Arthur Quiller-Couch.

The Adventures of Harry Revel online

. (page 1 of 15)
Online LibraryArthur Quiller-CouchThe Adventures of Harry Revel → online text (page 1 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

E-text prepared by Lionel Sear





This e-text prepared from a reprint of a version published in 1903


When I started to set down these early adventures of Harry Revel,
I meant to dedicate them to my friend Mr. W. F. Collier of Woodtown,
Horrabridge: but he died while the story was writing, and now cannot
twit me with the pranks I have played among his stories of bygone
Plymouth, nor send me his forgiveness - as he would have done.
Peace be to him for a lover of Dartmoor and true gentleman of Devon!

So now I have only to beg, by way of preface, that no one will bother
himself by inquiring too curiously into the geography, topography,
etc. of this tale, or of any that I have written or may write.
If these tales have any sense of locality, they certainly will not
square with the ordnance maps; and even the magnetic pole works loose
and goes astray at times - a phenomenon often observed by sailors off
the sea-coast of Bohemia.

It may be permissible to add that the story which follows by no means
exhausts the adventures, civil and military, of Harry Revel. But the
recital of his further campaigning in company with Mr. Benjamin Jope,
and of the verses in which Miss Plinlimmon commemorated it, will
depend upon public favour.


March 28th, 1903.





























My earliest recollections are of a square courtyard surrounded by
high walls and paved with blue and white pebbles in geometrical
patterns - circles, parallelograms, and lozenges. Two of these walls
were blank, and had been coped with broken bottles; a third,
similarly coped, had heavy folding doors of timber, leaden-grey in
colour and studded with black bolt-heads. Beside them stood a
leaden-grey sentry-box, and in this sat a red-faced man with a wooden
leg and a pigtail, whose business was to attend to the wicket and
keep an eye on us small boys as we played. He owned two books which
he read constantly: one was Foxe's _Martyrs_, and the other (which
had no title on the binding) I opened one day and found to be
_The Devil on Two Sticks_.

The arch over these gates bore two gilt legends. That facing the
roadway ran: "_Train up a Child in the Way he should Go,_" which
prepared the visitor to read on the inner side: "_When he is Old he
will not Depart from it._" But we twenty-five small foundlings, who
seldom evaded the wicket, and so passed our days with the second half
of the quotation, found in it a particular and dreadful meaning.

The fourth and last wall was the front of the hospital, a
two-storeyed building of grey limestone, with a clock and a small
cupola of copper, weather-greened, and a steeply pitched roof of
slate pierced with dormer windows, behind one of which (because of a
tendency to walk in my sleep) I slept in the charge of Miss
Plinlimmon, the matron. Below the eaves ran a line of eight tall
windows, the three on the extreme right belonging to the chapel; and
below these again a low-browed colonnade, in the shelter of which we
played on rainy days, but never in fine weather - though its smooth
limestone slabs made an excellent pitch for marbles, whereas on
the pebbles in the yard expertness could only be attained by
heart-breaking practice. Yet we preferred them. If it did nothing
else, the Genevan Hospital, by Plymouth Dock, taught us to suit
ourselves to the world as we found it.

I do not remember that we were unhappy or nursed any sense of injury,
except over the porridge for breakfast. The Rev. Mr. Scougall, our
pastor, had founded the hospital some twenty years before with the
money subscribed by certain Calvinistic ladies among whom he
ministered, and under the patronage of a Port Admiral of like belief,
then occupying Admiralty House. His purpose (to which we had not the
smallest objection) was to rescue us small jetsam and save us from
many dreadful Christian heresies, more especially those of Rome.
But he came from the north of Britain and argued (I suppose) that
what porridge had done for him in childhood it might well do for us -
a conclusion against which our poor little southern stomachs
rebelled. It oppressed me worse than any, for since the discovery of
my sleep-walking habit my supper (of plain bread and water) had been
docked, so that I came ravenous to breakfast and yet could not eat.

Nevertheless, I do not think we were unhappy. Perhaps we were too
young, and at any rate we had nothing with which to contrast our lot.
Across the roadway outside lay blue water, and of this and of roving
ships and boats and free passers-by glimpses came to us through the
wicket when Mr. George, the porter (we always addressed him as "Mr."
and supposed him to resemble the King in features), admitted a
visitor, or the laundress, or the butcher's boy. And sometimes we
broke off a game to watch the topmasts of a vessel gliding by
silently, above the wall's coping. But if at any time the world
called to us, we took second thoughts, remembering our clothes.

We wore, I dare say, the most infernal costume ever devised by man - a
tightish snuff-coloured jacket with diminutive tails, an orange
waistcoat, snuff-coloured breeches, grey-blue worsted stockings, and
square-toed shoes with iron toe-plates. Add a flat-topped cap with
an immense leathern brim; add Genevan neck-bands; add, last of all, a
leathern badge with "G.F.H." (Genevan Foundling Hospital) depending
from the left breast-button; and you may imagine with what diffidence
we took our rare walks abroad. The dock-boys, of course, greeted us
with cries of "Yellow Hammer!" The butcher-boy had once even dared
to fling that taunt at us within our own yard; and we left him in no
doubt about the hammering, gallant fellow though he was and wore a
spur on his left heel. But no bodily deformity could have corroded
us as did those thrice-accursed garments with terror of the world
without and of its laughter.

Of a world yet more distant we were taught the gloomiest views.
Twice a week regularly, and incidentally whenever he found occasion,
Mr. Scougall painted the flames of hell for us in the liveliest
colours. We never doubted his word that our chances of escaping them
were small indeed; but somehow, as life did not allure, so eternity
did not greatly frighten us. Meanwhile we played at our marbles.
We knew, in spite of the legend over the gateway, that at the age of
ten or so our elder companions disappeared. They went, as a fact,
into various trades and callings, like ordinary parish apprentices.
Perhaps we guessed this; if so, it must have been vaguely, and I
incline to believe that we confused their disappearance with death in
our childish musings on the common lot. They never came back to see
us; and I remember that we were curiously shy of speaking about them,
once gone.

From Miss Plinlimmon's window above the eaves I could look over the
front wall on to an edge of roadway, a straight dock like a canal -
crowded with shipping - and a fort which fired a gun in the early
morning and again at sunset. And every morning, too, the drums would
sound from the hill at our back; and be answered by a soldier, who
came steadily down the roadway beside the dock, halted in front of
our gates, and blew a call on his bugle. Other bugle-calls sounded
all around us throughout the day and far into our sleep-time: but
this was the only performer I ever saw. He wore a red coat, a high
japanned hat, and clean white pantaloons with black gaiters: and I
took it for granted that he was always the same soldier. Yet I had
plenty of opportunities for observing him, for Miss Plinlimmon made
it a rule that I should stand at the window and continue to gaze out
of it while she dressed.

One day she paused in the act of plaiting her hair. "Harry," said
she, "I shall always think of you and that tune together. It is
called the Revelly, which is a French word."

"But the soldier is English?" said I.

"Oh, I truly trust so - a heart of oak, I should hope! England cannot
have too many of them in these days, when a weak woman can scarce lay
herself down in her bed at night with the certainty of getting up in
the same position in the morning."

(They were days when, as I afterwards learnt, Napoleon's troops and
flat-bottomed boats were gathered at Boulogne and waiting their
opportunity to invade us. But of this scarcely an echo penetrated to
our courtyard, although the streets outside were filled daily with
the tramping of troops and rolling of store-wagons. We knew that our
country - whatever that might mean - was at war with France, and we
played in our yard a game called "French and English." That was all:
and Miss Plinlimmon, good soul, if at times she awoke in the night
and shuddered and listened for the yells of Frenchmen in the town,
heroically kept her fears to herself. This was as near as she ever
came to imparting them.)

"I have often thought of you, Harry," she went on, "as embracing a
military career. Mr. Scougall very kindly allows me to choose
surnames for you boys when you - when you leave us. He says (but I
fear in flattery) that I have more invention than he." And here,
though bound on my word of honour not to look, I felt sure she was
smiling to herself in the glass. "What would you say if I christened
you Revelly?"

"Oh, please, no!" I entreated. "Let mine be an English name.
Why - why couldn't I be called Plinlimmon? I would rather have that
than any name in the world."

"You are a darling!" exclaimed she, much to my surprise; and, the
next moment, I felt a little pecking kiss on the back of my neck.
She usually kissed me at night, after my prayers were said: but
somehow this was different, and it fetched tears to my eyes - greatly
to my surprise, for we were not given to tears at the Genevan
Hospital. "Plinlimmon is a mountain in Wales, and that, I dare say,
is what makes me so romantic. Now, you are not romantic in the
least: and, besides, it wouldn't do. No, indeed. But you shall be
called by an English name, if you wish, though to my mind there's a
_je ne sais quoi_ about the French. I once knew a Frenchman, a
writing and dancing master, called Duvelleroy, which always seemed
the beautifullest name."

"Was he beautiful himself?" I asked.

"He used to play a kit - which is a kind of small fiddle - holding it
across his waist. It made him look as if he were cutting himself in
half; which did not contribute to that result. But suppose, now, we
call you Revel - Harry Revel? That's English enough, and will remind
me just the same - if Mr. Scougall will not think it too

I saw no reason to fear this: but then I had no idea what she
meant by it, or by calling herself romantic. She was certainly
soft-hearted. She possessed many books, as well as an album in her
own handwriting, and encouraged me to read aloud to her on summer
mornings when the sun was up and ahead of us. And once, in the story
of _Maximilian, or Quite the Gentleman: Founded on Fact and Designed
to excite the Love of Virtue in the Rising Generation_, at a point
where the hero's small brother Felix is carried away by an eagle, she
dissolved in tears. "In my native Wales," she explained afterwards,
"the wild sheep leap from rock to rock so much as a matter of course
that you would, in time, be surprised if they didn't. And that
naturally gives me a sympathy with all that is sublime on the one
hand or affecting on the other."

Yet later - but I cannot separate these things accurately in time - I
awoke in my cot one night and heard Miss Plinlimmon sobbing.
The sound was dreadful to me and I longed to creep across the room to
her dark bedside and comfort her; though I could tell she was trying
to suppress it for fear of disturbing me. In the end her sobs ceased
and, still wondering, I dropped off to sleep, nor next day did I dare
to question her.

But it could not have been long after this that we boys got wind of
Mr. Scougall's approaching marriage with a wealthy lady of the town.
I must speak of this ceremony, because, as the fates ordained, it
gave me my first start in life.



Mr. Scougall was a lean, strident man who, if he lectured us
often, whipped us on the whole with judgment and when we deserved it.
So we bore him no grudge. But neither did we love him nor take any
lively interest in him as a bridegroom, and I was startled to find
these feelings shared by Mr. George in the porter's box when I
discussed the news with him. "I'm to have a new suit of clothes,"
said Mr. George, "but whoever gets Scougall, he's no catch."
This sounded blasphemous, while it gave me a sort of fearful joy.
I reported it, under seal of secrecy, to Miss Plinlimmon.
"Naval men, my dear Harry," was her comment, "are notoriously blunt
and outspoken, even when retired upon a pension; perhaps, indeed, if
anything, more so. It is in consequence of this habit that they have
sometimes performed their grandest feats, as, for instance, when
Horatio Nelson put his spy-glass up to his blind eye. I advise you
to do the same and treat Mr. George as a chartered heart of oak,
without remembering his indiscretions to repeat them." She went on
to tell me that sailor-men were beloved in Plymouth and allowed to do
pretty well as they pleased; and how, quite recently, a Quaker lady
had been stopped in Bedford Street by a Jack Tar who said he had
sworn to kiss her. "Thee must be quick about it, then," said the
Quaker lady. And he was.

I suppose this anecdote encouraged me to be more familiar with Mr.
George. At any rate, I confided to him next day that I thought of
being a soldier.

"Do you know what we used to say in the Navy?" he answered. "We used
to say, 'A friend before a messmate, a messmate before a shipmate, a
shipmate before a dog, and a dog before a soldier.'"

"You think," said I, somewhat discouraged, "that the Navy would be a
better opening for me?"

"Ay," he answered again, eyeing me gloomily; "that is, if so be ye
can't contrive to get to jail." He cast a glance down upon his
jury-leg and patted the straps of it with his open palm. "The leg,
now, that used to be here - I left it in a French prison called Jivvy,
and often I thinks to myself, 'That there leg is having better luck
than the rest of me.' And here's another curious thing. What d'ye
think they call it in France when you remember a person in your

I hadn't a notion, and said so.

"Why, 'legs,'" said he. "And they've got one of mine. If a man was
superstitious, you might almost call it a coincidence, hey?"

This was the longest conversation I ever had with Mr. George. I have
since found that sentiments very like his about the Navy have been
uttered by Dr. Samuel Johnson. But Mr. George spoke them out of his
own experience.

Mr. Scougall's bride was the widow of a Plymouth publican who had
sold his business and retired upon a small farm across the Hamoaze,
near the Cornish village of Anthony. On the wedding morning (which
fell early in July) she had, by agreement with her groom, prepared a
delightful surprise for us. We trooped after prayers into the
dining-hall to find, in place of the hateful porridge, a feast laid
out - ham and eggs, cold veal pies, gooseberry preserves, and - best of
all - plate upon plate of strawberries with bowl upon bowl of cool
clotted cream. Not a child of us had ever tasted strawberries or
cream in his life, so you may guess if we ate with prudence.
At half-past ten Miss Plinlimmon (who had not found the heart to
restrain our appetites) marshalled and led us forth, gorged and
torpid, to the church where at eleven o'clock the ceremony was to
take place. Her eyes were red-rimmed as she cast them up towards the
window behind which Mr. Scougall, no doubt, was at that moment
arraying himself: but she commanded a firm step, and even a firm
voice to remark outside the wicket, as she looked up at the
chimney-pots, that Nature had put on her fairest garb.

The day, to be sure, was monstrously hot and stuffy. Not a breath of
wind ruffled the waters of the dock, around the head of which we
trudged to a recently erected church on the opposite shore.
I remember observing, on our way, the dazzling brilliance of its

We found its interior spacious but warm, and the air heavy with the
scent - it comes back to me as I write - of a peculiar sweet oil used
in the lamps. Perhaps Mr. Scougall had calculated that a ceremony so
interesting to him would attract a throng of sightseers; at any rate,
we were packed into a gallery at the extreme western end of the
church, and in due time watched the proceedings from that respectful
distance and across a gulf of empty pews.

- That is to say, some of us watched. I have no doubt that Miss
Plinlimmon did, for instance; nay, that her attention was riveted.
Otherwise I cannot explain what followed.

On the previous night I had gone to bed almost supperless, as usual.
I had come, as usual, ravenous to breakfast, and for once I had
sated, and more than sated, desire. For years after, though hungry
often enough in the course of them, I never thought with longing upon
cold veal or strawberries, nor have I ever recovered an unmitigated
appetite for either.

It is certain, then, that even before the ceremony began - and the
bride arrived several minutes late - I slumbered on the back bench of
the gallery. The evidence of six boys seated near me agrees that, at
the moment when Mr. Scougall produced the ring, I arose quietly, but
without warning, and made my exit by the belfry door. They supposed
that I was taken ill; they themselves were feeling more or less

The belfry stairway, by which we had reached the door of our gallery,
wound upward beyond it to the top of the tower, and gave issue by a
low doorway upon the dwarf battlements, from which sprang a spire
some eighty feet high. This spire was, in fact, a narrowing octagon,
its sides hung with slate, its eight ridges faced with Bath stone,
and edged from top to bottom with ornamental crockets.

The service over, bride and bridegroom withdrew with their friends to
the vestry for the signing of the register; and there, while they
dallied and interchanged good wishes, were interrupted by the beadle,
a white-faced pew-opener, and two draymen from the street, with news
(as one of the draymen put it, shouting down the rest) that "one of
Scougall's yellow orphans was up clinging to the weathercock by his
blessed eyebrows; and was this a time for joking, or for feeling
ashamed of themselves and sending for a constable?"

The drayman shouted and gesticulated so fiercely with a great hand
flung aloft that Mr. Scougall, almost before comprehending,
precipitated himself from the church. Outside stood his hired
carriage with its pair of greys, but the driver was pointing with his
whip and craning his neck like the rest of the small crowd.

It may have been their outcries, but I believe it was the ringing of
the dockyard bell for the dinner-hour, which awoke me. In my dreams
my arms had been about some kindly neck (and of my dreams in those
days, though but a glimpse ever survived the waking, in those
glimpses dwelt the shade, if not the presence, of my unknown mother).
They were, in fact, clasped around the leg of the weathercock.
Unsympathetic support! But I have known worse friends. A mercy it
was, at any rate, that I kept my embrace during the moments when
sense returned to me, with vision of the wonders spread around and
below. Truly I enjoyed a wonderful view - across the roofs of
Plymouth, quivering under the noon sun, and away to the violet hills
of Dartmoor; and, again, across the water and shipping of the Hamoaze
to the green slopes of Mount Edgcumbe and the massed trees slumbering
in the heat. Slumber, indeed, and a great quiet seemed to rest over
me, over the houses, the ships, the whole wide land. By the blessing
of Heaven, not so much as the faintest breeze played about the spire,
or cooled the copper rod burning my hand (and, again, it may have
been this that woke me). I sat astride the topmost crocket, and
glancing down between my boot heels, spied the carriage with its pair
of greys flattened upon the roadway just beyond the verge of the
battlements, and Mr. Scougall himself dancing and waving his arms
like a small but very lively beetle.

Doubtless, I had ascended by the narrow stairway of the crockets: but
to descend by them with a lot of useless senses about me would be a
very different matter. No giddiness attacked me as yet; indeed I
knew rather than felt my position to be serious. For a moment I
thought of leaving my perch and letting myself slip down the face of
the slates, to be pulled up short by the parapet; but the length of
the slide daunted me, and the parapet appeared dangerously shallow.
I should shoot over it to a certainty and go whirling into air.
On the other hand, to drop from my present saddle into the one below
was no easy feat. For this I must back myself over the edge of it,
and cling with body and legs in air while I judged my fall into the
next. To do this thirty times or so in succession without mistake
was past hoping for: there were at least thirty crockets to be
manoeuvred, and a single miscalculation would send me spinning
backwards to my fate. Above all, I had not the strength for it.

So I sat considering for a while; not terrified, but with a brain
exceedingly blank and hopeless. It never occurred to me that, if I
sat still and held on, steeplejacks would be summoned and ladders
brought to me; and I am glad that it did not, for this would have
taken hours, and I know now that I could not have held out for half
an hour inactive. But another thought came. I saw the slates at the
foot of the weathercock, that they were thinly edged and of light
scantling. I knew that they must be nailed upon a wooden framework
not unlike a ladder. And at the Genevan Hospital, as I have
recorded, we wore stout plates on our shoes.

I am told that it was a bad few moments for the lookers-on when they
saw me lower myself sideways from my crocket and begin to hammer on
the slates with my toes: for at first they did not comprehend, and
then they reasoned that the slates were new, and if I failed to kick
through them, to pull myself back to the crocket again would be a
desperate job.

But they did not know our shoe-leather. Mr. Scougall, whatever his
faults, usually contrived to get value for his money, and at the
tenth kick or so my toes went clean through the slate and rested on
the laths within. Next came the most delicate moment of all, for
with a less certain grip on the crocket I had to kick a second hole
lower down, and transfer my hand-hold from the stone to the wooden
lath laid bare by my first kicks.

This, too, with a long poise and then a flying clutch, I
accomplished; and with the rest of my descent I will not weary the
reader. It was interminably slow, and it was laborious; but, to
speak comparatively, it was safe. My boots lasted me to within
twenty feet of the parapet, and then, just as I had kicked my toes
bare, a steeplejack appeared at the little doorway with a ladder.
Planting it in a jiffy, he scrambled up, took me under his arm, bore
me down and laid me against the parapet, where at first I began to
cry and then emptied my small body with throe after throe of

I recovered to find Mr. Scougall and another clergyman (the vicar)
standing by the little door and gazing up at my line of holes on the

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryArthur Quiller-CouchThe Adventures of Harry Revel → online text (page 1 of 15)