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THE SIGNIFICANCE OF POMEROY'S CAT;
AND HOW THE MEN AND WOMEN OF TROY ENSUED AFTER PLEASURE IN BOATS.
The historian of Troy here feels at liberty to pass over six weeks with but scanty record. During that time the Bankshire rose bloomed over Kit's House, peered in at the windows, and found Mr. Fogo for the most part busied in peaceful carpentry, though with a mysterious trouble in his breast that at times drove him afield on venturous perambulations, or to his boat to work off by rowing his too-meditative fit. From these excursions he would return tired in body but in heart eased, and resume his humdrum life tranquilly enough; though Caleb was growing uneasy, and felt it necessary, more than once, to retire apart and "have et out," as he put it, with his conscience.
"Question es," he would repeat, "whether I be justyfied in meddlin' wi' the Cou'se o' Natur'--'speshully when the Cou'se o' Natur' es sich as I approves. An' s'posin' I bain't, furder question es, whether I be right in receivin' wan pound a week an' a new set o' small-clothes."
This nice point in casuistry was settled for the time by his waiving claim to the small-clothes, and inserting in his old pair a patch of blue seacloth that contrasted extravagantly with the veteran stuff-- so extravagantly as to compel Mr. Fogo's attention.
"Does it never strike you," he asked one day as Caleb was stooping over the wood-pile, "that the repairs in your trousers, Caleb, are a trifle emphatic? Purpureus, late qui splendeat--h'm, h'm-- adsuitur pannus. I mean, in the seat of your--"
"Conscience, sir," said Caleb abruptly. "Some ties a bit o' string round the finger to help the mem'ry. I does et this way."
"Well, well, I should have thought it more apt to assist the memory of others. Still, of course, you know best."
And Mr. Fogo resumed his work, and thought no more about it; but Caleb alternated between moods of pensiveness and fussy energy for some days after.
In Troy, summer was leading on a train of events not to be classed among periodic phenomena. It stands on record, for instance--
That Loo began to be played at the Club, and the Admiral's weekly accounts to grow less satisfactory than in the days when he and Mrs. Buzza were steadfast opponents at Whist.
That Mrs. Simpson discovered her great uncle to have been a baronet on this earth.
That Mrs. Payne had prefixed "Ellicome" to her surname, and spoke of "the Ellicome-Paynes, you know."
That Mr. Moggridge had been heard to speak of Sam Buzza as a "low fellow."
That Sam had retorted by terming the poet a "conceited ass."
That Admiral Buzza intended a Picnic.
To measure the importance of this last item, you must know that a Trojan picnic is no ordinary function. To begin with, it is essentially patriotic--devoted, in fact, to the cult of the Troy river, in honour of which it forms a kind of solemn procession. Undeviating tradition has fixed its goal at a sacred rock, haunted of heron and kingfisher, and wrapped around with woodland, beside a creek so tortuous as to simulate a series of enchanted lakes. Here the self-respecting Trojan, as his boat cleaves the solitude, will ask his fellows earnestly and at regular intervals whether they ever beheld anything more lovely; and they, in duty bound and absolute truthfulness, will answer that they never did.
It follows that a Trojan picnic depends for its success to quite a peculiar degree upon the weather. But on the day of the Admiral's merry-making, this was, beyond cavil, kind. Four boats started from the Town Quay; four boats--alas!--could by this time contain the cumeelfo of Troy; for everybody who was anybody had been invited, and nobody (with the exception of the Honourable Frederic, who could not leave his telescope) had refused. Sam Buzza did not start with the rest, but was to follow later; and in his absence Mr. Moggridge paid impressive court to Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys, though uneasily, for Sophia's saddened eyes were upon him.
Yet everybody seemed in the best of spirits and tempers. The Admiral, after bestowing his wife in another boat, and glaring vindictively at Kit's House, where the figure of Mr. Fogo was visible on the beach, grew exceedingly jocose, and cracked his most admired jokes, including his famous dialogue with the echo just beyond Kit's House--a performance which Miss Limpenny declared she had seldom heard him give with such spirit. She herself, spurred to emulation, told her favourite story, which began, "In the Great Exhibition of Eighteen Hundred and Fifty-one, when her Majesty--long may she reign!--partook of a public luncheon--" and contained a most diverting incident about a cherry-pie. And always, at decent intervals, she would exclaim--
"Did you ever see anything more lovely?"
To which the Admiral as religiously would reply--
"Really, I never did."
Indeed the scene was, as Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys, in another boat, observed, "Like a poet's dream"--a remark at which Mr. Moggridge blushed very much. I wish I could linger and describe with amorous precision the bright talk, the glories of the day, each bend and vista of the river which I have loved from childhood; but amid the stress of events now crowding with epic vehemence on Troy, the Muse must hasten. Fain would she dally over the disembarkation, the feast, the manner in which Admiral Buzza carved the chicken-pie, and his humorous allusion to the merry thought; or dwell upon the salad compounded by Mr. Moggridge, the spider that was found in it, and the conundrum composed upon that singular occurrence; or loiter to tell how Miss Lavinia upset the claret cup over the Vicar's coat-tails, and, in her confusion, said it "did not signify," which was very amusing. On this, and more, would she blithely discourse, did not sterner themes invite her.
It happened that on this particular morning Mr. Fogo had been restless beyond his wont. For a full hour he had wandered on the beach, as Caleb expressed it, "Back'ards an' forrards, like Boscas'le Fair." He had taken up mallet and chisel; had set them down at the end of half an hour for his paintbox, and ruined a well-meaning sketch of the previous day; had deserted this in turn for another ramble on the beach, and finally returned, with a helpless look, to Caleb, who sat whistling and splicing a rope upon the little quay.
"Hurried in mind, sir, like Pomeroy's cat," suggested he sympathetically.
"I have no acquaintance with the animal you mention," said his master.
"I reckon 'twas she as got killed by care, sir. I niver knawed mysel' but wan animal as got downright put-goin' i' that way, an' that were a hen."
"Iss, sir. Et happen'd up to Penhellick, the las' year I stayed 'long wi' Lawyer Mennear. 'Twas a reg'lar fool-body, this hen--a black Minorcy she were; but no egg iver laid were fuller o' meat than she o' good-feelin'; an' prenciple! she'd enuff prenciple to stock a prayer-meetin'. But high prenciple in a buffllehead's like a fish-bone i' the throat--useful, but out o' place.
"Well, sir, th' ould Mennear wan day bought a baker's dozen of porc'lain eggs over to Summercourt Fair: beautiful eggs they were, an' you cudn' tell mun from real, 'cept by the weight. The very nex' day, findin' as hes Minorcy were layin' for a brood i' the loft above the cowshed, he takes up the true egg while the old fowl were away an' sets a porc'lain egg in place of et. In cou'se, back comes the hen, an' bein' a daft body, as I told 'ee, an' not used to these 'ere refinements o' civilizashun, niver doubts but 'tes the same as she laid. 'Twarn't long afore her'd a-laid sax more, and then her sets to work to hatch mun out.
"Nat'rally, arter a while the brood was all hatched out, 'ceptin', o' cou'se, the porc'lain egg. The mother didn't take no suspishun but 'twere all right, on'y a bit stubborn. So her sot down for two days more, an' did all a hen cud do to hatch that chick. No good; 'twudn' budge. You niver seed a fowl that hurted in mind; but niver a thought o' givin' in. No, sir. 'Twasn' her way. Her jes' cocked her head aslant, tuk a long stare at the cussed thing, an' said, so plain as looks cud say, 'Well, I've a-laid this egg, an' I reckon I've a-got to hatch et; an' ef et takes me to th' aluminium, I'll see et out.'"
"The millennium," corrected Mr. Fogo, who was much interested.
"Not bein' over-eddicated, sir," said Caleb, with unconscious severity, "that old hen, I reckon, said 'aluminium.' But niver mind. Her sot, an' sot, an' kept on settin', an' neglected the rest o' they chicks for what seemingly to her was the call o' duty, till wan' by wan they all died. 'Twas pitiful, sir; an' the wust was to see her lay so much store by that egg. Th' ould Mennear was for takin' et away; but 'twud ha' broke her heart. As 'twas, what wi' anxi'ty an' too little food, her wore to a shadow. I seed her was boun' to die, anyway; an' wan arternoon, as I was in the cowshed, I heerd a weakly sort o' cluckin' overhead, an' went up to look. 'Twas too late, sir. Th' ould hen was lying beside th' egg, glazin' at et in a filmy sort o' way, an' breathin' terrable hard. When I comes, she gi'es a look same as to say, 'I reckon I've a-got to go. I've a-been a mother to that there egg; an' I'd ha' liked to see't through afore I went. But, seemingly, 'twarn't ordained.' An' wi' that there was a kind o' flutter, an' when I turned her over I seed her troubles were done. Thet fowl, sir, had passed."
"You tell the story with such sympathy, Caleb, that I appeal to you the more readily for advice. I find it hard to concentrate my attention this morning."
"Ef I mou't make free to shake 'ee agen--"
"I should prefer any other cure."
"Very well, sir. I have heerd, from trippers as comes to Troy, to spend the day an' get drunk in anuther parish for vari'ty's sake, as a pennorth o' say es uncommon refreshin'."
"A pennyworth of sea?"
"That's so, sir. Twelve in a boat, an' a copper a head to the boatman to row so far as there an' back, which es cheap an' empt'in' at the price, as a chap told me."
"You advise me to take a row?"
"Iss, sir; on'y I reckon you'd best go up the river, ef you'm goin' alone. Though whether you prefers the resk o' meetin' Adm'ral Buzza to bein' turned topsy-versy outside the harbour-mouth, es a question I leaves to you. 'Tes a matter o' taste, as Mounseer said by the yaller frog."
Mr. Fogo decided to risk an encounter with the Admiral. In a few minutes he was afloat, and briskly rowing in the wake of the picnic-party.
But black Care, that clambers aboard the sea-going galley, did not disdain a seat in the stern of Mr. Fogo's boat. She sat her down there, and would not budge for all his pulling. Neither could the smile of the clear sky woo her thence, nor the voices of the day; but as on ship-board she must still be talking to the man at the wheel, and on horseback importunately whispering to the rider from her pillion, so now she besieged the ear of Mr. Fogo, to whom her very sex was hateful.
Further and further he rowed in vain attempt to shake off this incubus; passed at some distance the rock where the picnickers had spread their meal (luckily, the Admiral's back was turned to the river), doubled the next bend, ran his boat ashore on a little patch of shingle overarched with trees, and, stepping out, sat down to smoke a pipe.
Secure from observation, he could hear the laughter of the picnickers borne melodiously through the trees; and either this or the tobacco chased his companion from his side; for his brow cleared, the puffs of smoke came more calmly, and before the pipe was smoked out, Mr. Fogo had sunk into a most agreeable fit of abstraction.
He was rudely aroused by the sound of voices close at hand. Indeed, the speakers were but a few yards off, on the bank above him.
Now Mr. Fogo was the last man to desire to overhear a conversation. But the first word echoed so aptly his late musings, and struck his memory, too, with so deep a pang, that before he recovered it was too late.
"Oh! why is it?"--(it was a woman's voice that asked the question, though not the voice that Mr. Fogo had half expected to hear, and his very relief brought a shudder with it)--"oh! why is it that a man and a woman cannot talk together except in lies? You ask if I am unhappy. Say what you mean. Do I hate my husband? Well, then--yes!"
"My dear Mrs.--"
"Is that frank enough? Oh! yes, I have lied so consistently throughout my married life that I tell the truth now out of pure weariness. I detest him: sometimes I feel that I must kill either Fred or myself, and end it all."
"Bless my soul!" murmured Mr. Fogo, cowering more closely. "This country teems with extraordinary people!"
He held his breath as the deeper voice answered--
"Had I thought--"
"Stop! I know what you would say, and it is untrue. Be frank as I am. You had half-guessed my secret, and were bound to convince yourself: and why? Shall I tell you, or will you copy my candour and speak for yourself?"
Dead silence followed this question. After some seconds the woman's voice resumed--
"Ah! all men are cowards. Well, I will tell you. Your question implied yet another, and it was, Do I, hating my husband, love you?"
"Do you still wish that question answered? I will do you that favour also: Listen: for the life of me--I don't know."
And the speaker laughed--a laugh full of amused tolerance, as though her confession had left her a careless spectator of its results. Mr. Fogo shuddered.
"In heaven's name, Geraldine, don't mock me!"
"But it is true. How should I know? You have talked to me, read me your verses--and, indeed, I think them very beautiful. You have with comparative propriety, because in verse, invited me to fly with thee to a desolate isle in the Southern Sea--wherever that is--and forgetting my shame and likewise blame, while you do the same with name and fame and its laurel-leaf, go to moral grief on a coral reef--"
"Geraldine, you are torturing me."
"Do I not quote correctly? My point is this:--A woman will listen to talk, but she admires action. Prove that you are ready, not to fly to a coral reef, but to do me one small service, and you may have another answer."
Mr. Fogo, peering through the bushes as one fascinated, saw an extremely beautiful woman confronting an extremely pale youth, and fancied also that he saw a curious flash of contempt pass over the woman's features as she answered--
"Really unless you kill the Admiral next time he makes a pun, I do not know that just now I need such a service. By to-morrow, though, or the next day, I may think of one. Until then"--she held out her hand--"wait patiently, and be kind to Sophia."
Mr. Moggridge started as though stung by a snake; but, recollecting himself, imprinted a kiss upon the proffered fingers. Again Mrs. Goodwyn-Sandys laughed with unaffected mirth, and again the hidden witness saw that curious gleam of scorn--only now, as the young man bent his head, it was not dissembled.
They were gone. Mr. Fogo sank back against the bushes, drew a long breath, and passed his hand nervously over his eyes; but though the scene had passed as a dream, the laugh still rang in his ears.
"It is a judgment on me!" muttered the poor man--"a judgment! They are all alike."
Curiously enough, his next reflection appeared to contradict this view of the sex.
"An extraordinary woman! But every fresh person I meet in this place is more eccentric than the last. Let me see," he continued, checking off the list on his fingers; "there's Caleb, and that astounding Admiral, and the Twins, and Tamsin--"
Mr. Fogo stared very hard at the water for some seconds.
"And Tamsin," he repeated slowly. "Hullo! my feet seem to be in the water--and, bless my soul! what has become of the boat?"
He might well ask. The tide had been steadily rising as he crouched under the banks, and was now lapping his boots. Worse than this, it had floated off the boat, which he had carelessly forgotten to secure, and drifted it up the river, at first under cover of the trees, afterwards more ostentatiously into mid-channel.
Mr. Fogo rushed up the patch of shingle until brought to a standstill by its sudden declension into deep water. There was no help for it. Not a soul was in sight. He divested himself rapidly of his clothes, piled them in a neat little heap beyond reach of the tide, and then with considerable spirit plunged into the flood and struck out in pursuit of the truant.
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