Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- Rodney Stone - 5/52 -
ploughed their way through the soft gravel, and a broad figure loomed upon us in the darkness.
Jim sprang upon it like a tiger.
"YOU'RE not a spirit, anyway!" he cried.
The man gave a shout of surprise, and then a growl of rage.
"What the deuce!" he roared, and then, "I'll break your neck if you don't let go."
The threat might not have loosened Jim's grip, but the voice did.
"Why, uncle!" he cried.
"Well, I'm blessed if it isn't Boy Jim! And what's this? Why, it's young Master Rodney Stone, as I'm a living sinner! What in the world are you two doing up at Cliffe Royal at this time of night?"
We had all moved out into the moonlight, and there was Champion Harrison with a big bundle on his arm,--and such a look of amazement upon his face as would have brought a smile back on to mine had my heart not still been cramped with fear.
"We're exploring," said Jim.
"Exploring, are you? Well, I don't think you were meant to be Captain Cooks, either of you, for I never saw such a pair of peeled- turnip faces. Why, Jim, what are you afraid of?"
"I'm not afraid, uncle. I never was afraid; but spirits are new to me, and--"
"I've been in Cliffe Royal, and we've seen the ghost."
The Champion gave a whistle.
"That's the game, is it?" said he. "Did you have speech with it?"
"It vanished first."
The Champion whistled once more.
"I've heard there is something of the sort up yonder," said he; "but it's not a thing as I would advise you to meddle with. There's enough trouble with the folk of this world, Boy Jim, without going out of your way to mix up with those of another. As to young Master Rodney Stone, if his good mother saw that white face of his, she'd never let him come to the smithy more. Walk slowly on, and I'll see you back to Friar's Oak."
We had gone half a mile, perhaps, when the Champion overtook us, and I could not but observe that the bundle was no longer under his arm. We were nearly at the smithy before Jim asked the question which was already in my mind.
"What took YOU up to Cliffe Royal, uncle?"
"Well, as a man gets on in years," said the Champion, "there's many a duty turns up that the likes of you have no idea of. When you're near forty yourself, you'll maybe know the truth of what I say."
So that was all we could draw from him; but, young as I was, I had heard of coast smuggling and of packages carried to lonely places at night, so that from that time on, if I had heard that the preventives had made a capture, I was never easy until I saw the jolly face of Champion Harrison looking out of his smithy door.
CHAPTER III--THE PLAY-ACTRESS OF ANSTEY CROSS
I have told you something about Friar's Oak, and about the life that we led there. Now that my memory goes back to the old place it would gladly linger, for every thread which I draw from the skein of the past brings out half a dozen others that were entangled with it. I was in two minds when I began whether I had enough in me to make a book of, and now I know that I could write one about Friar's Oak alone, and the folk whom I knew in my childhood. They were hard and uncouth, some of them, I doubt not; and yet, seen through the golden haze of time, they all seem sweet and lovable. There was our good vicar, Mr. Jefferson, who loved the whole world save only Mr. Slack, the Baptist minister of Clayton; and there was kindly Mr. Slack, who was all men's brother save only of Mr. Jefferson, the vicar of Friar's Oak. Then there was Monsieur Rudin, the French Royalist refugee who lived over on the Pangdean road, and who, when the news of a victory came in, was convulsed with joy because we had beaten Buonaparte, and shaken with rage because we had beaten the French, so that after the Nile he wept for a whole day out of delight and then for another one out of fury, alternately clapping his hands and stamping his feet. Well I remember his thin, upright figure and the way in which he jauntily twirled his little cane; for cold and hunger could not cast him down, though we knew that he had his share of both. Yet he was so proud and had such a grand manner of talking, that no one dared to offer him a cloak or a meal. I can see his face now, with a flush over each craggy cheek-bone when the butcher made him the present of some ribs of beef. He could not but take it, and yet whilst he was stalking off he threw a proud glance over his shoulder at the butcher, and he said, "Monsieur, I have a dog!" Yet it was Monsieur Rudin and not his dog who looked plumper for a week to come.
Then I remember Mr. Paterson, the farmer, who was what you would now call a Radical, though at that time some called him a Priestley-ite, and some a Fox-ite, and nearly everybody a traitor. It certainly seemed to me at the time to be very wicked that a man should look glum when he heard of a British victory; and when they burned his straw image at the gate of his farm, Boy Jim and I were among those who lent a hand. But we were bound to confess that he was game, though he might be a traitor, for down he came, striding into the midst of us with his brown coat and his buckled shoes, and the fire beating upon his grim, schoolmaster face. My word, how he rated us, and how glad we were at last to sneak quietly away.
"You livers of a lie!" said he. "You and those like you have been preaching peace for nigh two thousand years, and cutting throats the whole time. If the money that is lost in taking French lives were spent in saving English ones, you would have more right to burn candles in your windows. Who are you that dare to come here to insult a law-abiding man?"
"We are the people of England!" cried young Master Ovington, the son of the Tory Squire.
"You! you horse-racing, cock-fighting ne'er-do-weel! Do you presume to talk for the people of England? They are a deep, strong, silent stream, and you are the scum, the bubbles, the poor, silly froth that floats upon the surface."
We thought him very wicked then, but, looking back, I am not sure that we were not very wicked ourselves.
And then there were the smugglers! The Downs swarmed with them, for since there might be no lawful trade betwixt France and England, it had all to run in that channel. I have been up on St. John's Common upon a dark night, and, lying among the bracken, I have seen as many as seventy mules and a man at the head of each go flitting past me as silently as trout in a stream. Not one of them but bore its two ankers of the right French cognac, or its bale of silk of Lyons and lace of Valenciennes. I knew Dan Scales, the head of them, and I knew Tom Hislop, the riding officer, and I remember the night they met.
"Do you fight, Dan?" asked Tom.
"Yes, Tom; thou must fight for it."
On which Tom drew his pistol, and blew Dan's brains out.
"It was a sad thing to do," he said afterwards, "but I knew Dan was too good a man for me, for we tried it out before."
It was Tom who paid a poet from Brighton to write the lines for the tombstone, which we all thought were very true and good, beginning -
"Alas! Swift flew the fatal lead Which pierced through the young man's head. He instantly fell, resigned his breath, And closed his languid eyes in death."
There was more of it, and I dare say it is all still to be read in Patcham Churchyard.
One day, about the time of our Cliffe Royal adventure, I was seated in the cottage looking round at the curios which my father had fastened on to the walls, and wishing, like the lazy lad that I was, that Mr. Lilly had died before ever he wrote his Latin grammar, when my mother, who was sitting knitting in the window, gave a little cry of surprise.
"Good gracious!" she cried. "What a vulgar-looking woman!"
It was so rare to hear my mother say a hard word against anybody (unless it were General Buonaparte) that I was across the room and at the window in a jump. A pony-chaise was coming slowly down the village street, and in it was the queerest-looking person that I had ever seen. She was very stout, with a face that was of so dark a red that it shaded away into purple over the nose and cheeks. She wore a great hat with a white curling ostrich feather, and from under its brim her two bold, black eyes stared out with a look of anger and defiance as if to tell the folk that she thought less of them than they could do of her. She had some sort of scarlet pelisse with white swans-down about her neck, and she held the reins slack in her hands, while the pony wandered from side to side of the road as the fancy took him. Each time the chaise swayed, her head with the great hat swayed also, so that sometimes we saw the crown of it and sometimes the brim.
"What a dreadful sight!" cried my mother.
"What is amiss with her, mother?"
"Heaven forgive me if I misjudge her, Rodney, but I think that the
Previous Page Next Page
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20 30 40 50 52
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything