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THE BROKEN PANE
During his interview with Mr Pamphlett, Nicky-Nan had been in a fever to get back to his parlour. It had no lock to the door, and goodness knew what the Penhaligon children might not be up to in these holiday times. Also he could not rid his mind of a terror that his wealth might prove, after all, to be fairy gold, and vanish in air.
It was a relief in a way to find that Mr Pamphlett, after ringing each coin on his table, had accepted the seven pieces for currency. But this business of the spade-guinea raised a new scare to agitate him.
In a confused way he remembered that in building the coins into piles he had found some of them to be broader than others, so that their edges overlapped, and that for symmetry he had sorted these broader pieces out and stacked them apart. Of the last ten he had made a mixed pile,--four broad coins at the base, six narrower ones above; and from this he had taken, purely by chance, the seven topmost to pay his debt--that is to say, six sovereigns and one guinea-piece. Luck had stood his friend. A pretty business, had he gone to the banker with seven of those old-fashioned guineas!
Mr Hendy had handed him five shillings and fourpence change with his quittance, and on his way home he made a detour to hobble into Mr Gedye's shop--"S. Gedye, Ironmonger and Ship-Chandler"--and purchase two staples, a hasp, and a stout padlock, with key.
Mr Gedye, selecting these articles with a care that was slow torture to his customer, opined that the weather was settled at last, and trusted it would assist the Russians in mobilising. The slower Mr Gedye became, the more ardently he repeated an expression of hope that the Russians would hurry up.
"Once they get going--" said Mr Gedye, and pulled out a drawerful of staples so far that it upset and spilled its contents in an avalanche on the dark floor behind the counter. "I knew a ship's captain once, a Russian that married a woman over to Troy and would go to sleep for a week on end every time he came home from a voyage. His wife would wake him up and give him tea: that was all he took--tea without milk, between the sheets. He had been a Radical over in his own country, and the Radical agent over to Troy got wind o' this an' took steps to naturalise him. It took seven years. . . . But put him on deck in a gale o' wind and a better skipper (I'm told) you wouldn' meet in a day's march. When he got up an' dressed, he'd dander down to the butcher's an' point to the fatty parts of the meat with the end of his walking-stick, which was made out of a shark's backbone, if you ever! In my experience, a very quiet nation until roused. . . . Well, the Kaiser's done it this time--and a padlock, I think you said? An uncomfortable man--that's my opinion of him, and I've never seen cause to change it. Now, for a padlock, here is one I can thoroughly recommend, with two keys, so that you can lose one and still have the other, which is often a convenience. Yu'll be lockin' up your 'taty-patch, Mr Nanjivell, against the Germans? Well, a very proper precaution."
"One can't be too careful in these times," said Nicky-Nan with feigned artlessness.
"No, indeed! Anything I can do for 'ee in the way of barbed wire?"
"No, I thank 'ee." Nicky-Nan's eyes had been wandering around the shop. "But I'll take this small sieve, now I come to think on it."
"Certainly, Mr Nanjivell. One-an'-three. Shall I send it for 'ee? No?--an' nothing further to-day? Then one-an'-three and one is two-an'-three, an' two two's four, two-an'-seven, screws and staples two two's, two-an'-eleven. If you ask my opinion we're in for settled weather."
Nicky-Nan's business had taken time--some twenty minutes in excess of his calculations, as a glance at the sky informed him. (He carried no watch.) He hurried home in a twitter of nervousness, which increased as he drew near to his front door. In the passage he stumbled against a pail of water, all but upsetting it, and swore under his breath at his evil luck, which had deferred Mrs Penhaligon's weekly scrubbing to Tuesday (Bank Holiday being a dies non).
On entering the parlour he drew a breath of relief. No one had visited it, to disturb it. The threadbare tablecloth rested as he had spread it, covering the piles of gold; the tattered scrap of carpet, too, hiding (so far as it might) the scree of fallen rubbish.
On this rubbish, after assuring himself that his treasure was safe, he fell to work with the sieve; making as little noise as might be, because by this time Mrs Penhaligon had begun operations on the brick flooring of the passage. Mrs Penhaligon's father had been a groom in Squire Tresawna's service, and she had a trick of hissing softly while she scrubbed, as grooms do in washing-down and curry combing their horses. He could hear the sound whenever her brush intromitted its harsh whoosh-whoosh and she paused to apply fresh soap. So they worked, the man and the woman--both kneeling--with the thin door between.
Nicky-Nan felt no weariness as yet. He used his coal-scraper to fill the sieve, and shook the fine powdery lime into one heap, and gently tilted the coarse residuum upon another, after searching it carefully over. At the end of an hour's labour he had added two guinea-pieces and nine sovereigns to his collection.
He vaguely remembered having been told--long ago by somebody--that sovereigns had first come into use back in the last century, not long after the battle of Waterloo; that in more ancient times gold had been paid in guineas; that guineas were then worth much more than their face value, because of the great amount of paper money; that Jews went about buying them up for twenty-three or twenty-four shillings; that, over at Troy, a Jew had been murdered and robbed of a lot of these coins by the landlord of a public-house.
He reasoned from this--and rightly, no doubt--that the Old Doctor had started his hoard in early life, when Boney was threatening to invade us; and had kept up the habit in later and more prosperous years, long after the currency had been changed. That would account for the sovereigns being so many and the guineas by comparison so few.
He was aching sorely in back and reins: his leg, too, wanted ease. . . . He would take a rest and spend it in examining the window, by which alone he could get rid of the rubbish without courting inquiry. It was his only postern gate.
It had not been opened for many years--never, indeed, in the time of his tenancy. Door and fireplace had provided between them all the ventilation he was conscious of needing.
It cost him three minutes to push up the lower sash. He managed to open it some ten inches, and then, as a protest against this interference with its gradual decay, the sash-cord broke. He heard with a jump of the heart the weight thud down behind the woodwork: then, as he groped hastily behind him for a brick, to prop the sash, it came down with a run, and closed its descent with a jar that shook out two of its bottle panes to drop into the water that rushed below. Prompt upon this came a flutter and scurry of wings in water, and a wild quacking, as a bevy of ducks dashed for shore.
A casement window was thrust open on the far side of the stream. A woman's voice shrilled--
"That's you, is it? Oh, yes--you Penhaligon children! You needn' clucky down an' hide--an' after breakin' Mr Nanjivell's windows, that hasn' sixpence between hisself an' heaven, to pay a glazier!"
(But it was Mr Nanjivell himself who cowered down out of sight, clutching the woodwork of the window-sill with wealth behind him surpassing the dreams of avarice.)
"Proper young limbs you be," the voice went on. "With no father at home to warm 'ee!"--
(Let this not be mistaken for a tribute to Mr Penhaligon's parental kindness, good father though he was. To "warm" a child in Polpier signifies to beat him with a strap.)
"And him in danger of submarines, that snatch a man before his Maker like a snuff of a candle, while you can find no better way of employing your holidays than scatterin' other folks' glass to the danger o' my ducks! You just wait till I've wiped my arms, here, and I'll be round to tell your mother about 'ee!"
Nicky-Nan had recognised the voice at once. It belonged to Mrs Climoe, possibly the champion virago of Polpier, and a woman of her word--a woman who never missed an opportunity to make trouble. Her allusion to wiping her arms before action he as swiftly understood. The window across the stream belonged to Mrs Climoe's wash-kitchen. Again he cursed the luck that had interposed Bank Holiday and adjourned the washing operations of Polpier.
But he must defend himself: for Mrs Climoe never promised anything which--if it happened to be unpleasant--she did not punctually perform. With swift cunning he snatched up his parcel of staples and screws, caught at a poker, and made a leap for the door.
Here luck aided him. Mrs Penhaligon had finished her scrubbing and carried her pail out to the porch. There she met Mrs Climoe's first accost, and it surprised her beyond measure: for her children were down upon the Quay playing. By rights they should have returned half an hour before: it was, indeed, close upon dinner-time. But she had been in the passage for a whole hour, with just an interval now and then for a dive into the kitchen to see how the pasties were cooking. She felt morally sure that they could not have returned without her knowing it. They usually made her so exceedingly well aware of their return.
Under Mrs Climoe's onslaught of accusation she wheeled about in bewilderment, at the sound of hammering, to perceive Nicky-Nan at the end of the passage, driving a staple into his doorpost with blows of a poker.
"There now! What did I tell you?" persisted Mrs Climoe, attempting to thrust herself past.
"This is my house," retorted Mrs Penhaligon, bravely heading her off. "If my children--but I could take my oath, here afore th' Almighty--"
"You ask Mr Nanjivell! Why d'ee reckon he's puttin' a lock on his doorway, 'nless 'tis to prevent what I'm tellin' you from happenin' again?"
Mrs Penhaligon stared about her. She went to the kitchen, she passed through the kitchen to the inner room. . . . No children! She came down the passage and close behind Nicky-Nan (who continued to hammer hypocritically), she gazed up the stairway and called "'Bert!" "'Beida!" "You naughty children--come down this moment!" Still no answer.
She turned upon Nicky-Nan. "If they're really here and have been breakin' your glass--"
"You never heard no complaint from me, ma'am," answered Nicky-Nan, still intent on fixing his staple.
"Oh!" interposed Mrs Climoe viciously, "if you two are colleaguin' already to hush something up, the affair lies between you, of course. It seems odd to me, Maria Penhaligon, an' your proper husband not two days gone to the wars. But if Nicholas Nanjivell, here, chooses to play father to the fatherless an' cover up the sins of the children that go an' break his parlour windows afore my very eyes, well, 'tisn't for me to say more than I hope no harm'll come of it."
She was preparing to say more. If she said more, Nicky-Nan did not hear it. For at this moment the three Penhaligon children broke in at the porch, burst past Mrs Climoe, and clung to their mother, clamouring for dinner.
In the hubbub Nicky-Nan meanly slipped back to his den, closed the door, and dragged two chairs against it. Then he took a worn tea-tray and propped it against the window, blocking the broken panes. It seemed to him that the world had suddenly grown full of eyes, peering upon him from every side.
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