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   Chapter 10 A HAPPY DAY.

The Ship of Stars By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 20422

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


A volley of sand darkened and shook the pane. Taffy, sponging himself in his tub and singing between his gasps, looked up hastily, then flung a big towel about him and ran to the window.

Honoria was standing below; and Comedy, her gray pony, with a creel and a couple of fishing rods strapped to his canvas girth.

"Wake up! I've come to take you fishing."

Mr. Raymond had started off at daybreak to walk to Truro on business; so there would be no lessons that morning, and Taffy had been looking forward to a lonely whole holiday.

"I've brought two pasties," said Honoria, "and a bottle of milk. We'll go over to George's country and catch trout. He is to meet us at Vellingey Bridge. We arranged it all yesterday, only I kept it for a surprise."

Taffy could have leapt for joy. "Go in and speak to mother," he said; "she's in the kitchen."

Honoria hitched Comedy's bridle over the gate, walked up the barren little garden, and knocked at the door. When Mrs. Raymond opened it she held out a hand politely.

"How do you do?" she said, "I have come to ask if Taffy may go fishing with me."

Except in church, and outside the porch for a formal word or two, Humility and Honoria had never met. This was Honoria's first visit to the Parsonage, and the sight of the clean kitchen and shining pots and pans filled her with wonder. Humility shook hands and made a silent note of the child's frock, which was torn and wanted brushing.

"He may go, and thank you. It's lonely for him here, very often."

"I suppose," said Honoria gravely, "I ought to have called before. I wish-" She was about to say that she wished Humility would come to Tredinnis. But her eyes wandered to the orderly dresser and the scalding-pans by the fireplace.

"I mean-if Taffy had a sister it would be different."

Humility bent to lift a kettle off the fire. When she faced round again, her eyes were smiling though her lip trembled a little.

"How bright you keep everything here!" said Honoria.

"There's plenty of sand to scour with; it's bad for the garden though."

"Don't you grow any flowers?"

"I planted a few pansies the first year; they came from my home up in

Devonshire. But the sand covered them. It covers everything."

She smiled, and asked suddenly, "May I kiss you?"

"Of course you may," said Honoria. But she blushed as Humility did it, and they both laughed shyly.

"Hullo!" cried Taffy from the foot of the stairs. Honoria moved to the window. She heard the boy and his mother laughing and making pretence to quarrel, while he chose the brownest of the hot cakes from the wood-ashes. She stared out upon Humility's buried pansies. It was strange-a minute back she had felt quite happy.

Humility set them off, and watched them till they disappeared in the first dip of the towans; and then sat down in the empty kitchen and wept a little before carrying up her mother's breakfast.

Honoria rode in silence for the first mile; but Taffy sang and whistled by turns as he skipped alongside. The whole world flashed and glittered around the boy and girl; the white gulls fishing, the swallows chasing one another across the dunes, the lighthouse on the distant spit, the white-washed mine-chimneys on the ridge beside the shore. Away on the rises of the moor one hill-farm laughed to another in a steady flame of furze blossom-laughed with a tinkling of singing larks. And beyond the last rise lay the land of wonders, George's country. "Hark!" Honoria reined up. "Isn't that the cuckoo?" Taffy listened. Yes, somewhere among the hillocks seaward its note was dinning.

"Count!"

"Cuckoo, cherry-tree,

Be a good bird and tell to me

How many years before I die?"

"Ninety-six!" Taffy announced.

"Ninety-two," said Honoria, "but we won't quarrel about it.

Happy month to you!"

"Eh?"

"It is the first of May. Come along; perhaps we shall meet the Mayers, though we're too late, I expect. Hullo! there's a miner- let's ask him."

The miner came upon them suddenly-footsteps make no sound among the towans; a young man in a suit stained orange-tawny, with a tallow candle stuck with a lump of clay in the brim of his hat, and a striped tulip stuck in another lump of clay at the back and nodding.

"Good-morning, miss. You've come a day behind the fair."

"Is the Maying over?" Honoria asked.

"Iss, fay. I've just been home to shift myself."

He walked along with them and told them all about it in the friendliest manner. It had been a grand Maying-all the boys and girls in the parish-with the hal-an-tow, of course-such dancing! Fine and tired some of the maids must be-he wouldn't give much for the work they'd do to-day. Two May mornings in one year would make a grass-captain mad, as the saying was. But there-'twas a poor spirit that never rejoiced.

"Which do you belong to?" Taffy nodded toward the mine-chimneys on the sky-line high on their left, which hid the sea, though it lay less than half a mile away and the roar of it was in their ears-just such a roar as the train makes when rushing through a tunnel.

"Bless you, I'm a tinner. I belong to Wheal Gooniver, up the valley.

Wheal Vlo there, 'pon the cliff, he's lead. And the next to him,

Wheal Penhale, he's iron. I came a bit out of my way with you for

company."

Soon after parting from him they crossed the valley-stream (Taffy had to wade it), and here they happened on a dozen tall girls at work "spalling" the tin-ore, but not busy. The most of them leaned on their hammers or stood with hands on hips, their laughter drowning the thud, thud of the engine-house and the rattle of the stamps up the valley. And the cause of it all seemed to be a smaller girl who stood by with a basket in her arms.

"Here you be, Lizzie!" cried one. "Here's a young lady and gentleman coming with money in their pockets."

Lizzie turned. She was a child of fourteen, perhaps; brown skinned, with shy, wild eyes. Her stockings were torn, her ragged clothes decorated with limp bunches of bluebells, and her neck and wrists with twisted daisy chains. She skipped up to Honoria and held out a basket. Within it, in a bed of fern, lay a May-doll among a few birds' eggs-a poor wooden thing in a single garment of pink calico.

"Give me something for my doll, miss!" she begged.

"Aw, that's too tame," one of the girls called out, and pitched her voice to the true beggar's whine: "Spare a copper! My only child, dear kind lady, and its only father broke his tender neck in a blasting accident, and left me twelve to maintain!"

All the girls began laughing again. Honoria did not laugh. She was feeling in her pocket.

"What is your name?" she asked.

"Lizzie Pezzack. My father tends the lighthouse. Give me something for my doll, miss!"

Honoria held out a half-crown piece.

"Hand it to me."

The child did not understand. "Give me something-" she began again in her dull, level voice.

Honoria stamped her foot. "Give it to me!" She snatched up the doll and thrust it into the fishing creel, tossed the coin into Lizzie's basket, and taking Comedy by the bridle, moved up the path.

"She've adopted en!" They laughed and called out to Lizzie that she was in luck's way. But Taffy saw the child's face as she stared into the empty basket, and that it was perplexed and forlorn.

"Why did you do that?" he asked, as he caught up with Honoria.

She did not answer.

And now they turned away from the sea, and struck a high road which took them between upland farms and across the ridge of cultivated land to a valley full of trees. A narrow path led inland up this valley. They had followed it under pale green shadows, in Indian file, the pony at Honoria's heels and Taffy behind, and stepped out into sunlight again upon a heathery moor where a trout stream chattered and sparkled. And there by a granite bridge they found George fishing, with three small trout shining on the turf beside him.

This was a day which Taffy remembered all his life, and yet most confusedly. Indeed there was little to remember it by-little to be told except that all the while the stream talked, the larks sang, and in the hollow of the hills three children were happy. George landed half a dozen trout before lunch-time; but Taffy caught none, partly because he knew nothing about fishing, partly because the chatter of the stream set him telling tales to himself and he forgot the rod in his hand. And Honoria, after hooking a tiny fish and throwing it back into the water, wandered off in search of larks' nests. She came slowly back when George blew a whistle announcing lunch.

"Hullo! What's this?" he asked, as he dived a hand into her creel.

"Ugh! a doll! I say, Taffy, let's float her down the river.

What humbug, Honoria!"

But she had snatched the doll and crammed it back roughly into the creel. A minute later, when they were not looking, she lifted the lid again and disposed the poor thing more gently.

"Why don't you talk, one of you?" George demanded, with his mouth full.

Taffy shook himself out of his waking dream-"I was wondering where it goes to," he said, and nodded toward the running water.

"It goes down to Langona," said George, "and that's just a creek full of sand, with a church right above it in a big grass meadow-the queerest small church you ever saw. But I've heard my father tell that hundreds of years back a big city stood there, with seven fine churches and quays, and deep water alongside and above, so that ships could sail right up to the ford. They came from all parts of the world for tin and lead, and the people down in the city had nothing to do but sit still and grow rich."

"Somebody must have worked," interrupted Honoria; "on the buildings and all that."

"The building was done by convicts. The story is that convicts were transported here from all over the kingdom."

"Did they live in the city?"

"No; they had a kind of camp across the creek. They dug out the harbour too, and kept it clear of sand. You can still see the marks of their pickaxes along the cliffs; I'll show them to you some day. My father knows all about it, because his great-great-great-great- grandfathe

r (and a heap more 'greats,' I don't know how many) was the only one saved when the city was buried."

"Was he from the city, or one of the convicts?" asked Honoria, who had not forgiven George's assault upon her doll.

"He was a baby at the time, and couldn't remember," George answered, with fine composure. "They say he was found high up the creek, just where you cross it by the foot-bridge. The bridge is covered at high water; and if you try to cross below, especially when the tide is flowing, just you look out! Twice a day the sands become quick there. They've swallowed scores. I'll tell you another thing: there's a bird builds somewhere in the cliffs there-a crake, the people call it-and they say that whenever he goes crying about the sands, it means that a man will be drowned there."

"Rubbish! I don't believe in your city."

"Very well, then, I'll tell you something else. The fishermen have seen it-five or six of them. You know the kind of haze that gets up sometimes on hot days, when the sun's drawing water? They say that if you're a mile or two out and this happens between you and Langona Creek, you can see the city quite plain above the shore, with the seven churches and all."

"I can see it!" Taffy blurted this out almost without knowing that he spoke; and blushed furiously when George laughed. "I mean-I'm sure-" he began to explain.

"If you can see it," said Honoria, "you had better describe George's property for him." She yawned. "He can't tell the story himself- not one little bit."

"Right you are, miss," George agreed. "Fire away, Taffy."

Taffy thought for a minute, then, still with a red face, began. "It is all true, as George says. A fine city lies there, covered with the sands; and this was what happened. The King of Langona had a son, a handsome young Prince, who lived at home until he was eighteen, and then went on his travels. That was the custom, you know. The Prince took only his foster-brother, whose name was John, and they travelled for three years. On their way back, as they came to Langona Creek, they saw the convicts at work, and in one of the fields was a girl digging alone. She had a ring round her ankle, like the rest, with a chain and iron weight, but she was the most beautiful girl the Prince had ever seen. So he pulled up his horse and asked her who she was, and how she came to be wearing the chain. She told him she was no convict, but the daughter of a convict, and it was the law for the convict's children to wear these things. 'To-night,' said the Prince, 'you shall wear a ring of gold and be a Princess,' and he commanded John to file away the ring and take her upon his horse. They rode across the creak and came to the palace; and the Prince, after kissing his father and mother, said, 'I have brought you all kinds of presents from abroad; but best of all I have brought home a bride.' His parents, who wondered at her beauty, and never doubted but that she must be a king's daughter, were full of joy, and set the bells ringing in all the seven churches. So for a year everybody was happy, and at the end of that time a son was born."

"You're making it up," said Honoria. Taffy's own stories always puzzled her, with hints and echoes from other stories she half-remembered, but could seldom trace home. He had too cunning a gift.

George said, "Do be quiet! Of course he's making it up, but who wants to know that?"

"Two days afterward," Taffy went on, "the Prince was out hunting with his foster-brother. The Princess in her bed at home complained to her mother-in-law, 'Mother, my feet are cold. Bring me another rug to wrap them in.' The Queen did so, but as she covered the Princess's feet she saw the red mark left by the ankle ring, and knew that her son's wife was no true Princess, but a convict's daughter. And full of rage and shame she went away and mixed two cups. The first she gave to the Princess to drink; and when it had killed her (for it was poison) she dipped a finger into the dregs and rubbed it inside the child's lips, and very soon he was dead too. Then she sent for two ankle-chains and weights-one larger and one very small-and fitted them on the two bodies and had them flung into the creek. When the Prince came home he asked after his wife. 'She is sleeping,' said the Queen, 'and you must be thirsty with hunting?' She held out the second cup, and the Prince drank and passed it to John, who drank also. Now in this cup was a drug which took away all memory. And at once the Prince forgot all about his wife and child; and John forgot too.

"For weeks after this the Prince complained that he felt unwell. He told the doctors that there was an empty place in his head, and they advised him to fill it by travelling. So he set out again, and John went with him as before. On their journey they stayed for a week with the King of Spain, and there the Prince fell in love with the King of Spain's daughter, and married her, and brought her home at the end of a year, during which she, too, had brought him a son.

"The night after their return, when the Prince and his second wife slept, John kept watch outside the door. About midnight he heard the noise of a chain dragging, but very softly, and up the stairs came a lady in white with a child in her arms. John knew his former mistress at once, and all his memory came back to him, but she put a finger to her lips and went past him into the bed-chamber. She went to the bed, laid a hand on her husband's pillow, and whispered:"

'Wife and babe below the river,

Twice will I come and then come never.'

"Without another word she turned and went slowly past John and down the stairs."

"I know that, anyhow," Honoria interrupted. "That's 'East of the Sun and West of the Moon,' or else it's the Princess whose brother was changed into a Roebuck, or else-" But George flicked a pebble at her, and Taffy went on, warming more and more to the story:-

"In the morning, when the Prince woke, his second wife saw his pillow on the side farthest from her, and it was wet. 'Husband,' she said, 'you have been weeping to-night.' 'Well,' said he, 'that is queer, though, for I haven't wept since I was a boy. It's true, though, that I had a miserable dream.' But when he tried to remember it, he could not.

"The same thing happened on the second night, only the dead wife said:"

'Wife and babe below the river,

Once will I come and then come never.'

"And again in the morning there was a mark on the pillow where her wet hand had rested. But the Prince in the morning could remember nothing. On the third night she came and said:"

'Wife and babe below the river,

Now I am gone and gone for ever,'

"And went down the stairs with such a reproachful look at John that his heart melted and he ran after her. But at the outer door a flash of lightning met him, and such a storm broke over the palace and city as had never been before and never will be again.

"John heard screams, and the noise of doors banging and feet running throughout the palace; he turned back and met the Prince, his master, coming downstairs with his child in his arms. The lightning stroke had killed his second wife where she lay. John followed him out into the streets, where the people were running to and fro, and through the whirling sand to the ford which crossed the creek a mile above the city. And there, as they stepped into the water, a woman rose before John, with a child in her arms, and said: 'Carry us.' The Prince, who was leading, did not see. John took them on his back, but they were heavy because of the iron chains and weights on their ankles, and the sands sank under him. Then, by-and-by, the first wife put her child into John's arms and said, 'Save him,' and slipped off his back into the water. 'What sound was that?' asked the Prince. 'That was my heart cracking,' said John. So they went on till the sand rose half-way to their knees. Then the Prince stopped and put his child into John's arms. 'Save him,' he said, and fell forward on his face; and John's heart cracked again. But he went forward in the darkness until the water rose to his waist, and the sand to his knees. He was close to the farther shore now, but could not reach it unless he dropped one of the children; and this he would not do. He bent forward, holding out one in each arm, and could just manage to push them up the bank and prop them there with his open hand; and while he bent, the tide rose and his heart cracked for the third time. Though he was dead, his stiff arms kept the children propped against the bank. But just at the turning of the tide the one with the ankle-weight slipped and was drowned. The other was found next morning by the inland people, high and dry. And some do say," Taffy wound up, "that his brother was not really drowned, but turned into a bird, and that, though no one has seen him, it is his voice that gives the 'crake,' imitating the sound made by John's heart when it burst; but others say it comes from John himself, down there below the sands."

There was silence for a minute. Even Honoria had grown excited toward the end.

"But it was unfair!" she broke out. "It ought to have been the convict-child that was saved."

"If so, I shouldn't be here," said George; "and it's not very nice of you to say it."

"I don't care. It was unfair; and anyone but a boy "-with scorn-" would see it." She turned upon the staring Taffy-"I hate your tale; it was horrid."

She repeated it, that evening, as they turned their faces homeward across the heathery moor. Taffy had halted on the top of a hillock to wave good-night to George. For years he remembered the scene-the brown hollow of the hills; the clear evening sky, with the faint purple arch, which is the shadow of the world, climbing higher and higher upon it; and his own shadow stretching back with his heart toward George, who stood fronting the level rays and waved his glittering catch of fish.

"What was that you said?" he asked, when at length he tore himself away and caught up with Honoria.

"That was a horrid story you told. It spoiled my afternoon, and I'll trouble you not to tell any more of the sort."

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