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A week ago, my friend the Journalist wrote to remind me that once upon a time I had offered him a bed in my cottage at Troy and promised to show him the beauties of the place. He was about (he said) to give himself a fortnight's holiday, and had some notion of using that time to learn what Cornwall was like. He could spare but one day for Troy, and hardly looked to exhaust its attractions; nevertheless, if my promise held good.... By anticipation he spoke of my home as a "nook." Its windows look down upon a harbour, wherein, day by day, vessels of every nation and men of large experience are for ever going and coming; and beyond the harbour, upon leagues of open sea, highway of the vastest traffic in the world: whereas from his own far more expensive house my friend sees only a dirty laurel-bush, a high green fence, and the upper half of a suburban lamp post. Yet he is convinced that I dwell in a nook.
I answered his letter, warmly repeating the invitation; and last week he arrived. The change had bronzed his face, and from his talk I learnt that he had already seen half the Duchy, in seven days. Yet he had been unreasonably delayed in at least a dozen places, and used the strongest language about 'bus and coach communication, local trains, misleading sign-posts, and the like. Our scenery enraptured him--every aspect of it. He had travelled up the Tamar to Launceston, crossed the moors, climbing Roughtor and Brown Willy on his way, plunged down towards Camelford, which he appeared to have reached by following two valleys simultaneously, coached to Boscastle, walked to Tintagel, climbed up to Uther's Castle, diverged inland to St. Nectan's Kieve, driven on to Bedruthan Steps, Mawgan, the Vale of Lanherne, Newquay, taken a train thence to Truro, a steamer from Truro to Falmouth, crossed the ferry to St. Mawes, walked up the coast to Mevagissey, driven from Mevagissey to St. Austell, and at St. Austell taken another train for Troy. This brought half his holiday to a close: the remaining half he meant to devote to the Mining District, St. Ives, the Land's End, St. Michael's Mount, the Lizard, and perhaps the Scilly Isles.
Then I began to feel that I lived in a nook, and to wonder how I could spin out its attractions to cover a whole day: for I could not hear to think of his departing with secret regret for his lavished time. In a flash I saw the truth; that my love for this spot is built up of numberless trivialities, of small memories all incommunicable, or ridiculous when communicated; a scrap of local speech heard at this corner, a pleasant native face remembered in that doorway, a battered vessel dropping anchor--she went out in the spring with her crew singing dolefully; and the grey-bearded man waiting in his boat beneath her counter till the custom-house officers have made their survey is the father of one among the crew, and is waiting to take his son's hand again, after months of absence. Would this interest my friend, if I pointed it out to him? Or, if I walk with him by the path above the creek, what will he care to know that on this particular bank the violets always bloom earliest--that one of a line of yews that top the churchyard wall is remarkable because a pair of missel-thrushes have chosen it to build in for three successive years? The violets are gone. The empty nest has almost dissolved under the late heavy rains, and the yew is so like its fellows that I myself have no idea why the birds chose it. The longer I reflected the more certain I felt that my friend could find all he wanted in the guide-books.
None the less, I did my best: rowed him for a mile or two up the river; took him out to sea, and along the coast for half a dozen miles. The water was choppy, as it is under the slightest breeze from the south-east; and the Journalist was sea-sick; but seemed to mind this very little, and recovered sufficiently to ask my boatman two or three hundred questions before we reached the harbour again. Then we landed and explored the Church. This took us some time, owing to several freaks in its construction, for which I blessed the memory of its early-English builders. We went on to the Town Hall, the old Stannary Prison (now in ruins), the dilapidated Block-houses, the Battery. We traversed the town from end to end and studied the barge-boards and punkin-ends of every old house. I had meanly ordered that dinner should he ready half-an-hour earlier than usual, and, as it was, the objects of interest just lasted out.
As we sat and smoked our cigarettes after dinner, the Journalist said--
"If you don't mind, I'll he off in a few minutes and shut myself up in your study. I won't he long turning out the copy; and after that I can talk to you without feeling I've neglected my work. There's an early post here, I suppose?"
"Man alive!" said I, "you don't mean to tell me that you're working, this holiday?"
"Only a letter for the 'Daily ----' three times a week--a column and a half, or so."
"Oh, descriptive stuff about the places I've been visiting. I call it 'An Idler in Lyonesse.'"
"Well, Lyonesse has lain at the bottom of the Atlantic, between Land's End and Scilly, these eight hundred years. The chroniclers relate that it was overwhelmed and lost in 1099, A.D. If your Constant Readers care to ramble there, they're welcome, I'm sure."
"I had thought" said he, "it was just a poet's name for Cornwall. Well, never mind, I'll go in presently and write up this place: it's just as well to do it while one's impressions are still fresh."
He finished his coffee, lit a fresh cigarette, and strolled off to the little library where I usually work. I stepped out upon the verandah and looked down on the harbour at my feet, where already the vessels were hanging out their lamps in the twilight. I had looked down thus, and at this hour, a thousand times; and always the scene had something new to reveal to me, and much more to withhold--small subtleties such as a man finds in his wife, however ordinary she may appear to other people. And here, in the next room, was a man who, in half-a-dozen hours, felt able to describe Troy, to deck her out, at least, in language that should captivate a million or so of breakfasting Britons.
"My country," said I, "if you have given up, in these six hours, a tithe of your heart to this man--if, in fact, his screed be not arrant bosh--then will I hie me to London for good and all, and write political leaders all the days of my life."
In an hour's time the Journalist came sauntering out to me, and announced that his letter was written.
"Have you sealed it up?"
"Well, no. I thought you might give me an additional hint or two; and maybe I might look it over again and add a few lines before turning in."
"Do you mind my seeing it?"
"Not the least in the world, if you care to. I didn't think, though, that it could possibly interest you, who know already every mortal thing that is to be known about the place."
"You're mistaken. I may know all about this place when I die, but not before. Let's hear what you have to say."
We went indoors, and he read it over to me.
It was a surprisingly brilliant piece of description; and accurate, too. He had not called it "a little fishing-town," for instance, as so many visitors have done in my hearing, though hardly a fishing-boat puts out from the harbour. The guide-books call it a fishing-town, but the Journalist was not misled, though he had gone to them for a number of facts. I corrected a date and then sat silent. It amazed me that a man who could see so much, should fail to perceive that what he had seen was of no account in comparison with what he had not: or that, if he did indeed perceive this, he could write such stuff with such gusto. "To be capable of so much and content with so little," I thought; and then broke off to wonder if, after all, he were not right. To-morrow he would be on his way, crowding his mind with quick and brilliant impressions, hurrying, living, telling his fellows a thousand useful and pleasant things, while I pored about to discover one or two for them.
"I thought," said the Journalist, swinging his gold pencil-case between finger and thumb, "you might furnish me with just a hint or so, to give the thing a local colour. Some little characteristic of the natives, for instance. I noticed, this afternoon, when I was most sea-sick, that your fellow took off his hat and pulled something out of the lining. I was too ill to see what it was; but he dropped it overboard the next minute and muttered something."
"Oh, you remarked that, did you?"
"Yes, and meant to ask him about it afterwards; but forgot, somehow."
"Do you remember where we were--what we were passing--when he did this?"
"Not clearly. I was infernally ill just then. Why did he do it?"
I was silent.
"I suppose it had some meaning?" he went on.
"Yes, it had. And excuse me when I say that I'm hanged if either you or your Constant Readers shall know what that meaning was. My dear fellow, you belong to a strong race--a race that has beaten us and taken toll of us, and now carves 'Smith' and 'Thompson' and such names upon our fathers' tombs. But there are some things you have not laid hands on yet; secrets that we all know somehow, but never utter, even among ourselves, nor allude to. If I told you what Billy Tredegar did to-day, and why he did it, I tell you frankly your article would make some thousands of Constant Readers open wide eyes over their breakfast-cups. But you won't know. Why, after all, should I say anything to spoil Cornwall's prospects as a health-resort?"
My friend took this very quietly, merely observing that it was rather late in the day to take sides against Hengist and Horsa. But he was sorry, I could see, to lose his local colour. And as I looked down, for the last time that night, upon Troy, this petition escaped me--
"O my country, if I keep your secrets, keep for me your heart!"
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