John Meade Falkner.

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and cried aloud, and shrieked if anyone should haply hear me, calling to
Mr. Glennie and Ratsey, and even Elzevir, by name, to save me from this
awful place. But there came no answer, except the echo of my own voice
sounding hollow and far off down in the vault. So in despair I turned
back to the earth wall below the slab, and scrabbled at it with my
fingers, till my nails were broken and the blood ran out; having all the
while a sure knowledge, like a cord twisted round my head, that no effort
of mine could ever dislodge the great stone. And thus the hours passed,
and I shall not say more here, for the remembrance of that time is still
terrible, and besides, no words could ever set forth the anguish I then
suffered, yet did slumber come sometimes to my help; for even while I was
working at the earth, sheer weariness would overtake me, and I sank on to
the ground and fell asleep.

And still the hours passed, and at last I knew by the glimmer of light
in the tomb above that the sun had risen again, and a maddening thirst
had hold of me. And then I thought of all the barrels piled up in the
vault and of the liquor that they held; and stuck not because 'twas
spirit, for I would scarce have paused to sate that thirst even with
molten lead. So I felt my way down the passage back to the vault, and
recked not of the darkness, nor of Blackbeard and his crew, if only I
could lay my lips to liquor. Thus I groped about the barrels till near
the top of the stack my hand struck on the spile of a keg, and drawing
it, I got my mouth to the hold.

What the liquor was I do not know, but it was not so strong but that I
could swallow it in great gulps and found it less burning than my burning
throat. But when I turned to get back to the passage, I could not find
the outlet, and fumbled round and round until my brain was dizzy, and I
fell senseless to the ground.




CHAPTER 5

THE RESCUE

Shades of the dead, have I not heard your voices
Rise on the night-rolling breath of the gale? - _Byron_


When I came to myself I was lying, not in the outer blackness of the
Mohune vault, not on a floor of sand; but in a bed of sweet clean linen,
and in a little whitewashed room, through the window of which the spring
sunlight streamed. Oh, the blessed sunshine, and how I praised God for
the light! At first I thought I was in my own bed at my aunt's house, and
had dreamed of the vault and the smugglers, and that my being prisoned in
the darkness was but the horror of a nightmare. I was for getting up, but
fell back on my pillow in the effort to rise, with a weakness and sick
languor which I had never known before. And as I sunk down, I felt
something swing about my neck, and putting up my hand, found 'twas
Colonel John Mohune's black locket, and so knew that part at least of
this adventure was no dream.

Then the door opened, and to my wandering thought it seemed that I was
back again in the vault, for in came Elzevir Block. Then I held up my
hands, and cried -

'O Elzevir, save me, save me; I am not come to spy.'

But he, with a kind look on his face, put his hand on my shoulder, and
pushed me gently back, saying -

'Lie still, lad, there is none here will hurt thee, and drink this.'

He held out to me a bowl of steaming broth, that filled the room with a
savour sweeter, ten thousand times, to me than every rose and lily of the
world; yet would not let me drink it at a gulp, but made me sip it with a
spoon like any baby. Thus while I drank, he told me where I was, namely,
in an attic at the Why Not?, but would not say more then, bidding me get
to sleep again, and I should know all afterwards. And so it was ten days
or more before youth and health had their way, and I was strong again;
and all that time Elzevir Block sat by my bed, and nursed me tenderly as
a woman. So piece by piece I learned the story of how they found me.

'Twas Mr. Glennie who first moved to seek me; for when the second day
came that I was not at school, he thought that I was ill, and went to my
aunt's to ask how I did, as was his wont when any ailed. But Aunt Jane
answered him stiffly that she could not say how I did.

'For,' says she, 'he is run off I know not where, but as he makes his
bed, must he lie on't; and if he run away for his pleasure, may stay away
for mine. I have been pestered with this lot too long, and only bore with
him for poor sister Martha's sake; but 'tis after his father that the
graceless lad takes, and thus rewards me.'

With that she bangs the door in the parson's face and off he goes to
Ratsey, but can learn nothing there, and so concludes that I have run
away to sea, and am seeking ship at Poole or Weymouth.

But that same day came Sam Tewkesbury to the Why Not? about nightfall,
and begged a glass of rum, being, as he said, 'all of a shake', and
telling a tale of how he passed the churchyard wall on his return from
work, and in the dusk heard screams and wailing voices, and knew 'twas
Blackbeard piping his lost Mohunes to hunt for treasure. So, though he
saw nothing, he turned tail and never stopped running till he stood at
the inn door. Then, forthwith, Elzevir leaves Sam to drink at the Why
Not? alone, and himself sets off running up the street to call for Master
Ratsey; and they two make straight across the sea-meadows in the dark.

'For as soon as I heard Tewkesbury tell of screams and wailings in the
air, and no one to be seen,' said Elzevir, 'I guessed that some poor soul
had got shut in the vault, and was there crying for his life. And to this
I was not guided by mother wit, but by a surer and a sadder token. Thou
wilt have heard how thirteen years ago a daft body we called Cracky Jones
was found one morning in the churchyard dead. He was gone missing for a
week before, and twice within that week I had sat through the night upon
the hill behind the church, watching to warn the lugger with a flare she
could not put in for the surf upon the beach. And on those nights, the
air being still though a heavy swell was running, I heard thrice or more
a throttled scream come shivering across the meadows from the graveyard.
Yet beyond turning my blood cold for a moment, it gave me little trouble,
for evil tales have hung about the church; and though I did not set much
store by the old yarns of Blackbeard piping up his crew, yet I thought
strange things might well go on among the graves at night. And so I never
budged, nor stirred hand or foot to save a fellow-creature in his agony.

'But when the surf fell enough for the boats to get ashore, and Greening
held a lantern for me to jump down into the passage, after we had got the
side out of the tomb, the first thing the light fell on at the bottom
was a white face turned skyward. I have not forgot that, lad, for 'twas
Cracky Jones lay there, with his face thin and shrunk, yet all the doited
look gone out of it. We tried to force some brandy in his mouth, but he
was stark and dead; with knees drawn up towards his head, so stiff we had
to lift him doubled as he was, and lay him by the churchyard wall for
some of us to find next day. We never knew how he got there, but guessed
that he had hung about the landers some night when they ran a cargo, and
slipped in when the watchman's back was turned. Thus when Sam Tewkesbury
spoke of screams and wailings, and no one to be seen, I knew what 'twas,
but never guessed who might be shut in there, not knowing thou wert gone
amissing. So ran to Ratsey to get his help to slip the side stone off,
for by myself I cannot stir it now, though once I did when I was younger;
and from him learned that thou wert lost, and knew whom we should find
before we got there.'

I shuddered while Elzevir talked, for I thought how Cracky Jones had
perhaps hidden behind the self-same coffin that sheltered me, and how
narrowly I had escaped his fate. And that old story came back into my
mind, how, years ago, there once arose so terrible a cry from the vault
at service-time, that parson and people fled from the church; and I
doubted not now that some other poor soul had got shut in that awful
place, and was then calling for help to those whose fears would not let
them listen.

'There we found thee,' Elzevir went on, 'stretched out on the sand,
senseless and far gone; and there was something in thy face that made me
think of David when he lay stretched out in his last sleep. And so I put
thee on my shoulder and bare thee back, and here thou art in David's
room, and shalt find board and bed with me as long as thou hast mind
to.' We spoke much together during the days when I was getting
stronger, and I grew to like Elzevir well, finding his grimness was but
on the outside, and that never was a kinder man. Indeed, I think that my
being with him did him good; for he felt that there was once more
someone to love him, and his heart went out to me as to his son David.
Never once did he ask me to keep my counsel as to the vault and what I
had seen there, knowing, perhaps, he had no need, for I would have died
rather than tell the secret to any. Only, one day Master Ratsey, who
often came to see me, said -

'John, there is only Elzevir and I who know that you have seen the
inside of our bond-cellar; and 'tis well, for if some of the landers
guessed, they might have ugly ways to stop all chance of prating. So
keep our secret tight, and we'll keep yours, for "he that refraineth his
lips is wise".'

I wondered how Master Ratsey could quote Scripture so pat, and yet cheat
the revenue; though, in truth, 'twas thought little sin at Moonfleet to
run a cargo; and, perhaps, he guessed what I was thinking, for he added -

'Not that a Christian man has aught to be ashamed of in landing a cask of
good liquor, for we read that when Israel came out of Egypt, the chosen
people were bid trick their oppressors out of jewels of silver and jewels
of gold; and among those cruel taskmasters, Some of the worst must
certainly have been the tax-gatherers.'

* * * * *

The first walk I took when I grew stronger and was able to get about was
up to Aunt Jane's, notwithstanding she had never so much as been to ask
after me all these days. She knew, indeed, where I was, for Ratsey had
told her I lay at the Why Not?, explaining that Elzevir had found me one
night on the ground famished and half-dead, yet not saying where. But my
aunt greeted me with hard words, which I need not repeat here; for,
perhaps, she meant them not unkindly, but only to bring me back again to
the right way. She did not let me cross the threshold, holding the door
ajar in her hand, and saying she would have no tavern-loungers in her
house, but that if I liked the Why Not? so well, I could go back there
again for her. I had been for begging her pardon for playing truant; but
when I heard such scurvy words, felt the devil rise in my heart, and only
laughed, though bitter tears were in my eyes. So I turned my back upon
the only home that I had ever known, and sauntered off down the village,
feeling very lone, and am not sure I was not crying before I came again
to the Why Not?

Then Elzevir saw that my face was downcast, and asked what ailed me, and
so I told him how my aunt had turned me away, and that I had no home to
go to. But he seemed pleased rather than sorry, and said that I must come
now and live with him, for he had plenty for both; and that since chance
had led him to save my life, I should be to him a son in David's place.
So I went to keep house with him at the Why Not? and my aunt sent down my
bag of clothes, and would have made over to Elzevir the pittance that my
father left for my keep, but he said it was not needful, and he would
have none of it.




CHAPTER 6

AN ASSAULT

Surely after all,
The noblest answer unto such
Is perfect stillness when they brawl - _Tennyson_


I have more than once brought up the name of Mr. Maskew; and as I shall
have other things to tell of him later on, I may as well relate here what
manner of man he was. His stature was but medium, not exceeding five feet
four inches, I think; and to make the most of it, he flung his head far
back, and gave himself a little strut in walking. He had a thin face with
a sharp nose that looked as if it would peck you, and grey eyes that
could pierce a millstone if there was a guinea on the far side of it. His
hair, for he wore his own, had been red, though it was now grizzled; and
the colour of it was set down in Moonfleet to his being a Scotchman, for
we thought all Scotchmen were red-headed. He was a lawyer by profession,
and having made money in Edinburgh, had gone so far south as Moonfleet to
get quit, as was said, of the memories of rascally deeds. It was about
four years since he bought a parcel of the Mohune Estate, which had been
breaking up and selling piecemeal for a generation; and on his land stood
the Manor House, or so much of it as was left. Of the mansion I have
spoken before. It was a very long house of two storeys, with a projecting
gable and doorway in the middle, and at each end gabled wings running out
crosswise. The Maskews lived in one of these wings, and that was the only
habitable portion of the place; for as to the rest, the glass was out of
the windows, and in some places the roofs had fallen in. Mr. Maskew made
no attempt to repair house or grounds, and the bough of the great cedar
which the snows had brought down in '49 still blocked the drive. The
entrance to the house was through the porchway in the middle, but more
than one tumble-down corridor had to be threaded before one reached
the inhabited wing; while fowls and pigs and squirrels had possession of
the terrace lawns in front. It was not for want of money that Maskew let
things remain thus, for men said that he was rich enough, only that his
mood was miserly; and perhaps, also, it was the lack of woman's company
that made him think so little of neatness and order. For his wife was
dead; and though he had a daughter, she was young, and had not yet weight
enough to make her father do things that he did not choose.

Till Maskew came there had been none living in the Manor House for a
generation, so the village children used the terrace for a playground,
and picked primroses in the woods; and the men thought they had a right
to snare a rabbit or shoot a pheasant in the chase. But the new owner
changed all this, hiding gins and spring-guns in the coverts, and nailing
up boards on the trees to say he would have the law of any that
trespassed. So he soon made enemies for himself, and before long had
everyone's hand against him. Yet he preferred his neighbour's enmity to
their goodwill, and went about to make it more bitter by getting himself
posted for magistrate, and giving out that he would put down the
contraband thereabouts. For no one round Moonfleet was for the Excise;
but farmers loved a glass of Schnapps that had never been gauged, and
their wives a piece of fine lace from France. And then came the affair
between the _Elector_ and the ketch, with David Block's death; and after
that they said it was not safe for Maskew to walk at large, and that he
would be found some day dead on the down; but he gave no heed to it, and
went on as if he had been a paid exciseman rather than a magistrate.

When I was a little boy the Manor woods were my delight, and many a sunny
afternoon have I sat on the terrace edge looking down over the village,
and munching red quarantines from the ruined fruit gardens. And though
this was now forbidden, yet the Manor had still a sweeter attraction to
me than apples or bird-batting, and that was Grace Maskew. She was an
only child, and about my own age, or little better, at the time of which
I am speaking. I knew her, because she went every day to the old
almshouses to be taught by the Reverend Mr. Glennie, from whom I also
received my schooling. She was tall for her age, and slim, with a thin
face and a tumble of tawny hair, which flew about her in a wind or when
she ran. Her frocks were washed and patched and faded, and showed more of
her arms and legs than the dressmaker had ever intended, for she was a
growing girl, and had none to look after her clothes. She was a favourite
playfellow with all, and an early choice for games of 'prisoner's base',
and she could beat most of us boys at speed. Thus, though we all hated
her father, and had for him many jeering titles among ourselves; yet we
never used an evil nickname nor a railing word against him when she was
by, because we liked her well.

There were a half-dozen of us boys, and as many girls, whom Mr. Glennie
used to teach; and that you may see what sort of man Maskew was, I will
tell you what happened one day in school between him and the parson. Mr.
Glennie taught us in the almshouses; for though there were now no
bedesmen, and the houses themselves were fallen to decay, yet the little
hall in which the inmates had once dined was still maintained, and served
for our schoolroom. It was a long and lofty room, with a high wainscot
all round it, a carved oak screen at one end, and a broad window at the
other. A very heavy table, polished by use, and sadly besmirched with
ink, ran down the middle of the hall with benches on either side of it
for us to use; and a high desk for Mr. Glennie stood under the window at
the end of the room. Thus we were sitting one morning with our
summing-slates and grammars before us when the door in the screen opens
and Mr. Maskew enters.

I have told you already of the verses which Mr. Glennie wrote for David
Block's grave; and when the floods had gone down Ratsey set up the
headstone with the poetry carved on it. But Maskew, through not going to
church, never saw the stone for weeks, until one morning, walking through
the churchyard, he lighted on it, and knew the verses for Mr. Glennie's.
So 'twas to have it out with the parson that he had come to school this
day; and though we did not know so much then, yet guessed from his
presence that something was in the wind, and could read in his face that
he was very angry. Now, for all that we hated Maskew, yet were we glad
enough to see him there, as hoping for something strange to vary the
sameness of school, and scenting a disturbance in the air. Only Grace was
ill at ease for fear her father should say something unseemly, and kept
her head down with shocks of hair falling over her book, though I could
see her blushing between them. So in vapours Maskew, and with an angry
glance about him makes straight for the desk where our master sits at the
top of the room.

For a moment Mr. Glennie, being shortsighted, did not see who 'twas; but
as his visitor drew near, rose courteously to greet him.

'Good day to you, Mister Maskew,' says he, holding out his hand.

But Maskew puts his arms behind his back and bubbles out, 'Hold not out
your hand to me lest I spit on it. 'Tis like your snivelling cant to
write sweet psalms for smuggling rogues and try to frighten honest men
with your judgements.'

At first Mr. Glennie did not know what the other would be at, and
afterwards understanding, turned very pale; but said as a minister he
would never be backward in reproving those whom he considered in the
wrong, whether from the pulpit or from the gravestone. Then Maskew
flies into a great passion, and pours out many vile and insolent words,
saying Mr. Glennie is in league with the smugglers and fattens on their
crimes; that the poetry is a libel; and that he, Maskew, will have the
law of him for calumny.

After that he took Grace by the arm, and bade her get hat and cape and
come with him. 'For,' says he, 'I will not have thee taught any more by a
psalm-singing hypocrite that calls thy father murderer.' And all the
while he kept drawing up closer to Mr. Glennie, until the two stood very
near each other.

There was a great difference between them; the one short and blustering,
with a red face turned up; the other tall and craning down, ill-clad,
ill-fed, and pale. Maskew had in his left hand a basket, with which he
went marketing of mornings, for he made his own purchases, and liked
fish, as being cheaper than meat. He had been chaffering with the
fishwives this very day, and was bringing back his provend with him when
he visited our school.

Then he said to Mr. Glennie: 'Now, Sir Parson, the law has given into
your fool's hands a power over this churchyard, and 'tis your trade to
stop unseemly headlines from being set up within its walls, or once set
up, to turn them out forthwith. So I give you a week's grace, and if
tomorrow sennight yon stone be not gone, I will have it up and flung in
pieces outside the wall.'

Mr. Glennie answered him in a low voice, but quite clear, so that we
could hear where we sat: 'I can neither turn the stone out myself, nor
stop you from turning it out if you so mind; but if you do this thing,
and dishonour the graveyard, there is One stronger than either you or I
that must be reckoned with.'

I knew afterwards that he meant the Almighty, but thought then that
'twas of Elzevir he spoke; and so, perhaps, did Mr. Maskew, for he fell
into a worse rage, thrust his hand in the basket, whipped out a great
sole he had there, and in a twinkling dashes it in Mr. Glennie's face,
with a 'Then, take that for an unmannerly parson, for I would not foul my
fist with your mealy chops.'

But to see that stirred my choler, for Mr. Glennie was weak as wax, and
would never have held up his hand to stop a blow, even were he strong as
Goliath. So I was for setting on Maskew, and being a stout lad for my
age, could have had him on the floor as easy as a baby; but as I rose
from my seat, I saw he held Grace by the hand, and so hung back for a
moment, and before I got my thoughts together he was gone, and I saw the
tail of Grace's cape whisk round the screen door.

A sole is at the best an ugly thing to have in one's face, and this sole
was larger than most, for Maskew took care to get what he could for his
money, so it went with a loud smack on Mr. Glennie's cheek, and then fell
with another smack on the floor. At this we all laughed, as children
will, and Mr. Glennie did not check us, but went back and sat very quiet
at his desk; and soon I was sorry I had laughed, for he looked sad, with
his face sanded and a great red patch on one side, and beside that the
fin had scratched him and made a blood-drop trickle down his cheek. A few
minutes later the thin voice of the almshouse clock said twelve, and away
walked Mr. Glennie without his usual 'Good day, children', and there was
the sole left lying on the dusty floor in front of his desk.

It seemed a shame so fine a fish should be wasted, so I picked it up and
slipped it in my desk, sending Fred Burt to get his mother's gridiron
that we might grill it on the schoolroom fire. While he was gone I went
out to the court to play, and had not been there five minutes when back
comes Maskew through our playground without Grace, and goes into the
schoolroom. But in the screen at the end of the room was a chink, against
which we used to hold our fingers on bright days for the sun to shine
through, and show the blood pink; so up I slipped and fixed my eye to the
hole, wanting to know what he was at. He had his basket with him, and I
soon saw he had come back for the sole, not having the heart to leave so
good a bit of fish. But look where he would, he could not find it, for he
never searched my desk, and had to go off with a sour countenance; but
Fred Burt and I cooked the sole, and found it well flavoured, for all it
had given so much pain to Mr. Glennie.

After that Grace came no more to school, both because her father had
said she should not, and because she was herself ashamed to go back
after what Maskew had done to Mr. Glennie. And then it was that I took to
wandering much in the Manor woods, having no fear of man-traps, for I
knew their place as soon as they were put down, but often catching sight
of Grace, and sometimes finding occasion to talk with her. Thus time
passed, and I lived with Elzevir at the Why Not?, still going to school
of mornings, but spending the afternoons in fishing, or in helping him
in the garden, or with the boats. As soon as I got to know him well, I
begged him to let me help run the cargoes, but he refused, saying I was
yet too young, and must not come into mischief. Yet, later, yielding to
my importunity, he consented; and more than one dark night I was in the
landing-boats that unburdened the lugger, though I could never bring
myself to enter the Mohune vault again, but would stand as sentry at the
passage-mouth. And all the while I had round my neck Colonel John


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