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HOW AN ADMIRAL TOOK ONE GENTLEMAN FOR ANOTHER, AND WAS TOLD THE DAY OF THE MONTH.
Next morning, almost before the sun was up, all Troy was in possession of the news; and in Troy all that is personal has a public interest. It is this local spirit that marks off the Trojan from all other minds.
In consequence long before ten o'clock struck, it was clear that some popular movement was afoot; and by half-past eleven the road to the railway station was crowded with Trojans of all sorts and conditions--boatmen, pilots, fishermen, sailors out of employ, the local photographer, men from the ship-building yards, makers of ship's biscuit, of ropes, of sails, chandlers, block and pump manufacturers, loafers--representatives, in short, of all the staple industries: women with baskets--women with babies, women with both, even a few farmers in light gigs with their wives, or in carts with their families, a sprinkling from Penpoodle, across the harbour--high and low, Church and Dissent, with children by the hundred. Some even proposed to ring the church bells and fire the cannon at the harbour's mouth; but the ringers and artillerymen preferred to come and see the sight. As it was, the "George" floated proudly from the church tower, and the Fife and Drum Temperance Band stood ready at the corner of East Street. All Troy, in fact, was on tip-toe.
Meanwhile, as few in the crowd possessed Burke or Debrett, the information that passed from mouth to mouth was diverse and peculiar, but, as was remarked by a laundress in the crowd to a friend: "He may be the Pope o' Rome, my dear, an' he may be the Dook o' Wellington, an' not a soul here wud know t'other from which no mor'n if he was Adam. All I says is--the Lord send he's a professin' Christian, an' has his linen washed reg'lar. My! What a crush! I only wish my boy Jan was here to see; but he's stayin' at home, my dear, cos his father means to kill the pig to-day, an' the dear child do so love to hear'n screech."
The Admiral, who happened by the merest chance to be sauntering along the Station Road this morning, in his best blue frock-coat with a flower in the buttonhole, corrected some of the rumours, but without much success. Finding the throng so thick, he held a long debate between curiosity and dignity. The latter won, and he returned to No. 2, Alma Villas, in a flutter, some ten minutes before the train was due.
By noon the crowd was growing impatient. But hardly had the church clock chimed the hour when the shriek of a whistle was heard from up the valley. Amid wild excitement a puff of white smoke appeared, then another, and finally the mid-day train steamed serenely into the station.
As it drew up, a mild spectacled face appeared at the window of a first-class carriage, and asked--
"Is this Troy?"
"Yessir--terminus. Any luggage, sir?"
The mild face got out. It belonged to the only stranger in the train.
"There is only a black portmanteau," said he. "Ah, that is it. I shall want it put in the cloakroom for an hour or two while I go into the town."
The stranger gave up his ticket--a single ticket--and stepped outside the station. He was a mild, thin man, slightly above middle height, with vacant eyes and a hesitating manner. He wore a black suit, a rather rusty top-hat, and carried a silk umbrella.
"Here he comes!"
"Look, that's him!"
"Give 'un a cheer, boys."
"Hip, hip, hoor-roar!"
The sound burst upon the clear sky in a deafening peal. The stranger paused and looked confused.
"Dear me!" he murmured to himself, "the population here seems to be excited about something--and, bless my soul, what a lot of it there is!"
He might well say so. Along the road, arms, sticks, baskets, and handkerchiefs were frantically waving; men shouting and children hurrahing with might and main. Windows were flung up; heads protruded; flags waved in frenzied welcome. The tumult was stupendous. There was not a man, woman, or child in Troy but felt the demonstration must be hearty, and determined to make it a success.
"What can have caused this riot?"
The stranger paused with a half-timid air, but after a while resumed his walk. The shouts broke out again, and louder than ever.
"Welcome, welcome to Troy! Hooroar! One more, lads! Hooroar!" and all the handkerchiefs waved anew.
"Bless my soul, what is the matter?"
Then suddenly he became aware that all this frantic display was meant for him. How he first learnt it he could never afterwards explain, but the shock of it brought a deathly faintness.
"There is some horrible mistake," he murmured hoarsely, and turned to run.
He was too late. The crowd had closed around him, and swept him on, cheering, yelling, vociferating towards the town. He feebly put up a hand for silence--
"My friends," he shouted, "you are--"
"Yes, yes, we know. Welcome! Welcome! Hip-hip-hoo-roar!"
"My friends, I assure you--"
Boom! Boom! Tring-a-ring--boom!
It was that accursed Fife and Drum Temperance Band. In a moment five-and-twenty fifers were blowing "See, the conquering hero comes," with all their breath, and marching to the beat of a deafening drum. Behind them came a serried crowd with the stranger in its midst, and a straggling train of farmers' gigs and screaming urchins closed the procession.
Miss Limpenny, at the first-storey window of No. 1 Alma Villas, heard the yet distant din. With trembling fingers she hung out of window a loyal pocket-handkerchief (worn by her mother at the Jubilee of King George III), shut down the sash upon it, and discreetly retired again behind her white blinds to watch.
The cheering grew louder, and Miss Limpenny's heart beat faster. "I hope," she thought to herself, "I hope that their high connections will not have given them a distaste for our hearty ways. Well as I know Troy, I think I might be frightened at this display of public feeling."
She peeped out over the white blinds. Next door, the Admiral was fuming nervously up and down his gravel walk. He was debating the propriety of his costume. Even yet there was time to run up-stairs and don his cocked hat and gold-laced coat before the procession arrived. Between the claims of his civil and official positions the poor man was in a ferment.
"As a man of the world," Miss Limpenny soliloquised, "the Honourable Frederic Goodwyn-Sandys cannot fail to appreciate our sterling Admiral. Dear, dear, here they come! I do trust dearest Lavinia has not put herself in too conspicuous a position at the parlour window. What a lot of people, to be sure!"
The crowd had gathered volume during its passage through the town, and the "Conquering Hero" was more distractingly shrill than ever. The goal was almost reached, for "The Bower" stood next door to Alma Villas, and was divided from them only by a road which led down to the water's edge and the Penpoodle ferry boat.
"Why, everybody is here," said Miss Limpenny, "except, of course, the Vicar. There's Pharaoh Geddye waving a flag, and blind Sam Hockin and Mrs. Hockin with him, I declare, and Bathsheba Merryfield, and Jim the dustman, and Seth Udy in the band--he must have taken the pledge lately--and Walter Sibley and a score I don't even know by sight. And, bless my heart! that's old Cobbledick, wooden leg and all! I thought he was bed-ridden for life. But I don't see the arrivals yet. I wonder who that poor man is, in the crowd--it can't be--and yet--Why, whatever is the Admiral doing?"
For Admiral Buzza had opened his front gate and deliberately stepped out into the road.
The stranger, dishevelled, haggard and bewildered, had long since abandoned all attempts at explanation and fallen into a desperate apathy, when all at once a dozen voices in front cried "Hush!" The band broke off suddenly, and the cheering died away.
"Make way for the Admiral!" "Out of the road, there!" "The Admiral's going to speak!" "Silence for the Admiral!"
The stranger looked up and saw through the opening in the crowd a little man advancing, hat in hand. He had a red face, and the importance of his mission had lent it even a deeper tint than it usually wore: his bald head was fringed with stiff grey hair: he was clothed in "pepper-and-salt" trousers, a blue frock-coat and waistcoat, and carried a large bunch of primroses in his buttonhole. His step was full of dignity and his voice of grave politeness, as he began, with a bow--
"Though not the accredited spokesman of my fellow-citizens here, I am sure I shall not be deemed presumptuous" (cries of "No") "if I venture to give expression to some of the kindly sentiments which I am sure we one and all entertain upon this auspicious occasion." (Loud cheers.) "For upwards of twenty years I have now resided in this beautiful and prosperous--I think I may use these words" ("Hear, hear!") "this beautiful and prosperous little town, and it is therefore with the more sincere pleasure" (here the Admiral laid his hand upon his waistcoat) "that I bid you welcome to Troy." (Frantic cheering.) "We had hoped--I say we had hoped--to have seen your good lady also among us to-day: but doubtless when 'The Bower' is prepared--the--ahem! the bird will fly thither."
Vociferous applause followed this impromptu trope, and for some moments the Admiral's voice was completely drowned.
"I hope and trust," he went on, as soon as silence was restored, "that she enjoys good health."
The stranger looked more perplexed than ever.
"But be that as it may--be that, I say, as it may, my pleasant duty is now discharged. In the name of my fellow-Trojans and in my own name I bid you a hearty welcome to 'The Bower.'" (Loud and continuous cheering, during which the Admiral handed his card with a flourish, and mopped his brow.)
"I can assure you," replied the stranger after a pause, "that I am deeply sensible of your kindness--" (The cheering was renewed.) "While conscious," he went on, "that I have done nothing to deserve it. In point of fact, I think you must all be labouring under some ridiculous delusion."
"What do you mean, sir?" gasped the Admiral. "Do you mean to say you are not the new tenant of this delightful residence?" Then the speaker waved his hand in the direction of "The Bower."
"Certainly I am not."
"Then, damme, sir! who are you?" cried the Admiral, whose temper was, as we know, short.
"My name is Fogo," replied the stranger. "Here is my card--Philip Fogo--at your service."
Even Miss Limpenny, with the first-floor window of No. 1 timidly lifted to admit the Admiral's eloquence; even the three Misses Buzza, arranged in a row behind the parlour blinds of No. 2, and gazing with fond pride upon their papa; even Mrs. Buzza, nervously clasping her hands on the upper storey;--could not but perceive that something dreadful was happening. The Admiral's face turned from crimson to purple; he positively choked.
The situation needed a solution. A wag among the crowd hit upon it.
"Tell th' Admiral, some of 'ee: what day es et?"
"Fust of April!" cried a voice, then another; and then--
Then the throng broke into roar upon roar of inextinguishable laughter. The whole deluded town turned and cast its April folly, as a garment, upon the Admiral's shoulders. It was in vain that he stamped and raved and swore. They only held their sides and laughed the louder.
The credit of Trojan humour was saved. With a final oath the Admiral dashed through his front gate and into the house. The volgus infidum formed in procession again, and marched back with shouts of merriment; the popularis aura of the five-and-twenty fifers resumed the "Conquering Hero," and Mr. Fogo was left standing alone in the middle of the road.
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