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MAJOR VIGOUREUX

NOVELS AND STORIES BY "Q"

Published by CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

Major Vigoureux $1.50
Poison Island $1.50
Sir John Constantine $1.50
The Mayor of Troy $1.50
Shining Ferry $1.50
The Adventures of Harry Revel $1.50
The White Wolf and Other Tales $1.50
The Laird's Luck and Other Tales $1.50
Fort Amity $1.50
Two Sides of the Face: Midwinter Tales $1.50
Old Fires and Profitable Ghosts $1.50
The Ship of Stars $1.50
Historical Tales from Shakespeare $1.50





MAJOR VIGOUREUX



BY


A. T. QUILLER-COUCH

("Q")



CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
NEW YORK 1907

Copyright, 1907, by
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

Published September, 1907




CONTENTS


CHAPTER PAGE

I. IN THE GARRISON GARDEN 1

II. SERGEANT ARCHELAUS IS RE-FITTED 12

III. THE COMMANDANT FINESSES A KNAVE 28

IV. THE GUN IN THE GREAT FOG 44

V. THE S.S. MILO 56

VI. HOW VASHTI CAME TO THE ISLANDS 71

VII. TRIBULATIONS OF MRS. POPE AND MISS GABRIEL 84

VIII. A BRIEF REVENGE 97

IX. THE SALVING OF S.S. MILO 106

X. THE ADVENTURES OF FOUR SHILLINGS 125

XI. PLAN OF CAMPAIGN 142

XII. SAARON ISLAND 158

XIII. THE LADY FROM THE SEA 174

XIV. AFTER SERVICE 190

XV. BREFAR CHURCH 205

XVI. THE LORD PROPRIETOR'S AUDIENCE 221

XVII. THE LORD PROPRIETOR RECEIVES A DOUBLE SHOCK 232

XVIII. VASHTI PLEADS FOR SAARON 243

XIX. THE COMMANDANT'S CONSCIENCE 262

XX. THE GUITAR AND THE CASEMENT 277

XXI. SUSPICIONS 293

XXII. PIPER'S HOLE 306

XXIII. THE LORD PROPRIETOR HEARS A SIREN SONG 320

XXIV. LINNET SEES A MERMAID 337

XXV. MISSING! 344

XXVI. THE SEARCH 356

XXVII. ENTER THE COMMISSIONER 373

XXVIII. THE FINDING 387

XXIX. CONCLUSION 399




MAJOR VIGOUREUX




CHAPTER I

IN THE GARRISON GARDEN


"Archelaus," said the Commandant, "where did you get those trousers?"
Sergeant Archelaus, who, as he dug in the neglected garden, had been
exposing a great quantity of back-view (for he was a long man),
straightened himself up, faced about, and, grounding his long-handled
spade as it were a musket, stood with palms crossed over the top of it.

"Off the Lord Proprietor," he answered.

The Commandant, seated on a bench under the veronica hedge, a few yards
higher up the slope, laid down his book, took off his spectacles, wiped
them, and replaced them very deliberately.

"The Lord Proprietor? I do not understand - " His face had reddened a
little, as it usually did at mention of the Lord Proprietor.

"Made me a present of 'em," explained Sergeant Archelaus, curtly. "You
don't mean to say you haven't noticed 'em till this minute?"

The Commandant put the question aside. "The Lord Proprietor has no
right to be offering presents to my men - least of all, presents of
clothes."

"If the Government won't send over stores, nor you write for any, I
don't see how the man can help himself. 'Tisn't regulation pattern for
the R'yal Artillery, I'll grant you: not the sort of things you'd wear
on the right of the line. In fact, he told me 'tis an old pair he used
to carry when he went deer-stalkin'."

"They are hideous, Archelaus; not to mention that they don't fit you in
the least."

"They don't look so bad when I'm sitting down," said Archelaus, after a
moment's thought, and with an air of forced cheerfulness.

"If that's all you can say in extenuation! - - "

"Well, 'twas kindly meant, any way; for the old ones were a
scandal - yes, be sure. What with sea-water and scrambling after gulls'
eggs, they was becoming a byword all over the Islands."

The Commandant winced, not for the first time in this conversation.

"Treacher makes his clothes last," he objected.

"Sam Treacher's a married man, and gets his bad luck different."

"But - but couldn't you ask Mrs. Treacher to take your old ones in hand
and put in a patch or two? That might carry you on for a few months,
and if you grudge the expense, I don't mind subscribing a shilling or
so."

Sergeant Archelaus shook his head. "What's the use?" he asked. "'Tis
but puttin' off the evil day. If Her Majesty won't send us clothes, we
must fall back on Providence. Besides which, I've taken the edge off
these things, and don't want to begin over again. Last Wednesday I wore
'em over to the Off Islands, to practise 'em on the sea-birds; and last
evening after dusk I walked through the town with 'em - yes, sir, right
out past the church and back again, my blood being up, and came home
and cut a square out of the old ones to wrap round the bung of the
water-butt."

The Commandant eyed the sergeant's legs in silence, choking down
half-a-dozen angry criticisms. No; he could not trust himself to speak;
and, after a minute, cramming his clenched fists into the pockets of
his frayed fatigue-jacket, he swung about on his heel and walked out of
the garden with angry strides.

Was the Lord Proprietor making sport of him? - purposely making him and
his garrison the laughing-stock of the Islands?

The Commandant walked up the road with a hot heart: past the Barracks
and beyond them to the down, where a ruined windmill overlooked the
sea. He wanted to be alone, and up here he could count upon solitude.
He wanted to walk off his ill-humour. But the ascent was steep, and he,
alas! no longer a young man; and at the windmill he was forced to stand
still and draw breath.

At his feet lay the Islands, bathed in the light of a fast-reddening
October sunset. Against such a sunset, if the air be very clear, you
may see them from the cliffs of the mainland - a low, dark cloud out in
the Atlantic; and in old days the Commandant had repined often enough
at the few leagues which then had cut him off from the world, from
active service, from promotion.

Gradually, as time went on, he had grown resigned, and with resignation
he had learnt to be proud of his kingdom - for his kingdom _de facto_
it was. The Islanders had used to speak of him sometimes as The
Commandant, but oftener as The Governor. (They never called him The
Governor nowadays.) His military establishment, to be sure - consisting
of a master-gunner, four other gunners, and two or three aged
sergeants - scarcely accorded with his rank of major; but by way of
compensation he was, as President of the Council of Twelve, the chief
civil magistrate of the Islands.

This requires a word or two of explanation. The Reigning Sovereign of
England retained, as he yet retains, military authority over the
Islands, and from him, through the Commander-in-chief, our friend held
his appointment as military governor. But His Majesty King William III
and his successors, by a lease two or three times renewed, had granted
"all those His Majesty's territories and rocks" - so the wording ran - to
a great and unknown person of whom the Islanders spoke reverentially as
The Duke, "together with all sounds, harbours, and sands within the
circuit of the said Isles; and all lands, tenements, meadows, pastures,
grounds, feedings, fishing places, mines of tin, lead, and coals, and
all profits of the same, and full power to dig, work, and mine in the
premises; and also all the marshes, void grounds, woods, under-woods,
rents, reservoirs, services, and all other profits, rights,
commodities, advantages, and emoluments within the said Isles; and a
moiety of all shipwreck, the other moiety to be received by the Lord
High Admiral; as also all His Majesty's Liberties, Franchises,
Authorities, and Jurisdictions, as had before been used in the said
Islands; with full power to hear, examine, and finally determine all
plaints, suits, matters, actions, controversies, contentions, and
demands whatever, moved and depending between party and party
inhabiting the said Isle (all business, treason, matters touching life
or member of man, or title of land; and also all controversies and
causes touching ships, and other things belonging to the High Court of
Admiralty always excepted)" - all this for an annual rent of Forty
Pounds.

The Duke, in short, was by his lease made Lord Proprietor, with all
civil jurisdiction. But, being far too great a man to reside in the
Islands, or even to visit them, he entrusted his business to a resident
Agent, and deputed his magistracy to an elective Council of Twelve,
over which the Commandant for the time being invariably presided. But
this custom (it should be explained) rested on courtesy and not upon
right. Based upon compromise - for the boundaries between the civil and
military jurisdictions were at some points not precisely determined - it
had been found to work smoothly enough in practice, it had stood the
test of a hundred and fifty years when, in the year after Sevastopol,
Major Narcisse Vigoureux arrived in the Islands to take over the
military command, and the Duke nominated him for the Presidency quite
as a matter of course.

As President, he had power, with the assent of the Court, to inflict
fines, whippings, and imprisonment - this last with the limitation that
he could not commit to any prison on the mainland, but only to the
Island lock-up; and also, if he chose, to prescribe the ducking-stool
for refractory or scolding women. The office carried no salary; but as
Governor under the Lord Proprietor he enjoyed a valuable perquisite in
the harbour dues collected from the shipping. Every vessel visiting the
port or hoisting the Queen's colours was liable, on coming to anchor or
grounding, to pay the sum of two shillings and two pence. All
foreigners paid double. And since, in addition to ships putting in from
abroad, it sometimes happened that two hundred sail of coasters would
be driven by easterly gales to shelter in St. Lide's Harbour, or
roadstead, or in Cromwell's Sound, you may guess that this made a very
pleasant addition to the Commandant's military pay.

In short, for a dozen years Major Narcisse Vigoureux had been, for an
unmarried man, an exceedingly happy one. If you ask me how an officer
bearing such a name happened in command of a British garrison, I answer
that he was not a Frenchman, but a Channel Islander of good Jersey
descent; and this again helped him to understand the folk over whom he
ruled. The wrong-doers feared him; but they were few. By the rest of
the population, including his soldiers, he was beloved, respected, not
a little envied. For a bachelor he mingled with zest in the small
social amusements of Garland Town, the capital of the Islands. He shone
at picnics and water-parties. He played a fair hand at whist. His
manner towards ladies was deferential; towards men, dignified without a
trace of patronage or self-conceit. All voted him a good fellow. At
first, indeed - for he practised small economies, and his linen, though
clean, was frayed - they suspected him of stinginess, until by accident
the Vicar discovered that a great part of his pay went to support his
dead brother's family - a widow and two girls who lived at Notting Hill,
London, in far from affluent circumstances.

In spite of this the Commandant's lot might fairly have been called
enviable until the day which terminated the ninety-nine years' lease
upon which the Duke held the Islands. Everyone took it for granted that
he would apply, as his predecessors had twice applied, for a renewal.
But, no; like a bolt from the blue came news that the Duke, an old man,
had waived his application in favour of an unknown purchaser - unknown,
that is to say, in the Islands - a London banker, recently created a
baronet, by name Sir Cæsar Hutchins.

In general, all Garland Town relied for information about persons of
rank and title upon Miss Elizabeth Gabriel, a well-to-do spinster lady,
daughter of a former agent of the Duke's. But Miss Gabriel's copy of
"The Peerage and Baronetage of Great Britain and Ireland" dated from
1845, and Sir Cæsar's title being of more recent - or, as she put it, of
mushroom - creation, the curious had to wait until a newer volume
arrived from the mainland. Meanwhile, at their whist parties twice a
week, the gentry of Garland Town indulged in a hundred brisk surmises,
but without alarm - "unconscious of their doom, the little victims
played." It was agreed, of course, that the new Lord Proprietor would
not take up his abode in the Islands. For where was a suitable
residence? On the whole the Commandant had little doubt that things
would go on as before, but he felt some uneasiness for Mr. Pope, the
Duke's agent.

Within a fortnight, however, came two fresh announcements, of which the
first - a letter from Sir Cæsar, continuing Mr. Pope in his
office - gratified everyone. But the second was terrible indeed. The War
Office had decided to disband the garrison and remove its guns!

Major Vigoureux' face had whitened as he read that letter, five years
ago. It whitened yet at the remembrance of it. As for his hair, it had
been whitening ever since.

For dreadful things had happened in those five years. To begin with,
the new Lord Proprietor had upset prophecy by coming into residence,
and had reared himself a handsome house on the near island of
Inniscaw.... But here for a while let us forbear to retrace those five
years with their humiliating memories. It is enough that the Commandant
now walked with a stoop; that he wore not only his linen frayed but a
frayed coat also; and that he who of old had so often wished that
England would take note of his Islands against the western sun, now
prayed rather that the fogs would cover them and cut them off from
sight forever. He had practical reasons, too, for such a prayer; but of
these he was not thinking as he turned there by the windmill, and spied
Sergeant Treacher approaching along the ridge, and trundling a
wheel-barrow full of manure. The level sun-rays, painting the turf to a
green almost unnaturally vivid, and gilding the straw of the manure,
passed on to flame upon Sergeant Treacher's breast as though beneath
his unbuttoned tunic he wore a corslet of burnished brass. The
Commandant blinked, again removed his glasses, and, having repolished,
resumed them.

"Treacher, what are you wearing?"

"Meanin' the weskit, sir?" asked Treacher.

"Is it a waistcoat?"

"Well, sir, it used to be an antimacassar; but Miss Gabriel had it made
up for me, all the shirts in store bein' used up, so to speak."

Too well the Commandant recognised it; an abomination of crochet work
in stripes, four inches wide, of scarlet, green, orange-yellow, and
violet. For years - in fact ever since he remembered Miss Gabriel's
front parlour - it had decorated the back of Miss Gabriel's sofa.

"She said, sir, that with the autumn drawing on, and the winter coming,
it would cut up nicely for a weskit," Treacher explained.

"Miss Gabriel," began the Commandant, "Miss Gabriel has no business - - "

"No, sir?" suggested Treacher, after a pause.

"You will take it off. You will take it off this instant, and hand it
to me."

"Yes, sir." Treacher obediently slipped off his tunic. "I don't like
the thing myself; it's too noticeable, though warming. Miss Gabriel
called it a Chesterfield."

"It's a conspiracy!" said the Commandant.




CHAPTER II

SERGEANT ARCHELAUS IS RE-FITTED


The Commandant, still with a hot heart, walked for a little way beside
Sergeant Treacher. He carried the offending waistcoat slung across his
arm, and once or twice hesitated on the verge of indignant speech; but
by-and-by seemed to recollect himself, halted, turned, and, parting
from Treacher without more words, marched off for his customary evening
walk around the fortifications.

Let us follow him.

The garrison occupied the heights of a peninsula connected with St.
Lide's by a low sandy isthmus, across which it looked towards the
"country side" of the island, though this country side was in fact
concealed by rising ground, for the most part uncultivated, where
sheets of mesembryanthemum draped the outcropping ledges of granite. At
the foot of the hill, around the pier and harbour to the north and
east, clustered St. Hugh's town, and climbed by one devious street to
the garrison gate. From where he stood the Commandant could almost look
down its chimneys. Along the isthmus straggled a few houses in double
line, known as New Town, and beyond, where the isthmus widened, lay the
Old Town around its Parish Church. These three together made Garland
Town, the capital of the Islands; and the population of St.
Lide's - town, garrison, and country side - numbered a little over
fourteen hundred. Garrison Hill, rising (as we have seen) with a pretty
steep acclivity, attains the height of a hundred and ten feet above sea
level. It measures about three-quarters of a mile in length and a
quarter of a mile in breadth, and the lines of fortification extended
around the whole hill (except upon the north-west side, which happened
to be the most important); a circuit of one mile and a quarter.

[Illustration]

You entered them beneath a massive but ruinous gateway, surmounted by a
bell, which Sergeant Treacher rang regularly at six, nine, and twelve
o'clock in the morning, and at three, six, and nine p.m., and struck to
announce the intervening hours: for the Islands had no public clock. To
the left of this gateway the Commandant always began his round,
starting from King George's Battery, to which in old days the Islanders
had looked for warning of the enemy's approach. Then it had mounted
seven long eighteen-pounders: now - The Commandant sighed and moved
on; past the Duke's Battery (four eighteen-pounders), the Vixen (one
eighteen and one nine-pounder), and along by a breastwork pierced with
embrasures to the important battery on Day Point, at the extreme
south-east. Here five thirty-two pounders - and, three hundred yards
away to the west, in the great Windlass Battery, no fewer than eleven
guns of the same calibre - had grinned defiance at the ships of France.
To-day the grass grew on their empty platforms, the nettles sprouted
from their angles ... and the Commandant - what was he doing here?

I fear the answer may provoke a smile. He was drawing his pay.

The guns, the garrison, were gone these five years; but by some
oversight of the War Office neither the Commandant nor his two
sergeants had been retired. Regularly, month by month, his pay-sheet
had been accepted; regularly the full amount had been handed to him by
Mr. Fossell, agent at Garland Town for Messrs. Curtis' Bank on the
mainland. Clearly there was a mistake somewhere, and often enough his
conscience smote him, urging that he ought, in honour, to call
attention to it. He was defrauding the Government, and, through the
Government, the taxpayer.

Yes; conscience put this plainly enough, and he felt it to be
unanswerable. But if he obeyed conscience and published the
mistake - good Heavens! what would happen to him? Already, three years
ago, the Lord Proprietor had resumed the shipping dues which had made
so welcome an addition to his income. On the strength of them he had
made a too liberal allowance to his brother's widow; and now to
maintain it he was driven to deny himself all but the barest necessary
expenses. Yet how could he cut it down? The two girls were growing up.
Their mother had sent them to a costly school. As it was, her letters
burdened him with complaints of her poverty: for she was a peevish,
grasping woman - poor soul!

Again, if he published the mistake, he impoverished not himself only
but his two sergeants: and Treacher was a married man. He often drugged
his conscience with this. But his conscience, being healthy, was soon
awake and tormenting him.

It humiliated him, too. Government, which sent him his full pay, never
sent him stores, ammunition, or clothing for his men. He wanted no
ammunition; but his men needed clothing - and he dared not ask for it.
Their uniforms were (as Miss Gabriel had more than once pointedly
asserted in his hearing) a scandal to the Islands. Moreover, the price
of hens' eggs ruling high in Garland Town, he had discovered that
gulls' eggs made a tolerable substitute. It was in scrambling after
gulls' eggs for his Commanding Officer that Sergeant Archelaus had
ruined his small-clothes.... And now you know why in the course of his
discussion with Sergeant Archelaus the Commandant had winced more than
once.

Worst of all, the fatal secret tied his tongue under all the many
slights (as he reckoned them) which the Lord Proprietor put on him. No;
worst of all was the self-reproach he carried about in his own breast.
But none the less the Commandant, as a sensitive man, chafed under the
Lord Proprietor's tyranny, which was the harder to bear for being
slightly contemptuous. He felt that all his old friends pitied him
while they turned to worship the rising sun; while, as for Miss Gabriel
(who had never been his friend), he feared her caustic tongue worse
than the devil.

But to attack him thus through his men! Had Miss Gabriel and the Lord
Proprietor conspired to inflict this indignity?

The Commandant was a sincere Christian: ever willing to believe the
best of his kind, incapable of harbouring malice, or, except in the
brief heat of temper, of imputing it to others. In the short three
hundred yards between the Day Point and Windlass Batteries he repented
his worst thoughts. He acquitted his enemies - if enemies they were - of
conspiracy. The coincidence of the two gifts was fortuitous: they had
been offered without guile, if also without sufficient care for his
feelings. But this kind of thing must not happen again, and obviously
the most tactful way to prevent it was, not to remonstrate with Miss
Gabriel or with the Lord Proprietor, but to provide (somehow) his two
sergeants with a re-fit.

The Commandant had arrived at this conclusion and at the Sand Pit
Battery (five thirty-two pounders) almost simultaneously, when, across
the breastwork, he was aware of Mr. Rogers, Lieutenant R. N., and
Inspecting Commander of the Coast-guard, standing at the head of the
slope just outside the fortifications, and conning the sea through a
telescope.

"Hullo!" said Mr. Rogers - a short man with a jolly smile - lowering his
glass and facing suddenly about at the sound of the Commandant's
footfall. "Hullo! and good evening!"

"Good evening!" responded Major Vigoureux.

"Queer-looking sky out yonder."

"So it is, now you come to mention it." The Commandant, shaken out of
his brown study, slowly concentrated his gaze on the western horizon.

"See that bank of fog? I don't know what to make of it. No wind at all;
the glass steady as a rock; and a heavy swell rolling up from westward.
Take hold of my glass and bring it to bear on the Monk" - this was the
lighthouse guarding the westernmost reef of the Off Islands. "Every now
and then a sea'll hide half the column."

"For my part," said the Commandant, "I've been out of all calculation
with the weather for a week past. It's uncanny for the time of year."

"There's the devil of a rumpus going on somewhere, to account for the
sea that's running," said Mr. Rogers, and checked himself in the act of
handing the telescope across the breastwork, as he caught sight of
Sergeant Treacher's waistcoat, which the Commandant was nervously
shifting from his right arm to his left.

"Hullo!" said Mr. Rogers, again.


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