Part 8 out of 9
The anchor was trailing down the shingle-bank after them.
The Gentleman had picked it up, and came walking down the slope,
leaning back a little as he came.
He was smiling the brave man's wistful smile.
He had lost and he knew it.
Blob snatched a musket and aimed at his waistcoat.
The Parson struck up the barrel.
"Your friends are safe, sir," he called, hoarse and quiet. "I've burnt
"They don't deserve to be, but thank you all the same," replied the
other as quiet.
He let the anchor go. It fell with a splash into the water.
"I salute a gallant soldier, a gallant sailor, and my friend Monsieur
Moon-calf!" he said, and stood, the water to his ankles, and hilt to
On the ridge the man-pack was at the worry.
Suddenly a face gleamed up through the thick of them.
"_Sir!_" screamed a voice.
The Parson started round.
"Knapp!" he cried, with sickening face. "Put back!"
A hand was on his shoulder. It was Kit.
The boy did not speak; he did not weep; he pointed seaward to where a
topsail flashed white on the horizon.
The Parson looked at the green waters swinging by.
"And I can't swim!" he groaned. "God forgive me!"
An inspiration seized him.
He leapt on to the taffrail.
"Sir," he shouted, pointing, "that's a brave man!"
The Gentleman turned and saw the bloody business going on behind him.
"I am the servant of the brave," he cried, and stormed back.
The Parson sat down, and broke into tears.
NATURE, THE COMFORTER
The crash of the waves on the shingle grew faint behind.
The lugger began to prattle, as she took the water bobbingly. Overhead
the sky was blue, with wisps of snow. Kit hugged the tiller, shivering in
On his right Beachy Head, rusty of hide, waded white-footed into the
deep. Before him opened the sea, a plain of palest blue, blurred with
wind and patched here and there with silver. Eastward a road of twinkling
light ran across the water. Pevensey Levels lay behind him, brown beyond
the shingle. At back of them a range of dim hills rose and launched into
the sea; and Northward a vague gloom in the sky told of man's great
camping-place by the Thames.
The great sea lolled about the boy, breathing in sleep.
How soothing was the slow large life of the waters after the hubbub and
horror of those last few minutes, already so remote!
Above him a kittiwake dreamed. The boy let himself drift, his mind
rocking to the rock of the sea.
The waters swung by, singing to themselves. They poured peace upon his
troubled spirit. Their strong life entered into his, a resistless tide.
Feebly he tried to stay it. He wanted to go back to his distress, to
dwell upon it, to worry it, as a young dog frets to go back to the kill.
Nature, the Comforter, would have none of it. She loved her ailing little
one over well to let him have his way. She had him in her arms, and would
not let him go. She sang in his ear; she rocked his spirit to sleep. The
floodgates were open; and that tide of healing stole in upon his being.
In his mind it made religious music. He could not resist it. Half
reluctant he let himself drift on those sweet waters.
The sea roamed blindly by. He watched her as a sick child watches his
mother. Sense was alive; self was dead. His body was the eye of his soul,
the avenue of spirit. It had no life of its own to cloud his clear
The tide of healing swept forward, smoothing the rough surfaces, washing
away the jagged edges of pain. As it flowed on, that squabble on the
beach a few minutes back receded, ultimately to be lost to view. It had
been drowned by the incoming waters.
He was walking backwards on himself towards the centre that some call
Christ; withdrawing from the Circumference, where the winds of the World
moan always. And in that Centre, always for all men the same, there was
Peace and Love and Life Eternal, as on that Circumference there had been
War and Darkness and Discord.
Lying on the bosom of the mother-deep, watching her breathe, the boy
The Parson at his side was stroking his calves.
The boy watched him with dreamy eyes.
"Are you hurt, sir?" he asked in a far-away voice.
It came from the depths of no-where. It seemed no longer his. He listened
to it with awe.
"Nothing that matters," replied the Parson. "Thank God for His great
mercies, and my dear lady here."
Lifting his sword, he kissed the hilt.
"She was inspired," he said in reverent whisper. "I never saw the like
and never shall again." He wiped the blade upon his knee-breeches. "Their
beastly hairs stick yet--see!"
The boy heard no word. He sat quite still, his eyes on that twinkling
waste beneath the boom. The sun, which had been shining through mist, now
blazed hot upon his face. He eased the boat away, and the shadow of the
great brown lug fell upon him comfortably.
"It's all very wonderful," he said, his eyes on the musing waters.
"It's a miracle--nothing less," replied the Parson, unslinging the
despatch-bag. "This bag did me yeoman service. Look!" It was slashed to
ribands, the rolled coat within gashed through and through; and as he
shook it a bullet fell out of the folds. "I owe my life to it and Piper's
shooting. The old man dropped a chap dead at two hundred yards as he was
The boy woke at last.
"What of him--old Piper?"
"Ah, what?" said the Parson, grey and grave beneath the sweat.
Neither spoke again.
Beyond the Boulder Bank the wind freshened. The lugger began to breast
the water merrily, plumping into the swells with a delicious shock,
shooting the water aside in spurts of foam, and ploughing a furrow white
The Parson stared about him with startled eyes.
"Good Lord!" he said, breathing deep, as one just awaking to a new and
Kit looked at him, and was shocked at the change that had come over him.
He could scarcely recognise in this grey-green spectre the roaring
swordsman of the shingle-bank.
"I'm tired," said the Parson suddenly, "very tired."
He flopped forward on his knees.
"My sins have found me out," he moaned. "May mother forgive me!"
His courage had faded with his colour.
Collapsing, he lay like a dead thing in a slop of sand and water at the
bottom of the boat.
Kit heard his voice as in a dream.
The boy was sitting quite still, the smell of the sea in his nostrils,
the wind in his hair, the hiss and flop of the waters in his ears.
The life of the body was coming back to him. The good salt breeze flushed
his veins. The tiller began to pull at his hand. The lugger swung and
curtseyed, graceful as a dancing girl. She was alive. She was careering
over the swells, snatching for her head. She knew her mission, and
revelled in it.
Nelson, Nelson, Nelson! she whispered, hissed, and sang the word.
The boy began to hand her over the seas, as a man hands his lady down a
ball-room. She was so swift so strong: throbbing-full of life. He loved
her, and began to live again.
Blob was sitting cocked up in the bows, pink as ever and as impassive.
At the sight of the boy Kit felt a certain resentment, and, with the
swift self-knowledge peculiar to him, was glad to feel it, for it told
him he was coming round. He wished the boy to collapse alongside the
Parson. Why didn't he, the silly little land-lubber? Kit, the one sailor
aboard, here on his own element, wished to lord it out alone.
"How d'you feel, Blob?" he called, hoping for the best.
"Whoy," said Blob, the breeze in his teeth, "Oi'm that empty Oi can hear
me innuds rollin. Oi could just fancy a loomp o porruk--fatty-loike."
The Parson raised himself.
"Swine," he moaned, "have you no soul?"
He turned on his elbow.
"Can't you take her where it's flatter?" he snarled.
"I like a bit of a bobble myself, sir," answered Kit.
"Calls himself a sailor!" sneered the other, and collapsed again.
The frigate was drawing near, the lily flag of a Vice-Admiral of the
White at her foretop-gallant mast-head.
A tide of delicious tears surged up in the lad's heart as he beheld her.
She was England; she was his own. He possessed her, and was she not
Stately lady, she walked the waters, swaying them, her breasts splendid
in the sunshine. Her head was in the heavens, a stir of snow at her feet.
She was mistress of the seas, and mother of them. And with what noble
mirth she lorded it in this her nursery! The turbulent little folks
swarmed to clutch her skirts as she swept by. She moved among them, their
play-fellow and yet their sovereign lady: here a mocking bow, there a
laughing curtsey; anon a stoop, a swift kiss, and she rose, an armful of
blossom-babies smothering her.
The boy's heart went out to her in a passion of worship.
She was a tall Princess, stone-blind and beautiful, walking to her doom;
and he a boy-knight bucketing across the moor on his pony to save her and
the burthen she bore so preciously in her arms--her little son.
And he _would_ save her. Nay, he _had_ saved her.
He was so proud he could have shouted; he was so moved he could almost
The lugger thumped through the seas, tugging at her tiller, eager as
himself. She reminded him of the scuttling haste with which old Trumps,
his pony, bustled along, head set for home; and he laughed merrily. The
fuss and fury of the little thing contrasted so ludicrously with the
majestic calm of the swan-lady sweeping towards him.
The frigate was close on him now.
As the lugger topped the ridges, Kit, peering beneath the boom, could see
the black and yellow of the Nelson chequer on her sides.
Clouds of canvas, tier on tier, towered above him.
He could see the shine of her bows as she lifted, dripping. The water
spurted from her foot in foaming cataracts as she plunged.
He steered as though to cross her bows. When he heard the swish of the
green waters cleaving before her keel, he put his helm hard down.
"Hail them, Blob!" he screamed, and scrambling forward brought the
lug-sail down with a rattle.
"Boat ahoy_" a voice from the frigate "_who are you_?"
Blob stood in the bows, one hand on the flapping jib. "Oi'm Blob Oad what
killed Nabowlin Bownabaardie," he yelled.
The frigate, standing stately on, swung up alongside. Kit, rushing to the
side, fended her off, as she slid past, huge above him.
"Heave to!" he screamed, bumping against the sliding side. "Heave to!"
A deep voice above him spoke.
Kit looked up. A man, leaning over the side, was watching him bump
stern-wards with a sardonic grin.
"Bye-bye," he murmured deeply. "My love to the little gurls."
Was he mad? was he mocking?
Kit thought he had never seen so striking a face. The man was a giant
with moon-splendid eyes. There was a power about the face, the power of
darkness. The sun never shone upon it--only the moon, the moon. But for
her wan glimmer it was without light. Kit thought of a wild night at sea,
the moon gleaming fitfully on savage waters. The moon, always the moon!
"Despatches for Nelson!" screamed the boy--"for Nelson, Nelson, Nelson!"
The moon went out. There was one flash of lightning, then horror of
darkness. The man's life had shocked to a halt. He did not stir, he did
not wink, he did not breathe.
Then the blackness lifted, and the moon shone out once more between dark
"Nelson ain't a-board," he said.
ON THE DECK OF THE _MEDUSA_
The man folded his arms and gazed down at the boy, mildly amused.
"Not on board?" gasped Kit faintly. "Where is he, then?"
The moon was out again and shining serenely.
"Why, where I'd like to be--with his best gurl."
He took out a tooth-pick, and began to clean his teeth with gusto.
Kit hardly heard. Desperately he clutched the sliding side. It seemed to
him as though the world was slipping away from him. If he let go all was
_"Mr. Dark!"_ twanged a nasal voice from the deck.
The giant leapt round.
_"What's that boat doing under my quarter?"_
_"A Deal hovel, my lord, asking for brandy."_
Feet came towards the side.
_"First time I ever heard of a hovel stopping a King's ship to ask for
_"That's what I told him, my lord,"_ came the firm reply.
"You didn't!" screamed Kit from far below. "You didn't. Heave to! Heave
"You'll sink me, I suppose, young gentleman!"
Kit looked up.
A one-eyed little man was twinkling down at him.
The boy came over the side.
He was without hat and in his shirt, a pale stripling, gaunt of cheek,
and with flaming eyes.
"Liar!" he cried, and transfixed the giant with a finger.
The one-eyed little man, one-armed too, four stars on his breast, turned
on the boy in a cold blaze.
"Remember in whose presence you stand!" he said. "I am Lord Nelson."
"He said you weren't on board, sir," cried the boy stubbornly.
"I said nothing of the sort, my lord," replied the giant calmly. "I said
I wasn't going to stop the way of your lordship's frigate to let a
smuggler's brat liquor up."
"And quite right too," said Nelson. "What is it the boy wants?"
"I understood him to ask for brandy, my lord--for the corpse in the
"What! is there a corpse in the boat?"
"O yes, my lord--a nice little bit of a corpse. But whether the two young
gents killed him and are bringing him off to your lordship for a present,
as I ave known done in the Caribbees, or whether they dug him up and took
him aboard for ballast, only the young gents know."
Those strange eyes dwelt upon the lad sardonically. One thing was plain.
Mr. Dark was amusing himself.
Nelson seemed not to hear him.
"Who are you?" rounding on the boy.
"I'm of the same Service as yourself, my lord," replied Kit, white as
ice. "A midshipman. My name is Caryll."
"The _Tremendous_, my lord."
"The _Tremendous_! let's see. What do I know of the _Tremendous_?"
"Gone where we've all got to go some day, my lord--down, down, down,"
said the giant. "Posted missing Tuesday night." He had folded his arms
and was leaning up against the side, moody as the devil. "For some it
makes a change; for others it don't. I'm one of the last sort. It's all
stale to me. I live there--down, down, down." He yawned with creaking
Nelson stared at him, then turned to the boy.
"And may I ask what you're doing here, Mr. Carvell?"
"He said he had despatches for you, my lord," interrupted the giant
languidly. "Don't see em myself."
Kit's swift mind leapt at the fellow's mistake.
Swift as he was, there was one present swifter--the man who in a flashing
moment had won the day at St. Vincent.
Nelson swept round on the giant.
_"He said--he had--despatches--for me?_ You just told me he wanted
brandy. How d'you account for that?"
The stillness before the storm was never so appalling as that calm. In
all the world only the giant's slow eyelids seemed to stir. The boy felt
lightning in the air: he felt it in his heart.
Dark remained unmoved. He lolled against the bulwark, legs crossed. It
was scarcely respectful to the great seaman who stood before him; but the
man seemed a law to himself. His chin dropped, his arms folded, those
glimmering eyes of his never lifted from his feet.
"I don't account for it, my lord," came the deep voice. "I can't account
for myself--much less for my lies."
Far down in those strange eyes Kit caught a gleam. Was it humour?--was it
anguish?--what was it? He did not know. The man baffled him. He was
groping in the dark and finding--darkness. He was at war with this man,
war to the death; and yet, yet, yet, he felt they had something in
common. What was it?--a kindred soul?--who should say?
For a long minute Nelson gazed gravely at the other.
"You're mighty strange, Mr. Dark," he said at last.
The man nodded and nodded.
"I'm mighty dark, Mr. Strange," he said--"mighty dark."
Nelson turned to the boy.
"Come below," he said.
"_My lord_," came a voice as out of a fog.
The giant was following them at a panther-prowl.
As Kit saw him a phrase from the Old Book flashed to his mind--_the Body
of this Death_.
Only the eyes lived; abysms through which the boy gazed down to behold
the last nicker of a drowning soul.
It was not quite out, that gallant little light. Down there in the tumult
of dark waters it fought for life despairingly.
Without, the man was black and white and strangely still. Within, God and
Devil were at battle. And the Devil was winning.
The giant prowled across the deck, kneading his hands.
"_Can I have a word with your lordship?_"
The voice was clogged and husky as the voice of one dead for centuries.
"By all means," briskly.
"_Alone, my lord?_"
The man rolled his eyes up at Kit. The boy's knees gave. He almost
fainted. The soul flickered its last before his eyes. The man was dark
"_Over here, my lord. By the side, if you please_."
His words came stifled as out of the grave.
Kit heard them remotely.
His voice tried to burst through iron blackness and failed.
His soul yelled,
"_Murder_!" but no sound came. Feet and tongue stuck fast. The Powers of
Darkness had prevailed over him also.
The two were walking away across the deck, side by side, the big man and
Nightmare-bound, the boy watched their backs, the one huge-shouldered,
slouching, the other sprightly and slight as a lad's.
In the one there was no light. He was a vast black body, unlit now even
by the moon. The other was radiant beside him. The Angel of Darkness was
about to swallow the Child of Light. The boy saw what was going to happen
and could not stay it.
Then he heard a sound.
The man was moaning as he walked.
"Aren't you well, Dark?" he asked, so quietly, so kindly.
The giant swayed. Head and eyes were down, arms swinging. He was as a man
asleep preparing for a plunge. And his light was out.
Nelson laid a hand upon his shoulder.
"Can I help you?" he asked, with the shy tenderness of a woman.
The groan sighed itself away. Just so must Lazarus have sighed when the
life first began to trickle back along disused veins. Slowly the giant
pulled himself together, squaring vast shoulders. Then he drew a
tremendous breath. In the darkness a tiny star began to glow.
"You have helped me, my lord," he said, and his voice was clear again.
Then they turned and came back across the deck.
IN THE CABIN OF THE _MEDUSA_
Admiral and midshipman were alone in the cabin.
Kit was taking in his hero's face.
It was the face--the boy saw it with amazement--of a _disappointed_ man!
The hero of St. Vincent, the victor of the Nile, the conqueror of
Copenhagen, a disappointed man!
"Tell your story."
Standing by the door Kit told his tale.
By the port the great seaman listened in chill silence.
His face was turned away. Kit dwelt anxiously on the keen, pale profile,
the ruined eye, the lopped arm. Was his listener incredulous? He could
not say, and Nelson did not speak.
The boy stumbled on his way.
Alone in that quiet cabin, his own voice shrill and small the only sound,
face to face with the man who had saved Europe once, and must again, a
confused and silly story he made of it.
Out on the uncritical sea he had almost thought himself a hero: in here,
eye to eye with Nelson, he knew himself just a pinch-beck boy.
The silence grew upon him. He found himself listening to his own voice,
and half wondering whether he was not dreaming. This almighty little man,
so careless, so terrible, chilled him to the core.
He stumbled, sought his mind like a schoolboy posed for a word, sought in
vain, and stopped dead.
Nelson drummed upon the table.
"Is that all?"
The other strummed impatiently.
"I'm _Lord_ Nelson."
The boy was dumb, his heart flaring.
And this was the man the nation worshipped!
Nelson turned his eye upon the boy. There was a sardonic droop about his
"Mr. Carvell," he said slowly, "I have been a midshipman myself. Is this
Kit flamed. He had given himself freely for this man, had died a hundred
deaths for him--for this!
"If it's a joke, my lord," white-hot and thrilling, "it's a joke for
which a good many men have died."
He saw once more the lower deck of the _Tremendous_. He recalled the man
in the powder-magazine, and old Ding-dong dying beneath the cliff. He
thought of Piper outside that door.
Nelson turned on the boy in a white blast.
"I am Admiral Lord Nelson. You're Mr. Midshipman Carvell. And I'll
trouble you not to forget it."
He held out his hand.
"There are none, sir--my lord. All burnt."
"Pah!" cried Nelson, and turned with a stamp.
On the table was a chart, a pistol at the corner of it acting as
He bent over it.
Kit, with bleeding heart, gazed at his back, blue-coated and
A darn in the seat of the breeches held his gaze. It seemed so odd
somehow that Nelson's breeches should be darned. It was the last thing he
should have suspected of the hero of Aboukir Bay. He longed to put out
his finger and feel it, that darn in Nelson's breeches. Was it real?--or
was it a dream-darn? It was real; he could swear it. And it helped him.
There was something comfortably human about it. After all, then, a hero
was only flesh and blood: he wore darned breeches.
Sometimes the boy wore darned breeches himself, his mother compelling
him. There was something in common, then, between him and his hero.
Nelson turned suddenly to find the boy's eyes brimming with laughter.
Across his face swept a great white anger.
"This is scarcely a matter for giggling, Mr. Carvell," he cried terribly.
"It seems to me that you by no means realise the _astounding_ nature of
the charge you bring. If it prove true, it means the hanging of a
brother-officer before the Fleet. If not--His Majesty will have no
further need of your services."
"The powder-magazine will tell its own story," replied Kit, curt as an
insulted girl. "Ask it."
Nelson's eye flashed.
"I'm not in the habit of receiving suggestions from my midshipmen, Mr.
"You doubt my word!" with a sob.
"I doubt your story, sir. And I've good reason to. My officers are not in
the habit of selling me. But we can soon have the truth."
He opened the door.
"Desire Mr. Dark to be good enough to step this way," he called to the
sentry outside, and shut the door again.
"Mr. Dark is my Gunner and the officer against whom you bring your
charge--a charge of such a nature as _never_, never in all the years of
my service, have I known one officer to bring against another."
He was pacing rapidly up and down the cabin, his stump flapping.
"I have tried to serve you, sir," said Kit in twilight voice, and said no
His face was a thought paler than before; his eyes a shade darker. He was
bracing himself for a last fight.
Something about the boy, his twilight voice, his pallor, those dark and
hunted eyes, struck Nelson.
He stopped his pacing.
"You've nothing to fear, Mr. Carvell," he said less sternly--"if your
story prove true."
"It is true, my lord," replied the boy steadfastly.
"God forbid," shuddered the great seaman, and resumed his walk.
There was a knock.
Dark entered, sombrely magnificent.
He stood by the door, splendid with that strange splendour of moonlight.
His head, massive as a mountain, was splashed with silver; and from under
great and gloomy brows those vast eyes gleamed, unfathomable.
Over by the port stood Nelson, high and white.
"Mr. Dark," he began in chill and formal voice, "I've sent for you upon
the most unpleasant business it's ever been my lot to be mixed up in. Had
I only to consider myself, what I have to say would be left unsaid. But I
have to think of other and larger issues. If a mischance England might be
The other listened immovable. He was like a smouldering volcano. Every
moment Kit expected to see flames leap from his eyes.
Nelson cleared his throat, and continued.
"This young gentleman, Mr. Carvell, has been telling me a strange and
terrible tale that affects you."
He turned his eye full-blaze upon the other.
"It is this, Mr. Dark--that you have been paid to sell me to the French."
The giant was stone. Not a muscle twitched. Then the tip of his tongue
journeyed round his lips. The lips moved. Kit read the words on them,
though no sound came.
Nelson waited, breathing deep. Receiving no answer, he went on,
"The story so far as I can make it out is this."
Calm and twanging, he stood by the port-hole, and outlined to his alleged
murderer-to-be the story of his plot. That mighty man could have crumpled
him in one hand, and tossed him through the port-hole. And the giant knew
it--so much his eyes betrayed. And the boy, watching from his corner,
knew it too. Only the little lopped man talking through his nose across
the cabin seemed unaware of it.
The shrill voice ceased. There was silence in the cabin.
"That's the story, Mr. Dark. And I may say I don't believe _one_ word of
"Thank you, my lord," came the other's voice, deep and rumbling.
"And if you'll give me your word that it's all moonshine," continued
Nelson, "why, I'll ask you to shake my hand and forgive me. And that's an
end of the dirtiest bit of business I ever had to handle."
The other's voice stuck in his throat. Out it came at last like muffled
"My lord, you're a gentleman."
Nelson came to him with outstretched hand and a wonderful smile.
"Forgive me," he said.
The darkness drifted from the saint's face, leaving behind it evening
calm, the stars beginning to shine.
Folding his arms, he bowed deliberately.
Nelson's hand dropped. He stopped short, and his smile died. In a flash
the man of action, brisk and curt, had taken the place of the comrade
chivalrously admitting a mistake.
"Then I must trouble you to fetch the key of the powder-magazine, and to
follow me." He clapped on his cocked hat.
The great man turned swiftly.
"One moment, my lord," and he was gone.
There was a rush up the companion-ladder, and the noise of running feet
on the deck overhead.
"Great God!" groaned Nelson, ghastly, and flung open the port.
A dark mass with straggling legs shot past.
There was the plump of a body striking the sea, and crash of showering
"_Man overboard!_" roared a voice from the deck. "_Back tops'ls. Here,
A rope coiled out and splashed the water.
Nelson's head was through the port.
The man came up beneath him, and turned to face the ship and his Admiral.
"O, Dark! Dark! Dark!" cried Nelson, and there was agony in his voice.
Dark looked up, the hair plastered about his forehead.
"Nelson," he shouted. "I ask your pardon."
"It's yours, Dark," choked the other. "But O! I thought--I thought you
loved me!--every man of you."
"Often and often I could have killed you," gasped the other, bobbing to
"Rather that than this!" sobbed the great seaman. "Murder's the braver
"I was mad!" groaned the other. "She was in my blood. She was my soul.
She _is_ my soul--the Christ be kind to her! O, if any man in the world
can understand, that man should be Lord Nelson."
"No! no! no!" raved Nelson, tossing with his head, stamping with his
feet, thumping the port with his fists. "Myself! my wife! my friend!--but
_not_ my country! _Not_ that, Dark! _never_ that!"
"_Lively there!_" roared the voice from the deck. "_Lower away_."
There was the splash of a boat.
Dark flung aside the rope to which he had been holding.
There was silence in the cabin.
Through it came a despairing voice from the water.
"I can't sink!--My God, my God!--I can't sink!"
Nelson swept the pistol off the table and thrust through the port.
"Catch!" he gasped, and threw.
The man rose to it like a leaping fish, flung a high hand, and caught it.
Then he sank back.
"Thank you, my lord," he cried, terrible joy in his voice. "May God
forgive me as you have done."
Kit had a vision of a black mouth open, a thrusting barrel ringed with
teeth, two screwed eyes, and then--
"Don't look, boy!" screamed Nelson, and plucked him away.
The slamming port drowned another sound.
THE _MEDUSA_ GOES ABOUT
Nelson rocked on the table. His hands were to his eyes, pressing,
pressing, as though he would blind himself.
"And this is what comes of it!" he moaned.
Then he rose, and crossed the cabin, walking uncertainly as a little
Kit thought he would have fallen, and stepped forward. The great captain
waved him back with his stump. Then he passed out alone.
A minute later the boy heard a door open and shut, and peeped out.
Nelson was coming out of the powder-magazine.
Down the gangway he came pale and uplifted. He was quite calm, and about
his face there was the rain-washed look the boy had seen on his mother's
as she came out of the room where Uncle Jacko lay dead.
"You were right, Mr. Carvell," he said quietly. "Forgive me."
"Caryll, my lord," ventured the lad--"Kit Caryll."
Nelson's eye leapt.
"Kit Caryll!" he cried. "Kit Caryll! Kit Caryll!" He held the boy's hand,
and a beautiful smile broke all about his face. "Have I been blind?
You're your father over again."
He dwelt on the boy's face, flooding it with tenderness.
"D'you know," he continued quietly, "d'you know you come to me as a
friend risen from the dead?--a friend of my best days, come back to
remind me of the years--the happy years--before ... I won the Nile."
Kit heard him, amazed.
He was not happy, then, this man who had won all the world has to give!
He looked _back_ for his best days.
They were not now: they were the days before fame had come; fame, the
Betrayer, that like a roaring breaker lifts a man heavenwards, and before
he can clutch his star, has smashed him on the beach.
The boy recalled his first indelible impression--that the hero was a
Disappointed of what?--he, young still, crowned with glory, queens at his
feet, nations worshipping him.
Could it be of happiness?
"I have a message for you from another friend of those days, my lord."
A darkness chilled the other's face.
The boy gave old Ding-dong's dying message.
"I thank you," said Nelson coldly. "Commander Harding always did what he
believed to be his duty."
Then the tenderness returned, and he put his hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Come on deck," he said.
The boy's throat was surging as he followed Nelson on deck. Now he would
have died for the man whom twenty minutes before he could have knifed
Up there in the sunlight and wind all was noise and bustle.
A little lap-dog officer trotted up in a fuss.
"Mr. Dark gone mad, my lord, mad, and jumped overboard. We lowered a
boat, but he shot himself, shot himself, before we could get to him."
"Call the boat away," said Nelson briefly. "And be so good as to make
your course back for Dover."
"For Dover, my lord, Dover?" blankly.
"And don't let me have to repeat my orders."
"Very good indeed, my lord. Very good indeed." He trotted forward,
Nelson climbed on to the poop, Kit at his heels, and leaned over the side
"What's that boat under my starn?"
"The boat I came off in, my lord."
"Ah, I forgot.... Is that a dead man in the starn-sheets?"
"No, my lord. That's Mr. Joy, who commanded us in the cottage. He used to
know you, my lord. Joy, Captain in the Black Borderers."
A wave of colour swept across the other's white cheek. He flashed his eye
"Joy!" he cried. "Old Peg-top Timbers! Hi! below there!" He leaned far
over. "Joy! Joy of Battle!"
The Parson came up the side.
The crispness was out of his curls; his cheek was mottled; and the brave
blue eyes seemed old, hollow, and faded. Even Polly hung somewhat limply
from his wrist.
The two men, standing hand in hand, looked into each other's eyes.
"Old friend," said Nelson.
"Colonel," said the Parson, and with the word his life began to flow
Nelson's eye twinkled. He laid his hand on the other's shoulder.
"The same old Joy, I see," he said, and added gravely, "Harry, you've
saved my life."
"Then I've saved England," replied the Parson, and dwelt upon his friend
with the simple love of one brave man for another.
"Yes, yes," said Nelson, with that naive vanity of his so beautiful in
its innocence. "England can trust her Nelson. And but for you, Harry,
Nelson would be lost."
"You owe a little to me," answered the Parson, "more to Kit here, and
most, if I may say so, to my sweet lady."
"Polly!" cried Nelson--"Pretty Miss Kiss-me-quick!"
"Ah," said the Parson, touched. "You don't forget old friends, Nelson.
Nor does she. My love," he murmured, bending, "you remember Captain
Nelson of the _Agamemnon_, who was good enough to second us in some of
our little affairs in Corsica? Lord Nelson--Miss Kiss-me-quick. She
says," he continued, drawing himself up, "that she'll permit the Victor
of the Nile to salute her on the cheek."
He held the blade before him with a bow.
Nelson swept off his cocked hat.
"I am honoured indeed," he said, and, standing on the poop before them
all, kissed the point.
Kit looked on with tender eyes. He was touched, and not at all surprised,
to find that great men too loved solemn make-believe. The vision of the
Eternal Child rose before his eyes once more: that Child who is never far
in any of us, and least of all in the world's mighty ones.
Nelson turned to the Parson anxiously.
"But, Harry, are you wounded?"
"Mortally," the other answered--"by your beastly sea. But this is
better," stamping the deck. "This is more like land."
"Come below," said the great captain. "Here, take my arm.... Only one
now, you know."
"One's good enough for the French," laughed the Parson. "But, Nelson!
what in the name of goodness are you doing here?"
"Why," said Nelson, stumping away, the other's arm tucked beneath his, "I
heard from a--a private source--"
He brought up suddenly. A moment he stood with snoring nostrils, staring
Hell had opened at his feet, and he was looking into it.
It was the sigh of a dying soul.
Each word was a gasp.
He lifted his face, and a glimmer as of dawn broke over it.
In the quiet cabin they looked into each other's eyes, these two old
It was ten years since they had met.
The one was now the world's hero, the other a retired Captain of the
Nelson was thinking as his eyes dwelt upon his friend,
"Just the same."
"What a change!"
It was the old Nelson he saw, and yet only the wraith of the old Nelson.
There was a grey and ghastly darkness about him that made the Parson
afraid. It was the grey of snow at dusk, the darkness of a pool which was
The Parson knew the tale, as all Europe knew it. Once he had doubted: now
he could doubt no longer. Nelson's story was graven on his face--the
story of the man who has betrayed himself. It was writ large there--the
struggle, the surrender, the quenching of his ideal in the cataract of
passion. He had run away from his best self, as many a man has run. He
had slammed a door behind him, hoping to shut out his soul. And now the
door had burst open. The ghost of himself, his old self, that had haunted
him so long, rapping at the door, refusing in God's name to be laid, had
rushed in upon him with a shriek.
He was wrestling with it now.
No wonder he was changed.
The Parson, almost in tears, recalled the Nelson with whom he had chewed
ships' biscuits and exchanged dreams in the trenches at Calvi--the Nelson
of Corsican days with a face like the morning and a school-boy's heart,
his eyes forward into the future. Now he had realised his dreams and
more. The young post-captain had become Lord Nelson, Duke of Bronte: St.
Vincent, the Nile, Copenhagen behind him.
And, and, and....
Suddenly, as though divining the thoughts of his old friend, Nelson fell
"O Joy!" he cried, "I have sinned."
He clutched the Parson's shoulder, hugging it.
"Ten minutes since I saw it all." He lifted a dreadful eye. "It was
_BLAZED_ upon me in a flash of lightning." His voice had the hollow
muffled sound of a man in a nightmare. "I saw myself: not the man the
world is looking to, but plain Horatio Nelson--the sinner."
The confession, shuddering forth from the lips of the great seaman,
sprang the horror in the other's heart.
"There, there!" he croaked. "There, there, Nelson!"
"Honours, Orders, Westminster Abbey, and the world's cheers are nothing,"
came the nightmare voice. "_That_ remains."
The Parson collected himself and cleared his throat.
"We all make mistakes, Nelson," he said gruffly. "Everybody stumbles, but
no man need lie in the mud."
"I must," cried the other hoarsely. "I must--in honour. Honour!"
he cried, throwing back his head with terrible laughter. "Nelson's
honour!--O, Joy, you knew me as I was: you see me as I am. _You_ can
judge. Is it not _hideous_ that it should come to this?--that men should
_snigger_ when Nelson and honour are coupled together."
The tears rolled down the Parson's face.
"Ah, my dear fellow," he kept on saying, patting the other's back, "my
dear, dear fellow."
"I have been hiding from my God all these years--and to-day He found me!"
sobbed the voice upon his shoulder. "O, He is just--terribly just. He
knows no mercy--none."
"None _here_" murmured the Parson. "_There_ there's plenty for all."
Nelson lifted a blurred face.
"You think that?"
"I'm sure of it," sturdily. "And I know all about that sort of thing now,
you know. I'm a parson."
Nelson held the other off.
"Are you a parson?"
"Yes, sir," a thought defiantly. "And why not?"
His heat brought no twinkle to the other's one wet eye.
The nightmare was passing: Nelson was drifting away into dreams.
"My father's a parson," he mused, as one talking to himself. "If I
hadn't gone to sea at twelve, I think I should have been. Nelson and
religion!--it sounds strange. Yet I always wished to give all to God."
"You have," cried the Parson fiercely. "Who dares say you've not?"
"I do," said Nelson, dreaming.
"And what would have come to God's world but for you?" shouted the
Parson. "Why, swamped by a pack of rackety French atheists."
Nelson seemed not to hear.
"_What is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world, and lose
himself_?" he whispered.
The Parson gathered the other in his arms.
"Nelson," he said with tender sternness, "if you've wronged the Almighty,
you must make Him amends."
"How, Harry?" came the voice from his shoulder.
"Why," said the Parson with a grave smile, "you must arise and smite His
Slowly Nelson composed himself. A great calm swept over him.
"You're right," he said at last, the light breaking about his face. "I am
England's David. It is for me to slay Goliath. Sinner as I am, He has
chosen me to do this work for Him, and I will do it. Yes, I will do it."
He turned to the port and gazed out.
To the Parson it seemed an hour before he turned again.
The nightmare madness had passed. His face was altogether changed. It was
that of a child who wakes from sleep in a panic. There was a startled
little smile about it.
"Harry," he said in shy waking voice, "have I been dreaming?--or have I
been talking a lot of nonsense?"
The Parson, for all his simplicity, was something of a man of the world.
"Why," he cried heartily, "you've been standing with your back to me,
mumbling and grumbling, and being damned rude."
Was the Parson wrong?--or was there in that laugh a note of almost
"I'll make it up to you, Harry. I'll make it up to you, my boy." He
thrust his hand into his bosom, and produced a miniature. "Look here!" in
reverent voice--"my Guardian Angel."
IN THE CABIN AGAIN
Kit was in the gun-room, the centre of a group of rosy-faced lads,
He could not eat; he could not answer.
"Caryll, the Admiral wants you."
The boy rose and went, trembling.
In the door of the cabin stood the Parson, his blue eyes very kind.
He put a hand on the boy's shoulder, and drew him in.
"Lord Nelson," he said, "I believe this is the most gallant lad in either
The great captain came towards him. The boy saw him through a mist.
"Kit," said Nelson, with that wonderful smile of his--"I may call you
Kit? Your father was always Kit to me--will you shake the hand of a
brother-officer, who's proud to call himself such?" He added, gazing into
the boy's eyes--"Your father was my friend. I hope his son will be."
Kit's heart surged. His knees began to give. He felt himself fading away.
Then the arm that was wont to encircle another waist was round his. His
head sank where another head, beloved of Romney, often cushioned.
He began to whimper.
They supported him to a chair, the white head and the curly dark one
mingling over his. And no woman could have been more tender than those
two men of war, each in his own way so great.
"That's all right, my boy," said the Parson, "my dear boy. Don't be
afraid to cry. All men cry--only we don't let the ladies know it."
"We won't tell the midshipmen," murmured Nelson at the other ear. "I'm
safe--I weep myself sometimes in confidence. You must just think of me as
of a father."
"Paws off, if you please, my lord," replied the Parson. "I'm his adopted
father and mother and all; aren't I, Kit?--old friends first, you know."
"Well," gasped Kit between sobs and laughter, "you see I've got a mother,
"Have you?" cried Nelson, rising from his knees. "Is she like mine, I
wonder? If so, I love her already. But there! I love her for her son's
sake. And I'm going to write to her to tell her she has a son she can be
He sat down at his desk.
"Ah, what would England be without her mothers?" he said, taking up a
* * * * *
The quill pen ceased to squeak.
Nelson thumped the letter with characteristic zeal, rose and gave it to
Kit pocketed it, his eyes looking thanks through tears.
"Your father'd be proud of you," said Nelson. "He was a true seaman--as
his son will be."
"He's thinking of turning soldier, ain't you, Kit?" cut in the Parson.
"He's like me--got no use for the sea except as an emetic."
"No, no," said Nelson, smiling. "The Navy claims her cubs."
"Well, well," replied the other, "I won't dispute the point. But like
another young seaman I used to know perhaps some day he'll rise to be
Colonel of Marines, and win great victories at sea as the result of what
we've taught him on land."
"Soldier and sailor too, eh?" said Nelson, and added in a stage-whisper
to Kit--"He can never quite forgive us being the Senior Service."
A clock struck two.
"Come, Kit," said the Parson. "What d'you say? Shouldn't we be getting
"I'm ready, sir."
"What!" cried Nelson. "You're never going back?"
"The soldier is," said the Parson. "The sailor can speak for himself. In
_my_ Service a job half done is a job not done. _We_ like to see things
through.... Besides, there's Knapp, and old Piper."
"Ah, yes," said Nelson gravely. "I was forgetting. Dear old Piper!"
"He sent a message to you, my lord," said Kit, and gave it.
"Thank you," said Nelson quietly. "Old Agamemnons never forget each
other.... If by any mercy of God my old friend should be alive," he
continued, "give him my love--Nelson's love; and say his old captain's
proud to have sailed with such a man."
"We will indeed," said the Parson thickly. "Come, Kit."
"No, no," cried Nelson, staying him. "You'll leave me my midshipman. I
want all my best men by me now."
The Parson turned.
"What say you, Kit?"
The boy looked at Nelson.
"Take your choice, my boy."
"I should like to see the thing through, my lord."
Nelson patted him on the shoulder.
"There spoke the seaman," he said. "Never be satisfied with nearly.
Always go for quite."
THE _MEDUSA_ DIPS HER ENSIGN
The _Medusa_ had gone about and was rocking lazily home, the land misty
on her larboard.
Forward a knot of tars were gathered, Blob's cherub-face for
The lad was telling his tale in his slow, musical way.
A hoary old sea-dog with unlaughing eyes was putting leading questions.
The men crowded round with grins and thrusting heads. They spat; they
chewed; they nudged each other. Here and there a ripple rose to a roar.
One man turned his back, and hands deep in his pockets, laughed silently
in the face of heaven. Another was stuffing his pig-tail into his mouth
to stifle his merriment.
Blob held on his ghastly way unheeding.
His eyes, fresh as dew, had the round and staring look of a new-born
babe; the tulip face lolled forward on slender stalk; and a tip of pink
tongue played about a mouth, beautiful as a bud.
"And what did er say then?"
"Whoy," came the pure voice, "er said--'Dear! dear!' and Oi says--Theer!
theer!' and plops it in, and plops it in, and plops it in."
The Parson hailed him from the poop.
The little group broke up. Blob came through them, calm as the moon, and
"Who is the lad?" whispered Nelson, as the boy lolloped up in laceless
boots, hands deep in his waistband.
"One of the garrison," replied the Parson. "Simple Sussex--with the face
of a cherub and the soul of a stoat."
"Ah," said Nelson, "another of the heroes."
He took a step towards the advancing boy.
"I don't know your name," said the Victor of the Nile with grave
courtesy. "But I may shake you by the hand?"
"Ye'," said Blob, mouth and eyes round.
"Thank you," said the hero, taking the other's limp paw. "I am Lord
"Ah," said Blob. "O'im Blob Oad what killed Nabowlin Bownabaardie."
"You've saved me a lot o trouble," replied Nelson, grave but for his
Blob stared, breathing like a beast.
"Don't you ave two arms on you?" he asked at last curiously.
"I get along very well with one, thank you."
"Mus. Poiper, he've got no legs--only ends loike," pursued Blob.
The Parson hailed him.
"Hi! are you coming ashore with us, or will you stay with this gentleman
to fight the French?"
The boy wagged his head cunningly.
"Oi'll goo with Maaster Sir. Oi'm his lad."
"He's coming with me later," said Nelson. "Won't you too?"
"Maybe," said Blob. "When Oi got ma money."
"Plenty o killing, you know, Blob," said the Parson slyly.
Blob rippled off into roguish laughter.
"Oi'll coom," he said. "Mate, pudden and killin--that's what Oi loike."
Nelson stood at the gangway.
"Good-bye, Kit. I shall hope to have the pleasure of your company aboard
the _Victory_ when I sail."
Kit tried to thank him, failed, and went over the side.
The two old friends stood eye to eye, hand to hand, the great sea wide
about them and the lugger bobbing beneath.
"Good-bye, Nelson," said the Parson, and added, "Good luck."
The other smiled.
"Trust Nelson," he said.
They cast off.
The slow and stately frigate began to draw away.
As she slid past, the boys fending her off, and the Parson already
composing himself at the bottom of the boat, Nelson leaned over the side.
"Thank you," he said, and swept off his cocked hat.
Then he turned.
The boys could see him no more. But that shrill voice, so familiar now,
twanged above them.
_"Now, my lads! I'll ask you to give three cheers for the crew of the
Kite. Hip! hip!--"
A roaring cheer leapt from the silence. In a moment the shrouds were
black with waving men. The great hurrahing vessel drew away, curtseying
as she went.
Even the Parson lifted a languid head and peered.
"He's dipping his ensign to you, Kit. Take the salute."
Kit looked through swimming eyes.
The old sense of experience renewed was strong on him--the battle won,
the return home in the evening, the cheers of the saved, and his heart
drowned in love and glory.
Could it be true?
Yes. The Victor of the Nile had dipped his flag to a ten days'
"Ah," said the Parson, "there's Nelson!--God bless him!"
At the stern of the great ship, an empty sleeve pinned to his breast,
stood the greatest seaman of all time, one hand to his cocked hat.
A mile from shore, under the lee of the land, the wind fell away.
The lugger, with lolling mainsail, flowed down a path of gold. The shore
was dark and still before them, and the sun poised above the Downs, blue
at the back.
As they neared the land, the calm grew. Save for the lap of waters at the
bow, all was hushed in the gracious evening.
Kit, steering, peered under the swaying boom at the shore.
The Parson, Polly in hand, stood in the bows, viking-like.
The lugger was about to beach at the very spot where they had started
twelve hours since.
The tide was much as then; but otherwise what a change!
Then in the cold sunshine men had been busy with each other's lives; now
all was sunset peace and waters kissing the shore.
But for one grim reminder of what had been, they might have been
returning from a pleasure trip.
The Grenadier Kit had stabbed lay on the slope of the shingle, ghastly to
greet them. Just out of reach of the tide he sprawled as he had fallen.
No man had touched him. He lay then as now spread-eagled on his face,
with wide gaitered legs, and hands flung before him. His chin dug into
the shingle; and his shako had fallen askew over staring eyes. It was
almost as though he was making faces at them.
Kit saw it and sickened.
Beside the dead man there was none to greet them.
A wood-pigeon crooned itself to sleep among the sycamores on the knoll;
the sea fell with a lazy swish upon the shore; behind the orange-lichened
roof of the cottage, the Downs loomed black in the glow of sunset The
rest was silence and terror.
The lugger grounded, and crashed to a halt in the white fringe of the
The Parson leaped ashore, Polly twinkling in his hand.
"Stand by the boat, Blob!" he ordered, feeling the land with his feet.
"Kit, got your dirk? Then follow me."
Light and alert, he ran up the slope.
Kit followed with lagging feet.
Never a greedy fighter, for the time the lad had drunk his fill of
battle. He tired of hearing his own heart; and that heart tired of its
thumping. After twelve hours of the sea's large peace, here he was back
again on the evil earth, where the soul is always sick, amid dangers and
darkness, beastly men lurking to murder him.
Is it always so on land? he wondered. Is there no heaven on earth except
at sea?--where God is because man is not.
He longed to have the waters wide about him again.
Not so the Parson. The feel of the land, firm beneath his feet, thrilled
him to new life. He was on his element once more and in it: earth on
earth, the warrior at war. A natural fighter, loving it whole-heartedly
for its own sake, he was ready for a thousand, almost hoping for them.
Keen of eye, tight-curled, he took the slope at a brisk trot.
A path of stepping-stones led across the green towards the house; each
stepping-stone a dead man sprawling face down in a swirl of green.
Kit saw it all as he had seen it then: the tail of Grenadiers, the
pursuing Parson, the hounding Gentleman.
Then it had possessed him; now he only wanted to get away. Home, mother,
Gwen, and an apple in the loft; soft cheeks, kind eyes, the voices of
women loving him, chaffing him--these he longed for. He was tired of
being a man for the time being: he wanted to be a little boy again, to be
cuddled, to be loved.
And for him it was no new experience, this battle-sickness on the return
to the field at evening. He had been there before. When? Where? He could
not recall, yet somehow he remembered.
"One--two--three--four--five!" counted the Parson. "I thought I should
never catch the last. How he ran! When I was on him he snarled back like
a beaten wolf. Then he got it--whish-h-h!"
Kit trailed blindly at his heels.
That stink of dead men, would he never again get it out of his nostrils?
The cottage lay before them, just as they had left it. It was barricaded
still, and curiously dark.
"Ha!" muttered the Parson. "I don't like the look of this. Left incline,
Kit. Make for cover."
The old soldier, wary as a fox, sheered off for the sycamore knoll.
There was a touch of death and of autumn in the air. Already the leaves
on the sycamores were shrivelled; and a rusting chestnut was hung with
nuts prickly as sea-urchins. As they passed among the trees a robin
lifted its winter-sweet song.
The Parson peered out.
The cottage faced them, grey and grinning. There was no sign or stir of
life about it; but manifold evidence of death. On the greensward, all
about dead men lay crumpled, faces downwards, killed clearly in flight.
Kit's heart turned white.
Dead men as dung upon the grass here in the holiness of evening, and a
robin singing in the sycamores overhead.
Song and slaughter! God's work and man's! O, would the day never come
when men would _understand_?
"Pretty work," said the Parson, with the zeal of a professional, as he
stepped off the knoll. "Cavalry! See here!--a beautiful stroke. A big man
on a big horse, I should say, and putting _lots_ o beef into it Yes, yes,
yes," with the gusto of an expert. "They've used the edge--see! Got em on
the run, then cut em in collops--and all over my bowling-green, tool"
treading at the offending horse-hooves.
Kit gave a little cough.
He had seen the lower deck of the _Tremendous_ awash with blood; he had
dirked men, and shot them. But this was different. That was death in
battle: this was death in life.
The Parson looked up and saw the lad white as a woman in such
circumstance. He remembered himself.
"I forgot," he muttered. "You're not used to it. War ain't beautiful as
seen in the after-glow."
"It's the quiet," whispered Kit, ghastly. "Like a churchyard--the dead
"Shut your eyes," said the Parson in steadying voice. "Take my arm. Don't
think. Repeat a hymn to yourself."
He walked delicately among the dead, Kit stumbling on his arm.
At the garden-gate they stayed.
The Parson hailed, and Kit started dreadfully.
A wood-pigeon with loud wings splashed out of the sycamores. The kitchen
clock within ticked. Other answer there was none.
"I must try the door," whispered the Parson. "Will you come?--or stop
The Parson walked down the tiny path between trampled beds, Kit shivering
on his arm, and Polly leading him.
The cottage was blind; the windows shuttered; the glass in them
It seemed more like a mortuary than a human habitation.
The Parson tried the door--in vain.
He laid his ear to it, and listened.
"There's some one there, I'll swear," he whispered, and knocked.
A chair rolled and rolled.
"No," muttered Kit, with his truer instincts.
Somebody groaned. Broken feet dragged to the door.
The Parson edged off along the wall, hugging it with his shoulder.
"This'll do," he whispered. "Keep behind me. If it's a trick we shall do
very well here--flank covered, play for Polly, and the attack with us."
"I don't want any more fighting," whimpered Kit. "I--I want mother."
Bolts groaned, somebody groaning with them.
"Who's there?" husked a ghostly voice.
"Friend," called the Parson.
BACK TO THE DOOR
The lock creaked; the door opened.
A face of yellow clay, bandaged about, peered forth.
"That you, Mr. Joy?" came the ghostly voice, terrible in its remoteness.
The Parson dropped his point.
The little bandaged figure, in grey shirt and bloody drawers, wrapped
about with an old horse-blanket, looked at him with stagnant eyes.
"What's left o me."
There was no gladness in his voice, no light of welcome in his eyes.
The merry little fighter of the morning, then cockiest of men, was now no
more than a yellow shadow; dead, you would have said, but for that ghost
of a voice, dribbling dreadfully out of his corpse.
The Parson went towards him.
"I never thought to see you alive again, Knapp."
"I'm a little alive," said the man wearily. "They done me--all but."
The Cockney snap was out of his voice. His words came like a drunkard's:
he was slurring them, running them together, skipping hard consonants.
"I'll never be a man no more, I won't," he added with a dry sob.
The Parson gripped his hand.
A look of beastly rage darted into the other's eyes.
"Blast ye!" he screamed, and struck at the Parson's face with his elbow.
"I'm one--great wownd, you--." He spewed out a torrent of hideous names.
"And yet you must go for to wring my and!"
He lifted his foot to stamp it. His wounds twitched at him. He lowered it
gingerly and with a groan.
"I ain't a man," he sobbed. "I'm one--great wownd."
"My poor chap," choked the Parson.
The other turned, body, legs, neck, and head moving all of a piece, and
shuffled into the cottage on his heels.
The Parson followed.
"Don't touch me!" screamed the other, striking back with his elbows.
"Don't come anigh me, my God! or I'll--"
He hobbled in, muffled to the feet in bandages.
He led into the parlour.
It was much the same, save that now a great clothes-horse, hung with
soldiers' cloaks, made as it were a Sanctuary at one end of the room.
Piper's wheel-chair stood empty in the twilight Knapp let himself down in
it with screwed face.
For a time he whimpered tearlessly. He was too weak to weep, and not
strong enough to contain himself.
The Parson bent over him.
"Your heroism has not been in vain, my brave fellow," he said. "But for
you Lord Nelson would be now in the hands of the French."
"Blast Nelson!" snarled the little rifleman. "What's Nelson to me? Blame
fool that I were."
The heroic soul was quenched for the moment. He was flesh distraught--no
A flask of brandy was on the window-sill. The Parson poured from it into
a glass and gave it him.
The Parson took down the shutters, and the evening light streamed in,
calm and healing.
"Take your time," said the Parson gently. "Tell us what you can when you
Knapp sipped his brandy.
"It was the knives--when they closed. That done me up. Ow, my God!" He
shuddered. "If it hadn't been for the Genelman."
"Yes?" said Kit eagerly.
A glow lit the man's eye. The yellow of his cheek flushed ever so
"I'd die for im," he said, "only he's died for me--what pull his nose and
"Is he dead then?" asked Kit.
"Who's tellin this tale?--you or me?"
He put down his glass.
"That there's a genelman."
His eyes were down, and his hands upon his knees. He began to tell the
story over in his own mind, but only here and there his tongue took fire
and flashed a light upon the tale for the outsider to read by.
"Drew em off o me.... I couldn't tell you.... Cursin em and killin em....
Down on his knees, aside o me.... Give me his arm same as I might ha
been a lady....
"So we goes back to the cottage, me no better nor dead meat on his
arm.... I can't tell you.... I don't know.... I'll never forget it."
He drew the back of his hand across his eyes.
"They kep doggin on him--unduds on em.... Sich faces on em.... Ow, my
God!--I sees em now." He shivered and glanced behind him. "And he talkin
back at em, easy as you please, chaffin em like.... Seem they dursn't go
for to touch him.... Round to the back door.... Old Piper."
Parson and boy were hanging over him.
"Slipp'd out of his chair ... layin on the ground ... all anyhow ... no
legs and all.
"'Ullo, Sailor!' says the Genelman. 'Ow are ye?'
"'I'm done, sir,' says pore old Pipes, smotherified. He were layin on his
"'Done, be d'd!' says the Genelman, and whips round sudden with his
"Course they run,--curs!
"Round he come again, quick as light, catches old Piper under the
arm-pits, and pops him in his chair.
"'Run him in, Soldier!' says he. 'Sharp's the word. I'll keep em off.'
"So I run him in best I could. I weren't stiff yet, so every twitch tears
"'Don't bother about me,' says old Pipes. 'Back to the door, Knapp.
They're all on to him.'
"Back I obbles all I knoo.... Ah, I'll never forget it."
He lifted his face to the Parson.
"They used to say in the rigimint you was the best sword in Europe,
sir." He laid a finger on the other's arm. "This mornin you was the
"I'm sure of it," says the Parson quietly.
Knapp stumbled on.
"He stood just outside the door.... I did a bit behind him with the
baynit, when they got inside his guard.... He kep on killin em.... It was
like the Lord Amighty makin lightnins out of His eyes and blastin em....
I never see the like--blessed if I did!"
Back to Full Books