My Lady’s Coach by Arthur Quiller-Couch

Story type: Literature

From the Military Memoir of Capt. J. de Courcy, late of the North Wilts Regiment.

There were four of us on top of the coach that night–the driver, the guard, the corporal and I–all well muffled up and swathed about the throat against the northwest wind; and we carried but one inside passenger, though he snored enough for six. You could hear him above the chink of the swingle-bars and the drumming of our horses’ hoofs on the miry road. What this inside fare was like I had no means of telling; for when the corporal and I overtook the coach at Torpoint Ferry he was already seated, and being served through the door with hot kidney pasty and hot brandy-and-water. He had travelled down from London–so I learned from the coachman by whose side I sat; and as soon as he ceased cursing the roads, the inns, the waiters, the weather and the country generally, his snores began to shake the vehicle under us as with the throes of Etna in labour.

The corporal squatted behind me with his feet on the treasure-chest and his loaded musket across his thighs, and the guard yet farther back on the roof nursing a blunderbuss and chanting to himself the dolefullest tune. For me I sat drumming my heels, with chin sunk deep within the collar of my greatcoat, one hand in its left hip-pocket and the other thrust through the breast-opening, where my fingers touched the butts of a brace of travelling pistols.

I was senior ensign of my regiment (the North Wilts), and my business was to overtake a couple of waggons that had started some seven or eight hours ahead of us with a consignment of pay-money to be delivered at Falmouth, where two of His Majesty’s cruisers lay on the point of sailing for the West Indies. The chest over which I mounted guard had arrived late from London: it was labelled “supplementary,” and my responsibilities would end as soon as I transferred it to the lieutenant in charge of the waggons, which never moved above a walking-pace, and always, when conveying treasure, under escort of eight or ten soldiers or marines. “Russell’s Waggons,” they were called, and there was no record of their having being attacked.

The country, to which I was a stranger, appeared wild enough, with hedgeless downs rolling up black and unshapely against the night. But the coachman, who guessed what we carried, assured me that he had always found the road perfectly safe. I remember asking him how long he had been driving upon it: to which he gave no more direct answer than that he had been born in these parts and knew them better than his Bible. “And the same you may say of Jim,” he added, with a jerk of his whip back towards the guard.

“He has a cheerful taste in tunes,” I remarked.

The fellow chuckled. “That’s his favourite. ‘My Lady’s Coach’ he calls it, and–come to think of it–I never heard him sing any other.”

“It doesn’t sound like Tantivey.” I strained my ears for the words of the guard’s song, and heard–

“The wheels go round without a sound
Or tramp or [inaudible] of whip–“

The words next following were either drowned by the wind or muffled and smothered in the man’s neck-cloths; but by-and-by I caught another line or two–

“Ho! ho! my lady saith,
Step in and ride with me:
She takes the baby, white as death,
And jigs him on her knee.
The wheels go round without a sound–“

This seemed to be the refrain.

“The wheels go round without a sound
Or [inaudible again] horse’s tread,
My lady’s breath is foul as death,
Her driver has no head–“

“Huh!” grunted I, sinking my shoulders deeper in my overcoat. “A nice sort of vehicle to meet, say on a night like this, at the next turn of the road!”

The man peered at me suddenly, and leaned forward to shorten his reins, for we were on the edge of a steepish dip downhill. The lamplight shone on his huge forearm (as thick as an ordinary man’s thigh) and on his clumsy, muffled hands.

“Well, and so we might,” he answered, picking up his whip again and indicating the dark moorland on our left. “That’s if half the tales be true.”

“Haunted?” I asked, scanning the darkness.

“Opposition coach–hearse and pair, driven by the Old Gentleman hisself. For my part, I don’t believe a word of it. Leastways, I’ve driven along here often enough, and in most weathers, and I ha’n’t met it yet.”

“You’re taking this bit pretty confidently anyhow,” was my comment, as he shortened rein again; for the hill proved to be a precipitous one, and the horses, held back against the weight of the coach, went down the slope with much sprawling of hind-quarters and kicking up of loose stones. “Don’t you put on the skid for this, as a rule?”

“Well, now, as you say, it might be wiser. This half-thaw makes the roads cruel greasy.” With a tremendous wrench he dragged the team to a standstill. “Jim, my lad, hop down and give her the shoe.”

I heard Jim clambering down, then the loud rattle of the chain as he unhitched the shoe, not interrupting his song, however–

“Ho! ho! my lady saith,
Step in and ride with me:
She takes the bride as white as death–“

“Hold up, there!” commanded a voice out of the darkness on my left.

“Hullo!” I whipped out one of my pistols and faced the sound, at the same instant shouting to the driver: “Quick, man! duck your head and give ’em the whip! Curse you for a coward–don’t sit there hesitating!–the whip, I say, and put ’em at it!”

See also  The Comedy Of Errors by Charles Lamb

But the fellow would not budge. I turned, leaned past him, plucked the whip from its socket, and lashed out at the leaders. They plunged forward as a bullet sang over my head; but before they could break into a gallop the driver had wrenched them back again on their haunches. The coach gave a lurch or two and once more came to a standstill.

“Look here,” said a voice almost at my feet, “you take it quiet, or you’ll be hurt!” and a pair of hands reached up and gripped the footboard. I let fly at the man with my pistol and at the same moment heard the corporal’s musket roar out behind my ear. Then I tried to do what I should have done at first, and whipped out my second pistol to lay its muzzle against the driver’s cheek.

But by this time half a dozen dark figures were scrambling along the roof from the rear, and as I swung round I felt a sudden heavy push against my shoulder, tottered for a moment, trod forward upon air, and went sprawling, almost headlong, over the side of the coach.

Luckily I struck a furze-bush first, but for all that I hit the turf with a thud that stunned me, as I must believe, for a minute at least. For when next I opened my eyes driver and guard were standing helpless in the light of the lamps, while a couple of highwaymen dragged my chest off the roof. Another stood by the heads of the leaders, and yet another was spread on the footboard, with his head and shoulders well buried in the boot. The rest had gathered in the rear about the coach door in altercation with the inside passenger. Close behind the near hind wheel lay the corporal, huddled and motionless.

My head darted pain as though it had been opened with a saw, and as I lifted myself and groped about for my pistols, I discovered that my collar-bone was broken and my hip-muscles had taken a bad wrench. Hurt as I was, though, I managed to find one of my pistols, and crawling until I had the coach-door in view, sank into the ditch and began to reload.

The men at the rear of the coach were inviting the inside fare to come forth and hand over his money; which he very roundly refused to do, using the oddest argument; for he declared himself so far gone in consumption that the night air was as bad as death to him, the while that the noise he made proclaimed his lungs as strong as a horse’s. This inconsistency struck the robbers, no doubt, for after a while a pistol was clapped in at the window and he was bidden to step forth without more ado.

But for my misery I could have laughed aloud at the queer figure that at length shuffled out and stood in the light of a lantern held to examine his money. In height he could not have been more than five feet two; and to say that he was as broad as he was long would be no lie, for never in my life have I seen a man so wrapped up. He wore a travelling cap tightly drawn about the ears, and round his neck a woollen comforter so voluminous that his head, though large (as I afterwards discovered), seemed a button set on top of it. I dare be sworn that he unbuttoned six overcoats before he reached his fob and drew out watch and purse.

“There,” he said, handing over the money, “take it–seven good guineas– with my very hearty curse.”

The robbers–they were masked to a man–pressed forward around the lantern to count the coins.

“Give us your word,” said one, “that you’ve no more stowed about you.”

“I won’t,” answered the old gentleman. “All the word you’ll get from me is to see you hanged if I can. If you think it worth while, search me.”

Just then they were summoned by a shout from the coach roof to help in lowering my treasure. My pistol was reloaded by this time, and I lifted myself to take aim and account for one of the scoundrels at least: but in the effort my broken bone played me false; my hand shook, then dropped, and I sank upon my face in a swoon of pain.

I came back to consciousness to find myself propped on the edge of the ditch against a milestone. The coach was gone. Driver, guard, highwaymen, even the corporal’s body, had disappeared also. But just before me in the road, under the light of a newly-risen waning moon, stood the inside passenger, hopping first on one leg then on the other for warmth; and indeed the villains had despoiled him of three of his greatcoats.

I sat up, groaned, and tried to lift my hands to my face. My companion ceased hopping about and regarded me with interest.

“Lost money?” he inquired.

“Public money,” I answered, and groaned again. “It means ruin for me,” I added.

“Well,” said he, “I’ve lost my own–every stiver about me.” He began to hop about again, halted, and began to wag his forefinger at me slowly. “Come, come, what’s the use? I’m sorry for you, but where’s your heart?”

I stared, not well knowing what to make of his manner.

“Look here,” he went on after awhile, “you’re thinking that you’ve lost your character. Very well; any bones broken?”

“My collar-bone, I think.”

“Which, at your age, will heal in no time. Anything else?”

“A twist of the hip, here, and a cut in the head, I believe.”

See also  Margery Of Lawhibbet by Arthur Quiller-Couch

“Tut, tut! Good appetite?”

He had approached, unwound his enormous woollen comforter, and was beginning to bandage me with it, by no means unskilfully. I thought his question a mad one, and no doubt my face, as he peered into it, told him so.

“I mean,” he explained, “will you ever be able to eat a beef-steak again– say, a trifle underdone, with a dozen of oysters for prelude–and drink beer, d’ye think, and enjoy them both?”

“No doubt.”

“And kiss a pretty girl, and be glad to do it?”

“Very likely.”

“And fight?”

He eyed his bandage critically, stepped back upon the road and danced about, stamping with his feet while he cut and thrust at an imaginary enemy. “And fight, hey?”

“I suppose so.”

“Then, bless the lad,” he exclaimed, stopping and looking at me as fierce as a rat, “get on your legs, and don’t sit moping as if life were a spilt posset!”

There was no disobeying this masterful old gentleman, so I made shift to stand up.

“We have but one life to live,” said he.

“I beg your pardon?”

“–In this world. God forgive me, I’d almost forgotten my cloth! We have, I say, only one life to live in this world, and must make the best of it. I tell you so, and I’m a clergyman.”

“Indeed, sir?”

“Damme, yes; and, what’s more, I’ll take odds that I’m not the rector of this very parish.”

By this time, as you will guess, I had no doubt of his madness. To begin with, anyone less like a parson it would be hard to pick in a crowd, and, besides, I remembered some of his language to the highwaymen.

“It ought to be hereabouts,” he went on meditatively. “And if it should turn out to be my parish we must make an effort to get your money back, if only for our credit’s sake, hey?”

“Oh,” said I, suspicious all of a sudden, “if these ruffians are your parishioners and you know them–“

“Know them?” he caught me up. “How the devil should I know them? I’ve never been within a hundred miles of this country in my life.”

“You say ’tis your parish–“

“I don’t. I only say that it may be.”

“But, excuse me, if you’ve never seen it before–“

“I don’t see it now,” he snapped.

“Then excuse me again, but how on earth do you propose–here in the dead of night, on an outlandish moorland, in a country you have never seen–to discover a chest of treasure which seven or eight scoundrelly, able-bodied natives are at this moment making off with and hiding?”

“The problem, my friend, as you state it is too easy; too ridiculously easy. ‘Natives’ you say: I only hope they may be. The difficulty will only begin if we discover them to be strangers to these parts.”

“Have mercy then on my poor dull wits, sir, and take the case at its easiest. We’ll suppose these fellows to be natives. Still, how are you to discover their whereabouts and the whereabouts of my pay-chest?”

“Why, man alive, by the simple expedient of finding a house, knocking at the door, and asking! You don’t suppose, do you, that seven or eight able-bodied men can commit highway robbery upon one of His Majesty’s coaches and their neighbours be none the wiser? I tell you, these rural parishes are the veriest gossip-shops on earth. Go to a city if you want to lose a secret, not to a God-forsaken moor like this around us, where every labourer’s thatch hums with rumour. Moreover, you forget that as a parish priest among this folk–as curator of their souls–I may have unusually good opportunities–” Here he checked himself, while I shrugged my shoulders. “By the way, it may interest you to hear how I came by this benefice. Can you manage to walk? If so, I will tell you on the road, and we shall be losing no time.”

I stood up and announced that I could limp a little. He offered me his arm.

“It’s an instructive story,” he went on, paying no heed to my dejection; “and it may teach you how a man should comport himself in adversity. Six weeks ago this very night I lost two fortunes in less than six hours. You are listening?”

“With what patience I can.”

“Right. You see, I was born with a taste for adventure. At this moment– you may believe it or not–I’m enjoying myself thoroughly. But the deuce of it is that I was also born with a poor flimsy body. Come, I’m not handsomely built, am I?”

“Not particularly,” I answered; and indeed his body was shaped like an egg.

“Confound it, sir, you needn’t agree quite so offensively. You’re none too straight in the legs yourself, if it comes to that! However,” he continued in a more equable tone, “being weak in body, I sought my adventures in a quarter where a long head serves one better than long legs–I mean the gaming table. Now comes my story. Six weeks ago I took a hand at lasquenet in a company which included a nobleman whom for obvious reasons I will only call the Duke. He is of the blood royal, sir; but I mention him no more closely, and you as a gentleman will not press me. Eh? Very well. By three o’clock in the morning I had lost fifteen thousand pounds. In such a case, young man, you would probably have taken your head in your hands and groaned. We called for wine, drank, and went on again. By seven in the morning I had won my money back, and was the Duke’s creditor for twenty-two thousand pounds to boot.”

See also  The Case Of Lady Sannox by Arthur Conan Doyle

“But,” said I, “a minute ago you told me you had lost two fortunes.”

“I am coming to that. Later in the day the Duke met me in St. James’ Street, and said, ‘Noy’–my name is Noy, sir, Timothy Noy–‘Noy,’ said he, ‘I owe you twenty-two thousand pounds; and begad, sir, it’s a desperate business for I haven’t the money, nor the half of it.’ Well, I didn’t fly out in a rage, but stood there beside him on the pavement, tapping my shoe with my walking-cane and considering. At last I looked up, and said I, ‘Your Grace must forgive my offering a suggestion; for ’tis a cursedly awkward fix your Grace is in, and one to excuse boldness in a friend, however humble.’ ‘Don’t put it so, I beg,’ said he. ‘My dear Noy, if you can only tell me how to get quits with you, I’ll be your debtor eternally.’”

The old gentleman paused, lightly disengaged his arm from mine, and fumbled among his many waistcoats till he found a pocket and in it a snuff-box.

“Now that,” he pursued as he helped himself to a pinch, “was, for so exalted a personage, passably near a mot. ‘Your Grace,’ said I, ‘has a large Church patronage.’ ‘To be sure I have.’ ‘And possibly a living–with an adequate stipend for a bachelor–might be vacant just now?’ ‘As it happens,’ said the Duke, ‘I have a couple at this moment waiting for my presentation, and two stacks of letters, each a foot high, from applicants and the friends of applicants, waiting for my perusal.’ ‘Might I make bold,’ I asked, ‘to enquire their worth?’ ‘There’s one in Norwich worth 900 pounds a year, and another in Cornwall worth 400. But how the deuce can this concern you, man?’ ‘The cards are too expensive for me, your Grace, and I have often made terms with myself that I would repent of them and end my days in a country living. This comes suddenly, to be sure; but so, for that matter, does death itself, and a man who makes a vow should hold himself ready to be taken at his word.’ ‘But, my dear fellow,’ cries his Grace, ‘with the best will in the world you can’t repent and end your days in two livings at once.’ ‘I might try my best,’ said I; ‘there are such things as curates to be hired, I believe, and, at the worst, I was always fond of travelling.’”

The Reverend Timothy stowed away his snuff-box and gave me his arm again.

“The Duke,” he continued, “took my point. He is, by the way, not half such a fool as he looks and is vulgarly supposed to be. He wrote that same day to his brother-in-law (whom I will take leave to call the Bishop of Wexcester), and made me its bearer. It is worth quotation. It ran: ‘Dear Ted,–Ordain Noy, and oblige yours, Fred.’ The answer which I carried back two days later was equally laconic. ‘Dear Fred,–Noy ordained. Yours, Ted.’ Consequently,” wound up Mr. Noy, “I am down here to take over my cure of souls, and had in one of my pockets a sermon composed for my induction by a gifted young scholar of the University of Oxford. I paid him fifteen shillings and the best part of a bottle of brandy for it. The rascals have taken it, and I think they will find some difficulty in converting it into cash. Hullo! is that a cottage yonder?”

It was a small cottage, thatched and whitewashed, and glimmering in the moonlight beside the road on which its whitewashed garden-wall abutted. The moonlight, too, showed that its upper windows were closed with wooden shutters. Mr. Noy halted before the garden-gate.

“H’m, we shall have trouble here belike. Poor cottagers living beside a highroad don’t open too easily at this hour to a couple of come-by-chance wayfarers. To be sure, you wear the King’s uniform, and that may be a recommendation. What’s that track yonder, and where does it lead, think you?”

The track to which he pointed led off the road at right angles, past the gable-end of the cottage, and thence (as it seemed to me) up into the moorland, where it was quickly lost in darkness, being but a rutted cartway overgrown with grass. But as I stepped close to examine it my eye caught the moon’s ray softly reflected by a pile of masonry against the uncertain sky-line, and by-and-by discerned the roof and chimney-stacks of a farmhouse, with a grey cluster of outbuildings and the quadrilateral of a high-walled garden.

“A farmhouse?” cried his reverence, when I reported my discovery. “That’s more in our line by a long way. Only beware of dogs.”

Sure enough, when we reached the courtlage gate in front of the main building his lifting of the latch was the signal for half a dozen dogs to give tongue. By the mercy of heaven, however, they were all within doors or chained, and after an anxious and unpleasant half-minute we made bold to defy their clamour and step within the gate. Almost as we entered a window was opened overhead, and a man’s voice challenged us.

“Whoever you be, I’ve a gun in my hand here!” he announced.

“We are two travellers by the mail coach,” Mr. Noy announced; “one a clergyman and the other an officer in the King’s service.”

“You don’t tell me the coach is upset?”

“And one of us has a broken collar-bone, and craves shelter in Christian charity. What’s the name of this parish?”

“Hey?” The man broke off to silence the noise of his dogs.

“What’s the name of this parish?”

“Braddock.”

“I thought so. Then mine is Noy–Timothy Noy–and I’m your rector. Weren’t you expecting me?”

See also  Cafe Des Exiles by George Washington Cable

“Indeed, sir, if you’re Mr. Noy, the Squire had word you might be coming down this week; and ’twas I, as churchwarden, that posted your name on the church door. If you’ll wait a moment, sir–the coach upset, you say!”

He disappeared from the window, and we heard him shouting to awaken the household. By-and-by the door was unchained and he admitted us, exclaiming again, “The coach upset, you say, sir!”

“Worse than that: it has been robbed. We keep some bad characters in our parish, Mr.–“

“Menhennick, sir; George Menhennick–and this is Tresaher Farm. Bad characters, sir? I hope not. We keep no highway robbers in this parish.”

He faced us, rush-lamp in hand, in his great vaulted kitchen, and the light fell on an honest, puzzled face. As for Mr. Noy’s face, I regret to say that it fell when he heard this vindication of his flock.

“I brought ye into the kitchen, sirs,” went on Farmer Menhennick, “because ’tis cosier. We keep a fire banked up here all night.” He bent to revive it, but desisted as his wife entered with one of the house-wenches, and gave them orders to light a lamp, fetch a billet or two of wood, and make the place cheerful.

My face, I daresay, and the news of the robbery, scared the two women, who went about their work at once with a commendable quietness. But I think it was a whisper from the maidservant which caused the farmer to ejaculate, as he helped me to a chair:

“And you’ve walked across Blackadon Down at this hour of night! My word, sirs, and saving your reverence, but you had a nerve, if you’d only known it!”

“Why, what’s the matter with Blackadon?” asked Mr. Noy sharply.

Farmer Menhennick faced him with a deprecatory grin.

“Nothing, sir–leastways, nothing more than old woman’s tales, not worth a man’s heeding.”

“Has it by chance,” said I, “anything to do with a hearse?”

“A hearse!” Mr. Noy stared at me, and then his eye fell on the farmer, who had been helping to unbutton my tunic, but was now drawn back a pace from me with amazement written all over his honest face. “A hearse?” repeated Mr. Noy.

“Why, however–” began the farmer, with his eyes slowly widening.

“A hearse,” said I, “with black nodding plumes and (I believe) a headless driver. Let me see–” I began to hum the air sung by Jim the guard:–

“The wheels go round without a sound–“

The two women had dropped their work and stood peering at me, the pair of them quaking.

“He’s seen it–he’s seen it!” gasped the farmer’s wife.

“A hearse?” cried Mr. Noy once more, and this time almost in a scream. “When? where?”

“On Blackadon Down, sir,” answered Mr. Menhennick. “‘Tis an old story that the moor’s haunted, and folks have been putting it round that the thing’s been seen two or three times lately. But there–’tis nothing to pay any heed to.”

“Oh, isn’t it!”

“You understand, sir, ’tisn’t a real hearse–“

“Oh, isn’t it!” repeated Mr. Noy in scorn.

“And you, sir–” He had almost caught and shaken me by the collar, but remembered my hurt just in time. “And do you, sir, sit there and tell me that you’ve known this all along, and yet–oh, you numskull!” He flung up two protesting hands.

“But even if it’s a real hearse–” I began.

“That’s the kind most frequently met, I believe. And ‘the wheels go round without a sound.’ Yes, they would–on Blackadon turf! Any more questions? No? Then I’ll take my turn with a few.” He wheeled round upon the farmer. “Ever seen it yourself?”

“No, sir.”

“Has anyone here seen it?”

No; but the maidservant’s father had seen it, three weeks ago–the very night that Squire Granville’s house was tried–

Mr. Noy was almost capering. “Splendid!” he cried. “Splendid! That will sharpen his temper if it don’t his wits. The Squire’s house was tried, you say?” He turned on the farmer again. “Hullo, my friend! I understood there were no law-breakers in this parish?”

“‘Tisn’t known for certain that the house was tried,” the farmer explained. “‘Tis thought that some of the lads was giving the old boy a scare, he having been extra sharp on the poaching this year. All that’s known is, he heard some person trying his shutters, and let fly out of his bedroom window with a gun; and what you can build on that I don’t see.”

“You shall though.” He began to cross-examine the girl. “At what time that night did your father see the hearse?”

“I believe, sir, ’twas soon after eleven. He has a cow, sir, in calf, and went round to the chall to make sure she was all right–“

Mr. Noy nodded. “And the hearse was passing–in what direction?”

“Towards the church town, sir; or, as you may say, towards St. Neot parish.”

“Inland, that is?”

“Yes, sir. But later on that same night Reub Clyma, up to Taphouse, saw it too; and this time ’twas moving fast and making towards Polperro.”

“Fits like a puzzle. Is Polperro a seaport town?” he asked the farmer.

“A sort of fishing town, sir.”

“Your nearest? Good. And you reach it by a road running north and south across the coach-road? Good. Now if you wanted to drive to Polperro you could do so across the downs for some distance, eh? before striking this road. Good again. How far?”

“You’ll excuse me, but I don’t know that I rightly take your meaning.”

“Then we’ll go slower. Suppose that you wished to drive towards Polperro over turf, never minding the jolts, and not to strike into the hard road until you were compelled. How far could you contrive to travel in this way?”

See also  Myrtle by Erckmann Chatrian

Farmer Menhennick found a seat and sat scratching his head. “Three miles, maybe,” he decided at length.

“And what sort of road is this when you strike it?”

“Turnpike.”

“Indeed? And where’s the pike?”

“At Cann’s Gate.”

“That tells me nothing, I’m afraid; but we’ll put the question in another form. Suppose that we are forced at length to leave the turf and fields and strike into the road for Polperro. Now where would this happen? Some way beyond the turnpike, I imagine.”

“Indeed no, sir: it would be a mile on this side of the pike, or threequarters at the least.”

“You are sure?”

“Sure as I sit here. Why the road goes down a coombe; and before you get near the turnpike, the coombe narrows so.” The farmer illustrated the V by placing his hands at an angle.

Mr. Noy found his snuff-box, took a heavy pinch, inhaled it, and closed his box with a snap. Then he faced the farmer’s wife with a low bow.

“Madam,” said he, “you may put this young gentleman to bed, and the sooner the better. He has lost a large sum of money, which I am fairly confident I can recover for him without his help; and your parish–which is also mine–has lost its character, and this also I propose to recover. But to that end I must require your excellent husband to fetch out his trap and drive me with all speed to Squire Granville’s.” He paused, and added, “We are in luck to-night undoubtedly; but I fear I can promise him no such luck as to meet a hearse and headless driver on the way. . . . One moment, Mr. Menhennick! Have you such things as pen, ink and paper, and a farm-boy able to ride?”

“Certainly I have, sir.”

“Then while you are harnessing your nag, I’ll drop a line to the riding-officer at Polperro; and if after receipt of it he allows a single fishing-boat to leave the harbour, he’ll be sorry–that’s all. Now, sir–Eh? Why are you hesitating?”

“Well, indeed, your reverence knows best; and if you force me to drive over to Squire Granville’s, why then I must. But I warn you, sir, that he hunts to-morrow; and if, begging your pardon, you knew the old varmint’s temper on a hunting day in the morning–“

“Hunts, does he? D’ye mean that he keeps a pack of hounds?”

“Why, of course, sir!”

Farmer Menhennick’s accent was pathetically reproachful.

“God forgive me! And I didn’t know it–I, your rector! Your rebuke is just, Mr. Menhennick. And this Church of England of ours–I say it with shame–is full of scandals. Where do they meet to-day?”

“Four-barrow Hill, your reverence.”

“Oh, no, they don’t. On that point you really must allow me to correct you. If they meet at all, it will be at–what d’ye call it?– Cann’s Gate.”

And so they did. The Granville Hounds are, or were, a famous pack; but the great and golden day in their annals remains one on which they killed never a fox; a day’s hunting from which they trailed homewards behind a hearse driven in triumph by a very small clergyman without a head (for Mr. Noy had donned the very suit worn by Satan’s understudy, even to its high stock-collar pierced with eye-holes). That hearse contained my chest of treasure; and that procession is remembered in the parishes of Talland, Pelynt, Lanreath, and Braddock to this day.

I did not see it, alas! Bed claimed the invalid, and Mrs. Menhennick soothed him with her ministering attentions. But Parson Noy reported the day’s doings to me in a voice reasonably affected by deep potations at the “Punch Bowl Inn,” Lanreath.

“My son, it was glorious! First of all we ran the turnpike-man to earth, and frightened him into turning King’s evidence. He was at the bottom of the mischief, of course; and the hearse we found–where d’ye think? Close behind his house, sir, in a haystack–a haystack so neatly hollowed that it beat belief–with a movable screen of hay, which the rogues replaced when the coach was stowed! We found everything inside–masks, mourners’ hatbands, the whole bag of tricks; everything, barring your treasure, and that the preventive men dug out of the hold of an innocent-looking lugger on the point to sail for Guernsey. Four of the rascals, too, they routed up, that were stowed under decks and sleeping like angels.”

“And the coachman? And the guard?”

“Squire Granville has posted off half a dozen constables towards Falmouth; but I’ll lay odds that precious pair are on shipboard before this and heading out to sea. I’m sorry, too, for they were the wickedest villains of the piece; but they’ll be sorry before they have finished waiting at Guernsey. One can’t expect everything; and Providence has been mighty kind to us.”

“To me, at all events.”

“And to me, and to my parish.”

“Yes, to be sure,” said I; “the parish is well rid of such a bogey.”

“I wasn’t thinking of that,” said he dryly. “I’ve recovered my sermon.”

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *