wish
there, you could see all along the shore past Cow Gap to the Head, and
make out what they're up to."
"That's a good notion for a sailor!" cried the Parson briskly. "Come
"And I'll make my course for the cottage and see all's snug there,"
said the old man. "You never know what's comin next in this world.
It's the wise man as is ready for the worst."
He trundled himself across the grass.
"Here's your book!" cried Kit, and bending picked it from the ground.
As he did so he saw the name.
It was Law's _Serious Call._
They passed out of the shadow of the sycamore into the sun-glare.
The greensward ran away into shallow creek lying between them and the
little hill beyond. Crossing it, they began the ascent.
"This is the Wish," explained the Parson, climbing; "the Wash really,
because the sea washed round it in old days. It's gone back along
these parts. Old Piper says, when he was a boy, the creek used to fill
At the top of the hill Kit looked about him.
The Wish thrust out into the brown beach, a natural watch-tower, some
hundred feet high. This was no doubt the bump of green he had seen
from the dew-pond.
Eastward a long sweep of shingle embraced Pevensey Bay. Westward,
Beachy Head shouldered out into the sea.
It was nearly low tide. Barriers of black rocks bound the sea.
On the edge of it a boy in a blue jersey danced. In his hand was a
sea-weed scourge; and as the sea toppled in tiny ripples at his feet,
he spanked it, leaping back to avoid the touch of the water. As he
leapt he yelled; and in the stillness his pure treble rose to them.
"Hod back, ye saucy thing! hod back, I say!"
The Parson put his hand to his mouth.
"Blob!" he holloaed.
The boy looked up, and with a parting spank came towards them.
"Who's that?" asked Kit, "and what's he doing?"
"Blob--blobbing'," replied the Parson laconically.
The Parson took up his tale.
"You remember I told you Black Diamond promised to look me up some
time. Well, I knew he'd be as good as his word. So very next day I had
the windows barred, a brace of bullet-proof doors slung, got in a
barrel of powder, and made all snug....
"And just as well I did, too. A couple of days later, just about the
time the bats begin to twitter, I heard the thud of feet on the grass,
and a laugh. They thought they'd taken on an easy job--just walk into
the house, and cop me at my supper. We let em up to within twenty
yards. Then we let em have it, the three of us--Piper, Knapp, and I....
"Such a panic! 'It's a trap!' screams one. 'Blockademen!' yells a
second. Diamond was the only one of the lot to keep his head. ''Bout
ship, boys!' he shouts. 'Call again another day.' And off they
scuttled, quicker than they came....
"'Come on, Knapp!' says I, and bundles out after them, holloaing like
a regiment. One or two turned, and there was a bit of a barney. I
stuck one chap, and was just going to stick another--a fellow in blue
jumping around in a queer kind of way--when all of a sudden he gave a
jab in the back to one of his own chaps.
"Then he turned, and I saw he was a boy about your age, with a face
like a pink moon.
"He came at me like a man, flashing his knife.
"'Here! who are you for?' says I.
"'Whoy, mesalf!' says he.
"'But what you at?' says I.
"'Whoy, foightin!' says he.
"'Who?' says I.
"'Whoy, the nearest!' says he, and smacks at me.
"Then Knapp tripped him from behind, and he was our prisoner....
"He's been with us ever since. Piper's been tryin to make a Christian
"What's his story?"
"I don't know, and he can't tell us. He knows nothing--not even fear.
I call him Blob, because blob's his nature. Piper found the name Hoad
on his shirt. I daresay his people sold him to the Gap Gang; and they
"To be cruel to?" shuddered Kit.
"Not they," laughed the Parson. "He was plump as a little pig. They'd
be kind to him because he wasn't right--superstition, you see. Kept
him to bring em luck, probably. A kind of idol."
The boy in the blue jersey was coming up the hill towards them,
slobbering at the mouth. His hands were in his pockets, and he
lolloped along on his toes.
"Oi druv her back," he announced with complacent cunning. "She was
creepin in on us, sloy-loike."
His face was that of a babe. Clearer eyes Kit had never seen, nor a
more perfect mouth. But for the ears, large and flap, it might have
been the face of a cherub, poised on the gawky body of fifteen. The
expression, by no means vacant, was of slow and staring interest.
Certainly this was no congenital idiot. Probably some chance blow on
the head in infancy had arrested mental growth. The flesh had gone on;
the mind had stopped. A baby-soul was sheathed in the body of a boy.
The two lads were much of a height, and much of an age. But what a
difference between them!
The one was limp as a lolling flower, the other alert as a sword, and
as keen. Experience had written nothing on the face of the simpleton.
All there was blank as the moon. The haggard cheeks and anxious eyes
of the other told that he had already drunk deep of the bitter waters
Blob was staring at Kit with the solemn interest of a babe.
Then he pointed a finger.
"Boy!" he bleated.
"Call me 'sir'!" ordered Kit imperiously. "And take your hands out of
your pockets when you talk to me."
"Go home, Blob!" said the Parson, patting him. "Home!" pointing,
"Home! and stop making a blob o yourself for the present, there's a
good boy. Mr. Piper wants you to help him."
Blob shook a slow head.
"Nay," he said in musical Sussex. "Oi'll boide with Maaster Sir."
Here was another boy in a land of men. In a dim way he felt their
THE FLAP OF A FLAG
The Parson was staring through the spy-glass at Beachy Head.
A mile and a half away, it lay in misty splendour, not unlike a lion
At the foot of it a few tiny black figures moved among the rocks.
"I make out about a score of em," he said. "The boat's beached, and a
man over it. I can catch the glint on his gun-barrel. We can't get at
em except along the shore, hang it! They'd see us coming a mile off."
"If we can't get at the boat," said Kit, "neither can the Gentleman."
"That's truth," mused the Parson, dropping the glass.
"He'll prowl about till night-fall probably. Then he'll have a chance
--if they've got liquor. The boat's his one hope. He's in a tightish
place, mind!--enemy's country; wings clipped; his old friends his best
"And he doesn't know whether the privateer's a Frenchman or not," said
Kit. "Though, of course, he might come down to the shore and signal
"Not while it's light," replied the Parson grimly; "If he signalled
from anywhere it'd be from here. And here I squat till dark. After
dark he can signal till he's black in the face--he hasn't got a
The boy's anxious eyes were sea-ward.
The old pain of heart, forgotten for the moment in the cottage, had
returned, the old sickening sense of failure. After all, the
responsibility was _his_, and his alone. It was in _him_ old
Ding-dong had trusted; it was to _him_ the scent-bottle had been
bequeathed; the fate of Nelson rested on _his_ shoulders.
Hither and thither his mind darted, seeking a way of escape from the
net of circumstance.
"If we could only make sure of his thinking her an Englishman!" he
"She's flying no colours," said the Parson, "that's one good thing."
"I wish she'd fly the Union Jack," replied the boy.
The remark annoyed the Parson, practical or nothing.
"What's the good of wishing what can't be?" he snarled. "You might
leave that to the women."
"Why can't it be?" retorted the boy hotly.
A sound behind him caught his ears. He turned to see the flag in the
cottage chimney ruffling it behind the sycamores.
It flashed a message to his heart.
"By Jove, sir!" he panted. "I've got it."
The blood had rushed to his face, and ebbed as suddenly.
"Lend me your flag, and I'll swim out with it after dark!"
The Parson stared.
"To the privateer?"
"Why not? It can't be more than a few hundred yards. I've often done
"Well, what if you did get there?" curt and sarcastic. "Summon her to
surrender, else you'd take her by storm and put the lot to the sword,
"Why, board her, sir, and run the flag up! She's not a man-of-war.
They'll be keeping no watch, likely as not."
The boy was in a white blaze.
"They won't see it till broad daylight!" he panted, pressing. "And by
that time the Gentleman, if he's hanging about, will see it too. If
they haul it down then and run up the tricolour, he'll think it's a
There was something contagious about the lad's white-hot enthusiasm.
The light was coming and going in the Parson's eyes.
The scheme was as mad as you like. Still, there was a chance of
success, a fighting chance. And was it not the only one?
Himself he no more doubted the lad's story than he doubted that a
month since he had crossed swords with Fighting Fitz. But who else
Of course he must send Knapp over to Lewes at once to report to Beau
Beauchamp, the Commandant there; but what would come of that?
Loving his old Service with passionate jealousy, he was not blind to
the weakness of its traditional logic: it was not probable; therefore
it was not true; and so to sleep again, dear boys!
And Beau Beauchamp, of all men!
The Parson had not yet forgotten the reception that heavy sensualist
had given to his report that Fighting Fitz was riding up and down the
land just outside his lines.
"_May I, sir?_"
The boy was burning at his side. Perforce the Parson began to smoulder
The adventure had just that smack of romance about it that tickled
this man of prose. Could he have run the risk himself, he who could
hardly swim to the bottom, he would have ventured it with laughing
heart. Was he justified in staying the sailor-boy?
No, no, no! his heart thundered the answer at him.
There must always be a risk. And was ever risk better worth running
than this one? But what a boy!
He was flaming merrily now.
"May I, sir?"
He turned to the lad, pale beside him, and smacked a hand into his.
"Kit!" he cried with gusty laughter, "you should have been a soldier!"
THE SWIM IN THE DARK
Kit awoke with the horrors.
All was black about him, and a great hand lay on his breast.
He gripped it, gurgling.
A calm voice, already strangely familiar, reassured him.
"By your leave, sir, it's about time for you to rouse and bitt."
It was Nelson's old foretop-man. The moon, slanting through the
window, shone on his white head and those tranquil, big-dog eyes of
Kit relaxed his hold.
"That you, Piper?" he sighed. "I was dreaming of Fat George. What's
"It's a little better'n two o'clock, sir; you've had a tidy sleep. The
tide's pretty near down, and the moon's a-nigh off the water. By than
you get alongside there'll likely be a bit o' mist on the water crep
up from the eastud with the sun."
The boy slipped off his clothes, shivering.
"Where's Mr. Joy?"
"He came in from the Wish just on midnight. 'No Knapp yet?' says he.
'Then I shall make a reconnaissance in force myself.' 'Beggin your
pardon, sir,' says he, don't see the force--one man agin a score.'
'Ah,' says he, 'you forget my lady.' And he whips up his Polly, and
off he pops over the grass like a lad a-courtin." The old man chuckled
as he told.
"What's Knapp up to?" trembled the boy.
"Why, sir, gone over to Lewes for the soldiers, and should ha been
back hours sen."
"Wonder why he's not?"
"Got fightin and foolin on the road, sir, I'll lay," chuckled the old
man. "Like a lamb with the heart of a lion is Knapp, sir. Frisks into
trouble, and then fights out again. This is first time he's been let
out of hissalf since he went into training. So he's all of a bubble
like. Bubble or bust--that's how Knapp feels."
Stripped, the boy stood up in the darkness.
"Got the flag, Piper?"
"Here it be, sir. How'll you carry it?"
"So." He wound it up in a coil and tied it about his neck, scarf-like.
"Now I'm ready."
The old man wheeled out to the edge of the shadow of the house.
All about was black and silver in the moon. A faint breeze ruffled the
sycamores upon the knoll. Stars strewed the heavens. Beyond the
shingle-bank the sea glistened like satin.
It was very still, very cold, very lonely.
Kit set his teeth to prevent them chattering. The night air kissed him
coldly, and the moon, white above the inky Downs, glistened on his
"There she lays, in the Channel off the Boulder Bank," whispered the
old man, pointing to the privateer, dull-black against the glitter.
"And it's my belieft there's not a sober man aboard of her. All stow'd
away dead drunk under hatches--that's my belieft, sir. They kep it up
from dark till midnight--dancin, drummin, fightin, and all manner.
More like a cage full? wild beasties from Bedlam than a Christian
ship. And for the last hour she might ha been a hulk full o corpuses."
He dropped his voice still further.
"He's in it, sure!" jerking his thumb starward. "Made em blind to the
world for His own good purpose--which is as you should lay em aboard
unbeknownst and knife the blessed lot if so be it was your fancy."
The boy choked a laugh brimming on the edge of being. The old man's
solemnity, his profound simplicity, touched the springs of mirth
"Perhaps," he panted. "I hope so."
"Ah! I'm certain sure," replied the other with firm confidence.
Faith, the most infectious quality in the world because the truest,
seized the boy's heart and lifted it.
"Good luck, sir."
The lad plunged into the moonlight.
A moon-clad wisp, he flitted across the greensward, the fringe of the
flag-scarf fluttering behind him. It was a fine thing to do, but he
wished devoutly somebody else had the doing of it. On the Wish in the
sunshine, the Parson at his side, when the idea first struck him, it
had seemed splendid. Now, alone in the dark, with the idea to
translate into reality, he saw it very differently. It gave him no
thrill of glory. He felt exactly as he had felt last March on the way
to the dentist to have a tooth out--a mean sense of his own
mortality, and an earnest desire to run away.
The turf shaded off into long bents growing out of sand; and that
again ran away into shingle. As he breasted the bank, his hands
succouring his feet, he heard steps behind him.
"Who's that?" he snarled, crouching.
Blob was standing at gaze a little way behind him.
"What ye want?"
The boy made no answer, staring with round moon-eyes.
"He's noiked," came a musing voice. "Oi dew loike to see un."
He shot out a finger, and, flinging back his head, gurgled laughter.
"Here, boy!" called Kit. "As you are there, you can carry me over
He leapt on the other's back, and Blob, sturdy as he looked limp,
crashed down the shingle and across the stretch of wet sand at a
"That'll do, my boy, thank you," said Kit, slipping down at the edge
of the tide. "I'd give you a penny, only I've not got one. No, you
can't come any further. It's too dangerous. This is a job for
He began to paddle out, the ripples playing about his ankles.
Blob's presence braced him to his task. It called to his spirit of a
gentleman. He would just show this lout what blood meant.
Blob followed him with awed eyes.
"She's aloive," he warned his brother-boy. "She'll swallow ee."
"No, she won't," Kit replied. "She's an old friend of mine."
The boy could swim at an age when to most lads walking is still an
accomplishment. Now he waded quietly down a sandy reach between black
The water was warmer than the air. When it clasped his waist, he
trusted himself to it faithfully.
The sea was his mother, and the mother of his race. Her arms were
about him; her spirit entered into his. How pure she was, how strong,
how good! He kissed her cool brow and dropped his head upon her bosom.
Turning on his back, he saw the wall of the Downs, black beneath
glorious stars. On the top of the wall poised the moon, peeping over
the brim of the world at him. He waved to her, laughing: she too was a
friend. And the moon, wise as innocent, smiled back.
He swam leisurely, without splash, almost without ripple, quiet as the
He had the world to himself, and loved the loneliness.
Out here, the sea about him, the night above, he could feel the slow
tides of God pushing onwards through the dark of Time.
Wars and tumults and all the tiny irritations and griefs of life, what
were they to that immense-moving flood? And he was one with that
flood. Stealing through the water with cleaving arms, he was assured
Something rose shadowy and gaunt before him. It was the privateer.
The sight tumbled him out of Eternity into Time. His heart began to
clamour, as though it would force its way out of his body.
No longer one with God, seeing all things with His large eyes, and
loving them--he was a little boy, mortally afraid, alone in the vast
and callous night.
In his flurry be began to splash about: then recollected himself, and
trod water quietly.
The moon was deserting him, the sardonic moon he had thought of as a
friend. Her silver rim glimmered behind the Downs and was gone. He
missed her. Cold she was, still she had been company. He thought she
might have stayed--just this one night! He felt aggrieved, and very
much alone. And those stars strewing the night above him were so far,
and had such hard little eyes.
The water grew dull and dark about him, and of a sudden greatly
colder. The flag hung like a clammy halter about his neck. Verdun was
not far, and death very near. But for the cold he would have cried. He
wished he'd never come.
It flashed in upon him to hail the ship, and ask them for a cup of
coffee. The thought amused him and saved the situation. He began to
Squeezing the fear out of his mind, he set himself to the
accomplishment of his task.
The thought of old Piper, calm invincibly, confirmed him in his
Yet he couldn't help reminding himself with a snigger, that old Piper
was safe in an arm-chair on land, while he was out there in the water
with the work to do.
Still, now if ever was his time. The moon was gone. In another hour
the dawn would begin to glimmer. Between the two his chance lay.
Treading water a cable's-length away, he observed the ship intently.
She lay upon the water like a dead thing. The great dark hull, seen
against the living night, appeared carcass-like. Her stillness was
Not a spar creaked, not a match glowed. She was dark as death, and as
As he watched, a humming noise, rising and falling, came to him across
the water. He held his breath. Then he recognised it, with a gasp of
Somebody was snoring.
That domestic sound cheered him amazingly.
At least the ship was not a sepulchre. Her crew were neither dead nor
devils. They were human. They snored.
He swam round the ship, stealthy as an otter in the Coquet.
So far as he could see there was not a soul on deck.
Then, as he came under her stern, he noticed for the first time that
another vessel lay alongside.
A thought, swift as a dagger, struck at his heart.
Could it be that the Gentleman had somehow picked up a lugger, and so
won aboard? Was he too late?
Then with a gasp of thankfulness he remembered.
It was the _Kite_, of course.
The tide had set her alongside; and now she lay scraping the side of
the privateer. A handier stepping-stone he could not have asked.
PIGGY, THE PRIVATEERSMAN
In a minute he had clambered aboard the lugger.
The privateer had dropped a hawser over her side as buffer. The boy
was up it in a moment, and on to the deck, his heart beating high.
The deck was empty.
No! a figure was leaning over the side, his back to Kit. No sailor,
obviously. He was wearing a great bearskin, and Kit caught the glimmer
of a bayonet. A sentinel, and not asleep, nor drunk; for he was
humming _Ca Ira_.
_La Coquette_ too then carried soldiers!
Stealthy as a cat, the boy drew away along the deck. Piper, weather-
wise old man, had told him truth. Thin wisps of mists were sweeping
over the sea, veiling the stars.
How God helps His little children who help Him!
Up the shrouds of the foremast. The ratlines seared his feet. A little
wind licked his body. The mist was chill as a winding-sheet.
There was no danger of being seen. He was nearer the stars than the
deck. Between him and it now lay a blanket of mist.
But what was that in the East?
It was the whitening of the dawn.
There was no time to be lost.
He swarmed up the top-gallant mast, unwound the flag, and made it
How it fluttered!--what a rollicking tow-row!--had ever flag rampaged
The man below stopped humming. Kit could not see him; so he could not
see the flag.
Down he slid, the mast scraping his knees as he went; but he scarcely
felt the pain. His heart was swelling. The privateer was flying
British colours. She was his. Single-handed he had taken a French
ship. He was half in tears, half laughing. It seemed so dream-like, so
Down the shrouds, and back to the deck.
Not a soul stirred. Forward somewhere a man shouted in his sleep. Aft
the sentinel was whistling now.
Swift as an eel, the boy flashed to the side, and poised for his
No! the splash would be heard.
Swiftly along the deck, making for his steppingstone, the lugger.
His work done, his heart brimming, the boy was ripe for mischief as a
As he stole along the deck, his eyes never left the soldier's back.
The fellow was leaning over the bulwark, his trousers tight, and their
contents rounded and tempting. Should he, should he spank him?
A moment the boy struggled with his imp-self, and prevailed.
He slipped over into the lugger. The tide had shifted her position.
Now she bumped under the stern of the privateer.
The port of the stern-cabin was open, and light poured from it.
Standing on the weather-boarding, Kit peeped in.
A little fat man was sitting at a table, dead asleep, and snoring
stertorously. His arms were on the table, and his head on his arms. He
was quite bald, and very red. His lips pouted, and the under one
thrust up towards his nose. The little round body rose and fell,
bladder-like. His nose was a snout, short and cocked. A more pig-like
little person Kit thought he had never seen.
A great bottle stood on the table before him, and beside it a scratch-
wig and guttering candle. On the table a pistol pinned down a chart,
and under the sleeper's head was a sheet of paper and a pen.
Piggy had fallen asleep writing.
Flung into a corner was a cocked hat. Beside it lay a much-mounted
sword, and on a chair a blue frock-coat, with tawdry epaulettes.
The boy lifted his eyes. An obscene print decorated the bulk-head. It
smote him in the face like a handful of filth. He snatched his eyes
away. They fell upon a tarpaulin-bag hung on the door. On the bag was
an eagle, beneath it a large
That settled it.
The boy meant to have that bag.
He was through the port in a twinkling.
The man was sleeping like the dead, his head askew on his hands, and
lips compressed in pouting content. For the time being the body had
mastered invincibly any soul there might be within. The man was so
much slow-heaving earth.
The naked boy leaned over the sleeper. The pen had fallen from Piggy's
hand, and left a little scrawl across the letter he had been writing.
The character was flourishing, self-complacent, and, above all, easy
It was written in French, and ran, translated,
I have to inform your Majesty that Sunday dawn I was lying off Seaford
Head, waiting to escort the lugger_ Kite, _according to your
Majesty's instructions. As I was on my knees inviting the good God to
shower blessings on the sacred head of you, His so faithful servant, a
sail was seen.
I bore up for her immediately. She was an English ship of the line.
I engaged her at once, fearless of the odds, knowing that the good God
is always on your Majesty's side. Desperate valour was displayed by
your Majesty's seamen. We were out-numbered four to one.
She carried 120 guns in three tiers and was alive with men--all sent
by me to answer before the Great Judge for being in arms against your
anointed Majesty. May He deal with them as they deserve!
The Englishman was towing the lugger _Kite_. Knowing the vital
importance of the mission on which she was engaged, I cut her out from
under the enemy's stern, leading the boat attack myself, under a
terrific fire from her stern-galleries.
The _Kite_ had two dead men aboard, one of them, helas! the brave
Monsieur de Diamond, so devoted to your Majesty's interests. He was
sitting upon the despatch-bag, which thus had escaped the vigilance of
My lord the General was not on board. I am lying off Beachy Head
waiting for him. Should he not appear by tomorrow noon, I shall not
dare to wait longer, but shall make all sail with the despatches I
I permit myself to congratulate your Majesty upon my victory, and sign
myself with effusion,
Your Majesty's humble and adoring servant,
P.S.--I have prepared, and now send, the chart for which your Majesty
asked. As your Majesty's eye will see at a glance all is in order. We
do but wait the last word from my lord the General. The red crosses
mark the stations...._
Here the pen had dropped from the writer's hand.
The boy turned with beating heart: he had struck gold indeed.
Unshipping the despatch bag, he slung it about his shoulders.
Lifting the pistol, he snatched the chart, and thrust it under the
flap of the locked bag.
The action set the candle swaling. It shot out a snake-like flame that
licked the bald pate of the sleeping privateersman.
He awoke with a start and a _sacre_, clapping his hand to his
Then through drink-and-sleep-blurred eyes, he saw the naked figure by
He half rose, little fat man, so pleased.
"_Mon ange!_" he cried, and fluttered both arms, much as Gwen's
young canaries fluttered their wings when seeking food from their
In a flash the boy had turned the key in the lock behind him, and
flung it through the open port.
Then he swung the despatch-bag.
Many a pillow-fight with Gwen up and down the twisting passages of
their attic nursery had made him expert. Crash it came down on Piggy's
"One from your _ange_!" cried the lad, and followed up with a
left-hander between the eyes.
Down crashed the amorous gentleman, spluttering.
A foot, planted fair on his mouth, stifled his cry.
Before he could recover, the boy was through the port, on to the
lugger, and had slipped into the sea, quiet as a water-rat.
Behind him a dreadful scream woke the ship.
"_Les depeches! Les depeches!_"
THE MAN IN THE BOAT
Back to Full Books