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   Chapter 2 OUR MAYOR.

The Mayor of Troy By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 13726

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Cedant arma togae. It is time we turned from the Major to the Mayor, from the man of gallantry to the magistrate.

You know, I dare say, the story of the King of England and the King of Portugal. The King of Portugal paid the King of England a visit. "My brother," said the King of England, after some days, "I wish to ask you a question." "Say on," said the King of Portugal. "I am curious to know what in these realms of mine has most impressed you?" The King of Portugal considered a while. "Your roast beef is excellent," said he. "And after our roast beef, what next?" The King of Portugal considered a while longer. "Your boiled beef very nearly approaches it." So, if you had asked us on what first of all we prided ourselves in Troy, we had pointed to our Major. If you had asked "What next?" we had pointed to our Mayor.

And these, our Dioscuri, were one and the same man! In truth, I suppose we ought to have been proudest of him as Mayor; since as Mayor he represented the King himself among us-nay, to all intents and purposes was the King. More than once in his public speeches he reminded us of this: and we were glad to remember it when-as sometimes happened-we ran a cargo from Roscoff or Guernsey and left a cask or two privily behind the Mayor's quay door. We felt then that his Majesty had been paid duty, and could have no legitimate grievance against us.

Was there any mental confusion in this? You would pardon it had you ever been privileged to witness his Sunday procession to church, in scarlet robe trimmed with sable, in cocked-hat and chain of office; the mace-bearers marching before in scarlet with puce-coloured capes, the aldermen following after in tasselled gowns of black; the band ahead playing "The Girl I left behind Me" (for, although organised for home defence, our corps had chosen this to be its regimental tune). "Some talk of Alexander and some of Hercules"-and some of Solomon, who never saw our Solomon on the bench of justice!

Let me tell you of his famous decision on Sabbath-breaking. One Sunday afternoon our Mayor's slumbers were interrupted by Jago the constable, who haled before him a man, a horse, and two pannier-loads of vegetables, and charged the first-named with this heinous offence. The fellow-a small tenant-farmer from the outskirts of the parish-could not deny that he had driven his cart down to the Town Quay, unharnessed, and started in a loud voice to cry his wares. There, almost on the instant, Jago had taken him in flagrante delicto, and, having an impediment in his speech, had used no words but collared him.

"What have you to say for yourself?" the Mayor demanded.

"Darn me if I know what's amiss with the town to-day!" the culprit made answer. "Be it a funeral?"

"You are charged with trading, or attempting to trade, on the Sabbath; and sad hearing this will be for your old parents, John Polkinghorne."

John Polkinghorne scratched his head. "You ben't going to tell me that this be Sunday!" (You see, the poor fellow, living so far in the country, had somehow miscounted the week, and ridden in to market a day late.)

"Sunday?" cried the Mayor. "Look at my Bible, there, 'pon the table! Look at my clean bandanna!"-this was his handkerchief, that he had been wearing over his face while he dozed, to keep off the flies.

"Good Lord! And me all this morning in the homefield scoading dung!"

"You go home this instant, and take every bit of that dung off again before sunset," commanded the Mayor, "and if the Lord says no more about it, we'll overlook the case."

Maybe you have never heard either of his famous examination of Sarah Mennear, of the "Three Pilchards" Inn (commonly known as the "Kettle of Fish "), who applied for a separation, alleging that her husband had kissed her by mistake for another woman.

"What other woman?" demanded his Worship.

"Sorra wan o' me knows," answered Sarah, who came of Irish extraction.

Her tale went that the previous evening, a little after twilight, she was walking up the street and had gone by the door of the "Ship" Inn, when a man staggered out into the roadway and followed her. By the sound of his footsteps she took him for some drunken sailor, and was hurrying on (but not fast, by reason of her clogs), when the man overtook her, flung an arm around her neck, and forcibly kissed her. Breaking away from him, she discovered it was her own husband.

"Then where's the harm?" asked the Mayor.

"But, please your Worship, he took me for another woman."

"Then you must cite the other woman."

"Arrah now, and how the divvle, saving your Worship's presence, will I cite the hussy, seein' I never clapt eyes on her?"

"No difficulty at all. To begin with, she was wearing clogs."

"And so would nine women out of ten be wearin' clogs in last night's weather."

"And next, she was lifting the skirt of her gown high, to let the folks admire her ankles."

"Your Worship saw the woman, then? If I'd known your Worship to be within hail-"

"I think I know the woman. And so do you, Mrs. Mennear, if you can think of one in this town that's vain as yourself of her foot and ankle, and with as good a right."

"There's not one," said Mrs. Mennear positively.

"Oh yes, there is. Go back home, like a sensible soul, and maybe you'll find her there."

"The villain! Ye'll not be tellin' me he's dared-" Mrs. Mennear came near to choke.

"And small blame to him," said the Mayor with a twinkle. "Will you go home, Sarah Mennear, and be humble, and ask her pardon?"

"Will I sclum her eyes out, ye mane!" cried Sarah, fairly dancing.

"Go home, foolish wife!" The Mayor was not smiling now, and his voice took on a terrible sternness. "The woman I mean is the woman John Mennear married, or thought he married; the woman that aforetime had kept her own counsel though he caught and kissed her in a dimmety corner of the street; the woman that swore to love, honour and obey him, not she that tongue-drove him to the 'King of Prussia,' with his own good liquor to keep him easy at home. Drunk he must have been to mistake the one for t'other; and I'm willing to fine him for drunkenness. But cite that other woman here before you ask me for a separation order, and I'll grant it; and I'll warrant when John sees you side by side, he won't oppose it."

Here and there our Mayor had his detractors, no doubt. What public man has not? He incurred the reproach of pride, for instance, when he appeared, one wet day, carrying an umbrella, the first ever seen in Troy. A Guernsey merchant had presented him with this novelty (I may whisper here that our Mayor did something more than connive at the free trade) and patently it kept off the rain. But would it not attract the lightning? Many, even among his well-wishers, shook their heads. For their part they would have accepted

the gift, but it should never have seen the light: they would have locked it away in their chests.

Oddly enough the Mayor nourished his severest censor in his own household. The rest of us might quote his wit, his wisdom, might defer to him as a being, if not superhuman, at least superlative among men; but Cai Tamblyn would have none of it. He had found one formula to answer all our praises.

"Him? Why, I knawed him when he was so high!"

Nor would he hesitate, in the Mayor's presence, from translating it into the second person.

"You? Why, I knawed you when you was so high!"

Yet the Mayor retained him in his service, which sufficiently proves his magnanimity.

He could afford to be magnanimous, being adored.

Who but he could have called a public meeting and persuaded the ladies of the town to enroll themselves in a brigade and patrol the cliffs in red cloaks during harvest, that the French, if perchance they approached our shores, might mistake them for soldiery? It was pretty, I tell you, to walk the coast-track on a warm afternoon and pass these sentinels two hundred yards apart, each busy with her knitting.

Of all the marks left on our town by Major Hymen's genius, the Port Hospital, or the idea of it, proved (as it deserved) to be the most enduring. The Looe Volunteers might pride themselves on their longevity-at the best a dodging of the common lot. We, characteristically, thought first of death and wounds.

As the Major put it, at another public meeting: "There are risks even in handling the explosives generously supplied to us by Government. But suppose-and the supposition is surely not extravagant-that history should repeat itself; that our ancient enemy should once again, as in 1456, thunder at this gate of England. He will thunder in vain, gentlemen! (Loud applause.) As a wave from the cliff he will draw back, hissing, from the iron mouths of our guns. But, gentlemen"-here the Mayor sank his voice impressively- "we cannot have omelets without the breaking of eggs, nor victories without effusion of blood. He may leave prisoners in our hands: he will assuredly leave us with dead to bury, with wounded to care for. As masters of the field, we shall discharge these offices of common humanity, not discriminating between friend and foe. But in what position are we to fulfil them?"

The fact was (when we came to consider it) our prevision had extended no farther than the actual combat: for its most ordinary results we had made no preparation at all.

But in Troy we are nothing if not thorough. The meeting appointed an Emergency Committee then and there; and the Committee, having retired to reassemble ten minutes later at the "General Wolfe," within an hour sketched out the following proposals:

1.-An Ambulance Corps to be formed of youths under sixteen (not being bandsmen) and adults variously unfit for military service.

2.-A Corps of Female Nurses. Miss Pescod to be asked to organise.

3.-The Town lock-up to be enlarged by taking down the partition between it and a chamber formerly used by the Constable as a potato store. It was also resolved to strengthen the door and provide it with two new bolts and padlocks.

4.-The question of enlarging the Churchyard was deferred to the next (Easter) vestry.

5.-Subscriptions to be invited for providing a War Hospital. The Mayor, with Lawyer Chinn (Town Clerk) and Alderman Hansombody, to seek for suitable premises, and report.

Of Dr. Hansombody I shall have more to tell anon. For the present let it suffice that before entering public life he had earned our confidence as an apothecary, and especially by his skill and delicacy in maternity cases.

These proposals were duly announced: and only if you know Troy can you conceive with what spirit the town flung itself into the task of making them effective. "Task," did I say? When I tell you that at our next drill a parade of thirty-two stretchers followed us up to the Old Fort (still to the tune of "Come, Cheer Up, My Lads!") you may guess how far duty and pleasure had made accord.

The project of a hospital went forward more slowly; but at length the Mayor and his Committee were able to announce that premises had been taken on a lease of seven years (by which time an end to the war might reasonably be predicted) in Passage Street, as you go towards the ferry; the exterior whitewashed and fitted with green jalousie shutters; the interior also cleaned and whitewashed, and a ward opened with two beds. Though few enough to meet the contingencies of invasion, and a deal too few (especially while they remained unoccupied) to satisfy the zeal of Miss Pescod's corps of nurses (which by the end of the second week numbered forty-three, with sixteen probationary members), these two beds exhausted our subscriptions for the time. A Ladies' Thursday Evening Working Party supplied them with sheets, pillows and pillow-cases, blankets and coverlets (twenty-two coverlets).

The Institution, as we have seen, was intended for a War Hospital; but pending invasion, and to get our nurses accustomed to the work, there seemed no harm in admitting as our first patient a sailor from Plymouth Dock who, having paid a lengthy call at the "King of Prussia" and drunk there exorbitantly, on the way to his ship had walked over the edge of the Town Quay. The tide being low, he had escaped drowning, but at the price of three broken ribs.

It is related of this man that early in his convalescence he sat up and demanded of the Visiting Committee (the Mayor and Miss Pescod) a translation of two texts which hung framed on the wall facing his bed. They had been illuminated by Miss Sally Tregentil at the instance of the Vicar (a Master of Arts of the University of Oxford) -the one, "Parcere Subjectis," the other, "Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori"

"Ah," said the Mayor, with a rallying glance at Miss Pescod, "that's more than any of us know. That's Latin!"

"Excuse me," put in Dr. Hansombody, who had been measuring out a draught at the little table by the window, "I don't pretend to be a scholar; but I have made out the gist of them; and I understand them to recommend a gentle aperient in cases which at first baffle diagnosis."

"Ah!" was the Mayor's only comment.

"I don't profess mine to be more than a free rendering," went on the little apothecary. "The Latin, as you would suppose, puts it more poetically."

"Talking of texts," said the patient, leaning back wearily on his pillow, "there was a woman somewhere in the Bible who put her head out of window and recommended for every man a damsel or two and a specified amount of needlework. I ain't complainin', mind you; but there's reason in all things."

You have heard how our movement was launched. Where it would have ended none can tell, had not the Millennium interfered.

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