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   Chapter 4 HOW THE TROY GALLANTS CHALLENGED THE LOOE DIEHARDS.

The Mayor of Troy By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 9997

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


That it was the Major's idea goes without saying. At Looe they had neither the originality for it nor the enterprise.

I have already told you with what sardonic emphasis he quoted the saying that 'twas hardly worth while for Great Britain to go to war merely to prove that she could put herself in a good posture for defence. The main secret of strategy, he would add, is to impose your idea of the campaign on your enemy; to take the initiative out of his hands; to throw him on the defensive and keep him nervously speculating what move of yours may be a feint and what a real attack. If the Ministry had given the Major his head, so to speak, Agincourt at least might have been repeated.

But since it enforced him to wait on the enemy's movements, at least (said he) let us be sure that our defence is secure. Concerning the Troy battery he had not a doubt; but over the defences of Looe he could not but feel perturbed. To be sure, Looe's main battery stood out of reach of harm, but with the compensating disadvantage of being able to inflict none. This seemed to him a grave engineering blunder: but to impart his misgivings to an officer so sensitive as Captain Aeneas Pond of the East and West Looe Volunteer Artillery was a delicate matter, and cost him much anxious thought.

At length he hit on a plan at once tactful and so bold that it concealed his tact. Between Looe and Troy, but much nearer to Looe, lies Talland Cove, a pretty recess of the coast much favoured in those days by smugglers as being lonely and well sheltered, with a nicely shelving beach on which, at almost any state of the tide, an ordinary small boat could be run and her cargo discharged with the greatest ease. A shelving ridge on the eastern side of the cove had only to be known to be avoided, and the run of sea upon the beach could be disregarded in any but a strong southerly wind.

Now, where the free-traders could so easily land a cargo, it stood to reason that Bonaparte (were he so minded) could land an invading force. Nay, once on a time the French had actually forced this very spot. A short way up the valley behind the cove stood a mill; and of that mill this story was told. About the time of the Wars of the Roses, the miller there gave entertainment to a fellow-miller from the Breton coast opposite, who had crossed over-or so he pretended- to learn by what art the English ground finer corn than the French. Coming by hazard to this mill above Talland, he was well entertained for a month or more And dismissed with a blessing; but only to return to his own country, collect a band of men and cross to Talland Cove, where on a Christmas Eve he surprised his late host at supper, bound him, haled him down to the shore, carried him off to Brittany, and there held him at ransom. The ransom was paid, and our Cornish miller, returning, built himself a secret cupboard behind the chimney for a hiding-place against another such mishap. That hiding-place yet existed, and formed (as the Major well knew) a capital store-chamber for the free-traders.

The Major, then, having carefully studied Talland Cove, with its approaches, and the lie of the land to the east and west and immediately behind it, sat down and indited the following letter:

"Dear Pond,-I have been thinking over the military situation, and am of opinion that if the enemy once effected a lodgment in Looe, we in Troy might have difficulty in dislodging him. Have you considered the danger of Talland Cove and the accessibility of your town from that quarter? And would you and your corps entertain the idea of a descent of my corps upon Talland one of these nights as a friendly test?-Believe me, yours truly,"

"Sol Hymen (Major)."

"To Captain Aeneas Pond, Commanding the East and West Looe Volunteer Artillery."

To this Captain Pond made answer:

"Dear Hymen,-The military situation here is practically unchanged. We have had some bronchial trouble among the older members of the corps in consequence of the severe east winds which prevailed up to last week; but on the whole we have weathered the winter beyond expectation. A slight outbreak of whooping-cough towards the end of February was confined to the juveniles of the town, and left us unaffected.

"Seeing that I make a practice of walking over to Talland to bathe at least twice a week during the summer months, I ought to be acquainted with the dangers of the Cove, as well as its accessibility. The temperature of the water is of extraordinarily low range, and will compare in the mean (I am told) with the Bay of Naples. My informant was speaking of ordinary years. Vesuvius in eruption would no doubt send the figures up.

"By all means march your men over to Talland; and if the weather be tolerable we will await you there and have a dinner ready at the Sloop. Our Assurance Fund has a surplus this year, which, in my opinion, would be well expended in entertaining our brothers-in-arms. But do not make the hour too late, or I

shall have trouble with the Doctor. What do you say to 3.30 p.m., any day after this week?-Yours truly,

Aen. Pond.

"To the Worshipful the Mayor of Troy (Major S. Hymen), Commanding the Troy Volunteer Artillery."

The Major replied:

"Dear Pond,-In speaking of the enemy, I referred to the Corsican and his minions rather than to the whooping-cough or any similar epidemic. It struck me that the former (being flat-bottomed) might with great ease effect a landing in Talland Cove and fall on your flank in the small hours of the morning, creating a situation with which, single-handed, you might find it difficult to cope. My suggestion then would be that, as a test, we arranged a night together for a surprise attack, our corps here acting as a friendly foe.

"With so gallant an enemy I feel a diffidence in discussing the bare contingency of our success. But it may reassure the non-combatant portion of your population in East and West Looe if I add that 72 per centum of my corps are married men, and that I accept no recruit without careful inquiry into character.

"By direct assault I know you to be impregnable. The reef off your harbour would infallibly wreck any ship that tried to approach within the range of your battery (270 point-blank, I believe); and my experience with a picnic party last summer convinced me that to discharge the complement of even half a dozen boats by daylight on your quay requires a degree of method which in a night attack would almost certainly be lacking. Our boats would not be flat bottomed, but only partially so: enough for practical purposes.

"I do not apprehend any casualties. With a little forethought we may surely avoid the confusion incident to a night surprise, while carrying it out in all essentials. But I may mention that we have a well-found hospital in Troy, that we should bring our own stretcher-party, and that our honorary surgeon, Mr. Hansombody, is a licentiate of the Apothecaries' Hall, in London.-I am, my dear Pond, yours truly,"

"Sol. Hymen (Major)."

"Confound this fire-eater!" sighed Captain Pond. "I knew, when they told me he had founded a hospital, he wouldn't be satisfied till he'd filled it." Yet he could scarcely decline the challenge.

"My dear Major,-In these critical times, when Great Britain calls upon her sons to consolidate their ranks in face of the Invader, I should have thought it wiser to keep as many as possible in health and fighting condition than to incur the uncertain risks of such a nocturnal adventure as you propose. I think it due to myself to make this clear, and you will credit me that I have, or had, no other reason for demurring. It does not become me, however, to argue with my superior in military rank; and again, the tone of your last communication makes it impossible for me to decline without bringing the spirit of my Corps under suspicion. I cannot do them this injustice. His Majesty, I dare to say, has no braver, no more gallant subjects, than the inhabitants of East and West Looe; and if, or when, you choose to invade us you may count on a determined resistance and, at its conclusion, on a hearty invitation to supper, or breakfast, as the length of the operations may dictate.-I am, yours truly,"

"Aen. Pond (Capt. E. and W.L.V.A.)."

"P.S.-If you will accept a suggestion, it is that on the night of the 30th of April, or in the early hours of May morning, large numbers of our inhabitants fare out to the neighbouring farmhouses to eat cream and observe other unwholesome but primitive and interesting ceremonies before day-break. A similar custom, I hear, prevails at Troy. Now it occurs to me that if we agreed upon that date for our surprise attack, we should, so to speak, be killing two birds with one stone, and at a season when the night air in some degree loses its insalubrity.

"P.P.S.-You will, of course, take care-it is the essence of our agreement-that all ammunition shall be strictly blank. And pray bring your full band. Though superfluous before and during the surprise, their strains will greatly enhance the subsequent festivities."

Thus did Captain Pond accept our challenge. The Major acknowledged its acceptance in the following brief note:

"My dear Pond,-Your letter has highly gratified me. Between this and April 30th I will make occasion to meet you and arrange details. Meanwhile, could you discover and send the correct words and tune of an old song I remember hearing sung, when I was a boy, in honour of your town? It was called, I think, 'The George of Looe'; and if between this and then our musicians learnt to play it, I daresay your men would appreciate the compliment from their (temporary) foes.-Yours truly,"

"Sol. Hymen (Major)."

But this was before our Vicar's announcement of the Millennium.

Captain Pond promised to obtain, if possible, the words and music of the old song. "Courtesies such as yours," he wrote, "refine the spirit, while they mitigate the ferocity, of warfare."

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