The Looe Die-Hards by Arthur Quiller-Couch

Story type: Literature

Captain Pond, of the East and West Looe Volunteer Artillery (familiarly known as the Looe Die-hards), put his air-cushion to his lips and blew. This gave his face a very choleric and martial expression.

Nevertheless, above his suffused and distended cheeks his eyes preserved a pensive melancholy as they dwelt upon his Die-hards gathered in the rain below him on the long-shore, or Church-end, wall. At this date (November 3, 1809) the company numbered seventy, besides Captain Pond and his two subalterns; and of this force four were out in the boat just now, mooring the practice-mark–a barrel with a small red flag stuck on top; one, the bugler, had been sent up the hill to the nine-pounder battery, to watch and sound a call as soon as the target was ready; a sixth, Sergeant Fugler, lay at home in bed, with the senior lieutenant (who happened also to be the local doctor) in attendance. Captain Pond clapped a thumb over the orifice of his air-cushion, and heaved a sigh as he thought of Sergeant Fugler. The remaining sixty-four Die-hards, with their firelocks under their great-coats, and their collars turned up against the rain, lounged by the embrasures of the shore-wall, and gossiped dejectedly, or eyed in silence the blurred boat bobbing up and down in the grey blur of the sea.

“Such coarse weather I hardly remember to have met with for years,” said Uncle Israel Spettigew, a cheerful sexagenarian who ranked as efficient on the strength of his remarkable eyesight, which was keener than most boys’. “The sweep from over to Polperro was cleanin’ my chimbley this mornin’, and he told me in his humorous way that with all this rain ’tis so much as he can do to keep his face dirty–hee-hee!”

Nobody smiled. “If you let yourself give way to the enjoyment of little things like that,” observed a younger gunner gloomily, “one o’ these days you’ll find yourself in a better land like the snuff of a candle. ‘Tis a year since the Company’s been allowed to move in double time, and all because you can’t manage a step o’ thirty-six inches ‘ithout getting the palpitations.”

“Well-a-well, ’tis but for a brief while longer–a few fleeting weeks, an’ us Die-hards shall be as though we had never been. So why not be cheerful? For my part, I mind back in ‘seventy-nine, when the fleets o’ France an’ Spain assembled an’ come up agen’ us–sixty-six sail o’ the line, my sonnies, besides frigates an’ corvettes to the amount o’ twenty-five or thirty, all as plain as the nose on your face: an’ the alarm guns goin’, up to Plymouth, an’ the signals hoisted at Maker Tower–a bloody flag at the pole an’ two blue ‘uns at the outriggers. Four days they laid to, an’ I mind the first time I seed mun, from this very place as it might be where we’m standin’ at this moment, I said ‘Well, ’tis all over with East Looe this time!’ I said: ‘an’ when ’tis over, ’tis over, as Joan said by her weddin’.’ An’ then I spoke them verses by royal Solomon–Wisdom two, six to nine. ‘Let us fill oursel’s wi’ costly wine an’ ointments,’ I said: ‘an’ let no flower o’ the spring pass by us. Let us crown oursel’s wi’ rosebuds, afore they be withered: let none of us go without his due part of our voluptuousness’–“

“Why, you old adage, that’s what Solomon makes th’ ungodly say!” interrupted young Gunner Oke, who had recently been appointed parish clerk, and happened to know.

“As it happens,” Uncle Issy retorted, with sudden dignity–“as it happens, I was ungodly in them days. The time I’m talkin’ about was August ‘seventy-nine; an’ if I don’t mistake, your father an’ mother, John Oke, were courtin’ just then, an’ ‘most too shy to confide in each other about havin’ a parish clerk for a son.”

“Times hev’ marvellously altered in the meanwhile, to be sure,” put in Sergeant Pengelly of the “Sloop” Inn.

“Well, then,” Uncle Issy continued, without pressing his triumph, “”Tis all over with East Looe,’ I said, ‘an’ this is a black day for King Gearge,’ an’ then I spoke them verses o’ Solomon. ‘Let none of us,’ I said, ‘go without his due part of our voluptuousness’; and with that I went home and dined on tatties an’ bacon. It hardly seems a thing to be believed at this distance o’ time, but I never relished tatties an’ bacon better in my life than that day–an’ yet not meanin’ the laste disrespect to King Gearge. Disrespect? If his Majesty only knew it, he’ve no better friend in the world than Israel Spettigew. God save the King!”

And with this Uncle Issy pulled off his cap and waved it round his head, thereby shedding a moulinet of raindrops full in the faces of his comrades around.

This was observed by Captain Pond, standing on the platform above, beside Thundering Meg, the big 24-pounder, which with four 18-pounders on the shore-wall formed the lower defences of the haven.

“Mr. Clogg,” he called to his junior lieutenant, “tell Gunner Spettigew to put on his hat at once. Ask him what he means by taking his death and disgracing the company.”

The junior lieutenant–a small farmer from Talland parish–touched his cap, spread his hand suddenly over his face and sneezed.

“Hullo! You’ve got a cold.”

“No, sir. I often sneezes like that, and no reason for it whatever.”

“I’ve never noticed it before.”

“No, sir. I keeps it under so well as I can. A great deal can be done sometimes by pressing your thumb on the upper lip.”

“Ah, well! So long as it’s not a cold–” returned the Captain, and broke off to arrange his air-cushion over the depressed muzzle of Thundering Meg. Hereupon he took his seat, adjusted the lapels of his great-coat over his knees, and gave way to gloomy reflection.

Sergeant Fugler was at the bottom of it. Sergeant Fugler, the best marksman in the Company, was a hard drinker, with a hobnailed liver. He lay now in bed with that hobnailed liver, and the Doctor said it was only a question of days. But why should this so extraordinarily discompose Captain Pond, who had no particular affection for Fugler, and knew, besides, that all men–and especially hard drinkers–are mortal?

The answer is that the East and West Looe Volunteer Artillery was no ordinary Company. When, on the 16th of May, 1803, King George told his faithful subjects, who had been expecting the announcement for some time, that the Treaty of Amiens was no better than waste paper, public feeling in the two Looes rose to a very painful pitch. The inhabitants used to assemble before the post-office, to hear the French bulletins read out; and though it was generally concluded that they held much falsehood, yet everybody felt misfortune in the air. Rumours flew about that a diversion would be made by sending an army into the Duchy to draw the troops thither while the invaders directed their main strength upon London. Quiet villagers, therefore, dwelt for the while in a constant apprehension, fearing to go to bed lest they should awake at the sound of the trumpet, or in the midst of the French troops; scarcely venturing beyond sight of home lest, returning, they should find the homestead smoking and desolate. Each man had laid down the plan he should pursue. Some were to drive off the cattle, others to fire the corn. While the men worked in the fields, their womankind–young maids and grandmothers, and all that could be spared from domestic work–encamped above the cliffs, wearing red cloaks to scare the Frenchmen, and by night kept big bonfires burning continually. Amid this painful disquietude of the public mind “the great and united Spirit of the British People armed itself for the support of their ancient Glory and Independence against the unprincipled Ambition of the French Government.” In other words, the Volunteer movement began. In the Duchy alone no less than 8,362 men enrolled themselves in thirty Companies of foot, horse, and artillery, as well out of enthusiasm as to escape the general levy that seemed probable–so mixed are all human actions.

See also  The Boarded Window

Of these the Looe Company was neither the greatest nor the least. It had neither the numerical strength of the Royal Stannary Artillery (1,115 men and officers) nor the numerical eccentricity of the St. Germans Cavalry, which consisted of forty troopers, all told, and eleven officers, and hunted the fox thrice a week during the winter months under Lord Eliot, Captain and M.F.H. The Looe Volunteers, however, started well in the matter of dress, which consisted of a dark-blue coat and pantaloons, with red facings and yellow wings and tassels, and a white waistcoat. The officers’ sword-hilts were adorned with prodigious red and blue tassels, and the blade of Captain Pond’s, in particular, bore the inscription, “My Life’s Blood for the Two Looes!”–a legend which we must admit to be touching, even while we reflect that the purpose of the weapon was not to draw its owner’s life-blood.

As a matter of mere history, this devoted blade had drawn nobody’s blood; since, in the six years that followed their enlistment, the Looe Die-hards had never been given an opportunity for a brush with their country’s hereditary foes. How, then, did they acquire their proud title?

It was the Doctor’s discovery; and perhaps, in the beginning, professional pride may have had something to do with it; but his enthusiasm was quickly caught up by Captain Pond and communicated to the entire Company.

“Has it ever occurred to you, Pond,” the Doctor began, one evening in the late summer of 1808, as the two strolled homeward from parade, “to reflect on the rate of mortality in this Company of yours? Have you considered that in all these five years since their establishment not a single man has died?”

“Why the deuce should he?”

“But look here: I’ve worked it out on paper, and the mean age of your men is thirty-four years, or some five years more than the mean age of the entire population of East and West Looe. You see, on the one hand, you enlist no children, and on the other, you’ve enlisted several men of ripe age, because you’re accustomed to them and know their ways–which is a great help in commanding a Company. But this makes the case still more remarkable. Take any collection of seventy souls the sum of whose ages, divided by seventy, shall be thirty-four, and by all the laws of probability three, at least, ought to die in the course of a year. I speak, for the moment, of civilians. In the military profession,” the Doctor continued, with perfect seriousness, “especially in time of war, the death-rate will be enormously heightened. But”–with a flourish of the hand– “I waive that. I waive even the real, if uncertainly estimated, risk of handling, twice or thrice a week and without timidity or particular caution, the combustibles and explosives supplied us by Government. And still I say that we might with equanimity have beheld our ranks thinned during these five years by the loss of fifteen men. And we have not lost a single one! It is wonderful!”

“War is a fearful thing,” commented Captain Pond, whose mind moved less nimbly than the Doctor’s.

“Dash it all, Pond! Can’t you see that I’m putting the argument on a peace footing? I tell you that in five years of peace any ordinary Company of the same size would have lost at least fifteen men.”

“Then all I can say is that peace is a fearful thing, too.”

“But don’t you see that at this moment you’re commanding the most remarkable Company in the Duchy, if not in the whole of England?”

“I do,” answered Captain Pond, flushing. “It’s a responsibility, though. It makes a man feel proud; but, all the same, I almost wish you hadn’t told me.”

Indeed at first the weight of his responsibility counteracted the Captain’s natural elation. It lifted, however, at the next Corporation dinner, when the Doctor made public announcement of his discovery in a glowing speech, supporting his rhetoric by extracts from a handful of statistics and calculations, and ending, “Gentlemen, we know the motto of the East and West Looe Volunteer Artillery to be ‘Never Say Die!‘ but seeing, after five years’ trial of them, that they never do die, what man (I ask) will not rejoice to belong to such a Company? What man would not be proud to command it?

After this, could Captain Pond lag behind? His health was drunk amid thunders of applause. He rose: he cast timidity to the winds: he spoke, and while he spoke, wondered at his own enthusiasm. Scarcely had he made an end before his fellow-townsmen caught him off his feet and carried him shoulder high through the town by the light of torches. There were many aching heads in the two Looes next morning; but nobody died: and from that night Captain Pond’s Company wore the name of “The Die-hards.”

All went well at first; for the autumn closed mildly. But with November came a spell of north-easterly gales, breeding bronchial discomfort among the aged; and Black Care began to dog the Commander. He caught himself regretting the admission of so many gunners of riper years, although the majority of these had served in His Majesty’s Navy, and were by consequence the best marksmen. They weathered the winter, however; and a slight epidemic of whooping-cough, which broke out in the early spring, affected none of the Die-hards except the small bugler, and he took it in the mildest form. The men, following the Doctor’s lead, began to talk more boastfully than ever. Only the Captain shook his head, and his eyes wore a wistful look, as though he listened continually for the footsteps of Nemesis–as, indeed, he did. The strain was breaking him. And in August, when word came from headquarters that, all danger of invasion being now at an end, the Looe Volunteer Artillery would be disbanded at the close of the year, he tried in vain to grieve. A year ago he would have wept in secret over the news. Now he went about with a solemn face and a bounding heart. A few months more and then–

See also  The Housewife by James Branch Cabell

And then, almost within sight of goal, Sergeant Fugler had broken down. Everyone knew that Fugler drank prodigiously; but so had his father and grandfather, and each of them had reached eighty. The fellow had always carried his liquor well enough, too. Captain Pond looked upon it almost as a betrayal.

“I don’t know what folks’ constitutions are coming to in these days,” he kept muttering, on this morning of November the 3rd, as he sat on the muzzle of Thundering Meg and dangled his legs.

And then, glancing up, he saw the Doctor coming from the town along the shore-wall, and read evil news at once. For many of the Die-hards stopped the Doctor to question him, and stood gloomy as he passed on. It was popularly said in the two Looes, that “if the Doctor gave a man up, that man might as well curl up his toes then and there.”

Catching sight of his Captain on the platform, the Doctor bent his steps thither, and they were slow and inelastic.

“Tell me the worst,” said Captain Pond.

“The worst is that he’s no better; no, the worst of all is that he knows he’s no better. My friend, between ourselves, it’s only a question of a day or two.”

Silence followed for half a minute, the two officers avoiding each other’s eyes.

“He has a curious wish,” the Doctor resumed, still with his face averted and his gaze directed on the dull outline of Looe Island, a mile away. “He says he knows he’s disgracing the Company: but he’s anxious, all the same, to have a military funeral: says if you can promise this, he’ll feel in a way that he’s forgiven.”

“He shall have it, of course.”

“Ah, but that’s not all. You remember, a couple of years back, when they had us down to Pendennis Castle for a week’s drill, there was a funeral of a Sergeant-Major in the Loyal Meneage; and how the band played a sort of burial tune ahead of the body? Well, Fugler asked me if you couldn’t manage this Dead March, as he calls it, as well. He can whistle the tune if you want to know it. It seems it made a great impression on him.”

“Then the man must be wandering! How the dickens can we manage a Dead March without a band?–and we haven’t even a fife and drum!”

“That’s what I told him. I suppose we couldn’t do anything with the church musicians.”

“There’s only one man in the Company who belongs to the gallery, and that’s Uncle Issy Spettigew: and he plays the bass-viol. I doubt if you can play the Dead March on a bass-viol, and I’m morally certain you can’t play it and walk with it too. I suppose we can’t borrow a band from another Company?”

“What, and be the mock of the Duchy?–after all our pride! I fancy I see you going over to Troy and asking Browne for the loan of his band. ‘Hullo!’ he’d say, ‘I thought you never had such a thing as a funeral over at Looe!’ I can hear the fellow chuckle. But I wish something could be done, all the same. A trifle of pomp would draw folks’ attention off our disappointment.”

Captain Pond sighed and rose from the gun; for the bugle was sounding from the upper battery.

“Fall in, gentlemen, if you please!” he shouted. His politeness in addressing his Company might be envied even by the “Blues.”

The Doctor formed them up and told them off along the sea-wall, as if for inspection. “Or-der arms!” “Fix bayonets!” “Shoul-der arms!” Then with a glance of inquiry at his Captain, who had fallen into a brown study, “Rear rank, take open order!”

“No, no,” interposed the Captain, waking up and taking a guess at the sun’s altitude in the grey heavens. “We’re late this morning: better march ’em up to the battery at once.”

Then, quickly re-forming them, he gave the word, “By the left! Quick march!” and the Die-hards swung steadily up the hill towards the platform where the four nine-pounders grinned defiance to the ships of France.

As a matter of fact, this battery stood out of reach of harm, with the compensating disadvantage of being able to inflict none. The reef below would infallibly wreck any ship that tried to approach within the point-blank range of some 270 yards, and its extreme range of ten times that distance was no protection to the haven, which lay round a sharp corner of the cliff. But the engineer’s blunder was never a check upon the alacrity of the Die-hards, who cleaned, loaded, rammed home, primed, sighted, and blazed away with the precision of clockwork and the ardour of Britons, as though aware that the true strength of a nation lay not so much in the construction of her fortresses as in the spirit of her sons.

Captain Pond halted, re-formed his men upon the platform, and, drawing a key from his pocket, ordered Lieutenant Clogg to the store-hut, with Uncle Issy in attendance, to serve our the ammunition, rammers, sponges, water-buckets, etc.

“But the door’s unlocked, sir,” announced the lieutenant, with something like dismay.

“Unlocked!” echoed the Doctor.

The Captain blushed.

“I could have sworn, Doctor, I turned the key in the lock before leaving last Thursday. I think my head must be going. I’ve been sleeping badly of late–it’s this worry about Fugler. However, I don’t suppose anybody–“

A yell interrupted him. It came from Uncle Issy, who had entered the store-hut, and now emerged from it as if projected from a gun.


For two terrible seconds the Die-hards eyed one another. Then someone in the rear rank whispered, “An ambush!” The two ranks began to waver–to melt. Uncle Issy, with head down and shoulders arched, was already stumbling down the slope towards the town. In another ten seconds the whole Company would be at his heels.

The Doctor saved their reputation. He was as pale as the rest; but a hasty remembrance of the cubic capacity of the store-hut told him that the number of Frenchmen in ambush there could hardly be more than half a dozen.

“Halt!” he shouted; and Captain Pond shouted “Halt!” too, adding, “There’ll be heaps of time to run when we find out what’s the matter.”

The Die-hards hung, still wavering, upon the edge of the platform.

See also  Mr. And Mrs. Vinegar

“For my part,” the Doctor declared, “I don’t believe there’s anybody inside.”

“But there is, Doctor! for I saw him myself just as Uncle Issy called out,” said the second lieutenant.

“Was it only one man that you saw?” demanded Captain Pond.

“That’s all. You see, it was this way: Uncle Issy stepped fore, with me a couple of paces behind him thinking of nothing so little as bloodshed and danger. If you’ll believe me, these things was the very last in my thoughts. Uncle Issy rolls aside the powder-cask, and what do I behold but a man ducking down behind it! ‘He’s firing the powder,’ thinks I, ‘and here endeth William George Clogg!’ So I shut my eyes, not willing to see my gay life whisked away in little portions; though I feared it must come. And then I felt Uncle Issy flee past me like the wind. But I kept my eyes tight till I heard the Doctor here saying there wasn’t anybody inside. If you ask me what I think about the whole matter, I say, putting one thing with another, that ’tis most likely some poor chap taking shelter from the rain.”

Captain Pond unsheathed his sword and advanced to the door of the hut. “Whoever you be,” he called aloud and firmly, “you’ve got no business there; so come out of it, in the name of King George!”

At once there appeared in the doorway a little round-headed man in tattered and mud-soiled garments of blue cloth. His hair and beard were alike short, black, and stubbly; his eyes large and feverish, his features smeared with powder and a trifle pinched and pale. In his left hand he carried a small bundle, wrapped in a knotted blue kerchief: his right he waved submissively towards Captain Pond.

“See now,” he began, “I give up. I am taken. Look you.”

“I think you must be a Frenchman,” said Captain Pond.

“Right. It is war: you have taken a Frenchman. Yes?”

“A spy?” the Captain demanded more severely.

“An escaped prisoner, more like,” suggested the Doctor; “broken out of Dartmoor, and hiding there for a chance to slip across.”

“Monsieur le Lieutenant has guessed,” the little man answered, turning affably to the Doctor. “A spy? No. It is not on purpose that I find me near your fortifications–oh, not a bit! A prisoner more like, as Monsieur says. It is three days that I was a prisoner, and now look here, a prisoner again. Alas! will Monsieur le Capitaine do me the honour to confide the name of his corps so gallant?”

“The Two Looes.”

La Toulouse! But it is singular that we also have a Toulouse–“

“Hey?” broke in Second Lieutenant Clogg.

“I assure Monsieur that I say the truth.”

“Well, go on; only it don’t sound natural.”

“Not that I have seen it”–(“Ha!” commented Mr. Clogg)–“for it lies in the south, and I am from the north: Jean Alphonse Marie Trinquier, instructor of music, Rue de la Madeleine quatr ‘-vingt-neuf, Dieppe.”

“Instructor of music?” echoed Captain Pond and the Doctor quickly and simultaneously, and their eyes met.

“And Directeur des Fetes Periodiques to the Municipality of Dieppe. All the Sundays, you comprehend, upon the sands–poum poum! while the citizens se promenent sur la plage. But all is not gay in this world. Last winter a terrible misfortune befell me. I lost my wife–my adored Philomene. I was desolated, inconsolable. For two months I could not take up my cornet-a-piston. Always when I blew–pouf!–the tears came also. Ah, what memories! Hippolyte, my– what you call it–my beau-frere, came to me and said, ‘Jean Alphonse, you must forget.’ I say, ‘Hippolyte, you ask that which is impossible.’ ‘I will teach you,’ says Hippolyte: ‘To-morrow night I sail for Jersey, and from Jersey I cross to Dartmouth, in England, and you shall come with me.’ Hippolyte made his living by what you call the Free Trade. This was far down the coast for him, but he said the business with Rye and Deal was too dangerous for a time. Next night we sailed. It was his last voyage. With the morning the wind changed, and we drove into a fog. When we could see again, peste!–there was an English frigate. She sent down her cutter and took the rest of us; but not Hippolyte–poor Hippolyte was shot in the spine of his back. Him they cast into the sea, but the rest of us they take to Plymouth, and then the War Prison on the moor. This was in May, and there I rest until three days ago. Then I break out–je me sauve. How? It is my affair: for I foresee, Messieurs, I shall now have to do it over again. I am sot. I gain the coast here at night. I am weary, je n’en puis plus. I find this cassine here: the door is open: I enter pour faire un petit somme. Before day I will creep down to the shore. A comrade in the prison said to me, ‘Go to Looe. I know a good Cornishman there–‘”

“And you overslept yourself,” Captain Paul briskly interrupted, alert as ever to protect the credit of his Company. He was aware that several of the Die-hards, in extra-military hours, took an occasional trip across to Guernsey: and Guernsey is a good deal more than half-way to France.

“The point is,” observed the Doctor, “that you play the cornet.”

“It is certain that I do so, monsieur; but how that can be the point–“

“And instruct in music?”


“Do you know the Dead March?”

M. Trinquier was unfeignedly bewildered.

Said Captain Pond: “Listen while I explain. You are my prisoner, and it becomes my duty to send you back to Dartmoor under escort. But you are exhausted; and notwithstanding my detestation of that infernal tyrant, your master, I am a humane man. At all events, I’m not going to expose two of my Die-hards to the risks of a tramp to Dartmoor just now–I wouldn’t turn out a dog in such weather. It remains a question what I am to do with you in the meanwhile. I propose that you give me your parole that you will make no attempt to escape, let us say, for a month: and on receiving it I will at once escort you to my house, and see that you are suitably clothed, fed, and entertained.”

“I give it willingly, M. le Capitaine. But how am I to thank you?”

“By playing the Dead March upon the cornet-a-piston and teaching others to do the like.”

“That seems a singular way of showing one’s gratitude. But why the Dead March, monsieur? And, excuse me, there is more than one Dead March. I myself, par exemple, composed one to the memory of my adored Philomene but a week before Hippolyte came with his so sad proposition.”

“I doubt if that will do. You see,” said Captain Pond, lifting his voice for the benefit of the Die-hards, who by this time were quite as sorely puzzled as their prisoner, “we are about to bury one of our Company, Sergeant Fugler–“

See also  The Fatal Boots by William Makepeace Thackeray

“Ah! he is dead?”

“He is dying,” Captain Pond pursued, the more quickly since he now guessed, not without reason, that Fugler was the “good Cornishman” to whose door M. Trinquier had been directed. “He is dying of a hobnailed liver. It is his wish to have the Dead March played at his burying.”

“He whistled the tune over to me,” said the Doctor; “but plague take me if I can whistle it to you. I’ve no ear: but I’d know it again if I heard it. Dismal isn’t the word for it.”

“It will be Handel. I am sure it will be Handel–the Dead March in his Saul.”

“In his what?”

“In his oratorio of Saul. Listen–poum, poum, prrr, poum–“

“Be dashed, but you’ve got it!” cried the Doctor, delighted; “though you do give it a sort of foreign accent. But I daresay that won’t be so noticeable on the key-bugle.”

“But about this key-bugle, monsieur? And the other instruments?–not to mention the players.”

“I’ve been thinking of that,” said Captain Pond. “There’s Butcher Tregaskis has a key-bugle. He plays ‘Rule Britannia’ upon it when he goes round with the suet. He’ll lend you that till we can get one down from Plymouth. A drum, too, you shall have. Hockaday’s trader calls here to-morrow on her way to Plymouth; she shall bring both instruments back with her. Then we have the church musicians–Peter Tweedy, first fiddle; Matthew John Ede, second ditto; Thomas Tripconey, scorpion–“

“Serpent,” the Doctor corrected.

“Well, it’s a filthy thing to look at, anyway. Israel Spettigew, bass-viol; William Henry Phippin, flute; and William Henry Phippin’s eldest boy Archelaus to tap the triangle at the right moment. That boy, sir, will play the triangle almost as well as a man grown.”

“Then, monsieur, take me to your house. Give me a little food and drink, pen, ink, and paper, and in three hours you shall have la partition.”

Said the Doctor, “That’s all very well, Pond, but the church musicianers can’t march with their music, as you told me just now.”

“I’ve thought of that, too. We’ll have Miller Penrose’s covered three-horse waggon to march ahead of the coffin. Hang it in black and go slow, and all the musicianers can sit around inside and play away as merry as grigs.”

“The cover’ll give the music a sort of muffly sound; but that,” Lieutenant Clogg suggested, “will be all the more fitty for a funeral.”

“So it will, Clogg; so it will. But we’re wasting time. I suppose you won’t object, sir, to be marched down to my house by the Company? It’s the regular thing in case of taking a prisoner, and you’ll be left to yourself as soon as you get to my door.”

“Not at all,” said M. Trinquier amiably.

“Then, gentlemen, fall in! The practice is put off. And when you get home, mind you change your stockings, all of you. We’re in luck’s way this morning, but that’s no reason for recklessness.”

So M. Trinquier, sometime Director of Periodical Festivities to the Municipality of Dieppe, was marched down into East Looe, to the wonder and delight of the inhabitants, who had just recovered from the shock of Gunner Spettigew’s false alarm, and were in a condition to be pleased with trifles. As the Company tramped along the street, Captain Pond pointed out the Town Hall to his prisoner.

“That will be the most convenient place to hold your practices. And that is Fugler’s house, just opposite.”

“But we cannot practise without making a noise.”

“I hope not, indeed. Didn’t I promise you a big drum?”

“But in that case the sick man will hear. It will disturb his last moments.”

“Confound the fellow, he can’t have everything! If he’d asked for peace and quiet, he should have had it. But he didn’t: he asked for a Dead March. Don’t trouble about Fugler. He’s not an unreasonable man. The only question is, if the Doctor here can keep him going until you’re perfect with the tune.”

And this was the question upon which the men of Looe, and especially the Die-hards, hung breathless for the next few days. M. Trinquier produced his score; the musicianers came forward eagerly; Miller Penrose promised his waggon; the big drum arrived from Plymouth in the trader Good Intent, and was discharged upon the quay amid enthusiasm. The same afternoon, at four o’clock, M. Trinquier opened his first practice in the Town Hall, by playing over the air of the “Dead Marching Soul”–(to this the popular mouth had converted the name)–upon his cornet, just to give his pupils a general notion of it.

The day had been a fine one, with just that suspicion of frost in the air which indicates winter on the warm south-western coast. While the musicians were assembling the Doctor stepped across the street to see how the invalid would take it. Fugler–a sharp-featured man of about fifty, good-looking, with blue eyes and a tinge of red in his hair–lay on his bed with his mouth firmly set and his eyes resting, wistfully almost, on the last wintry sunbeam that floated in by the geraniums on the window-ledge. He had not heard the news. For five days now he expected nothing but the end, and lay and waited for it stoically and with calm good temper.

The Doctor took a seat by the bed-side, and put a question or two. They were answered by Mrs. Fugler, who moved about the small room quietly, removing, dusting and replacing the china ornaments on the chimneypiece. The sick man lay still, with his eyes upon the sunbeam.

And then very quietly and distinctly the notes of M. Trinquier’s key-bugle rose outside on the frosty air.

The sick man started, and made as if to raise himself on his elbow, but quickly sank back again–perhaps from weakness, perhaps because he caught the Doctor’s eye and the Doctor’s reassuring nod. While he lay back and listened, a faint flush crept into his face, as though the blood ran quicker in his weak limbs; and his blue eyes took a new light altogether.

“That’s the tune, hey?” the Doctor asked.

“That’s the tune.”

“Dismal, ain’t it?”

“Ay, it’s that.” His fingers were beating time on the counterpane.

“That’s our new bandmaster. He’s got to teach it to the rest, and you’ve got to hold out till they pick it up. Whew! I’d no idea music could be so dismal.”

“Hush ‘ee, Doctor, do! till he’ve a-done. ‘Tis like rain on blossom.” The last notes fell. “Go you down, Doctor, and say my duty and will he please play it over once more, and Fugler’ll gi’e ’em a run for their money.”

The Doctor went back to the Town Hall and delivered this encore, and M. Trinquier played his solo again; and in the middle of it Mr. Fugler dropped off into an easy sleep.

See also  The Bell of Atri By James Baldwin

After this the musicians met every evening, Sundays and weekdays, and by the third evening the Doctor was able to predict with confidence that Fugler would last out. Indeed, the patient was strong enough to be propped up into a sitting posture during the hour of practice, and not only listened with pleasure to the concerted piece, but beat time with his fingers while each separate instrument went over its part, delivering, at the close of each performance, his opinion of it to Mrs. Fugler or the Doctor: “Tripconey’s breath’s failin’. He don’t do no sort o’ justice by that sarpint.” Or: “There’s Uncle Issy agen! He always do come to grief juss there! I reckon a man of sixty-odd ought to give up the bass-viol. He ha’n’t got the agility.”

On the fifth evening Mrs. Fugler was sent across to the Town Hall to ask why the triangle had as yet no share in the performance, and to suggest that William Henry Phippin’s eldest boy, Archelaus, played that instrument “to the life.” M. Trinquier replied that it was unusual to seek the aid of the triangle in rendering the Dead March in Saul. Mr. Fugler sent back word that, “if you came to that, the whole thing was unusual, from start to finish.” To this M. Trinquier discovered no answer; and the triangle was included, to the extreme delight of Archelaus Phippin, whose young life had been clouded for a week past.

On the sixth evening, Mr. Fugler announced a sudden fancy to “touch pipe.”

“Hey?” said the Doctor, opening his eyes.

“I’d like to tetch pipe. An’ let me light the brimstone mysel’. I likes to see the little blue flame turn yellow, a-dancin’ on the baccy.”

“Get ‘n his pipe and baccy, missis,” the Doctor commanded. “He may kill himself clean-off now: the band’ll be ready by the funeral, anyway.”

On the three following evenings Mr. Fugler sat up and smoked during band practice, the Doctor observing him with a new interest. The tenth day, the Doctor was called away to attend a child-birth at Downderry. At the conclusion of the cornet solo, with which M. Trinquier regularly opened practice, the sick man said–

“Wife, get me out my clothes.”


“Get me out my clothes.”

“You’re mad! It’ll be your death.”

“I don’t care: the band’s ready. Uncle Issy got his part perfect las’ night, an’ that’s more’n I ever prayed to hear. Get me out my clothes an’ help me downstairs.”

The Doctor was far away. Mrs. Fugler was forced to give in. Weeping, and with shaking hands, she dressed him and helped him to the foot of the stairs, where she threw open the parlour door.

“No,” he said, “I’m not goin’ in there. I’ll be steppin’ across to the Town Hall. Gi’e me your arm.”

Thomas Tripconey was rehearsing upon the serpent when the door of the Town Hall opened: and the music he made died away in a wail, as of a dog whose foot has been trodden on. William Henry Phippin’s eldest son Archelaus cast his triangle down and shrieked “Ghosts, ghosts!” Uncle Issy cowered behind his bass-viol and put a hand over his eyes. M. Trinquier spun round to face the intruder, baton in one hand, cornet in the other.

“Thank ‘ee, friends,” said Mr. Fugler, dropping into a seat by the door, and catching breath: “you’ve got it very suent. ‘Tis a beautiful tune: an’ I’m ha’f ashamed to tell ‘ee that I bain’t a-goin’ to die, this time.”

Nor did he.

The East and West Looe Volunteer Artillery was disbanded a few weeks later, on the last day of the year 1809. The Corporations of the Two Boroughs entertained the heroes that evening to a complimentary banquet in the East Looe Town Hall, and Sergeant Fugler had recovered sufficiently to attend, though not to partake. The Doctor made a speech over him, proving him by statistics to be the most wonderful member of the most wonderful corps in the world. The Doctor granted, however–at such a moment the Company could make concessions–that the Die-hards had been singularly fortunate in the one foeman whom they had been called upon to face. Had it not been for a gentleman of France the death-roll of the Company had assuredly not stood at zero. He, their surgeon, readily admitted this, and gave them a toast, “The Power of Music,” associating with this the name of Monsieur Jean Alphonse Marie Trinquier, Director of Periodic Festivities to the Municipality of Dieppe. The toast was drunk with acclamation. M. Trinquier responded, expressing his confident belief that two so gallant nations as England and France could not long be restrained from flinging down their own arms and rushing into each other’s. And then followed Captain Pond, who, having moved his audience to tears, pronounced the Looe Die-hards disbanded. Thereupon, with a gesture full of tragic inspiration, he cast his naked blade upon the board. As it clanged amid the dishes and glasses, M. Trinquier lifted his arms, and the band crashed out the “Dead Marching Soul,” following it with “God Save the King” as the clock announced midnight and the birth of the New Year.

“But hallo?” exclaimed Captain Pond, sinking back in his chair, and turning towards M. Trinquier. “I had clean forgot that you are our prisoner, and should be sent back to Dartmoor! And now the Company is disbanded, and I have no one to send as escort.”

“Monsieur also forgets that my parole expired a fortnight since, and that my service from that hour has been a service of love!”

M. Trinquier did not return to Dartmoor. For it happened, one dark night early in the following February, that Mr. Fugler (now restored to health) set sail for the island of Guernsey upon a matter of business. And on the morrow the music-master of Dieppe had become but a pleasing memory to the inhabitants of the Two Looes.

And now, should you take up Mr. Thomas Bond’s History of East and West Looe, and read of the Looe Volunteers that “not a single man of the Company died during the six years, which is certainly very remarkable,” you will be not utterly incredulous; for you will know how it came about. Still, when one comes to reflect, it does seem an odd boast for a company of warriors.

Leave a Reply 0

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