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   Chapter 9 ENTER THE KING'S POSTMAN.

The Ship of Stars By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 8317

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


A faint south wind murmured beneath the eaves. It died away, and for an hour there was peace on the towans. Then the sands began to trickle again, and the rushes to whisper and bend away from the sea, toward the high moors over which the gulls had flown yesterday and disappeared. By-and-by a spit or two of rain came flying out of the black north-west. The drops fell in the path of the sand, but the sand drove over and covered them, racing faster and faster.

Day rose, and Taffy awoke. The house walls were shaking. With each blow the wind ran up a scale of notes and ended with a howl. He looked out. Sea and sky had melted into one; only now and then white surf line heaved into sight, and melted back into grey. After breakfast he and his father started to battle their way to Tredinnis House, while Humility barricaded the door behind them. Taffy wore a suit of oilers, of which he was mightily proud.

They made their way under the lee of the towans to escape the stinging sand. Within Tredinnis Gates they found a couple of pine-trees blown down across the road, and scrambled over their trunks. Before lessons, Taffy boasted a lot of his journey to Honoria, and almost forgot to be sorry that George did not appear, though it was Wednesday.

They had no trouble in reaching home. The gale hurled them along. Taffy, leaning his back against it, could scarcely feel his feet touching ground. Humility unfastened the door, looking white and anxious. Before they could close it again, the wind swept a big dish off the dresser with a crash.

Taffy slept soundly that night. He did not hear a knocking which sounded on the house-door, soon after eleven o'clock. The man who knocked came from Tresedder, one of the moor farms. "Oh, sir! did 'ee see the rockets go up over Innis? There'll be dead men down 'pon the Island rocks."

Taffy slept on. When he came downstairs next morning there was a stranger in the kitchen-a little old man, huddled in a blanket before the great fireplace, where a line of clothes hung drying. Humility was stooping to wedge a sand-bag under the door. She looked up at Taffy with a wan little smile.

"There has been a wreck," she said.

"Glory be!" exclaimed the stranger from the fire-place.

Taffy glanced at him, but could see little more than the back of a bald head above the blankets.

"Where's the ship?" he asked.

"Gone," answered the Vicar, coming at that moment from the inner room where his books were. "She must have broken up in less than ten minutes after she struck the Island-parted and gone down in six fathoms of water."

"And the men? Was father there?" It bewildered Taffy that all this should have happened while he was sleeping.

"There was no time to fix the rocket apparatus. She was late in making her distress signals. But I doubt if anything could have been done. She went down too quickly."

"But-" Taffy's gaze wandered to the bald head.

"He was washed clean over the ridge where she struck, and swept into Innis Pool-one big wave carried him into safety-one man out of six."

"Hallelujah!" cried the rescued man facing round in his chair. "Might ha' been scat like an egg-shell, and here I be shoutin' praises!" Taffy saw that he was a clean-shaven little fellow, with puckered cheeks and two wisps of grey hair curling forward from his ears.

Mr. Raymond frowned. "I am sure," said he, "you ought not to be talking so much."

"I will sing and give praise, sir, beggin' you pardon, with the best member that I have. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended and I burn not? Hallelujah! A-men!"

He took his basin of bread and milk from Humility's hand, and ate by the fire. She had wrung his clothes through fresh water, and as soon as they were thoroughly dry he retired upstairs to change. He came back to his seat by the fire.

"Now, I be like 'Possel Paul," he said, rubbing his hands, and stretching them out to the blaze. "After his shipwreck, you know, when the folks 'pon the island showed en kindness. This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in your eyes.

"'Not fearing nor doubting,

With Christ by my side,

I hopes to die

shouting,

The Lord will provide!'"

Humility thought that for certain the shipwreck had turned his head.

"But where do you come from?" she asked.

"They call me Jacky Pascoe, ma'am; but I calls myself the King's

Postman-

"'Jacky Pascoe is my name,

Wendron is my nation,

Nowhere is my dwelling-place,

For Christ is my salvation-'

"I was brought to a miner, over to Wheal Jewel, in Illogan Parish; but got conversion fifteen years since, an' now I go about praising the Name. I've been miner, cafender, cooper, mason, seaman, scissor-grinder, umbrella-mender, holli-bubber, all by turns. I sticks my hands in my pockets, an' waits on the Lord; an' what he tells me to do, I do. This day week I was up to Fowey, working on the tip.[1] There was a little schooner there, the Garibaldi, of Newport, discharging coal. The Lord said to me, 'Arise, go in that there schooner!' I sought out the skipper, and said, 'Where be bound for next?' 'Back to Newport,' says he. 'That'll suit me,' I says, an' persuaded en to take me. But the Lord knew where she were bound better'n the skipper; and here I be!"

It seemed to his hearers that this man took little thought of his drowned shipmates. Mr. Raymond looked up as he strapped his books together.

"You were not the only man in that schooner," he said, rather severely.

"Glory be! Who be I, to question the Lord's ways? One day I picked up a map, an' seed a place on it called 'Little Sins.' 'Little Sins wants great Deliverance,' says I, an' I started clane off an' walked to the place, though I'd never so much as heard of it till then. 'Twas harvest-time there, an' I danced into the field, shouting 'Glory, glory. The harvest is plenty, but the labourers be few!' The farmer was moved to give me a job 'pon the spot. I bided there two year, an' built them a chapel an' preached the Word in it. They offered me money to stop an' preach; and I laid it before the Lord. But He said, 'You're the King's Postman. Keep moving, keep on moving! 'I've built two more chapels since then."

Late that afternoon three bodies were recovered from the sea-the captain, the mate, and a boy of about sixteen; and were buried in the churchyard next day, as soon as the inquest was over. Pascoe followed the coffins, and pointed the service at the grave-side with interjaculations of his own. "Glory be!" "A-men!" "Hallelujah!" "Great Redemption!" To the Vicar's surprise the small crowd after a minute began to follow the man's lead, until at length he could scarcely read for these interruptions.

At supper that night Pascoe sprang a question on the Vicar.

"Be you convarted?" he asked, looking up with his mouth full of bread and cheese.

"I hope so."

"Aw, you hopes! 'Tis a bad case with 'ee, then. When a man's convarted, he knows. Seemin' to me, you baint. You don't show enough of the bright side. Now, as I go along, my very toes keep ticking salvation. Down goes one foot, 'Glory be!' Down goes the other, 'A-men!' Aw! I must dance for joy!"

He got up and danced around the kitchen.

"I wish the man would go," Humility thought to herself.

His very next words answered her wish. "I'll be leavin' to-morrow, friends. I've got a room down to the village, an' I've borreyed a razor. I'm goin' to tramp round the mines at the back here, an' shave the miners at a ha'penny a chin. That'll pay my way. There's a new preacher planned to the Bible Christians, down to Innis, an' I'm goin' to help he. My dears, don't 'ee tell me the Lord didn' know what He was about when He cast the Garibaldi ashore!"

He left the Parsonage next day. "Ma'am," he said to Humility on leaving, "I salute this here house. Peace be on this here house, for it is worthy. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward."

Two mornings later, Taffy, looking out from his bedroom window soon after daybreak, saw the prophet trudging along the road. He had a clean white bag slung across his shoulder; it carried his soap and razors, no doubt. And every now and then he waved his walking-stick and skipped as he went.

[1] Loading vessels from the jetties.

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