The Cask Ashore by Arthur Quiller-Couch

Story type: Literature



At the head of a diminutive creek of the Tamar River, a little above Saltash on the Cornish shore, stands the village of Botusfleming; and in early summer, when its cherry-orchards come into bloom, you will search far before finding a prettier.

The years have dealt gently with Botusfleming. As it is to-day, so– or nearly so–it was on a certain sunny afternoon in the year 1807, when the Reverend Edward Spettigew, Curate-in-Charge, sat in the garden before his cottage and smoked his pipe while he meditated a sermon. That is to say, he intended to meditate a sermon. But the afternoon was warm: the bees hummed drowsily among the wallflowers and tulips. From the bench his eyes followed the vale’s descent between overlapping billows of cherry blossom to a gap wherein shone the silver Tamar–not, be it understood, the part called Hamoaze, where lay the warships and the hulks containing the French prisoners, but an upper reach seldom troubled by shipping.

Parson Spettigew laid the book face-downwards on his knee while his lips murmured a part of the text he had chosen: “A place of broad rivers and streams . . . wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. . . .” His pipe went out. The book slipped from his knee to the ground. He slumbered.

The garden gate rattled, and he awoke with a start. In the pathway below him stood a sailor; a middle-sized, middle-aged man, rigged out in best shore-going clothes–shiny tarpaulin hat, blue coat and waistcoat, shirt open at the throat, and white duck trousers with broad-buckled waistbelt.

“Beggin’ your Reverence’s pardon,” began the visitor, touching the brim of his hat, and then upon second thoughts uncovering, “but my name’s Jope–Ben Jope.”

“Eh? . . . What can I do for you?” asked Parson Spettigew, a trifle flustered at being caught napping.

“–Of the Vesoovius bomb, bo’s’n,” pursued Mr. Jope, with a smile that disarmed annoyance, so ingenuous it was, so friendly, and withal so respectful: “but paid off at eight this morning. Maybe your Reverence can tell me whereabouts to find an embalmer in these parts?”

“A–a what?”

“Embalmer.” Mr. Jope chewed thoughtfully for a moment or two upon a quid of tobacco. “Sort of party you’d go to supposin’ as you had a corpse by you and wanted to keep it for a permanency. You take a lot of gums and spices, and first of all you lays out the deceased, and next–“

“Yes, yes,” the Parson interrupted hurriedly; “I know the process, of course.”

“What? to practise it?” Hope illumined Mr. Jope’s countenance.

“No, most certainly not. . . . But, my good man,–an embalmer! and at Botusfleming, of all places!”

The sailor’s face fell. He sighed patiently.

“That’s what they said at Saltash, more or less. I got a sister living there–Sarah Treleaven her name is–a widow-woman, and sells fish. When I called on her this morning, ‘Embalmer?’ she said; ‘Go and embalm your grandmother!’ Those were her words, and the rest of Saltash wasn’t scarcely more helpful. But, as luck would have it, while I was searchin’, Bill Adams went for a shave, and inside of the barber’s shop what should he see but a fair-sized otter in a glass case? Bill began to admire it, and it turned out the barber had stuffed the thing. Maybe your Reverence knows the man?–‘A. Grigg and Son,’ he calls hisself.”

“Grigg? Yes, to be sure: he stuffed a trout for me last summer.”

“What weight, makin’ so bold?”

“Seven pounds.”

Mr. Jope’s face fell again.

“Well-a-well! I dare say the size don’t matter, once you’ve got the knack. We’ve brought him along, anyway; and, what’s more, we’ve made him bring all his tools. By his talk, he reckons it to be a shavin’ job, and we agreed to wait before we undeceived him.”

“But–you’ll excuse me–I don’t quite follow–“

Mr. Jope pressed a forefinger mysteriously to his lip, then jerked a thumb in the direction of the river.

“If your Reverence wouldn’ mind steppin’ down to the creek with me?” he suggested respectfully.

Parson Spettigew fetched his hat, and together the pair descended the vale beneath the dropping petals of the cherry. At the foot of it they came to a creek, which the tide at this hour had flooded and almost overbrimmed. Hard by the water’s edge, backed by tall elms, stood a dilapidated fish-store, and below it lay a boat with nose aground on a beach of flat stones. Two men were in the boat. The barber–a slip of a fellow in rusty top-hat and suit of rusty black–sat in the stern-sheets face to face with a large cask; a cask so ample that, to find room for his knees, he was forced to crook them at a high, uncomfortable angle. In the bows, boathook in hand, stood a tall sailor, arrayed in shore-going clothes similar to Mr. Jope’s. His face was long, sallow, and expressive of taciturnity, and he wore a beard–not, however, where beards are usually worn, but as a fringe beneath his clean-shaven chin.

“Well, here we are!” announced Mr. Jope cheerfully. “Your Reverence knows A. Grigg and Son, and the others you can trust in all weathers; bein’ William Adams, otherwise Bill, and Eli Tonkin–friends o’ mine an’ shipmates both.”

The tall seaman touched his hat by way of acknowledging the introduction.

“But–but I only see one!” protested Parson Spettigew.

“This here’s Bill Adams,” said Mr. Jope, and again the tall seaman touched his hat. “Is it Eli you’re missin’? He’s in the cask.”


“We’ll hoick him up to the store, Bill, if you’re ready? It looks a nice cool place. And while you’re prizin’ him open, I’d best explain to his Reverence and the barber. Here, unship the shore-plank; and you, A. Grigg and Son, lend a hand to heave. . . . Aye, you’re right: it weighs more’n a trifle–bein’ a quarter-puncheon, an’ the best proof-spirits. Tilt her this way, . . . Ready? . . . then w’y-ho! and away she goes!”

With a heave and a lurch that canted the boat until the water poured over her gunwale, the huge tub was rolled overside into shallow water. The recoil, as the boat righted herself, cast the small barber off his balance, and he fell back over a thwart with heels in air. But before he picked himself up, the two seamen, encouraging one another with strange cries, had leapt out and were trundling the cask up the beach, using the flats of their hands. With another w’y-ho! and a tremendous lift, they ran it up to the turfy plat, whence Bill Adams steered it with ease through the ruinated doorway of the store. Mr. Jope returned, smiling and mopping his brow.

“It’s this-a-way,” he said, addressing the Parson. “Eli Tonkin his name is, or was; and, as he said, of this parish.”

“Tonkin?” queried the Parson. “There are no Tonkins surviving in Botusfleming parish. The last of them was a poor old widow I laid to rest the week after Christmas.”

“Belay there! . . . Dead, is she?” Mr. Jope’s face exhibited the liveliest disappointment. “And after the surprise we’d planned for her!” he murmured ruefully. “Hi! Bill!” he called to his shipmate, who having stored the cask, was returning to the boat.

“Wot is it?” asked Bill Adams inattentively. “Look here, where did we stow the hammer an’ chisel?”

“Take your head out o’ the boat an’ listen. The old woman’s dead!”

The tall man absorbed the news slowly.

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“That’s a facer,” he said at length. “But maybe we can fix her up, too? I’ll stand my share.”

“She was buried the week after Christmas.”

“Oh?” Bill scratched his head. “Then we can’t–not very well.”

“Times an’ again I’ve heard Eli talk of his poor old mother,” said Mr. Jope, turning to the Parson. “Which you’ll hardly believe it, but though I knowed him for a West Country man, ’twas not till the last I larned what parish he hailed from. It happened very curiously. Bill, rout up A. Grigg and Son, an’ fetch him forra’d here to listen. You’ll find the tools underneath him in the stern-sheets.”

Bill obeyed, and possessing himself of hammer and chisel lounged off to the shore. The little barber drew near, and stood at Mr. Jope’s elbow. His face wore an unhealthy pallor, and he smelt potently of strong drink.

“Brandy it is,” apologised Mr. Jope, observing a slight contraction of the Parson’s nostril. “I reckoned ‘twould tauten him a bit for what’s ahead. . . . Well, as I was sayin’, it happened very curiously. This day fortnight we were beatin’ up an’ across the Bay o’ Biscay, after a four months’ to-an’-fro game in front of Toolon Harbour. Blowin’ fresh it was, an’ we makin’ pretty poor weather of it–the Vesoovius bein’ a powerful wet tub, an’ a slug at the best o’ times. ‘Tisn’ her fault, you understand: aboard a bombship everything’s got to be heavy–timbers, scantling, everything about her–to stand the concussion. What with this an’ her mortars, she sits pretty low; but to make up for it, what with all this dead weight, and bein’ short-sparred, she can carry all sail in a breeze that would surprise you. Well, sir, for two days she’d been carryin’ canvas that fairly smothered us, an’ Cap’n Crang not a man to care how we fared forra’d, so long as the water didn’ reach aft to his own quarters. But at last the First Lootenant, Mr. Wapshott, took pity on us, and–the Cap’n bein’ below, takin’ his nap after dinner–sends the crew o’ the maintop aloft to take a reef in the tops’le. Poor Eli was one. Whereby the men had scarcely reached the top afore Cap’n Crang comes up from his cabin an’ along the deck, not troublin’ to cast an eye aloft. Whereby he missed what was happenin’. Whereby he had just come abreast of the mainmast, when–sock at his very feet–there drops a man. ‘Twas Eli, that had missed his hold, an’ dropped somewhere on the back of his skull. ‘Hallo!’ says the Cap’n, ‘an’ where the devil might you come from?’ Eli heard it, poor fellow–an’ says he, as I lifted him, ‘If you please, sir, from Botusfleming, three miles t’other side of Saltash.’ ‘Then you’ve had a damn quick passage,’ answers Cap’n Crang, an’ turns on his heel.

“Well, sir, we all agreed the Cap’n might ha’ showed more feelin’, specially as poor Eli’d broke the base of his skull, an’ by eight bells handed in the number of his mess. Five or six of us talked it over, agreein’ as how ’twas hardly human, an’ Eli such a good fellow, too, let alone bein’ a decent seaman. Whereby the notion came to me that, as he’d come from Botusfieming–those bein’ his last words– back to Botusfleming he should go, an’ on that we cooked up a plan. Bill Adams being on duty in the sick-bay, there wasn’ no difficulty in sewin’ up a dummy in Eli’s place; an’ the dummy, sir, nex’ day we dooly committed to the deep, Cap’n Crang hisself readin’ the service. The real question was, what to do with Eli? Whereby, the purser and me bein’ friends, I goes to him an’ says, ‘Look here,’ I says, ‘we’ll be paid off in ten days or so, an’ there’s a trifle o’ prize-money, too. ‘What price’ll you sell us a cask o’ the ship’s rum–say a quarter-puncheon for choice?’ ‘What for?’ says he. ‘For shore-going purposes,’ says I. ‘Bill Adams an’ me got a use for it.’ ‘Well,’ says the purser–a decent chap, an’ by name Wilkins–‘I’m an honest man,’ says he, ‘an’ to oblige a friend you shall have it at store-valuation rate. An’ what’s more,’ said he, ‘I got the wind o’ your little game, an’ll do what I can to help it along; for I al’ays liked the deceased, an’ in my opinion Captain Crang behaved most unfeelin’. You tell Bill to bring the body to me, an’ there’ll be no more trouble about it till I hand you over the cask at Plymouth.’ Well, sir, the man was as good as his word. We smuggled the cask ashore last evenin’, an’ hid it in the woods this side o’ Mount Edgcumbe. This mornin’ we re-shipped it as you see. First along we intended no more than just to break the news to Eli’s mother, an’ hand him over to her; but Bill reckoned that to hand him over, cask an’ all, would look careless; for (as he said) ’twasn’ as if you could bury‘im in a cask. We allowed your Reverence would draw the line at that, though we hadn’ the pleasure o’ knowin’ you at the time.”

“Yes,” agreed the Parson, as Mr. Jope paused, “I fear it could not be done without scandal.”

“That’s just how Bill put it. ‘Well then,’ says I, thinkin’ it over, ‘why not do the handsome while we’re about it? You an’ me ain’t the sort of men,’ I says, ‘to spoil the ship for a ha’porth o’ tar.’ ‘Certainly we ain’t,’ says Bill. ‘An’ we’ve done a lot for Eli,’ says I. ‘We have,’ says Bill. ‘Well then,’ says I, ‘let’s put a coat o’ paint on the whole business an’ have him embalmed.’ Bill was enchanted.”

“I–I beg your pardon,” put in the barber, edging away a pace.

“Bill was enchanted. Hark to him in the store, there, knockin’ away at the chisel.”

“But there’s some misunderstanding,” the little man protested earnestly. “I understood it was to be a shave.”

“You can shave him, too, if you like.”

“If I th–thought you were s–serious–“

“Have some more brandy.” Mr. Jope pulled out and proffered a flask. “Only don’t overdo it, or it’ll make your hand shaky. . . . Serious? You may lay to it that Bill’s serious. He’s that set on the idea, it don’t make no difference to him, as you may have noticed, Eli’s mother not bein’ alive to take pleasure in it. Why, he wanted to embalm her, too! He’s doin’ this now for his own gratification, is Bill, an’ you may take it from me when Bill sets his heart on a thing he sees it through. Don’t you cross him, that’s my advice.”


“No, you don’t.” As the little man made a wild spring to flee up the beach, Mr. Jope shot out a hand and gripped him by the coat collar. “Now look here,” he said very quietly, as the poor wretch would have grovelled at the Parson’s feet, “you was boastin’ to Bill, not an hour agone, as you could stuff anything.”

“Don’t hurt him,” Parson Spettigew interposed, touching Mr. Jope’s arm.

“I’m not hurtin’ him, your Reverence, only–Eh? What’s that?”

All turned their faces towards the store.

“Your friend is calling to you,” said the Parson.

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“Bad language, too . . . that’s not like Bill, as a rule. Ahoy there, Bill!”

“Ahoy!” answered the voice of Mr. Adams.

“What’s up?” Without waiting for an answer Mr. Jope ran the barber before him up the beach to the doorway, the Parson following. “What’s up?” he demanded again, as he drew breath.

“Take an’ see for yourself,” answered Mr. Adams darkly, pointing with his chisel.

A fine fragrance of rum permeated the store.

Mr. Jope advanced, and peered into the staved cask.

“Gone?” he exclaimed, and gazed around blankly.

Bill Adams nodded.

“But where?. . . You don’t say he’s dissolved?”

“It ain’t the usual way o’ rum. An’ it is rum?”

Bill appealed to the Parson.

“By the smell, undoubtedly.”

“I tell you what’s happened. That fool of a Wilkins has made a mistake in the cask. . . .”

“An’ Eli?–oh, Lord!” gasped Mr. Jope.

“They’ll have returned Eli to the Victuallin’ Yard before this,” said Bill gloomily. “I overheard Wilkins sayin’ as he was to pass over all stores an’ accounts at nine-thirty this mornin’.”

“An’, once there, who knows where he’s got mixed? . . . He’ll go the round o’ the Fleet, maybe. Oh, my word, an’ the ship that broaches him!”

Bill Adams opened and shut his mouth quickly, like a fish ashore.

“They’ll reckon they’ve got a lucky-bag,” he said weakly.

“An’ Wilkins paid off with the rest, an’ no address, even if he could help–which I doubt.”

“Eh? I got a note from Wilkins, as it happens.” Bill Adams took off his tarpaulin hat, and extracted a paper from the lining of the crown. “He passed it down to me this mornin’ as I pushed off from the ship. Said I was to keep it, an’ maybe I’d find it useful. I wondered what he meant at the time, me takin’ no particular truck with pursers ashore. . . . It crossed my mind as I’d heard he meant to get married, and maybe he wanted me to stand best man at the weddin’. W’ich I didn’ open the note at the time; not likin’ to refuse him, after he’d behaved so well to me.”

“Pass it over,” commanded Mr. Jope. He took the paper and unfolded it, but either the light was dim within the store, or the handwriting hard to decipher. “Would your Reverence read it out for us?”

Parson Spettigew carried the paper to the doorway. He read its contents aloud, and slowly:

To Mr. Bill Adams,

Capt. of the Fore-top, H.M.S. Vesuvius.

Sir,–It was a dummy Capt. Crang buried. We cast the late E. Tonkin overboard the second night in lat. 46/30, long. 7/15, or thereabouts. By which time the feeling aboard had cooled down and it seemed a waste of good spirit. The rum you paid for is good rum. Hoping that you and Mr. Jope will find a use for it,

Your obedient servant,
S. Wilkins.

There was a long pause, through which Mr. Adams could be heard breathing hard.

“But what are we to do with it?” asked Mr. Jope, scratching his head in perplexity.

“Drink it. Wot else?”

“But where?”

“Oh,” said Mr. Adams, “anywhere!”

“That’s all very well,” replied his friend. “You never had no property, an’ don’t know its burdens. We’ll have to hire a house for this, an’ live there till it’s finished.”



St. Dilp by Tamar has altered little in a hundred years. As it stands to-day, embowered in cherry-trees, so (or nearly so) it stood on that warm afternoon in the early summer of 1807, when two weather-tanned seamen of His Majesty’s Fleet came along its fore street with a hand-barrow and a huge cask very cunningly lashed thereto. On their way they eyed the cottages and gardens to right and left with a lively curiosity; but “Lord, Bill,” said the shorter seaman, misquoting Wordsworth unawares, “the werry houses look asleep!”

At the “Punch-Bowl” Inn, kept by J. Coyne, they halted by silent consent. Mr. William Adams, who had been trundling the barrow, set it down, and Mr. Benjamin Jope–whose good-natured face would have recommended him anywhere–walked into the drinking-parlour and rapped on the table. This brought to him the innkeeper’s daughter, Miss Elizabeth, twenty years old and comely. “What can I do for you, sir?” she asked.

“Two pots o’ beer, first-along,” said Mr. Jope.


“I got a shipmate outside.”

Miss Elizabeth fetched the two pots.

“Here, Bill!” he called, carrying one to the door. Returning, he blew at the froth on his own pot meditatively. “And the next thing is, I want a house.”

“A house?”

“‘Stonishing echo you keep here. . . . Yes, miss, a house. My name’s Jope–Ben Jope–o’ the Vesuvius bomb, bo’s’un; but paid off at eight this morning. My friend outside goes by the name of Bill Adams; an’ you’ll find him livelier than he looks. Everyone does. But I forgot; you ha’n’t seen him yet, and he can’t come in, havin’ to look after the cask.”

“The ca–” Miss Elizabeth had almost repeated the word, but managed to check herself.

“You ought to consult someone about it, at your age,” said Mr. Jope solicitously. “Yes, the cask. Rum it is, an’ a quarter-puncheon. Bill and me clubbed an’ bought it off the purser las’ night, the chaplain havin’ advised us not to waste good prize-money ashore but invest it in something we really wanted. But I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed how often one thing leads to another. You can’t go drinkin’ out a quarter-puncheon o’ rum in the high road, not very well. So the next thing is, we want a house.”

“But,” said the girl, “who ever heard of a house to let hereabouts!”

Mr. Jope’s face fell.

“Ain’t there none? An’ it seemed so retired, too, an’ handy near Plymouth.”

“There’s not a house to let in St. Dilp parish, unless it be the Rectory.”

Mr. Jope’s face brightened.

“Then we’ll take the Rectory,” he said. “Where is it?”

“Down by the river. . . . But ’tis nonsense you’re tellin’. The Rectory indeed! Why, it’s a seat!”

Mr. Jope’s face clouded.

“Oh,” he said, “is that all?”

“It’s a fine one, too.”

“It’d have to be, to accomydate Bill an’ me an’ the cask. I wanted a house, as I thought I told ye.”

“Oh, but I meant a country-seat,” explained Miss Elizabeth. “The Rectory is a house.”

Again Mr. Jope’s face brightened.

“An’ so big,” she went on, “that the Rector can’t afford to live in it. That’s why ’tis to let. The rent’s forty pound.”

“Can I see him?”

“No, you can’t; for he lives up to Lunnon an’ hires Parson Spettigew of Botusfleming to do the work. But it’s my father has the lettin’ o’ the Rectory if a tenant comes along. He keeps the keys.”

“Then I ‘d like to talk with your father.”

“No you wouldn’t,” said the girl frankly; “because he’s asleep. Father drinks a quart o’ cider at three o’clock every day of his life, an’ no one don’t dare disturb him before six.”

“Well, I like reggilar habits,” said Mr. Jope, diving a hand into his breeches’ pocket and drawing forth a fistful of golden guineas. “But couldn’t you risk it?”

Miss Elizabeth’s eyes wavered.

“No, I couldn’,” she sighed, shaking her head. “Father’s very violent in his temper. But I tell you what,” she added: “I might fetch the keys, and you might go an’ see the place for yourself.”

“Capital,” said Mr. Jope. While she was fetching these he finished his beer. Then, having insisted on paying down a guinea for earnest-money, he took the keys and her directions for finding the house. She repeated them in the porch for the benefit of the taller seaman; who, as soon as she had concluded, gripped the handles of his barrow afresh and set off without a word. She gazed after the pair as they passed down the street.

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At the foot of it a by-lane branched off towards the creek-side. It led them past a churchyard and a tiny church almost smothered in cherry-trees–for the churchyard was half an orchard: past a tumbling stream, a mill and some wood-stacks; and so, still winding downwards, brought them to a pair of iron gates, rusty and weather-greened. The gates stood unlocked; and our two seamen found themselves next in a carriage-drive along which it was plain no carriage had passed for a very long while. It was overgrown with weeds, and straggling laurels encroached upon it on either hand; and as it rounded one of these laurels Mr. Jope caught his breath sharply.

“Lor’ lumme!” he exclaimed. “It is a seat, as the gel said!”

Mr. Adams, following close with the wheelbarrow, set it down, stared, and said:

“Then she’s a liar. It’s a house.”

“It’s twice the size of a three-decker, anyway,” said his friend, and together they stood and contemplated the building.

It was a handsome pile of old brickwork, set in a foundation of rock almost overhanging the river–on which, however, it turned its back; in design, an oblong of two storeys, with a square tower at each of the four corners, and the towers connected by a parapet of freestone. The windows along the front were regular, and those on the ground-floor less handsome than those of the upper floor, where (it appeared) were the staterooms. For–strangest feature of all– the main entrance was in this upper storey, with a dozen broad steps leading down to the unkempt carriage-way and a lawn, across which a magnificent turkey oak threw dark masses of shadow.

But the house was a picture of decay. Unpainted shutters blocked the windows; tall grasses sprouted in the crevices of the entrance steps and parapet; dislodged slates littered the drive; smears of old rains ran down the main roof and from a lantern of which the louvers were all in ruin, some hanging by a nail, others blown on edge by long-past gales. The very nails had rusted out of the walls, and the creepers they should have supported hung down in ropy curtains.

Mr. Adams scratched his head.

“What I’d like to know,” said he after a while, “is how to get the cask up them steps.”

“There’ll be a cellar-door for sartin,” Mr. Jope assured him cheerfully. “You don’t suppose the gentry takes their beer in at the front, hey?”

“This,” said Mr. Adams, “is rum; which is a totally different thing.” But he set down his barrow, albeit reluctantly, and followed his shipmate up the entrance steps. The front door was massive, and sheeted over with lead embossed in foliate and heraldic patterns. Mr. Jope inserted the key, turned it with some difficulty, and pushed the door wide. It opened immediately upon the great hall, and after a glance within he removed his hat.

The hall, some fifty feet long, ran right across the waist of the house, and was lit by tall windows at either end. Its floor was of black and white marble in lozenge pattern. Three immense chandeliers depended from its roof. Along each of the two unpierced walls, against panels of peeling stucco, stood a line of statuary–heathen goddesses, fauns, athletes and gladiators, with here and there a vase or urn copied from the antique. The furniture consisted of half a dozen chairs, a settee, and an octagon table, all carved out of wood in pseudo-classical patterns, and painted with a grey wash to resemble stone.

“It’s a fine room,” said Mr. Jope, walking up to a statue of Diana: “but a man couldn’ hardly invite a mixed company to dinner here.”

“Symonds’s f’r instance,” suggested Mr. Adams. Symonds’s being a somewhat notorious boarding-house in a street of Plymouth which shall be nameless.

“You ought to be ashamed o’ yourself, Bill,” said Mr. Jope sternly.

“They’re anticks, that’s what they are.”

Mr. Adams drew a long breath.

“I shouldn’ wonder,” he said.

“Turnin’ ’em wi’ their faces to the wall ‘d look too marked,” mused Mr. Jope. “But a few tex o’ Scripture along the walls might ease things down a bit.”

“Wot about the hold?” Mr. Adams suggested.

“The cellar, you mean. Let’s have a look.”

They passed through the hall; thence down a stone stairway into an ample vaulted kitchen, and thence along a slate-flagged corridor flanked by sculleries, larders and other kitchen offices. The two seamen searched the floors of all in hope of finding a cellar trap or hatchway, and Mr. Adams was still searching when Mr. Jope called to him from the end of the corridor:

“Here we are!”

He had found a flight of steps worthy of a cathedral crypt, leading down to a stone archway. The archway was closed by an iron-studded door.

“It’s like goin’ to church,” commented Mr. Jope, bating his voice. “Where’s the candles, Bill?”

“In the barrer ‘long wi’ the bread an’ bacon.”

“Then step back and fetch ’em.”

But from the foot of the stairs Mr. Jope presently called up that this was unnecessary, for the door had opened to his hand–smoothly, too, and without noise; but he failed to note this as strange, being taken aback for the moment by a strong draught of air that met him, blowing full in his face.

“There’s daylight here, too, of a sort,” he reported: and so there was. It pierced the darkness in a long shaft, slanting across from a doorway of which the upper panel stood open to the sky.

“Funny way o’ leavin’ a house,” he muttered, as he stepped across the bare cellar floor and peered forth. “Why, hallo, here’s water!”

The cellar, in fact, stood close by the river’s edge, with a broad postern-sill actually overhanging the tide, and a flight of steps, scarcely less broad, curving up and around the south-west angle of the house.

While Mr. Jope studied these and the tranquil river flowing, all grey and twilit, at his feet, Mr. Adams had joined him and had also taken bearings.

“With a check-rope,” said Mr. Adams, “–and I got one in the barrer– we can lower it down here easy.”

He pointed to the steps.

“Hey?” said Mr. Jope. “Yes, the cask–to be sure.”

“Wot else?” said Mr. Adams. “An’ I reckon we’d best get to work, if we’re to get it housed afore dark.”

They did so: but by the time they had the cask bestowed and trigged up, and had spiled it and inserted a tap, darkness had fallen. If they wished to explore the house farther, it would be necessary to carry candles; and somehow neither Mr. Jope nor Mr. Adams felt eager for this adventure. They were hungry, moreover. So they decided to make their way back to the great hall, and sup.

They supped by the light of a couple of candles. The repast consisted of bread and cold bacon washed down by cold rum-and-water. At Symonds’s–they gave no utterance to this reflection, but each knew it to be in the other’s mind–at Symonds’s just now there would be a boiled leg of mutton with turnips, and the rum would be hot, with a slice of lemon.

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“We shall get accustomed,” said Mr. Jope with a forced air of cheerfulness.

Mr. Adams glanced over his shoulder at the statuary and answered “yes” in a loud unfaltering voice. After a short silence he arose, opened one of the windows, removed a quid from his cheek, laid it carefully on the outer sill, closed the window, and resumed his seat. Mr. Jope had pulled out a cake of tobacco, and was slicing it into small pieces with his clasp-knife.

“Goin’ to smoke?” asked Mr. Adams, with another glance at the Diana.

“It don’t hurt this ‘ere marble pavement–not like the other thing.”

“No”–Mr. Adams contemplated the pavement while he, too, drew forth and filled a pipe–“a man might play a game of checkers on it; that is, o’ course, when no one was lookin’.”

“I been thinking,” announced Mr. Jope, “over what his Reverence said about bankin’ our money.”

“How much d’ye reckon we’ve got?”

“Between us? Hundred an’ twelve pound, fourteen and six. That’s after paying for rum, barrer and oddments. We could live,” said Mr. Jope, removing his pipe from his mouth and pointing the stem at his friend in expository fashion–“we could live in this here house for more’n three years.”

“Oh!” said Mr. Adams, but without enthusiasm. “Could we now?”

“That is, if we left out the vittles.”

“But we’re not goin’ to.”

“O’ course not. Vittles for two’ll run away with a heap of it. And then there’ll be callers.”

“Callers?” Mr. Adams’s face brightened.

“Not the sort you mean. Country folk. It’s the usual thing when strangers come an’ settle in a place o’ this size. . . . But, all the same, a hundred an’ twelve pound, fourteen and six is a heap: an’ as I say, we got to think over bankin’ it. A man feels solid settin’ here with money under his belt; an’ yet between you an’ me I wouldn’t mind if it was less so, in a manner o’ speakin’.”

“Me, either.”

“I was wonderin’ what it would feel like to wake in the night an’ tell yourself that someone was rollin’ up money for you like a snowball.”

“There might be a certain amount of friskiness in that. But contrariwise, if you waked an’ told yourself the fella was runnin’ off with it, there wuldn’.”

“Shore-living folks takes that risk an’ grows accustomed to it. W’y look at the fellow in charge o’ this house.”

“Where?” asked Mr. Adams nervously.

“The landlord-fellow, I mean, up in the village. His daughter said he went to sleep every afternoon, an’ wouldn’ be waked. How could a man afford to do that if his money wasn’ rollin’ up somewhere for him? An’ the place fairly lined with barrels o’ good liquor.”

“Mightn’t liquor accumylate in the same way?” asked Mr. Adams, with sudden and lively interest.

“No, you nincom’,” began Mr. Jope–when a loud knocking on the outer door interrupted him. “Hallo!” he sank his voice. “Callers already!”

He went to the door, unlocked and opened it. A heavy-shouldered, bull-necked man stood outside in the dusk.

“Good evenin’.”

“Evenin’,” said the stranger. “My name is Coyne an’ you must get out o’ this.”

“I don’t see as it follows,” answered Mr. Jope meditatively. “But hadn’t you better step inside?”

“I don’t want to bandy words–” began the publican, entering as though he shouldered his way.

“That’s right! Bill, fetch an’ fill a glass for the gentleman.”

“No, thank you. . . . Well, since you have it handy. But look here: I got nothin’ particular to say against you two men, only you can’t stop here to-night. That’s straight enough, I hope, and no bones broken.”

“Straight it is,” Mr. Jope agreed: “and we’ll talk o’ the bones by an’ by. Wot name, sir?–makin’ so bold.”

“My name’s Coyne.”

“An’ mine’s Cash.” Mr. Jope fumbled with the fastening of a pouch underneath his broad waistbelt. “So we’re well met. How much?”


“How much? Accordin’ to your darter ’twas forty pound a year, an’ money down: but whether monthly or quarterly she didn’ say.”

“It’s no question of money. It’s a question of you two clearin’ out, and at once. I’m breakin’ what I have to say as gently as I can. If you don’t choose to understand plain language, I must go an’ fetch the constable.”

“I seen him, up at the village this afternoon, an’ you’d better not. Bill, why can’t ye fill the gentleman’s glass?”

“Because the jug’s empty,” answered Mr. Adams.

“Then slip down to the cellar again.”

“No!” Mr. Coyne almost screamed it, rising from his chair. Dropping back weakly, he murmured, panting, “Not for me: not on any account!” His face was pale, and for the moment all the aggressiveness had gone out of him. He lifted a hand weakly to his heart.

“A sudden faintness,” he groaned, closing his eyes. “If you two men had any feelin’s, you’d offer to see me home.”

“The pair of us?” asked Mr. Jope suavely.

“I scale over seventeen stone,” murmured Mr. Coyne, still with his eyes closed; “an’ a weight like that is no joke.”

Mr. Jope nodded.

“You’re right there; so you’d best give it over. Sorry to seem heartless, sir, but ’tis for your good: an’ to walk home in your state would be a sin, when we can fix you up a bed in the house.”

Mr. Coyne opened his eyes, and they were twinkling vindictively.

“Sleep in this house?” he exclaimed. “I wouldn’t do it, not for a thousand pound!”

“W’y not?”

“You’ll find out ‘why not,’ safe enough, afore the mornin’! Why ’twas in kindness–pure kindness–I asked the pair of ye to see me home. I wouldn’t be one to stay in this house alone arter nightfall–no, or I wouldn’t be one to leave a dog alone here, let be a friend. My daughter didn’t tell, I reckon, as this place was ha’nted?”


“Aye. By females too.”

“O–oh!” Mr. Adams, who had caught his breath, let it escape in a long sigh of relief. “Like Symonds’s,” he murmured.

“Not a bit like Symonds’s,” his friend corrected snappishly. “He’s talkin’ o’ dead uns–ghosts–that is, if I take your meanin’, sir?”

Mr. Coyne nodded.

“That’s it. Ghosts.”

“Get out with you!” said Mr. Adams, incredulous.

“You must be a pair of very simple men,” said landlord Coyne, half-closing his eyes again, “if you reckoned that forty pound would rent a place like this without some drawbacks. Well, the drawbacks is ghosts. Four of ’em, and all females.”

“Tell us about ’em, sir,” requested Mr. Jope, dropping into his seat. “An’ if Bill don’t care to listen, he can fill up his time by takin’ the jug an’ steppin’ down to the cellar.”

“Damned if I do,” said Mr. Adams, stealing a glance over his shoulder at the statues.

“It’s a distressin’ story,” began Mr. Coyne with a very slight flutter of the eyelids. “Maybe my daughter told you–an’ if she didn’t, you may have found out for yourselves–as how this here house is properly speakin’ four houses–nothing in common but the roof, an’ the cellar, an’ this room we’re sittin’ in. . . . Well, then, back along there lived an old Rector here, with a man-servant called Oliver. One day he rode up to Exeter, spent a week there, an’ brought home a wife. Footman Oliver was ready at the door to receive ’em, an’ the pair went upstairs to a fine set o’ rooms he’d made ready in the sou’-west tower, an’ there for a whole month they lived together, as you might say, in wedded happiness.

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“At th’ end o’ the month th’ old Rector discovered he had business takin’ him to Bristol. He said his farewells very lovin’ly, promised to come back as soon as he could, but warned the poor lady against setting foot outside the doors. The gardens an’ fields (he said) swarmed with field-mice, an’ he knew she had a terror of mice of all sorts. So off he rode, an’ by an’ by came back by night with a second young lady: and Oliver showed ’em up to the nor’-east tower for the honeymoon.

“A week later my gentleman had a call to post down to Penzance. He warned his second wife that it was a terrible year for adders an’ the ground swarmin’ with ’em, for he knew she had a horror o’ snakes. Inside of a fortnight he brought home a third–“

“Bill,” said Mr. Jope, sitting up sharply, “what noise was that?”

“I didn’t hear it,” answered Mr. Adams, who was turning up his trousers uneasily. “Adders, maybe.”

“Seemed to me it sounded from somewheres in the cellar. Maybe you wouldn’t mind steppin’ down, seein’ as you don’t take no interest in what Mr. Coyne’s tellin’.”

“I’m beginning to.”

“The cellar’s the worst place of all,” said Mr. Coyne, blinking. “It’s there that the bodies were found.”


“Bodies. Four of ’em. I was goin’ to tell you how he brought home another, havin’ kept the third poor lady to her rooms with some tale about a mad dog starvin’ to death in his shrubberies–he didn’t know where–“

“If you don’t mind,” Mr. Jope interposed, “I’ve a notion to hear the rest o’ the story some other evenin’. It’s–it’s agreeable enough to bear spinnin’ out, an’ I understand you’re a fixture in this neighbourhood.”

“Certainly,” said Mr. Coyne, rising. “But wot about you?

“I’ll tell you to-morrow.”

Mr. Jope gripped the arms of his chair, having uttered the bravest speech of his life. He sat for a while, the sound of his own voice echoing strangely in his ears, even when Mr. Coyne rose to take his leave.

“Well, I can’t help admirin’ you,” said Mr. Coyne handsomely. “By the way the rent’s by the quarter, an’ in advance–fours into forty is ten; I mention it as a matter of business, and in case we don’t meet again.”

Mr. Jope counted out the money.

When Mr. Coyne had taken his departure the pair sat a long while in silence, their solitary candle flickering an the table between them.

“You spoke out very bold,” said Mr. Adams at length.

“Did I?” said Mr. Jope. “I didn’t feel it.”

“What cuts me to the quick is the thought o’ them adders outside.”

“Ye dolt! There ain’t no real adders outside. They’re what the chap invented to frighten the women.”

“Sure? Then,” mused Mr. Adams, after a pause, “maybe there ain’t no real ghosts neither, but he invented the whole thing.”

“Maybe. What d’ye say to steppin’ down an’ fetchin’ up another mugful o’ liquor?”

“I say,” answered Mr. Adams slowly, “as how I won’t.”

“Toss for it,” suggested Mr. Jope. “You refuse? Very well, then, I must go. Only I thought better of ye, Bill–I did indeed.”

“I can’t help what ye thought,” Mr. Adams began sulkily; and then, as his friend rose with the face of a man who goes to meet the worst, he sprang up quaking. “Lord’s sake, Ben Jope! You ain’t a-goin’ to take the candle an’ leave me!”

“Bill Adams,” said Mr. Jope with fine solemnity, “if I was to put a name on your besettin’ sin, it would be cowardice–an’ you can just sit here in the dark an’ think it over.”

“When I was on the p’int of offering to go with ye!”

“Ho! Was you? Very well, then, I accept the offer, an’ you can walk first.”

“But I don’t see–“

“Another word,” announced Mr. Jope firmly, “an’ you won’t! For I’ll blow out the candle.”

Mr. Adams surrendered, and tottered to the door. They passed out, and through the vaulted kitchen, and along the slate-flagged corridor–very slowly here, for a draught fluttered the candle flame, and Mr. Jope had to shield it with a shaking palm. Once with a hoarse “What’s that?” Mr. Adams halted and cast himself into a posture of defence–against his own shadow, black and amorphous, wavering on the wall.

They came to the iron-studded door.

“Open, you,” commanded Mr. Jope under his breath. “And not too fast, mind–there was a breeze o’ wind blowin’ this arternoon. Steady does it–look out for the step, an’ then straight forw–“

A howl drowned the last word, as Mr. Adams struck his shin against some obstacle and pitched headlong into darkness–a howl of pain blent with a dull jarring rumble. Silence followed, and out of the silence broke a faint groan.

“Bill! Bill Adams! Oh, Bill, for the Lord’s sake–!” Still mechanically shielding his candle, Mr. Jope staggered back a pace, and leaned against the stone door-jamb for support.

“Here!” sounded the voice of Bill, very faint in the darkness. “Here! fetch along the light, quick!”

“Wot’s it?”



“Kegs, then. I ought to know,” responded Bill plaintively, “seeing as I pretty near broke my leg on one!”

Mr. Jope peered forward, holding the light high. In the middle of the cellar stood the quarter-puncheon and around it a whole regiment of small barrels. Half doubting his eyesight, he stooped to examine them. Around each keg was bound a sling of rope.

“Rope?” muttered Mr. Jope, stooping. “Foreign rope–left-handed rope–” And with that of a sudden he sat down on the nearest keg and began to laugh. “The old varmint! the darned old sinful methodeerin’ varmint!”

“Oh, stow it, Ben! ‘Tisn’ manly.” But still the unnatural laughter continued. “What in thunder–“

Bill Adams came groping between the kegs.

“Step an’ bar the outer door, ye nincom! Can’t you see? There’s been a run o’ goods; an’ while that Coyne sat stuffin’ us up with his ghosts, his boys were down below here loadin’ us up with neat furrin sperrits–loadin’ us up, mark you. My blessed word, the fun we’ll have wi’ that Coyne to-morrow!”

Mr. Adams in a mental fog groped his way to the door opening on the river steps, bolted it, groped his way back and stood scratching his head. A grin, grotesque in the wavering light, contorted the long lower half of the face for a moment and was gone. He seldom smiled.

“On the whole,” said Mr. Adams, indicating the kegs, “I fancy these better’n the naked objects upstairs. Suppose we spend the rest o’ the night here? It’s easier,” he added, “than runnin’ to and fro for the drink. But what about liquor not accumylatin’?”

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