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The White Wolf and Other Fireside Tales online

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hail, but by night there's no peace nor rest.'

"One or two husbands corroborated.

"'Well, now - I think 'twas the third night after this affair happened -
I crep' downstairs for the fifth time or so just to ease the old woman's
mind, and opens the door, when what do I see but Billy Polkinghorne
here, sittin' on his own doorstep like a lost dog. 'Aw,' says I, 'so
thee'rt feelin' of it, too!' 'Feelin' of it!' says he, 'durned if
this isn' the awnly place I can get a wink o' sleep!' 'Come'st way
long to Wall-end and tetch pipe,' says I. Tha's how it began. An' now,
ever since Billy thought 'pon the plan of settin' someone, turn an'
turn, to watch your window, there's nothin' to hurry us. Why, only just
as you came along, Billy was saying, 'Burglary!' he says, 'why, I han't
been so happy in mind since the _Indian Queen_ came ashore!''

"'Watch my window? Why the - ' And then, as light broke on me,
'Look here,' I said, 'you don't mean to tell me you've been suspecting
_me_ of the burglary all this time!'

"'You musn' think,' said Archelaus Warne, 'that we bear any gridge.'"

"Well," the Judge concluded, "as I told you, the thief was apprehended a
week or two later, and my innocence established. But, oddly enough,
some thirty years after I had to try a case at the Assizes here, in
which Archelaus Warne (very old and infirm) appeared as a witness, I
recognised him at once, and, when I sent for him afterwards and inquired
after my friends at Polreen, his first words were, 'There now - I wasn'
so far wrong, after all! I knawed you must be mixed up with these
things, wan way or 'nother.'"


Let those who know my affection for Troy consider what my feelings were,
the other day, when on my return from a brief jaunt to London I alighted
at the railway station amid all the tokens of a severe and general
catastrophe. The porter who opened the door for me had a bandaged head.
George the 'bus driver carried his right arm in a sling, but professed
himself able to guide his vehicle through our tortuous streets
left-handed. I had declined the offer, and was putting some
sympathetic question, when a procession came by. Four children of
serious demeanour conveyed a groaning comrade on a stretcher, while a
couple more limped after in approved splints. I stopped them, of
course. The rearmost sufferer - who wore on his shin-bone a wicker
trellis of the sort used for covering flower-plots, and a tourniquet,
contrived with a pebble and a handkerchief, about his femoral artery -
informed me that it was a case of First Aid to the Injured, which he was
rendering at some risk to his own (compound) fracture.

"It's wonderful," said George, with a grin, "what crazes the youngsters
will pick up."

Thereupon the truth came out. It appeared that during my absence a
member of the Ambulance Association of St. John of Jerusalem had
descended upon the town with a course of lectures, and the town had
taken up the novelty with its usual spirit.

I said a course of lectures; but in Troy we are nothing if not
thoroughgoing, and by this time (so George informed me) three courses
were in full swing. The railway servants and jetty-men (our
instructor's earliest pupils) had arrived at restoring animation to the
apparently drowned; while a mixed class, drawn from the townsfolk
generally, were learning to bandage, and the members of our Young
Women's Christian Association had attended but two lectures and still
dallied with the wonders of the human frame.

George told me all about it on our way through the town - for I had
consented to be driven on condition that he removed his arm from the
sling, and he could not deny this to an old friend (as I make free to
call myself). Besides, he was bursting to talk. To be sure, he slipped
it back for a few moments as we breasted the hill beyond the post-office
and his horses dropped to a walk. I fancy that he glanced at me
apologetically; but since there was comparatively little danger
hereabouts I thought it more delicate to look the other way.

"And the Chamber of Commerce has not protested?" I asked.

We call it the "Chamber of Commerce" for euphony's sake. It is in fact
an association which keeps an eye upon the Parish Council, Harbour
Board, and Great Western Railway, and incites these bodies to make our
town more attractive to visitors. It consists mainly of lodging-house
keepers, and has this summer prevailed on the Railway Company to issue
cheap Saturday market tickets to Plymouth - a boon which the visitor will
soon learn (if we may take our own experience as a test) to rank high
among the minor comforts of life.

No; the Chamber of Commerce had not protested. And yet it occurred to
me more than once during the next few days that strangers attracted to
Troy by its reputation as a health resort must have marvelled as they
walked our streets, where cases of sunstroke, frost-bite, snake-bite,
and incipient croup challenged their pity at every corner. The very
babies took their first steps in splints, and when they tumbled were
examined by their older playmates, and pronounced to be suffering from
apoplexy or alcoholic poisoning, as fancy happened to suggest.
I believe that a single instruction in the Association's Handbook -
carefully italicised there, I must admit - alone saved our rising
generation. It ran: "_Unless perfectly sure that the patient is
intoxicated, do not give the emetic_."

To be sure, we left these extravagances to the children. But childhood,
after all, is a relative term, and in Troy we pass through it to sober
age by nice gradations; which take time. Already a foreign sailor who
had committed the double imprudence of drinking heavily at the Crown and
Anchor, and falling asleep afterwards on the foreshore while waiting for
his boat, was complaining vigorously, through his Vice-Consul, of the
varieties of treatment practised upon his insensible body; and only the
difficulty of tracing five Esmarch bandages in a town where five hundred
had been sold in a fortnight averted a prosecution. I was even prepared
for a visit from Sir Felix Felix-Williams, our worthy Squire, who seldom
misses an opportunity of turning our local enthusiasms to account, and
sometimes does me the honour to enlist my help; but scarcely for the
turn his suggestions took.

"You are, of course, interested in this movement?" he began.

"I have to be, seeing that I live in the midst of it."

"You have joined the Ambulance Class, I hear."

"Do you think I would neglect a precaution so obvious? Until their
enthusiasm abates, I certainly shall range myself among the First-Aiders
rather than the Injured."

"My idea was, to strike while the iron is hot."

"Oh," said I, "a town with so many in the fire - "

"And I thought, perhaps, if we could manage to connect it in some way
with the Primrose League - "

"But what can it have to do with the Primrose League?" I asked stiffly.
I will admit now to a slight prejudice against the Ambulance business -
due perhaps to the lecturer's having chosen to start it in my absence.

Sir Felix was disappointed, and showed it. "Why, it was you," he
reminded me, "who helped us last year by setting the widows to race for
a leg of mutton."

"I was a symbolist in those days. And, excuse me, Sir Felix, it was not
last year, but the year before. Last year we had the surrender of
Cronje at Paardeberg, with the widows dressed up as Boer women."

"Is that so? I thought we had Cronje two years ago, but no doubt you
are right. Now I thought that, with our Primrose fete coming on, and
everybody just now taking such an interest in the Empire - "

"To be sure!" I cried. "'First Aid to the Empire' - it will look well on
the bills."

Sir Felix rubbed his hands together - a trick of his when he is pleased.
"It's an idea, eh?"

"A brilliant one."

"Well, but you haven't heard all." He looked at me almost slyly.
"It occurred to me, that while - er - associating this enthusiasm of ours
with the imperial idea, we might at the same time do a good turn for
ourselves. You think that permissible?"

"Permissible? For what else does an empire exist?"

"Quite so. As I was saying to Lady Williams, only this morning, we must
bring _home_ to less thoughtful persons a sense of its beneficence.
Now it occurs to me: why go on subscribing to these great public Nursing
Funds, in which our mite is a mere drop in the ocean, when by sending up
a nurse from our own town - she would, of course, be a member of the
League - not only should we have the satisfaction of knowing that our
help is effective, but the young woman would be earning a salary and
supporting herself?"

"Admirable!" said I. "It would look so much better in the papers too."

"You see, we have at this moment a score of young women, all natives of
the town and members of the League, undergoing instruction from our
lecturer. After the course there will be an examination; and then, with
the lecturer's help - and the advice, if I might suggest it, of Lady
Williams, who can tell him if the candidate's family be respectable and
deserving - we can surely select a young person to do us credit."

Sir Felix took his departure in the cheerfullest temper, and I record
his suggestion as one eminently worthy of his head and his heart,
although subsequent events have, alas! brought it to nought. I doubt if
we shall send up a nurse from Troy; indeed, I doubt if there will even
be an examination.

Last evening the Young Women's Christian Association attended its sixth
Ambulance lecture. The subject - roller bandaging - being a practical
one, a small boy was had in, set on the platform, and bandaged in sight
of the audience - plain bandaged, reverse bandaged, figure-of-eight
bandaged, bandaged on forefinger, thumb, hand, wrist and forearm, elbow,
shoulder, knee, ankle, foot. He declares that he enjoyed himself
thoroughly. After each demonstration the young women took a turn and
practised with such assiduity that an hour slipped pleasantly away.
The bandages were applied, the spirals neatly stitched, and the stitches
promptly snipped for the next pupil to begin. An occasional prick with
the needle evoked no more than a playful remonstrance from the boy and a
ripple of laughter from the fair executants. At length, alas! Miss
Sophy Rabling, in snipping her bandage from the boy's foot, fumbled and
drove a point of the scissors sharply into his toe.

With a howl he caught at his foot, from which one or two drops of blood
were trickling. And the sight of it so affected Miss Sophy that she
dropped upon the platform in a swoon. A class-mate in the body of the
hall almost instantly followed her example.

The lecturer, I am bound to say, behaved admirably. So far was he from
losing his head, that he instantly seized on the accident to turn it to

"First aid!" he cried. "Subject: Fainting. Patient No. 1, head to be
pressed down below her knees and kept there for a few minutes.
Patient No. 2, to be extended on the floor, care being taken to keep
head and body level. A form being handy, we could, as an alternative,
have hung Patient No. 1 over it, head downwards."

But at this point, unfortunately, the humour of the situation became too
much for Miss Gertrude Hansombody, another of the students. She began
to titter, went on to laugh uncontrollably, then to clench her hands and

"Subject: Hysterics!" called the lecturer. "Treatment: Be firm with
the patient, hold her firmly by the wrists and threaten her with cold
water - "

He spoke to empty benches. The rest of his pupils had escaped from the
room and were now on their way home, and running for dear life.

I do not expect that St. John of Jerusalem will figure prominently in
our Primrose fete. My reason for saying so is an urgent letter just
received from Sir Felix, who wishes to confer with me in the course of
the day.


We are not litigious in Troy, and we obey the laws of England cheerfully
if we sometimes claim to interpret them in our own way. I leave others
to determine whether the Chief Constable's decision, that one policeman
amply suffices for us, be an effect or a cause, but certain it is that
we rarely trouble any court, and almost never that of Assize.

This accounts in part for the popular interest awakened by the suit of
Cox _versus_ Pretyman, heard a few days ago at the Bodmin Assizes. I
say "in part," because the case presented (as the newspapers phrase it)
some unusual features, and differed noticeably from the ordinary Action
for Breach of Promise. "No harm in that," you will say? Indeed no; and
we should have regarded it as no more than our due but for an
apprehension that the conduct alleged against the defendant concerned us
all by compromising the good name of our town.

At any rate, last Wednesday found the streets full of citizens hurrying
to the railway station, and throughout the morning our stationmaster had
difficulty in handling the traffic. The journey to Bodmin is not a long
one as the crow flies, but, as our carpenter, Mr. Hansombody, put it,
"we are not crows, and, that being the case, naturally resent being
packed sixteen in a compartment." Mr. Hansombody taxed the Great
Western Company with lack of foresight in not running excursion trains,
and appealed to me to support his complaint. I argued (with the general
approval of our fellow-travellers) that there was something heartless in
the idea of an excursion to listen to the recital of a woman's wrongs,
especially of Miss Cox's, whom we had known so long and esteemed.
Driven from this position, Mr. Hansombody took a fresh stand on the
superiority of the old broad-gauge carriages; and this, since it raised
no personal question, we discussed in very good humour while we unpacked
and ate our luncheons.

In the midst of our meal a lady at the far end of the compartment heaved
a sigh and ejaculated "Poor thing!" - which at once set us off discussing
the case anew. We agreed that such conduct as Pretyman's was
fortunately rare amongst us. We tried to disclaim him - no easy matter,
since his father and mother had been natives of Troy, and he had spent
all his life in our midst. The lady in the corner challenged Mr.
Hansombody to deny that our town was deteriorating - the rising
generation more mischievous than its parents, and given to mitching from
school, and cigarette smoking, if not to worse.

Now this was a really damaging attack, for Mr. Hansombody not only
presides over our School Board, but has a son in the tobacco business.
He met it magnificently. "He would dismiss (he said) the cigarette
question as one upon which - Heaven knew with how little justice! - he
might be suspected of private bias; but on the question of truancy he
had something to say, and he would say it. To begin with, he would
admit that the children in Troy played truant; the percentage of school
attendance was abnormally low. Yes, he admitted the fact, and thanked
the lady for having called attention to it, since it bore upon the
subject now uppermost in our minds. He had here" - and he drew from his
pocket a magazine article - "some statistics to which he would invite our
attention. They showed the average school attendance in Cornwall to be
lower than in any county of England or Wales. _But_" - and Mr.
Hansombody raised his forefinger - "the same statistician in the very
same paper proves the average of criminal prosecutions in Cornwall to be
the lowest in England and Wales."

"And you infer - " I began as he paused triumphantly.

"I infer nothing, sir. I leave the inference to be drawn by our
faddists in education, and I only hope they'll enjoy it."

Well, apart from its bearing on Mr. Hansombody's position as Chairman of
our Board (which we forbore to examine), this discovery consoled us
somewhat and amused us a great deal until we reached Bodmin, when we
hurried at once to the Assize Court.

I have said that the action, Cox _v._ Pretyman, was for damages for
Breach of Promise of Marriage. Both parties are natives and
parishioners of Fowey, and attend the same place of worship.
The plaintiff, Miss Rebecca Cox, earns her living as a dressmaker's
assistant; the defendant is our watch-maker, and opened a shop of his
own but a few months before approaching Miss Cox with proposals of
marriage. This was fifteen years ago. I may mention that some kind of
counter-claim was put in "for goods delivered"; the goods in question
being a musical-box and sundry small articles for parlour amusement,
such as a solitaire-tray, two packs of "Patience" cards, a race-game,
and the like. But the defendant did not allege that these had been sent
or accepted as whole or partial quittance of his contract to marry, and
I can only suppose that he pleaded them in mitigation of damages.
Miss Cox asked for one hundred and fifty pounds.

Her evidence was given in quiet but resolute tones, and for some time
disclosed nothing sensational. The circumstances in which Mr. Pretyman
had sued for and obtained the promise of her hand differed in no
important particular from those which ordinarily attend the
_fiancailles_ of respectable young persons in Troy; and for twelve years
his courtship ran an even course. "After this," asserted Miss Cox,
"his attentions cooled. He was friendly and kind enough when we met,
and still talked of enlarging his shop-front and marrying in the near
future. But his visits were not frequent enough to be called courting."
Of late, though living in the same street, she had only seen him on
Sundays; and even so he would be occupied almost all the day and evening
with services, Sunday school, prayer-meetings, and occasional addresses.
At length she taxed him with indifference, and, finding his excuses
unsatisfactory, was persuaded by her friends to bring the present
action. She liked the man well enough; but for the last two or three
years "his heart hadn't been in it. He didn't do any proper courting."

Defendant's counsel (a young man) attempted in cross-examination to lead
Miss Cox to reveal herself as an exacting young woman.

"Do you assert that at length you came to see nothing of defendant
during the week?"

"Only through the shop window as I went by to my work. And of late,
when he saw me coming, he would screw a magnifying glass in his eye and
pretend to be busy with his watch-making. I believe he did it to avoid
looking at me, and also because he knew I couldn't bear him with his
face screwed up. It makes such a difference to his appearance."

"Gently, gently, Miss Cox! You must not give us your mere suppositions.
Now, did he never pay you a visit, or take you for a walk, say on
Wednesdays? That would be early-closing day, I believe."

"Never for the last three years, sir, after he became a Freemason.
Wednesdays was lodge-night."

"Well then, on Saturday, after shop hours?"

"Yes, he used to come on Saturdays, till he was made a Forester.
The Foresters meet every Saturday evening."

"Mondays then, or Tuesdays? We haven't exhausted the week yet, Miss

"No, sir. Mondays he was a Rechabite and went to tent. Tuesdays he
would be an Ancient Druid - "

"Gently! On Mondays, you say, he was a Rechabite and went to tent.
What is a Rechabite? And what does he do in a tent?"

_Plaintiff_ (dissolving in tears): "Ah, sir, if I only knew!"

Here the Judge interposed. A Rechabite, he believed, went to a tent, or
habitation, for the purpose (among others) of abstaining from alcoholic

_Plaintiff_ (briskly): "But, my lord, you wouldn't call that proper

Defendant's counsel had taken this opportunity to resume his seat.
But counsel for the plaintiff now arose, with a smile, to re-examine.

"Did Mr. Pretyman walk out with you on Thursday evenings?"

"Oh no, sir. On Thursday evenings Mr. Pretyman was an Oddfellow."

"I think we have only to account for Fridays," said his lordship, after
consulting his notes.

"On Fridays, my lord, Mr. Pretyman was an Ancient Buffalo."

"An Ancient Buffalo?"

"Yes, my lord (sobbing). I don't know what it means, but that was the
last straw."

"The first question for the jury to determine," said his lordship, a
little later, "is whether an affianced young woman, as such, has a right
to expect from her betrothed such attentions as may reasonably be taken
as earnest of his desire to fulfil his contract within a reasonable
time. In the present instance, the fact that the contract was made does
not stand in doubt; it is not disputed. Now arises a second question.
Can a man who is on weekdays a Freemason, a Rechabite, an Oddfellow, a
Forester, an Ancient Druid, and an Ancient Buffalo, and on
Sundays (as I gather) a Yarmouth Bloater - "

"Plymouth Brother, my lord," plaintiff's counsel corrected.

"I beg your pardon - a Plymouth Brother. I say, can a man who after his
betrothal voluntarily preoccupies himself with these multifarious
functions be held - I will not say to have disqualified himself for that
willing exchange of confidence which is the surest guarantee of lasting
happiness between man and wife - but to have raised such obstacles to the
fulfilment of the original contract as reasonably warrant the accusation
of _mala fides?_"

Well, the jury held that he could; for without troubling to leave the
box they gave their verdict for the plaintiff, and assessed the damages
at one hundred pounds.

Towards the close of the case we all felt ashamed of Pretyman.
His defence had been weak; it struck us as almost derisory; and Mr.
Hansombody agreed with me in a whisper that under similar circumstances
he or I could have made a better fight for it. The fellow had shown no
sport. We blushed for our town.

But Troy has a knack of winning its races on the post. Judgment, as the
phrase goes, was on the point of being entered accordingly, when the
defendant looked up towards the Bench with a sudden, happy smile.

"Here, wait a minute!" he said. "I have a question to put to his

"Eh?" said the Judge. "Certainly. What is it?"

"I want to know, my lord, if I can claim the benefit of the First
Offenders Act?"

The train on the return journey was worse crowded than ever; but nobody
minded. For we had managed to give plaintiff and defendant a
compartment to themselves.


When the Grand Duke Ferdinand of Carinthia travelled in state to wed the
Princess Sophia of Ysselmonde, he did so by land, and for two reasons;
the first being that this was the shortest way, and the second that he
possessed no ships. These, at any rate, were the reasons alleged by his
Chancellor, to whom he left all arrangements. For himself, he took very
little interest in the marriage beyond inquiring the age of his bride.
"Six years," was the answer, and this seemed to him very young, for he
had already passed his tenth birthday.

The Pope, however, had contrived and blessed the match; so Ferdinand
raised no serious objection, but in due course came to Ysselmonde with
his bodyguard of the famous Green Carinthian Archers, and two hundred
halberdiers and twelve waggons - four to carry his wardrobe, and the
remaining eight piled with wedding presents. On the way, while
Ferdinand looked for birds' nests, the Chancellor sang the praises of
the Princess Sophia, who (he declared) was more beautiful than the day.
"But you have never seen her," objected Ferdinand. "No, your Highness,
and that is why I contented myself with a purely conventional phrase;"
and the Chancellor, who practised _finesse_ in his odd moments, began to
talk of the sea, the sight of which awaited them at Ysselmonde.
"And what is the sea like?" "Well, your Highness, the sea is somewhat
difficult to describe, for in fact there is nothing to compare with it."
"You have seen it, I suppose?" "Sire, I have done more; for once, while
serving as Ambassador at Venice, I had the honour to be upset in it."

With such converse they beguiled the road until they reached Ysselmonde,
and found the sea completely hidden by flags and triumphal arches.
And there, after three days' feasting, the little Grand Duke and the
still smaller Princess were married in the Cathedral by the Cardinal
Archbishop, and the Pope's legate handed them his master's blessing in a
morocco-covered case, and as they drove back to the Palace the Dutchmen
waved their hats and shouted "Boo-mp!" but the Carinthian Archers cried
"Talassio!" which not only sounded better, but proved (when they
obligingly explained what it meant) that the ancestors of the Grand Duke

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Online LibraryArthur Thomas Quiller-CouchThe White Wolf and Other Fireside Tales → online text (page 17 of 22)