Story type: Literature
“Yes, sir,” said my host the quarryman, reaching down the relics from their hook in the wall over the chimney-piece; “they’ve hung there all my time, and most of my father’s. The women won’t touch ’em; they’re afraid of the story. So here they’ll dangle, and gather dust and smoke, till another tenant comes and tosses ’em out o’ doors for rubbish. Whew! ’tis coarse weather.”
He went to the door, opened it, and stood studying the gale that beat upon his cottage-front, straight from the Manacle Reef. The rain drove past him into the kitchen, aslant like threads of gold silk in the shine of the wreckwood fire. Meanwhile by the same firelight I examined the relics on my knee. The metal of each was tarnished out of knowledge. But the trumpet was evidently an old cavalry trumpet, and the threads of its parti-coloured sling, though frayed and dusty, still hung together. Around the side-drum, beneath its cracked brown varnish, I could hardly trace a royal coat-of-arms, and a legend running–Per Mare per Terram–the motto of the Marines. Its parchment, though coloured and scented with wood-smoke, was limp and mildewed; and I began to tighten up the straps–under which the drumsticks had been loosely thrust–with the idle purpose of trying if some music might be got out of the old drum yet.
But as I turned it on my knee, I found the drum attached to the trumpet-sling by a curious barrel-shaped padlock, and paused to examine this. The body of the lock was composed of half a dozen brass rings, set accurately edge to edge; and, rubbing the brass with my thumb, I saw that each of the six had a series of letters engraved around it.
I knew the trick of it, I thought. Here was one of those word-padlocks, once so common; only to be opened by getting the rings to spell a certain word, which the dealer confides to you.
My host shut and barred the door, and came back to the hearth.
“‘Twas just such a wind–east by south–that brought in what you’ve got between your hands. Back in the year ‘nine it was; my father has told me the tale a score o’ times. You’re twisting round the rings, I see. But you’ll never guess the word. Parson Kendall, he made the word, and locked down a couple o’ ghosts in their graves with it; and when his time came, he went to his own grave and took the word with him.”
“Whose ghosts, Matthew?”
“You want the story, I see, sir. My father could tell it better than I can. He was a young man in the year ‘nine, unmarried at the time, and living in this very cottage just as I be. That’s how he came to get mixed up with the tale.”
He took a chair, lit a short pipe, and unfolded the story in a low musing voice, with his eyes fixed on the dancing violet flames.
“Yes, he’d ha’ been about thirty year old in January, of the year ‘nine. The storm got up in the night o’ the twenty-first o’ that month. My father was dressed and out long before daylight; he never was one to ‘bide in bed, let be that the gale by this time was pretty near lifting the thatch over his head. Besides which, he’d fenced a small ‘taty-patch that winter, down by Lowland Point, and he wanted to see if it stood the night’s work. He took the path across Gunner’s Meadow–where they buried most of the bodies afterwards. The wind was right in his teeth at the time, and once on the way (he’s told me this often) a great strip of ore-weed came flying through the darkness and fetched him a slap on the cheek like a cold hand. But he made shift pretty well till he got to Lowland, and then had to drop upon his hands and knees and crawl, digging his fingers every now and then into the shingle to hold on, for he declared to me that the stones, some of them as big as a man’s head, kept rolling and driving past till it seemed the whole foreshore was moving westward under him. The fence was gone, of course; not a stick left to show where it stood; so that, when first he came to the place, he thought he must have missed his bearings. My father, sir, was a very religious man; and if he reckoned the end of the world was at hand– there in the great wind and night, among the moving stones–you may believe he was certain of it when he heard a gun fired, and, with the same, saw a flame shoot up out of the darkness to windward, making a sudden fierce light in all the place about. All he could find to think or say was, ‘The Second Coming–The Second Coming! The Bridegroom cometh, and the wicked He will toss like a ball into a large country!’ and being already upon his knees, he just bowed his head and ‘bided, saying this over and over.
“But by’m-by, between two squalls, he made bold to lift his head and look, and then by the light–a bluish colour ’twas–he saw all the coast clear away to Manacle Point, and off the Manacles, in the thick of the weather, a sloop-of-war with top-gallants housed, driving stern foremost towards the reef. It was she, of course, that was burning the flare. My father could see the white streak and the ports of her quite plain as she rose to it, a little outside the breakers, and he guessed easy enough that her captain had just managed to wear ship, and was trying to force her nose to the sea with the help of her small bower anchor and the scrap or two of canvas that hadn’t yet been blown out of her. But while he looked, she fell off, giving her broadside to it foot by foot, and drifting back on the breakers around Carn du and the Varses. The rocks lie so thick thereabouts, that ’twas a toss up which she struck first; at any rate, my father couldn’t tell at the time, for just then the flare died down and went out.
“Well, sir, he turned then in the dark and started back for Coverack to cry the dismal tidings–though well knowing ship and crew to be past any hope; and as he turned, the wind lifted him and tossed him forward ‘like a ball,’ as he’d been saying, and homeward along the foreshore. As you know, ’tis ugly work, even by daylight, picking your way among the stones there, and my father was prettily knocked about at first in the dark. But by this ’twas nearer seven than six o’clock, and the day spreading. By the time he reached North Corner, a man could see to read print; hows’ever, he looked neither out to sea nor towards Coverack, but headed straight for the first cottage– the same that stands above North Corner to-day. A man named Billy Ede lived there then, and when my father burst into the kitchen bawling, ‘Wreck! wreck!’ he saw Billy Ede’s wife, Ann, standing there in her clogs, with a shawl over her head, and her clothes wringing wet.
“‘Save the chap!’ says Billy Ede’s wife, Ann. ‘What d’ ‘ee mean by crying stale fish at that rate?’
“‘But ’tis a wreck, I tell ‘ee. I’ve a-zeed ‘n!’
“‘Why, so ’tis,’ says she, ‘and I’ve a-zeed ‘n too; and so has everyone with an eye in his head.’
“And with that she pointed straight over my father’s shoulder, and he turned; and there, close under Dolor Point, at the end of Coverack town, he saw another wreck washing, and the point black with people, like emmets, running to and fro in the morning light. While he stood staring at her, he heard a trumpet sounded on board, the notes coming in little jerks, like a bird rising against the wind; but faintly, of course, because of the distance and the gale blowing–though this had dropped a little.
“‘She’s a transport,’ said Billy Ede’s wife, Ann, ‘and full of horse soldiers, fine long men. When she struck they must ha’ pitched the hosses over first to lighten the ship, for a score of dead hosses had washed in afore I left, half an hour back. An’ three or four soldiers, too–fine long corpses in white breeches and jackets of blue and gold. I held the lantern to one. Such a straight young man!’
“My father asked her about the trumpeting.
“‘That’s the queerest bit of all. She was burnin’ a light when me an’ my man joined the crowd down there. All her masts had gone; whether they carried away, or were cut away to ease her, I don’t rightly know. Anyway, there she lay ‘pon the rocks with her decks bare. Her keelson was broke under her and her bottom sagged and stove, and she had just settled down like a sitting hen–just the leastest list to starboard; but a man could stand there easy. They had rigged up ropes across her, from bulwark to bulwark, an’ beside these the men were mustered, holding on like grim death whenever the sea made a clean breach over them, an’ standing up like heroes as soon as it passed. The captain an’ the officers were clinging to the rail of the quarter-deck, all in their golden uniforms, waiting for the end as if ’twas King George they expected. There was no way to help, for she lay right beyond cast of line, though our folk tried it fifty times. And beside them clung a trumpeter, a whacking big man, an’ between the heavy seas he would lift his trumpet with one hand, and blow a call; and every time he blew, the men gave a cheer. There’ (she says)’–hark ‘ee now–there he goes agen! But you won’t hear no cheering any more, for few are left to cheer, and their voices weak. Bitter cold the wind is, and I reckon it numbs their grip o’ the ropes, for they were dropping off fast with every sea when my man sent me home to get his breakfast. Another wreck, you say? Well, there’s no hope for the tender dears, if ’tis the Manacles. You’d better run down and help yonder; though ’tis little help that any man can give. Not one came in alive while I was there. The tide’s flowing, an’ she won’t hold together another hour, they say.’
“Well, sure enough, the end was coming fast when my father got down to the point. Six men had been cast up alive, or just breathing–a seaman and five troopers. The seaman was the only one that had breath to speak; and while they were carrying him into the town, the word went round that the ship’s name was the Despatch, transport, homeward bound from Corunna, with a detachment of the 7th Hussars, that had been fighting out there with Sir John Moore. The seas had rolled her farther over by this time, and given her decks a pretty sharp slope; but a dozen men still held on, seven by the ropes near the ship’s waist, a couple near the break of the poop, and three on the quarter-deck. Of these three my father made out one to be the skipper; close by him clung an officer in full regimentals–his name, they heard after, was Captain Duncanfield; and last came the tall trumpeter; and if you’ll believe me, the fellow was making shift there, at the very last, to blow ‘God Save the King.’ What’s more, he got to ‘Send us victorious‘ before an extra big sea came bursting across and washed them off the deck–every man but one of the pair beneath the poop–and he dropped his hold before the next wave; being stunned, I reckon. The others went out of sight at once, but the trumpeter–being, as I said, a powerful man as well as a tough swimmer–rose like a duck, rode out a couple of breakers, and came in on the crest of the third. The folks looked to see him broke like an egg at their feet; but when the smother cleared, there he was, lying face downward on a ledge below them; and one of the men that happened to have a rope round him–I forget the fellow’s name, if I ever heard it–jumped down and grabbed him by the ankle as he began to slip back. Before the next big sea, the pair were hauled high enough to be out of harm, and another heave brought them up to grass. Quick work; but master trumpeter wasn’t quite dead; nothing worse than a cracked head and three staved ribs. In twenty minutes or so they had him in bed, with the doctor to tend him.”
“Now was the time–nothing being left alive upon the transport–for my father to tell of the sloop he’d seen driving upon the Manacles. And when he got a hearing, though the most were set upon salvage, and believed a wreck in the hand, so to say, to be worth half a dozen they couldn’t see, a good few volunteered to start off with him and have a look. They crossed Lowland Point; no ship to be seen on the Manacles, nor anywhere upon the sea. One or two was for calling my father a liar. ‘Wait till we come to Dean Point,’ said he. Sure enough, on the far side of Dean Point, they found the sloop’s mainmast washing about with half a dozen men lashed to it–men in red jackets–every mother’s son drowned and staring; and a little farther on, just under the Dean, three or four bodies cast up on the shore, one of them a small drummer-boy, side-drum and all; and, near by, part of a ship’s gig, with ‘H.M.S. Primrose‘ cut on the stern-board. From this point on, the shore was littered thick with wreckage and dead bodies–the most of them Marines in uniform; and in Godrevy Cove, in particular, a heap of furniture from the captain’s cabin, and amongst it a water-tight box, not much damaged, and full of papers; by which, when it came to be examined next day, the wreck was easily made out to be the Primrose, of eighteen guns, outward bound from Portsmouth, with a fleet of transports for the Spanish War–thirty sail, I’ve heard, but I’ve never heard what became of them. Being handled by merchant skippers, no doubt they rode out the gale and reached the Tagus safe and sound. Not but what the captain of the Primrose (Mein was his name) did quite right to try and club-haul his vessel when he found himself under the land: only he never ought to have got there if he took proper soundings. But it’s easy talking.
“The Primrose, sir, was a handsome vessel–for her size, one of the handsomest in the King’s service–and newly fitted out at Plymouth Dock. So the boys had brave pickings from her in the way of brass-work, ship’s instruments, and the like, let alone some barrels of stores not much spoiled. They loaded themselves with as much as they could carry, and started for home, meaning to make a second journey before the preventive men got wind of their doings and came to spoil the fun. But as my father was passing back under the Dean, he happened to take a look over his shoulder at the bodies there. ‘Hullo,’ says he, and dropped his gear: ‘I do believe there’s a leg moving!’ And, running fore, he stooped over the small drummer-boy that I told you about. The poor little chap was lying there, with his face a mass of bruises and his eyes closed: but he had shifted one leg an inch or two, and was still breathing. So my father pulled out a knife and cut him free from his drum–that was lashed on to him with a double turn of Manilla rope–and took him up and carried him along here, to this very room that we’re sitting in. He lost a good deal by this, for when he went back to fetch his bundle the preventive men had got hold of it, and were thick as thieves along the foreshore; so that ’twas only by paying one or two to look the other way that he picked up anything worth carrying off: which you’ll allow to be hard, seeing that he was the first man to give news of the wreck.”
“Well, the inquiry was held, of course, and my father gave evidence; and for the rest they had to trust to the sloop’s papers: for not a soul was saved besides the drummer-boy, and he was raving in a fever, brought on by the cold and the fright. And the seamen and the five troopers gave evidence about the loss of the Despatch. The tall trumpeter, too, whose ribs were healing, came forward and kissed the Book; but somehow his head had been hurt in coming ashore, and he talked foolish-like, and ’twas easy seen he would never be a proper man again. The others were taken up to Plymouth, and so went their ways; but the trumpeter stayed on in Coverack; and King George, finding he was fit for nothing, sent him down a trifle of a pension after a while–enough to keep him in board and lodging, with a bit of tobacco over.
“Now the first time that this man–William Tallifer, he called himself–met with the drummer-boy, was about a fortnight after the little chap had bettered enough to be allowed a short walk out of doors, which he took, if you please, in full regimentals. There never was a soldier so proud of his dress. His own suit had shrunk a brave bit with the salt water; but into ordinary frock an’ corduroys he declared he would not get–not if he had to go naked the rest of his life; so my father, being a good-natured man and handy with the needle, turned to and repaired damages with a piece or two of scarlet cloth cut from the jacket of one of the drowned Marines. Well, the poor little chap chanced to be standing, in this rig-out, down by the gate of Gunner’s Meadow, where they had buried two score and over of his comrades. The morning was a fine one, early in March month; and along came the cracked trumpeter, likewise taking a stroll.
“‘Hullo!’ says he; ‘good mornin’! And what might you be doin’ here?’
“‘I was a-wishin’,’ says the boy, ‘I had a pair o’ drum-sticks. Our lads were buried yonder without so much as a drum tapped or a musket fired; and that’s not Christian burial for British soldiers.’
“‘Phut!’ says the trumpeter, and spat on the ground; ‘a parcel of Marines!’
“The boy eyed him a second or so, and answered up: ‘If I’d a tab of turf handy, I’d bung it at your mouth, you greasy cavalryman, and learn you to speak respectful of your betters. The Marines are the handiest body of men in the service.’
“The trumpeter looked down on him from the height of six foot two, and asked: ‘Did they die well?’
“‘They died very well. There was a lot of running to and fro at first, and some of the men began to cry, and a few to strip off their clothes. But when the ship fell off for the last time, Captain Mein turned and said something to Major Griffiths, the commanding officer on board, and the Major called out to me to beat to quarters. It might have been for a wedding, he sang it out so cheerful. We’d had word already that ’twas to be parade order, and the men fell in as trim and decent as if they were going to church. One or two even tried to shave at the last moment. The Major wore his medals. One of the seamen, seeing I had hard work to keep the drum steady– the sling being a bit loose for me and the wind what you remember– lashed it tight with a piece of rope; and that saved my life afterwards, a drum being as good as a cork until ’tis stove. I kept beating away until every man was on deck; and then the Major formed them up and told them to die like British soldiers, and the chaplain read a prayer or two–the boys standin’ all the while like rocks, each man’s courage keeping up the others’. The chaplain was in the middle of a prayer when she struck. In ten minutes she was gone. That was how they died, cavalryman.’
“‘And that was very well done, drummer of the Marines. What’s your name?’
“‘Mine is William George Tallifer, trumpeter, of the 7th Light Dragoons–the Queen’s Own. I played “God Save the King” while our men were drowning. Captain Duncanfield told me to sound a call or two, to put them in heart; but that matter of “God Save the King” was a notion of my own. I won’t say anything to hurt the feelings of a Marine, even if he’s not much over five-foot tall; but the Queen’s Own Hussars is a tearin’ fine regiment. As between horse and foot, ’tis a question o’ which gets the chance. All the way from Sahagun to Corunna ’twas we that took and gave the knocks–at Mayorga and Rueda, and Bennyventy.’ (The reason, sir, I can speak the names so pat is that my father learnt ’em by heart afterwards from the trumpeter, who was always talking about Mayorga and Rueda and Bennyventy.) ‘We made the rear-guard, under General Paget, and drove the French every time; and all the infantry did was to sit about in wine-shops till we whipped ’em out, an’ steal an’ straggle an’ play the tom-fool in general. And when it came to a stand-up fight at Corunna, ’twas the horse, or the best part of it, that had to stay sea-sick aboard the transports, an’ watch the infantry in the thick o’ the caper. Very well they behaved, too; ‘specially the 4th Regiment, an’ the 42nd Highlanders an’ the Dirty Half-Hundred. Oh, ay; they’re decent regiments, all three. But the Queen’s Own Hussars is a tearin’ fine regiment. So you played on your drum when the ship was goin’ down? Drummer John Christian, I’ll have to get you a new pair o’ drum-sticks for that.’
“Well, sir, it appears that the very next day the trumpeter marched into Helston, and got a carpenter there to turn him a pair of box-wood drum-sticks for the boy. And this was the beginning of one of the most curious friendships you ever heard tell of. Nothing delighted the pair more than to borrow a boat off my father and pull out to the rocks where the Primrose and the Despatch had struck and sunk; and on still days ’twas pretty to hear them out there off the Manacles, the drummer playing his tattoo–for they always took their music with them–and the trumpeter practising calls, and making his trumpet speak like an angel. But if the weather turned roughish, they’d be walking together and talking; leastwise, the youngster listened while the other discoursed about Sir John’s campaign in Spain and Portugal, telling how each little skirmish befell; and of Sir John himself, and General Baird and General Paget, and Colonel Vivian, his own commanding officer, and what kind of men they were; and of the last bloody stand-up at Corunna, and so forth, as if neither could have enough.
“But all this had to come to an end in the late summer; for the boy, John Christian, being now well and strong again, must go up to Plymouth to report himself. ‘Twas his own wish (for I believe King George had forgotten all about him), but his friend wouldn’t hold him back. As for the trumpeter, my father had made an arrangement to take him on as a lodger as soon as the boy left; and on the morning fixed for the start, he was up at the door here by five o’clock, with his trumpet slung by his side, and all the rest of his kit in a small valise. A Monday morning it was, and after breakfast he had fixed to walk with the boy some way on the road towards Helston, where the coach started. My father left them at breakfast together, and went out to meat the pig, and do a few odd morning jobs of that sort. When he came back, the boy was still at table, and the trumpeter standing here by the chimney-place with the drum and trumpet in his hands, hitched together just as they be at this moment.
“‘Look at this,’ he says to my father, showing him the lock; ‘I picked it up off a starving brass-worker in Lisbon, and it is not one of your common locks that one word of six letters will open at any time. There’s janius in this lock; for you’ve only to make the rings spell any six-letter word you please, and snap down the lock upon that, and never a soul can open it–not the maker, even–until somebody comes along that knows the word you snapped it on. Now, Johnny here’s goin’, and he leaves his drum behind him; for, though he can make pretty music on it, the parchment sags in wet weather, by reason of the sea-water getting at it; an’ if he carries it to Plymouth, they’ll only condemn it and give him another. And, as for me, I shan’t have the heart to put lip to the trumpet any more when Johnny’s gone. So we’ve chosen a word together, and locked ’em together upon that; and, by your leave, I’ll hang ’em here together on the hook over your fireplace. Maybe Johnny’ll come back; maybe not. Maybe, if he comes, I’ll be dead an’ gone, an’ he’ll take ’em apart an’ try their music for old sake’s sake. But if he never comes, nobody can separate ’em; for nobody beside knows the word. And if you marry and have sons, you can tell ’em that here are tied together the souls of Johnny Christian, drummer of the Marines, and William George Tallifer, once trumpeter of the Queen’s Own Hussars. Amen.’
“With that he hung the two instruments ‘pon the hook there; and the boy stood up and thanked my father and shook hands; and the pair went forth of the door, towards Helston.
“Somewhere on the road they took leave of one another; but nobody saw the parting, nor heard what was said between them. About three in the afternoon the trumpeter came walking back over the hill; and by the time my father came home from the fishing, the cottage was tidied up and the tea ready, and the whole place shining like a new pin. From that time for five years he lodged here with my father, looking after the house and tilling the garden; and all the while he was steadily failing, the hurt in his head spreading, in a manner, to his limbs. My father watched the feebleness growing on him, but said nothing. And from first to last neither spake a word about the drummer, John Christian; nor did any letter reach them, nor word of his doings.
“The rest of the tale you’m free to believe, sir, or not, as you please. It stands upon my father’s words, and he always declared he was ready to kiss the Book upon it before judge and jury. He said, too, that he never had the wit to make up such a yarn; and he defied anyone to explain about the lock, in particular, by any other tale. But you shall judge for yourself.
“My father said that about three o’clock in the morning, April fourteenth of the year ‘fourteen, he and William Tallifer were sitting here, just as you and I, sir, are sitting now. My father had put on his clothes a few minutes before, and was mending his spiller by the light of the horn lantern, meaning to set off before daylight to haul the trammel. The trumpeter hadn’t been to bed at all. Towards the last he mostly spent his nights (and his days, too) dozing in the elbow-chair where you sit at this minute. He was dozing then (my father said), with his chin dropped forward on his chest, when a knock sounded upon the door, and the door opened, and in walked an upright young man in scarlet regimentals.
“He had grown a brave bit, and his face was the colour of wood-ashes; but it was the drummer, John Christian. Only his uniform was different from the one he used to wear, and the figures ’38’ shone in brass upon his collar.
“The drummer walked past my father as if he never saw him, and stood by the elbow-chair and said:
“‘Trumpeter, trumpeter, are you one with me?’
“And the trumpeter just lifted the lids of his eyes, and answered, ‘How should I not be one with you, drummer Johnny–Johnny boy? The men are patient. ‘Till you come, I count; while you march, I mark time; until the discharge comes.’
“‘The discharge has come to-night,’ said the drummer, ‘and the word is Corunna no longer’; and stepping to the chimney-place, he unhooked the drum and trumpet, and began to twist the brass rings of the lock, spelling the word aloud, so–C-O-R-U-N-A. When he had fixed the last letter, the padlock opened in his hand.
“‘Did you know, trumpeter, that when I came to Plymouth they put me into a line regiment?’
“‘The 38th is a good regiment,’ answered the old Hussar, still in his dull voice. ‘I went back with them from Sahagun to Corunna. At Corunna they stood in General Fraser’s division, on the right. They behaved well.’
“‘But I’d fain see the Marines again,’ says the drummer, handing him the trumpet; ‘and you–you shall call once more for the Queen’s Own. Matthew,’ he says, suddenly, turning on my father–and when he turned, my father saw for the first time that his scarlet jacket had a round hole by the breast-bone, and that the blood was welling there–‘Matthew, we shall want your boat.’
“Then my father rose on his legs like a man in a dream, while they two slung on, the one his drum, and t’other his trumpet. He took the lantern, and went quaking before them down to the shore, and they breathed heavily behind him; and they stepped into his boat, and my father pushed off.
“‘Row you first for Dolor Point,’ says the drummer. So my father rowed them out past the white houses of Coverack to Dolor Point, and there, at a word, lay on his oars. And the trumpeter, William Tallifer, put his trumpet to his mouth and sounded the Revelly. The music of it was like rivers running.
“‘They will follow,’ said the drummer. ‘Matthew, pull you now for the Manacles.’
“So my father pulled for the Manacles, and came to an easy close outside Carn du. And the drummer took his sticks and beat a tattoo, there by the edge of the reef; and the music of it was like a rolling chariot.
“‘That will do,’ says he, breaking off; ‘they will follow. Pull now for the shore under Gunner’s Meadow.’
“Then my father pulled for the shore, and ran his boat in under Gunner’s Meadow. And they stepped out, all three, and walked up to the meadow. By the gate the drummer halted and began his tattoo again, looking out towards the darkness over the sea.
“And while the drum beat, and my father held his breath, there came up out of the sea and the darkness a troop of many men, horse and foot, and formed up among the graves; and others rose out of the graves and formed up–drowned Marines with bleached faces, and pale Hussars riding their horses, all lean and shadowy. There was no clatter of hoofs or accoutrements, my father said, but a soft sound all the while, like the beating of a bird’s wing, and a black shadow lying like a pool about the feet of all. The drummer stood upon a little knoll just inside the gate, and beside him the tall trumpeter, with hand on hip, watching them gather; and behind them both my father, clinging to the gate. When no more came, the drummer stopped playing, and said, ‘Call the roll.’
“Then the trumpeter stepped towards the end man of the rank and called, ‘Troop-Sergeant-Major Thomas Irons!’ and the man in a thin voice answered ‘Here!’
“‘Troop-Sergeant-Major Thomas Irons, how is it with you?’
“The man answered, ‘How should it be with me? When I was young, I betrayed a girl; and when I was grown, I betrayed a friend; and for these things I must pay. But I died as a man ought. God save the King!’
“The trumpeter called to the next man, ‘Trooper Henry Buckingham!’ and the next man answered, ‘Here!’
“‘Trooper Henry Buckingham, how is it with you?’
“‘How should it be with me? I was a drunkard, and I stole, and in Lugo, in a wine-shop, I knifed a man. But I died as a man should. God save the King!’
“So the trumpeter went down the line; and when he had finished, the drummer took it up, hailing the dead Marines in their order. Each man answered to his name, and each man ended with ‘God save the King!’ When all were hailed, the drummer stepped back to his mound, and called:
“‘It is well. You are content, and we are content to join you. Wait yet a little while.’
“With this he turned and ordered my father to pick up the lantern, and lead the way back. As my father picked it up, he heard the ranks of dead men cheer and call, ‘God save the King!’ all together, and saw them waver and fade back into the dark, like a breath fading off a pane.
“But when they came back here to the kitchen, and my father set the lantern down, it seemed they’d both forgot about him. For the drummer turned in the lantern-light–and my father could see the blood still welling out of the hole in his breast–and took the trumpet-sling from around the other’s neck, and locked drum and trumpet together again, choosing the letters on the lock very carefully. While he did this he said:
“‘The word is no more Corunna, but Bayonne. As you left out an ‘n’ in Corunna, so must I leave out an ‘n’ in Bayonne.’ And before snapping the padlock, he spelt out the word slowly–‘B-A-Y-O-N-E.’ After that, he used no more speech; but turned and hung the two instruments back on the hook; and then took the trumpeter by the arm; and the pair walked out into the darkness, glancing neither to right nor left.
“My father was on the point of following, when he heard a sort of sigh behind him; and there, sitting in the elbow-chair, was the very trumpeter he had just seen walk out by the door! If my father’s heart jumped before, you may believe it jumped quicker now. But after a bit, he went up to the man asleep in the chair, and put a hand upon him. It was the trumpeter in flesh and blood that he touched; but though the flesh was warm, the trumpeter was dead.
“Well, sir, they buried him three days after; and at first my father was minded to say nothing about his dream (as he thought it). But the day after the funeral, he met Parson Kendall coming from Helston market: and the parson called out: ‘Have ‘ee heard the news the coach brought down this mornin’?’ ‘What news?’ says my father. ‘Why, that peace is agreed upon.’ ‘None too soon,’ says my father. ‘Not soon enough for our poor lads at Bayonne,’ the parson answered. ‘Bayonne!’ cries my father, with a jump. ‘Why, yes’; and the parson told him all about a great sally the French had made on the night of April 13th. ‘Do you happen to know if the 38th Regiment was engaged?’ my father asked. ‘Come, now,’ said Parson Kendall, ‘I didn’t know you was so well up in the campaign. But, as it happens, I do know that the 38th was engaged, for ’twas they that held a cottage and stopped the French advance.’
“Still my father held his tongue; and when, a week later, he walked into Helston and bought a Mercury off the Sherborne rider, and got the landlord of the ‘Angel’ to spell out the list of killed and wounded, sure enough, there among the killed was Drummer John Christian, of the 38th Foot.
“After this, there was nothing for a religious man but to make a clean breast. So my father went up to Parson Kendall and told the whole story. The parson listened, and put a question or two, and then asked:
“‘Have you tried to open the lock since that night?’
“‘I han’t dared to touch it,’ says my father.
“‘Then come along and try.’ When the parson came to the cottage here, he took the things off the hook and tried the lock. ‘Did he say ‘Bayonne‘? The word has seven letters.’
“‘Not if you spell it with one ‘n’ as he did,’ says my father.
“The parson spelt it out–B-A-Y-O-N-E. ‘Whew!’ says he, for the lock had fallen open in his hand.
“He stood considering it a moment, and then he says,’ I tell you what. I shouldn’t blab this all round the parish, if I was you. You won’t get no credit for truth-telling, and a miracle’s wasted on a set of fools. But if you like, I’ll shut down the lock again upon a holy word that no one but me shall know, and neither drummer nor trumpeter, dead nor alive, shall frighten the secret out of me.’
“‘I wish to gracious you would, parson,’ said my father.
“The parson chose the holy word there and then, and shut the lock back upon it, and hung the drum and trumpet back in their place. He is gone long since, taking the word with him. And till the lock is broken by force, nobody will ever separate those twain.”