King O’ Prussia by Arthur Quiller-Couch

Story type: Literature

REPORTED TALE OF A SMUGGLER, A REVENUE CUTTER, AND AN OFFICIOUS MINISTER.

You have heard tell, of course, of Captain John Carter, the famous smuggler of Prussia Cove, and his brothers Harry, Francis, and Charles, and Captain Will Richards, “Tummels,” Carpenter Hosking, Uncle Billy, and the rest of the Cove boys; likewise of old Nan Leggo and Bessie Bussow that kept the Kiddlywink[1] there? Well, well, I see our youngsters going to school nowadays with their hair brushed, and I hear them singing away inside the classroom for all the world as if they were glad to grow up and pay taxes; and it makes me wonder if they can be the children of that old-fangled race. Sometimes I think it’s high time for me to go. There was a newspaper fellow down here when the General Walker came ashore, and, after asking a lot of questions, he put the case in a nutshell. “You’re a link with the past,” he said; “that’s what you are.” I don’t know if he invented the expression, or if he picked it up somewhere and used it on me, but it’s a terrible clever one.

You mustn’t think I’m boasting. I never knew Captain John; he died in the year ‘seven, and I wasn’t born for twelve months after. But I’ve shaken hands with Captain Harry–the one who was taken prisoner by the French, and came near to losing his head. He spent his latter years farming at Rinsey and local preaching; a very earnest man. He gave me my first-class ticket–that was in the late twenties, and not long before his death. And Captain Will Richards I knew well; he took over the business after Captain John, and lasted down to the Crimea year. I carried the coffin; eighty-five his age was, according to the plate on it; but, of course, the business had come to an end long before.

Everybody calls it Prussia Cove in these days. The visitors ask for Prussia Cove, and go and crane their heads over. You know the place?– just east of Cuddan Point. It’s three coves really; Pisky’s Cove, Bessie’s Cove, and Prussia. The first has no good landing, but plenty of good caves; east of that comes Bessie’s, where the Kiddlywink stood, with a harbour cut in the solid rock, and a roadway, and more caves; and east of that, with a point and a small island dividing them, comes Prussia, where John Carter had his house. Before his time it was called Porthleah, but he got the nickname “King o’ Prussia” as a boy, and it stuck to him, and now it sticks to the old place. The visitors crane their heads over (for you must do that to count the vessels in the harbour right underneath you), and ask foolish questions, and get answered with a pack of lies. There’s an old tale for one, about a fellow who heard that the real King of Prussia had been defeated by Napoleon Bonaparte. “Ah,” says he, “I’m sorry for that man. Misfortunes never come single; not more’n six weeks ago he lost three hundred keg of brandy, by information, so I’m told.” All nonsense! Porthleah never lost but one keg in all John Carter’s time, and that was a leaky one in a pool at Pisky’s which the custom-house fellows sniffed as they went by. To be sure, one day when the King was away from home, the collector came round from Penzance, seized a cargo, and carried it off to the Custom House store. What did Carter do when he came home and heard about it? He had agreed to deliver the goods by a certain day, his character for honest business was at stake and he wasn’t going to disappoint his customers. So he rode into Penzance that night, broke open the Custom House store, and rode back with all his kegs; nothing else, mind you. When the officers next morning discovered what had happened, they allowed at once this was Carter’s work, because he was an honest man and wouldn’t take anything that didn’t belong to him.

But the tale they tell oftenest is about the battery he kept on Enys Point, and how he opened fire with it upon His Majesty’s vessel; and I want you to have the rights of that as I had it from Captain Will Richards himself. To hear folks speak you would think the King just opened fire and blazed away for the fun of it; whereas, with all his daring, he was the quietest, most inoffensive man in the trade, if only you let him alone. Mr. Wearne, the collector, understood this, and it was not by his fault either that the firing came about, but all through an interfering woman and a preacher who couldn’t mind his own business.

It began in this way. Bessie Bussow had a sister-in-law married and living over here in Ardevora–Ann Geen was the name of her–a daughter of Kitty Lemal. (You’ve heard tell of Kitty Lemal and her eight daughters, and her stocking full of guineas? No? Well there’s another story for you one of these days.) This Ann was the youngest of the eight, and married John Geen latish in life, just in time to bring him a boy before he left her a widow; and after her mother Kitty died she and the boy lived together in the old house at Carne Glaze–Ugnes House[2] they used to call it. The boy, being the son of old parents, was a lean, scrag-necked child, with a lollopping big head, too clever for his years. He had the Lemals’ pluck inside him though, for all his unhandy looks; and, of course, his mother thought him a nonesuch.

Well, with all the country talking about John Carter and his doings, you may fancy that every boy in Ardevora wanted to grow up in a hurry and be off to Prussia Cove a-smuggling. It took young Phoby Geen (his real name was Deiphobus) as bad as the rest. He had been over to the Cove with his mother on a visit to Bessie Bussow, and there in the Kiddlywink the King had patted him on his big head and given him a shilling. After that the boy gave his mother no peace. She, poor soul, wanted to make a preacher of him, and wouldn’t hear of his going; but often, after he had turned fifteen, she would be out of bed ten times of a night and listening at his door to make sure he hadn’t run off in the dark.

I told you the boy was clever; and this is how he gained his end. There had always been a tale that the Ugnes House was haunted–the ghost being old Reginald Bottrell, Kitty Lemal’s father, a very respectable sea-captain, who died in his bed with no reason whatever for being uncomfortable in the next world. Still, “walk” he did, or was said to; and one fine day the boy came to his mother with a pretty tale. It went that, the evening before, he and his young cousin, Arch’laus Bryant, had been lying stretched on their stomachs before the fire in the big room–he reading the Pilgrim’s Progress by the light of the turves, and Arch’laus listening. The boys were waiting for their supper, and for Mrs. Geen to come back from her Saturday’s shopping. Happening to look up as he turned a page, Phoby saw, on the steps which led down into the room, a brisk, stout little gentleman, dressed in a long, cutaway coat, black velvet waistcoat and breeches, black ribbed stockings, and pump shoes tied with a bow. He twinkled with brass or gilt buttons–one row down the coat and two rows down the waistcoat–and each button was stamped with a pattern of flowers. His head was bald, except for a bit of hair at the back; he had no hat; and when he turned, after closing the door behind him, Phoby took notice that his belly was round and as tight as a drum. The boy denied being frightened; “the gentleman,” he said, “was most pleasant-looking in all his features. I didn’t take ‘en for a sperat, but for somebody come to see mother. I stood up and said, ‘Good eveling, sir. Mother’ll be back in a minute or two if you’ll take a seat.’” “I’m not come for she, but for thee,” he said; “Deiphobus Geen, idle no longer. Arise, take my advice, and go a-smuggling.” And with that he vanished through the door.

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The boy pitched this tale to his mother, and Arch’laus backed him up, adding that the ghost had turned to him and said, “Thou, too, Arch’laus in a year’s time shall be a smuggler–p’r’aps sooner.” He told this to his father and got strapped for it. But Mrs. Geen came of a family that believed in ghosts. The boy’s tale described his grandfather to a hair–which was not wonderful considering how often she had talked to Phoby about the old man. At any rate, after being in two minds for a week she gave way, after a fashion, and allowed Phoby to run over to Prussia Cove to his aunt, Bessie Bussow; and Bessie–who loved spirit– had him apprenticed to Hosking, the Cove carpenter. Pretty carpenter’s work Hosking was likely to teach him!

Now, after the way of women, the deed was no sooner done than Mrs. Geen began to repent it. She knew very well that her dear boy would run into danger; but she kept her trouble to herself until there arrived at Ardevora a new Methodist preacher called Meakin. In those days John Wesley himself used to pay us a visit pretty well every August or September, but this year, for some reason or other, he gave us an extra revival, and sent down this Meakin to us at the beginning of June. For a very good reason he was never sent again.

He started very well indeed. You couldn’t call him much to look at; he had a long pair of legs which seemed differently jointed to yours and mine; no shoulders nor stomach to speak of, no-coloured hair, and a glazing, watery eye. But the wonder began when you heard his voice. It filled his clothes out suddenly like one of those indiarubber squeakers the children blow at Whitsun Fair; and coming from a man whose looks were all against him, it made you feel humble-minded for having been so quick to judge. I think he had found out the value of this kind of surprise and went about neglecting his appearance on purpose.

As I say, he started very well. He preached at the Stennack on Saturday, and next day near the market-place, “for the sake,” he said, “of those who could not climb the hill”–though, to be sure, they needn’t have left their doors to hear him a mile off. There was a tidy gathering–farm-carts and market-carts and gigs from all parts of the country round–almost as many as if he had been John Wesley himself. He preached again at five o’clock in the evening, and so fired up Mrs. Geen that by ten next morning she was down at Nance’s house, where he lodged, laying all her trouble before him.

Mr. Meakin heard her out, and then took a line which altogether surprised her. He seemed to care less for the danger her Phoby was running than for the crime he was committing. Yes; he called it a crime!

“As a Christian woman,” he said, “you must know his soul’s in danger. What in comparison with that does his body matter?”

Mrs. Geen hadn’t any answer for this, so what she said was, “My Phoby ‘ve never given me a day’s trouble since his teething.” And then, seeing the preacher was upset, and wishing to keep things as pleasant as possible, she went on, “I don’t see no crime in learning to be a carpenter.”

“By your own showing,” said Mr. Meakin, “he is in danger of being led into smuggling by wild companions.”

“Nothing wild about John Carter,” she held out. “A married man and as steady as you could wish to see; a man with convictions of sin, as I know, an’ two of his brothers saved. You couldn’ hear a prettier preacher than Charles. And John, he always runs a freight most careful. I never heard of any wildness at all in connection with he–not a whisper.”

The preacher fairly stamped, and began tapping the palm of his hand with his forefinger.

“But the smuggling, ma’am–that’s what I call your attention to! The smuggling itself is not only a crime but a sin; every bit as much a sin as the violence and swearing which go with it.”

“No swearing at all,” said Ann Geen. “You don’t know John Carter, or you wouldn’ suggest such a thing. Every man that swears in his employ is docked sixpence out of his pay. My sister-in-law keeps the money in a box over her chimney-piece, and they drink it out together come Christmas.”

By this the preacher was fairly dancing. “Woman!” he shouted, soon as he could recover his mouth-speech.

“I’m no such thing!” said she, up at once and very indignant. “And your master, John Wesley, would never have said it.”

The preacher took a gulp and tried a quieter tack. “I beg your pardon, ma’am,” says he, “but you seemed to be wilfully misunderstanding me. Let us confine ourselves to smuggling,” says he.

“Very well,” says she; “I’m agreeable.”

“I tell you, then, that it’s a sin; it’s defrauding the King just as much as if you dipped your hand into His Majesty’s pocket”–“I shouldn’ dream of being so familiar,” said Mrs. Geen, but he didn’t hear her– “and if you’ll permit me, I’ll explain how that is,” he said.

“Well,” she allowed, folding the shawl about her which she always wore in the hottest weather; “you can say what you mind to about it, so long as you help me get my Phoby back. That’s what I come for.”

I daresay, now, you’ve sometimes heard it brought up against us in these parts that we’re like the men of Athens, always ready to listen to any new thing. The preacher took up his parable then and there; and being, as I say, an able man in spite of his looks, within half an hour he had actually convinced the woman that there was something to be ashamed of in smuggling. And as soon as he’d done that, nothing would satisfy her but to hire the pony-cart from the George and Dragon and drive the preacher to Prussia Cove the very next day to rescue her boy from these evil companions. “‘Twould be a great thing to convince John Carter,” she said, “and a feather in your cap. And even if you don’t, the place is worth seeing, and he usually kills a pair of ducks for visitors.”

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So early the next day (Tuesday, June 4), away they started; and, the day being hot and the pony slow, arrived at Bessie Bussow’s about four o’clock. ‘Tis a pretty peaceable spot on a June afternoon, with the sun dropping out to sea and right against your eyes; and this day the Cove seemed more peaceable than ordinary–the boats at anchor, no sound of work at all, and scarcely a sign of life but the smoke from Bessie Bussow’s chimney.

“Where’s my boy?” was the first question Mrs. Geen put to her sister-in-law after the two women had kissed each other.

“Out seaning,” answered Bessie, as prompt as you please. “But most likely he’ll be home some time to-night. The master’s got a new sean-boat, and all the boys be out working her. There’s not a soul left in the Cove barring the master himself and Uncle Billy.”

“Well, I’m glad of my life the boy’s at such innocent work; but I’ve come to see John Carter and take him away. The preacher here says that smuggling is a sin and the soul’s destruction; he’s quite sure of it in his own mind, and whiles there’s any doubt I don’t want my Phoby to risk it.”

“Aw?” said Bessie. “I’d dearly like to hear how he makes that out. But I han’t got time to be talking just now. You’d best take him across and let him try to persuade John Carter, while I get your room ready. I saw John going towards his house ten minutes ago, and I’se warn he’ll offer the preacher a bed and listen to all he’s got to say.”

So, having stabled the pony, Mrs. Geen and the preacher walked over to Carter’s house together. They found the King in his kitchen-parlour, divided between his accounts and a mug of cider, and he made them welcome, being always fond of preachers and having a great respect for Ann Geen because of her family.

There was a great heap of shavings in the fire-place, for the room was a sunny one, facing south by west. But the King told her where to find some tea that had never paid duty, and she took off her bonnet and boiled the kettle in the kitchen at the back, and it wasn’t till they’d drunk a cup that she explained what had brought her, and called on the preacher to wrestle.

Captain John listened very politely, or seemed to, and nodded his head at the right time; but he couldn’t help being a bit absent-minded. Fact was, he expected a cargo home that very evening, and didn’t feel so easy about it as usual. Up to now he had always run his stuff in goodish-sized vessels–luggers or cutter-rigged craft running up to fifty or sixty tons as we should reckon now. But Captain Will Richards had taken a great fancy to the Cawsand plan of using light-built open row-boats or, as you might say, galleys, pulling eight oars, and put together to pass for sean-boats. After the war, when there was no longer any privateering, vessels like Captain Carter’s, carrying eighteen or twenty guns apiece, couldn’t pretend to be other than smugglers or pirates, and then these make-belief sean-boats came into use everywhere. But just now they were a novelty. The King, persuaded by Richards, ordered one down from Cawsand, and had already used it once or twice to meet his larger craft somewhere in a good offing and tranship their cargoes. By this he could run his kegs ashore at any state of the tide, leaving the empty vessels to be watched or overhauled by the Customs’ fellows.

But this time–the weather being fine and settled, and the winds light– he was trying a faster game, and had sent the sean-boat right across channel to Roscoff, keeping his sailing-craft in harbour. It would be dark before nine, no moon till after mid-night, and by all calculations the boat ought to make the cove between ten and eleven, after lying well outside and waiting her chance. It all seemed promising enough, but somehow the King couldn’t be quite easy.

However, he listened quietly, and the preacher talked away for one solid hour, until Uncle Billy Leggo (who had been keeping watch all the afternoon) came knocking at the door. “You’ll excuse me a minute,” said the King, and went outside to hear the report. The weather had been flat calm all day, with a slow ground-swell running into the cove, but with the cool of the evening a light off-shore breeze had sprung up, and Uncle Billy had just seen the Revenue cutter stealing out from Penzance.

“Botheration!” said Captain Carter, and fined himself sixpence. Then he went back to the parlour, and the preacher started afresh.

Twice again before supper came Uncle Billy with news of the cutter’s movements, and the second time there could be no mistaking them, for she was dodging back and forth and lying foxy around Cuddan Point.

All through supper the preacher talked on and on, and the King ate without knowing what he was eating. He couldn’t afford to lose this cargo; yet Mr. Collector Wearne meant business this time, and would collar the boat to a certainty unless she were warned off. But to show a light from the coast meant a hundred pounds fine or twelve months’ hard labour. The King slewed round in his chair and looked at the great pile of shavings in the fireplace. A hundred pounds fine with the chance of burning the house-thatch about his ears!

Supper over, he and his guests turned their chairs towards the fireplace. The King took flint and steel and struck a match; lit his pipe, and stared at the shavings; then dropped the light on the floor, ground it out with his heel, and puffed away thoughtfully. The preacher went on talking.

“Render unto Caesar . . . tribute to whom tribute is due. That applies to King George to-day every bit so much as it did to Caesar.”

“Caesar and King George be two different persons,” said Captain John, stopping his pipe with his thumb.

“The principle’s the same.”

“I don’t see it,” said the captain. “I read my Bible, and it says that Caesar ordered the whole world to be taxed. Now that’s sense. Caesar didn’t go niggling away with a duty on silk here and another on brandy there and another on tea and another on East Indy calicoes. Mind you, I’ve got no personal feeling against King George; but it does annoy me to see a man calling hisself King of England and making money in these petty ways.”

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“It’s his birthday to-day,” put in Mrs. Geen; “though I didn’t remember it till I saw the flag on Ardevora church-tower this morning.”

“Is it? Then we’ll drink his health, ma’am, to show there’s no animosity.” Captain John fetched a bottle of brandy and glasses and mixed drinks for his guests. Then he took his seat, reached out for flint and steel again, and says he very quietly–

“I wish the boys were at home. We’d have a bonfire.”

“Up to Walsall–that’s where I come from,” said the preacher, “we always kept up His Majesty’s birthday with a bonfire and fireworks. But you don’t seem so loyal in these parts.”

“Fireworks? Did you now?” Captain John set down the tinder-box and rubbed his chin. “Well,” said he, going to a cupboard, and glancing up on his way at the tall clock, “as it happens I’ve a rocket or two here– though to be sure it seems like a waste, with nobody left in the Cove to see or raise so much as a cheer.”

“It’s the spirit of the thing that counts,” said the preacher.

“They’ve lain here so long,” Captain John went on in a sort of musing way, “they may be mildewed, for all I know.”

“You leave that to me,” said the preacher; “I knows all about fireworks. There don’t seem nothing wrong about this one,” he said, taking it and fingering the fuse. “May I have a try with ’em?”

“Try, and welcome. I don’t understand these things for my part: I only know they takes up a lot of room in the cupboard, and I’ll be glad to see the last of ’em.”

So out into the night they three went together. But when they had the rocket fixed, Captain John was taken that poorly he had to come back and sit in the chair, and rub his thighs and his stomach. And when, sitting there, he heard the rocket go up, whoosh! he had to rub them the harder.

“It went off capital!” called the preacher, popping his head in at the door. “Can’t us try another?” And now Captain John had to rub his eyes before turning to him. “Take the lot,” he said, and pushed the whole bundle into the preacher’s hands. “Aw, if King George had a few more friends like you! Take the lot of ’em, loyal man!” He fairly thrust him out to door, and had to lean a hand there before he could follow, feeling weak all over to think of Collector Wearne and his men, and what their faces must be like, down in the Revenue cutter; but he had no time to taste the fun of it properly, for just then he heard Bessie Bussow’s voice outside asking questions all of a screech. The first rocket had fetched her over hot-foot and agog, and the captain had to run out and stop her tongue, and send her home with Ann Geen. But they didn’t go till the preacher had touched off every single rocket, stepping back as they went whoosh! whoosh! and waving his hat and crying, “God save the King!” “God save the King!” cried Captain John after him, and Bessie stood wondering if the end of the world had come, or the master had gone clean out of his wits.

The captain used to try and explain it afterwards when he told the story. “You’ve seen a woman in hysterics,” he’d say, “and you know how a man feels when he wants to drop work and go on the drink for a week. Well, ’twasn’ exactly one or t’other with me, but a little like both. I’m a level-headed tradesman, and known for such, but if ever that chap walks into my house again, I’ll be wise, and go straight out by the back door and put myself under restraint.”

After the women had gone, he took the fellow back to the kitchen, and sat putting questions to him in a reverent sort of voice, and eyeing him as awesome as Billy Bennett when he hooked the mermaid, until the poor creature talked himself sleepy, and asked to be shown to his room. Captain Carter saw him to bed, came downstairs to the parlour again, and spread himself on the sofa for forty winks; for between the boat dodging out to sea and the pack-horses waiting ready up at Trenowl’s farm above the hill, there was no going to bed for him that night.

He had been sleeping maybe for two hours, when a whistle fetched him to his feet and out of the door like a scout. ‘Twas nothing more nor less than the boys’ arrival signal, and this was what had happened.

When the preacher’s first rocket went off, the collector, down on board the cutter, was taking his bit of supper in the cabin. At the sound of it he rushed up the companion, and found all his crew on deck with their necks cricked back, barring one man, who that moment popped his head up through the fore-hatchway. “What on earth was that?” he asked. “A rocket, sir,” said the chief boatman; “just sent up from Prussia Cove.” Mr. Wearne couldn’t find his breath for a moment; but when he did, ’twas to say, “Very well, John Carter. I’ve a-got you this time, my dandy! I don’t quite understand how you come to be such a fool. But that rocket costs you a hundred pounds, and if I’m not mistaken I’ll have your cargo ‘pon top of it.”

The breeze still blew pretty steady, and he gave orders to stand out into the bay, get an offing, and keep a sharp look-out as the moon rose. He knew that all Carter’s ordinary craft, except the sean-boat, were quiet at anchor at Bessie’s Cove; but he reckoned that the boat had gone out this time to meet and unload a stranger. He never dreamed she would be crossing all the way to Roscoff and back on her own account. He knew, too, that Carter had a “spot” near Mousehole to fall back upon when a landing at Prussia Cove couldn’t be worked. So he stood out to put the cutter on a line commanding both places, which, with the soldier’s wind then blowing, was easy enough; and as she pushed out her nose past Cuddan Point the whole sky began to bang with rockets.

This puzzled him fairly, as Carter knew it would. And it puzzled the Cove boys in the sean-boat as they lay on their oars about three miles from shore and discussed the first warning. But in one of the flashes Captain Harry Carter, who was commanding, spied the cutter’s sails quite plain under the dark of the land, plain enough to see that she was running out free. He knew that he couldn’t have been seen by her in the heave of the swell, for the sean-boat lay pretty low with her heavy cargo, and he’d given her a lick of grey paint at Roscoff by way of extra precaution. So, thought he, “A signal’s a signal; but brother John doesn’t know what I know. Let the cutter stand out as she’s going, and we’ll nip in round the tail of her. She can’t follow into the Cove, with her draught, even if she spies us; and by daybreak we’ll have the best part of the cargo landed.” And so he did, muffling oars and crossing over a mile to southward of the cutter, and after that way-all! and pull for the Cove.

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The preacher at John Carter’s, and Mrs. Geen at Bessie Bussow’s, both woke early next morning. But Mrs. Geen was first by a good hour, and what pulled the preacher out of bed was the sound of guns. He put his head out of window, and could hardly believe it was the peaceful place he’d come upon last evening. The beach swarmed with men like emmets. Near up, by high-water mark, men were unloading a long-boat for dear life–some passing kegs, others slinging them to horses, others running the horses up the cliff under his window. At first he thought it must be their trampling had woke him out of sleep, but the next moment bang! the room shook all about him, a cloud of smoke drifted up towards him from the Enys Point, and through it, while ’twas clearing, he saw John Carter and another man run to the battery and begin to load again, with Mrs. Geen behind them waving a rammer, and dancing like a paper-woman in a cyclone. Below the mouth of the Cove tossed a boatload of men, pulling and backing with their heads ducked, their faces on a level with their shoulders, and all turned back towards the battery, while a big red-faced man stood up in the stern-sheets shaking his fist and dancing almost as excitedly as Mrs. Geen. Still farther out, a fine cutter lay rocking on the swell, her bosom swinging and sails shaking in the flat calm.

The preacher dragged on his clothes somehow, tore out of the house and down to the Point as fast as legs would carry him. “Wha–what’s the meanin’ of this?” he screeched, rushing up to Captain John, who was sighting one of his three little nine-pounders.

“Blest if I know!” said the captain. “We was a peaceable lot enough till you and Mrs. Geen came a-visiting; but you two would play Hamlet’s ghost with a Quaker meeting.”

“It’s my Phoby–they’re after my Phoby!” screamed Mrs. Geen, and then she turned on the fellow behind Captain John; it was Hosking, once a man-of-war’s man, and now supposed to be teaching her boy the carpentry trade. “This is what you bring en to, is it? You deceiver, you! You bare-faced villain!” (The man had a beard as big as a furze bush.) “Look at the poor lamb up there loadin’ the hosses, and to think I bore and reared en for this! If you let one of they fellows lay hands on my Phoby I’ll scratch out ivery eye in your head . . .”

“Stand by, Tim,” says the captain quietly. “Drat the boat! If she keeps bobbiting about like that I shall hit her, sure ’nuff!” Bang! went the little gun, and kicked backwards clean over its carriage. The shot whizzed about six feet above the boat, and plunged into the heaving swell between it and the cutter. “Bit too near, that. I don’t want to hurt Roger Wearne, though he do make such tempting, ugly faces.”

“But what do they want? What are they after?” stuttered the preacher.

“They’re after my Phoby!” cried Mrs. Geen.

“Not a bit of it,” said Captain John good-humouredly. “From all I can see it’s the preacher here they want to collar.”

Me!” screams the poor man–“me!”

“Well, if you will go letting off rockets. I dunno what it costs up to Walsall, or wherever you come from, but down in these parts ’tis a hundred pound or twelve calendar months.”

The preacher turned white and began to shake all of a sudden like a leaf. “But I didn’t mean–I had no idea–you don’t intend to tell me–” he stammered.

“Here, Tummels!” Captain John hailed a man who came running down to lend a hand with the guns. “Take the preacher here and fix him on one of the horses; sling a keg each side of him if he looks like tumbling off. Sorry to hurry you, sir,” he explained; “but ’tis for your good. You must clear out of this before the officers get sight of your face, and I don’t know how much longer I can frighten ’em off. When you get up to Trenowl you can cast loose and run, and it mayn’t be time wasted if you make up an alibi as you go along. It don’t seem hospitable, I grant ee, but as a smuggler you’re too enterprising for this little out-o’-the-way cove.”

Tummels led the preacher away in too much of a daze to answer. He opened his mouth, but at that moment bang! went Hosking with another of the guns. By and by Captain John let out a chuckle as he saw the poor man moving up the cliff track, swaying between two kegs and clutching at his horse’s mane every time Tummels smacked the beast on the rump. The horse he rode was almost the last. By seven o’clock the boys had cleared the whole of their cargo, and still the preventive boat hung in the mouth of the Cove, pulling and backing and waiting for the chance Captain John never allowed them.

You see, Captain Harry, having dodged in behind the cutter without being spied, had a pretty start with the unloading. When day broke, Mr. Wearne, finding no sean-boat or suspicious craft in sight, and allowing that there was no fear of another attempt before nightfall, had stood down again for Prussia Cove, meaning to send in a boat (for the cutter drew too much water) and have it out with Captain Carter about the rockets. You can fancy his face when he came abreast the entrance and found the boys working like a hive of bees. As for resistance, the King always swore he hadn’t an idea of it till Mrs. Geen put it into his head. The battery was never intended for more than show. “She’s a wonderful woman,” he declared; but he had a monstrous respect for all the Lemals. “Blood in every one of ’em,” he said.

But, of course, the fun wasn’t finished yet. Soon after seven, and after the last of the cargo had been salved under their eyes, the preventive men drew off. By a quarter past eight Wearne had worked the cutter in as close as he dared, and then opened fire with his guns. The first shot struck the ‘taty-patch in front of Carter’s house; the second plunked into the water not fifteen yards from the gun’s muzzle. In the swell running she could make no practice at all, though she kept it up till midday. The boys behind the battery ran out and cheered whenever one flew extra wide, and this made Wearne mad. Will Richards, Tummels, and young Phoby Geen posted themselves in shelter behind the captain’s house, and whenever a shot buried itself in the soft cliff one of them would run with a tubbal and dig it out. All this time Uncle Bill Leggo, having finished loading up the kegs, was carting water from the stream on the beach to the kitchen garden above the house, and his old sister Nan leading the horses (for it was a two-horse job). Richards called to him to leave out, it was too dangerous. “Now there,” said Uncle Bill, “I’ve been thinkin’ of Nan and the hosses this brave while!”

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At noon Wearne ceased firing, and sent off a boat towards Penzance. The Cove boys still held the battery; and the two parties had their dinners, lit their pipes and studied each other all the long after-noon. But towards five o’clock a riding company arrived to help the law, and opened a musket fire on the rear of the battery from the hedge at the top of the hill. The game was up now. The boys scattered and took shelter in Bessie Bussow’s house, and Captain John, having hoisted a flag of truce, waited for Wearne and his boat with all the calmness in life.

“A pretty day’s work this!” was the collector’s first word as he stepped ashore.

“Amusin’ from first to last,” agreed Captain John in his cordial way.

Says the collector slowly, “Well, tastes differ. You may be right, of course, but we’ll begin at the beginning, and see how it works out. First, then, at nine forty-five last night you showed an unauthorised light for the purpose of cheating the revenue. Cost of that caper, one hundred pounds.”

“Be you talkin’ of the rockets?”

“‘Course I be.”

“Well then, I didn’t fire them, nor anyone belongin’ to the Cove. I didn’t set anyone to fire them, and they waren’t fired to warn anybody. Let alone I have proof they was sent up by a Methody preacher to relieve his feelin’s. You’ve known me too long, Roger Wearne, to think me fool enough to waste a whole future joy[3] over so simple a business as warnin’ a boat.”

“What are you tellin’ me?”

“The truth, as I always do; and I advise you to believe it, or ‘twon’t be the first time you’ve seen too far into a brick wall.”

Wearne knew well enough what Captain John meant. Just a year before he had paid a surprise visit to the Cove, ferreted out a locked shed and asked to be shown what was inside. The King refused. “It held nothing,” he said, “but provisions for his brother Henry’s vessel.” Of course Wearne couldn’t believe this; a locked store in Prussia Cove was much too sure a thing. So first he argued, and then he broke the door open, and, sure enough, found innocent provisions inside just as he’d been promised. Next morning the shed was empty. “Didn’ I warn ‘ee,” said John, “against breaking in that door and leaving my property exposed. Now I’ll have to make ‘ee pay for it;” and pay for it Wearne did.

“All I know,” the captain went on, “is that a Methody preacher paid me a visit last night, with the objic (so far as I can make out, for things have been movin’ so fast I hadn’t time to question en as I wished) o’ teachin’ me what was due to King George. In pursooance o’ which–it being His Majesty’s birthday–he took and fired a dozen rockets I keep on the off-chance of wantin’ one of these days to signal the Custom House at Penzance. I own ’twas a funny thing to do, but folks takes their patriotism different. I daresay, now, you didn’t even remember ’twas His Majesty’s birthday.”

Wearne tried a fresh tack. “We’ll take that yarn later on,” he said. “You can’t deny a cargo was run this morning.”

“We’ll allow it for the moment. But that only proves that no boat was warned away.”

“And when I sent a boat in to capture it, you deliberately opened fire; in other words, tried to murder me, His Majesty’s representative.”

“Tried to murder you? Look here.” Captain John stepped to one of his still loaded guns and pointed it carefully at a plank floating out at the mouth of the Cove–a plank knocked by the cutter’s guns out of Uncle Bill Leggo’s ‘taty patch, and now drifting out to sea on the first of the ebb. He pointed the gun carefully, let fly, and knocked the bit of wood to flinders. “That’s what I do when I try,” he said. “Why, bless ‘ee, I was no more in earnest than you were!”

This made Wearne blush for his marksmanship. “But you’ll have to prove that,” he said.

“Why, damme,” said John Carter, and fined himself another sixpence on the spot; “if you are so partic’ler, get out there in the boat again, and I will.”

Well, the upshot was that after some palaver Wearne agreed to walk up to the captain’s house and reckon the accounts between them. He had missed a pretty haul and been openly defied. On the other hand he hadn’t a man hurt, and he knew the King’s Government still owed John Carter for a lugger he had lent two years before to chase a French privateer lying off Ardevora. Carter had sent the lugger round at Wearne’s particular request; she was short handed, and after a running fight of three or four hours the Frenchman put in a shot which sent her to the bottom and drowned fourteen hands. For this, as Wearne knew, he had never received proper compensation. I fancy the two came to an agreement to set one thing against another and call quits. At any rate, John was put to no further annoyance over that day’s caper. As for the preacher, I’m told that no person in these parts ever set eyes on him again. And Ann Geen drove home that evening with her Phoby beside her. “I’m sorry to let ‘ee go, my son,” said John; “but ‘twould never do for me to have your mother comin’ over here too often. I’ve a great respect for all the Lemals; but on the female side they be too frolicsome for a steady-going trade like mine.”

[1] Drinking-house.
[2] Huguenot’s house.
[3] Feu de joie.

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